The deserter

A border, the mountains and a knife: the encounter of two destinies united by a trail.

e are at the end of the Second World War. Gino is going home from the frontier towards Italy with his smuggling load. On the same trail another man is ascending; he does not carry any load on his shoulders and he is not dressed according to the season, nevertheless he continues. It is fear that drives him. The two men meet. Gino knows at once that the man is a deserter: he has seen many passing in these parts trying to cross the border to escape from the war.

For Gino a glance is enough to know that if that man continues his ascent, he will not survive the cold of the night. He has to be convinced to go back. The deserter does not listen to reason; he wants to continue, to flee, and to escape. Like an animal in flight seeing its way blocked, the man reacts trying to fight and he suddenly has a knife in his hands…

The protagonist

The deserter

War is frightening and during the last conflict many were seeking refuge beyond the border.

The protagonist


A man of the mountains driven on the trails of smuggling by necessity.

Historic hints

Smuggling implies the existence of a border to cross illegally; that is why the history of smuggling in the upper alpine valleys in the course of time intertwines with the history of the frontier and that of itinerant trade activities.

Continually crossed by trade exchanges of those who knew how to elude the controls, over the course of time the frontiers became a kind of resource for the mountain communities, especially in the roughest areas and where surveillance was more difficult.

The frontier attracts and rejects. The frontier is a border and like that it separates and unites at the same time. For the exchanges between Italy and France in the south-western Alps the border has never been a limit due to the affinities of life, tradition and dialect that existed between the communities. In times of recession as during the wars for some the frontier became an opportunity, like for the smugglers. In the course of time motives, goods, passes, names of states and the uniforms of the customs officers changed, but there has always been a load to carry and a frontier to cross.


Ottonelli Elisabetta – Il Contrabbando – Storie di contrabbando per i colli di Viso – Comunità Montana Valli del Monviso – Progetto Alcotra Vis’Oc
Ottonelli Elisabetta – Les contrebandiers – Histoires de contrebande entre Queyras et vallées du Viso – L’ Office de Tourisme du Queyras – Projet Alcotra Vis’Oc

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