Der Himmel über Berlin

We were at BYU’s International Cinema yesterday, watching “Wings of Desire,” or translated literally from the German title, “The Heavens Over Berlin.” “City of Angels” was based upon it, although characteristically, the depth was minimized and the sex maximized in the Hollywood film.

The original German film is a beautiful, thoughtful meditation on mortality and the Fall. Damiel the angel has watched humanity unfold for thousands of years, and finally wants to personally step into the world he knows so intimately from above. After his fall and the revelation it brings, his final words in the film are: “I know now what no angel knows.”

Our journey to Italy is in some ways similar. It feels almost as if we are looking down from an immense distance, watching ourselves falling into Italy. There is the excitement, the anticipation of seeing the world suddenly in color, of discovering a whole new way of living and looking at the world through new eyes, speaking a new language, rediscovering roots and realizing that everything we are experiencing as new is really only reemerging from some deep genetic memory.

At the same time, it is like watching the ground rush up to you just before you pull the string on the parachute. It’s all happening so fast. Yet somehow, everything is connecting like indispensable links on a long-foreseen chain binding us to Piedmont – the land, the people, and some invisible mission that draws us back.

We were in Logan last week. We were intending to go to Moab, some eight hours away. But around the Utah border, we suddenly felt that we should go to Logan instead. It’s a little town up in a high valley in Utah, similar enough to the Waldensian Valleys of Italy that it drew the 19th century immigrants, and most of them and their descendents never left. Tony has aunts and uncles and cousins of every description and degree in that little town. Some of them also have this hapless passion for geneology. Richard Boudrero, whom I think is Tony’s second cousin once removed, came over for dinner to Aunt Heidi’s where we were staying. He brought a slide show of his trip to Italy two summers ago. He went to Lagnasco, where Domenico was born, to Melle, the cradle of the Bodrero family, and to San Germano Chisone, Henriette’s hometown, and the place where the first branch of the Church was organized in Italy. He met the only Bodreros still in Lagnasco. In fact, the connection with family was so compelling to him that he cancelled his trip to the Italian Riviera and just stayed inland with the relatives.

His son was leaving on a mission for Mendoza, Argentina that week. We went to the farewell and saw a lot of Boudreros. It was a little strange to be the unknown collateral relatives who are moving to Italy next week–a bizzare, almost artificial notoriety. But at the same time, it seemed an appropriate place from which to depart.

So here we are. Our flight leaves for Italy on Wednesday. Nearly everything is finished, beyond a few obvious essentials like getting a hotel and car in Turin, forwarding our mail to the virtual address we’ve chosen, and picking up our last documents from the Lieutenant Governor’s office. Oh, and deciding how to occupy two small children through eighteen straight hours of airplanes and airports.

Will it really be so different? Is Italy truly so compelling? What will we learn there that “no angel knows”?