A comfortable blend of anthropology, history, and travelogue, with more than a touch of personal memoir thrown in. Born in Vienna and residing in Rome, Hofmann (The Spell of the Vienna Woods, 1994, etc.) has been a regular visitor to the South Tyrol/Dolomites area since 1936, when he spent a summer holiday visiting his Tyrolean wife-to-be. He begins his tour in the 1930s in Sterzing, his wife's hometown. At that time the place was overrun by the Italian army (Italy had won the region from Austria in WW I) and officially called Vipiteno; in their frenzy to Italianize, the conquerors even rechristened the dead, changing the names on headstones so that ""a long defunct Joseph Kollman posthumously became Giuseppe Colma."" The Germanophones quietly seethed under the rule of Italian Fascists until after WW II, when they gained back much of their autonomy. By the 1980s, the author notes, the area had become so complacently multicultural that it was held up to the former Yugoslavia as a model of interethnic harmony. From Sterzing/Vipiteno and the surrounding countryside, Hofmann travels to the capital city of Bolzano/Bozen, from which the stunning Rose Garden rock formations can be seen glowing pinkly at dusk; thence to Merano/Meran, where the Freuds and Kafka used to vacation; and all around the lofty peaks of those ""pallid mountains,"" the Dolomites. Along the way Hofmann meets colorful locals and stops at castles, churches, ruins, old spa towns, and new ski and summer resorts, mixing analysis of current conditions with myth and history from recent and ancient times--a fitting way to view a people and a region that sit solidly in these many eras. Too much practical information for the armchair traveler, perhaps, but a charming and erudite tour of an area rich with its long past.