HOW TO TALK ‘NONES’ — The Valley of Tears (Part 2)

This post is one of the four-part HOW TO TALK ‘NONES’ series, including: 

Jason asked me one day—the kind of day where boredom lays over everything like dust — “What do you think gets a Noneso really excited?”

I thought about it for a few moments, but could think of nothing, wondering out loud, “Cross-country skiing? Motorbikes…polenta?” The conversation was starting to sound less tongue-in-cheek, and more snarky by the second. Aw, c’mon. That’s unfair, I thought. “I’m sure there are plenty of things…”

But nothing came to mind. Other than talk of saving money (or Amanda Knox — which gets any Italian anywhere all riled up), I’d seen very little that could stir the emotion of a Noneso.

Castle valley view (Val di Non)
Castle valley view (Val di Non)

By contrast, most Italians are infamously demonstrative and passionate. “Ciao, Paolo!” takes on such a round and exuberant appeal that, when I hear it, I think it must be a joke with how on-stage it seems.

In Trentino-Alto Adige, people speak Italian with an accent more similar to our English-accented version of it—flat and lacking the cadence and resonant rhythm of the average Italian speaker. It’s surprisingly comforting to us. Even if we’re left wondering what country we’re really in.

The Nonesi, in particular, are a subdued and serious people—they aren’t inclined to great displays of emotion. They seem to always stay right in the middle; neutral in the face. I can never tell what they’re thinking. You could be explaining how you saw a guy dislocate his elbow when arm wrestling, and how the bone was sticking out of his skin…and still, a Noneso would not flinch.

They plug along like well-oiled engines.

Tirol man still out walking everyday: this man has seen A LOT in his life (Val di Non)
Tirol man still out walking everyday: this man has seen A LOT in his life (Val di Non)

The reason I point this out is to emphasize how dissimilar Nones culture is to the rest of Italy. And that’s fine—a-okay. It’s just not what I expected when I agreed to move there.

Thing is, though, Jason had actually hit on something. Despite being the birthplace of Renaissance art and arguably the world’s best cuisine, Italy is riddled with contradictions. The kind that a history of rivaling kingdoms would logically render.

Val di Non is no exception.

Throughout its storied past, the valley was hit particularly hard by destitution and loss, and the culture continues to center on nose-to-the-grindstone work and savings and solemnity. Until the 1960s, Val di Non was so geographically isolated, so impoverished and withered by two world wars, that Jason’s Nones cousin tells us it used to be called “la valle delle lacrime” (the valley of tears).

Map showing language distribution in Trentino, Italy, as of 2011
The light blue area is Val di Non, where the ‘Nones’ Language is spoken (Language distribution Trentino 2011, author: Sajoch, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0).

We hear stories from Nones people our parents’ age who, as children (and even in the 1950s), were trapping crows for food and fighting off continual foot infections because they had no shoes to wear in the warmer months. Who were forced to leave school to work at age 8, 9, 10.

Such hardship has imbued these people with an ethic of sacrifice that seems to have endured, as if they’re all just waiting for the next wave of poverty or war to arrive. Preparing for it, in fact.

Come to think of it — they could be on to something.

This relatively recent prosperity the Nones people are experiencing (that came mostly in the form of apple cultivation/distribution after WWII), could — in theory — be short lived. For now, the climactic conditions are right: cold enough to keep the apples happily growing all summer, warm enough to bring the bees that pollinate the flowers.

Flowering cherry tree (Val di Non)
Flowering cherry tree (Val di Non)

But that could change.

Weather systems are precarious. Pollinating bee populations are threatened worldwide. Climate change is seeming more and more like an inevitable reality. It’s not unlikely, then, that the valley could experience ecological collapse, one large-scale enough that Val di Non‘s apple industry could be brought to its knees — bringing its newfound wealth with it.

After all, look what’s happening to the olive trees, as we speak.

Seems like it would be smart to follow the Nones people’s lead? To save and save and save, because you never know when you’ll be hit by the next wave of ‘being without’…?

I’ll never be as neutral-faced as a Noneso (I’ve been told that my facial expressions make me an open book), but there is something essential to learn from the culture: prepare for the worst, people, and when (if) it comes, you won’t be so bad off as the rest of the clueless world, running around buying Fendi bags and complaining that Starbucks put the wrong sugar syrup in your latté.

Learn more about where Val di Non is located; or about the Nones dialect and people.

Side Note: This is all subjective rendering about a people in a place. It is by no means empirical fact, and most likely includes debatable information about the Nones people. Although my aim is to inform, it is also to entertain, so I encourage you to keep this in mind if you’re planning to base any research papers off of what I’ve written here. I do not, however, tell lies — meaning, what’s written here is as truthful as it’s possible to be.

Ever heard of Val di Non? What’s your knowledge of the valley or the region where it lies? Let me know in the comments, below!

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