Wednesday, July 27, 2011

La Famiglia

A strange thing happened this July in the Umbrian mountains. My entire living family got together, not including our morose half sister who lives in the Highlands of Scotland.

I was not looking forward to the lunch with an easy heart, remembering a long family history of social disasters, accusations, anger and fearsome table fights of loud voices and waving hands. "If I get up and leave you follow even if you don't understand what's going on," I said to my slightly bemused wife who grew up in a Jewish family, where gatherings were fun. There was a reason I emigrated I had to keep reminding her.

With hindsight I needn't have worried. My sisters, twins and older than me by ten years and one week got along famously after three decades of barely being on speaking terms. Tish serving Liz pasta was a picture I never thought I'd get to take.

Here they were with our late mother on the island of Capri in 1968. Not as happy as it might appear.

Liz's husband Vincenzo has become the de facto patriarch of the clan,

Nowadays a mellow grandfather.

Tish's husband Giancarlo, like us child free.

I brought everyone coconuts from my yard, a gift my wife was astonished to see was most popular.

Daniele is 35, Liz's eldest with two children of his own growing up in his Eco-home powered by solar panels, wood fires and well water. He has big plans to make his own olive oil which he is now marketing in the US. His american uncle alas is no salesman...

Dario, his younger brother is settling into the family business too. Neither speaks much English but my wife draws them out.

It's hard for me to remember that Liz and her twin were the bane of my life 40 years ago.

We did rural things after lunch. Checking Vincenzo's cows that according to his boys take too much work to raise.

I showed my sister some examples of the benefits of digital photography and to my astonishment a sepia shot came out looking like Clyde Butcher.

Then Vincenzo took us to meet his boars.

Hen was working in the woods this part winter when he heard some squealing and found these two orphans whose mother probably did a Bambi during hunting season. He took them home in his pockets and raised them in his kitchen.

They have a fearsome reputation in the wild, a cross between alligators and iguanas for ferocity, destructive tendencies and invulnerability. Here they were like puppies.

Pizzas for all for dinner, capping what was an extraordinarily amicable day for me. We apparently managed to wear Flavio out too, he of the pink crocs.

And the women cleaned up, the men talked and I went outside to reflect.

And to cap a perfect day a forty minute ride to Terni in the dark. I could ask for nothing more.

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July TwentySeventh #3

By GarytheTourist. Conchscooter is back August First.

Santa Restituta

My brother in law mentioned to me that the local pedestrian village hidden in a fold of the mountains had been restored recently. We decided to stop by and check it out.

The road to Santa Restituta ends abruptlynin. Parking lot at the base of the village. A road wraps around the hill town to end in another parking lot at the top but we wanted to take a stroll as we had an appointment with the family for another massive lunch and exercise seemed a good idea.

The village is certainly dolled up. I liked the severe anti-theft window bars softened in their intensity by a neat window box of blooms.

Sometimes, looking at this ancient hill towns it's hard to know if it was convenient to build up or done as a means of self defense.

And it was a long way up...

This was the splendid view across southern Umbria from the base of the stepped walkway up the village. Te house below is for sale, two units, garage, and vegetable garden with mature vines.My wife wanted it for Santa Restituta got under her skin

Little wonder really as the ancient winding steps keep cars far away and the silence was deafening.

"Take a picture of that door!" she commanded, so I did.

The is not a whole lot of traffic outside the village either.

And should any marauding Visigoths show up the town walls are still quite sturdy.

We saw this young mother walking around in endless circles doing the pedestrian equivalent of driving her infant to sleep in the car. She did look weird walking around and around in silent, precisely repetitious circles.

Santa Restituta is restored and cleaned up inn all the details.

Despite the steep hill or perhaps because of it, the village has a unique appeal. For me not least because no one knows me here half way between Terni and my sisters' homes.

Walking back down the hill we met three residents of the village and we chatted a while, at least I did while my wife smiled in Anglo-incomprehension. They lamented the cold dark wet winters and agreed it was a fine place to retire.

We talked about the economic crisis in. Italy and the US and spent cheerful half hour lamenting the passing of the easy recent past.

Time to ride.

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July TwentySeventh #2

By GarytheTourist.

150 Years Of Italy

It's formal name is the Altar of the Nation, completed in 1905 to celebrate King Victor Emmanuel of Savoy, King of Turin and Sardinia's unification of Italy. It's known locally as the "typewriter" or "wedding cake" or more formally the Vittoriano and when it was built it was the object of much scandal as it covered up portions of the Roman Forum which is still not properly excavated to this day between the Vittoriano and the Colosseum.

I am quite fond of the wedding cake though I must confess until my wife expressed a desire I had never climbed to the top, whence I discovered the views are quite tremendous.

When my wife was briefly unwell during our recent visit to Rome I took advantage of her bed ridden state to take the scooter to the Vittoriano to check out a museum dedicated to my favorite period of history, the Risorgimento. Unlike the Renaissance, the Risorgimento celebrates the unification of the Italian peninsula bringing together the Italian speaking peoples for the first time since the Roman Empire collapsed 1400 years previously. The figure most usually associated with the Risorgimento is Giuseppe Garibaldi, born in Nice (Nizza) then an Italian city, subsequently ceded to France in exchange for non interference in the unification process as Turin went to war with the several Italian states in 1861.

Ironically Garibaldi lost his home to the cause to which he devoted his entire life. He nearly lost his life at the Battle of Aspromonte when Italian troops of all people, opened fire on him and wounded him as he attempted to speed up the conclusion of reunification by attacking Rome, the last hold out in the unification process. 2011 is the 150th anniversary of the first steps to unification and Italy has been celebrating wildly. Fireworks and displays all over the place with uncharacteristic displays of the national colors including the Prefecture (the federal building) in Terni.

The Museum of the Risorgimento in the Vittoriano has more than two dozen rooms devoted to the subject of Italian unification. I was in heaven as I got to see and come close to touching the artifacts I had read about so long ago.

Giuseppe Mazzini, the "other Giuseppe" after whom streets and piazzas are named all over Italy was the devil incarnate in the 19th century. He never veered from his vision of Italy as a democratic republic and when the King of Turin thrust aside his friend Garibaldi and anointed himself King of Italy Mazzini remained steadfastly opposed to unification as a royal accomplishment. He spent most of his life in exile and died in Italy under an assumed name, still in hiding as the ultimate revolutionary.

Camillo Benso Conte di Cavour was the man who made unification possible. His death mask was made in 1861, as he died a few months after the new Italian state was created. He was the King of Turin and Sardinia's Prime Minister and was the architect of the French treaties and concessions that made the drive to unify possible. His name is posted on streets everywhere as well, though these republican days they tend to drop his title of count.

Their arch enemy was Pope Pius the Ninth, elected Pope just before the European-wide uprisings against monarchies and Empires of 1848. Pius IX was a reformer and a supporter of unification originally but after Mazzini and Garibaldi forced him into exile in the Kingdom of Naples and created their all too brief Roman Republic he turned hard core, reinstated the death penalty and had his spies and Swiss mercenaries hunt down the rebels and hang them.

The opera Tosca is set in this period and the evils of the Papal police state are nicely summed up in the character of the police chief Scarpia. On a slightly less melodramatic note the museum displayed the complex handcuffs used by Papal Gendarmes.

ThIs sign was posted in the Papal jail for the condemned to read:

"In the venerable church of San Nicolo in Arcione to serve the needs of souls seeking purgatory the Holy Sacrament will be displayed for those condemned to death today from 20:00 hours to midnight and tomorrow morning until the sentences have been carried out. Those who visit the church will gain a plenary indulgence." A decidedly peculiar interpretation of the fifth comandment!

The Italians were coming though. They took the duchies of Parma, Modena and Tuscany in short order but the French ordered the new Italian army not to invade Rome. Garibaldi and his thousand Red Shirts came north from their landing in Sicily and Kingdom of Naples went into the history books with it's Spanish Bourbon King whose turn it was for exile. Only the Pope held out in Rome defended by his Swiss mercenaries and the French Army.

Rome was Pius's curse. SPQR-Senatus PopulusQue Romanum- "The Senate and People of Rome" a phrase still used on the Eternal City's shield.The new Italian state moved it's capital to Florence in 1865, but it was explicitly a temporary move.Everyone knew Rome was going to be the new state's capital and Garibaldi's impatience notwithstanding everyone knew it was only a matter of time. Even Pius seemed to understand that. Had he been in any other city they might have left him alone as he carried a lot of moral authority and no one wanted the nascent state to start out by declaring war on the Holy Father. So he sat in Rome surrounded by the remains of the Papal States (more or less the modern region of Lazio) where he tried to figure what to do next. Also in 1865 he abolished the Papal currency, the Scudo (worth the unimaginably large sum of 5,400 Italian Lire) and the Baiocco and the Soldo both fractions of a Scudo and replaced them with his own Lire on par with the Italian currency, under the guise of streamlining the old complex currency and going decimal.

In the Vatican stamp collection there is on display a set of the last set of stamps designed for the Papal States, in late1869. They were never printed as an explanatory note on the display points out rather plaintively, owing to the "noted events of September 1870" as though The End is still too painful to say out loud. The end was indeed drawing near and it was precipitated by the Franco-Prussian War when the newly unified German states flexed their muscles and pasted the French laying siege to Paris. Napoleon III hastily recalled his troops and the Italians moved in. The Swiss fought hard in their prim white uniforms but the Italians soon surrounded the city. Pius refused to sue for peace and the Italians finally forced a breach at Porta Pia.

On September 20th 1870 Pius IX ordered a white flag flown from the dome of St Peter's and Italy had it's historic capital at last. Milan and Venice were reunited with the Italian state but Trento remained part of the Austro -Hungarian Empire until the end of World War One. That was when Italy snagged Bolzano and South Tirol on the grounds they were on the winning side and the mountains made a natural frontier and thus the German speaking province has been Italian ever since. Mussolini absorbed parts Yugoslavia into Italy and when he declared war in 1940 took back Garibaldi's home town of Nice and made it Italian again for three years. Modern Italy's boundaries were finalized in 1954 whenYugoslavia's claims to Trieste were rejected and Italy finally lost its toe hold on the Venetian cities on the Dalmatian coast.

The Vittoriano was completed and the unknown soldier was laid to rest there in 1905, in the film clip I photographed above.

The Popes who never left the Vatican after the defeat of 1870 finally signed the Lateran Pacts in 1929 giving Mussolini's government the international legitimacy he craved, also giving reparations to the pope for his lost territories while recognizing the independent state of the Vatican City. In retune Italy made Catholicism the official state religion and taught catechism in the schools.

A deal that I'm sure has Mazzini spinning in his grave. He got the last laugh though, when in a plebiscite after World War Two when Italians rejected the the House of Savoia by the slimmest of margins and voted in a democratic Republic.

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