About basil and lavender’s roots (Photo: Marco Alf)

About basil and lavender’s roots

Since I became an emigrant, I’ve been often asked where I’m from. I come from Italy, is my answer. Yes, but from where? I totter. From the North. From the mountains. Then I keep talking and I say that I’m from a small village and no, there’s no chance you’ve heard about it before.

It was difficult, for me, to answer to such an easy question. Maybe because I’ve always been on the borders. Maybe it’s for this reason that I like to feel that I don’t belong to nothing or nobody; I answer just to myself and a few other instincts.

The belonging is a concept that hunts you when you’re gone away.. and it leaves in your mouth the taste of the oxymoron. You leave your land and then you understand where you’re from. I’ve learned to answer to this question with answers that rumble of absence.

My hometown

I’m from Storo. A small village where the mountains fall vertically at your sight and they protect it a little but, at the same time, they stifle it, as mothers do. I speak the dialect from there, made of liquid sounds, the same of the river that marks the borders. It has dry accents as well, as the granites that surrounds it. The inner melody of this language of the mountains, you cannot reproduce it or learn it if you’re not grown up there.


It happened, a few years ago, that I had the chance to speak my dialect here, in the Netherlands, with some people from my village that just for a lucky chance, went to have dinner in the restaurant where I used to work. To communicate in a code bounded to my roots made me understand where I’m really from and then I wasn’t afraid anymore to belong to something.

It doesn’t matter that I actually lived there just for the first six years of my life, as a kid. It’s the name I wanted on my papers when I decided to leave. Like a tattoo, I tried to fix the belonging with ink.

(Photo: Marco Alf)

(Photo: Marco Alf)


Recently I started to think about my roots. On Facebook somebody created a page about my village. ‘My people’, of which their last memory of me might go back to when I was just six years old. They publish pictures and write in dialect. I saw pictures of the house where I grew up, back in the 20’s, with the vineyard that my grandma used to tell me about, still there ‘to eat’ the walls. I’ve seen great-aunts in their youth, my mother when she was 19, my abnormally tall great grandfather whose name I bear.

They published a picture of my grandma as well. She was named after a flower, the kind that if stepped on, rises again with the corolla still white of dignity. A friend saw it and she told me I really look like her.

To hear that you look like your roots, of which you have accepted to belong to just with the neglection, brought me back their scent.

My roots, they don’t taste like the sea, as here. They taste like musk mixed with snow, like heavy waters that flow from the granites, like dust of red wheat.

My roots have a scent of basil and lavender, constant fragrances between the garments and the palms of a woman who taught me the concept of dignity.

It’s due to the sense of dignity that I left the place where I’m from. The exact same place I’m not scared anymore to call home now.

It leaves the bitterness of gentians to know that, once you’ve learned, it’s necessary to leave behind the places that have taught you so much.

Marco Alf