Italy

Transumanza

Once shepherds, forever shepherds

Transhumance is a cycle: the migration of the flocks between the flats and the mountain pastures renews every year one of the oldest rites of the human kind. It’s a ritual imbued with freedom, but nowadays it’s overwhelmed by endless regulations, a perfect symbol of the “liquid life” that, according to sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, it’s the peculiar trait of contemporary men.
Following interior maps, shepherds keep on tracing itineraries every time different, but always the same, known as batida: interstitial spaces between a mountain pasture and one on the flat but constantly changing because of new buildings, new roads, fields disappearing, huge areas suddenly covered in concrete.

In the Lombardy region there are about sixty flocks left, each one counting between 1,000 and 1,500 sheep of the giant Bergamasca breed: small armies intended mostly to become halal meat for Muslim consumers, as shearing gives almost no profit, nowadays.
Sales are made under tents almost invisible to those not interested, simple pavilions quick to disassemble as in few minutes shepherds must return on their path, or must be loading their animals on trucks, ready to disappear in suburbs dotted with rusty, old factories or trying to sneak out of a town, always with no help at all. For those living in the cities, flocks are an intermittent reality torn between an ancient bucolic stereotype and the annoyance given to the urban traffic.

A mountain pasture is still the perfect destination to raise sheep in good health, even though the repopulation of wolves and bears raised the number of aggressions and falls in ravines. Some consortiums and regional parks work to safeguard transhumance culture, a natural form of defense against the consumption of soil and intensive livestock farming, but a street invasion or the occupation of a parking lot by a flock are considered something extemporaneous by most of the local institutions, so not worthy of any kind of sustain or help.
Sheep, it must be said, when free in the environment, may also become a living weather forecast, as lambs flag the arrival of rain with repeated jumps. So out of time, but still able to create wonder, transhumance may be seen as a peculiar point of view on the issues of our sedentary society, sending a warning of redemption to those who didn’t loose their ability to read the signs of nature.

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