Sauze d'Oulx
bitterness of the hot chocolate and sanity of art
Over the last two weeks the world has turned upside down. It did feel like a crime – to end up amidst enchanting landscapes with the view to Alps, to take skis and walk to the lifts while the world was already on fire. Checking the news consistently: when reaching the top of the mountain, when waking up or when coming home every time. For the first several days I could only be in two places simultaneously – in the meantime being stranded in nowhere and simply stuck in the corridors of my mind. The future (both small and large scale) is unclear; but while there are actions we can – and must - take to counteract the flow of events, in some instances we are forced to accept our powerlessness in this flow of time.

Being faced to the grandiosity of both nature and architecture, I felt stuck in my own labyrinths: how was it possible to exist in two completely opposite dimensions, to look at those widespread perpetual mountains and write poems of shatters of the past with prayers?

Alps taught me that life will inevitably go on: if not for us, then for others, and that there is always this island of safety, the point of disconnection where the life seems untouched. Whether it is a municipality of Sauze d'Oulx in Italy where I went to declare loss of the wallet in the awkward mixture of English, Italian and Romanian, or a girl who is reading the book on the grass in Turin in the 15 degrees sun: for them words of war, despair and invasion are a distant rumble.

It is about the resistance: seeing the peaceful Italy while reading the news of disaster and torture, was disorienting. Looking at people around me partying and loving the Bohemian Rapsody at which I could do nothing else but burst in tears – was a tough adaptation to the vision of a new – fallen apart - world.
On 24th of February the war has begun. In less than a week life changed completely. When waking up in the morning in Eindhoven, it almost seemed as nothing had changed – the same sunrise in the Netherlands, same commute to campus and projects, except for the fact that something had changed forever. Putin had invaded Ukraine, the war – the word which served as a distant reminiscence of the XX century - became a part of the daily vocabulary.

I was about to cancel the ski trip to Italy – in the course of events it felt illegal to travel. The words of war, news and videos simply could not get along with my thinking patterns and sounded as something completely meaningless, while being more than real. I remembered we had to leave to the ski trip on Saturday, and while still deciding whether I should actually go, I saw Tom on Friday and told him – see you tomorrow.

- What do you mean tomorrow?

- The ski trip.

- But it is tonight.

Left with no space to think couple of hours before departure, I immediately left campus to get ready. I could barely do so: I crashed in my bed, submerged in overwhelmingness and was simply crying with no energy to comprehend and embrace the world. Later, when I managed to pack and get on a bus couple of hours later, I called my dad: he pointed out the fact that I would have missed the trip if I had not met Tom on campus – and this meant that for some reason I had to be there.

During my first day or, more specifically, first two hours – I managed to lose the wallet. In this chromatic sepia light I started seeing values clearly: the wallet did not matter anymore.

Being placed in the Turin framework, its slow-motion pace and permanent, almost eternal architecture, I realized the complexity of the world we live in. Surprisingly, with the Medieval spirit encountering our lives in the last years, the pandemic and wars are set into completely different scale when you get to see how many disasters our world has been through. It gives the courage – and necessity – to speak up, to stand by your moral principles and give space to love and care for others; in whatever happens remain trustful to your own beliefs and resist the temptation to break down. What previously would be called staying apolitical, today demonstrates being weak. In times when, like a house out of cards, the places fall apart, the life falls apart, and the world is about to fall apart as well, speaking and participating is the only way through.
Nowadays life is perceived through different lenses, regularities switch and bother less in the light of the fact that my family is alive and have food to eat, water to drink and electricity. For declaring my lost wallet in Italy, I entered the small space which reminded me of a small offices of Moldova, the old parquet, monotone walls, some orders and medals on the wall from various Italian cities. Gray mail boxes, bunch of staplers, three desks in the office which apparently lived its own peaceful life. It was like an island of tranquility and safety in this hectic world where I only had to focus on material current matters: what was in the wallet, which color it was and when I last saw it. After filling in all the information and declaring its truth, I left.

Police office Sauze d'Oulx
Later during this trip I felt as if a small bell was ringing in my ears to remind that humanity is like a phoenix rising out of dust, will survive and resist. Staying close to each other, standing by the whole world, spreading words of love and appreciation – all of it is the pitch of color in this grayness; the light to see through, komorebi to observe and believe.
While the war is beyond our control, the storytelling is within. Taking small actions to support each other in these difficult times or even share an extra hug whenever possible. Art, books and architecture appear as a counter-strike to obstacles and suffering, governed by the urge to speak out. Looking at the fog covering the bottom of the mountain and getting through it – how is my family doing – what is going to happen next – are we going to survive if there is a nuclear war – what is this insanity - how is it even possible to start the war it is so stupid – what if – what if not – screaming-crying-hoping for the best-preparing for the worst – I see no other options but narrowing down the viewpoint; not neglecting the events but taking actions within this new framework and trust that even if it is the last day on Earth – it is lived with dignity, love and passion.
Writing a part of this post in what turned out to be my favourite place in Sauze – the restaurant with good hot chocolate at the top of the mountain – I tried to think of what I see as my toolbox to deal with whatever comes our way. I know: we shall resist and survive; architecture and art have lived through world wars, pandemics and irreversible changes. Life is moving on, and in all of it we must stay genuine, hope, believe and be ready to fight the despair. Whether we survive or not, we will always have, first of all, ourselves; and while we hold on to it, we have the whole world and life to live.

By the end of the trip the police had found my wallet and I got it back. Already in the bus, I also got my favourite bottle, which I thought was lost. Losing these small things did not matter – but finding them showed me that life is about relying and resisting.

In Sauze, I was going up with lifts and learning to ski. I was far from the fastest and most skilled skiers of the trip, but I learned that as soon as I can control the slower speed and concentrate on the imminent turns, I can move on. Learning to deal with steep slopes is about focusing on the moment and learning to live through it – this is what it takes to reach the end. Looking at these magnificent mountains and their resistance in this ear-piercing Alpine silence forces to face the fears and talk to them one-to-one: there are no escape routes. Even if they were, it would be the same as taking the black slope with the complete beginner skiing skills, because escaping and avoiding is no more an option, but only show weakness, blindness and cowardness.

When I was just planning the trip, I thought of all the hot chocolate I would drink on top of the mountain and watch the snowy Alpine peaks. I still did drink the chocolate, but throughout the trip even the sweetest flavours turned out to be bitter; so stays this week of Italy in my mind – it is a bitter sweet hot chocolate, where through all the sweetness of Alps could I face the bitterness of events, and through the bitterness could I figure out the ways to see the light.

Together with reassessing the values, new life is coming its way: the one where a constant reminder is to live, love and create. We might not survive the nuclear war, but Alps, art and architecture will; it gives the impulse to pass the story of today to the future, to write, draw, paint, investigate and keep on living our best lives. With almost a week after my trip to Italy, I am looking ahead and firmly believe that even if everything goes to ashes, as long as we are alive, we will always have ourselves and, therefore, the whole world to live in.

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