Borders

Having grown up in Oregon, which is a nice place, but a long way from anywhere, one of the things that I really like about Italy is that it is very definitely somewhere, and it’s very close to a lot of other somewheres. It may no longer be the center of the world as in ancient times, but after 2000 years, it’s still going pretty strong.

Saturday found us headed out towards points east on a warm summer’s day. Specifically, to my friend Marco’s wedding to his wife Raffaella in the town of Gorizia, which is right on the border with Slovenia. Or, more accurately, after World War II, the border between Italy and Slovenia was drawn right through the town, resulting in Gorizia on one side, which was the historic town, and Nova Gorica on the Slovenian side.

The whole time we were there, in fact, we were always seeing signs pointing to Slovenia. But not big, blinking, important looking signs, just ordinary street signs. This way, Podunkville and Vattelapesca di Sotto, and that way, Slovenia, announced so casually. After meeting at the parking lot in front of the main border crossing, where the Italians looked at me a bit askance for my marveling that, “wow, that’s another country over there!”, we proceeded to the beautiful 11th century castle overlooking town where the ceremony took place, and then on to the reception. Ilenia and I got a bit lost going there, and kept bumping up against the border, until we got across the river, and headed up to the restaurant. We were enjoying ourselves very much (being at other people’s weddings is much more relaxing than one’s own!), when, chatting with some other guests, it was pointed out that there was a border crossing just 200 meters up the road from the restaurant.

For us, that was just too tempting, so in between servings, we ambled down the road, champagne glasses in hand, and sure enough, there was a guard post blocking the road. I had stupidly forgotten my passport in Padova, but in any case, the guard stationed there explained that in any case, it was a “secondary” border post. Anyone with a passport can cross at the main crossings, but the secondary ones are reserved for local residents, and we couldn’t cross anyway without a special pass. Apparently, even during the cold war, the border was not nearly as rigid as others – farmers were allowed to work their fields that had been split in two at the drawing board, for instance.

This being Italy on a warm Sunday afternoon with very little traffic, the border guard was actually quite willing to chat with us, and even walked with us up to the line of the border itself. Despite its cold war origins, there was apparently never a Berlin-style wall here, and the border is just a series of stone markers marching along the ridge. On this side, a house in Italy, on that side, another house is in Slovenia… pretty incredible that just a few meters can make such a difference. Unfortunately, according to the guard there is still a fair amount of tension between one side and the other, although of course no one is likely to be shot these days. He didn’t seem to think that much of the European spirit was permeating into cross-border relations in the area, and was looking forward to serving at the French border, which was “more civilized” (and also nearer his home town in north west Italy).

We then took our leave of the friendly guard and rejoined the party, but our curiosity has been whetted, and I think we’ll be back, passports in hand, and see what we can see over the hill in the next country over!

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