3 October 2016

Road Trip 2 - Viva L'Italia

Viva l'Italia, l'Italia liberata

Viva l'Italia

It is Sunday morning. It is wonderful to wake in Italy, with the distant tang and clong of church bells, the mist, the sparkling air….. But I should have thought….. In the land of Brexit, the norm for a Sunday is that all remains quiet until the farmers’ market or the garden centre opens, then the pubs fill with families until dusk or football and eventually  everyone crowds home, irritably filling the roads.

I should have thought.  We are now in Italy. We set out for the Santuario di Oropa and it was quiet and bright – a lovely morning.  Oropa is a major site in northern Italy, and I falsely assumed that we would be well ahead of any crowds….. I should have thought. However, the seventeen kilometres of road winding up from Biella are already busy, and when we actually emerge, at over twelve hundred metres above sea level, the place is seething.  The car parks are full, vehicles lie abandoned on the verges, a full blown market thrives below the sanctuary complex, and a stream of people is slowly making its way up and into the three thousand capacity upper basilica…. Viva l'Italia, l'Italia che resiste......

From the Pharmacy I buy 200g of a Tisane (containing fumitory, alder buckthorn, woody nightshade, dandelion, burdock and sarsaparilla) to purify my blood, and a small bottle of 38% Herbetet Genepy to balance any harmful effects the Tisane may have.... Viva l'Italia!

Then, after genuflection and a sip of fountain water, we spin down to the almost deserted Biella, then on, across the River Po, and up the River Trebbia (deemed the most beautiful river valley in the world by war correspondent Ernest Hemingway) to the town of Bobbio, where, in 615, St Columbanus (from Leinster) died, having founded the abbey which later inspired Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose....  Viva l'Italia!

So, after a fine meal at the Albergo Ristorante Cacciatori (same family since 1909, and unchanged since we last stayed here about twenty years ago) which includes Taglierini di ortica con tre sughi diversi and some excellent local wine,  it becomes Monday, and my satnav has an off day…..

There is no straightforward way to go over the Apennines from Bobbio to the Ligurian sea – Satnav wanted me to retrace our route down to Piacenza and then take the autostrada to La Spezia, but I fancied exploring…..  So satnav, in curmudgeonly rebellion, took us up and over every twist and turn, along narrow passes with sheer drops on one side, and cliffs on the other, through densely wooded valleys and past tiny remote villages, until we were thoroughly sick of the beauty of unspoiled Italy, and we swung down to the autostrada near Pontremoli…..  Viva l'Italia!

We stay at Lerici, paying respect to P B Shelley, who spent the last three months of his life here in a villa on the shore, the Casa Magni, now a hotel, with ghostly inscriptions attached to the walls.  

I eat local oysters in his memory, but also remember being here at bicentenary celebrations in the castle in 1992, courtesy of the Keats Shelley House in Rome, with Adrian Mitchell, Dannie Abse, et al, when we delivered a plaque to the house and had a boat trip to throw roses into the waters where the poet drowned in 1822.  

I now note that older tourists stand in the Gulf of Poets, along the Blue Mile from San Terenzo to Lerici;  it’s a colourful version of Anthony Gormley’s Another Place on Crosby Beach....  

Viva l'Italia, l'Italia che è in mezzo al mare

Next stop Lucca.... l'Italia che non muore.  Here I am attracted especially by the female form, whether it is in the Cathedral, where Jacopo della Quercia’s monument to Ilaria del Carretto lies in the Sacristy, 

cyclists on the walls, 

or tourists in the evening.  

This is a city of beauty, from the garden of the Palazzo Pfanner, to the view from campanile of the Church of San Giovanni

and a meal in the Trattoria Da Giulio…..  

L'Italia con gli occhi asciutti nella notte scura

We move on, to my absolutely favourite place.  High on the slopes of volcanic Monte Amiata, in southern Tuscany, we stop for a drink with Corrado (born here in about 1928) and his wife Concetta, from Calabria.  Conversation is not always easy, due to Corrado’s rapid local dialect, and his habit of telling me stories of his military service, but he wants to know about Brexit, and we struggle to make sense of how this came about.

Up the steep strada Bianca is his birthplace, a simple house lit by candles and warmed by a smouldering wood fire.  Here I arrived one hot day in 1976, three days into my Italian life, and was immediately made at home by our friends, who had acquired the house from Corrado a few years before.

Barely altered from that time, the house has seen me come and go through heat and cold, rain and snow, over the years, and it still holds the magic of L'Italia dimenticata (forgotten Italy) that holds the key to my love of Europe.  With deer hiding in the bushes around, jays cackling through the trees, and a gentle sunset, our friends prepare supper with flambéed guinea fowl, while we rest by the fireplace with some robust vino sfuso from Col d’Orcia.  Aaah!...  

Viva l'Italia

And so, we set off on the last leg of our journey south, driving over the mountain in thick cloud, rain in the distance.  As we move down the Via Cassia, flooded ditches and soaked fields tell of the storm we somehow missed, and then, when we approach our destination, the village of Trevignano Romano, on Lake Bracciano, we see the hazel nuts have been stripped from the trees, and the road is filled with debris.  In fact, the lake shore is awash with nuts, and the villagers are out in force collecting the free feast in plastic bags, like a strange version of Whisky Galore!...  

L'Italia derubata e colpita al cuore

So anyway, the storm has passed, and we are ‘home’ where we lived for more than ten years.  The lake is quiet now, and we enjoy fine weather, some of the time revisiting natural 

and man-made 

wonders in the countryside of northern Lazio;  

at others just lazing on the beach 

or meeting friends.  

The talk is dominated by Brexit, laced with concerns about Italian politics and the weakness of Renzi. But the consensus is that Europe is not perfect, and that Britain is wrong to turn its back on the continent. Divided we fall…..  At a distance, having driven 1,500 miles through three countries, Brexit seems unreal, but we become aware of the weakness of an unwritten constitution, and find it hard to explain how the votes of 37% of the electorate can have determined this situation.  Especially when it would seem that many of the 37% did not understand the full import of their vote…..  

Viva l'Italia!

And then I fell....  (for details, see Part 1).  Or was it that the world fell slightly and I was merely a piece of dust disturbed by the movement? Anyway the beautiful land rushed at me with force, causing a puncture in the skin at the end of my elbow, though this was disproportionate to the spreading purple and yellow bruises up and down the muscles of my arm.  I was incautious.  I was unprepared.  But hey!

Every silver lining has a cloud.....

Viva L'Italia
Francesco De Gregori

Francesco De Gregori, sixty-five year old Roman singer and song-writer, Il Principe dei cantautori, composed this song in the late seventies. It is a hymn to the paradoxes of Italy, the blend of pleasures and pains that forms the country’s complexion.  In the main it consists of opposed generalities, but the reference to December 12th gives it a darker tone, as that was the day in 1969 of what became known as the Piazza Fontana Massacre.  16 people died and 58 were seriously injured when a bomb was detonated at 16.45 on the third floor of a bank in Milan. Over 4,000 arrests were made in the wake of this (and other) bombings and attempted bombings in Milan and Rome.  One of the prime suspects died after ‘falling’ from a fourth floor window of the police station where he was being held.

But that detail is only a part of the picture, and De Gregori does not exaggerate its importance.  Italy is far from perfect, but it has many attractions.  Like Europe as a whole. 

It was first issued in 1979, but has become a standard of his repertoire, and has almost assumed the status of an unofficial national anthem.  It was even adopted  by the Socialist Party (among others) though De Gregori did not agree with this.

The version I have was recorded with Lucio Dalla (who died in 2012) on their 2010 Work in Progress tour. One word is different from the original - povera  replaces nuda.....

Viva l'Italia

Viva l'Italia, l'Italia liberata
L'Italia del valzer, l'Italia del caffè
L'Italia derubata e colpita al cuore
Viva l'Italia, l'Italia che non muore
Viva l'Italia, presa a tradimento
L'Italia assassinata dai giornali e dal cemento
L'Italia con gli occhi asciutti nella notte scura
Viva l'Italia, l'Italia che non ha paura

Viva l'Italia, l'Italia che è in mezzo al mare
L'Italia dimenticata e l'Italia da dimenticare
L'Italia metà giardino e metà galera
Viva l'Italia, l'Italia tutta intera
Viva l'Italia, l'Italia che lavora
L'Italia che si dispera, l'Italia che si innamora
L'Italia metà dovere e metà fortuna
Viva l'Italia, l'Italia sulla luna

Viva l'Italia, l'Italia del 12 dicembre
L'Italia con le bandiere, l'Italia nuda (povera) come sempre
L'Italia con gli occhi aperti nella notte triste
Viva l'Italia, l'Italia che resiste

And in imperfect English:

Long Live Italy!

Long live Italy, liberated Italy,
Italy of the waltz, Italy of coffee
Italy the robbed, Italy the heart-throb,
Long live Italy, the Italy that doesn't die.
Long live Italy, betrayed Italy,
Italy assassinated by the press, and by concrete,
Italy with dry eyes in the dark night,
Long live Italy, fearless Italy

Long live Italy, Italy in the middle of the sea,
Forgotten Italy, Italy to forget,
Italy half garden and half prison,
Long live Italy, all of Italy,
Long live Italy, working Italy,
Italy that despairs and Italy that falls in love,
Italy half responsibility and Italy half luck,
Long live Italy, Italy on the moon.

Long live Italy, the Italy of December 12th,
Italy with its flags, Italy as poor as ever,
Italy with open eyes in the sad night,
Long live Italy, Italy that keeps fighting on.

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