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"Putting Down Strays"

 

 

Laura Busini – Birch

 

 

 

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Publish= ed by "Youth Support"

        =                     13 Crescent Road

        =                    = ;  London BR3 2NF

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First E= dition  1994

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Copyrig= ht LB Birch

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Acknowl= edgements

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 My thanks and appreciation go to a= ll my friends and  members of my fa= mily, especially my mother, who have helped to fill in some of the episodes of p= re war years.

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 Also my thanks to the members of t= he Resistance

 who provided me with many details.=

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Photogr= aphs courtesy of - The War Museum - London England

        =             &n= bsp;           &nbs= p;     - Angelo Mezzanotte - Fabriano Italy


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Laura B= irch was born and brought up in Mussolini's <= span lang=3DEN-GB style=3D'font-size:14.0pt'>Italy, in a small town in Central Italy<= span lang=3DEN-GB style=3D'font-size:14.0pt'>.=   She earned a degree in classics at the University of Rome.

She met= her husband, a Major in the Royal Artillery, during the fighting in her home t= own, when the British Eight Army, pushing its way through Italy, freed the country from the Fasci= st and German occupation. At the end of the war they married and she came to live= in England in 1946.

Having = taught herself English, she spent many years teaching in a primary school. She ha= s two daughters and lives in London.

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        =             &n= bsp;           &nbs= p;            =   

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  By the same author:

        =     "Traditional Italian Food&qu= ot;

        =   Published by Fontana paperbacks in 1985.

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To the gallant young men who fought for my country,   so that our l= ives would be worth living.

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"They grow not = old, as we that are left grow old; age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn= . At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them."= ;

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PHOTOGRAPH
ALLIED TROOPSIN MOUNTAINS

NA 18312

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CONTENTS

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Introdu= ction.

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Chapter= 1.   July 1944. The priest's dis= covery.       

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Chapter= 2.   Rome,   June 1970,   early morning

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Chapter= 3.   1895,   a village at the foot of the Central Appennines.

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Chapter= 4.   Central City,   Colorado,   U.S.A.

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Chapter= 5.   1911,   Giovanna.=

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Chapter= 6.   The Italian village of Mont= ello

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Chapter= 7.   Italy,   1920-1927.

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Chapter= 8.   Life in the schoolhouse.

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Chapter= 9.   Travelling with Erroll.

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Chapter= 10.  Fascism.

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Chapter= 11.  1939-1943.

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Chapter= 12.  In the shadow of "The Witch&= quot;.

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Chapter= 13.  Katia.

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Chapter= 14.  "Auf wiedersen freunden"= ;.

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Chapter= 15.  Putting down "strays".<= o:p>

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Chapter= 16.  Fischietto,   the "whistler".

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Conclus= ion.

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        =               INTRODUCTION

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This is= not purely a work of fiction.  It is, as= far as possible, a truthful account of an Italian family from the year 1890, lead= ing to a climax in the tragedies of the second world war.

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The des= cription of life in Italian villages during the pre-war and war years is drawn from personal experiences of the author and interviews with many participants.<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'>  The plight of immigrants to U.S.A= . and Argentina are drawn from true stories.

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Some of= the events described may seem melodramatic, such as Father Vincenzo's discovery in the mulberry grove. They are absolutely accurate.  It should be remembered that this= was a time of great cruelty,  turmo= il and destruction,  culminating in = the violent end of Mussolini and his mistress, shot, then hung by their feet on lamp posts in Piazza Loreto, in Milan.

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The the= me of the book is the life of Joe, American-Italian, the author's Godfather,  (assistant to the late Mr.E.Parso= ns, expert on Renaissance Art and buyer for the Metropolitan Museum of New Yor= k) and his wife Giovanna, one time emigrant= to Argentina.

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The acc= ount of the career and trial of Katia is based on official documents.

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CHAPTER  = 1.

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The priest's discovery

     

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It was = July 20th 1944, early evening.

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Don Vin= cenzo was briskly walking from his home towards a&n= bsp; house just outside the village, where one of his  parishioners lay ill. He was brin= ging the last sacrament, the "estrema unzione", as  Antonio Fini was not expected to = last to the next day. He kept to the middle of the road, so that he could be seen, wearing his black robe,    as the village was in "no man's land" and anyone could ha= ve been easily mistaken for a partisan or a "rebel",  depending from which side you loo= ked at it. He held in his hands, tightly against his chest,    the sacred chalice , = the ampoules,  wrapped in the mau= ve stole which he would wear at Antonio's bedside. The Germans were on retreat,  but still their pre= sence was felt very much around the countryside,  while the Allied troops had not quite got there. The roar of war was present with  the heavy artil= lery firing at intervals,    with aeroplanes discharging their bombs  incessantly,   while the ground trembled a= s for a continuous earthquake.

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Don Vin= cenzo was in a hurry,  as he knew he sh= ould get back before sunset,  when= the curfew came into force,  so he decided to take a short cut through  a grove of mulberry trees,  to get to the isolated farmhouse.

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The Ger= mans had been very active in their "rastrellamenti" the raking of the countryside,  taking with the= m in their retreat as many civilians as possible,  mainly men young and not so young= . Most of the male population had escaped to the mountains, while women,    children and the very= old stayed indoors, afraid even to look out,   hoping that staying out of = sight would improve their chances of escaping the raids of the SS.

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Don Vin= cenzo did not  meet anybody in his erra= nd of mercy ,  but   

somehow= , he was feeling uncomfortable, as if someone was following him or looking at him a= ll the time.

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"I= t must be my imagination"  he said= to himself,  taking courage by r= eciting an "Ave Maria".  He= always looked down when praying , it made him feel nearer to God. He was approach= ing a grove of beautiful mulberry trees, their glorious heads of shiny,  bright green leaves,  laden with bunches of fruit which= would ripen in about a month's time.  He always loved to admire the beautiful  trees, so he lifted his eyes when a pungent,  unmistakable odour reached his no= strils.

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Startle= d,  he stopped. He saw, hanging from = two of the trees, what looked like two human bodies. He went nearer and  realised that they were the corps= es of two young men,  their faces unrecognisable by the violent death they had suffered. They were dangling = from two thick branches. There was not a rope around their necks,  but a butcher's meat hook pierced through their throats.

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Numbed = by the horror of what his eyes were seeing,  Don Vincenzo quickly made the sign of the cross,  murmuring a prayer.  

 

Who wer= e they? How long had they been there? There was nothing he could do, not even arrange = to bury them. He knew that from somewhere spying eyes would soon denounce him= . He knew that if he touched those bodies,&nbs= p; left there as warning to others of the power of the S.S. his own co= rpse could be the next one hanging from some tree..........

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CHAPTER 2

 

 

Rome,  June 1971  early morning=

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Rome wa= s waking up,  the air was fresh, still= and filled with the scent of blossoms from the courtyards,  a blend of orange,  gardenia and jasmine, mixed with = the pungent odour from the scorched earth,   as the council's spraying v= an had just finished its tour, quenching the pavements from the heat of the previ= ous day.

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It was = going  to be another very hot day, of a = more than usually hot Summer, but at that time of the morning, before the rays = of the sun had reached the pavements, the air was pleasantly fresh and comfor= tably warm.

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Over th= e rooftops of the tall buildings,  the s= wallows were screeching,  welcoming,<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'>  with their garrulous voice,  another glorious day.<= /span>

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Marco o= pened the small door next to the great gate of the palace at No7 in Via Sistina,  looked up to the sky and drew an enormous gulp of that cool morning air. This was the time of the day he li= ked best,  when tradesmen made th= eir deliveries, either by van, by bicycles,&n= bsp; on foot. Everybody was so energetic trying to get through as much w= ork as possible before the heat became too unbearable and weariness set in.

 

At the = corner of Via Sistina and Via  del Tritone,  the newspaper kiosk= opened up its shutters, giving a colourful view of the illustrated periodicals th= at the vendor switched around making room for the new consignment due later in  the morning,  while waiting for the delivery van bringing the early daily papers. As soon as this arrived,  he would make his first sale of t= he day,  as Marco,  as punctual as dawn,  would walk over to collect the tw= o items his "padrone" regularly required:  Il Messaggero di Roma and The New= York Times.

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At the = florist two doors away masses of exotic blooms were arriving,  bringing all the colours and perf= ume one could think of. The same van then proceeded to refill the stalls of the fl= ower sellers at the foot of the flight of steps of Trinita' dei Monti in Piazza= di Spagna.

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Marco a= lways had a word,  a smile and a joke for= the delivery boys,  before starti= ng on his daily task of cleaning the courtyard of the palace in his care. The fl= owers he grew in that small garden and in beautiful antique roman urns were just= as magnificent as the ones from the flower market. He took great care in them= . He never missed watering his garden morning and evening.

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The 'tu= berose' were just opening their buds releasing their heady fragrance,  the hibiscus were in full bloom a= nd the "canne d'India" gave a splash of colour to the darkest corner of= the cloister,  opposite the main = gate. Anturhyums were another species of his favourite flowers,  with their unreal wax like trumpe= ts.

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"Y= our fingers must be really green"  Mr.Mason, his American employer used to say,  smiling,  as he admired  them,  because he knew that Marco consid= ered this English idiomatic phrase very funny indeed.

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That mo= rning Marco was not feeling his usual cheerful self,   he could not think why. Som= ething was bothering him. He said to himself:&nb= sp; "I am well and so is Maria, and all our family, so what's the matter with me?"

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He shru= gged his shoulders and went on working. Maria, his wife,  was getting ready for their departure,  that same afterno= on, to go to spend two weeks at their daughter's home,  in Civitavecchia,  a small town on the Tyrrhenian  sea,  just North of Rome. They went eve= ry year.

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He shou= ld feel happy,  as he would see again his only da= ughter Clelia and his grandchild,  f= ive years old Delia. His son in law worked as a steward on one of the boats on= the regular ferry to and from Sardinia. A brother of Maria usually came to sta= y in their flat in the basement in Via Sistina ,  to look after things during their absence. At Christmas time the daughter and her family came to Rome to spe= nd the holiday,  as on the ferry= it was a slack time.

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He shou= ld feel excited,  but maybe he did no= t like the idea of all the household going on the same day. He felt as if they we= re sailors abandoning ship,  so attached and loyal he was to his work and to his employer. The people livi= ng in the palace all went away for some months every year,  but never in a span of a few hour= s from each other. Sometimes,  while= he was attending to the flowers,  he= used to sing some well known arias,  from the operas  which he loved.  He could step into the role of ma= ny characters created by Verdi,  Puccini and other famous composers.

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He rega= rded himself as a good tenor,  aft= er Joe,  Mr.Mason's assistant,  had once remarked on his  powerful voice. Whenever he could= he always went to some performances at the Opera House. Even from the "piccionaia",  the = Gods,  he enjoyed the performance of good artists. He regarded himself as a connoisseur,  especially at the debut of some young  new  singers,   he felt he could spot talen= t when present. Once a year Mr. Mason treated him to two tickets,  then Marco felt a real well to do "signore" as they were always for the most expensive seats in the house and gave him and Maria the chance of going in their best attire. Mar= ia would wear a new dress especially made by a friend and he would look really smart in  his best blue suit<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'>  sponged and beautifully pressed .=

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He thou= ght the weather would change that morning. In the distance it looked as if one of = those Summer storms, for which Rome is famous,&= nbsp; was gathering strength. The "goccioloni", huge rain drops= ,  would drown everything in their w= ake.

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"T= hat's why my wound is so painful,   it is always the signal for a change in the weather"  he thought. His wound being a sca= r on his right knee which he had since childhood when he had skidded into a gla= ss fronted cupboard.

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He smil= ed. Tomorrow he would be playing with little Delia,  nothing else would matter. He wou= ld take her for walks in the countryside and to a lonely spot on the beach which at this time of the year was almost deserted. He indulged in teaching her all about Nature, the sea, the plants and trees, the birds. He wanted her to g= et a good education, to get a wide general knowledge that would help her once s= he started school. He had missed all this in his early years and his own daug= hter had not been very lucky either in this respect.  He had experienced hard times in = those early days of his married life and Maria had to resort to some domestic wo= rk to supplement their meagre income. Clelia had the minimum schooling permitted= by the  law, which meant her edu= cation had stopped when she was thirteen. She was not very interested in learning= , but she was very good with her hands,  in an artistic way. She had found a job as a painter in a pottery. = She had given that up once married, when with

her hus= band they settled in Civitavecchia.

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Marco d= id not care for this old port. He liked to watch the ships come and go with their carg= oes of cars and goods and in Summer, &nb= sp; people, lots of people, bodies, young and old, tired, perspiring bo= dies. At one time he had thought of having a trip to see just what Sardinia was = like. He had heard so much of those strange, different people, different from the Italians on the mainland which, with contempt they called "Continente",  a population of peasants,  back= ward shepherds,  wild in their fee= lings and their temperament.

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The sig= ht of the waiting people on the quayside at holiday time had put Marco off that idea. Apart from the bodies,  there= were such long queues for cars as well as for passengers on foot,  in the scorching heat often tempe= rs were short and the place became  a bedlam. It was no good even if you booked a passage. Italians have the kna= ck of jumping queues. Sardinia had now become such a fashionable place where everybody wanted to go while there was not enough transport for them.=

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Italian= s are not daunted by such a terrible way of beginning and ending a holiday,  as long as they can tell their friends  "I have been to Sardinia"!  "I have= seen the Costa Smeralda!"  Sardinians were now a wealthy crowd,  the once scorned "Continente= " had become their playground .The shepherds that once lived alone most of the y= ear with their flocks in isolated huts on the wild mountains of their island w= ere now living in Tuscany,  in The Marche region, buying up derelict farms, enjoying their newly found wealth= from the sale of their barren land  to the tourist industry.

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As he w= as alone with his thoughts, the noise of an engine startled Marco and a shining bla= ck Mercedes arrived at the front door,  brought by the driver from the garage which was at the back of the = building. The driver did not have to make himself known,  he was a familiar face,  part of Mr. Mason's household.  With the efficiency Marco always = showed in performing his duties, he quickly opened the gate for the car to enter = in the courtyard,  where it stop= ped at the side of the well that stood in the centre of the cloister. He then pro= ceeded to the intercom to announce the car's arrival.

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A few m= inutes later a wheel chair was pushed out of the lift with an elderly gentleman,<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'>  Mr. Mason, escorted by a young la= dy on one side and on the other side, by a good looking man, blonde with  a hint of grey hair,  Joe Perotti, Mr. Mason's assistan= t.

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As Marc= o saw the small group coming towards the car, he felt a thump in his heart. He knew = now why he could not be cheerful today. What was bothering him was the thought= of seeing Mr.Mason leave in a wheelchair. He had always been the picture of health, he walked so straight,  before his operation a few months earlier,  when the illness had struck him. = The removal of a cancerous tumour had been successful,  but nobody dared to make any supp= osition and to think further ahead , fearing for the worst.

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Mr.Maso= n had not recovered as well and as quickly as it had been hoped. He found great difficulty in walking,  that'= s why a wheelchair had to be provided for him. Determined not to give in, he had decided he would not miss his planned yearly stay by the sea, the sea he l= oved with all his heart,  in this = case the Riviera of Amalfi,  south= of Naples.

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Joe had= managed to engage a nurse from the American hospital,  who would accompany and look after him. Everybody in the neighbourh= ood knew Mr.Mason and admired him: he was cheerful,   kind, he had a word and a j= oke for all. The qualities of his character,  coupled with his generosity had made of him almost a legendary figu= re. Marco and the chauffeur in unison, welcomed the trio with a "Good morning,  Mr. Mason,  good morning Mr. Perotti,   good morning Miss Saville&q= uot;.

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They he= lped Mr. Mason  into the back seat of = the capacious car,  then the nurs= e sat next to him,  while Marco pla= ced the folded  wheelchair and  the cases he had collected earlie= r in the Mercedes's boot. The old gentleman looked around the courtyard at all = the flowers.

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"T= hey are a credit to you,   Marco,<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'>   this year they are better t= han ever before",   he commented,  smiling at Marco = and shaking his hand.  "Give= my love to Maria and to Clelia and her family",  he added.

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Then he= turned to the other gentleman,  took bo= th his hands in his,  looking in his= eyes, he whispered  "Good bye,= Joe, give my love to New York".

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He quic= kly turned his face away,  firmly gave t= he driver the order. "Let's go,  Ernesto".

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He alwa= ys spoke in English to everybody in his household. Marco spoke the language well, havi= ng learned it from the American troops that occupied Rome at the end of the w= ar. He spoke well enough,  but wi= th a very marked American twang. He had been one of the "shoe-shine boys&q= uot; of the time,  when he had qui= ckly assimilated the language and this had contributed, later on,  to earn him the possibility of la= nding well paid jobs with Americans in Rome,   ending up as a gardener at = the American Embassy. Not that he did much talking while gardening,  but from that position, Mr. Mason= had engaged him,  with such a good offer. Apart from his salary he was given living quarters,  a flat in the basement in the pal= azzo of Via Sistina,  in the heart of ancient Rome. He often recalled with Maria the time when such a stroke of = luck had changed their life completely. They had almost forgotten the squalor of their first home,  two rooms = of a delapidated building in the poorest part of Trastevere.<= /p>

 

He ador= ed these streets,  the churches,  the fountains,  Rome was his life, and,  had it not been for Mr. Mason,  he could never have dreamed of li= ving there.

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His hom= e as a child had been a small village just outside the city,  Settebagni. He remembered when he= lived there with his parents. His father had been called up as a soldier in the Infantry and gone to war. He had never come back,  reported missing in the early day= s of the conflict,  on the Albanian front. Then, one day, indelible in his memory, he recalled alarms, shouts, running, running while bombs exploded around him and tall columns of black smoke obscured the sun while the earth was trembling.

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Next th= ing he knew,  was when he only saw strangers around him,  his ho= me gone and with it his mother and his grandparents.

He was = alone in the world.

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He was = taken in by some distant relatives,  but = later he overheard them talking about an orphanage in a small village nearby,  where they could take him so they= would not have an extra mouth to feed. That night he quietly slipped out,  walked to the crater  in the ground where once his house stood. He wanted to tell his mum that he had to go,  it would be better for him,  and he knew she would understand.=   He had once seen a line of childr= en taken out by nuns for a walk,  all dressed alike,  in drab uniforms,  all looking so sad= and his mother had explained that they were orphans,  living on charity in an orphanage, looked after by nuns. He had said then how much he would hate that, he wan= ted to be free, no matter where.

 He had heard that there were group= s of children, like himself alone in the world, working in Rome as shoe-shine b= oys for the Allied troops just arrived. He knew how to get to Rome, he had been there with his mother more than once, to take goods to the Piazza Vittorio vegetable market. So, eventually he joined a band of young ruffians,  orphans like him, yes,  but not all ideal companions.

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They li= ved on all types of expedients, cleaning shoes,  selling on the black market, thieving and even procuring. They slept rough anywhere, in the open, in parks, under benches, in churches when they needed some shelter from the weather. He tried to keep honest,  reliable, always remembering his mother's guidance and advice, but that earned him derogative, derisive nicknames from his bold companions.

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One day= a priest approached the boys with the view of giving them a home in a charitable children's' village  where th= ey could learn a skill. By then he was tired of his unending freedom, of not belonging anywhere, so he took his chance. Carpenting was his favourite pastime, but soon he found he liked gardening best. He loved to work  in the open air, to feel free as = a bird.

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Father = Giovanni taught him to read and write, provided him with some books on the subject = he was interested in. He went often to the flower market to look at the beaut= iful specimens, gradually he became an expert in growing the most exotic types = of blooms. Now,  in his present employment,  he could expand = his ambition and experience to grow anything that took his fancy.  Mr. Mason would buy all his requi= rements without question.

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The bla= ck Mercedes made good time through Piazza Barberini,&= nbsp; along the streets devoid of traffic, heading towards Santa Maria Maggiore and the colourful and noisy market of Piazza Vittorio. Mr.Mason l= ooked at all the familiar sights,  = places he used to walk to in his younger days, a pleasure now denied to him. This= was no time for recrimination, he always said that he had a good life and when= his time came, he would have no regrets, he would try to keep cheerful and he wished the people around him to do the same. Still,  he was looking at Rome as if he w= as seeing it for the first time, or perhaps, the last.

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The car= was now speeding towards the autostrada that would take him South,  to Naples and Amalfi,  to that haven on earth that was t= he Hotel Cappuccini on the Riviera Amalfitana. He smiled at Miss Saville next= to him,  as to reassure her of h= is well being, then savouring the forthcoming pleasure,  he shut his eyes and eventually n= odded off.  When he opened them aga= in, the breathtaking view of the gulf of Sorrento was in front of him, as the driv= er was carefully managing the precarious coastal road leading to Amalfi, to t= he entrance of the hotel, a previous convent. Miss Saville had never been the= re before, so he tried to point to her some of the magnificent sights along t= he way. Vesuvius, looking  like = a God towering above Naples. Positano, set like a jewel between the blue of the = sea and the deep green of the valley,  "i galli",   the cocks,   the = two rocks said to have  been home= to the syrens,  where many unfortuna= te sailors met their doom.

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The aga= ves in full bloom,  very tall and slender= ,  held high their cups filled with = yellow blossom,  their offerings to = the Gods.

Soon th= ey were at the foot of the rock where the hotel Cappuccini 's entrance is,  and the lift that was to take the= m to the top. The long lane of columns leading to the front door made a pergola= with grapes hanging from its roof. In this garden the monks used to take their evening stroll reading their breviary while thanking God for their pleasan= t and serene life. Mr. Mason was a frequent visitor to the Cappuccini.

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At his = arrival it was the manager in person who would welcome him. The manager of pre-war da= ys used to say that he treated his customers as if they were all kings, and i= ndeed some of them were kings, and his friends. A few places on earth could be compared with this haven, high up, suspended above the sea in a frame of g= reen, among orange and lemon groves and beds of begonias,   camellias, hibiscus, the wa= lls covered with clusters of bougainvillaea.

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There a= re many anecdotes about the people that run the Cappuccini hotel,  who were well known for their des= ire to please their precious clientele.

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Every e= vening one of their most succulent dishes would be sent to the captain of the boat on= the Amalfi-Naples service,  on co= ndition that he should not blow the ship's siren in the early morning,  so the hotel's guests should not = be disturbed in their sleep.

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Another= anecdote relates to the invention of "cannelloni",  which is supposed to have occurre= d in Amalfi at the Cappuccini hotel,  by the hand of a chef,  Salvatore Coletta,  in 1924. For this event,  the bells of the chur= ch in the convent pealed to tell the Amalfitanians of the discovery .Even the ch= ef of the rival hotel Luna, situated at the other end of the bay, ordered their = bell ringer to join in the celebration, after he tasted the divine dish. As the= news spread, all the churches followed suit.

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All thi= s Mr. Mason was recollecting from his memory for Miss Saville's enlightment, when the manager came to greet him,  a= young new manager. As his wheelchair was pushed in by Ernesto and Miss Saville.<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'> 

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"T= he sea air will put you right in no time, Mr.Mason, and our chef will see to that too",  he beamed,   adding with a smile,  " ... and,  of course,  the capable hands of your lady friend".  This remark di= d not go down well with Miss Saville.

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 Mr. Mason quickly introduced her a= s  "My nurse,  from the American hospital".=

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In the meantime,  in Via Sistina, an= other departure was taking place. Joe Perotti and his wife Giovanna were leaving= for New York. A yellow taxi arrived at about 10am and Marco loaded two cases i= n its boot. Giovanna looked a little apprehensive, when she came out, after Marc= o had announced the taxi's arrival. To go on such a long flight, for the first t= ime in her life,  at her age,  ........was that really the right= thing to do?

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She wou= ld be with Joe, her children were happy for them to take this holiday, so she shrugge= d her shoulders and attempted a smile!

She con= fessed to Marco-  "I did not sleep properly last night. I kept thinking of being in space, so high up and I c= ould see everybody down here, then I would start falling and falling. I woke up= with a great jerk, sweat pouring from all my body."

  

Marco a= nd Maria smiled and Joe joined in,  la= ughing and reassuring her for the hundreth time:=   "Would you want to take two weeks to go to New York like my pa= rents did? Everybody travels by air now."

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They sa= id goodbye to Marco and Maria. The other servants had gone already,  so the great house was gradually emptying,  the shutters were = all closed, bringing a quiet sadness in the air. Marco would be the last one t= o go, he would drive his Fiat 127 after Maria's brother arrived, later in the da= y.

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"W= ill we ever all come back here?" they were asking each other,   with doubt in their eyes. T= hey shook hands, wishing each other  a good holiday, then Giovanna and Joe climbed into the taxi that went off to= wards Fiumicino and the Leonardo da Vinci airport. The day was beautiful,  Marco's prediction had not materi= alised, the forecasted storm had disappeared from the horizon, much to Giovanna's = peace of mind.

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 After the formalities of checking = in for their Alitalia flight,  a str= ange calm had supplanted  her fear= and now she was looking forward to this new adventure in her life. She was gla= d she had agreed to take this trip.

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Joe had= wanted it for a long time and Mr. Mason had encouraged them. "You must book the= best seats on the plane and the best hotels",  these were his words.<= /span>

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In New = York they would stay at the Plaza hotel,  with a great view of Central Park.  There were so many the things Joe wanted Giovanna to see where he had lived, the= tenement house in Carmine street,  Lit= tle Italy,  the sights of New Yor= k, the places where the priest had given him the rudiments of Italian history and= art. The church of St. Anthony of Padua, which in June sponsors the feast of the Saint, with an open air fair and great quantities of Italian food. Would a= ll that still be there?

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How wou= ld the years have changed the City?

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To visi= t the galleries and the museums would be one of the priorities, after all he felt pride in the thought that he had taken part in providing some of the works= of art for one of the best,  The Metropolitan.

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After N= ew York, on the memory trail, he would take Giovanna to the place where he was born, Central City,  in the state of Colorado.

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"F= asten your seat belts,  extinguish your cigarettes"  the announc= ement came over the loudspeaker, soon after they got to their seats.<= /span>

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They we= re strapped in,  in the first class secti= on of the 747 bound for the Kennedy airport in New York. Joe took the pipe out o= f his lips and put it out,  a gestu= re he always regretted. His friends used to say he must have been born with a pi= pe in his mouth, as nobody seemed to remember him without one. Although the doct= ors had  warned him that smoking = would probably kill him in the end,  he had not taken the slightest notice of the warning, even when he had been t= aken seriously ill a couple of times with lung and throat trouble.

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"W= hat does it matter?" he would say "I have already lived long enough".  .... "I could not live witho= ut my pipe"  and to Giovanna,<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'>  who was very concerned about it, = he used to answer:

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"A= sk anything,  but not this"= .

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He was = now fulfilling a life time promise to himself and to his wife. to travel again= to the land of his birth and the city where he had lived as a young boy,  where he had memories of his exis= tence in the far away past. It was with a sense of pride that he was going to ta= ke Giovanna where it all began,  the love for the Arts which had been the plough that marked the furrow of his = life.

For man= y years he had to put off the trip. The children were growing up, they got married, t= his had kept them very busy, then Giovanna had been seriously ill and had unde= rgone a couple of operations, ending up with having one of her kidneys removed.<= o:p>

 

The ste= wardess made them comfortable,  broug= ht drinks and food. Giovanna was enjoying her flight: it did not feel as if o= ne was up in the air. Everybody looked calm and cheerful. Feeling more confid= ent she thought she would look out and took the courage of pressing her face against the window. She was pleasantly surprised. Although the sun was shi= ning, what she saw made her think of a Winter's day :a marvellous sight of what looked like an unending snowbound field, where the sun had melted the top surface, making small pockets in a regular pattern,  as if it was made of some rough t= extured material. She felt one could just walk on that field to a fairy tale land = on the other side of the horizon. This was an experience she did not expect a= nd she would not have missed for anything.

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A film = was going to be shown soon,  so the cur= tains were drawn. Joe put on his earphones, plugged them in, tuned on the music = and looked at the screen.

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This mu= sic was not real music for him, it was loud and vulgar, he could not call this "music",  the type = he liked, so he pushed the ear piece away from his ears and just looked at the screen. He did not see the characters, the dancers cavorting in front of h= im. There,   on the screen, = he could see himself, as by magic, it was his life that was being projected, = from the time when his parents, Virginia and Augusto, got married and had taken= the step to emigrate. That was a film he was going to follow with gripping interest, the film that was being unfolded in front of him by his memory.<= o:p>


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CHAPTER  = 3

 

1895. A small village at the foot of the Central Appenines.

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Augusto= and Virginia Perotti had been married for seven years and although they were longing to have some children, luck had not been on their side. They had dreamed of a large family, of some strong boys to help to carry on the wor= k in the fields and to take over the large farm  when their old age came.

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Friends= now commiserated with them. "She cannot have any children" they said= . It was always supposed to be the wife who could not produce an heir, never the man. It was unheard of anybody doubting the husband's virility and his reproduction power,   so= all the condemning eyes were on Virginia,&nbs= p; making her feel miserable and guilty of some obscure crime of which= she was not aware,  least of all = how to make amends.

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She lis= tened to all the village "comari", the gossips, the know alls,  for enlightment and advice. =

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"I= f children have not come by now,   = only the work of the "fattucchiera", the witch of the village, could possibly help",  she was= told.

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Virgini= a had tried all the remedies family and friends had advised her to look for,  all the tricks they knew,  that could help to make her pregn= ant,  she had been given so many potion= s to drink that made her feel quite sick, to no avail.

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"Y= ou must have been cursed by an evil eye" an old woman told her one day. "Maybe a jealous admirer of Augusto" she added,  "he was a good catch, with t= hat big farm of his parents that one day will be all his"  Augusto being an only child.=

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"T= here was a lot of bad feeling amongst the young girls when he preferred to choose his bride from another village."

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Quite a= few had hoped to become Augusto's wife.

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"L= isten to me,  my girl,  why don't' you go to see Santina,= she is the only one who can undo the evil eye and if she cannot help, there is no= thing anybody else can do. You must try her." 

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Virgini= a was not so sure about going to see Santina. All night she lay awake pondering whet= her she should or should not go. She did not want to incur Augusto's anger,  as she knew he had a pronounced d= islike of women like Santina, for their way of poking their noses in other people intimate affairs and into their innermost feelings,  which in turn would become common knowledge in the village as Santina could not keep a secret no matter how = hard she tried. 

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He coul= d see through  her tricks, the way = she played with people's emotions to get the most gain for herself. She was a master in terrifying someone of an impending catastrophe, only to be the o= nly one to know how to avoid it, and so inspiring the people's gratitude  when in the first place there was= no disaster at all.

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Only a = few persons could really see this, usually the men and they would be angry if they fou= nd out that their wives had been so gullible as to be conned by Santina's smo= oth talk into parting with some goods from their meagre larder. Virginia feared Augusto's anger, but she knew him well enough to realise he would not oppo= se any effort from her part that could help,=   if that just made her feel happier.

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Tossing= and turning in her bed, even when she was not asleep, she always dreamed of ba= bies, mostly children of her friends, who by now had two or three each. She had = been asked to be Godmother to a few and that made her feel worse. Standing in t= he Church, by the Font, holding a lovely cuddly bundle in her arms, knowing t= hat another person, much luckier than herself, would have the happiness of bri= nging him up, of feeding him, while she was being denied the knowledge that part= of her body was growing into another human being.

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She had= lived a pure and honest life,  August= o had been the only man that had furtively kissed her, before they were married,= for him she had kept her virginity, so important to win the love and respect o= f the man that would take her to the Altar.

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He was = kind and gentle, never made her feel uncomfortable or guilty, when they discussed t= heir life and hopes in the privacy of their bedroom. This was the only place wh= ere they could confide in each other without other people around them, in this case, Augusto's mother and father.

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He was = an only son, a very rare situation for a family in the village. His mother had been very ill at the time of his birth and she was lucky to be alive, but she w= as told that she could not have any more children.  All the family hopes had been now= pinned on Virginia to have a good number of sons and daughters.=

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On a Su= nday morning, they could lie in bed a little longer than usual. Augusto's fathe= r was the first up to feed the animals, so the newly wed had a little time for themselves, before getting ready for the Sunday Mass, the social event of = the week.

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Before = having his bath, which Virginia prepared in a corner of the kitchen, first for him th= en for herself,  Augusto's task = was to clean the stable from the night straw and cow pats which he wheeled into a barrow to the manure pit at the back of the house,  then he laid fresh straw for the = next night when the animals came back from the fields and from the pastures.

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Lying c= lose together, they dreamed of a better future, confided in each other their wo= rries and their hopes, which invariably ended with  "If only we had some children!"

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These w= ere usually Virginia's words, while Augusto's answer to console her was: "It is G= od's will and we must accept it.

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One sle= epless night, Virginia suddenly decided she would not hesitate any longer and she= said to herself:  "If there is anything at all that Santina can do, I am going to give it a try".

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Pleased= to have made up her mind to resolve her problems, she finally fell into a sound sl= eep, only to be awaken a couple of hours later, by the sound of crowing cocks w= hen the first early workers started for the fields their tools rattling across their shoulders.

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She jum= ped up, realised that Augusto was up already. She quickly got dressed and started preparing the fire for cooking the breakfast - polenta in the cauldron with sausages, one of Augusto's favourite breakfasts. She would go to Santina as soon as the meal was over and Augusto out of the way.

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An old = woman was going to accompany her, called by everybody "la pelata", the hai= rless one, because it was common knowledge that she had no hair at all, although= she always wore a scarf tightly knotted on her head. Evidently she was sufferi= ng from a scalp disorder about which she never confided to anybody, but it was no secret that she was as bald as a ball.

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In rare= occasions a sudden squall of wind had taken her by surprise whisking off the ever pr= esent scarf and leaving her at the mercy of the village gossips. Virginia called= at her house and together they set off towards Santina's home, the clairvoyan= t,  the one whose help one sought in = times of trouble.

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When th= ey arrived Santina welcomed them in her kitchen and invited Virginia to sit down at t= he table in front of an open fire,  where a large cauldron was hanging by a hook attached to an iron ch= ain blackened by the soot.  The k= itchen was comfortable, by the village standards, considering that Santina had no= land from where to get any crop, only a small vegetable patch which she did not= make much effort to look after. Somebody else always did it for her and her lar= der was full of good food. You could see at first glance that she was well off= . A sack of grain and one of maize were propped up in a corner waiting for the miller to collect for grinding on his next trip to the village,  a few salami and a big ham were h= anging from the ceiling,  a "pigna",  a type of earthenware bowl,   cont= aining beans was simmering on the embers,  a few chickens were strutting around the place,  and a basket with a few eggs fres= hly plucked from the nests,  stil= l warm, was on her table. She was not short of a few liras, either.

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Next to= the house there was a small shed, a sty, where she kept a pig that would give her me= at for most of the year. On the mantelpiece above her fire, she kept a jar of=   "confetti cannellini",<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'>  small sweets made of sections of = sticks of cinnamon covered in sugar. She used to give them to the children as rew= ard when they did errands for her and helped to carry her water pitcher. Often= , if she was in a mean mood, she would cruelly enjoy the disappointed look in a child's eye when she purposely dismissed him or her without a thank you and without stretching her arm to reach for the magical pot on the shelf. On h= er frequent trips to town she usually came back with something for her home,<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'>  bought at the weekly market.=

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Saturda= y was market day and invariably she found somebody willing to give her a lift to= town in their donkey cart. As a matter of fact, people were eager to take her w= ith them. Once in town,  they had= to park the donkey and cart in a communal stable for the day. To pay for this service could turn out to be quite expensive, depending how many hours the donkey was left, whether all day or half a day. If Santina came, the owner= of the stable and some of his friends would gather to have their future told = and this took care of the charge.

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Nobody = knew Santina's age. She must have been at least 60 years old, but her skin was = so wrinkled, like a turtle's, she gave the impression of being much older. Her eyes were bright and piercing,  showing the cunning awareness and quick thinking for which she was = well known.

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Before = starting her session with Virginia, Santina got rid of the Pelata. "There is no need for you to stay, your presence could spoil my power",  she explained,  showing the door to the disappoin= ted woman, then, winking to Virginia with a smile,  she commented: "We do not wa= nt everybody to know our affairs",  closing the kitchen door behind&nb= sp; "la Pelata"  and placing a chair against it as there was no lock,  so nobody could barge in during t= he session. She even shut the shutters, which were not slatted, but made just= of a plain board, ill fitting, so they let in either side a beam of strong ligh= t, which came in to give a  "chiaroscuro"  effect to the place. It took a few minutes for Virginia's eyes to a= djust to this semi darkness.

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Santina= asked Virginia the purpose of her visit, which really was a superfluous question= , as she was well aware of everything that was going on in the village and also= the previous day la Pelata had instructed her in full. Very shyly Virginia ope= ned her heart to her.

Santina= was the seventh child of a peasant family who, as the custom of the time,  had named all the children by num= bering them in order of birth. So there were Primo, Secondo, Terzilio, Quarta, Qu= into, Sesto. When the seventh, a girl,  was born, the event was considered extra ordinary by the fact that = the amniotic sac was unbroken or, as the peasants put it, the baby was born wi= th  "her shirt on". This me= ant that this child would enjoy good fortune all  her life, and hidden powers. So S= antina had been known as the powerful one,  regarded as a Saint,  = or witch? and was given a name to fit her - "Santina",  the little Saint.

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Her gra= ndmother was supposed to have introduced her to the mystery of witchcraft, to a mag= ic world , a secret corner full of dreams and frights.

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She cou= ld tell the future, make people better, make ghosts appear and disappear, contact the = dead, and she lived well out of the payments, mostly in goods, that people showe= red upon her, for services rendered, not so much for the solution to their pro= blems which should be expected to follow in due course, but for not incurring  her displeasure. That would have = brought far worse consequences than the original curse.

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They be= lieved her powers were stronger in revenge than in any cure. No children would quarrel with her, nobody ever crossed her path, she was looked upon with great deference by the majority of the villagers.

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She had= married, but her husband had died in a accident in the fields. It had been an horri= fying event. He was crushed to death by a run-away cart, careering down a slope = when a couple of oxen got freed from a badly fastened yoke as villagers were br= inging down some tree trunks that had been cut in the woods above the village. No= body had queried Santina's power of reading into the future on the morning in question, but tongues had waggled in secret whispers, who knows? It might = have just been her curse,  as it w= as common knowledge that her marriage was not one of the happiest unions.

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She had= one child,  Annetta,  who was married and lived in a neighbouring village,  where = her husband came from and where her mother was not very welcome as she was reg= arded as an embarrassment rather than an asset.

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Santina= got out from the "madia",  a scrubbed wooden dresser,  use= d in the  making of bread and past= a,  a bowl of white china,  filled it three quarters full wit= h water from the pitcher on her draining board.

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As in a= ll the other houses,  there was no r= unning water indoors,  just a draini= ng board and a sink under which a large tall bucket caught the dirty  water one let out.

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Next,  Santina took a candle, a new whit= e one, which she placed in a brass holder and put it alongside the china bowl. She produced then a small bottle containing her  "special oil",  "l'olio del malocchio",=   the oil of the evil eye.  She always kept it locked in a dr= awer of the chest in her bedroom. The recipe for her oil had come from her great grandmother and nobody had been allowed to share her secret,  although by now she thought it wa= s time she instructed someone else in sharing the knowledge and the cunning ways = of dealing with people.

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It had = been a great disappointment to her that her daughter did not share her enthusiasm= in the field of magic. Santina would spend much of her time on long walks up = the mountain, coming back with basketfulls of herbs. Nobody was allowed to go = with her or to see what she had picked. In great secrecy in her home, she clean= ed leaves and twigs, before boiling them up in the cauldron. The essence from those herbs, mixed with virgin olive oil, oil from uncrushed olives, was t= he base of the mixtures to be used on so many occasions.

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She pic= ked hundreds of plants, roots, berries and flowers, to make remedies for a gre= at number of illnessess. There was always the danger that if somebody was ver= y ill and trusted her concoctions instead of calling a doctor,  the coffin maker and the grave di= gger would be the busiest persons of the day.

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Santina= picked violets for epilepsy, garlic, wild sage, gentian, elderberry for rheumatis= m, saffron, camomile, basil for insomnia,&nb= sp; fig, juniper for women to help them to have regular periods, digita= lis for blood pressure and so on, just to enumerate a few of her popular choic= es, the ones she openly used.

When sh= e boiled her brew, everybody could know from the odour that emanated from her kitch= en and they would comment  "Santina is filling her magic cupboards!"

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When al= l the props had been laid on the table, on a clean white cloth, Santina asked Virginia= to place her hands flat on the cloth, in front of her, then she lit the candl= e. By its flickering light the shadow of Santina's head was projected on the wal= l opposite,  bringing an aura of mystery and m= agic that gave a shiver to Virginia's spine, while her eyes were fixedly drawn to Santina's face, rocking now from side to side in an hypnotic trance.<= /o:p>

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Santina= sat in front of Virginia holding her joined hands together on top of the bowl muttering some incomprehensible words. Then she poured a few drops of the = oil on the surface of the water. A few seconds later she asked Virginia to mix= the liquid with the index finger of her right hand. She put her spectacles on = and screwed up  her eyes to read = the oil's message.

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The spe= ctacles had been given to her by a doctor who once had visited her house many years be= fore, when her daughter was very ill and her power had not been strong enough to= cure her. The doctor had diagnosed pneumonia and in those days there was not a = great chance of survival with such a killer disease. Fortunately for Santina and= for the girl,  who was then 13 ye= ars old,  a kind villager managed= to get quickly the required remedy.

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Only by= attaching two or three leeches to the part of the lungs affected, there was a chance= that Annetta would come out of the crisis. The doctor marked a circle with a bl= ue pencil where to place the slimy creatures.

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Santina= had confided to the doctor that her sight was not as good as it used to be and= she had great difficulties in choosing and spotting the herbs she was looking = for. Maybe she had not picked the right herb for the occasion, she had to provi= de some excuse for the failure in curing her own daughter, she would have nev= er dreamed to have to call on a doctor! He knew all the people in the village= and always regarded Santina as a joke. With pleasure  he donated her a pair of his old = glasses which Santina tried and decided they improved her sight. The real reason w= as that she thought the spectacles gave her an air of dignity, of importance, which was invaluable in her line of business.

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The lee= ches came in a bottle. Santina placed one by one in a small cup, by making them slid= e, then pressed the upturned cup against the flesh where the doctor's mark wa= s. When the first leech had dipped its fangs and started sucking blood from her daughter's back,  she repeate= d the operation with the second, then the third leech, until they were all busy filling themselves with the blood and their shape was quickly swelling, changing from looking like a worm to an inflated sausage and they were sti= ll sucking. Soon they had the appearance of elongated balloons and when their bodies could no longer hold any more liquid, they detached their hooked fa= ngs from their victims, which in this case was not a victim, but a lucky recip= ient of their services, then they rolled down the girl's back and they were dis= posed of.

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Their w= ork was done. Some hours passed before the girl was out of danger, but she did rec= over, no thanks to her mother's potions. This was one of the thorns that punctur= ed Santina's otherwise successful career.&nb= sp; Even with her glasses on she had to screw up her eyes, to read the = oil's message.

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"T= he evil eye  has been annulled"<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'>  she said to Virginia   ".. but there are stil= l some obstacles to surpass. There is  a cloud on the horizon and only when this cloud disperses I will be able to = give you more definite news".  The elements needed to be in Virginia's favour during the next full moon, she explained.

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Santina= removed her glasses. This meant she was ready to receive her payment as she had finished her session.

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Virgini= a uncovered two beautiful chickens she had carried in a basket which she had placed be= hind the front door when she came in. She put them on the table from where Sant= ina had just removed the clean cloth. The chickens started squawking, trying to free themselves from the tape tied around their legs.  Santina's eyes sparkled with gree= d, while she thanked Virginia, who produced still another present for Santina= : ten new laid eggs wrapped in a white serviette which she had in another basket= .

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"C= ome back soon",  Santina smiling = shook Virginia's hands. She was obviously looking forward to the next consignmen= t!

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Virgini= a could not keep from Augusto the fact that she had visited Santina. To her surprise, = he did not react the way she thought he might. For quite a while he had been worried about managing the farm, as his parents were getting on in years, = and he had to rely on occasional help from friends and relatives. With no chil= dren there was no looking forward  to the future and the time would come when he would have to dispose of some of the land.

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That ev= ening, when they were in their bedroom, Augusto sat on the bed asking Virginia to come= and sit next to him. He had something he wanted to talk about, something that = had been in his mind for a while.  Her heart sank. What could be troubling Augusto that she did not know already?= His sorrows were her sorrows, they shared the sadness of their fruitless union, what could be on his mind now?

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She clo= sed her eyes waiting for some disappointing news. He went straight to the point. Augusto's words were a surprise to her,&n= bsp; when he started by saying  "Do you know what Aldo, my cousin, is thinking of doing? He wa= nts to go to North America and has asked me to go with him."

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"Y= ou?" cried Virginia, thanking God it was nothing worse, but shocked at the thou= ght of herself being left, like many other women who were left behind, when th= e men emigrated.

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"I= mean us", quickly came the reply.

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"I= would not leave you",  he reassure= d her. "This is a chance for us to go and try our fortune. We do not have any children to worry about, so we can go together. The worried look that had clouded Virginia's face,  qui= ckly disappeared.

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Aldo ha= d a wife and two children. His plan was to leave the family in Italy and let them j= oin him when he was well settled.  Aldo had told Augusto that the Italian Government had embarked on a policy of encouraging and protecting emigration. Legislation had been introduced to furnish information about opportunities abroad.

 Due to a high percentage of illite= racy, the Italians found only chances for employment on the construction of railroads, on mines,  as barb= ers, shoemakers, stone cutters. They worked long hours,   lived frugally before retur= ning to their native country in the expectation of living comfortably on their sav= ings. Over one million of Italians emigrated to the U.S.A. before 1900.

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Numerou= s were the people dissatisfied with living conditions in Italy who became involved in= a class movement popularly known as "American fever",  which spread from village to vill= age. This feeling was transmitted by the letters written by immigrants to relat= ives and friends back home. The "America letters" were read in houses,  in markets, in parish churches and they were published in newspapers.

 

The lan= d of plenty,  the absence of class distinction and conscription, low taxes, high wages, abundance of food and clothing were calling the people to the U.S.A.  The mighty dollar was becoming a = God to be worshipped as a saviour, as powerful as a Saint in Heaven.

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"I= n a few years perhaps we  can make en= ough money to be able to come back and live comfortably for the rest of our liv= es on our savings. It is a wonderful opportunity. What do you think?" Augus= to asked.

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Virgini= a just smiled, a wide, broad smile, while she wholeheartedly approved.=

 

It real= ly sounded like an opportunity too good to be missed, she thought keeping nodding and smiling as she was choked by emotion and was lost for words .It would not = have been the done thing for any woman to comment with too many words on her hu= sband decision. She was lucky to have been asked for her approval.

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Virgini= a was not against the thought of leaving the village. That was not her birthplace an= d she had not been happy there. She had lived there since her marriage and, afte= r the adjustment to her new life,  = she had always been saddened and disappointed by not becoming pregnant. She felt l= onely and useless, it was with a sense of relief that she greeted her husband's proposal. When she got over the first shock, all she could say was: "I will follow you wherever you want to go".

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They de= cided to leave as soon as possible. With Aldo's help,  Augusto prepared all the necessary documents and went through all the arrangements needed to emigrate. The preparations to leave the village did not take them long, there was not mu= ch to arrange.

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The vis= it to Santina was now becoming a thing of the past. After a second encounter wit= h the "witch" Virginia had come to the same conclusion as Augusto. San= tina was only a "con" woman up to any trick for her living. Many mont= hs had gone by since she had assured Virginia that she would become pregnant.=

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"O= n the night of the full moon you will conceive",=   had been her final words. Many full moons,  new moons,  and all the phases of the moon ha= d come and gone  without any change = in Virginia's body. Going away, starting a new home, in another country was a=   challenge she welcomed. She was y= oung, healthy, she wanted something else out of life rather than just feeling so= rry for herself and for Augusto .

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Some re= latives would keep an eye on things  = for the aged parents who would go on living in the farmhouse, while the land would= be farmed by neighbours. All their possessions fitted in one trunk and two fi= bre cases. The trunk was the one Virginia her brought her trousseau (il corred= o) in when she married and where she kept all her linen, sheets, towels, blanket= s, tablecloths, and lengths of unmade up linen woven with her own hands to be= used as baby clothes.

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She nea= rly  left this last item behind, in a = fit of anger, but then one never knows, what the needs in a new country might be.= She paused for a moment to think of herself on her wedding day, when her trunk= had been placed in the newly decorated bedroom, ready for the happy couple. A = shy bride, expecting from life only hard work and the pleasure of making her m= an happy by producing a good number of children. Tears ran down her cheeks, w= hich she promptly wiped with the back of her hand.

 

There w= as no time for recriminations and sentimentality, she decided and  went on with her packing. Relativ= es and friends were in and out of their house, bringing presents, helping, giving= advice, feeling sorry, sad, and, why not, perhaps a little envious.

"A= merica will be a marvellous country to live"&nbs= p; they all kept saying. Yes, but none of them knew of anyone who had = ever come back. As the time drew nearer, in Virginia's mind, fear superimposed = the elated feeling of expectation, the fear of the unknown "abroad". America was synonym of  "= ;bigger and better". Abroad was a word very seldom used in their circle. It m= ade people dream of lands where everything was easy, work hard, but the reward= very high. America, apart from being "abroad", had the extra attracti= on of being "American", with so much added flavour. America was the pl= ace abroad par excellence. "The sidewalks are paved in gold" was the popular saying. Maybe it was so, the gold would be there to be taken, but = the digging was going to be hard, perhaps harder than any of the emigrants had bargained for.

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 Augusto and Virginia were going wi= th their eyes open. They were not afraid of hard work. Their gold would be in= the fact that with their work they would be able to afford better food, clothe= s, all the things America  could= offer them. So the day of their departure drew nearer. All the villagers came to= say their good-byes well before dawn, on September 15, the day of their depart= ure. Virginia had said farewell to her own family a couple of weeks earlier, wh= en she went with Augusto to spend a few days at her old home.

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On that= fateful day, Zio Filippo, an uncle of Augusto,&nb= sp; arrived in his horse drawn cart at 7am to take them to the main sta= tion, in the town of Valledoro. They were there in good time. Their trunk had be= en taken by Aldo to the station in the town two days earlier to be registered. They would collect it once in New York.

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They bo= ught their tickets and when the train arrived, after a quick goodbye to zio Filippo, = they climbed on to the train. There were plenty of seats in the 3rd class compartment, where Aldo came to share the accommodation. Augusto lifted th= eir cases on the rack,  while Vir= ginia hang on to the bundle of possessions that she had wrapped in a coloured sc= arf, with knotted corners, bundle which she never let out of her sight. And und= er the folds of her very full skirt, tied around her waist, was a string purse with all the money they possessed. It was a much safer place for the money= to be, rather than Augusto's pocket, where he only held a very small amount.<= o:p>

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They ha= d been warned of pick-pockets, of the variety of con tricks they could fall victi= ms to in the wide world and they were taking no chances. The journey to Genoa wo= uld take 24 hours, then they would sail on the "Cristoforo Colombo" = one of the largest liners to cross the Atlantic.

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Once on= the train they made themselves comfortable, but the third class wooden seats were ha= rder than a cart seat and the excitement too great to be able to close their ey= es. Virginia had never been on a train and had never seen the sea. Augusto had= been to the capital of the Region once, to Ancona, a city on the Adriatic sea, = in connection with the emigration documents so he had savoured these two new experiences.

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Approac= hing the Western shores of Italy suddenly the first glimpse of the Tyrrhenian sea w= as there which Augusto proudly pointed to Virginia.

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"M= amma mia"  was all she could say,  "..could all that = be water?"

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The ext= ension of the blue patch was so great she had never imagined even a field that big. = And, what were those people doing,  waving those sticks? Even Augusto was baffled, with a sense of sham= e and inferiority, as he could not answer Virginia's question. He had not seen anybody row before, either, but Aldo came to his rescue.=

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At ever= y station the train stopped there were more and more people boarding it until there = was no more room even to stand. Some were sitting on their luggage, others on = the floor. They all started conversations, as they realised they were all boun= d for the same destination: the ship that would take them to America.

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The tri= p was getting exciting already, they decided, as the train drew, puffing and whistling, into that great centre that is Genoa station. An official with = an armband came along the train to tell the emigrants not to get out because = the train would proceed to the

" = stazione marittima"  the quayside= .  They looked out of the carriage w= indow. It was bedlam, such a crowd was meeting the train. Porters,  men, women and children, all addi= ng to the noise, shouting to be heard. Carrying cases, sacks, bundles, trudging = along while meeting and greeting relatives.&nbs= p; A sea of noises that engulfed a sea of humans!

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On the = opposite platform where a train was about to leave,  most of the clamour was produced by the vendors,  pushing their trolleys along, sho= uting:

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"G= IORNALI!",  "PANINI!",  "BIBITE!"  .... papers, rolls, drinks. =

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Augusto= noticed that they were selling their merchandise at exorbitant prices to the poor devils who had not been provident enough to take with them all they would = need on a long journey. He felt very proud of Virginia who had insisted she wou= ld pack as much food as she could. One of their cases was filled to the brim = with provisions.

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Soon th= e train took them to the harbour. Their trunk was already in the ship's hold, while they were left with the suitcases that contained all they would need for t= he sea journey. Virginia held tight on to her bundle.

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They st= ood for a few moments at the bottom of the gangplank looking at the enormous monster= that faced them: those smoke belching funnels, and those pigeon holes in rows a= ll over the side ......so many people lining the decks,  and they all looked so small,  waving white handkerchiefs which = they intermittently used to wipe their tears.

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 "Let's go" Augusto murmu= red, gently pushing Virginia up the steps.

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She sta= rted walking and, as she got near to the top, she nearly lost her balance. She = felt the steps sway under her feet and if it had not been for Augusto's strong = grip on her arm, she would have fallen flat on her face. As they reached the to= p, they looked back.

 

The qua= yside was full of people saying goodbye to relatives sailing for the USA. A sea of faces,  crying,  waving,  shouting although they could not = be heard above the noise of the engines,&nbs= p; the cranes,  the ship'= s horn that kept blasting its lugubrious sound at brief intervals.

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Nobody = was ashamed to cry,  the people who were = left and the ones who were going. They knew that in the majority of the cases t= hey would not see each other again. It was like saying goodbye to the dying. N= obody had come to see Virginia and Augusto off in Genoa,  but they too, were crying without= shame or reservation, leaving their motherland, the people whose tongue they sha= red, for the unknown land that laid on the other side of the Ocean.  Nobody knew what to expect.<= /o:p>

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The acc= ommodation in the boat was very rough, in the steerage there was no privacy, for men = and women alike, the luckier ones had a bunk, in a mixed dormitory, others just slept wherever they found some floor space lying on a blanket or a coat, so crowded were the conditions. The food was disgusting, but sea sickness took care of that.  For the ones w= hose stomach bravely stood against the pitching and rolling, there were plenty = of sausages, salami, cheese that they had brought with them. The women spent = their time looking after the children, sewing, knitting and gossiping. Getting t= o know one another, people from every corner of the Italian peninsula thrown toge= ther by Fate, was exciting enough .

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It took= care of the boredom that would have set in and of the feelings of doubt, fear and = in some cases, recrimination. The men kept themselves busy in unending card g= ames: briscola, scopone. The wagers being cigarettes or a welcome "toscano&= quot; cigar, an unexpected pleasure for the heavy smoker. During their journey,<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'>   Augusto and Virginia got to= know so many couples in the same circumstances as themselves, or men alone, who= had left their families behind, hoping to be able to send very soon some money= back and also to save enough to be able to come back one day with a well earned fortune.

 

On the = fifteenth day  they had been told they = would see New York. That morning they crowded the railings of the decks, eyes fi= xed on the horizon, where, through a light mist, one could make out the outlin= e of buildings, tall, very tall buildings, the like they had never seen before,= then as the boat drew nearer, suddenly the statue of Liberty confronted them, i= n all its majesty.

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"E= vviva! Ecco l'America",  they cried,= their hearts pounding with joy and trepidation.

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Here is= America. Here we are. The most important chapter of their lives was about to begin. After the formalities of the arrival, they disembarked at Ellis Island, "The island of tears", that had replaced as receiving place the = old sorting centre of Castle Garden, an old fort at the Battery. Here the newc= omers were given a number, which was pinned on their chest, as they waited in a milling crowd. They were called by their number, interrogated, then examin= ed by a doctor for a check on their health.&nbs= p; When they had passed all the tests, they were handed over to other officials who would guide them on the last lap of their travels. A very lo= ng train journey was ahead for the Perotti and Aldo, across half  the length of the United States, = to Central City in the State of Colorado, where the gold mines were waiting to engage them.

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CHAPTER  = 4

 

Central City,&= nbsp; Colorado,  U.S.A.=

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Where w= ere the green fields and hills, pervaded by the fragrance of wild herbs and flower= s, the trees, the bracing clean air of  the mountains they had left behind?

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The min= es of Central City, where many of the Italians in the Perotti's company were goi= ng, were a far cry from the countryside they were used to. All around them, the view to admire was bare of vegetation, the hills were the rugged heaps of = dirt from the mines. The only, and very impressive consolation the emigrants ha= d, was given by the jingling of the dollars in their pockets which was a cons= tant reminder that they were now in a position to buy food, clothes, live comfortably as they had never done before.

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They ha= d houses with running water, toilets, even baths.

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"T= hey live like lords"  was the com= ment of the relatives in Italy, the ones whose only joy was to have the letters re= ad again and again, by the priest, or by the teacher when there was one in the village.  At the same time the fortunate ones who could live and spend as if they really were lords, were generally very modest in their needs. Their main target was to save, as mu= ch as they could, for the day when they would be able to see again the families = they had left at home.

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Life wa= s much harder than they had expected, but soon for Virginia and Augusto a new cha= pter was beginning, a new part of their life which took them by surprise.<= /o:p>

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Virgini= a had made some good friends in other wives, one in particular, Eufemia, who came fro= m a neighbouring village in Italy. Eufemia had three children, two of which, t= win boys, had been born in the U.S.A. Often Virginia, who was always very fond= of children,  gave her a hand to= look after the babies: she missed the ones of her friends at home. One day, as = she was feeling a bit under the weather, she thought she would talk about it to Eufemia, as she did not want to worry Augusto, saying that she might be il= l. She had always enjoyed good health, so she was no expert in the matter. Something was nagging her.

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It was = a shock when she missed one period, coupled with a strange feeling. Often she felt sick, found herself eating and still feeling hungry, with a continuos pang= in her stomach, which seemed insatiable.

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"C= ould I have a worm inside me?" she thought. She once had heard of people suffering from such a condition.

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When sh= e missed a second period, she was sure she must be ill, she must have some tumour, something which ate her inside and gave her this inexplicable hunger. She = told Eufemia all this and to her surprise and annoyance she did not seem to tak= e her seriously. She smiled, yes, she was positively smiling. Did she not believe her?

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What di= d she think could be wrong with her?, Virginia asked again.

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"I think", came the reply,  "that you are going to have a baby, that's why I am smiling&qu= ot;

 

"I= am so happy for you",  added E= ufemia.

 

"N= o, it cannot be, you are wrong. After so many years of waiting, I do not believe you"

 

"I= f you do not trust my judgement, let us ask Celeste",  said Eufemia.  Celeste was the one who acted as = midwife in their community. She came in no time at all, examined Virginia and she = too, smiled confirming the news.

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"G= o, tell your man. Think how happy you will make him", said Celeste, who knew = all about their past dashed hopes.

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That ni= ght,  as she went to bed with Augusto, = very tired after a hard day, Virginia snuggled next to him, trying to keep him awake.  "Do not fall asl= eep, please, there is something I want to tell you".

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"C= an't it wait until the morning?",  came the weary answer.

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"N= o,   this cannot wait another minute,  although I have wait= ed nine years already".

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"N= ine years",  Augusto suddenly jolted,   realising that= nine years was the time they had been married. "And what have you waited t= o tell me for nine years? he asked, now wide awake and aroused with curiosity, but also with worry.

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He look= ed at her, but seeing her so radiant, happy, looking younger than he had seen her for= a long time, he realised it could not be bad news.

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Again h= e thought: nine years... Could it be?,  "No I must not even think",  he told himself but as he gazed i= nto her eyes, she nodded, saying:

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"Y= es. Yes, I am. We are going to have a baby".

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They we= re bewildered by the sudden change of luck. What would Santina say now? She w= ould probably find an explanation in her propitiatory antics, hoping for an ext= ra large reward. They laughed at the thought, overjoyed while waiting for the= ir first born.

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All the= ir friends were very generous. They brought presents, even a cot, as the time of birt= h got nearer. Virginia went on preparing, sewing, knitting, happy as she had nev= er been, pleased she had not left her baby linen in Italy.<= /p>

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Soon th= ey were blessed with the birth of a boy, a lovely chubby bundle with blonde hair a= nd blue eyes .Virginia was at the apex of her happiness, she never thought she would be able to savour such joy, when she cradled for the first time the = baby in her arms. They christened him Joseph, Augusto's father's name,  which  they shortened  to "Joe".

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Aldo wa= s his godfather.

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Virgini= a could not believe one could be so fulfilled, so happy, as she was when she had her l= ittle Joe in her arms. To watch him grow, smile, sleep, cuddle him, feed him, was something she had wished for so long, that made her so attached to him, mo= re than anybody could believe.

She nev= er left him, nobody could do anything for him. She took him out, talked to him, to= ld him stories, even when he was too young to understand. All the years of waiting, of wanting this baby so badly, were now reflected in her behaviou= r, in this deep love and in the need of spending all the time in his company.

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Joe gre= w very fond of both his parents, but the bond between him and his mother, was so very special, a feeling which he nurtured all his life.

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The Per= otti's luck was not at an end. In six years Virginia produced four children, two girls= and two boys. Their family and their life was now perfect, America had given t= hem not only rewards for their work, but the incentive of life itself, the hap= piness that had eluded their union for so many years in the old country.

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They ha= d four beautiful children to be proud of:  Joe, Nina, Geremia (Jeremy) and Natalina. Nina's name was really Caterina, Geremia was the name of Virginia's father while Natalina had so = been called because she came into the world on Christmas day, "Natale"= ;. As they grew up, they all went to an American school. Augusto's ambition was = that they should become proper Americans, that they should know the language to= perfection, so they could have a good future in this new country of theirs.=

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 As time went by, he realised that = because of the young ones, the plans he had made on leaving his motherland had to = be changed. It would be now impractical even to think of going back to Italy. Maybe, when his working life came to an end, Virginia and himself would be= the only ones to go.

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The chi= ldren learned to speak Italian at the Church of Saint Christopher's Sunday schoo= l, where an Italian priest talked to them all the time in the language, so th= ey were bilingual without any effort as the parents also spoke Italian at hom= e. Virginia spoke little English, while Augusto made a special effort to mast= er a good deal of the new language. Nearly all the women of the immigrants spoke their own language when they met, this helped the ones who felt homesick a= nd sorry for themselves.

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Virgini= a had no time for such weakness: her family kept her very busy and she never dwelt = in the past. Life ran smoothly for the Perottis. They fitted in the Italian community of Central City as an honest, hard working family, while the upbringing of the four children was a credit to Virginia who found time ev= en to prepare meals for some miners, friends of Augusto, who had left their fami= lies behind in Italy.

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The par= ish priest, Don Dario, became their friend and adviser. He helped the community in var= ious ways and even started an evening class to teach the illiterates. Virginia = had then the chance, which she gladly took, to learn to read and write. Don Da= rio knew every family and every joy and sorrow that occurred to them He was the one= to read the letters from Italy, if they were unable to do so themselves and  the one to compose the answers.

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All wen= t well until Augusto was struck by illness. The doctors diagnosis was "gold = dust pneumoconiosis", the miners disease. For a while Virginia had feared = for his health since the first attack Augusto had suffered and his increasing difficulty in breathing. The American Authority, who looked after the welf= are of the workers,   follow= ing the doctors advice,  decided to g= ive him a holiday in his  country of = origin, hoping that the native air would bring him back to good health. Taking into consideration the children's schooling, they came to the conclusion that Augusto should go on his own. His relatives in Italy would look after him = and in a few months he would be back as good as new.

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As the = children had never been outside Central City, Augusto and Virginia  thought they would give them a tr= eat: they would  all go to New Yor= k to see Augusto off. They would stay for about a week with their old friend Aldo,  who now lived there. T= he mines were not for him. He had stayed only a few months,  then he had gone to the big city = to try his luck there. He had started as a waiter, in a bar,  then he had changed his job to be= come a hotel porter and now he had been promoted to doorman. He wore a splendid uniform, with gold buttons, braid, all shiny, and a peaked cap that made h= im look like an officer of an extinct army.

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 He loved America, his wife had joi= ned him and they too had four children. They lived well and did not spare expenses= for their comfort. He told his friends that he would never think of going back= to Italy, but maybe, one day, when old age came, he might consider crossing t= he big pond again.

Augusto= 's journey had been booked for September 10th, on the liner "Carlo Alberto di Savoia" bound for Genoa. Aldo had taken a week off from his work to be with his friends and to take them around the city. They enjoyed meeting ag= ain after all those years while the children of the two families got to know e= ach other. It was a great holiday for them all, the only cloud on the horizon = being Augusto's illness.   

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On Sept= ember 7th it was Virginia's birthday. Augusto thought he would make it the one she w= ould remember. He knew how much Virginia admired handbags which were the fashion now, an object which she had never dreamed to possess. It looked such a us= eful item for keeping money, rather than the string pouch she tucked in her capacious pocket, or tied around her waist like when they had travelled fr= om Italy. It was really uncomfortable.

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"S= he deserves it" thought Augusto.  On= that special day, which usually nobody remembered, except herself, Augusto came= back from an outing with Aldo and the children holding a parcel which he gave h= er, shyly whispering :"Happy Birthday".  Bashful as a young boy, doing som= ething he had never done before, giving his wife a present on her birthday. =

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Virgini= a was taken aback with surprise. She undid the ribbon and opened the box, carefully li= fting the object wrapped in layers of tissue paper, while Aldo, Rina his wife, t= he children, stared with open mouths. When Virginia removed the last sheet of= paper and saw the handbag, she lifted it up, took it to her nostrils, to savour = the scent of the leather closing her eyes, with such feeling of joy and gratitude.  Radiant with happ= iness, she had no words to thank Augusto. The look in her eyes said all. This wou= ld be the treasure with a special place in her heart for years to come, for all = the years left of her life.

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She exa= mined her present. It had two compartments, with pockets, a purse and a mirror. She closed it, pushing up the two levers at the sides until they clicked into place, then she placed the handle on her left arm and looked at herself wi= th pride. She felt like a million dollars.

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There w= ere no tears when Augusto sailed. They all were pretty confident that  soon he would be able to come bac= k a healthy man. After the ship sailed, Aldo saw Virginia and the children off= at the train that would take them back to Central City making her promise tha= t if she needed any help she would call on him. She faced the events with great courage.  With the help of fr= iends, who always had praised her cooking, she transformed one of the rooms of th= eir home into an eating place   "Alla tavola di Virginia", at Virginia's table, where sin= gle miners could have their main meal of the day.

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This ve= nture had a great success, paid well and although&nbs= p; it was great strain for Virginia to work so hard, she felt happy to= be able to save money for when Augusto came back. The children were at school= , but when at home they all helped her, especially Joe, who was the one she could rely upon, much more than Jeremy, who had from infancy a marked dislike fo= r any work.

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Virgini= a soon became known as the best cook in the district. The letters from Augusto we= re cheerful, Virginia was so proud to be able to read them by herself and to answer them.  He was feeling = better and the doctors hoped soon he would recover enough to plan his return.

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For a w= hile these were everybody's hopes. Unfortunately, when Virginia was already looking forward to his homecoming, a letter from the village priest arrived to das= h all her hopes : Augusto had had a collapse and was very ill in hospital. Calml= y, Virginia took her decision: she would&nbs= p; go back to Italy as soon as possible. She contacted Aldo who was her best adviser and made up her mind to leave with the two girls. The boys wo= uld stay in New York with Aldo's family until they finished their education, e= ven if up to the minimum standard.

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She dis= posed of her possessions, while Aldo arranged for the passage on the first ship available. The two boys, one of which was 13 and a half and the other near= ly 11 years old, would follow in two or three years time.

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They al= l packed their belongings, knowing too well what a sad turn life was taking for the= ir family. Virginia knew that the two boys would be well looked after. Althou= gh her heart ached at leaving them, especially Joe, she wanted to respect Augusto's wish that they should have an American education. So she said go= odbye to them in New York and with the two girls by her side, walked up the gang= plank of the big ship again, this time without the strong arm of Augusto to supp= ort her. Now she had to be the strong one, to face the world with the added responsibility of a growing family. The journey was an unending torment.

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The las= t letter from home had been a little encouraging. Augusto had passed the crisis and= for the moment his condition was stable. On the boat she could not settle down= to do or think of anything else but of how she would find Augusto and when he would recover. The thought of his end never crossed her mind. When they ar= rived in Genoa, her brother had come to meet them. By his look she suddenly knew= the irreparable had happened. She was too late even to see her beloved Augusto again. He had been buried two days earlier.

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She fou= nd life in Italy much harder than she had remembered, but with the savings and the re= nt from the land, which was paid in goods, she managed to live comfortably by= the village standard. Father's death was a shock to the boys too. Joe decided = to come back sooner than Virginia had expected and stayed just over one year = in New York, while Jeremy thought that life in Italy would be too hard for hi= m. Aldo would eventually find him a job and he could stay with the family. Th= e two brothers had never been close, their character was miles apart, so there w= ere no tears spilled when they parted and Joe left for his new country,  because he thought it was his dut= y to join his widowed mother and help the family.

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He had = come to love Italy, not only through his parents description,  but through the greatness of its = artists and the beauty of their masterpieces. The priest in the little church in Carmine street, near where Aldo lived, had often taken him on visits to art galleries, museums, in particular the Metropolitan, introducing him to the world of art. He was the only boy, from the classes of Italian that the children of the neighbourhood attended to be interested in such a subject = and Father Christopher had taken special care that Joe should be able to widen his  knowledge in this field.= Joe knew Italian well, he could speak fluently and he could write well enough thanks to the classes which he always had attended first in Central City a= nd then in New York.

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It was = a sunny Winter's day when the ship that was to carry him to Italy sailed from New = York Pier, past the statue of Liberty. He was not yet fifteen years old, but he= was very much grown up in his thoughts, in his feelings, in his responsibiliti= es towards his family. He was carrying with him some of the heritage of an American upbringing, some of the culture of his native land and the love f= or the freedom of body and mind. He looked at the skyscrapers disappearing in= the mist at the horizon, then he turned his back to the country of his birth, focusing his eyes on the vastness of the ocean, across which he would have= the first glimpse of the gate of Europe at Gibraltar and soon afterwards the country of his parents.

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When he= lay in his bunk that night, lulled by the gentle rocking of a near calm sea, he could= not close his eyes, he could not go to sleep, so many were the question marks = he wanted an answer to. He felt and hoped that he would not regret the step h= e was taking now, abandoning this world of great opportunities.

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The alt= ernative to this journey would have been to get a job and send money to his mother, bu= t he felt it would have contributed to the disintegration of the family. It was= not just a matter of money,   but a matter of family ties, the feeling he had always had for his mother. She n= eeded her children's spiritual support and at the same time she would be the anc= hor to keep him afloat in the tempestuous ocean of life waiting for him.<= /o:p>

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Like be= ing shipwrecked on a desert island, he knew he would need all the strength of thoughts and body to build his future in the unknown land that would becom= e his home. He felt he was right in his decision.


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CHAPTER &= nbsp; 5

 

 

1911. Giovanna

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Two you= ng brothers, Espartero and Tonino Sardi lived  in Central Italy in a small town, Sentino, at he foot of the Appenn= ines. Like so many young men of their day unemployed and with little or no prosp= ect for the future, they decided to emigrate, not to The United States, where = most of the emigrants were going to work,  but to South America, which was another very popular place, althoug= h not as rewarding as the U.S.A. would be.

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Argenti= na in particular, whose  language, = with the same philological roots as Italian, sounded more familiar, was preferr= ed by  the less adventurous type= s, the ones a little scared of landing in a country where they would feel really "foreigners".  They thought they would feel more at home with the Spanish speaking people. Also  because many had relati= ves there, they would have contacts which would be very helpful during the set= tling period. They sailed from Naples,  accompanied by their parents blessings,  leaving a great emptiness in the = home:

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"I= shall never see you again" were their mother's parting words.

 

There w= ere also three girls in the Sardi family, Maria, Ada and Giovanna. This helped the parents to get over the loss of the two male members. The journey to Buenos Aires was to last forty days. A friend of their father, who had emigrated = to Argentina some years earlier, was waiting to welcome them and to help them= to settle down. Giovanni Casini was a barber, like the Sardi's father, who ha= d a shop in the town of Cordoba. Situated on the fringe of the "Sierra de Cordoba",  the place vag= uely reminded of their home mountains, the Appennines, their peaks snow-capped = in Winter.

 

Casini'= s business was doing very well indeed. The shop was in a good district of the town an= d he lived with his wife and daughter in a small flat over the shop. Mr. Casini= knew a lot of people, apart from his skill for hair cutting and for shaving, he= had the knack of keeping an interesting conversation going on with his custome= rs while working. He could chat about everything and he was very amusing too,= as result, he had a varied and numerous clientele, a fact that he knew how to= turn to his advantage when the need arose.

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So thro= ugh a friend of a friend, in a manner typically Italian, he soon found jobs for = his two protégés, in a foundry where  brass beds were made. Brass bedst= eads were very fashionable with the upper class of the population and were sold= in many parts of South America. The brothers were very honest and good worker= s who soon got the hang of the new skill. Tonino, who was gifted in the art of drawing, provided new designs and soon both became indispensable to the ru= nning of the small factory.

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Sometim= es, when they were free, they gave a hand in the barber's shop, as they had helped = in their father's salon in Italy since when they were young boys. From sweepi= ng the shop and preparing the lather for shaving, they had graduated to shavi= ng and to cut some people's hair, mostly children, as the father was not very confident that they would please the fussier of his customers.<= /span>

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The two= young men stayed to live with the Casini, as part of the family, whose members, especially Mr. Casini, were overjoyed to have friends from the motherland,= to be able to talk proper Italian,  instead of the Italo-Spanish mixture the immigrants ended up by spe= aking to each other. Poverty in Cordoba as in the whole of Argentina, was indescribable. It would have been very difficult to find a reasonable, clean,  convenient room and l= odging, so Espartero and Tonino were very grateful to their father's friend for welcoming them in the heart of his own family.

  

Eventua= lly Tonino moved out while Espartero fell in love and married the Casini's only daugh= ter, Franca. The wedding was an event which pleased both families, the Italian parents happy that Espartero's future was now secure, while the Casini felt fortunate to have such a nice young man as their son in law. Lacking a son themselves, they now knew there would be somebody very suitable to succeed= to the father's business. A few months before the wedding Mr. Casini had offe= red Espartero to join him in the running of the barber's shop, which he did, leaving all together the brass bed factory. They had been married only for= a short time, when Casini suddenly died of a heart attack. Espartero became = the owner of the barbers shop and he dedicated all his time to it. The family = in Italy was happy at the turn of the events, although sorry for the loss of = their friend.  Both young men had d= one very well, with the help of some strokes of luck and their mother Anna cou= ld now sleep peacefully at night. She had heard so many heartbreaking stories= of emigrants, of their poverty, their disillusions, their pride which would p= revent them from coming back home if they had not been able to make a go in their= new country. She knew now that her boys were earning a good living and, who kn= ows, they might even be able to come back one day.

  

Alas,  all good things come to an end, a= nd this happened when a telegram was delivered at Espartero's house with the grim = news that his own father had been struck down by a heart attack and had died  in the span of an hour. The teleg= ram said that a letter would follow, with more details. Those days of waiting = were the longest in the life of the two brothers. What would happen now to their mother and sisters? What could they do? They had no means of sustaining themselves, once the small capital invested in the shop had gone.

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First t= hought of Espartero, the better off of the two, was to go back home to see the famil= y but what could he possibly do? That would be no help. For the first time since leaving home, he felt the frustration at being so far, impotent to help, w= hen with all his might, this was the thing he most wanted to do. He thought and thought, together with his wife, and the only answer that came up to satis= fy his worries, was that his mother and his sisters should come to Argentina = and live with them.

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The thr= ee sisters were Ada,  Maria and Giovanna= . Ada was engaged to be married very soon to Rudello, an engine driver in the railways. The wedding was put forward, and this took care of one sister. M= aria also was engaged but her fiancé did not have a stable job, so getti= ng married for her was out of the question at that time. They decided he coul= d try his luck in Argentina where they would then get married and settle. They w= ere hoping to be as lucky as the brothers had been and in this way the family = would be united.

  

This le= ft Signora Anna and Giovanna, who was fourteen years of age. So the four sailed to th= eir new life, little knowing what to expect, but happy at the thought of being reunited with members of their family. They sailed,  as their brothers had done before= from Naples, on the long trek to Buenos Aires where Espartero and Tonino would = come to meet them.

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Travell= ing on the boat was a nightmare. It was dirty, the food was poor .Some people had bun= ks, others slept on the floor, a mass of bodies exuding a mixture of odours. T= he men separated from the women, was the only concession to privacy, if it co= uld be so called to share a dormitory with dozens of women and children.<= /o:p>

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Giovann= a took everything in her stride, to her this was a real adventure and,  having her family with her, in particular her mother, was all that mattered. During the journey, those fo= rty never ending days, she spent her time reading, embroidering, without a wor= ry in her head. She had read about the romantic, handsome Argentinians, horse ri= ding,  playing the guitar, it would be f= un to meet  a nice one and who knows.......she might even marry one!

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She kep= t a diary where she wrote about everything interesting, finding the funny side to da= ily events and to people she met. When the ship docked in a port in North Afri= ca, a group of Negroes was brought aboard. It was a strange sight for Giovanna w= ho had never  before seen a colo= ured person, but a sight which disappeared quickly as the Negroes were confined= down to the lowest part of the ship where they were kept for the rest of the journey. They were just fed on potatoes, always and only potatoes, so she = was told by one of the stewards who befriended her and kept her informed of al= l the gossip. 

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The day= s were passing by very slowly. There was a terrible storm when the boat was tosse= d by huge waves, stomachs took the brunt of it and nobody could eat for days, b= ut all laid down, the prayers to "Our Lady of the sea" being on everyone's lips.  It was the = only time Giovanna really felt frightened. Worse was to come. As they recovered= from the effects of the storm, they were only a short distance from the Brazili= an coast, when the ship's engine broke down.

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The shi= p was to call at Rio de Janeiro, then proceed on to Buenos Aires. There they were, stuck, and it took eight days, drifting in the wake of the waves, before t= he engine was repaired.    <= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'> It was a beautiful day when finall= y the Brazilian coast loomed ahead.  A light mist obscured at first the horizon, clearing as the ship drew nearer. Giovanna was determined to see as much as she could and called her sisters= to join her on deck. What a sight in front of their eyes: those cone shaped h= ills, rising from the jagged coastline, looked like hunchbacks. Giovanna had read about them  in a book , amaze= d that this name should fit so well to their description.        = ;       

 

As the = ship docked in Botafogo Bay, where in the sixteenth Century the first Portuguese settl= ers had landed, Giovanna's friendly steward pointed out to her so many strange trees, the very tall palms, the coconuts, things all new. She was told that some of the emigrants were to disembark in Rio, as they were heading for Santos, a town just North of the capital. Also the negroes would be taken ashore, when night came, to go to work in a coffee plantation near Sao Pau= lo. Although slavery had been abolished about ten years earlier by Princess Isabella, slave smuggling was obviously still going on. Giovanna thought o= f the young man with those sparkling white teeth who had smiled at her when they= had boarded the ship. Feeling sorry for his fate, she realised he would be soo= n the property of some wealthy "fazendeiro" in this vast, luscious cou= ntry.

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At dawn= the next day they were back on the high seas heading for Buenos Aires. When the ship docked, after the thrill of the reunion with the brothers, they proceeded = by train to Cordoba where they all would live.  It did not take long for Maria and Amedeo to find that Argentina was not the place for them. They disliked the country intensely. This was not the America of the dreams of all emigrants= , of pockets full of money after a good day's work.  Here, even if you were lucky enou= gh to earn a decent wage, it was not the almighty dollar jingling in your purse,= but a very poor relative indeed. Back in Italy the peso would be worth only a fraction of the North American currency.&= nbsp;

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The bes= t way to find jobs was to go out to the interior of the country, in the haciendas, = where the work was hard and the wages low. Only after a long period of working literally your guts out, you could possibly end up by owning a small piece= of land . There was no room for the ones who hoped for easy access to a world= of wealth. If you ventured to the outskirts of town, you got the picture of t= he life of the ones who had not made it, the ones who lived in squalor, in the Calle entre Rios. The street between the two rivers was typical abode of t= hese "desesperados": they lived in huts, riddled with vermin, bugs and flies, no running water, a paraffin stove for cooking, furniture almost non existent, just planks of wood which made up for beds, tables and chairs. <= o:p>

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The sad= thing about it was that also the people who worked hard often had to share the s= ame living conditions. Maria and Amedeo were appalled by the poverty, the unhy= gienic conditions people lived in, by the very hard work for very little money mo= st of the immigrants had to put up with. With the family's blessing, they marrie= d and sailed back to Italy at the first opportunity. 

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With mi= xed feelings, happy at being with Espartero and his wife, sad at the thought o= f the sisters such a long way off, faced by the challenge of everything new and strange, mother and Giovanna tried their best at conforming with their new life. The disillusion, which had dashed all the hopes they had leaving Ita= ly, had been a great shock to them.  Living with Espartero's family, they did not have to endure discomf= ort or poverty. The barber's shop was doing very well, he had two apprentices = to work with him and this reflected in the comfortable life his family enjoye= d. Even so, Mother was getting more homesick as the days went by.  She wept silently at night but co= uld not hide her sorrow, thinking of the dreadful mistake she had made to bring her youngest daughter to live in this country. She was not concerned for herse= lf, but her heart was aching for Giovanna.

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Giovann= a, on her side, had found herself a temporary job, in a shop, while trying to learn Spanish. She wished she could go back to school to receive a higher educat= ion, but she knew this would be impossible for the time being, so she tried har= d to look contented, for her mother and her brother's sake. Friends would say, = to her annoyance: "Soon you will find a nice young man to marry!"  These remarks  made her hopping mad. =

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The Arg= entinians she had met so far, had soon dispelled the dream she might have nurtured o= nce of meeting a handsome stranger! They were short, a feature she always disl= iked in a man, they were very dark, but, what she had noticed with revulsion wh= en she had been at close quarter with any of them, they had a peculiar smell, which reminded her of the odour of wild animals. Yes, they were part of the country's wild life, she concluded. Since then, when she thought of the Argentinian population, she would always refer to "the Argentinean peculiarity". She could never have married one of them. The new Itali= an immigrants were not much of a catch either. Very few made a good living, t= hey were nearly all from the peasant class, hardly any had any education and s= oon they forgot even how to speak Italian, making up a very strange language of their own Italian dialect with Spanish endings.

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Esparte= ro could see that things were not going as he had hoped, so one day he took his mot= her on her own and she eventually opened her heart to him. She feared he would= be upset and angry, after having spent so much money in bringing the family o= ver, but, to her surprise, he suggested that she should go back home to live wi= th Ada to whom he had already written. He would pay her fare, but at the mome= nt he could not afford Giovanna's fare as well, so she would have to work for a = while and save up for it.  Signora = Anna was moved by such kindness, but she decided straight away that she would w= ait until Giovanna was able to sail and they would go back together.  She would not leave her young dau= ghter behind.

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Oh, wha= t a relief that talk with her son had been, she knew her beloved husband looked after= them from his place in Heaven. She must go to thank God in the nearest church. = That same afternoon she went and asked Giovanna to accompany her.  The church was empty, except for a priest who was tidying some objects on the altar.  He was surprised to see the two w= omen and came towards them to greet mother and daughter. They were not new to h= im: he had seen them in church on Sundays and he knew Espartero's family. They= went on talking, he spoke good Italian and this was a treat for both of them. S= oon Signora Anna was telling him all about her plight. He listened, then smiled broadly:

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"M= y good sisters"  he said  "you have come at the right = time. God has indeed shown you the way"&nb= sp; .... "Come and see"  he added. He led them to the church's notice board, pointing to an advert, written in Italian. Giovanna quickly read it, her face beaming, wi= th surprise and happiness.

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"W= hat does it say?" her mother kept asking, baffled, as she could not read nor writ= e.

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"T= ell her, Giovanna," encouraged the priest, "read her the advert".

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With a = trembling voice, choked by emotion, Giovanna read "Wanted .. Responsible chaper= on to accompany three small children to their mother in Rome. Fare and salary pa= id to the right person".

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Giovann= a felt a knot in her throat. Had the advert been any longer she could not have read another word, while her mother was shedding a few silent tears of happines= s. Next day, through the priest, they met Signor Ilari and his children.

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He was = a worried little man, looking older than his age, who decided Giovanna must have been sent by the children's guardian angels. His wife had left him two years earlier, because she could not stand Argentina any longer. He was making a= good living, working for a firm which exported beef, tinned beef, "Fray Bentos" of world fame. He wanted to stay  some more years before going back= to Italy. His wife wanted to take the children with her, but he had been adam= ant, they should stay with him and his mother would look after them. Now his mo= ther had died and he did not know what to do. He loved his children dearly, but there was nobody to look after them while he worked, so he had come to a compromise with his wife: she could  have them until he went back to Italy.

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He had = endured enough sobs, heartbreaking scenes from the three: a four year old girl, Ol= ivia, another girl, Sandra, who was seven, and a boy, Mario, who was ten. He put Giovanna in the picture, it would not be an easy task she was taking on. <= o:p>

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The fol= lowing days the children spent as much time as possible with Giovanna and her mother, = to get to know each other. They had missed their mother terribly and reacted = in different ways to the fact of living only with one parent. The seven year = old, Sandra, was the most troubled. Apart from having nightmares, when suddenly= she screamed and sobbed, she would often burst out in awful tantrums whenever = she saw a normal family together: mother, father and children. She fought the = only way she could against the cruel destiny that had robbed her of the person = she most loved. She blamed everything and everybody for her bad luck: why coul= d not her mummy and daddy live in the same house any more? Why her family could = not be the same as the one of her school friend Amanda? Why this? Why that? Th= en she would suddenly calm down, silent tears running down her cheeks. <= /o:p>

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Once sh= e said to Giovanna: "When I feel sad I shut my eyes and I pretend that mummy and daddy are here, one on each side of me". This sad outburst broke Giovanna's heart. She promised to herself that if and when she married, the happiness of her children would always come first.

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The you= ngest girl, Olivia, was very young when her mother had left, she could not remember mu= ch about her, so she was quite happy and the easiest to get on with. The boy, Mario, was very sad, he never talked about his feelings but he never showed happiness in a smile, as a child of his age should.  His father often heard him sob in= his sleep. 

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What co= uld the poor man do? To say goodbye to the children would be the most painful wren= ch, but knowing that they were in good hands and they would be happy with their mother, would lessen the sorrow at temporarily losing them. He had decided= that as soon as possible he would join his family in Rome. No more Argentina for him, not at the cost of losing his loved ones. Happily, when the day came, Giovanna and her mother climbed the gangplank once again, into the great transatlantic ship that would be their home for the next thirty five days, holding by the hand the three children, skipping along, smiling broadly fo= r the first time since Giovanna had made their acquaintance. <= /p>

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They fe= lt so excited thinking of the journey in this great belching monster, that they = very casually said goodbye to the father who was in tears.  They kept turning around to wave = to everybody, as everybody else was waving to someone. They thought it was gr= eat fun and this gave father renewed trust in his decision, he was sure now he= had done the right thing.

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For Esp= artero and Tonino it was a very sad day, as well as for Signora Anna. They were sure = this was the last time they would see each other, but although they dreaded the parting moment, they all would have something to fill their lives and to o= ccupy their thoughts: mother had the future of Giovanna, while Tonino and Espart= ero had their new families, wives with children on the way, new emotions of fa= mily life that would soon engulf the memory of unsettled and sad past years.

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As matt= er of fact Espartero sailed back to Italy as a volunteer to fight for his Country in = the first world war. He gained a medal for his bravery, during the battle of Caporetto. After the end of hostilities, he returned to his family in Arge= ntina and that was the last time Signora Anna saw her son.

 

Giovann= a was quite happy as there was not an emotional scene from the children in her care, w= hich she had been dreading, so she welcomed the distraction brought by the sigh= t of loading cranes, the shouts of the crowd, the general confusion and, most of all, by the  sight of the shi= p, which the children had only seen in books, as they had never been to Buenos Aires, the great port from where they were sailing.  The train journey had also provid= ed enough excitement to start with as well as the overnight stay at an hotel = near the quayside. The great "transatlantico" was a very comfortable = ship, and this journey was going to be much better than the one on the way to Argentina, for Giovanna and her mother.&n= bsp; They had a cabin all for themselves and the children, their father = had not spared money for their comfort. 

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Three s= mall travelling cases had been brought into the cabin with the children's belongings.  When Giovanna op= ened the cases she had the shock of her life: clothes that could be described n= ot more than "rags" filled them, every item showed the lack of a mo= ther in the lives of Mario, Sandra and Olivia. Giovanna got busy to look after = her newly acquired family, while mother got the job of mending and altering th= eir clothes, so they would have something decent to change into during the tri= p. Straight away Giovanna embarked on the task not only of keeping the childr= en happy, but of teaching them the three Rs.

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Suddenl= y it occurred to her that this would be the occasion to teach her mother too to= read and write. Signora Anna was in fact illiterate: in very rare cases girls o= f her status and generation had been allowed to go to school. It was not necessa= ry for them to learn a skill which they were not supposed to need as the men were  only the ones to requir= e it and to gain from such an acquisition. So, mother became a pupil too, to gr= eat amusement of the youngsters who loved every minute they spent with their teacher.  The days on the boa= t were long, but the two women filled them easily, while looking after the three children, telling them stories, keeping them happy and clean, joining in t= heir play. After a short while in Giovanna's charge they looked contented, heal= thy and even Sandra was much more settled and calm, no tantrums or nightmares.= She listened to Giovanna's stories with such an interest, she loved the charac= ters and Pinocchio had become her favourite.

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This tr= ip with its unusual occupation gave Giovanna time to think about herself, what she wou= ld like to do with her life. She made up her mind, she would go back to schoo= l and become a teacher, this she wanted  <= /span>with all her heart, and she was thankful once again to Fate that had made her realise her vocation during this sort of trial time on the boat.

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They di= sembarked early morning. Signora Ilari was at Genoa=   quayside waiting when the ship docked.  Giovanna handed over to her the children, who were well prepared for the meeting, so happily they fell int= o the arms of their mother, who kept hugging them in turn, tears streaming down, remarking how well they all looked and how much they had grown since she h= ad seen them last. They soon parted, after very gratefully kissing and thanki= ng Giovanna and Signora Anna. Nobody had come to meet them at Genoa, because = Ada had recently given birth to twins and was not fit to travel. Giovanna and = her mother took the first train to Belgrotto, where Ada and her family lived. = A kind porter collected all their luggage and found them an empty second class compartment where they settled down.  They would spend there the next eight hours in comfort and much nee= ded peace. Ada and Rudello, her husband, would be waiting at the station.

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It was = a tearful meeting for mother and daughters, but the tears were of happiness and reli= ef, being so marvellous to be reunited and to be able to settle down together = after such a worrying time of their lives. Ada and her husband had been blessed = with the birth of twins, a girl and a boy, so Signora Anna was looking forward = to her very useful role of Grandmother, while Giovanna started without delay a course at the local "Scuola Normale" which would give her a teac= her's diploma by the time she was 20.


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CHAPTER &= nbsp; 6

 <= o:p>

 T= he Italian village of Montello, 1912.

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Between= the Adriatic sea and the Appennines, at about 460 metres of altitude, lies the village of Montello, surrounded by fields and hills where wheat, vines, ma= ize, pastures, grow.

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Here Jo= e found himself at the end of his long journey.

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The vil= lage consisted of a line of houses built on either side of a track  of beaten earth.  There were groups of three or four terraced dwellings, stretched along for about 100 metres, in the shape of a "T", the last few houses being built just under the side of the mountain.  Behind the buildin= gs, on both sides of the road, a small path took you to  the back of the houses where the = barns stood, the manure pits, the haystacks, chicken coops, sheep folds, pig sti= es and all the other bits and pieces that make up a farm. Three quarters of t= he way up, the main road split up in two sections, one going west and one Eas= t. Just before  the junction, on= raised ground, on the South side of the road stood the Church, with a large, clear space in front of it. At one side of the church was the communal fountain = where everybody came to get water, piped from the spring situated  about one kilometre up the mounta= inside, above the village, a place called "Capodacqua", Waterhead. =

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The fou= ntain had  constant running water f= rom a tap above a stone plinth where housewives rested their pitchers . When the= se were full, they swung them to rest on top of their head where they gracefu= lly balanced them on the walk back home, while in their hands they carried two= full buckets of the precious liquid. The water in the pitchers was reserved for drinking and cooking, while the buckets were for general use.  The next trough was for rinsing c= lothes, after they had been washed in the third trough.

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Joe was= astonished and fascinated by the way people lived and made ends meet. He would sit and watch the housewives bash every piece on the stone draining board, washing without soap which was a luxury only a few could afford.  The sun did the rest and the resu= lt was just as good as if one had used modern&nb= sp; detergents.

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On  Mondays the place was more crowde= d, as they were "bucato" days, when the more soiled whites were first washed, then taken home and put through the process called "bucato&qu= ot;.

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This re= quired the use of a "secchia", a sort of wooden barrel with handles, that h= ad a hole for drainage, resting on some bricks, to leave room for a bowl to fit underneath.

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In the = secchia the roughly washed white clothes were placed, the dirtier at the bottom, until= all the washing was in, well pressed and finally covered with a rough piece of sacking.  The secchia was  filled up to three quarters of it= s capacity, to leave enough room for a layer of cinders, still warm from the fireplace,  which was spread = on top. When it was ready, it was time to pour on it bucketsful of boiling water, = kept in the cauldron. The water went slowly through the clothes carrying the whitening ingredients from the cinders, then came out in the bowl.  The liquid collected called "liscivia" was used as  for general cleaning.  The clothes were left until the next morning, when they were  removed and taken to the fountain= for rinsing.

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The sec= chia was an implement  put to so many use= s, one of which was to be a bath  tu= b for every member of the family, placed in the kitchen, in front of the fire, f= illed with water from the ever present cauldron.  Of course, many families did not make such use very often, as the Perottis discovered, to their discomfort, whenever they found themselves at close contact with some of the other villagers. An old man confessed to Joe that he never had a bath. He only washed his face and hands, and not very = often . "The sweat of the Summer washes away the dirt accumulated in Winter", he proudly declared!

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Joe's h= ouse was situated right at the end of the village, on the South side, the back faci= ng the mountain. Virginia had made some improvements to the old farmhouse, bringing water inside it, having a toilet built, and wood stoves placed in= every room, to face the severe Winters.

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These i= mprovements made them  the envy and admir= ation of all the poor devils who had to carry the water by hand and had to make = use of the stable or of open fields for their most private needs.  Virginia knew  all the discomfort of life in an = Italian village, the years in the United States had been so much more pleasant and= she did not want her children to suffer, also in her heart she knew Augusto wo= uld have wanted them to have the best they could afford. She was resolved to c= arry on looking after her family, as well as she could, with Joe's help. He had taken Augusto's place, in advising her and in making plans for the future.=

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Every d= ay Joe and his sisters  discovered some = aspect of life in the village that roused their curiosity . 

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The fou= ntain was the meeting place for the housewives, for the young girls, to have a chat,= a gossip and a giggle in between house chores and working in the fields. The= re you could hear all about arrivals, departures, who was getting married, wh= o was ill, who died, who went into service in the city.

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In the = evening the men would be there too, at the cattle drinking time, bringing pairs of eno= rmous white oxen, that had pulled the ploughs and the carts, before taking the h= erds into the stables for the night. All the animals came then, crowding every = section of the fountain, gulping the very cool water with such a visible pleasure, interrupted only by vigorous shakes of their heads, as they tried to shoo = off clouds of flies.

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The las= t to come were the sheep, on their return from their pastures, either on the plain o= r up the mountain.  It was then sh= eep's milking time and some had to be milked while having their turn at drinking= , so full their udders were, they could hardly walk.

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Cows we= re not milked:  only on special occa= sions like a grave illness or for feeding a newly born baby, a small quantity of= milk would be taken, as long as the calf did not suffer. Sheep were  milked every day even if they sti= ll had lambs: their milk was indispensable to make cheese and ricotta, so much pa= rt of the people's diet.

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A few m= ore houses past the church and its piazza, the "sagrato", you found yourself face to face with the mountain, which rose about 1100 metres above sea lev= el. From the last house, a gentle climb  led to the waterhead, then the footpath  became very steep and narrow, twi= sting and rising through deciduous woods, which were common land.  Every family living in the villag= e was allowed a patch of woodland where they could fell their own firewood, and sell  the surplus. Only narrow strips were allowed to be cut each year, giving the mountain a patchy look, with some bare rectangles and others at different stages of growth, then, higher up, the vegetation stopped to give way to the short pasture grass, a large green expanse dotted with rocks right up to the very top. The crest = of the mountain range, the Appennines in Winter hooded with snow, closed the horizon to the West marking  = the border between provinces that lay on either side of the mountain chain.

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Here an= d there Joe had encountered and admired small towns encircled by defensive walls, precariously situated at the top of every hill.

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The hou= ses of Montello, and indeed the houses of any village, looked more or less alike.=   You entered through a large kitch= en, the most important room, with an enormous fireplace, where invariably food was being cooked.  In the morning= , after a breakfast of "polenta", the staple diet of the country folks, = the fire would be kept down, the embers covered with cinders until the evening= when the family would be reunited, the fire revived and more wood then would be burned. The evening meal, often a dish of beans or some soup, was kept simmering for hours in a corner of the hearth, to be ready by nightfall. <= o:p>

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Then th= e meagre meal would be eaten while sitting around the fireplace, in the cold Winter days, while in Summer they often took their plate outside, to sit on a ste= p or a large log. In Summer cooking was done on a "fornello", a small contraption of bricks with a grid on the top where charcoal was burned, ke= pt bright, while cooking, with a home made fan, provided by the long tail fea= thers of the turkey eaten during the previous Christmas. A large table, a few st= raw covered chairs, a bench, a "madia", a sort of chest used to keep=   flour and to make  bread and pasta made up the furni= ture. Every kitchen was black with smoke, the result of many draughty evenings of many Winters, when the strong easterly wind, the "Tramontana", w= ould push back into the room clouds of smoke which made eyes water and sting. <= o:p>

 

At spri= ng cleaning time, the housewives tried to brighten up the place by lining the mantelpi= ece with coloured strips of cut out paper, after a thorough wash, the "Ea= ster cleaning" so that the house would be ready to receive the blessing th= at Father Basilio came to impart on his Easter round. One of the highlight of Spring time, was the blessing of the houses, when proudly every housewife took out from the "baule", the trunk with the most precious linen, the be= st, and only bedspread, to brighten the matrimonial bed. Also the white linen tablecloth to cover the kitchen table where she placed eggs, new season sa= lami, cakes, bread, to be blessed, some for the Easter breakfast and some to be = given to the young boy who usually accompanied the priest in this errand. 

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The goo= ds would be mostly for Don Basilio and only a small fraction for the boy to take home.=

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The bed= rooms were also sparse of furniture, the walls  lighter in colour than the kitchen, but dull and with dirt and dust accumulated with the years.  Painting a room was an expense only to be afforded for very special occasions, like a wedding, when the newly weds usually had their room whit= ewashed before the wedding, to give them a more cheerful start to their honeymoon.= It was not heard of anybody going away after a wedding. The bride was the onl= y one to move from her parents home to the groom's place.  Nobody even suggested they should= live on their own, it was just not done, so the bride was brought to live with = her in laws, who would be the masters. A large iron bed, a chest of drawers, a trunk, that the bride brought with her linen, furnished the best bedrooms, while the children would just have  to put up with a sack, "il saccone", filled with dried rustling maize leaves, as their beds, placed usually in a corner of their parents bedroom.

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The onl= y enjoyment of these people, as Joe saw them, was to go to Mass on Sunday, which was the  social event of the week= , where they could meet their friends, dressed in their best clothes. <= /span>

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When pe= ople married, if they could afford it, they made a mattress with the wool from = their sheep, to lay on top of the one made of leaves, making the bed softer.  A crucifix or a picture of a Mado= nna hung above the bed.  More rel= igious pictures found a place in other parts of the house and St. Anthony's effigy always towered above the stable door. St.Anthony and God would look after = the domestic animals and, to make sure that the Saint knew how many to take un= der his wings, on January 17, St. Anthony's day, from every house, stable, sty, coop all the animals were taken to the square outside the church, where Don Basilio, dressed in his finest robes came to bless them, sprinkling gallon= s of holy water, while invoking the Saint's divine protection from illness, accidents, throughout the following year.

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Saint A= nthony's day was an event nobody would easily forget, especially the youngsters, as January 17 coincides with the beginning of the Carnival season making it a= day of happy reunions among friends, when the first "castagnole " of= the year are made, (a special dish  for Carnival) then a dance in the evening would bring a happy ending to the da= y. St.Anthony also doubled up his duties as a Saint protector of spinsters, w= ho prayed him to find them a husband.

    

"S= he has been left for St.Anthony", would be said of a girl, getting on in the year= s, who had not yet found a prospective partner. It is said that the custom of venerating St.Anthony as patron of domestic animals, stems from the fact t= hat in the Middle Ages some monks introduced the custom of raising a pig in ev= ery parish.  The pig had free pas= ture in the fields belonging to the parish and was distinguished from other pigs by wearing a bell around its neck. It was to be butchered on January 17th, St.Anthony's day and given to the poor.

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Most of= the homes had an oven, that looked like a brick dome, but there was also a communal baking place for the ones who did not possess one. Every Thursday, which w= as the usual baking day, Joe would watch the women going to the communal oven, with long boards covered with white cloths, balanced on their heads, other= s, on special occasions, with baking tins full of tomatoes, potatoes, aubergines, peppers, to be baked at the same time, together with poultry or rabbits. N= obody ever bought meat from the butcher in town. It was a luxurious item, well o= ut of the reach of everybody's pocket. There were no shops in the village, the nearest ones being in Valledoro, 9km. away.

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The Chu= rch was large, well maintained, with pews, pictures, a bell tower and a bell which called people to Mass, to evensong, and tolled for deaths and for religious festivities. A large statue of a Madonna stood at the side of the altar. D= riven by superstition, by faith, the villagers had almost covered the statue with gifts of all sorts, mostly sentimental possessions, not being well off eno= ugh to give more precious objects.  The church upkeeping was dutifully looked after by the priest who drew a salary from the religious authority, the Vatican. Don Basilio's house, the parson= age, was well furnished and comfortable, the garden well stocked with flowers a= nd vegetables. The parishioners who were privileged to be chosen to work for = Don Basilio, did it with pride, while to become a bell ringer was another much sought task, the envy of all the young men who did not want to miss an occ= asion to show off their muscles.

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Prudenz= a was the living in housekeeper, a woman of indefinite age, still young looking unde= r the dark clothes and shawl she always draped around her head. She was younger = than the priest, and, it was common knowledge that she fulfilled him in more wa= ys than her position should allow. . . . . .

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Don Bas= ilio was a cheerful, extrovert person, who would joke about priests and priesthood, b= ut he would be a serious adviser to young couples and to people in need.  Joe found in him a good friend, a= person he could talk to at an intellectual level which he did not find in any oth= er person of the community. He respected him for his open mind to look at thi= ngs, but he was never drawn towards the church by faith or conviction. He had exchanged friendship with priests in many occasion during his life, but th= is did not make of him a religious person, He only went to Church rarely to p= lease his mother when he was young. Joe grew up a handsome  man, tall, strong looking, with t= he frame of an athlete, blonde hair and a tanned complexion. He did not look = at all Italian. One of his sisters was as blonde as he was, while the other, had = dark brown hair, and she looked very much like the brother in America, but they= all shared the same blue eyes.

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After h= e married, Joe never opposed his family having a religious upbringing but he restrict= ed his own visits to church to occasions like weddings, funerals and children= 's baptisms.  Life in Montello w= as certainly not comparable to that of Central City. Being the eldest of the = four children, Joe had to bear on his young shoulders the brunt of losing his f= ather while becoming the head of the family. He was, although of tender age, a c= olumn of strength for Virginia who knew she could rely on his help and advice on managing the farm. He did not avoid manual work either,  became quite an expert in wood cu= tting, while his main task was to engage and supervise the casual labourers which= he often joined in the seasonal jobs . So the years of his early youth went b= y, while he got accustomed to this life still dreaming whether he would  see his native country ever again= , his old friends, or hold in his hands the bat for a game of baseball, which had been his favourite sport of school days.

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He lear= ned to shoot, he explored the mountains. He spent also much of his time reading, trying to improve his education, while wondering what could he eventually = make of his life. His sisters learned the skills every girl was expected to lea= rn while waiting for a husband. Cooking, making bread, pasta, all the chores = of a housewife. They became experts at stretching the dough of pasta into a thin sheet in the shape of a perfect circle, with daily  practice, so after a short time, = they took that task out of Virginia's hands.

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During = the first world war Joe escaped conscription, being born an American.  When war was over, as strike after strike were choking the Italian economy, unemployment was at a very high l= evel and the Fascist revolution under way. In every household the conversation = piece being discussed mostly was : Will He, Mussolini, this journalist from Predappio, be able to give with his leadership stability to the Country and peace of mind to the people wearied by such a long and bloody war?

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Joe alw= ays kept up with the news, often walking miles to the nearest place where he could buy= a newspaper. He felt unable to join in the acceptance of the new party as the saviour of the people, the party that would solve the problem of law and o= rder, that would redistribute the land, and, most of all, that would save the frightened families from the menace of a possible advent of Communism.  He witnessed a few cases in his s= mall environment, episodes that showed the tactics used by the "squadristi", as the first batch of fascists were called. He cam= e to know of individuals having a moustache shaved off, as by joke, of others h= aving to take a forced drink of castor oil, of having their hats knocked off wit= h a slap, all ways of ridiculing people who were not ready to join the ranks o= f the new regime.

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Some de= plorable episodes happened, as when a young girl, the daughter of a level crossing keeper, that Joe knew well, was blinded by a "squadrista", just showing off his arrogance, and his position above the law.

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"I= can shoot you" he had shouted, and so he did, in the eyes.  He was not punished in any way, b= oasting the fascist slogan:  "Me= ne frego", I don't give a damn.

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Where w= as the freedom, where the life without fear he had left behind? Joe was not one f= or saying aloud his thoughts, he soon realised the best policy was to keep his judgement of the current events to himself. He knew  of some persons, quite ordinary fo= lk, who were kept always under surveillance by the fascists because they had never joined the party.  Some could= not take it any longer and emigrated.  The ones left, whenever there was a visit into town of some V. I. P. were to be rounded up a couple of days ahead and kept in jail as long as t= he authority found it necessary. To their friends and families they would say= they were going on a special holiday and only very few close people knew the ex= act nature of it. It would have been a disgrace for a child to be known at sch= ool as the son or daughter of such a father.&= nbsp; Often non fascist parents urged their children to conform in order = not to jeopardise their future careers.  In this unsettled atmosphere of post war Italy, Joe considered going back to the States where he knew he could=   make a good living.

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America= was a country of a dream imagined by Joe who was longing for more stability, opportunity, better living conditions. It would mean  abandoning his mother and sisters= who still needed his support. Before making a move he had to settle his mother= 's affairs so that his presence in the village would not be required. He decided  the land should  be worked by a "mezzadro&quo= t;, a farm worker with a family, who would  live on the spot.  So,= with his mother's approval, the family modernised an old mill, not in use, which belonged to them, situated a few  miles away from the village where they decided to move. =

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Virgini= a was glad to leave  the old farmhouse, = which she had never liked, because it was too near to the mountain which project= ed its shadow over it so early in the afternoon, making the rooms dark and so= cold in Winter. The "mezzadro" would live in the old house, work the fields, raise cattle, look after everything concerning the farm in general= and the produce would be divided in half.&nbs= p;

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All the= isolated farms were looked after by families of "mezzadri", as they belon= ged to some landowners. "Mezzadria", which had been practised since = the beginning of the 18th Century, was a contract of work by which the proprie= tor of a "fundus", gave the use of a house to the family of the so c= alled "contadino", for as long as they worked the land. Often near the= farm there was the "padrone's "summer house where he came to spend so= me weeks every year with his family.

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Usually= in the villages the people were owners of their smallholdings, so it was quite a = new thing for Montello to accept in its bosom the family of a mezzadro. Joe was going to be a very good "padrone", with none of the requests that other landowner would expect, like to be always ready to serve in the house when the proprietor was in residence . Virginia was not used to be attended upon and dismissed this possibility straight away.

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Any tim= e a landowner was dissatisfied with his mezzadro, or vice versa, notice could = be given by the end of August, after the harvest, and a new mezzadro would be found to move in by the next January. Agricultural experts of the Region, appointed by the Ministry of Agriculture, had the task of assessing the va= lue of the crops, of the cattle raised, of everything the farmer had worked fo= r and divide what went to either party. This system was one of the factors that weighed on some of the country children's' education, because they usually lived in farms far away from the school, they moved to different farms year after year and also because every hand was needed for the smooth running o= f the farm.  Young children were al= ways the shepherds of the family. It was a great disaster if a flock of sheep strayed into a field of clover which made their bellies swell up until dea= th.

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It was = very enlightening for Joe to get to know all about running a farm and by the ti= me he decided to try his luck for a job in Rome, he felt quite confident that th= ings would run smoothly for his mother and sisters.

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When th= e American President Woodrow Wilson declared: "It will be our duty to assist by material aid post war Europe", Joe joined the American Red Cross in R= ome as an interpreter. He was excellent in his work and for a few years he car= ried on with this type of work.  S= oon he was spotted by an American Red Cross Captain  who, in civilian life, was a buye= r for the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York. He had been impressed by Joe's skill and also by his knowledge and regarded him as an invaluable help in = his quest for works of art for the Museum.&nb= sp; Joe could not believe his good luck. Mr. Mason, the American gentle= man, enquired about his family, his commitments, as Joe would have to do a lot = of travelling. Joe was free as the wind, he would travel to the end of the wo= rld.

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Mr. Mas= on engaged him and told him he could stay with his family in Montello, from where he = would summon him whenever he required his services as he would be travelling to = and from New York from time to time. Joe did not have to worry about money, he= would be on Mr. Mason's payroll all the time. Apart  from Joe's bilingual abilities, h= e had been impressed by Joe's knowledge of art and of the Museums of New York.  The outings with Father Christoph= er from Little Italy were now paying their dividends!

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Before = going back home, Joe was taken by Errol, as they were on first name terms now, to the American Embassy and introduced to the Ambassador, who was a personal frie= nd. He had the first taste of the luxuries he would soon get accustomed to dur= ing his spells with Errol. He went back to Montello with a new wardrobe, in a = new leather suitcase that replaced the battered fibre specimen he had left with= , the legacy from his journey from America. He was now looking forward to hi= s new job, fascinated by the art world which he never thought he would have a ch= ance to discover again. He was determined to make a success of his appointment.=   Errol was going back to New York = for some months, so he thought the best way to spend his time while Erroll was= away in the States, would be to remove any deficiency that might occur in his Italian.  <= /p>

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He spoke perfectly, without any accent whatsoever, but in the written language he d= id not feel as confident as in English, having never been to a proper Italian school. His teachers had been the Italian priests, first in Central City, = then in New York.  He would do som= ething about polishing up his Italian writing, those double consonants that often baffled him. . . . How could he go about it? where could he go for a few lessons? 

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"W= hy not try the  teacher, who lives in th= e new school house just outside the village", his mother suggested. . . . .= .

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PHOTOGRAPH

VIEW OF TOWN SQUARE

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CHAPTER &= nbsp;  7

 

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Italy, 1920-1927.

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Giovann= a had grown into a good looking young lady. Tall, with a pale complexion, while her si= sters were dark, with an olive skin tan.  She looked very much like her mother, with very dark brown eyes, da= rk brown hair, long, as in the fashion of the time.  She tied it with a velvet ribbon,= or pulled it back woven into plaits. Like all young girls, she loved to chang= e her looks with her mood, so she would tie her plaits with a bow, or wound them= into a coil above her ears. Skirts were long, tunics over the skirts were loose, hiding any curve or bulge, making a straight line from the top to the hem,= just above the knee. There was hardly any part of the legs to be seen, even the= calf was mysteriously well hidden by the tall, buttoned up shoes.

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Newly q= ualified teachers were invariably given posts in the worst places, situated in moun= tain villages, served by rough roads with almost non existent public transport.=   Giovanna, for her first post had = been assigned to a small village of 150 inhabitants, Poggio, situated  at about 9Km. from the town of Valledoro, where her sister Ada had moved. As it was a newly created rural school, there was no school building as such. The education authority rent= ed a couple of rooms in a private house, which, with the communicating wall kno= cked down, made the classroom. The teacher's&n= bsp; accommodation, a bedroom and a kitchen, was on the first floor, nex= t to the classroom, as the house had stables on the ground level.  So there was a flight of stairs, = at the top of which, a toilet had been built, for the use of the teacher and the children.

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It goes= without saying that the nights spent away from home were very hard for Giovanna. Sometimes one or two  girls c= ame to spend a few hours of the evening to keep her company, bringing with them something to do, like knitting, winding skeins of wool into balls, and in = these occasions Giovanna got to know the news of the community, the gossip. In Winter, when it was dark very early, she often  sat alone reading a book by the l= ight of a candle or the oil lamp, while the wind whistled down the chimney, blowing gusts of smoke into the kitchen and noises unfamiliar  to her ears, of animals and human= s, made her shiver even after she was tucked into her bed, praying God that she sh= ould sleep undisturbed all night until the first light of dawn came to relieve = her of the nightmares. 

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One nig= ht she could not go to sleep, she lay awake with thousands of thoughts running th= rough her head, planning the examination day, which was approaching, and the inspector's visit that was due tomorrow. He would sit in and listen while = she judged the children's' progress during the school year. His report to the Provincial Authority was very important to Giovanna, as she was still on probation. So, praying that everything should go well, she finally blew her candle out as she felt drowsy and soon&nb= sp; was sound asleep.

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Only a = short time had passed when she jumped, sitting up, her heart pounding madly. What was= that noise? She had distinctly heard someone creeping through the tall grass, o= n the bank just outside her window.  She managed to find the matches to light her candle, while hoping she had been dreaming, but. . no, soon she heard more footsteps that were getting close= r. She knew her window was so near the bank, anybody could have climbed into = her room.

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She tri= ed to call out, but no voice came from her dry throat, and 'who would hear her?' she thought in terror. On one side the nearest building was the church, on the other side there were only fields, the nearest houses were across the road= and nobody would have heard a shout from her room which was at the back. =

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Before = she could collect her thoughts, deciding  to run for her life, there was a great crash against the shutters of her wind= ow as a shot was fired . She jumped out of bed, while another shot, followed by = a loud cry, like that of a wounded wild animal, resounded in her head.  Terrified, she crouched down, the= n she heard people calling her while banging at her door.

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Thank G= od, somebody had heard and was coming to her rescue, she flew down the stairs = to open the door to some men and women who had heard the shots.

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The nex= t morning, all the village was disturbed by what had happened. Giovanna was strangely= cool and calm.

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Soon th= e villagers found the culprit  responsibl= e for the disturbances.  He was a y= oung man, who obviously resented the teacher as a "lady from the city"= ; and had decided to give her a fright, just for a joke.  He was reprimanded, but, thanks to Giovanna's good heart, he was not prosecuted.

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The ins= pector turned out to be a tall, good looking, middle aged man, with a moustache a= nd greying hair at the temple, impressive and severe to look at although on h= is arrival he was hardly noticed as he dismounted his bike, paused to regain = his breath and to wipe his brow after the long trek from town.  He composed himself, parked his b= ike and proceeded to enter the school premises, taking off his trilby hat as he introduced himself to the teacher. Giovanna managed to welcome him with a smile, offering him a drink and a chair to take a few minutes rest. <= /o:p>

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He gave= Giovanna a feeling of fear and admiration: fear of having to be judged by such an imp= osing man, admiration because in her mind he must have been a font of knowledge,= the one who should know everything.

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Inspect= or Rossi was very much impressed by Giovanna's courage in living on her own and adm= ired her for the way she had taken the incident he had just been informed of. T= hat meant a very good mark for her year of probation!  And the young man, Armando, consi= dered a bit wild by the rest of the people, was put to shame by the events and  never gave any trouble again.        = ;        

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Giovann= a's best friend, Irene, was teaching in the next village, but this did not mean that they could see each other often, because of the lack of communication betw= een the two schools.  They usuall= y met at holiday time, on Sundays, when Giovanna went back to her sister's home = and Irene went to her parents.

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Sometim= es Giovanna went to spend the weekend at Irene's home. Irene had three older brothers = who very much approved of their sister's friendship with such good looking gir= l. They too, enjoyed her company, each of them trying to be the one to be cho= sen to chaperon the girls and to escort them on their outings. 

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Unfortu= nately the brothers were all engine drivers on the railway and had such odd working h= ours, that often they did not even get to see Giovanna at all when she came. This  was the subject for tea= sing her brothers that Irene enjoyed very much.

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Life in= the village was hard but Giovanna was lucky to have her mother who occasionally joined her to keep her company during some of the long Winter evenings. To= be able to do so, Signora Anna had to rely on the kindness of one of the fath= ers of the pupils, who owned a horse and cart and volunteered to pick her up f= rom the point at about 3 Km. from the village where the country lane met the provincial road along which the bus ran once a day. Usually Giovanna had to walk this last stretch, as did Irene. After they had travelled together so= far in the bus, one went South West and the other North West, to get to their places of work.  Often Giovan= na was on her own, but she found that people were very kind to her and she tried = hard not to let her mother follow her too often as the accommodation was so primitive, the house so cold, draughty and she feared for her health.

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After t= he very frightening encounter of the man with the shotgun, a girl from the family living opposite the school, offered to go to sleep in the same room, to ma= ke Giovanna feel more secure.

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At the = beginning of July, Giovanna packed her bags and closed the school house for the Summ= er holiday. The lessons finished on June 15th, but then she had a few chores = to take care of, the register to be filled in, the "cronaca", the d= aily diary  with all the news rela= ted to the events occurring during the school year. Also  she liked to leave the place all = ready for the next term and she quite enjoyed to stay in Poggio for a couple of = weeks during the Summer when her mother also&nb= sp; came to breathe some fresh country air.

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On her = second year in Poggio, some persistent gossip kept reaching her ears: it was about a y= oung girl called Vittoria Mancini. She lived with her widowed mother in the hea= rt of the village. She was very beautiful, only about 18 years old, with black h= air tied in a knot at the nape of her neck, dark eyes, a smooth complexion, not spoiled by exposure to the sun and all weathers as the other girls used to= be out in the open air most of the days.&nbs= p; Vittoria and her mother did not possess any land, but lived on the mother's pension from the father who had been a postman.  They had come to live in Poggio i= n a house that had belonged to Vittoria's grandmother. She had a figure that m= ade every male turn around for an extra look, when they met her.

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Now the= gossip was that a certain young man was visiting the widow's house more often than ju= st an ordinary neighbour and friend would. Giovanna did not take much notice of = all the other girls told her, sometimes it could be envy, that made them talk,= but this time, in the Autumn and then in the Winter, the same gossip were on everybody's lips.

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The wor= st and very sad episode  that Giovanna ha= d of her life in Poggio, the memory of which stayed with her for a very long ti= me, happened one Winter's morning.

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The sun= was shining, while a gentle westerly wind melted the last few patches  of snow on the road, left by the = rough home made snowplough that the villagers had used.  The fields and the mountains were= still all white, covered by layers of snow, in part some metres high, drifted by= the icy winds that had blown during the last few days, during severe snowstorm= s. While Giovanna was teaching, she heard the sound of a car approaching .  As she looked out, pushed by curi= osity, to such a rare happening, she saw a car had stopped just near the school e= ntrance, and she noticed it was a military vehicle, from which 4 men in the unmista= kable black and red uniform of the "carabinieri", got out. =

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In a vi= llage where nothing exciting usually happened, such a sight brought worries about impe= nding disasters and Giovanna felt trembling as she saw the men coming towards the school entrance and entering the door.

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They we= re very courteous, Giovanna left the children working and received them in the kit= chen where they could talk undisturbed. They wanted to make some enquires about= a girl called Vittoria Mancini. Did Giovanna know her? Did she know she was thought to have been pregnant? And had she had the baby? All questions on = which Giovanna could not shed any light at all.=   She knew Vittoria, of course, and her mother, but apart from meeting them occasionally outside by chance, she knew nothing about them.

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They se= emed to be respectable, kind and friendly, that's all. Naturally Giovanna did not talk about the gossip that had been circulating . . . that some months earlier Vittoria was supposed to have morning sickness and that tongues had been w= aggling about Vittoria's behaviour. She had no idea what the lawmen were driving a= t, so she kept quiet. What could Vittoria have done? The carabinieri left the sc= hool and Giovanna saw them go first into the parsonage, then into the house whe= re Vittoria lived with her widowed mother Marianna. They were there for a long time, giving way to all sorts of speculations about their visit.

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When th= ey went, neither Vittoria nor her mother appeared, to quell the curiosity of the bystanders, so people went back to their houses, trying to speculate on all sorts of possibilities that had brought the guardians of the law to a peac= eful place like Poggio. The same afternoon the carabinieri were back, with a se= arch warrant.

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Out cam= e all the village to watch, but by now some had got wise to the fact that it all must stem from Vittoria's alleged pregnancy . If at times she had looked a bit different, plumper, now she looked more normal, but any body's wildest dre= ams could not have forecasted the macabre ending to the episode.  Neighbours were interrogated. Vit= toria had been pregnant, but what had happened to the baby? Her mother kept cryi= ng, protesting that they were all fabricated accusations.

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The hou= se was searched, then the surrounding areas, finally they found what they had been looking for.

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The cor= pse of a baby boy, wrapped in a white shawl, was discovered under some bushes at the back of the house, partly covered by snow, death having been caused by his umbilical cord having been left untied. Although he had been dead for some days, the little body had been preserved by the below zero temperature and looked just as if he was asleep.

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How had= the carabinieri found out? Who had been the spy from the village? Her alleged = lover was suspected of having given her away, although it was established that t= here was no accomplice in her crime, even her mother who was at first under suspicion, was later cleared. Vittoria was led out of the house, between t= wo carabinieri and driven away to prison. Everybody, including the teacher an= d the priest was stunned and horrified by the events.

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The vil= lagers were very hard in judging Vittoria and blamed her mother for having not "watched" her. Of the baby, in a very callous way, they remarked: "He would have been a bastard, so he is better off dead". Nobody showed any pity for the girl. She was tried and convicted of "infanticidio", the murder of an infant, and sentenced to life imprisonment. As matter of fact, during the second world war, she was rele= ased, after serving twenty two years of her sentence, for  good behaviour. She was just fort= y years old, managed to pick up the pieces of her life, married and lived an exemp= lary life.

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Vittori= a's episode shook Giovanna as she tried to console the old mother, Marianna.  She never forgave her daughter, e= ven when Giovanna tried to make her see that, had she been a better friend to Vittoria, things might have been different.  Who could understand the agony Vi= ttoria must have gone through when she found out she was pregnant? Who would have helped her? She must have been too ashamed to confess her state to anybody, especially to her mother who  would have  thrown her out of the h= ouse, what then would have happened to her and her baby? Nobody knew what went o= n in Vittoria's mind, for she never answered any questions during her trial, no= r did she reveal the name of the baby's father.

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She too= k her punishment as if she was glad it was all over, all in the open, looking aw= ay from the faces of the people who crowded the court. For them it was a day = of excitement, which they enjoyed as an unexpected holiday, travelling for the trial to the town capital of the province, where very few of them had ever= been .

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After f= our years spent as teacher in this God forsaken place, Giovanna had the chance to ap= ply to be transferred to another school. She was seen as a deserving case by t= he Authority, because of the elderly mother who was to live with her, so she = was lucky to be given a post in another village, only a few Km. away from the = first one, on the same line along the foot of the Appennines. =

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Montell= o was one of the first places where the fascist Regime had created  new schools. A new building had b= een erected on a plot of land at the entrance to the village, and this was to = be Giovanna's new home.

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The pla= ce was everything she could have wished for, comfortable, spacious, new, in a very good position, from which she could see the hills, the mountains, the fiel= ds for miles around, and, the most important thing, she could have her mother living with her.  Often her s= ister from the town came to spend weekends in the country.

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The vil= lagers were very kind and very curious of the new residents, They all, with one excuse= or another, came to meet Giovanna and her mother, bringing new laid eggs, che= ese, fruit and vegetables, just to welcome them.  This touched Giovanna's heart, sh= e was not used to such kindness, and she thanked them the best way she could, by being friendly and by putting herself down to their level, by making them = feel there was no difference between an educated person like the teacher and the peasants. She wanted them to know she was one of them and she belonged to = the village.

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The fir= st year went by without anything exciting happening.  The school year ended on June 15t= h, but Giovanna had planned to stay until the end of the month before going to sp= end the Summer at her sister's home in Valledoro. On June 23rd, following a centuries old tradition, the girls of Montello, as of all the other villag= es, went out to gather wild flowers and herbs, any sort of leaves with a pleas= ant aroma, in particular walnut leaves and yellow broom flowers, "ginestra" blossom.

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A super= stitious belief says that many strange things happen on the night of St.John. The flowers and herbs are placed in a trough, covered with water and left all = night in the open, under a cloudless sky, when the spirit of the Saint will perv= ade the nightly air and turn it into holy water, which will have the power of strengthening body and spirit. In the morning that water will be used to w= ash babies and every member of the family will have a share to freshen their f= aces and limbs.

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The gir= ls, carrying large baskets, thought it would be polite to ask the young teache= r to join them. Giovanna readily accepted the invitation which would give her a chance of getting to know better the people of Montello.  She picked up a basket and all to= gether they went along the road towards a small hill, where the broom plants were growing in great number. On the way, they picked any flower they found, wh= ile gossiping, chatting, giggling, laughing, looking forward to a grand day, t= he next day, the festival of St.  John, a holiday for everybody.  May= be they would meet a handsome stranger or maybe it would be still years before the= y met the right man.

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Why not= ask the cuckoo? So, after singing a silly rhyme , they waited for the cuckoo to gi= ve them the answer: every cuckoo the bird sang, meant one year of waiting! Giovanna never had such fun, she was enjoying herself very much.

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"P= erhaps we should come out at midnight to see the witches" giggled one of the gi= rls.

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"G= ood girls are in their beds at midnight", another replied. The majority of them a= greed, not only to avoid gossip, but Giovanna realised that they were really beli= eving in the witches scouring the countryside on that night, playing nasty jokes= and frightening people who venture out from midnight till dawn.

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Giovann= a was fascinated by all these superstitions;&nb= sp; "You must not let the witches enter your home" "Only= an upturned  broom outside your = front door will save you", they declared, firmly believing in what the old crones of the village had been postulating from generation to generation. =

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Talking= about all this nonsense and thinking of tomorrow, they were looking forward to go to church in their best clothes, to the special lunch which would follow, some home made tagliatelle, followed by roast cockerels from the brood of the s= pring chickens, sacrificed in St. John's honour. The best part of the day = would be the procession, when the Saint's statue would be carried through the villa= ge, shoulder high, by six of the strongest young men, followed by the priest a= nd by the congregation, while the rest of the people would throw petals of spring flowers mixed with aromatic herbs, on the path of the procession.

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The eve= ning would end with the usual "quattro salti". literally four jumps, in the= open air, on the largest "aia" of the village, the paved yard where t= he grain is threshed.  The dance= would be accompanied by the sound of Peppino's "fisarmonica", (accordion)= , one eyed Peppino, as everybody called him. He had lost the sight of one eye wh= en he was very young, by the hand of a boy of the same age who accidentally hit = him with a stone. He knew no music, only one or two tunes, which he played at different speeds, so whether you danced a fox trot, a waltz, a polka or a tango, the tune was always the same. He was the only young man who never danced, not only because there was nobody else who could play in his place= , but because the girls shunned him. They did not like his way of turning his he= ad sideways when he talked to them.

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The poo= r chap could not do otherwise, in order to see the person he was talking to. This= had given him an inferiority complex which he had overcome when, scraping and saving selling wild vegetables and fruit at the market in town, he had bec= ome the proud owner of a "fisarmonica", not any fisarmonica, but one= of the best, from the Soprani factory of Castelfidardo, the wizard of fisarmo= nica makers. Now the girls smiled at him, always trying to be friendly: it would have been a calamity had he not made himself available when they wanted to dance, which was the only way and occasion approved by the families for th= em to be in the arms of their heart throbs, without gossip and thoughts of malic= e. Peppino was asked to all the parties and all the weddings .

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He soon= graduated to the payment of a small fee, which usually came from the men's pockets. = He became known in the neighbouring villages where often his musical skill was required. Outside his village he was referred to as "the musician&quo= t;, while still a few called him in a friendly, joking way "cecalupo"= ;, blind wolf.

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Giovann= a enjoyed the confidence of the girls, as more and more she realised the deep differ= ence from her own upbringing and these girls' life and aspirations. They had no= thing to look forward to except a very hard working life, a marriage usually in = the same village, many children to bring up. Still, they were contented, looking fo= rward to meeting the man who would become their husband and take them to live in= his home, together with his mother, father, sisters and brothers and their fam= ilies if they were married.  Sudden= ly Giovanna was brought back to reality from her thoughts, by a shout from on= e of the girls:

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"W= e have no walnut leaves". She was right, they were almost forgetting one of the= most wanted ingredients to their mixture of aromas. The nearest walnut tree was= at "The mill", only a few minutes away.

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"L= et's have a race there", one suggested. "See who will be  first to sit under the tree"= .

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With th= at they were off, racing along like young foals, but not too fast, as the baskets = they carried were heavy. It was Antonia to get there  first. She slumped in the shade o= f the centuries old tree, by the mill pond, soon followed by the rest of the gro= up, all panting and laughing. Giovanna was the last. She was not trained to ca= rry weights or to compete in cross country races!

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"W= ouldn't it be nice to wash our feet in this lovely pond?" one of them suggested,= but a flock of squawking ducks darted by, clouding the water which suddenly di= d not look at all desirable any more. They decided to have just a cool drink fro= m the fountain, after they had picked enough leaves from the tree.

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The big= house by the water was a mill no more, but it still had the pond and the great wheel that had been used to grind wheat. Giovanna had heard that the American fa= mily lived there, but she had not met any of them.  The girls started talking about t= hem, about the son who had gone to Rome to work, suggesting that they must be quite ri= ch, coming from America, as they imagined anybody who had= been to that country must be.

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Giovann= a smiled, listened, but said nothing. She had some experiences of "America" even if a different sort of= America. These girls would not know the d= ifference between the two, had she told them of her past life. She felt there was no= thing to show off about her America. It was a chapter of her life whi= ch the sooner forgotten the better.

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The sou= nd of voices and laughter from the girls brought Virginia out on her doorstep, to see who it was.  She was very hospitable= and as soon as she saw they were girls from the village, together with the teache= r, which she recognised for having seen her in church, she asked them into her home to have a "merenda", a snack, with freshly baked bread and prosciutto. They all enjoyed Virginia's hospitality, but had it not bee= n for Giovanna's presence, the other girls would not have had such sumptuous wel= come. . . . They parted planning to meet the next day in church "When my so= n Joe will be there too, as he is coming back from <= span lang=3DEN-GB style=3D'font-size:14.0pt'>Rome tonight", added Virginia.

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"I= am so looking forward to see him again, he has a new job and I am so pleased. I always feared he might go back to America, then I would not see him again, = like my other son. I will see that Joe comes to church to morrow, too" And wi= th these words, Virginia went back indoors.

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The nex= t day, when Mass was over, all the people gathered on the square, greeting friends, ca= lling each other, catching up with family news. Farmers from isolated far away f= arms, had walked miles to be there, while the better off had arrived in their ho= rse drawn buggies.  When Giovanna= and her mother walked out of church, Virginia was there, dressed in her best cl= othes, showing off her precious handbag, radiant as she announced, pushing him forward,

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"H= ere is my Joe".

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Giovann= a was pleasantly surprised to meet the very well mannered, well spoken young man= . He was dressed like a person from the city, raised his hat and shook hands wi= th her and her mother, looking straight into their eyes.  He had eyes of an incredible blue= , the colour of the sky on a  Summe= r's day, a charming smile, and the first impression he gave of himself was gentleness, coupled with great physical strength. He towered above Giovann= a and she had to look up to him while they exchanged conventional greetings, bef= ore Giovanna and her mother started walking towards the school house.

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People = were all trying to talk to Joe, they were so proud of him, it was a credit to the community to have "the American", amongst them.  Joe had thought of asking the pri= est to give him some lessons but he seemed to be very busy when Joe had approache= d the subject.  The truth being that Don  Basilio did not feel very confident in the role of a teacher, so one afternoon,  following his mother's advice and= taking his courage in both hands, Joe walked towards the school house. Giovanna w= as outside, picking some herbs to use in cooking the evening meal, when she s= aw him and recognised the young man she had met  on St. John's day, the American.

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She fel= t blushing, while he heart gave a quick thump. What could he be here for?  When he politely asked if he coul= d talk to her, she asked him in the room where her mother was sitting, busy with = her knitting. Signora Anna looked puzzled: Who was he? Oh, yes, she had met him before, but what could he possibly want? She welcomed him in, as Giovanna explained he wanted to talk to her. She was not going to leave her daughter alone with any stranger, so she waited to hear what he had to say, stopped knitting and wrapped her shawl tight around her shoulders. Soon her curios= ity was satisfied. When Joe had explained what he wanted, Giovanna felt she co= uld help this young man, in making a success of his job, but before accepting = to give him lessons, she looked at her mother waiting for a sign of approval.= To her surprise, it was the mother who spoke even before she had the chance of saying anything. "Of course, I am sure my daughter will help you with= your Italian" came the answer, that astonished Giovanna.

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There w= as something that made her mother trust Joe, his open face and smile, she thought.  She knew better than anybody else what a person can go through in a strange country, how much o= ne can long for a helping hand in the very difficult process of settling down= in a new place. For a moment her thoughts took her back to that desolate town i= n Argentina, when she had on her shoulders th= e responsibility of the future of her girls. . . . . . Those events were now so remote she = had almost forgotten the worries she had endured.  Joe had revived them, in his face= she could see herself, she knew she could not dash  this young man's hopes and let hi= m down. Nothing would happen to Giovanna, she would be there and make sure of that.  Joe took the old lady'= s hands into his, while he thanked profusely her and Giovanna who had shown enthus= iasm in becoming his teacher, after her mother's sudden approval.  Joe's lessons were to be after the Summer holiday, but the wait did not matter to Joe, because Errol would no= t be back from The States until the next Spring.

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In the = Autumn he started to frequent the school house once a week, but sometimes he got an = extra lesson on a Thursday morning, if Giovanna=   was not busy, either shopping or if she had no visitors. Joe proved= to be a very studious pupil, learning fast and it did not take him long to fill = the few gaps  and to write perfect Italian, although even with Giovanna's help he still found some difficulty= in mastering those elusive double consonants!

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He was = always so polite and full of attention towards Giovanna and her mother, soon he was regarded as a real friend, and kept up his visits to the school house even after he stopped learning.  H= e made very interesting company, he had many tales to tell about America and the Americans, about life in = New York, which Giovanna never tired to he= ar about.  She felt the travelli= ng experiences she had were nothing compared with his. Signora Anna used to g= o to the kitchen to make a coffee for the three of them and it was astonishing = at what speed she did it. She was forever present at any visit that Joe made = to the house. Her knitting never ended. Like the weaving of Penelope of Homer= 's fame, while stalling her suitors it went on and on.  When the weather was warm they of= ten sat  outside, Giovanna and Jo= e on a bench, while the mother sat on a chair, which she always placed in a strat= egic position, from where she could observe even when she seemed interested in looking at the vegetable garden.

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The mot= her had realised from the beginning that a mutual attraction was developing betwee= n Joe and Giovanna. Their friendship had blossomed into a much deeper feeling, a= love which they could hardly hide from the mother intuition. =

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She nev= er relaxed her role of guardian, and a very stern guardian she was. The most that Joe= and Giovanna, longing to fall in each other's arms, could achieve, was a furti= ve kiss in mother's absence during the very short coffee making sessions.         =            

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Like in= the famous episode of Francesca da Rimini, from the Divina Commedia, in Dante' own wo= rds, "Galeotto fu il libro. . . .", ruffian, rogue was the book. . . = . . . . that made Francesca and Paolo fall in love while reading it.   In this case the book which brought them together was nothing more exciting than the Italian grammar, = which they came to regard as the mascot of their life.

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When Jo= e went away on a long trip with Mr. Mason, the postman was kept very busy. During this= time Joe's writing improved very much indeed. By the time he came back everybod= y in the village knew he must have a soft spot for the teacher: Pallino, the po= stman had managed to divulge to the four winds the news that letters with the sa= me postmark and handwriting that Virginia got from her son, were arriving at = the school house too, in fact much more often than to his mother. <= /span>

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The las= t letter, before Joe's return, was addressed to Signora Anna, and a very important l= etter that was. He was asking her to give her consent for him to marry Giovanna.=

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They be= came engaged, also with Errol's blessing, and they married in the Summer of 192= 6. The ceremony  took place in Valledoro, the town where Giovanna's sister Ada lived and the bride, travelling i= n a closed landau, was given away by Ada's husband, Rudello. Only relatives and her best friend, Irene, who was already married and had a 3 year old daughter, Lore= nza, were present . They spent their  honeymoon in Florence, with Erroll's compliment who had= been very generous with his wedding present, a large cheque. Joe was able to introduce  Giovanna to the wo= rld of art, to show her  the masterp= ieces  of so many Renaissance artists, w= hich now were the subjects of his working life.              &nb= sp;                = ;            &= nbsp;           &nb= sp;            = ;            &= nbsp;  


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CHAPTER &= nbsp; 8

 

Life in the schoolhouse

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The sch= ool house was the biggest and most imposing building of Montello, situated just outs= ide the village, with a large drive and plenty of space around it, that the sc= hool children used as a playground.  Although not fenced off from other land, the space was quite safe f= or the children to stay there unsupervised, as the only traffic nearby could = have been a stray cow or sheep and those children knew very well how to cope wi= th such emergencies.

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At lunc= h time the teacher retreated to the part of the building which was her home, while so= me of the children went back to their families for lunch. As matter of fact, mos= t of the pupils should have gone back home and come to school again in the afte= rnoon for two more hours. Many preferred to stay at school because their mothers= were working in the fields, others had to stay because they came from farms far= away and had to walk about 2 or 3 miles each way to school. For them it would h= ave been impossible to go home in the middle of the day, trudging through the fields and rough country lanes.

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They al= l wore tough boots, too big for their small feet, coats handed down from the olde= r brothers or sisters, that had seen many generations. In Winter they wore a large sc= arf wrapped around their head, long enough to be used also as gloves, the end = bits twisted around the little fingers, which were full of chilblains.

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The lit= tle group that most touched Joe's feelings, was the one of two boys and two girls, belonging to the Antonioni families.  These families lived in two adjacent farms, which belonged to a wea= lthy landowner. The farms were very remote and isolated and the children, whose= ages were between six and nine, had to walk for about 3 miles each way to schoo= l. In the Winter the families would be cut off by the snow so they always kept a= good stock of grain, flour, salt. Salt was indispensable to keep and cure home killed meat and so to survive the freeze.=   "Casalario" and "Casalvento" were the names of = the farms. Three brothers worked the fields sharing everything, obviously after every crop had been shared with the "padrone". They all had wive= s and large families.

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Tragedy= had struck suddenly the happy community one day when a very rare and deadly virus fir= st hit the wife of the eldest brother who died in a few days.  Then the husband was killed by th= e same  disease, so in a very short time,= there were four orphans left. It was a heartbreaking event. Something had to be = done to save the children from being evicted&n= bsp; by the landowner. Joe and Giovanna called in their friend Francesco= , who was Irene's husband and an agricultural expert. As the law stood, the land= owner could ask for the children to be removed from the farm as they were not of working age and, in his view, just four more mouths to feed at his expenses. The only solution, which came with Frances= co's advice, was for the younger of the two uncles to adopt the orphans as his = own children, an event that brought relief to all the villagers concerned for = their fate.

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The chi= ldren of school age from this family came to school all together and hardly ever mi= ssed a day, except when the weather was too severe. They used to bring to school their lunch in a bag made from sack cloth, slung across their shoulders, a= home made sort of satchel. Their lunch invariably consisted of a large hunk of bread, a half loaf per child, most of the times stale, a piece of cheese o= r an apple when they were in season, or a slice of salame, half a sausage, or e= ven a large walnut, already cracked. Sometimes Joe used to watch them as they op= ened their bundle and started to eat mouthfuls of bread, being very careful to = bite a very small quantity of whatever they had as its "accompaniment"= ;. It looked sometimes as they just liked to get only a little of the flavour an= d in the meantime they would finish the bread and still have a piece of the rest left. Then, with a broad smile, they were ready to savour their "dessert" and enjoy slowly the nut or whatever was left, on its own. 

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That sm= all portion of walnut must have tasted like the most luxurious food tastes to the sophisticated palates of the very rich. Yet, the pleasure that pervaded the small faces as they savoured it, gave them the look of someone feeling lik= e a million dollars.

Even on= their meagre diet, those children looked the picture of health, with pink cheeks, bright eyes, shining hair. They were always clean, well scrubbed and in the late Spring their hair was usually shaved, to give it a chance to get curl= y, the parents would tell the children, the true reason being that it was eas= ier to keep them clean giving no chance to lice to get a hold.

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"P= oor mites", used to comment Joe, looking with sadness in his eyes at these creatures, and there was not a day when he would not make sure that the fi= re in the classroom was well stocked during the lunch break. Very often he took something from the kitchen, under Ida's, the maid, reproachful eye, to add= to the children's meal. 

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"T= here is no need to be soft with them", Ida would scorn, "You spoil them, th= at is what they are used to in their home. "

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The sch= ool building was outside the cluster of houses that made up the village. It st= ood on raised ground, on a side turning just off the main road that led to the first houses. It was a real showplace, compared to any other school in any village of the district. On the ground floor there was the hall, with the kitchen on the left, while on the right there was a dining-sitting room wi= th a communicating door to the school hall, to the children's entrance and to t= he classroom and cloakrooms.  Th= ere was even a great "palestra", a gym, for physical education . All the rooms were spacious, airy and well lit. The house had a large staircase th= at led to three bedrooms upstairs. There were  separate entrances for the school and for the teacher's quarters. B= eing the only school for many miles around, children of all ages were taught in= the same room at the same time by the same teacher. It would have been a chaot= ic situation with a large number of children. As it was, they were divided in three classes and the number varied between 20 and 26 pupils in all.<= /o:p>

 

The cla= sses would work at different subjects at the same time, but everything worked in harm= ony and things flowed very smoothly. Discipline was very strict in those days,= but nobody seemed to suffer for it.  There were no toys, no apparatus whatsoever to make teaching a ligh= ter task. Teacher's tools were just the blackboard, reading book, pencil, ink,= pen, and writing book. The only concession to help some hard at learning the ba= sic skills of counting, was a handful of maize seeds to be used as counters, b= ut you had to be careful not to incur  the teacher's displeasure or she would use the maize as tools for punishment by making  you kne= el on them for a few minutes, to sharpen your wits!

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There w= as no waste of material, no rough pieces of paper that you could play with and dispose= of at your leisure.  Paper had t= o be accounted for. The teacher had to buy her own paper and the families who c= ould afford it had to provide the books and writing equipment for their childre= n, while the very numerous and less prosperous families got the bare necessit= ies from the "Patronato scolastico", which was a branch of the fasci= st party that cared for the welfare of school children.

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This or= ganisation also played "Santa Claus", or the "Befana Fascista" to these children on the Befana Day, January 6th. A couple of "gerarchi", fascists with some post of responsibility in the hierarchy of the party, in their uniform, often husband and wife, would distribute the presents to the children of the poorest families and have a party for them in a public place, most of the times in a school hall. 

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In a vi= llage the teacher performed such a duty, in rare occasions another member of the par= ty would come to do the honour, clad in the fascist "orbace", thus lifting the occasion to a sort of village celebration. Orbace was the mate= rial fascist uniforms were made of, a thick black hairy rough stuff woven by Sardinian peasants from the wool of their goats. To say someone wore "orbace", it meant he wore the fascist uniform.

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In the = classrooms, in all Italian schools, on the wall behind the teacher's table, hung the portraits of the King Victor Emanuel The Third, of Queen Elena, of Mussoli= ni in Fascist uniform, while in the middle, above the other frames, a wooden cru= cifix was to remind of the papal influence in the country's affairs, in the shap= e of the Catholic church. On another wall a large map of Italy, and in a corner, the furled Ital= ian flag, ready to be put out on days of national importance. 

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One of = the few good things that fascism did for Italy, was to fight illiteracy which wa= s widespread. In the thirties it was gradually being overcome in respect of the new generations, as a law was passed that made it a punishable crime to keep children away from school. Every child was to attend classes for a minimum= of 3 years, in the rural areas, because very few rural schools had the facility= of providing another teacher or accommodation for the higher part of the Prim= ary school, the fourth and fifth year. So, by the time they were 9 years old, = most of the children did not need to go to school any more. <= /p>

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Not much schooling, one can say, and there was always the case that a child would frequent the school for the minimum 3 years prescribed by the law without having mastered the art of reading and writing. They could stay an extra y= ear, but many parents, who needed more working hands in the fields, would not a= llow them to stay any longer.

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"I= never went to school and I do not regret it" would boast some obstinate, selfish character, when asked by the teacher to let a child stay some extra time, proudly showing off his ignorance when his signature was needed, by making= a cross instead of his name.

 

The qua= lity of teaching was remarkable, only in very rare cases a teacher was unable to m= ake the thickest wooden heads learn the basic skills. A teacher's duty extended also to help the adults who could not write, to read their letters and to provide an answer. Young girls came to Giovanna to be helped to answer let= ters from their suitors, often not because they could not write at all,  but because they were unable to e= xpress their feelings in  beautiful, romantic phrases as the teacher could.&nb= sp;

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Giovann= a enjoyed this, but she had to change her tactics and stop conveying her own dreams = in her compositions, when she found to her dismay that a young man had fallen= in love with her letters and when he discovered that his girl was incapable of writing them, he had broken off the engagement.

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Another= episode that shows the sad state of illiteracy of the population, was when a middle aged woman, the wife of a level crossing keeper from the village nearest t= o the railway line, a friend of Joe, came to Giovanna to ask for help. She wante= d to share in her husband's job as he was not in very good health and eventuall= y she would take over from him. She knew how to place on the long pole the light= to signal to trains to stop, in the night, or to show the rolled up flag which meant "all clear " in day time, but she needed to be able to rea= d and write, when it was necessary to send a message to the next level crossing keeper. Needless to say she could do neither, so Giovanna started teaching= her as she was going to be called for a test.

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The cal= l came sooner than she expected. Letizia was asked to write a page of composition= . She started working and never lifted her head until her page was full of writing.  When the examiner w= ent to read it, he found that the lines said the same thing over and over again: Letizia had filled her page with her signature, which was the only thing s= he could remember how to write:  Meloni Letizia, Meloni Letizia. . . . . . Fortunately the examiner was so touched= by her eagerness to get the job, that he passed her, knowing that there would= be somebody else in the family if she had to read a message to be relayed to = other level crossing keepers further along the line.

 

Soon Gi= ovanna was expecting a baby which was born in April of the year after their wedding. = It was decided that  two days be= fore the baby was due, a midwife from the town would come to stay in the house = and wait for the event. She was well known for her capability and everybody kn= ew that under Peppina's very expert hands&nbs= p;     there was nothing to be feared, but just in case of need, Federico, the owner of= a horse and cart, was ready to go at very short notice, to fetch the general practitioner from the village where he lived, a few miles away.

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The vil= lage had a sort of midwife, a middle aged woman called Assunta, capable, but being no= t a professional, did not inspire all the confidence that Joe and Giovanna required. She was thought by some also to be a  healer, who gave potions and stra= nge remedies for all sorts of ailments.  She used mostly herbs, some of which she grew in her garden.  She had started going to help at = births after an encounter when she had found herself alone with a woman who was h= aving a baby and nobody was at home, in an isolated farmhouse. Since then she had gained the confidence of the villagers who it found easier to call her rat= her than going miles away to find a professional midwife. She was also the one= to give injections to anybody who had them prescribed by the doctor, having learned from a friend of hers who lived in another village.

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There w= as still a clairvoyant in the village, like in Virginia's younger days. Santina's place h= ad been taken by a woman called Chiarina, little Clare. Reading the future, mostly= to girls waiting to find a husband, and dispelling the evil eye when things w= ere not going too well, were now her field of work. She was also referred to as "La Gobba", because of the marked protuberance on her left shoul= der.

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On the = 3rd of April, Peppina came to check on Giovanna, brought by a taxi, carrying her = bag of instruments and objects for any eventuality. She knew as much as any do= ctor, if not more, about mothers, babies and births and she was confident everyt= hing would be fine.  Things starte= d on the second day of Peppina's stay and ten hours later, Giovanna gave birth = to a daughter, while Joe, with Ida the maid,&n= bsp; was relegated to the kitchen. Signora Anna was present at the birth= . Ida seemed to enjoy the worried look in Joe's face, during the hours of labour= and to his questions, as Ida was carrying and fetching to and from the bedroom= , she invariably answered: "Tutto bene", all is well. She was very cal= lous about the whole thing, being the eldest of five children, she was very knowledgeable on the subject, having being present when her last sister was born, only a couple of years earlier.

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"M= y mother did not have even Assunta when her time came, because she was away, so, wh= at can possibly go wrong to Signora Giovanna, with Peppina present"? she= kept telling Joe. Peppina had all those implements, those rubber pumps, thermometers, syringes, glass tubes and, most intriguing of all, that glass container with a long tube at the end of which was a nozzle, like a small tap.  Ida could not make out = what possible use it could have.

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A suppl= y teacher was sent to take over the school duties for three months and she found lod= gings with the priest, at the vicarage. She had her meals prepared by Perpetua, = the priest's housekeeper, and walked to the school house every morning. <= /o:p>

 

The bab= y was called Carla.

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In the = meantime Giovanna's best friend had a second baby, a son, and Irene was given a new= post to teach in Giovanna's old village, Poggio. A new school house had been provided there, not a new building, but one floor of a newly built house o= f a family whose father had come back from the United States= after a few years of working and saving.  Now Irene enjoyed th= e same privileges, although in a smaller scale, and, most welcome of all, electric light.

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As the = family was growing, life was good for the Perotti. Mr.Mason came regularly to = Italy once or twice a year and Joe spen= t some time travelling with him. When he was at home, Joe always found something = to keep him busy.

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He got = himself a dog, a mongrel, which a farmer gave him and which he trained for the shoot= ing season. All the family became very fond of Furio, who lived in a kennel ou= tside in Summer and in the kitchen in Winter. Virginia looked after him when they went a= way.

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On one = of his trips, Joe came back a proud owner of a wireless, that kept him busy for m= any hours a day, especially when it was wet, as he followed  news from all over the world. He = was an enthusiastic listener and often he invited some of the men from the villag= e, in the evenings, to get them interested in what was going on outside the restricted village life. They followed the adventures of the Nobile expedi= tion to the North Pole, when the number of listeners became a crowd, anxious to= know the latest news of the lost men after the crash of the hot air balloon.

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The nex= t passion of Joe were records, when he bought a gramophone of "La voce <= st1:State>del padrone", one of the best ma= kes. He collected opera records of many artists, the favourite being Beniamino Gig= li, who was considered almost part of the family, having been born in Recanati= , in the vicinity of Valledoro. Joe shared this love for music and opera with Giovanna. When the theatre season was on, in Valledoro, once a year, he al= ways bought tickets for every performance when they enjoyed usually sharing a b= ox with their best friends, Irene and her husband Francesco.

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In June= 1927 Valledoro had the honour of a visit from Gigli who came to sing, invited b= y a well to do art lover, on the occasion of the festival of Saint Romualdo. W= ho but Francesco, who knew everybody and everything, could arrange for their = small party to be present at the reception given after the concert to the artist= s?

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It was = Joe's greatest thrill, to be introduced to his idol, such a great singer, who already had= had his first successes in America where he had been acclaimed  a worthy successor of Enrico Caru= so.

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Photogr= aphy became another of Joe's passions. He was very eager to take very good pictures of= his family, so he was forever telling them to learn to keep still, just for th= ose few vital moments, to give him a chance to become an expert. At any reunio= n with friends, there he was, always pacing down the exact distance, waiting for = the best light, while placing his camera on a tripod, a black cloth on top und= er which he covered his head, while counting the seconds until the "take". Eventually he did take some very good shots, so good tha= t at some Christening party, or Confirmation,, his pictures were as good as tho= se of the official photographer.

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He scan= dalised his mother in law by taking his daughter, Carla, in the nude, sitting on a sto= ol, with her legs crossed, when she was about four years old. It was really a beautiful study, very much admired by all, except by Signora Anna, who remarked, "Another custom from his American days, I suppose". La= ter, as usual, she would come round to accept his way of thinking, she never ha= d a grudge against him. Only once she went on sulking for a long time, on a su= bject which had shocked her and she could not come to understand. Carla had come= out with one of those embarrassing questions children often ask:

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"W= hat does it mean that aunt Ada is "incinta", mummy?" Giovanna blushed, before she could think of an answer.

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To stal= l the subject, she asked: "Where did you hear such a thing?"

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"I= heard my godmother telling my godfather, when I was at their house." came the answer.

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Giovann= a looked at Joe, who was present, hoping for help while Carla still pressed on, adding= : "Does it mean that she has a big cinta (belt), mummy?"

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Joe ste= pped in and candidly gave his answer to Carla's question: "It means that your aunt will soon have a baby, who will be your cousin. This baby is now in your a= unt's tummy"

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Carla w= as left without words, she quietly slipped out of the room, to ask her Grandmother= if she knew and if it was true.  Later Giovanna had a long talk with her which left Carla a little disappointed t= hat there was no stork carrying babies and that Peppina, the midwife did not h= ave a secret place where to get them from.  "She only comes to help when babies are about to be born", Carla was told. Well, there was no point in being nice to her when they me= t in town, Carla thought, while she had hoped she could ask her to choose a nice little girl cousin for her.

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This ep= isode caused a lot of friction in the family, Giovanna confided to her friend Ir= ene. Her mother had been shocked by Joe's attitude and she was too. Although Giovanna was the more excitable of the two, the one with a fiery temper, J= oe was the one to get his way just by saying quietly what he thought. His character had nothing of a typical Italian, one could have mistaken him fo= r a phlegmatic, unruffled Anglo-Saxon. They could not quarrel, no matter how m= uch they disagreed on a subject: Joe would let her let off  steam, without incensing her, the= n he knew that after a while she would calm down and perhaps think on his lines= . He never raised his voice to her or to the children, he would always reason, = like a very experienced diplomat.

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The qua= rrels were invariably about trivial matters, so they were only disagreements, like wh= en Carla, under her father's instructions, found out that the dear old Befana= , who brought presents to the children on January 6th, (Epiphany day), did not e= xist at all, only in stories.  The presents were brought by Father Christmas, who found his way to the school house as he would have done to American children. Giovanna and Joe never a= greed on this, with great joy for their children: Father always gave them presen= ts at Christmas time, while mother kept to the Italian tradition of giving them = on the night of January 5th.  Ev= en if the Befane did not exist, like Father Christmas, as Giovanna told them, th= ey gained by getting presents  t= wice!

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It was a "must" to go to town on December 13th,  St.  Lucia's day, when  sta= lls sold figures made in the local potteries, for making the "Presepio&qu= ot;, the scene of the Nativity, that every home with young children would prepa= re for Christmas.

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The leg= end says that St.  Lucia lived around = 300 A.  D. She gave all her riche= s to the poor, then she was denounced by her fiancé' as a prostitute and condemned to be burned alive. As by miracle, the flames did not touch her,= so she was beheaded and her eyes taken out of their socket. For this reason s= he was regarded as the Saint protector of people's sight. Some Benedictine mo= nks built the Church dedicated to St. Lucia in Valledoro. December 13th.  became St. Lucia's Day, with a fair for the sale of Christmas decorations.

 

Often J= oe enjoyed a walk down to the Mill, where his mother still lived. She was getting on = in the years, but she was still strong and had a will of her own. She could l= ook after herself and her youngest unmarried daughter, Natalina. The family ha= d a few acres of land nearby, which was not cultivated, and some other buildin= gs, that had been houses a long time ago, and now were sometimes used as barns= and stables by the mezzadro who looked after their land. He never tired admiri= ng the peace and serenity of the place, the beautiful meadows, full of wild flowers in spring, the gleaming stream, the duck pond.  Sometimes Giovanna came when scho= ol was over, and later his children used to accompany him.

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In his = wildest dreams he used to imagine the place was a beautiful country mansion, on a country estate, like he had seen in = England during one of his journeys there = with Erroll. Even a golf course he could see there with his eyes shut. Sometime= s he took there the clubs he had brought back, that seemed such useless things = in that part of the world where not only there was no golf course, but he dou= bted if anybody would know what playing golf was about. He had made a couple of holes in the field, to practice putting, while he tried to teach Giovanna = the art of golf.

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In Wint= er the snow came early to Montello and for two or three months the bus service was out= of action, so it was impossible for any other vehicle to get there. It was not easy to call for a taxi even if the road was passable, because one needed = to send a message by hand through somebody who walked to town. When a lot of = snow fell and the village was cut off, the villagers usually got together to ma= ke a rough snowplough, to clear a path as far as the main road, that would be cleared by the Municipal Authority.

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Weather permitting, the taxi was booked for every Thursday morning. The Perotti fa= mily were always ready early in the morning for the arrival of the black shining limousine driven by one of the Borelli brothers, the taxi drivers. The vil= lage children always followed their departure and their return with frantic wav= es of their hands, and open mouthed. What would some of them have done to have a short ride in the forbidding vehicle, or even just to sit on the back seat which looked so comfortable, like a throne in Heaven! Every Thursday was a Primary school holiday, so this day of the week was dedicated to shopping = and to meeting friends in Valledoro. The friends they met without exceptions w= as the family of Irene. The meeting place was the main cafe in the square, the "Caffe' Centrale" at about 10. 30. or later, if Giovanna and Ire= ne had a meeting at the school Inspectorate.

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The chi= ldren of the two couples were also glad to meet each other, as they were of similar ages. By then, Joe's treat to the children was to order for them a huge di= sh of pastries: bigne', cannoli, diplomatici, would disappear in no time, washed= down by numerous bottles of "aranciata S. Pellegrino". While they gor= ged themselves, the parents enjoyed their chats in peace, sipping their Espres= si and aperitivi, catching up with the news.

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Giovann= a and Irene both had their hair long to the waist, often rolled into a bun at the nape= of the neck.  The fashion for sh= ort hair came to their part of the world a little later than in the big cities, but= when it came, like a hurricane, it swept everything in its wake. "La garcon" look was there to stay. Every time Giovanna met Irene, she he= ard of more and more of their acquaintances that had succumbed to the fashion.= They liked the new look very much, but they were undecided worrying at what the= ir husbands' reaction would be. However, Irene confided to Giovanna that earl= ier in the year, when her mother had died, she had told her that one of her la= st wishes had been to see her daughter with short hair and that Irene should = have hers cut.  =

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That di= d it: without telling their husbands, pretending to go to a school meeting, the = two friends made an appointment for the following Thursday at "Delia's&qu= ot; salon where their crowning glory was sacrificed to fashion. Under Delia's expert hands at Marcel waving, they changed their appearance completely, t= hen presented themselves for approval to their families.  The surprise was received

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PHOTOGRAPH

GIRL WITH LONG HAIR













 

 

 

PHOTOGRAPH

 

THree women and a dog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


with mu= ch pleasure by Joe and Francesco who approved wholeheartedly of their wives action, wh= ile the children hardly noticed any change in their mothers looks. =

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During = the long Spring Sundays, Joe liked to join the villagers for a game of "ruzzol= a'. The ruzzola was a disk made of hard wood, usually oak, about two inches th= ick and its circumference depended on the size of the owner's hand span. It sh= ould be held comfortably between the thumb and the index finger. You threw it by winding a piece of string around it three or four times, this helped to ma= ke it spin and take the curved trail you aimed at, following the bends of the ro= ad.  The string was rubbed with a hand= ful of grass to make it more malleable.

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From Ea= ster to hay making time, in June, before it became too hot, all the men either played = or followed the crowd that watched, rather like golfers, from a public galler= y, shouting their encouragement to their heroes or swearing when the ruzzola = went off the road into a ditch or down the embankment into a field from where children usually retrieved it. The secret throw for winning was to strike = the hardened ruts made by the cartwheels in the mud, then your ruzzola would f= ollow them, like a bob sleigh in its run, never going off the road. The best ruz= zole were made by the "bottaio", the barrel maker, who also made cartwheels, but they were expensive, so during the long Winter evenings, m= any were made in the village stables. If the wood cracked, the only remedy was= to soak the pieces in cow's urine, until the crack closed. =

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There w= as an extravagant character, who often came from town to join the players, who insisted that he should be allowed to use a ruzzola made from hard cheese, betting that he would win. He never did, but always ended up by paying dri= nks for all present. Traffic being non existent during these games, the most o= ne could meet was a bicycle or a cart.

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Once or= twice a year the Perotti organised a mountain climb with friends, usually just aft= er the schools closed for the Summer. The choice was invariably the highest p= eak of the main chain, which stood like a giant amongst the lower mountains in= the vicinity . To climb that mountain, called "La Strega", the witch= , was a memorable achievement, especially for the ladies of the group.


 

 

PHOTOGRAPH

 

Young people on country walk<= /p>

L4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PHOTOGRAPH

 

FAMILY GROUP

L5

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The mou= ntain, void of roads, crossed only by tracks made by animals and woodcutters, was a challenge that few would attempt to conquer, humping their rucksacks full = of provisions. Often a youngster, called Raffaele and his mule, Romeo, joined= the climbers as welcomed porters.

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They al= ways started when it was still very dark, under the stars, then as the sky bega= n to get lighter, it revealed the silhouettes of the uninterrupted line of mountains, growing like enormous black shadows in the twilight  world. Then they were to witness = the glorious dawn, the magical moment when, with all the colours streaming acr= oss the horizon, the sun made its appearance, a red ball of glowing fire that embraced the earth, and brought a warm feeling right inside your body. To witness the sun rise, everybody stopped climbing for a while, they sat and watched in awe, then after some refreshments, on again they went, pushed b= y an increased will to reach the "traguardo".

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To arri= ve to the top, when the sun was high on the horizon and the valleys sparkling under = its rays, was indeed an experience like a runner getting to the ribbon of the finishing line. To conquer a peak is like touching the sky with your finge= r, it gives the climber great satisfaction, immense joy. The higher the mountain= and the harder the ascent, the stronger is the emotion you feel at getting to = the summit. When you are up there, there is only the sky to look up to, while = the woods, the pastures are at your feet, under you, the villages and the road= s are small, unreal, and you feel as free as a bird.

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Lunch w= as under the cool shade of the very old trees and a well deserved rest followed. On= the way to the top there was a spring of beautifully cool water where to revit= alise the tired limbs and replenish the water containers. Nearby some shepherds = lived for a few months of the year, looking after their cattle. They welcomed the chance of a chat, then, if you still felt energetic enough, you could foll= ow the path to the other side of the mountain, which took you to the mouth of= a cave, which was always a great attraction to visit.

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Ladies = usually went on collecting wild berries and in particular strawberries, which grew plentifully in the saddle of the "Strega" on the way to the cave, while the male members of the group went on descending down the steel ladd= er that took them into the bowels of the earth, inside the great mountain.

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Great c= aves stretched in galleries, where enormous stalactites and stalagmites had mad= e a magical world, a fairy tale place, dotted with small water reservoirs, whi= ch to the light of the visitors' torches, reflected all the colours of the rainb= ow, and the sparkle of hidden jewels in rock formations.

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Having accomplished this feat, they started on the walk back down, towards home. =

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Examina= tion day was the highlight of the school year, when the third grade pupils took the leaving exams to get the certificate of completion of the lower elementary school, which was as much as anybody in a rural area would ever get. The t= est was conducted by a senior male teacher from one of the schools in town, appointed by the district inspector, and it reflected the capability and expertise of the village teacher, so it was always with a certain amount of trepidation that the fateful day was awaited.  Three or four rural schools would= join together in the biggest classroom, which in this case it was Giovanna's sc= hool.

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PHOTOGRAPH
VILLAGE SCHOOL L3

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Nobody = in the vicinity had a building like hers. For these exams, some children had to w= alk four or five kilometres. The exams were usually over by lunch time, when, = in very friendly surroundings, the classroom would quickly change into a large dining room, for the large banquet that followed, at which took part not o= nly the teachers and the examiner, but the school inspector especially invited= on the condition that he should arrive only at dinner time, and the teachers husbands.

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Giovann= a was considered the best cook of the teachers circle and "the festival of = the exams" was her day of triumph!

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After a= seaside holiday, in September, the Perotti came back to Montello and Joe enjoyed s= ome shooting which went on until the next January. He left very early in the morning with his faithful dog Furio, his 12 bore shotgun across his should= ers, the bandolier and a bag across his chest.

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"I= n bocca al lupo".

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Giovann= a used to wish him luck, with this saying "in the mouth of the wolf", whic= h in Italy is the only way of wishing luck t= o a hunter, who answers "crepi il lupo", burst the wolf. If somebody dares to wish "auguri",  all a hunter can do is to turn back and give up the day's shooting.=   No game will come his way. <= /o:p>

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Sometim= es youngsters from the village joined Joe. None of them had a licence, as they could not afford the fee, but they all had a gun and there would not be an= ybody representing the law, out in the wild ending the day by a roaring fire, me= eting the ones left at home,  eager= to hear the day's adventures.

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They us= ually came back to the school house, for a snack and a drink. If it was late in the evening,  the women would com= e with their knitting, to have a chat with Giovanna, who enjoyed to hear about th= eir families and their children in particular.

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They  produced all sorts of garments us= ing the very thick and rough wool from the local sheep. Some were busy spinning the wool with a hand spindle, twisting it with their left hand while with the = right hand they fed the carded wool to it.

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Joe kne= w all the people that lived in the village. He enjoyed  exchanging a word with all of the= m: from the ones that tried to polish up their speech and accent to imitate the ci= ty's people's talk, to the most strange and unarticulated characters.

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Like ol= d Romualdo, the church verger, whose raucous voice sounded like a fog's horn, keeping = you always aware of his performances in Church, when rocking the burning incen= se bowl, while accompanying his movements with singing the answers required d= uring the service. He used to wear two vests at a time, plus pants and socks to = match and he boasted that he only changed once a year, his motto being "What shelters you from the cold, will shelter you from the heat", so wheth= er the temperature was 10 C. degrees below zero or in the 30s above, he always wore the same clothes.  =

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Mr. Mas= on usually came from the States in the Spring and Joe joined him wherever he was goin= g. Letters from Joe to Giovanna were very frequent, He kept her well informed= of their travelling and of the new experiences in different countries and cit= ies.

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His let= ters had the postmarks of places she had only dreamed of : = Venice,=   Amalfi,  San Remo, Paris,=   London. . . . .

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The las= t was the most fascinating of the cities he had visited and his admiration for the Anglo-Saxon world was exuding from every page. One of the great attraction= s was being able to speak in English with the people he met in Erroll's company, people from the world of art, from the theatre and from the aristocracy.

 

"Y= ou cannot visualise how green and luscious the English countryside looks", he w= rote, "We spent a few days in a marvellous residence, deep in the country. = The beautifully landscaped garden, the antique furniture, the paintings and ob= jects of art, are like something out of a film set. I have met a friend of Errol= l, called Toby. He is the proprietor of the "London News Agency" an= d the founder of the Ski Club of Great Britain, an art lover and writer, who inv= ited us to his house. There we met his wife, Gertie, who had been an actress, a= t a theatre called "Gaiety",  where the girls performing were chosen for their  beauty. " =

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The gol= f course had been the subject of some pages too.&n= bsp; Before going to play golf, as guests of a well known golf club, Err= oll and Joe had visited a very famous store in Piccadilly,  called Simpson, to buy all the ne= cessary clothes.

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"Y= ou will  love the jacket I bough= t, made of the softest suede, so warm against the cold wind, and with so many pock= ets. It will be very useful for hunting. "


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CHAPTER &= nbsp; 9

 

 

Travelling with Erroll

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 In her old fashioned way of thinki= ng Signora Anna had come to the conclusion that to go to the seaside for two, three months every year was a sheer waste of money, when she knew many fam= ilies were on the bread line and the number of people unemployed was great. She = could understand perhaps such an extravagance if it was imperative to somebody's= good health, but in their case it was mostly for a change of scenery, as she understood, for Joe and Giovanna to be in different surroundings from the = rest of the year. Obviously her daughter and her husband were looking forward v= ery much to what she regarded as a mere whim, an eccentricity that could be ta= ken by others as sheer megalomania.

 

"O= ne month by the sea should be enough for anybody" she always said.

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She cou= ld not just sit under the umbrella day after day, while she thought she could do so ma= ny useful things at home or at the houses of her other daughters. Therefore s= he decided to spend only some of the Summer time with Giovanna and her family, then she would go on to her other daughters and grandchildren for the rest= of the holiday, coming back to Montello when the school opened again. She tho= ught that perhaps this idea of a long holiday was another part of the American heritage Joe had brought with him. She was always very fond of him, he was= the most kind and thoughtful of sons in law, the real gentleman of the family,= as she always called him, however as far as the seaside was concerned, she had been adamant that she would only stay for a short while.

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They al= ways chose the same family seaside resort, quiet, yet fashionable, one of those places dotted along the Adriatic coast, with a long, wide sandy beach, which had = given it the name of  "La spia= ggia di velluto", the velvet beach. Although it was just a stone throw from t= he very much sought after holiday place chosen by Mussolini and his family to spend their Summer holiday, it did not have all the amusements and the big crowds looking for a lively night life.

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That pa= rticular year Joe was to join Erroll, so Signora Anna thought she would stay a litt= le longer with Giovanna who was pregnant. It was a yearly occasion for the Bo= relli brothers, the owners of the car hire firm in Valledoro, to drive the Perot= ti family to the villa they rented every year by the Adriatic sea.

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This ti= me it was Antonio, the youngest and most loquacious of the three, who arrived very e= arly one morning with their largest limousine, that would take all the luggage = the family needed for such long stay: they took from personal effects to house linen, to the Neapolitan coffee pot that Giovanna regarded as making the b= est coffee and which went everywhere she went.

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On the = way, Antonio would fill in for Giovanna all the gaps in the gossips from the town,  as he knew everybody a= nd everything that happened.

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Joe was= very sorry not to travel with the family and see them settled in . He had no idea whe= n and if he could join them at all, but he had promised he would try and visit t= hem as soon as possible. He saw his family off, then a little later in the day= , the second of the Borelli brothers, Arturo, came to pick him up to take him to= the station. He was due to join Erroll in Monte Carlo, from where they would travel to destinations yet unknown to Joe.

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The tra= in journey took many hours. His first stop was Rome,=   where he boarded the wagon lit on the overnight <= st1:place>Riviera express. On arrival, a taxi took = him to the quayside where Erroll's yacht was moored. Hearing the destination, the= taxi driver, like all taxi drivers, got very interested and talkative. He knew = the yacht to be a meeting place for well known socialites whose names found th= eir way into the gossip columns of the international press. =

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Joe had= never seen the yacht, which Erroll had acquired a few months earlier. It was his late= st toy. Erroll loved the sea and had been talking about getting a boat for a = time, but Joe had no idea that "the boat" would be an ocean going vess= el, an enormous floating residence which dwarfed the other ships in the marina.  The yacht looked like a fairy cas= tle, with all the lights ablaze, being still very early in the morning, before sunrise.

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A membe= r of the crew, obviously expecting Joe's arrival,&= nbsp; greeted him and guided him up the gangplank then showed him to his quarters.  He would not have realised he was on a boat: the room was just like one of a very expensive = hotel and he could not but compare it to the "quarters" he had travell= ed on his long sea journey across the Atlantic Ocean many years earlier. The res= t of the accommodation looked as luxurious as he  never thought possible, but knowi= ng Erroll's taste, it did not really come as a big surprise.

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There w= as a fresh breeze from the sea, that Joe welcomed, as he stepped into the dreamland l= ife he lived whenever he spent any length of time in the company of this extraordinary man that was Erroll. "Extraordinary" was not enoug= h to describe him: he was good at heart, cheerful, extrovert, friendly. Everybo= dy, no matter from whatever humble walk of life, was always welcomed and made = feel at home in his company.

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He was = extremely well educated, polite, eccentric and, most of all,  rich. Money was no object to anyt= hing he decided to do and Joe soon got used to his sudden impulses, his quick chan= ge of mind,  his buying sprees. He = had no family, he never married. Joe realised that he did not want to tie himself= to any person in a conventional relationship.

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Once Er= roll confided in him: he had been engaged to the lady whose beautiful painting dominated the yacht stateroom, the lady that very sadly had died before th= ey could marry. He had vowed then he would never make any other woman Mrs Mas= on. He had the ship named "La Gioconda", because of the lady's simil= ar enigmatic smile to Leonardo's masterpiece and also because her name had be= en Joy. Her memory was to bring happiness, not sorrow, the way she would have wanted it.

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Erroll = was not short of lady friends, whenever he went, but no more than friendship any of them managed to get from him. La Gioconda was always full of people, young, good looking, fun people, friends and acquaintances that crowded the magnificent parties given aboard. Joe was Erroll's right hand, he arranged receptions, he saw that everything run smoothly and the staff did their job efficiently and properly.  Jo= e was a good sailor, he had never suffered from any ill feeling during his earlier journey so he was not worried at the thought of travelling in Erroll's com= pany in the yacht.

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They st= ayed two more days in Monte Carlo, where Erroll showed him the sights, from the = Castle on top of the cliff above the harbour, to the small churches and the narrow cobbled streets of the old town of the Monaco Principality, ending up with= a visit to the famous Casino where he introduced Joe to the art of gambling.= This latter exercise Joe found amusing and interesting, he had never gambled be= fore in his life, he had not had the occasion, but when he started winning, wit= h an astonishing beginner's luck, at the roulette table, first on a cheval bet,= then another and finally on a full number, he thought it was a marvellous game.= As matter of fact he got a few more single numbers to swell his pockets with = such a large number of chips, that Erroll thought it was time to call it a day.=   Had he been a real gambler he cou= ld have made a fortune, had he had the courage and the means of increasing his sta= ke, but as it was, it had been great fun and Erroll enjoyed looking at Joe's bemusement.

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For his= part, he very seldom gambled and he thought it was a good thing they would be saili= ng out of Montecarlo the next day before Joe got really bitten by the bug!

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They we= re to drop anchor at Portofino, where Erroll was to meet a friend from the world of cinema, who lived there, in a villa splendidly and precariously built on a cliff  above the small harbou= r, where, like in Monte Carlo, the yachts of the rich abounded, giving the pl= ace the appearance of a picture postcard, with the green hills rising from the bluest of the seas dotted with white villas placed in the most inspiring a= nd breathtaking panoramas.

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Sailing=   along the west coast of Italy, Erroll had  planned to make a stop at the island of Elba, in Portoferraio, then on to the = gulf of Sorrento<= /st1:place> on the Tyrrhenian sea. From there they would circumnavigate <= st1:State>Sicily and pay a visit to Syracuse where he wished to show Joe the r= emains of the Greek civilisation.

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After t= hat port, the final destination was Venice, the Serenissima, the "most serene", the pearl of the Adriatic. Nothing Erroll had said to Joe as to where th= ey would drop anchor before reaching it, had made him suspect his intentions.=

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When th= ey travelled for business, to look for and to buy works of art, Joe's knowled= ge of the Italian language was invaluable. He was the one Erroll trusted implici= tly in evaluating and understanding the honesty of the Italian dealers. Joe was present at all the transactions, ready to warn Erroll if he suspected anyt= hing not above board or outside the law. Although Erroll could speak very good Italian, he feared that he could be easily the victim of unscrupulous individuals and he felt uneasy unless he could be on equal terms with them= .

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Joe not= only knew the language to perfection, with no foreign accent, but he understood dial= ects from every corner of Italy, North or South, that was part of the heritage = he had brought with him from the community of Central city.

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It was = there that his ears got accustomed to hear every tongue and to master the meaning of = every slang word and vernacular spoken by the immigrants that represented every = part of Italy. Especially on a Sunday morning, when everybody regularly attended Mass, the multitude crowding the small square outside t= he church, before returning to their homes for their Sunday "pastasciutt= a', whole families, dressed in their best clothes, met friends from the same village, from the same region, greeting each other in their particular dia= lect. To foreign ears the confusion recalled the biblical Tower of Babel, but to an Italian listener, and = an attentive one like Joe, the different sounds soon became familiar and an i= ntelligent person soon picked up their meaning. That's how Joe had become a real expe= rt in the matter.

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At the = seaside town where the Perotti spent their Summer holidays, Giacinta, la "bag= nina ", the lady who supplied and looked after deck chairs and umbrellas, regarded the Perotti family as her best customers. They came as punctual a= s the Summer, always between the middle and the end of June, having booked a vil= la to rent and a beach hut from one year to the next.

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They to= ok them for the whole season, from June to the end of September, because, if the schoo= ls delayed their opening, they could stay a little longer than the middle of = the months. As matter of fact, at some point, the opening of the schools was delayed to October the first as long as there were no exams to be taken an= d as this did not apply to elementary rural schools, they just got the benefit = of two extra weeks added to the holiday. They usually came all together, moth= er, father, grandmother, maid and Carla. Giacinta knew them all, since their f= irst visit when Carla was just a few months old, a baby in arms, and they had n= ever missed a Summer at the resort.

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She wou= ld provide for them everything they could possibly wish in the way of beach comfort. = Their villa was just across the road from the beach huts that Giacinta managed, = on the beautiful "lungomare", lined with trees and masses of oleand= er bushes of every colour.

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Giacint= a and her husband Giulio were very fond of the Perotti family. They always reserved = for them an umbrella on the first line near the sea and the hut next to the pa= ssage from the road. Giulio worked at a local factory, about one mile away from = the town. He left early every morning on his bike, but his first stop was at t= he beach, as he fitted in the job of opening the umbrellas and taking out the= deck chairs from the biggest hut which functioned as a store. The umbrellas were usually left in the sand, unless a storm threatened the night before, when= they had to be brought inside.  Th= e lower part of the umbrellas, the sticks, stayed buried in the sand the whole sea= son.

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In the = evening Giulio was back to do the same job in reverse, packing the chairs inside a= nd closing the umbrellas. It was a tiring end to his working day, but it was = a job he could not afford to leave to other people, as it was very lucrative and= his family drew from it all the comforts the year round, that his factory job = could not provide.  It gave them al= l the little extras that make life more pleasant.

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Giacint= a looked after the customers with care, always with a smile for everybody even when= she had to put up with odd requests from odd people and sometimes, but rarely,= with some rudeness. All along the beach, for about one mile, the line of huts w= as divided by colour, every colour belonging to a different "bagnino&quo= t; or "bagnina". The stretch of beach assigned to them, was given on l= ease from the Municipal authority at a derisory price, and was renewed every ye= ar, as long as the lessees had run the business with competence,  kept their patch clean and respec= ted the rules.

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Needles= s to say that there was a long list of would be bagnini, only waiting for some of t= hem to slip up and to have their permits revoked, ready to get into their shoe= s.

      

The mai= n hut of every patch, usually in the middle, sported a flag with the name of that particular bagnino on its roof. Here the name "Giacinta" was wri= tten in bold yellow letters on a blue ground, the colours of Giacinta's patch. = They originated from her name: Giacinta Zafferani, hyacinth blue and saffron ye= llow.

      

She sat= ,  bare footed, dressed in a sleevel= ess black overall, her head covered by a colourful scarf, knotted pirate fashi= on, under an oversize yellow umbrella, behind a table with a drawer where she = kept keys (she used to say that she had more keys than St.  Peter) and money, and on top sat = a large box, with a red cross on it, the first aid box.  In the eventuality when a small a= ccident should happen, if a child fell and cut himself or if one of the bathers sh= ould be unfortunate enough to step on a "pesce ragno", the dreaded sp= ider fish whose sting causes strong pain and swelling, Giacinta was quite capab= le of giving first aid and  judging= if there was need to send for a doctor, which could be summoned in short time= .

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During = July and August Giacinta's sister came too to give a hand and she would carry a gre= at dish of spaghetti from the house for Giacinta and her helpers to consume i= n the privacy of the store hut where they had a table and they took turns to eat their lunch. There were also two cousins, Gino and Paolo, good swimmers, w= ho shared the task of lifesavers, ready to go to help any bathers in distress= or when a rowboat did not come back at the given time.  They also put out the "red flag", on top of Giacinta's main hut, when so advised by the port authority that it was a dangerous day for swimming owing to weather condit= ions.

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The por= t authority came in the guise of a little man who rode a bicycle from the "casa portuaria" where the office of the harbour captain was and went all a= long the stretch of beach on the east side of the harbour pier, which was the m= ost fashionable and expensive part of the beach, stopping, when he reached the= main hut of a bagnino, to shout:

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"B= andiera rossa!"

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Red fla= g, then he went on to the next patch, until he had finished performing the same duty = all along till the end of the beach huts,&nbs= p; then he cycled back to the middle and continued on the West side of= the pier.  By the time he got to = the last huts somebody could have easily already be in trouble or the weather = might have changed for the better, in which case the bandiera rossa would still = be there, flying under the scorching sun, while the people wondered why on ea= rth it was there in the first place, but such was the psychological effect of = the red flag that still nobody would swim and Giacinta was one to be very ster= n and obstinate in these occasions: no swimming and no boats out while the red f= lag flies!

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The mes= senger, still puffed from the first bicycle ride, would not come twice in the same= day, so only the next morning could bring a change in the outlook. A little swi= mming was in fact permitted even during the red flag session, but it was restric= ted to a stretch of water very near the beach, where people could still stand,= so it really meant a ban for the good swimmers, like Joe.

       

He used= to have a row in a "moscone", (literally a bluebottle),  a sort of catamaran, with two flo= ats and two seats across, every morning as he got to the beach, when the air was c= lear and still and the beach empty, except for the fishermen pulling their nets= . As soon as his children were old enough he taught them to swim and row.  He did not have much luck with Gi= ovanna, who hated swimming and never learned.&nbs= p; She would bathe, but just to play about and splash. Giovanna went on occasional trips on a boat, shaded by her inseparable large straw hat as h= er skin was very pale and delicate.

       

Joe qui= ckly got a suntan that he retained even during the Winter months.  He looked very different from the= dark Italians, being so fair haired. He was a very good strong swimmer, he insp= ired so much trust that he even managed to take his mother in law on a boat. Unfortunately a motor boat cut across at great speed and a wave caught the moscone sideways, rocketing it strongly:

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"M= io Dio!", she shouted,  fea= ring for the worst.

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Joe kne= w then that it was time to take her back to shore,&nb= sp; to the great amusement of Ida, the maid who had been courageous eno= ugh to endure the waves without fear.

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Signora= Anna did not always come to the beach with the others. Often she preferred to sit i= n the shade of the pink mimosa trees in the garden of the villa.  She was always dressed in dark cl= othes, with long sleeves and when she ventured out, she wore a large hat while she cooled herself with an outsize fan. Usually she sat on a deck chair, embroidering. She reserved knitting for the Winter's evenings at home. To = work with thick wool made her feel too hot!

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Ida use= d to go to the beach  late every morning= after she had done the shopping and finished the housework. She amused them all = so much as she would not wear a swimming costume,  that Giovanna had bought her, but= a dress and she would never put as much as a foot in the water.  The only concession she gave at b= eing by the sea, was to sit behind the beach hut, pull up her skirt just above her knees, and let the sun get at her legs. She was so ashamed of their colour= as she had noticed nobody had on them the red-blue marks in a spider's web pattern, which she got every Winter by sitting in front of the open fire at home. So she was hoping the sun would make them brown all over and obliter= ate the rest.

       

To Giac= inta it was a great mystery the kind of job Mr.Perotti did, a real challenge to any respectable Italian bagnina determined to know life and death of the peopl= e in her care! He seemed always to be well off and he was so generous, his tips= were never matched by any of her other customers.

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"W= hat does he do for a living "? she would ask Ida on a few occasions, hoping to fi= nd the Achille's tendon, But one would have thought the answer was incised on a  record, as Ida always repl= ied :

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"He travels", adding nothing to this declaration, to give the slightest h= int.

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In fact= she knew nothing more than that.

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Most of= the families came for a month, either July or August and the Perotti made quit= e a number of friends that kept returning every year. September was the time w= hen there was hardly anybody left on the beach except for two families, the Pe= rotti and the Garrani who remained till the end, after the beach huts were empty= and the umbrellas hardly necessary to shade from the weakening rays of the September sun.  Mr.Garrani wa= s a school inspector, a friend of the Perotti, who came with his wife who was = a bit of an invalid, crippled by rheumatism and needed all the rest she could ge= t in a warm climate. She spent most of the time lying in the sun . <= /span>

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They ha= d a daughter, a girl in her early twenties, who was the beauty of the beach. S= he was certainly no help to look after her invalid mother, her concern seemed= to concentrate in showing off her statuesque bronzed body, like a Greek sculp= ture, worthy of Phidias, and she was always surrounded by a flock of adoring you= ng Adonis. So there was no lack of gossip to keep the beach talk interesting.=

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She wor= e the then fashionable, very covered one piece costume, with a short skirt,  that gave her figure a long, elegant,  uninterrupted line = from the nape of her neck to the long legs, down to the slender ankles.

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The eve= ning attraction for young people was dancing at  "La Rotonda", a large platform jutting out to sea, of rou= nd shape,  hence the name. Every= night the Rotonda came alive to the sound of jazz and the dancing of fox trots, tangos and waltzes.

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Sometim= es Giovanna and Joe had to oblige their friend the school inspector to chaperon their daughter to the dances, as the mother was not able to go and the father di= d not want to leave her alone. Lella, that was her name, was always so well dres= sed and looked so beautiful, her tall straight figure giving more than a flutt= er to the hearts of the young and not so young onlookers.

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Many gi= rls danced under the watchful eyes of their parents who enjoyed a drink, the music an= d the fashion parade.  Those were t= he nights when there was no way to go to bed until the early hours of the mor= ning for Joe and Giovanna as Lella being so popular, went on dancing till the e= nd. After all, with her father's job, which teacher could have left the inspec= tor's daughter at the mercy of her suitors?

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It was = early,  one morning in mid-July, when a messenger from the telegraph office came to knock at the door of Viale Adriatico, 36, the house rented by Joe and his family.  Giovanna was just waking up, at t= he unexpected noise she jerked and suddenly jumped up, realising that Joe was= not there.  For a split second sh= e had forgotten that he was with Erroll in Monte Carlo.

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"W= hat is it, What is happening?, she asked herself, rushing to the front door, where Id= a had already arrived, half asleep. A telegram usually brings bad news. Her moth= er appeared also at the front door.

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"A= telegram at this hour, it is certainly worrying". Giovanna took the envelope f= rom the young boy in uniform with trembling hands, all the time thinking  "I hope Joe is alright"= .  She was not even sure where he wa= s by now,  because when she had he= ard last they were leaving Monte Carlo.

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"T= here could always be a bad storm", she feared. A journey in a yacht brought back= to her memories of Argentina and the crossing of the Ocean, of= storms and engines breaking down.

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Her mot= her dismissed the telegraph boy with a tip, then Giovanna finally read the con= tent of the message. It was very clear and while reading it,  life came back to her face: =

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"W= e will see you tomorrow, love, Joe, Erroll" She read it again and again, until it sunk in. Erroll was coming with Joe, as often he had expressed the wish to= meet the family.

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She did= not panic, but started giving Ida  the t= ask of tidying the house, do shopping and make plans for tomorrow's lunch.  They had no idea at what time the= y would arrive,  whether by car or by= train, but they would be ready to receive them from very early morning.

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In the = meantime Giovanna, her mother and Carla went to the beach, very late, and soon afterwards Ida came to say that lunch was ready, so they started collecting their belongings and the toys scattered on the sand.

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All of = a sudden, there was some commotion amongst the bathers and the people on the beach. = They were looking towards the horizon, shading their eyes to try to distinguish= what that big shape at sea could be. Obviously it was a ship, a very large ship, such as you did not see often on that stretch of the sea. It was coming ne= arer, yes, it was.

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Giovann= a looked up with the others, just as she was starting to walk home. Somebody had got h= old of a pair of binoculars and, while looking through, announced: "It is= a large yacht, it flies the American flag" Giovanna turned to her mothe= r

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"A= yacht? The American flag?"

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"M= io Dio", Giovanna's heart jumped in her bosom. "It cannot be Joe wi= th Erroll, they are coming tomorrow, and I never thought they would come here= by ship.

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She sea= rched her pocket and got out the telegram, looking at the date: "What silly mis= take I have made, mother, Joe sent it last night, so "tomorrow" is "today!"

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As she = was so talking to her mother, the lovely white boat was getting bigger and bigger, approaching fast. She gave orders to Ida to run home and then she sat ther= e, next to Signora Anna,  both s= tunned, waiting with joy, and some trepidation at the thought of meeting Mr.Mason = for the first time.

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In the = meantime the crowd  had doubled,  trebled, since it was clear that = the yacht was making for that particular stretch of the beach. Everybody was shouting, gesticulating, trying to guess who could be coming. <= /span>

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"S= ara' Mussolini?",  "Will= it be Mussolini?",  shouted so= me boys, who were promptly silenced by a severe old man.

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"D= on't be so foolish, Mussolini with the American flag?"

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"A= film star, then?" The guesses were many, all very much in the air.

 

"I= t will be somebody famous,  in any case= ", a voice remarked, "to arrive in such a style". It was Giacinta w= ho had joined the excited crowd now, talking to Giovanna, who was sitting wit= h her mother, the only persons to sit composed and quiet.

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Ida had= come back, unable to resist the excitement, with the excuse of looking after Carla and bringing her back home to lunch. Everybody was pushing towards the person = who had the binoculars.

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"W= hat can you see?"

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"I= can see the name" he finally with pride announced, "La Gioconda". <= o:p>

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By then= the yacht remained at the same distance and it was obvious it had dropped anchor.  From the beach the Star and Strip= es could be clearly distinguished. A motor boat was lowered which soon skimme= d the calm sea towards the beach.  = It had on board two men and a younger one in sailor's attire. As it came to the b= each, the sailor pulled it in and the two men got out, making their way through = the crowd, towards the Perotti's umbrella.

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A screa= m from Carla "Babbo, Babbo", daddy, daddy, was enough for all the peopl= e to turn towards the chairs where Giovanna and her mother were sitting. Now th= ey were smiling at the newly arrived. Joe stepped forward, looking healthy and happy, followed by a very distinguished gentleman wearing white shorts and shirt and a yachting cap.

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Both hu= gged Giovanna, Carla and Signora Anna, with great effusion, leaving the onlooke= rs open mouthed.  Before Giacinta revived from the shock, ready to fire questions, the family and Erroll qui= ckly walked across the road to enjoy the privacy of the house and to honour Ida= 's sumptuous meal, which she managed to provide even at short notice.

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For the= people left on the beach to gaze at the sight, all was left but to watch the motor boat ploughing the sea at great speed on the way back to the yacht. 

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They co= uld not get over the fact that after waiting to see who was arriving, they knew nothing more and the main nagging question, about the Perotti was.

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"W= ho would have ever thought?  They look= ed such ordinary people!" They would have given their eye teeth to be now the friends of "those" ordinary persons!

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Meanwhi= le, at No. 36, Erroll was getting to know Joe's family.  He was charmed by his daughter wh= o could not leave her father alone and was talking non stop, asking all the questi= ons any child would ask after seeing her daddy arrive in a beautiful boat. 

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"W= here do you sleep in a boat? Do you see fishes swimming in the sea? Are there any crocodiles, as in Ida's stories?"

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On and = on she went, until it was time for her lunch and she was taken by Ida to have her meal, followed by her afternoon nap.

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Ida's l= unch was exquisite, she deserved the guest's and the family's praises. After coffee= was served, Signora Anna followed Carla for her rest, while Joe, Giovanna and Erroll, went on talking.  Err= oll was taken by Giovanna's charm, her manners,&n= bsp; her jovial character, her kindness and the way she seemed to manage= her household.

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"Y= ou are a lucky fellow,  Joe, to have s= uch a lovely family. I envy you." He sighed, patting him on the shoulder. <= o:p>

    

Soon Er= roll would go back to the yacht, at a prearranged time,  when the motor boat would come to= fetch him. Joe could stay a few more hours with the family, then the boat would = come back for him.

    

With on= e of his sudden decisions, Erroll felt it would not be right to take Joe away with = him to Venice. He was due to visit an exhibitio= n of Renaissance artists and to meet some art connoisseurs, that could lead to = the purchase of a very important piece.  He needed Joe to clinch the deal, he had come to rely so much on hi= m, on his judgement, his invaluable knowledge, his integrity.  He could see at the same time wha= t a blow it would be for Carla, for Giovanna and for Joe himself, although Joe= was very grateful even for this short visit.

    

Suddenl= y he interrupted the conversation: "May I make a suggestion?" he aske= d. The others looked at him, quietly waiting for his words. "Why don't w= e go to Venice all together and so combine duty,= work and pleasure? There is room for us all on the yacht and I like to have friends= on board. "

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Astonis= hed,  Joe and Giovanna were speechless.=

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"A= nd remember, my pleasure will be greater than yours" he added.

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He expl= ained that he would get to know them all better and they would not need to be separated. 

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"W= hat do you say?" he asked.

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Joe kne= w how generous Erroll was, they were sure of his genuine wish, but how could the= y go? They had Signora Anna, Ida, the house, how could they arrange at such a sh= ort notice to be free to leave? And, once in Venice, where they would stay? On the bo= at? How long for? There were thousand and one questions that Giovanna would have w= anted an answer to before deciding, but Erroll had all the answers.

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"W= e all go, that means Signora Anna and Ida who can look after Carla, while you, meani= ng Giovanna can enjoy Venice.=   We will all stay at the Danieli Hotel, while the Gioconda will be t= aken back to Monte Carlo by the crew. After a month or six weeks, we will go our separate ways, and= you will all go back by train . . "

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Erroll = was not the type to take no for an answer. He soon had his way. By the time Signora An= na got up after her siesta,  all= had been arranged. She thought she was having nightmares when she heard that t= hey would be staying at a first class hotel for such a long time and, on top of that, they would get there by boat. Her plans to go to see her other daugh= ters dimmed away as, although she seemed reluctant to agree, she was really loo= king forward to a spell of luxury, which she had never tasted. She was a good s= ailor and a trip on the Adriatic sea woul= d be quite a different kettle of fish from her younger days memories.

    

Giovann= a had tried to say that she had no suitable clothes for a stay at a luxurious hotel, b= ut with Erroll it was no use: "You can buy whatever you need when we get there and you will have plenty of time to do it. You can get anything in <= /span>Venice"  and so saying he closed the subject. "Buy what you need where = you are,  this is my motto"<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'>  He believed in travelling light a= nd stuck to his principals.

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Even Si= gnora Anna had to agree, she almost felt Mr.  Mason had become part of the family already. Carla was so excited a= t the thought of travelling on that big boat, she never stopped talking to Ida a= bout all the things she was hoping they would do and see.

    

It was = decided that they would sail the next day, to give time to the family to get ready= and to close the house. Erroll went back to the yacht that evening and it was arranged the motor boat would come in the morning for the others.  Giovanna also thought it would be= better if Ida went back to her mother, she could help her with the harvest. She f= elt quite capable of looking after Carla herself and she could always leave her with her mother when she wanted to be free.

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So they= got busy packing, Ida would go back by taxi and take to Montello all they did not want  with them in Venice. Th= ey knew they would have the most memorable of holidays.

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Curiosi= ty had brought all day and all evening onlookers on the beach, still puzzled by t= he mystery that surrounded the large yacht, that nobody had been able to unfo= ld. Early next morning the launch came to collect the luggage, then came back = for the passengers.  It was still= early for the holidaymakers, only one or two could be seen combing the beach collecting cockles. Giacinta had just arrived and her husband was getting = out the chairs. The Perotti told her that they were leaving that same morning = and would not be back that season. As Joe pressed into her hands a substantial=   amount of money, she felt so over= whelmed that in the process of thanking him for such generosity, she forgot to ask= the burning question on her lips.

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"W= here are you going?"

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The mot= or launch came and in a jiffy they all were in it, even Signora Anna was quick on climbing aboard. By the time Giacinta composed herself, ready to fire questions, it was too late, they were&nbs= p; waving her good bye. The engine roared and it took off. =

     

There w= ould be no news, no gossip to enlighten the deck chairs conversation  today! The yacht was a heaven, &q= uot;il Paradiso", in the words of Signora Anna, with all the comforts and ex= tras that unlimited money can provide, the furnishings of the cabins was someth= ing out of a glossy magazine, the state room magnificent.

     

As Giov= anna admired the  painting of the = girl who had been in Erroll's life, he looked at the lovely face, with a warm s= mile, as if he wanted to tell her that he was learning to live with his grief, t= hanks to this little family's friendship and love. Soon "La Gioconda" = was heading North for the short trip to the reserved moorings on the Giudecca canal, in the Venitian lagoon, a short distance from the "Riva degli Schiavoni" and the pink building of the Hotel Danieli, that would be = home for Mr.Mason and his guests .

     

As they= entered the lagoon by the Porto di Lido, Erroll explained to Giovanna that in this channel of water the Doge used to perform his annual ceremony of the marri= age with the sea,  throwing his r= ing into the water from the Bucintoro, the Doge's regal boat. After the Giocon= da berthed, near the "Punta della dogana", a motor launch took them= and the luggage, in turn to the old gothic Palazzo Dandolo, now The Danieli, w= here, by the way Mr. Mason was received,  it was clear that he was considered one of  many very distinguished visitors = to patronise the establishment.

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Giovann= a with Carla and her mother, spent part of the time at the lido, considered the m= ost fashionable seaside resort in Italy, staying,  during the day, at the "Pala= zzo al Mare", a luxurious hotel on the fine sandy beach. <= /p>

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Erroll = had arranged everything: a motor launch was always at their disposal, from the Danieli. They went to the lido in the morning, stayed on the beach until l= unch time, then they had their midday meal either at the Palazzo al Mare or they wen= t back to the Danieli, if they met Joe for lunch. By the afternoon they were alwa= ys back in Venice, where Giovanna could explore the= city while her mother and Carla had a rest and enjoyed each other's company unt= il the evening.

     

Carla h= ad the thrill of feeding the pigeons in St. Mark's square, of sitting in a gondola making its way under the bridges, when she always feared the gondolier wou= ld have his head chopped off if he did not bend down! Giovanna enjoyed gettin= g to know Venice in all its beauty of its campi (s= quares), calle (very narrow streets) its islands, churches and buildings, in the li= fe of the Venetians themselves, a life not comparable to any other city's life. =

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She lov= ed to wander in the maze of the small cobbled streets, void of any vehicles, the= top of the buildings on either side being so near they nearly touched each oth= er, while the housewives from the high windows had chats at roof level.  The small houses, built with enor= mously long and thin staircases, all with separate entrances, but divided inside = in a very funny and typical Venetian way: one owner had the first and third flo= or, while another had the second and fourth.

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The bas= kets hanging by a rope, that people used to retrieve the post or anything else delivered, the dustman coming by a dustcart represented by a barge, the funerals and weddings by gondola, all this was a fascinating discovery for Giovanna. She was grateful to Erroll who was giving her such an opportunit= y of knowing  an unforgettable pla= ce.

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Joe was understandably happy at having his family near, but the one who was radian= t was Erroll.  He had been generous= , yes, but in this occasion he felt that Joe had been the most generous of the tw= o, a generosity he could never return, because Joe was letting him share the tr= ue treasures of his life, the treasures he, with all his wealth, had not been= able to possess. Nobody had seen him in such splendid form for a long time.

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CHAPTER &= nbsp; 10

 

 

Fascism, 1932-1939.

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A son w= as born to Giovanna on March 15th, 1933. They called him Aroldo, the Italian equivalen= t to Erroll, as an act of deference to their great friend. He was in America at the time, but shared in the pa= rents joy, sending a long telegram of congratulations and best wishes. Giovanna = and Joe felt their family was now complete: a girl and a boy was all they want= ed. The children grew healthy and intelligent, promising what any parent would= have wished. Carla was very forward for her age.

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She was= barely four, when she could read and when she wrote her first letter to her aunt = Maria in Rome. This was a bonus for living righ= t on top of a school, in the school house.  She used to slip quietly into the classroom and listen, for hours, = just learning on her own. Giovanna had never pushed her as children were not of school age until after their sixth birthday.

 

A teach= er in a small village was considered like the head of the community, a duty and ho= nour shared with the priest. It was for Giovanna to make propaganda for the Fas= cist Regime, helping in the demographic campaign to encourage the villagers to = have more children, as the birth-rate was in decline, to emphasise that the more children you had, the better off you would be, having more hands to work a= nd paying less tax which was an incentive from the government.

 

A young= man stopped paying the "tassa celibato", a celibacy tax as soon as he married and bonuses were plentiful as the number of a family increased. Teachers were reminded of their duty every time they opened a page of  "I Diritti della Scuola"= ;, the weekly teachers' magazine which was sent by post to every school, bringing= the word of the fascist gospel to the furthest  corners of the nation, while nearly every week there would be a mee= ting in town which they all had to attend, to receive the latest instructions on being good apostles of the faith. The "Cultura del Fascismo", fa= scist culture, was added to the curriculum of every type of school. <= /span>

 

"P= oche scuole ma buone", few schools,  but good ones, was the motto, and the teaching of the new subject lifted even = the poor or mediocre ones to the grading of "good". Teachers had to = drum into people all the good things done by the fascist government, like the drainage of swam= ps, the creation of new towns in their place and so on.

 

Giovann= a had to be increasingly involved in the O. N. B. (Opera Nazionale Balilla) activities= in school and outside school, because as a teacher she was the officer in cha= rge of Youth organisations for the village. She had to wear the uniform of &qu= ot;Donna Fascista", of which she became very proud, for school assemblies, meetings, up to date courses. All their friends were Donne Fasciste if they lived in town, "Massaie rurali", rural housewives if in the coun= try. Men teachers and some of the husbands of women teachers wore the black boo= ts, bouffant trousers, bush jackets, with belt and shoulder strap in black lea= ther, black fez decorated with a black silk fringe, that swayed from left to rig= ht as they walked or marched through the streets of the town at some parade at "passo romano", a copy of Hitler's goose step, to the sound of &= quot;Giovinezza" played by the town band. 

 

In these surroundings and in this company Joe stood out like a sore thumb. He did n= ot even dare talk to Giovanna of his anxieties, of his fear, where all this w= ould lead ordinary people like them. It was not Joe's choice that his son should become a "figlio della lupa" 'a son of the she wolf', the wolf b= eing the one of Romulus and Remus fame, which stood as th= e mother wolf of the party. When Aroldo was six years old he became a Balilla. This= name came from the alleged heroic figure of a boy, Giambattista Perasso, nickna= med Balilla, who in 1746 started the revolution against the Austrians in the c= ity of Genoa, by throwing a stone at some sold= iers who were pushing a mortar stuck in the mud and were ordering civilians to help= , by poking them with the bayonets of their rifles. The act of the boy was the molehill that started the revolution that in the end pushed the Austrians = out of the city.

 

The dau= ghter, Carla, was a "Piccola Italiana". Her uniform consisted of a plea= ted blue skirt, white blouse and later on she became a "Giovane Italiana", finally, as a University student, she wore a black skirt, = white blouse, black bush jacket, with blue epaulettes and a blue scarf, the blue being the characteristic colour of the G. U. F. (Gioventu Universitaria Fascista). "Libro e moschetto, Fascista perfetto", book and musk= et, the perfect fascist, was their motto. The members of the Gioventu' Universitaria Fascista were the most enthusiastic supporters of Mussolini,= the ones who would stage a demonstration and marches at the drop of a hat, to glorify and reaffirm their belief in the regime.

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There w= ere many who tried to bring Joe to join the ranks, but he resisted all pressure. He= only felt contempt for the idiots who had to show they belonged to the party by wearing on their lapel the "distintivo", which depicted a "Fascio Littorio" surrounded by the initials P.N.F. (Partito Nazionale Fascista). The "Fascio Littorio",  emblem of the Fascist Regime, was= a bundle of sticks tied together with an axe at the top. In ancient Imperial= Rome it represented the authority of the "Lictores", or magistrates, = who held them .

 

The one= s who loathed the distintivo called it "la cimice", the bed bug, somet= hing, which sticks to you like a parasite which you despise. It could be very embarrassing to forget to wear it in your buttonhole. Your name could be a= dded to the list of people who had to be watched. People like Joe, who had lived abroad, who knew very well how other people lived, who had tasted freedom = in another country, were more and more concerned at what was happening.<= /o:p>

 

All Gio= vanna's and Joe's friends were people who earlier or later had joined the party, none = of them could afford to lose their daily bread. Membership was required also = in catholic schools and, in 1933, a decree was passed requiring membership to= the party for admission to any public post however menial.

 

Sometim= es, but rarely, Joe tried to reason with their closest friends and Giovanna: what = gives the fascists the licence to push people around, to bully them? In some instances their conduct could be perhaps excused as they kept things worki= ng, trains running on time, strikes were now an unknown phenomenon, law and or= der had been restored.

 

This wa= s enough to please people with short memories and they accepted Mussolini even if for = many "Fascism" continued to mean beating people with the "santo manganello"  'the holy truncheon' and performing feats of courage.

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"M= ussolini ha sempre ragione", Mussolini is always right

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All day= and every day the propaganda machine of the party worked hard to instil in the crowd adulation for the "Duce" and to incite them to follow him wherev= er he would chose to lead the Italian people. One had only to turn on the radio = and there was no escaping from the speeches, the slogans, the popular songs th= at exalted the fascist way of thinking, damning the enemy, which for the time being was only an imaginary enemy, but was taking shape in the world power= s, in anybody that got in the way of fascist expansion of Italy's sacrosanct rig= ht to push out  the "Boot of Italy" towards the South, the East Africa, so that Italians too could= have a place in the sun.

 

And the= British, what did they think of them?  They would have to resign themselves to become again a "little island of fishermen".

  

The pro= paganda machine extended to the world of cinema, to the movies made in Cinecitta'. Epics that portrayed Rome's triumphs,&n= bsp; where the heroes were redeemed by patriotism, were putting the fasc= ist message across to the public, so they could copy the men on the screen and= do the right thing.

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Italian= films did not suffer any censorship, while the foreign ones could be banned for instilling pacifism or for showing Italian gangsters in the USA.

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The war= in Ethiopia was popular because it united the= Italians against other nations, which people had been told to despise because they = did not take enough notice of Mussolini, regarding him more like a buffoon.

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Joe had= no chance of winning in his arguments and he was wise not to push his ideas too far,= it could have been very dangerous. He never talked of his birthplace, of the = United States= . Hardly anybody, apart from a cou= ple of families, very close friends, knew of his origin or of his work. The major= ity of their acquaintances thought he had a farm in the village where Giovanna taught. This lack of knowledge on the part of strangers must have saved hi= m and his family from embarrassment many times.

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He had = to put up and look happy with the introduction of the "Sabato fascista", t= he fascist Saturday, which he felt robbed him of another day of his family li= fe. The afternoon of every Saturday was now to be dedicated to a weekly assemb= ly in school grounds, with teachers and children in uniform, for activities, phy= sical education and military drills. Rural children were not expected to have a uniform, but hey had to follow the other rules. Every member of the youth organisation, right hand stretched in the Roman salute, had to declare his= or her allegiance in a ceremony to be performed every year, solemnly declarin= g the oath of the Balilla: "In the name of God and Italy I swear to follow = the Duce's orders, and to serve with all my strength and if necessary with my blood, the cause of the fascist revolution". Then the hymn of "G= iovinezza" was sung in full, together with other hymns glorifying life under the "Fascio Littorio".

 

The rul= es of fascist youth organisation were: to be courteous, help the weak, keep clea= n, tell the truth, and when in presence of people who cast a doubt on princip= les of the regime, to intervene to correct or scold and silence anyone who hel= d an offensive attitude towards it. A Balilla had to project his ideal image on= the rest of the nation, an "Aryan" image. So far as persecuting Jewi= sh people, in small towns like Valledoro there were none, so it was only due = to some slogans said with an attitude of bravado rather than understanding, t= hat the subject came to light at all.

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Mr. Mas= on kept coming to Italy= every year, usually in the Spring= , to go back to the States in the Autumn. During these months Joe spent some time = with him, travelled and did the work required of him, which took him away from = his inner worries. They bought works of art, visited exhibitions, talked of anything they wanted, they did not have to flatter anybody and they could exchange their thoughts freely. Erroll knew people in high places, his con= tacts were at diplomatic level and the life in the best hotels did not reflect t= he life of ordinary citizens. The last trip of Mr. Mason to Europe before the war was in 1935. =

 

Back in= his home environment, Joe knew he had to think on the same line as it was prescribe= d. If you did not conform you could pay very dearly, with prison and in extreme cases, with life. He felt that Giovanna was drifting away from his beliefs= , but she could not afford not to be involved, like all their friends.  In some way he considered himself= lucky that he was independent as far as he had a job which did not condition his thoughts, but it was Giovanna's job that infringed the freedom he could otherwise enjoy. Sometimes he had to shake his head to tell himself that i= t was not a dream, when the memory of what life was like in America was so vivid. <= /p>

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Once  he found himself in Rome with Gio= vanna, visiting her sister, and he had been amazed and appalled to see how the pe= ople in the city reacted to the presence of the Duce - rallying the masses, alw= ays drawing great crowds, gathered to hear him speak from the balcony of "Palazzo Venezia".

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As he a= ppeared, the cries of "DUCE!", "DUCE!" were deafening, drowning every other sound, until he would raise his right hand to salute and to si= gnal that he was going to speak, then a silence of the tomb pervaded the atmosp= here in the expectation of hearing the  voice whose magnetism sent the masses into a delirious trance.  Those who had ever been present a= t one of his speeches felt lucky to have experienced such a feeling so they coul= d do nothing else but to follow him to the end, fight for him and with him.

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Why sho= uld other nations oppose Mussolini's aim at getting new lands for the Italian people= ? Why object to the black shirts wishing to civilise those poor devils, the Abyssinians, so backward and so poor?&nbs= p; The "faccette nere"  little black faces, needed a new culture, new roads, schools, civilisation that their Emperor, the Negus, could not give them. So why not give them a new king and a new flag?

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Sanctio= ns were imposed against Italy= , but the population closed their = ranks, happy in trying to override their effect. "Autarchia", (make do = with what you have got) became a new word in the Italian dictionary, which meant economic independence. Italy= had no sugar? The answer was to g= row sugar beet.  Not enough clothing ma= terial? Try to weave any fibre, even the yellow broom. No cocoa? Carob beans could taste nearly as good. No gold in the state's coffers?

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"L= a giornata della fede", the day of the wedding ring, was an over publicised event when Queen Elena of Savoy herself gave the lead to all Italian wives to do= nate their wedding rings to the motherland. A gigantic crucible was erected in = front of the tomb to the unknown soldier, on the "Altare della Patria"= in Rome and the Queen proudly walked up the steps, took off her wedding ring dropping it into the hot container to be melted so the gold could be used = to buy raw material and other commodities, mainly arms, that Italy was short = of. "Oro alla Patria", Gold to the Motherland was the order of the d= ay: in all the towns, women followed their Queen's example and gave, it was claimed, without regret the symbol of their wedding, in most cases the most precious item they possessed. 

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Without= regret? That was something that a great number of Italians, men and women alike, d= id not share with the propaganda machine. It was all very well to follow blin= dly what the party required, but there are limits, even for people well indoctrinated like Giovanna and her friends.

 

They ha= d to find a way around. So, as it is a second nature of every Italian to find a way ar= ound any obstacle, they went to buy a new gold ring to give to the cause, while= they put safely away, for the time being, their own precious memento, until it = would be safe to wear it again. The persons who rubbed their hands in delight, w= ere the jewellers who did very well out of the trade.

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Giovann= a had to organise the day of the ring in the village, as did all the other teachers.  The housewives cam= e to donate their possessions, husbands came too if they were wearing a wedding ring.  The teachers collected= the gold to be taken to the party headquarters in town.  The people who donated their ring= were given in exchange one made of steel, which had the inscription: "Oro = alla Patria, 18-11-1935. XIII" (Gold to the motherland, 18-11-1935, 13th year of the fascist Era) . =

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Giovann= a made a little speech to the peasants gathered: "You will wear proudly this s= teel ring on your ring finger, to tell the world that you, too, have done your = part in fighting the infamous sanctions imposed against our country by those monstrous powers that want to see Italy on her knees."

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Joe kne= w she was quite convinced of what she preached.

 

In scho= ols children brought gold objects, not to be outdone by their mothers, and the whole operation was a huge success.  Alas, not all the gold found its way to the melting pot: it went th= rough many hands and, as one can well imagine, many of those precious bags conta= ining the gold went astray into more than one "gerarca's" pocket!=

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On the = day of Mussolini's downfall, July 25 1943, bags full of wedding rings were = discovered in the residences of many of the fleeing fascists! The poorest of people h= ad given, if not with enthusiasm, with fear that if they were seen wearing a = gold ring they might be considered enemies of the land, subversives, and not everyone had the means of buying another ring and salting away the real on= e.

 

Still, = the majority of the crowd was happy and proud, while Mussolini's conscripts we= re halfway through getting for them this new country in Africa from where riches would come for everybody. Joe recollected the evening when all the bells started pealing for joy: the ne= ws had come through that the Italian troops had entered the city of Adua. The Italians were winning, soon = Abyssinia would be theirs.  In the cold October evening all t= he windows were wide open for people to hear the bells. So many children, born that day, were named "Adua, Vittoria, Vittorio" adding to the  numbers of Benitos and Romanos of earlier years.

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After t= he African war and then the conquest of Albania, people hoped that Mussolini woul= d be satisfied and rest on his laurels. The Italians were going to Abyssinia in droves, to work, build roads, = schools, hospitals, or so the people were told.

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Mussoli= ni had dreamed of a victory parade in Rome, reminiscent of Caesar and Cleopatra, with the Abyssinian Emperor in chains, along the "Via dell'Impero", the E= mpire way, under the Arch of Triumph. As the Emperor had taken refuge in = England, he had to be satisfied to show o= ff, as proof of his conquest, the golden "Lion of Judah", the emblem of power of Ras Tafari, the Emperor Haile 'Selassie'.

 

The gol= den lion had been removed from the Imperial  palace in Addis Ababa and placed in Rome, in the main station square, Piaz= za dei Cinquecento, for everybody to admire. Chosen native troops were brought to= Rome to mount guard on the Quirinale, = the Royal Palace, and on Palazzo Venezia, to impre= ss the public, to tell them what a great power Italy had become.

 

After t= he gold, it was the turn of "ferro alla Patria", iron to the Motherland, whe= n all the railings and gates were removed from houses, villas and factories and = from wherever there was any unnecessary amount of iron, to be taken to the foundries. The older generation was becoming increasingly worried at the friendship with the Germans. 

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"W= e fought them in the world war, they are not our friends, they are our enemies"= ;, was the cry.

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On the = other side, the young ones were very eager to follow Hitler's grand schemes of conques= t. They did not want to be left out. With a leader like Mussolini they would conquer the world. "Noi tireremo diritto" We will carry on strai= ght, was the slogan. Now the best friends, and only friends, were the Germans a= nd the Japanese, the allies of the Axis  - Rome, Berlin, Tokyo. When Hitler went on an official = visit to Rome, only a handful of courageous Rom= ans dared to say: "For Pete's sake, don't let him throw any coin in the fountain!"

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Mussoli= ni shared with many leaders in history the knack of bluffing his way into the respec= t and admiration of a number of people by evoking God as his judge, as his advis= er, showing an image of himself as a family man.  He composed poems, like the one on bread, which melted many hearts, he regularly opened the grain threshing season, bare chested, helping farmers in his country estate near Riccione,= on the Adriatic coast, where his family  spent their Summer holiday, looking every inch the protector and fr= iend of the rural masses.

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His all= eged violin playing to his family after every Sunday lunch, "La Paloma" bein= g one of his favourite tunes, gave the picture of the loving husband and devoted father. Little the people at large knew of his mistresses and of the shame= and loneliness his wife is alleged to have endured. Of course it was a punisha= ble crime to say or write anything that could tarnish the name of the Duce.

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Joe was= never fooled by all the speeches and all the propaganda against the Americans an= d the British, he knew them too well, but he tried to keep a low profile, well realising how vulnerable his position was, not just for himself, but for h= is family. Nobody referred to him now as "the American" and he made= a point of signing his name as "Giuseppe". His friends went on cal= ling him Joe, but the pronunciation was so italianized that it sounded like "Gio'", short for Giovanni. So in the confusion arising, nobody suspected his real name, which remained "Gio'" to all the Italia= ns.

 

After M= r. Mason's last trip, the letters from America were not very frequent, being int= ercepted as well as being censored. The ones that arrived had so many blackened lin= es, Gio' felt there was not much point in writing when one could not tell the = truth about conditions in Italy and Erroll could not express his opinion or ask questions that would not get any answer. Soon Gio' realised that the time = would come when money from the U. S. A. would be stopped, so he had to prepare himself and the family for such an emergency. As the fascist revolution was taking more and more a firm grip on the life of the people, it became diff= icult for Gio' to detach and isolate himself from his surroundings. He had to renounce his American citizenship, that was the first blow.

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He felt= trapped as the tentacles of the giant octopus gradually closed on him repressing any remaining spark of rebellion to the situation. He was alone in his quandar= y. Only his records, his music, kept opened a small path from a world of madn= ess into sanity. His children and their generation, like birds born in captivi= ty, in the cage of fascism, knew only the limited world shown by their captors, while he treasured in his heart his early life, with its freedom of though= t, freedom of speech and action the value of which could not be assessed unti= l it was lost.

 

The non= stop propaganda portrayed the unknown outside as a corrupt, dangerous, place populated by wicked individuals, not fit for the superior race of the young fascists. Pushed  by his fami= ly convictions, by the fear of being labelled as a subversive, slowly but inexorably he felt the beast was tunnelling its way into his being. He had= to remind himself that Giovanna would be the only breadwinner if he could not= find some work because of his ideals. Soon enough he would have to capitulate, = to swallow his pride and join the ranks of the distintivo wearing brigade, or= any prospect of earning a living would elude him. He had no idea of what he co= uld do, he had no training for anything except speaking English, which at the = time was the last thing he would have wanted anybody to find out. He was not cu= t out for an office job: at times he still got his double letters wrong!

 

The fir= st decision the family had to make was to leave the school house and go to live in tow= n, in Valledoro, where Giovanna applied to be transferred in her teaching job. C= arla was now attending the "Ginnasio", an equivalent of a High school= and she had already spent some terms at her aunt <= span lang=3DEN-GB style=3D'font-size:14.0pt'>Ada's house. Aroldo would have to do = the same soon, so moving  was the right decision to take.  To live in= a town after so many years spent in a village like Montello, was going to be a big change.

 

The mos= t excited was Ida, the maid, who was looking forward to go shopping for food and have chats with other maids during the daily walk to market. The only thing she would miss would be an open fire. She loved to sit in front of it and let = the warmth caress her from top to toe, but this would be a blessing in another= way, as her legs would have a chance of losing the scorch marks, trademark of peasant women! Very sadly Signora Anna had passed away during a very cold = spell in the previous Winter.  She suffered from a heart condition and she had died peacefully in her sleep.<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'>  They all loved her dearly and fou= nd very difficult to adjust to the fact that she had gone. The move, the change fr= om the house that had so many memories, helped in a small way to blunt the so= rrow. It would be the beginning of a new life for them all.

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They mo= ved to town, to live next door to their best friends, Irene and Francesco. They r= ented a house which belonged to one of Irene's brothers who was working on the railway and had been transferred to another town, the capital of province, about forty miles away. It was a  stroke of luck that they should have such dear friends as neighbour= s.  A couple of journeys with a "carro", a large cart pulled by two yoked oxen, took care of the move. That was the first Summer they had to forgo their holiday by the sea= .

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Gradual= ly Gio' and family got used to the change in their life, from being isolated near the mountains, to be in civilised surroundings, having people either side of t= heir house, getting to know the advantages and disadvantages of living at close quarters with noisy, nosy neighbours.

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Gio' ha= d to take more care in his clothes, as Italians treat with contempt anybody who will= go around dressed like a gardener. He was used not to take any notice of what anybody would think of his appearance, to be able to wear shorts all the Summer, to put on anything he fancied from his rugged country wardrobe. His suits were reserved for the trips with Erroll and for special occasions, l= ike the visits to town. He found to his dismay that he could not venture outsi= de the front door without being looked upon like a strange animal. He realise= d he had to conform, for Giovanna's sake. She did not like the idea of her colleagues seeing her husband looking like a scarecrow when he was in the garden. People were surprised that he should do gardening at all.

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"Y= ou must employ a gardener" his friends said. "Professional people do not= do work around the house".

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This wa= s all new to him and he had not found it out while they were in Montello. As matter = of fact this was one of the reasons why he had been so popular there: he acted like one of the peasants. He had not yet encountered this side of the Ital= ian character.

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People = were friendly, yes, even too friendly for his liking. Emilia, the next door neighbour on the left side, was forever trying to find out all about him. = She knew Giovanna was a teacher, but what was he doing? He was "Gio'"= ; to everybody and Ida had always the same answer ready: "He travels". Fortunately Ida had to contend only with this particular neighbour, as Ire= ne was on the other side.

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There w= ere some real advantages in living in town, that they appreciated very much: to be = able to do shopping every day and not consider a disaster if you forgot somethi= ng from your list, to have fresh bread whenever you wanted it and not only du= ring school holidays, the alternative being&nb= sp; having to make your own.

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Milk wa= s a luxury they could indulge in now. A dear elderly lady by the name of Annetta came morning and evening pushing a trolley with a churn on top, carrying the measures of one litre and quarter of a litre, hanging lose from her belt. = She stopped at the houses, measuring carefully the required amounts and having= a chat with the housewives. The evenings were the occasions when often, red = in the face, she wanted either to talk non stop about her son who was in the = Army or she preferred to keep quiet and excuse her unfriendly mood by saying: &= quot;Don't talk to me to night. My head is a volcano and I am going in waves". T= hat was the admission that she had spent most of the day with a glass of wine = in her hand. . . .  <= /span>

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A blow = came when the educational authority wrote to say that there was not a teaching vacan= cy in town for Giovanna. She would have to travel every day back to the village,= but how? She had a long talk with her friend Irene who was commuting every day= to teach in the village of Poggio only a couple of miles away from = Montello. Her husband used to drive her there and back, but Irene for a while had be= en thinking of learning to drive, then perhaps she could give a lift to Giova= nna. Happily thinking that Giovanna would be her passenger, Irene finally decid= ed to take their life in her hands and to become a driver.

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There w= as no other lady driver in town. During the Summer holiday she went to the town driving instructor and enrolled on a course of few lessons.  When the instructor decided she w= as good enough, Irene presented herself for the test, which was conducted by a spe= cial examiner sent from the  town = capital of the Province. Irene was worried, she was the only pupil to take the exa= m in that session. She sat stiffly in the car, started the engine which promptly stalled, and on she went, bouncing along the main streets towards the main square.

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"O= nce around the fountain", came the examiner's command, then back to the office. =

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To ever= ybody's surprise, she had passed and she was even complimented by the examiner for doing so well! What a piece of cake:  no reversing, no start on a hill, no three point turn, no questions asked, really amazing. Maybe her husband had hoped she would fail, as now = he was worried for the car.

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So Iren= e started on her daily driving, taking not only Giovanna, but also another teacher w= hose school was on their way. Every morning they left from home early, going th= rough the centre of town. Irene's driving was allright as long as she had a lot = of room or nobody would be safe. She made sure that her way was clear by keeping h= er thumb stuck on the horn through the streets of the town. Like an alarm bel= l set at the same time every working day, this noise became a familiar sound and= a nuisance too.

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Old Pra= ti, the newspaper vendor in the booth near the fountain in the square, would chang= e his call from -

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"G= iornali!, il Messaggero, Giornale d'Italia, ultime notizie" to a shout  "not that bloody woman again!", waving angrily a newspaper at the approaching car.

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Of cour= se there were a few times when things did not go so smoothly for the motorised teac= hers, like when Irene forgot to release the hand brake on starting and drove most of  the way with the car pour= ing out smoke so they all got out and ran for their lives expecting it to burst in= to flames any minute, or when she drove off the road into a ditch where the c= ar got stuck and had to be rescued by a couple of oxen, or when she forgot wh= ere the water went and she topped up the petrol tank!

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These m= ishaps did not deter the spirit of the driver or the passengers, worse was to come!

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Being a= t home while Giovanna went to school, gave Gio' the chance of getting to know the local people. Many a time Giovanna had tried to persuade him to buy a car = and learn to drive, but he had been adamant. That was not one of his ambitions= . As long as there were hired cars with a chauffeur to drive him where he wante= d, he felt that was a bother he could do without.  He did not share  the enthusiasm for being at the w= heel with his friend Francesco who was the owner of a convertible Fiat 500 and = had offered to teach him to drive, but no, Gio' rather would remain  a faithful client of the Borelli brothers, the taxi drivers.

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He woul= d not have wanted to be a laughing stock to his friends, like his brother in law Rude= llo, who was such a careful, slow driver, and spent half of his free time clean= ing and polishing his car, while his wife was forever producing cushions, doll= s, and made even curtains for it. The adventures of Rudello and his car were a favourite subject of jokes for after dinner laughs!

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During = the time of adjustment to the new life and while pondering on what to do, out of the b= lue a telegram arrived, from his brother Jeremy who was announcing his arrival t= wo weeks later at Genoa. Surprise was the first reaction, because there was n= o reason for his journey from New York, especially in the atmosphere of = the Summer 1938, with talk and fear of war on the horizon.  Jeremy was a type who never had a= ny money to spare and if he had any he would not certainly spend it on a visi= t to his mother or brother. So.  w= hat was the purpose of this visit?

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Mother = of course was happy at the thought of seeing him again. He was such a young boy when= she had left him in America and he had become part of their f= riend Aldo's family. Apart from rare letters nobody knew very much about him. His news was always the same. He was allright, was not married, although he se= emed to have always a girl friend. He would end invariably by saying: "I w= ill tell you more news next time or when I see you again".  Nobody really believed that this = time would ever come.

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Waiting= anxiously for the time to go by, Gio', Giovanna and old Virginia brought forward all= the arguments " why was Jeremy coming home?"  Was he going back or would he sta= y?  What would he do?

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In that= respect Gio' had enough worry thinking about his own future, he did not need his brother to come and make things worse. It was no good to speculate, none o= f the arguments  seemed plausible, = so the only thing to do was to wait patiently for the day of  his arrival.

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Gio' we= nt to meet the boat, the "Conte Rosso", one of the great ships on the regul= ar service Genoa-New York.=   Would they recognise each other? Twenty six years had gone by since=   the last time the brothers had me= t. They were then two young immature boys, they did not know what their future wou= ld be. Now Gio' had a family of his own, a wife, children, responsibilities, = while Jeremy had only himself to think about. All these years he had never sent a dollar to his mother or to his sisters even when they got married.

 

From wh= at Gio' could read between the lines of his sketchy letters, he must have gone fro= m job to job, until one day Mr.Mason went to look for him after Gio' told him th= at he had a brother in New York. Erroll's generosity had stretche= d to find Jeremy a job and so in the last few years Jeremy had stuck to it.  It worried Gio' the thought that = Erroll perhaps kept Jeremy in the job just for his sake and not because his broth= er had made a success of it.

 

When Gi= o' arrived in Genoa he proceeded to the quayside wher= e the ship had already docked. Relatives were allowed to go on board to meet mem= bers of their families while disembarking proceedings were going on, customs officials were busy before giving permission of unloading. He went up the gangplank to look for Jeremy when he saw a figure bent down examining a suitcase. He thought the build resembled one of the photographs Jeremy had= sent home. He paused for a moment, then, as the man lifted his head, he could suddenly see family features in the face of the stranger. He shouted his n= ame, Jeremy looked at him and it was as if all those years had been wiped out. = They greeted each other with a warm embrace, both speechless.

 

Subcons= ciously throughout these years, they must have been longing for such a moment with= out admitting even to themselves the feelings they had.  They looked at each other's face,= at their features marked by the years, at the greyish brows. Jeremy was now wearing glasses, but the intense blue of his eyes, like Gio's, came through vividly, like pools of clear water reflecting a cloudless sky. On the way = to the train they talked and talked of all the people of the family, about th= eir mother, sisters, Gio's children and Giovanna that Jeremy did not know at a= ll. To Gio' this reunion was his past coming back to him, the world he had los= t, but he felt his small family, the love for Giovanna and their children, was more than enough to compensate him and he felt happy and contented with wh= at he still possessed.

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The nex= t few days were spent in an euphoric atmosphere, trying to catch up with the news and events of all those years. Old Virginia was so moved seeing her son again= and all the family indulged in old time memories that they had shared such a long = time ago, but now it was as if  th= ey happened only yesterday.

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Soon th= e reason of Jeremy's visit became clear: Erroll was very worried for Gio' and his fami= ly, while Italy was going from one conquest to another and he had no plan to c= ome for a visit, as there was such a smell of war in the air. He had approached Jeremy. It would not have been suspicious if he came to Italy to see his mother again. For Jere= my it was the treat of a lifetime and for Erroll it would have meant to get the satisfaction of knowing what life was really like, in particular the life = of the family dear to his heart. Jeremy stayed about three months. He came to= wards the end of August. He spent some time with his mother at the Mill, but mos= t of his stay was at Gio's and Giovanna's.

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At firs= t he got on so well with the children and his sister in law. Giovanna found him amusin= g, cheerful and with a good sense of humour.=   With his brother, they talked almost always in English, so Giovanna= felt cut off from their most private thoughts, but she sensed that Jeremy had b= een shocked to see the fascist emblem on his brother's lapel, as their convers= ation took the shape of an argument, not at all like a calm exchange of news and ideas. Of course Gio' put Jeremy in the picture, which in turn would be re= lated to Erroll, and there was a lot that Erroll had entrusted Jeremy to pass on= to Gio'.

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Jeremy = became part of Giovanna's  and Gio's circ= le of friends, everybody wanted to make him welcome. If at first they had identi= fied him as the "American uncle" of the family, friendly, well off, g= enerous, soon enough they had to realise that he was nothing like his brother. He w= as friendly and courteous, yes, even too friendly. He had the American easy w= ay of not standing on ceremonies. This was not well received by the Italians who judged this as lack of respect especially towards the ladies. He was too familiar, everybody was "tu", which can be accepted only in one'= s own family or when the speaker is an uneducated peasant who  knows no better.

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Husband= s objected to the way he addressed their wives, or put his arm around their shoulder,= in a typical friendly American way, arousing feelings of jealousy, to which Ita= lian men are very quickly susceptible.

 

Now  in Italy it was imperative to address with= the pronoun "voi", to use the fascist salute instead of the handshak= e. The use of "lei" had been forbidden because it showed the servil= ity of the sixteen century bourgeois class, while "voi" had been use= d by the Romans and Dante Alighieri. It was no good for Giovanna, to try to exc= use her brother in law, to say that Jeremy was used to talk in English, where everybody is a "tu". Jeremy was speaking far too well the langua= ge to be excused by the majority of people and nobody realised that in fact he h= ad never been to Italy= before. They thought he had emigr= ated to the U. S. A. only some years earlier.

 

When Gi= o' tried to smooth out some of the difficulties arising from his brother's behaviour, Jeremy confessed that he found  impossible not to use "tu".  Other embarrassing episodes arose= when Jeremy seemed to go out of his way to criticise the Italian way of life, h= e was so outspoken, taking of no account the feelings of the family that had acc= epted him no matter what he or they had previously thought. So the children star= ted to dread their uncle's opinions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PHOTOGRAPH

CHILD DRESSED IN FASCIST UNIFORM

When a = cousin of Aroldo, Ada's son came to visit him announcing that he had been chosen to = be a "Balilla moschettiere" (a musket carrying Balilla), a great hono= ur amongst boys aged between ten and fourteen years of age, Jeremy could not = stop laughing, ragging the poor boy for his long black gauntlets, the fez tied = under his chin and, most of all, for the musket he so proudly carried with the l= eather bandoleer across his shoulder.

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"I= 'll take your photograph to make my American friends laugh", he commented.

 

Aroldo,= defending his cousin, was in tears, because that was one of his ambitions, too, and Giovanna was furious when she heard of it.  Gio' had asked Jeremy to forget what he saw and heard, to let thing= s go, but these incidents were becoming so frequent that they all started longin= g for uncle Jeremy to sail back to his beloved America happy to see the back of = him. It was October 28th, a few days before he was due to leave, the day of the= last straw, when by his brother's action it came clear to Gio' that it was no g= ood for him to think as an American any more.=   He was an Italian now, a fascist for that matter, even if he was as= hamed to admit it, the country where he lived required that he had to conform to ideals that were not of his choice, but he had to accept this way of livin= g for his family's sake and for the future of his children.

 

That da= y in October, was a holiday to celebrate the "Marcia su Roma", the ma= rch on Rome, when Mussolini had become the Pr= ime Minister of Italy, having taken over the Government with his black shirts. Gio', Jeremy and friends were sitting at a cafe in the main square, when t= he sound of "Giovinezza" was heard approaching from one side of the= road and soon the fascist organisations, preceded by the band, came strutting a= long as clockwork puppets displaying their "passo romano" antics, hea= ding for the monument to the first world war casualties. Like so many Jack in t= he box, everybody sprung up to attention, hats came off as the right arms stretched out in the "saluto romano". Giovanna and her friends w= ere in uniform, the children were taking part in the march. =

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Suddenl= y a few heads turned; somebody was still sitting, sipping an aperitivo. Who could = he be but Jeremy? What an unforgivable outrage, and, he even had his hat on! A v= ery zealous party member quickly moved towards him with the order.<= /span>

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"S= tand up!", ready to slap his face with his right hand. <= /p>

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Gio' sa= w this and as quick as lightning, knocked off Jeremy's hat just in time, pulling him = up from his chair and saying: "He is with me", as if he was in char= ge of a poor demented fellow.  The = fascist realised the situation was under control, that Gio' was a party member, so= he turned to watch the parade taking the matter no further. Jeremy was astoni= shed and bewildered and for few moments he could not even understand what had happened.

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Later h= e objected angrily to his brother's action: "I am an American citizen and I don'= t get up or take my hat off to anybody". His criticism was far too strong f= or some hot blooded Italians.  I= f it had not been for Gio' who had the respect of all who knew him, Jeremy would have certainly encountered some trouble during his stay. 

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The chi= ldren kept asking: "When is he going ?" It would never be too soon. The Ame= rican uncle had proved a disaster. They were ashamed of him with their friends, = they were only longing for the day of his departure, when they could forget all about him.  How much Gio' agr= eed in his heart with his brother's feelings, and his opinion of Italy, it was something he kept to himself and only dared to disclose in the letter he entrusted Jeremy to deliver to Erroll in New York.

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He coul= d open his heart to him, disclose his fears for the future, the frightening future th= at Italy was facing in the hands of the fo= rmer journalist of the "Avanti" newspaper, who now he regarded as a buffoon, and, in the words of Kemal Attaturk, a "puffed up bullfrog o= f the Pontine Marches".

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Ever si= nce becoming a member of the Fascist Party, a deep feeling of guilt had taken = hold of Gio', even though the fact that he had enrolled with one  of the smallest nucleus, Giovanna= 's village school, kept him free from being summoned to participate to meetin= gs, rallies, marches. The emblem on his lapel made him feel a coward, not being able to show his true feelings, always for the fear of reprisals on Giovan= na's job, should she be targeted as married to a man of subversive ideals.

 

As he c= onfessed his true feelings to his brother, he felt his contempt stabbing him like a sword going through his middle, and a weight pulling him down, into  the misery of his existence.

 

Jeremy = had been a good for nothing all his life, since their childhood he had never pulled h= is weight to help the fatherless family or just his mother, even if only with affection and encouragement. He had kept himself distant and selfish, the typical black sheep or skeleton in the cupboard, the embarrassing secret m= ost families hide from strangers.

 

Now Jer= emy suddenly had become to Gio's eyes a person to envy, somebody he would have wanted to change places with, as the lucky one who could shout to the four winds his convictions, elevating himself above the rules of this unfortuna= te  country he was only visiting, rul= es which he could scorn and deride at his pleasure. 

  

Joe kne= w that Erroll would understand their plight and would stand by him and his family= , no matter how the world events would unfold and how long it would be before t= hey met again. This certainty gave him the strength to face whatever the future might bring.

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His pri= ority now was to find a job, any job, but it was proving very difficult. Luck came o= ne day when his friend Francesco had an idea.  He had heard that old Michele, from the transport  agency, had died and his replacem= ent was being sought by the "Agenzia trasporti", that worked mainly for = the railway. The job consisted in delivering and taking goods to and from the = railway station, to shops and private addresses. There was no need for more than an elementary knowledge of arithmetic and to be able to drive a horse drawn c= art.

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Did he = feel up to the job? his friend enquired, because Francesco knew some of the people who would engage him. It was not much, but in his unique position, Gio' did not have much of a choice and, after consulting Giovanna, decided to have a go= . The only trouble was that he did not know the front end of a horse from the ba= ck, but Francesco came to his rescue: "I will teach you in no time, just present yourself for the interview and the job is yours. Do not discuss the driving". He then took Gio' out a few times to a farm where a friendly farmer provided them with a horse and cart and he soon got the gist of tak= ing the reins, and at the same time learning how to fasten the traces on the s= hafts of the cart. The horse he would use was a cart horse, an enormous animal, quiet, strong and, hopefully, docile.

  

Soon he= felt confident of being capable of handling it. The horse was a mare, Carina. Although Gio' had never driven anything, apart from bicycle in the village= , he soon acquired enough road sense, as traffic was never heavy and was getting lighter because of petrol shortage for private cars. It proved a little mo= re difficult when Gio' was left on his own with Carina, just the two of them.= If she was determined not to go, it was of no use Gio' to shout: "Va, va, ohi", shaking the reins and cracking the whip. She seemed to have a s= treak of obstinacy more becoming to a mule than to a cart horse.

  

Fortuna= tely it did not take long before she got used to Gio's commands and to the sound of his voice, to the point that soon Carina seemed to know by intuition when to s= top and which road to take. Wherever Gio' went, he became a familiar sight and= he got to know a large number of people who were normal customers.

   

In the = Summer Carina wore a great straw hat with two holes pierced for her ears and Gio'= had his beach hat of better days, to shelter him from the fierce rays of the sun.  He clicked his tongue t= o start Carina off, while shaking the reins lose. When he wanted her to stop, he o= nly had to shout : "Leee. . . Ferma", and Carina would oblige.  She never moved from where he tol= d her to stop, while he did his deliveries and porters came to unload the heavier parcels.

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Aroldo,= when free from school, loved to accompany him. It was great for the boy, when the we= ather was good, but it was not much fun when the rain bucketed down and Gio', ho= rse and merchandise had to find shelter under sheets of tarpaulin which were not  altogether rain proof an= d Gio' got soaked to the skin.


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CHAPTER &= nbsp; 11

 

 

1939-1943

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As the war-mongers' propaganda reached its peak, after the beginning of the hostilities between Germany and the United Kingdom, the Italians were exci= tedly waiting for their turn to follow the Germans in their dreams of conquest a= nd on June 10th 1940 their wishes came true. The war on the French front was ove= r in a few days as the "Transalpine cousins" (as the Italians regard = the French) capitulated.

 

The fig= hting in other parts was not bothering at all the man in the street. Life went on as usual, except for the blackouts, which did not give much general discomfor= t, except for having to cut short the evening "passeggiate" (promenades).

 

The onl= y people who felt there was a war were the families of the men in the armed forces = and the ones living in the big cities, where gradually the  bombs started to fall. For the re= st of the population there was no difference from when the Abyssinian war was on= - it was still in Africa! Soon, the fascists were forecast= ing, Germany, Italy and Japan would conquer the world. The deca= dent Democratic Nations would be defeated and the world would become a better p= lace to live.

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Prelude= to war shortages was the introduction of bread rationing.  It was announced in a radio bulle= tin on a Sunday evening and it came like a bombshell on the masses used to eat it= in very large quantities, but soon it was found that it was only "on paper!"  You could still= buy it in excess of your coupons, there was no real hardship, but it became quite "a la mode", in a restaurant, to give up one fraction of a coupo= n for your roll: it made you feel real patriotic.

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As the bombardments became a more frequent event in many places, shortages began = to hit the population especially when rationing of more commodities came into force. The farmers had to take all their produce to a central place of distribution, getting for it, a very poor price.  This triggered the Italians in bo= rn knack of avoiding rules, of finding a way around, so the farmers started to sell part of their harvest in a more remunerative way, with the consequence that the rationing system soon broke down and the black market flourished.=

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If you = knew the right person you could get anything, at a price, and if you did not know t= he right person, you could always find someone who did. The rules and the punishment for breaking them did not deter the majority of the population = from getting what they needed, either paying or bartering goods. People had rationing cards, but more than often the shops did not honour them and they soon became useless.

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Petrol = was rationed and, although there was a way of getting more litres than one was entitled to, it hit the teachers driving to school, who could not possibly manage on the allowance plus the extra that Irene's husband managed to acq= uire, because he needed it for his work. When the decree was passed that all the= civilians had to give up their cars and all the wheels and tyres were to be impounde= d, for the trio it was the end of the road and they had to find another way of getting to their schools.

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Frances= co, visiting a farm one day, found that a farmer had a horse and buggy he want= ed to sell, so he came home with the proposition, which was accepted by Irene and Giovanna as there was no other way they could possibly go. So Dora, the ma= re, became a household name in the two families, as the teachers welcomed the = horse as their saviour. The only thing to do now was to have lessons in horse dr= iving and this time it was Gio' who taught Giovanna, because Giovanna would have= to be the driver most of the time as her school was further than Irene's. She= had to do the last lap on her own and then she would  pick up Irene on the way back. Th= e third teacher had to walk to her school, because the buggy was not big enough for three. Irene got horse handling instructions from her husband. =

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No more= driving in the Fiat through the main square, to the relief of the newspaper vendor. N= ow they took the road that went around the outskirts of the town, to avoid the cobbled streets. Dora was very docile as she was getting on in years, and, probably, dim from the start. She never attempted to run amok, which any a= nimal with a fraction of intelligence should have done, under the charge of such inexperienced handlers.

 

Gio', w= ho by now had become quite an expert, had the task of getting Dora and the buggy eve= ry morning from the stable which she shared with Carina, and taking them to t= he house where Irene and Giovanna were waiting. Wrapped up in blankets and we= aring their warmest clothes, hardly protected by the hood of the buggy which let= in wind and rain from every corner, the two friends braved all kinds of weath= er, the freezing cold and the overbearing heat. The first Winter was the harde= st because they were very new in their experience and the bad weather had come rather early. It was windy and stormy day after day, the pioneering spirit= of the two nearly gave up.

 

Fortuna= tely the snow also came early, the villages were cut off and the schools closed for= a long spell. The provincial authority cleared the main roads, but the  roads that led to the fork where = the village road started, were snowbound. The villagers of both Montello and P= oggio had been busy making a snowplough, which they called "lupa", to = open the road up to the junction, to make a way for the teachers, but as the ot= her secondary roads were impassable, Irene and Giovanna had to wait until the = snow had disappeared, which was much safer for them.

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Poor Do= ra, nearly got killed when Giovanna gave the command to stop at a level crossing whic= h was at the bottom of a steep hill and at the same time forgot to turn the hand= le of the brake, so the horse ended up against the bar of the level crossing on = her front knees, while Giovanna and Irene frantically tugged and pulled the re= ins, avoiding just in time to catapult themselves and the buggy on top of the unfortunate Dora  in the path= of the oncoming "Littorina", a type of electric rail carriage used on secondary lines and so called because it must have been the brain child of= some fascist fanatic.

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A woman= in Poggio, when she heard of the near accident, decided there must be envy from some quarters that made the teachers accident prone, so, to kill the influence = of the evil eye, she presented them with a plaque to be nailed on the front o= f the buggy's seat with the inscription:  "Crepi invidia e fortuna trionfi",  'may envy burst and good luck tri= umph', a saying usually found on the wooden yokes used to couple up  pairs of oxen pulling a cart load= .

 

This we= nt on until the Summer 1943, after which all schools in the Region were closed. The Italians were sampling in small scale the discomfort of a war and the small clouds which were starting to obscure the certainty of great conquests, we= re becoming a thundering cumulus.

 

The &qu= ot;Vincere e Vinceremo",  'to win a= nd We will win', was shouted still, but the voices were getting a little raucous= in the fascist throats. During the academic year 1942-1943 the teachers were = still preaching the same gospel, but some of the doubts were infiltrating in the= ir previously  unshaken belief o= f the past years.

 

The war= was not so far away any more, it was knocking at the Italians front doors, but in Valledoro still life went on smoothly and calmly, while many were now the = towns that were feeling the effect of bombardments. While the see-saw of the advance-retreat was going on between Tobruk, Mersa Matruh, El Alamein, the war was still distant for mo= st of the people, remote enough not to have to worry about. Now the English, "G= li Inglesi", as the ordinary folk would call the Allied Troops, had land= ed in Sicily, changing completely the populati= on's outlook.

 

"L= i fermeremo sul bagnasciuga"  'we sh= all stop them on the foreshore', il Duce had roared when the first amphibious landing vehicles had dared to touch the Italian soil.

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Some pe= ople still believed this could happen, but Sicily was conquered in very short time,= as the already demoralised Italian troops were constantly reminded by messages on loudspeakers that if they laid down their arms they would get a good square meal.

  

Summer = 1943 would be another summer without a seaside holiday for the Perotti, because Giova= nna did not want to go alone with the children leaving Gio' at his work. Every= body sensed that sooner or later something would have to happen to end the impo= ssible situation, as it was obvious that the enemy's strength was overpowering an= d the occupation of Italy= 's mainland would be the next step= of the Allied Forces. Nobody dared to guess what in fact did happen, on July 25th 1943= .

  

Gio' we= nt home for a very late lunch that day. The Schools had been on holiday for over a mon= th, so the family was at home and Giovanna had her lunch early with the childr= en as Gio' often came late. Ida would get him a meal as soon as he came back.

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He pref= erred to do all the work he could in the morning, to be able to have a rest after lunc= h and so avoiding  to be out again = when it was still so hot.

  

That pa= rticular morning he had been jogging along the road that reflected the scorching he= at, under the rays of the "Solleone", (when the sun is under the Lio= n's sign), the asphalt melting under Carina's hooves, perspiration trickling d= own under his hat, his shirt soaking wet. He dived for the bathroom and the refreshing feeling of a cold shower while Ida did not lose a moment to pre= pare his food.  As he came down, he switched on the radio and sat down at the table while talking to Giovanna = about the day's work. Out of the blue, a special bulletin was announced by the E= . I. A. R. (Ente Italiano Audizioni Radiofoniche).

  

The new= s flash that followed was something that made every Italian prick up his ears, for= the unbelieving, startling message:

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"B= enito Mussolini has been deposed by His Majesty the King and by the Grand Counci= l and is under arrest"

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How did= it happen? It was so inconceivable for the majority of the people. Surprise was the f= irst reaction. Gio' looked at Giovanna and in unison they exclaimed : "What?" ..... "It can't be".

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The chi= ldren butted in, " it is not April fool's day!"

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Everyon= e hoped to get more news. Aroldo rushed into the kitchen to inform Ida, who took a li= ttle to believe him, then, as the reality of the event sunk in, she came out op= en mouthed:

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"C= he succedera' adesso?" What will happen now?

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She cou= ld not imagine what other calamity could come to replace Mussolini. No more detai= ls were added to the bulletin, only the declaration that Marshall Badoglio was taking charge and, last the words: "La guerra continua", war goe= s on, as a warning to the ones who might think that there and then the hostiliti= es would cease. For most of the listeners they had not even started.  . . . . .

  

Like in= a Summer storm, with thunder in a clear sky, millions of Italians had been struck b= y the unexpected happening, a reality which they had never dreamed of, while the= fear of the unknown concealed hopes for a better future. Gio' and Giovanna were speechless trying to think what would happen next, when Ida's shouts broug= ht them back to reality.

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"M= amma mia, la pasta e' stracotta!", the pasta is overcooked. <= /p>

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Such a = disaster, a meal with gluey, sticky pasta, was far more important to Ida's judgement t= han the day's events, events which would turn the wheel not only of Italy's fa= te, but of the thinking of the masses, who were brought to realise that it was= , yes, the end of the Regime, the end of their idol, fallen from the pedestal whe= re they had never thought it could be brought down.

  

The oth= er astonishing fact was that he had been removed by his own Grand Council, by= the same people who had idolised him, one being his son in law.

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"M= ussolini in prison, who could think this could happen, when only a short while back our troops were pushing towards Cairo", Giovanna managed to say.

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Even Gi= o' had never thought along this line; the end to the war, yes, but not a sudden e= nd of Fascism. This was more than he had ever hoped in his wildest dreams. The question on everybody's lips was now:

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"W= hy should war go on ?"

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This was Mussolini's war, he wanted it and if he is no longer in power, why to figh= t on? Neighbours and friends gathered to talk and comment. Dismay, fear elation = and hope exuding from their words. Until late that evening they went on discus= sing, waiting to know more. Incredulity and numbness soon gave way to exultance = shown by the crowd that assembled, but by nightfall they retreated to the securi= ty of their own homes, nobody felt safe to be out in the streets.

  

By next= day, very early in the morning, the news had sunk in and it was general knowledge th= at Mussolini's days were over, he was a prisoner on the Gran Sasso the highest mountain of the Appennines, in the Abruzzi region. How did the King, conside= red a puppet in the Duce's hands, find the strength and power to make such a decision?

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"H= e must be more resolute and strong willed than we gave him credit for", was the= general comment.

  

The peo= ple who had resisted to every pressure to join the party, and the dedicated communists, were the first to come out in the town square, to show that now they were = in a position of power, of command, and of revenge. Most of the ex party leaders kept well away, but some of the minor fishes came out to join in. Consider= ing that the number of the non fascist had been very small, it was surprising = to see so many happy faces now singing the red flag! People came from the villages, from remote parts of the countryside, to see with their own eyes= what was really happening.

  

Only th= e school possessed a radio in a village, and, as the schools were closed, it was a matter of luck which village got to know of the end of Fascism on the day = it happened or the next day. Some did not get the news for three, four, five = days.

  

In the = main square of Valledoro= speeches could be heard, delivere= d by unexpected orators, mainly by those people who used to be put away every t= ime it was feared they could cause embarrassment when fascist rallies or cerem= onies were due to take place. All this Gio' watched and listened to as he walked= out on the 26th. He had promised Giovanna he would keep well away from the cro= wd and from the fanatics. She sensed, better than him, how dangerous could be= to fall target of the incensed masses, but he just listened, kept quiet as he= went on smoking his pipe.

  

Some me= n went out still wearing the "distintivo" on their lapel and their forgetfu= lness cost them some beating, to say the least. It had not occurred to them they could be in trouble, not having taken seriously that it was really the end= of an era and that it would be dangerous to be caught still wearing one. Gio'= had been wise, but, as matter of fact it was Giovanna who called him back as h= e was leaving the house.

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"T= ake it off, you cannot go out wearing it", she had shouted.

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He had = not thought about it, so little its presence on his lapel meant to him. "Give it = to me", Giovanna said, "I will get rid of it together with mine&quo= t;.

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It amus= ed him to realise how quickly she changed her tune when fearing danger. It was the w= isest thing anybody with a bit of sense could do, to get rid from their houses o= f any vestige of Fascism, uniforms, cards, photographs, anything that could be c= ompromising if anybody came to look. Many fires went on burning on that hot July day! = In the town, no violent scenes took place, only some nasty and some rather co= mic episodes. The nasty ones were against previous notorious zealous fascists = when the once called "subversive" tried to enter their houses by forc= e, terrorising families, and some looting incidents were recorded.

  

Fascist= insignia were destroyed, people were beaten up. Souvenirs of the past era were snat= ched, burned, punches flew, but nothing more violent. This was due more to the f= act that "i gerarchi" and the people who had been prominent in the p= ublic eye had enough time to disappear from the scene early that day, than to the disposition of the crowd.

  

Gio' wi= tnessed some comic episodes like when one of the improvised orators, shouting abus= e, half exhausted at the end of his speech, forgot what the occasion was and = he saluted the crowd with a last shout of "Viva il Re", while in his enthusiasm lifted his right arm in the fascist salute!

  

A very = short man pushed through the crowd, holding a ladder which he placed underneath one = of the stone Fascio Littorio on the facade of the town hall. He climbed the l= adder holding in one hand a very heavy pick axe. When he got to the top he found= that he was too short and the axe too heavy to unable him to give a good blow to knock down the object, so, in an heroic effort, decided to hold the axe wi= th both hands while stretching his pint size build to the extreme, with the r= esult that he fell backward on top of the friends who were inciting him and the weight of the axe sent one of the most fanatic of them to the hospital!

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Ladders= were put up everywhere there were some fascist symbols on  walls, to knock them down, on pub= lic buildings, but some were made of very strong stuff and would not budge. A = few could not be burned even after litres of spirit was poured on them, spirit looted from the nearest chemist shop.

  

The doo= rs of the local jails were opened to the political prisoners held there and the local newspaper, banned by the fascist regime, soon got busy to put down in blac= k and white all the anti fascist thoughts that had remained suppressed and forbi= dden until then. Some people were so confused they thought the war was over, but some strange happenings and contrasting news came to light: on one side th= ere was the joy of the multitude, hurrying to wipe out fascism, its slogans, i= ts emblems, its writings on walls, on the other side discordant voices were arriving. The national newspaper confirmed that war was still on, but ther= e was such confusion that late the same day about thirty people in town were arr= ested again, some being the same people who in the morning had knocked down the symbols of fascism. All Italy= was rocking between anti fascist = duties and the "believe, obey, fight", of  fascism. From the Head of the pro= vince, orders then started coming to remove all phrases, writings, related to fas= cism from all public places. By then they had gone already. <= /p>

  

The nat= ional press, until then repressed and unable to report any criticism of the pers= onal life of the nation's leaders, went to town, giving the unsuspecting public= at large all the details of Mussolini's private life, his escapades, his mistresses, the latest being the famous Claretta Petacci whose profile had= been struck for prosperity to admire on the current 20 cents coin. Further and further fell the admiration of the ones who still might have any doubt of = the Duce's character, the few who still believed in the caring family man, an example to be followed blindly by the Italian youth. After a very short ti= me from Mussolini's downfall it was difficult to encounter anybody who would = admit of having been a fascist at heart. Where were now all the devoted follower= s?

  

In Vall= edoro signs of street names were removed, so "Via Balilla, Via 28 Ottobre", = and many others disappeared, ready to be given different names. Unfortunately,= by the hand of some zealous person, with little knowledge of history, also so= me names of past heroes, who had nothing to do with fascism, were removed as well, adding to the confusion.  It = amused Gio' immensely when one day he heard a schoolboy arguing with an anti fasc= ist, who was tearing down a street name. He had removed the name of a member of= one of the oldest families in town, from medieval time! He had a good laugh wi= th Giovanna, who knew the boy in question.

   

For eve= rybody who was hoping in freedom and a quick end of the war, things went very differe= ntly.

   

The hur= ricane force struck Italy= on September 8th 19= 43 and it came as what one could call "armistice hurricane". That was the day the Italian government finally surrendered to the= Allied forces, announcing to the people that an armistice had been signed and war= was over. The Italian troops wherever they might be, were to stop fighting the Allies, surrender their arms and cooperate with the former enemy. 

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The All= ied troops were pressing their way through Italy, but what about the Germans? On S= eptember 8th, as the Italians were rejoicing in the thought of peace, their tanks w= ere thundering through Italy's main roads, taking command of every town and village, occupying every strategic and non strategic position, taking pris= oners any soldier or civilian they found on their way, and trains packed with the unfortunate ones, huddled as cattle, travelled to

Germany through the Brenner pass, where Italian women and train dr= ivers would smuggle to them some food.

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Italian= engine drivers saw this daily pitiful event.&nbs= p; For the sake of their own lives and families they could do nothing,= but obey and drive. To give part of the small amount of food they had to the compatriots in German hands, was the only gesture they could make, helping= at least to keep them alive. Many of these poor devils were never heard of ag= ain, as they perished in some health farms Nazi style, establishments by the na= me of Dacau, Aushwitz, Belsen and so on.  The Germans were trying to occupy= as much of the Italian soil as they could before the Allies did. From being t= he Italians "allies", they overnight became the enemies, -  bitter, cruel enemies.

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As this= was happening, four days later, on September 12th 1943, a dashing parachute German offic= er, by the name of Otto Scorzeny, in a daredevil deed, dropped at the summit of t= he Gran Sasso, where Mussolini was a prisoner, and freed him, whisking him aw= ay from under his jailers nose, by helicopter.  The operation had been so swift, = that the guards did not even have time to react and at Hitler's command, Mussol= ini was taken to Northern Italy, where, in the town of Salo' on lake Garda, he formed a new government, the government of the Salo' Republic.

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The mem= bers of the Italian armed forces that stayed with the Fascist <= span lang=3DEN-GB style=3D'font-size:14.0pt'>government, now adopted the fascist u= niform and became "Republican Italians of Mussolini". The population was between two fires.

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"G= ive yourselves up to the German Army and collaborate with them in the fight ag= ainst the Allied troops", was blasted by the Salo' radio.=

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[PHOTOGRAPH

 

NA 18320

While t= he other side was urging the people to do the opposite:   soldiers should  give up their arms to the Allied = forces and the population should collaborate with the Allies. Prisoners of war we= re freed, members of the disbanded Italian forces did not know where to go: s= ome were trying to reach their families, while others were heading South to ge= t to the part of Italy= occupied by the British and Ameri= cans.

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Through= small villages, through mountain roads, scores of young men were dodging the Ger= mans, helped by the population, who took them along shortcuts, giving them the s= afest directions, happily sharing their meagre rations, supplying them with civi= lian clothes, so they could discard their uniforms, while the panzer divisionen= , the German infantry, the S. S. the Africa Corp, or what was left of it, were pushing down their jackboots to squash the former friends.

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By now = Gio' had made up his mind, he would not hide his true feelings any more. He felt th= is was the beginning of an era that would bring freedom to people, freedom of speech, action, thoughts.

When so= me British prisoners of war, escaped from their camp, went through Valledoro, he was = more than happy to give them directions in their language and to see the surpri= se and pleasure that sound brought to their faces, gave Gio' back his self respect. It was great to feel useful and he was thankful for the chance. <= o:p>

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In a ve= ry short time the German soldier, in the eyes of the majority of the Italian people, changed form a human being of a sort, into a brute, cruel individual void = of any feelings. It seems that the armistice had been signed on September 3rd= , and made public on the 8th, thus giving 5 days in which the Germans dug their = heels in the Italian soil. Whatever the cause, the Allied Troops could not occup= y Italy in time, as it should have happen= ed under the terms of the armistice.

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For the= Italians left under the Germans began the worst time they had experienced in the wh= ole of the war. They had an enemy amongst themselves, they were repeatedly bom= bed by the Allied Forces who were fighting the Germans, they were governed by the reassembled fascists representing the Salo' Republic.

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The sch= ools did not open in the Autumn of 1943. After the armistice, nobody knew what to expect, Italy= was a battlefield and Valledoro w= as not far away from the war front. As war drew nearer and nearer, families in ev= ery town had to make arrangements as to what steps to take for their survival.= Gio' and Giovanna talked with their friends on what was best to do. Gio's job h= ad more or less packed up and slowly died of a natural death, caused by the l= ack of goods moving anywhere. No more transit on the railway as the lines were subjected to daily bombardments, although the station building was still standing.

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It was = a beautiful Autumn, the countryside was at its best, but civilians did not dare to move about for fear of being machine gunned even along the roads. Usually there= was no alarm sounded, no time for anybody to escape and nowhere to escape eith= er. The swift light planes, by such names as "mosquitoes, spitfires", were as fast as their names imply. They suddenly swooped down from the cre= st of the higher mountains and in a flash they were on top of you, spraying their lethal cargo of confetti. 

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Where c= ould people go?

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Away fr= om roads, railways, places of any importance so the villages at the foot of the Appennines, the isolated farmhouses in forsaken places were the aim of everybody. People who owned farms or country houses moved their families t= here, the rest turned to any friends who might help to find a place. The country= folk were marvellous, they took any number of people, sharing with them even th= eir food. Irene had the school house where she taught and decided to take her family there, while Giovanna and Gio' had "The Mill', where his mothe= r was still living and  the house w= as large enough for them all. The two families would be reasonably near to ea= ch other for the occasional visit and for any assistance they might exchange.=

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They we= re all ready to go but they decided to hang on a little longer.

On thei= r Thursdays trips to town from the village, in the early years of their married life, = the Perotti had befriended the Rosati, proprietors of the main shops for cloth= ing, one of the most important commercial business in Valledoro. The owner of t= he main shop, the younger of  two brothers, called Stelvio, lived with his mother and the other, Alfonso, ma= naged another shop with his wife.  = The families had been good friends for some years, their friendship cemented w= ith occasional lunches in town and at Montello. At the beginning of the war St= elvio had married a girl who was an assistant in his shop, Elena. By the time it= came to close the shops and to evacuate their houses, Elena and Stelvio had two children, a two year old boy and a two month old baby, another boy. <= /o:p>

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As at t= he Mill there were other unoccupied buildings, Gio' and Giovanna thought of offeri= ng them to the Rosati families, who accepted readily as they had no other pla= ns of where to go. In a very short time some workmen made the dwellings habitabl= e and they all moved to the Mill, together with the main bulk of the goods from = the shops that were housed in some of the barns.

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The fly= ing fortresses became a familiar sight, a strange, beautiful sight, one could = say, had it not been for what they were bringing. They resembled flocks of migr= ating birds, so majestic in their orderly flight. Often Gio' with his children w= ould look up, counting how many they would see in a day. It had become a game o= f who spotted the biggest number.

 

 By the way things looked it would = not be long before that part of the country would be occupied, but the snow came = early that Winter and the Allied front got stuck on the South side of Monte Cass= ino, with little hope for the people of Valledoro.

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Most of= the people in town, including the Perotti, were just about to abandon their houses fo= r the safety of the countryside, when, on a sunny Sunday morning, at about one o'clock, as the housewives were ready to dish out the best meal of the wee= k, the squadron of flying fortresses, with their drowning noise, brought all = the people outside, at the same time as the sirens gave their mournful reminder that everybody on their path was in danger.

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"I= wonder where they are going to day", was usually the question people asked e= ach other, trying to guess, but there was no time for a guess this time. Gio' = just managed to shout to Giovanna and the children to throw themselves on the ground. The bombs were shaking the earth, the black smoke and the smell wa= s all around. Whole families, whole buildings, the station and its surroundings = were wiped out, Valledoro, after this raid did not look a fit place to stay any longer.

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PHOTOGRAPH

Fabriano Station cut in half<= /p>

 

page from resistance book

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Old Car= ina the mare came out of retirement, her last task being to transfer most of the Perotti's belongings to the Mill and help their friends too. The next few = days the country roads leading from Valledoro to the villages near the mountains were as busy as they had never been before: cart after cart loaded with furniture, trunks, people, going to their temporary homes, some glad to ha= ve somewhere to go, others in the hope of finding a safe place until war would end, sad at the thought that not all of them might be lucky enough to surv= ive the uncertainties of the conflict and would never see their houses again. =

 

In the = town of Valledoro, now only the German troops could be seen, only military uniform= s: the German ones and the ones of the small fascist group that was there to = show that Italy still belonged to them, while, in fact, the Germans dictated the next move.

 

The onl= y other living creature still in town were the nuns, "Le Cappuccine", who lived in a convent just behind Gio's house. They did not want to move and = for once the Germans had respected their wish, as long as they stayed within t= he walls of their convent. Their life went on as usual, the bombs did not aff= ect them, as they went on ringing their prayer bell at every hour day and nigh= t. They lived on what food they had and with the produce from their garden. T= heir vows forbid that they should go out for any reason at all.

 

This wa= s the time when Giovanna  felt guilty, t= hinking of the beginning of the war when "Patria, Duce, Re", motherland, Mussolini, King, were the words, guilty of all the speeches she had made i= n the name of Fascism, remembering all she had believed in.

 

The Per= otti family settled in their hideout, as for them it was like a home from home, being = in such familiar surroundings and their knowledge of the place and of the inhabitants helped the other families too.

 

They we= re away from the beaten track, away from the main roads, but soon it became general knowledge where one family or another was, so it was no secret that the ow= ners of the main shops in town were at the Mill with the Perotti. People came e= ven to try to buy goods there, which the brothers always refused as it was not= their idea to start any business then and they preferred that it should not be k= nown they had moved their stock of merchandise there.

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The hig= h peaks of this part of the Appennines, extending their rocky tracks down near to the= old town gates, give a picturesque and artistic aspect to the plain between the main and the secondary chain of the mountains, a sort of bowl, where the t= own of Valledoro stands.

 

The Ger= mans had taken under their command the villages dotted all around, on top of hills = and in the valleys, right up to the mountainside, in the hope that, helped by = the natural structure of the land, they would be able to oppose some resistanc= e to the Allied armies coming from the South.&= nbsp;

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All the= houses in Valledoro were occupied by the German troops and the owners had forbidden = any access to them. The Allied forces were on positions on the Garigliano rive= r, waiting for the Spring, to great disappointment of the population that had hoped for a quick advance. A longer German occupation meant miseries, more bombs, hunger for the civilians, while the "rastrellamenti" by t= he Germans, the raking of the countryside, became almost a daily event. Gio' = was often on demand when there was any British soldier trying to reach the All= ied lines. He had never openly given away his knowledge of the English languag= e, but it had been enough to do it once and the word had spread like fire. Somehow, the clandestine armed forces, led by Italian officers, together w= ith local partisans, soon acquired detailed information about everything and everybody. It was a hush hush service that Gio' was giving, but spies were everywhere as it happens in these circumstances.

 

It was = clear that the events that were to happen on June12th 1944 were premeditated instances where the services of spies came to the foreground, in this case the servi= ces of a particular spy, well known to the victims. More and more people took = to the mountains, to the woods, swelling the ranks of the partisans. Notices = were going up on the town and village walls ordering the youth to come forward = to serve by the side of the Germans, orders that did not meet any success, although the Salo' radio made every effort to publicly and encourage the friendship between the two nations at arms accompanying the broadcasts with popular songs, like "camerata Rikard", drummed into the listeners ears at any possible occasion.

 

Many re= sistance groups were born, that were given the names of the men in charge of them, = like Captain Remo, Lieutenant Emilio, who were either people with an anti fasci= st and communist record, or officers in the Italian Regular Army, often parac= huted down by the incoming forces. Other groups took the names from heroes of It= alian history, like Garibaldi, Mazzini.

 

A net of messengers was soon established, to take orders, to exchange plans, to arr= ange meetings. News and directions were given daily by coded messages from Radio London, very intriguing messages, like "il mare e' blu", the sea= is blue, "il lupo e' nella tana", the wolf is in its lair, and so o= n. Parachute dropping of men and arms occurred most of the nights.

 

This st= ate of events went on until the Summer 1944, meanwhile so much happened to the pe= ople left in the town and in the many villages that made up the Community of Valledoro.


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CHAPTER  = 12

 

 

1944. In the shadow of "The Witch"

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Now tha= t Valledoro was on the front line, occupied completely by the Germans, all the populat= ion had found alternative accommodation in the surrounding countryside. It was= the beginning of January, the snow was thick on the ground, the Allied front s= tuck on their positions taken during the previous Autumn, from where it was cle= ar it would not start to move forward until the Spring.

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The peo= ple, refugees in the villages, were living a very hard life: food was short, no= where to buy anything, they had to rely on the goodness of the peasants to get s= ome poultry, flour for bread, vegetables, etc. Polenta had become the staple d= iet also of the city folk.

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While s= nowbound, "The Mill" was relatively safe from the feared raids of the Germ= ans and of the Fascists, the latter being interested in catching black markete= ers and some of the young people who were ducking their military service, wait= ing for the Allies to arrive. 

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The you= ngsters born in the year 1925 were the main target, because hardly any of them had presented themselves when their drafting orders had arrived.  All managed not to be there when = the Carabinieri had called with the notice.

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A very = good alarm service had been set up, that alerted them any time there was danger of be= ing caught, when the young male population reversed up the mountains, hiding f= or hours, sometimes for days in the woods.

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La Stre= ga, The Witch, and other mountains around it, were the friends who would give them refuge in hours of panic and need.

Februar= y came with Shrove Tuesday, or Carnival day, when some  families decided to spend it  reunited with friends, hoping for better future carnivals to come. =

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THE MILL

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Giovann= a, Gio' and the children, together with other friends, went to spend the day at Irene's schoolhouse, where the family had occupied the teacher's quarters and the classroom . Some of her relatives were there too.  The big house was full to the bri= m.

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The own= er, Alessandro, had it built in the twenties when he had comeback after spendi= ng many years in the U. S. A. He had worked as a barman in California, saving hard to make  enough to erect this very big hom= e for his wife and  his children.  Now his house was the best in the= village of Poggio, the only one with a toilet, but = still without running water inside; it had its own fountain just outside, near t= he front door.

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Alessan= dro was so proud of it, that when the Council was looking for newer premises where to= move the school from the very primitive accommodation that had been Giovanna's = first post, he had offered some of the rooms to be used as school and as an apar= tment for the teacher.

 

Now Ale= ssandro had been so generous to put up many people from town. Under his roof came most= ly professional people: the teacher and her family, the Primary school inspec= tor and his wife, a chemist with his family, a couple of University students escaping conscription, a conglomeration of persons of different ages, professions, who nevertheless got on very well together. Alessandro and his family enjoyed such company showing off their friendship. They were very hospitable and their table was forever set for more persons than the numbe= r of his household.

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He was particularly pleased that the Perotti were coming for a visit as he had a = soft spot for Gio', because of his American connection. He regarded themselves alike, in some way, as real connoisseurs of the lands over the ocean, a privilege they did not share with anybody else. What pleased Gio' was that Alessandro never tried to have a conversation in English, as he could hard= ly remember the language at all. 

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That Tu= esday morning the women, putting together their resources, started early to get = busy with the cooking, lighting the oven, which was situated in an outbuilding, making fresh bread, a good amount of home made pasta, some roast poultry, ending with a generous amount of "castagnole", to mark the day w= ith this typical carnival dish. Some of the people present, were miserable, li= ving in  uncomfortable conditions,= not knowing what would happen from one day to the next, fearing that for some = of them that would probably be the last Carnival day on earth. "Survival" was the order of the day, nobody was concerned with anything else any more .  Whi= le the preparations were going on, the guests had a chance of chatting about the situation, about  the prospec= t of a long wait for the Allied troops to arrive, about the extreme temperature of that Winter which had given the Italian peninsula the aspect of an Artic country.

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Extensi= ve areas of olive trees had been killed by the icy weather, citrus trees had also suff= ered great losses, which would take years to overcome.  In the case of the olives, it wou= ld take twelve years for a new tree to produce fruit, so the prospects were gloomy= and olive oil would be like gold dust for years to come.  Lemons and oranges were already a product not seen in that part of Italy for a long time, because of the l= ack of transport and because most of the citrus plantations were now in the hands of the Al= lied Forces.

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Suddenl= y there was a cry that startled all present. It had come from Betta, a ten year old ni= ece of Alessandro:

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"A= stranger is coming!"  she was sho= uting at the top of her voice, running in the house from the pig sty where she s= pent most of her time, keeping company to the pigs.

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Everybo= dy converged to the side of the house which looked towards the road from town, which was covered by a great amount of snow.  It seemed impossible that anybody= would approach the village in those conditions.=   A lonely figure was coming up, with great difficulty, lifting his l= egs wearily through the snow.  It= looked like a man, wearing a long coat, a scarf around his neck, which in fact tu= rned out to be a balaclava.  He lo= oked worn out or perhaps ill, dragging his feet, shoulders curved, helping his = step with a stick.  Who could he b= e? Nobody could give a name to him. A spy? Better be prepared for the worst, = the occupants of the house thought.  As he came nearer they realised that it could not be a spy, the poor devil co= uld hardly stand up, he  must hav= e had an horrible experience by the way he looked.  They welcomed him in the first ki= tchen nearer to the entrance, which was Irene's kitchen and he slumped in front = of the fire, before saying anything at all.&= nbsp;  He took off his balaclava, showing a mass of unkempt hair, a long b= eard, an emaciated face, sunken eyes of somebody near the grave. He looked aroun= d to the people present, as to find a face that he knew, but nobody seemed to k= now him.

 

He look= ed perplexed, he was waiting for some reaction as to say: "Why don't you= say something?" A few seconds passed, in silence, which was suddenly brok= en by one of Irene's children:

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"E= zio Pietro!"

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"By Jove"  joined in Gio', &= quot;so he is ".

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He was = Francesco's brother, the one everybody had mourned as missing on the Russian front, fr= om where hardly anybody had come back.

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Last ti= me the family had received any news of him he was on the banks of the river Don, = still in good spirit, fighting side by side with the Germans on the Eastern front.  He was the shadow of = the ebullient young man who, on the spur of the moment, three years earlier, h= ad volunteered to join the C. S. I. R. (Corpo Spedizione Italiana in <= st1:country-region>Russia). Just to show off to his girl fr= iend, he had chosen to go when in fact he had been exonerated from military duties because he worked in an establishment of military nature.

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How man= y times he must have regretted his decision, was any body's guess, when he told of his adventures, trying to survive the sub zero temperature of the Russian Wint= er, short of warm clothes, no matter how many parcels the family had sent him = with garments knitted by his sisters.  Woollen vests, socks, hardly anything had got there. The food in the Italian Army was also of poor quality and quantity, the moral of the troops very low.

Pietro = had been a "pontiere", an engineer, a bridge maker, during his military ser= vice and he used to show his photographs of the beautiful bridges across the al= pine rivers built by his Regiment, using boats.

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Maybe t= hey had hoped to build bridges on the river Don as they advanced into Russia, but those hopes had been crushed= by the Russian counter-attack, in January 1943, when the front had collapsed under enemy pressure and there had been no more news of zio Pietro. <= /span>

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He had = been posted as "missing" and like many others, there had been no news to the families.  How did he manage = to get home? When the front had collapsed, it was "everyone for himself"= ;, when he ran, ran, like a hunted animal, the alternative being either being trampled on by the advancing Russians or shot by the Germans. 

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Evident= ly the Italians in the retreat lost most of their vehicles and the Germans left t= hem to their Fate, going as far as shooting anybody who tried to hitch a lift = from them or chopping off the hands of desperate soldiers who held on the back = of their trucks. The "friendly Huns" were showing once again their = real nature.

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Pietro = had been lucky enough to get a lift from one of the few Italian vehicles left, but = on their way West there was an accident and he was left on his own.

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They we= re all trying to get to a place where the Regiment was to be reassembled again, or what was left of it.  Pietro = never got there. He kept going West, always West, that he knew. He was lost in a= vast unknown expanse, so, like a homing animal, feeding on anything he could fi= nd and sleeping rough, on he went.

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On his = long trek he found people who spoke some Italian, some who helped him, told him the = news, of Mussolini's downfall, of the Armistice. He crossed Yougoslavia, helped = by the partisans, hoping to get home avoiding the Germans and the fascists, o= r he would have ended in a concentration camp in Germany.=   He never travelled on open roads, living out of the kindness of the people he met, taking just over a year to get to Valledoro. He had lived w= ith his sisters, but when he got near the house, he saw it was occupied by Ger= man troops and so was every other house of relatives and friends. <= /span>

 

First h= e feared that his people might have died in some bombardament, then he met a poor d= evil living in a sort of shed, who had not wanted to leave his chickens and pig= so he had stayed in the outskirts of the town.   He told Pietro that most of= the population was now in the villages at the foot of the Appennines. "The school house", thought Pietro, and he was right.  What a relief to find them all th= ere. He too, became a member of Alessandro's community. An extra bed was made up i= n the classroom, a welcome change to all his rough sleeping.  He stayed until his health, his w= eight, his looks improved enough for him to be on his way.  He had accumulated such a hate fo= r the Germans, so vivid was the memory of what they had done to some of his Army friends, that as soon as he felt fit he joined a group of partisans becomi= ng an invaluable "go between" as he knew the mountains and the country= side like the back of his hands.

  

Gio' an= d the families at the Mill felt very lucky to be able to get most of their food = from Montello, from his farm, but there were items, like milk which was very ra= rely obtainable. To get one litre of the precious liquid, it meant a walk of few miles, to some isolated farm where they had a newly born calf.  Irene and her family had acquired= a goat, which now was giving milk in abundance, so Gio' thought he could do = the same and share the milk with Stelvio's family who needed it for the childr= en.

  

After p= assing the word through Francesco who knew lots of the farmers, Gio' managed to becom= e the owner of a beautiful animal who had given birth to three kids only a few w= eeks earlier.  Now the kids had be= en weaned, so they could milk the goat for months ahead. The farmer brought t= he animal, to which Carla gave the name of&n= bsp; "Catilina". She was studying latin, reluctantly preparing= her next exams, whenever that might be, and thought the name fitted the disagreeable quadruped, even if it did not fit its sex. =

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The joy= of having milk at will, for the family and friends, was soon dampened when Gio' real= ised that getting milk from an obstinate goat was not at all easy. Catilina's h= orns were pointed and hard and her hooves could make an easy target of Gio's sh= ins, while they kicked the bucket spilling its content more often than one was prepared for. Giovanna, too, tried, but for a while nobody managed to get = even near Catilina, until somebody, an expert peasant, gave Gio' some tips. 

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Catilin= a had to be tied to a post, with her horns in a position from where she could not move, then another person had to get hold of the goat's back legs while the milk= maid, in this case Gio', went on squeezing her udders. This worked like magic and soon the goat calmed herself down to the point that she would not kick any= more realising that it was a service advantageous to her well being. Neverthele= ss the horns had to be kept tied for the whole of the time she was milked.

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So now = Gio' had another chore every day, because apart from milking her, he had to take he= r out to eat. He took her to a new place every time, tying her to some bushes wh= ich she soon demolished. It was just the answer for clearing the thick growth around the houses which would have required a few hands and many hours of = work to cut down. Carla tried to take Catilina out once, but she had to give up after shouting for help. As the goat came to realise that at the end of the long rope she was not held by Gio's firm hand, she had pulled the poor girl along into a bank of stinging nettles

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Wheneve= r possible, Gio spent hours listening to the radio instructions for the clandestine ar= my, coded messages that to the public at large came as meaningless phrases. Al= most every night there would be a drop of arms and often people, somewhere in t= he German occupied territory where the partisans where active. The message that Gio = was waiting for, was "Il cielo e' azzurro", the sky is blue. That me= ant that they should get ready to receive help from the sky, that night or as = soon as it was safe, if difficulties cropped up in the meantime.

 

When el= ectricity was cut due to bombardments of the zone, he tuned  on to a battery radio which he had managed to rig out in a shed, at the back of a chicken coop, out of any bo= dy's sight or knowledge.

 

He had = acquired the battery, of German make, in strange circumstances, when one day some youngsters from the village came to offer it if it should be of any use to= the cause. They were so proud of their acquisition, disregarding the danger involved in their act, and the consequences if found with a battery from a German truck in their hands.  Gio' took the battery saying he would dispose of it, pretending it was of no va= lue to anybody. The boys would not have been able to keep the news of the find= ing for themselves, but Gio' knew that it was a very valuable piece of equipme= nt in his hands.

 

The boy= s, about thirteen years of age, had seen two

Germans= , in a country road, trying to repair a truck, which had broken down. They hid and watched from behind bushes, while the Germans, profusely sweating under the scorching sun, swearing away, were trying to start the vehicle. "Kaput", was the only word which the boys understood. Soon the Germans got fed up, shook their heads and started walking, machine gun at = the ready for any surprise, leaving the truck on the spot. As they disappeared, over the brow of the hill, quick as lightning, the boys descended on the t= ruck, relieved it of the battery, which was the one thing they thought it might = be useful, hoping it would not be the item that was "kaput". As mat= ter of fact, Gio found it in very good order and it came useful  so many times, now that the bombs= were depriving them of electricity so often.  

 

Finally= the magical words arrived and " the sky was blue".

 

That pa= rticular night there was a full moon. Visibility was very good and as soon as darkn= ess fell the droning noise of the aeroplanes filled the air. Here and there li= ttle lights appeared. The planes were flying so low, you could see their shadow gliding across the fields, then the magical moment came, when suddenly the great umbrellas, dancing gracefully in the air, like petals falling in the breeze, slowly came down to their place of rest, on trees on bushes. Then a great rushing of men, some quickly getting hold of parachutes, hurrying to= fold and hide them, others helping the men who had come from the sky, to get ri= d of their harnesses and run for cover. One never knew when and if the Germans = were aware of the drop.

 

Now it = was imperative that the three men should be taken to safety, up the hill, towa= rds a cave that would be their quarter for the next few days, until one could be= sure the news of their arrival had not reached foreign ears.<= /p>

 

Two of = the officers who had been dropped to co-ordinate the work of the clandestine a= rmy, were from the Italian army; Stefano Serra, dark, not very tall, came from Sardinia, while the other, Franco Davich, was a typical example of a tall, lanky, blonde Venetian. The third was a British officer, born in London, of Italian parents. <= /span>

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Angelo = Rizzo spoke perfect Italian, with just a hint of a Neapolitan accent. He liked to spea= k in English with Gio to whom he confided some of his feelings in finding himse= lf fighting in the country where his grandparents had originally come from. E= ventually they had gone back to Italy= , to Ravello, on the Amalfi rivier= a, where his grandmother still lived. After his landing at Salerno, as the war front advanced, Angel= o had been able of taking a trip to Ravello in a jeep, just for a few hours.

 

He soon= found the house, knocked at the grandmother's door. The old lady that came to answer= was startled to find an Allied officer on her doorstep, who was calling her by name. She feared some terrible happening. Who was he? She had never met her grandson and the photographs she had of him, did not come to her mind.

 

"N= onna!", cried Angelo, and they were in each others arms. That was the greatest joy= she had for years, perhaps in all her life. She had to show him to her friends= , to her neighbours. In no time the whole of Ravello knew that the grandson of Filomena Rizzo was one of the young men who had come, not only  to get the Italians out of their troubles, but this particular town.  And he was an officer too, which&n= bsp; made him a greater hero in the eyes of the community, giving him and nonna Filomena a place of importance amongst the people of Ravello, headed= by the "Sindaco", the Mayor.

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The nig= ht of their arrival, Giovanna had prepared a good meal, which Gio carried to a spot hi= gh up where for miles around they could be aware of any danger coming their way.= They all enjoyed the night picnic, under the moonlight, with a serenade of welc= ome provided by the cicadas, looking forward to future achievements, now that = they had good news from the other side, the news that the Allied forces would p= ush the Germans without respite.

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Of the = three officers dropped that night, only two made it to the day of liberation. The British and the Sardinian had moved further afield, to work with other par= tisan groups while the Venetian remained with the group in the region of the village of Montello<= /st1:place>.

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Franco = had been careless. Nobody really knew why one day he went walking towards the villa= ge, unarmed, when he met with an unexpected German patrol. As he panicked and = run, he was shot instantly. Some people said he was going to meet a girl, but n= obody knew for certain. The only good thing was that the Germans probably took h= im for one of the young people avoiding conscription in the Italian Army.

They fi= red all around, searched, but found nothing and no other person involved in the incident, so there were no reprisals, but tongues wagged. Was Leonora the = girl he was supposed to meet?

Leonora= was an evacuee that, with her family, lived now in the school house that once had= been Gio's and Giovanna's home. The house still belonged to Giovanna and her fa= mily, as she was still the village teacher, but as they now were at The Mill, ot= her families from town could use it, although Gio kept an eye on things there.

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The inc= ident where Franco found his death, had shaken the partisan trust in some of the villa= gers. Had  really been a coincidenc= e that the German patrol had come so swiftly, from a small side track, even befor= e anybody realised they were there?

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Was the= girl to be trusted? Gio knew the family well. Leonora's mother was a teacher, a frien= d of Giovanna's, but in these occasions it is usually  better to be ready than sorry. He= would keep his eyes open.

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Just wh= en everything was calm again, people were putting aside in their mind the dea= th of Franco.  He was buried in the= local cemetery, in an unmarked tomb, for the time being. Another episode came to shake the nerves already frayed by so many deaths, incursions, and incessa= nt bombing.

 

Alarm! = Three cars were coming up the hill towards the village. Quickly all followed the rout= ine; the men went to their hideout, the women pretended to get on with their ch= ores, everybody tried to be calm. They were not the usual German armoured trucks= that all had feared so many times, but military cars, flying the flag  of Mussolini's Republic of Salo'.= (The Republic Mussolini had declared, on Lake Garda)

 

Nobody = had seen any vehicle like these before. Salo' was so far away . Why would they come= to this village? The partisans were alerted, but they would keep in the background. They would not attack them unless provoked. Three cars, which looked like one car with a V. I. P. , preceded and followed by two military vehicles armed to the teeth, as an escort, made for the school house, with= out hesitation.

Gio was= nearby . He approached the strangers as they alighted from the cars. From  the V. I. P.  car two men got out: a Navy Capta= in and an officer of the Italian Air Force. Escorted by soldiers holding machine = guns, they asked :

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"W= e are looking for Leonora Stazi".

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Gio let= them in and directed them to the kitchen, where Leonora and her mother were prepar= ing the evening meal. She recognised the two, who shook hands with her and her mother. Surprise, or better, shock was in the two women's' faces at seeing= the two men. The shock from Leonora's part, was at seeing two people, whom she= had thought had been her friends, now open enemies, still belonging to the def= unct Regime, hiding behind a machine gun. What could they possibly want? And ho= w had they found her?

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This wa= s a question they did not answer and it remained always a mystery. The Air For= ce Officer was the husband of a student friend of Leonora's, the Navy Captain= was the brother of the same girl, called Silva.

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The las= t time Leonora had seen the husband, Nino, had been in Rome, the previous year, when Leonora = had stayed for a few days at her friend's house and then she had met for the f= irst time her brother, Mario, who was on a short visit to Rome from his post in Trieste. It was just before the fall of M= ussolini. The family came from  Arbe (R= ab), one of the yougoslav islands of the Quarnero that Italy had acquired after the first worl= d war. Mario's father was a dedicated Fascist, one of those who were entitled to = wear the "Sciarpa Littorio", (scarf Littorio), an honour conceded onl= y to Mussolini's first followers. As matter of fact, in a typical Italian way, = so many bought that particular scarf in later years, swelling the ranks of the privileged to such a number that Mussolini himself could not have hoped in= his wildest dreams.

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Pietro = Marini, Silva's father, had been made  Governor of the island by Mussolini, appointment seconded by Genera= le Gabriele D'Annunzio who was responsible for taking the islands in a darede= vil raid, on command of a fleet of M. A. S. (Submarines)

Life ha= d been good for the Marini family. They lived in a palace, an old Moorish construction, renovated with all the mod. cons. , servants, boats, at their disposal. The Italian Navy had a quarter there.

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Mario w= as posted there and the future was rosy for the young Navy Cadet. His career was rap= id. In no time he was a Captain, in charge of a ship, but even so he never had= to leave the = Adriatic.

The boa= ts of the regular crossing from Trieste and <= span lang=3DEN-GB style=3D'font-size:14.0pt'>Venice to the islands always had the best accommodation reserved for the Governor and his family. The Summer parties= on Arbe's beach were renown throughout the high society and friends of the two children of the Governor, Silva and Mario, could always expect extraordina= ry entertainment.

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It had = been an exiting encounter for Leonora, when, through another student, she was introduced to Silva and they became friends. They were studying the same subjects, although Silva was about ten years older and already married. It= had been a whirlwind romance, when she met a good looking Sardinian, an Air Fo= rce pilot, who had swept her off her feet. Disregarding her father's disapprov= al, Silva had married her penniless "Nino".

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Disillu= sion was not far away. No children came, hence her going back to University. Father= 's warnings were found to be true. Nino loved her money much more than her! He regarded his wife just like a good life companion and she was too proud to admit even to herself that something in their union was amiss. =

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Life we= nt on without any worry for the Marini family, the beginning of war did not chan= ge anything. No bombs, no shortages on the magical island. Mario was with his= ship always on the Northen part of the Adriatic, Silva was in Rome and Nino had a cushy job at Ciamp= ino airport, going home every night. They still all met in Arbe for holidays. =

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Leonora= recalled in her mind that last night she had seen them all in Rome. They had argued until the small = hours of the night on what each one of them should do when war came nearer, a thing= that nobody could dispute. They would have to choose between going to Arbe, or = Venice, or accept straight away the inev= itable and wait in Rome for the conquering troops. By the= time Leonora left Silva had decided to go for a visit to her parents in Arbe, t= hen she would make up her mind on what to do. Mario went to <= st1:place>Venice where his family was staying. Nino remained in Rome.

 

As unex= pected as a bolt from the sky, a few days later the Fascist Regime fell and Mussolini = was imprisoned. The governor's household in Arbe was not = at all prepared for what really happened. During the late evening of July 23rd 1943= , the majority of the population of Arbe slav communists, freed the political prisoners from the jails. Slowly, but inexorably they started to demolish = all vestige of Fascism, as it happened in all Italy. Their hate was not only for the = Regime, imposed on them by foreigners, but for the Italians who had taken their is= land and subjugated the native population into servility. Consternation fell on= the big house where Silva with her mother and father and a sister of her mothe= r had just heard the unbelievable news.

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A frien= d came to warn them, the communists would no doubt be on the rampage, making the Governors stay very dangerous. He begged them to leave, by boat. As they w= ere talking the lights failed, the telephone went dead, the servants disappear= ed. There was no time to lose. There was a yacht in the dockyard, at the botto= m of a flight of steps at the end of the garden. Father wanted the three women = to go. He was adamant he would not leave. Mother would not leave him either, = so, with the friend's help, Silva and Zia Enrichetta, quickly prepared the yac= ht, taking some possessions, some food. The boat was always ready for trips, w= ith charts aboard and the necessary instruments. Father asked that they should= take two trunks which he had in the cellar.

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Soon th= ey were ready to sail. Silva had no sailing skills, but luckily aunt Enrichetta wa= s a good sailor, not just because she did not=   suffer sea sickness, but because she knew how to sail a yacht single handed. When Mario was young and had to study for his exams, she had studi= ed together with him, encouraging him to overcome his inborn laziness and hel= ping him to pass for his officer's commission.

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In the = family it was a joke that everybody shared: Zia Enrichetta knows more about charts a= nd sailing than a ship's captain!. Silva had just her courage to push her alo= ng and she was prepared to be a good ship's mate. In the middle of the night,= the two embraced the ones they were leaving behind, crying, at the thought that probably they would not see each other again.

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It was = to be so. The two were taken prisoners, father was summarily executed, mother died in prison soon afterwards.

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Where s= hall we go? That was the question they had been asking each other all along. There was nowhere father thought they would be safe.  All their friends had been Fascists. As a flicker of light that giv= es hope to a stranded pilgrim in a dark night, Silva murmured 

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"L= eonora, that's where we will go."

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Leonora= home was on the Adriatic side of Italy= , but the crossing would have been= long and perhaps dangerous. Still, there was no other place where they knew anybody= who could help them. They kept their course South West, heading for the Marche Region, hoping to get to a lonely spot of the coast and from there to trav= el to Valledoro.

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Fortuna= tely in Summer the Adriatic is usually is reasonably calm and= they only encountered fresh winds which helped a smooth sailing. They took a few days, keeping away from the coast of Italy&= nbsp; until Enrichetta decided it was time to chance finding a place to l= and. They approached Misano, a small fishing village at about a hundred miles N= orth of Ancona, where people would not query the presence of a yacht at holiday time. They furled their sails and moored on the mole usually reserved for fishing vessels and for visitors, but, as it was just dawn, they still had= time before they would be required to fulfil the required docking procedure and produce any document.  <= /o:p>

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There w= as a big building on the hill just above the few houses that made up Misano. They decided on what thought the best thing to do : they left the boat and walk= ed towards the house, where the family was just starting on their daily chore= s.  They were friendly people. Silva = span out a yarn, that the aunt was not feeling very well, so they wanted to cut= down on their sailing and they would be obliged if they could help them to take their belongings to the railway station and put them on a train. The farme= r was delighted when he saw the wad of notes Silva produced for his services. The luggage was loaded on a cart and taken with the passengers to the station.= As they were leaving Silva confided to the farmer that probably they would no= t be back for the boat, so he could have it, if he so wished. She had already disposed of all the documents that could help tracing them.

 

That sa= me evening the two arrived at Valledoro station, where the luggage was taken by Gio a= nd delivered at Leonora's doorstep. When the family saw them arrive they were flabbergasted: Leonora's parents did not know them at all and they did not= want to have two extra people staying in their home, especially at that difficu= lt time. What if somebody found out who they were and where they had come fro= m?

 

Leonora= 's mother managed to find them a boarding place, so they moved out of the house afte= r a few days and later they travelled on to Rome to join Silva's husband. They lef= t only with two small cases asking Leonora to look after the trunks. <= /span>

 

"W= e will get them soon, they are full of clothes, please keep them for us. "<= /o:p>

 

Soon ne= ver came, because of the forthcoming events, which were the Armistice, the continuous bombardments, the flight of the families from Valledoro to safer places ne= ar the mountains.

 

And the= trunks went too.

 

All thi= s came to Leonora's mind as she saw Nino and Mario. What did they want and how had t= hey found her? Why did they still believe in Fascism now that the Allies were = at their door? There was no friendly talk, just:

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"W= e have come for the trunks. You have still got them, haven't you?" Nino asked.

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Leonora= and her mother had forgotten all about the trunks, but they replied "Yes, the= y are in the cellar".

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In no t= ime, the men of the escort went to get them and they loaded them in the cars, but n= ot before Nino and Mario made sure they were still padlocked.

 

"W= e are sorry about you being here", was Nino's patronising remark as they were lea= ving.

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"W= e feel sorry for you, we will be free in no time", retorted the girl. <= /o:p>

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"A= nd",  Leonora added  " I would advise you to hurr= y if you want to get out of here, before the partisans find you."

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Swiftly= , they jumped in their vehicle, with a military salute and they soon disappeared = along the road.

 

Gio was= present to this meeting. The partisans who had stayed in the background, came out, no= t in very good mood, not very much inclined to believe Leonora's story. Could s= he be trusted when she had such friends?

 

Gio kne= w the family well. He could vouch for them with his own life. He remembered the episode of the arrival at Valledoro of Silva and her aunt, and he particul= arly remembered how surprised and annoyed Leonora and her family had been, when= he delivered the luggage, with the two trunks to their door. Gio was sure the= re was nothing suspicious about.

 

Up to t= hat moment Leonora had never thought about the trunks, she always believed they were = just full of old clothes, but now, that two persons in three armed cars had tak= en the trouble of locating and taking them, clearly there was more to it than= one thought.

 

They mu= st have been hiding some treasure, the treasure Silva's father had illegally acqui= red during his years as Governor, gold and riches that he had trusted his daug= hter with, so they would not be found in his possession by the rioters in Arbe.= He must have been one of those Fascists who had amassed bags of gold taken fr= om the people, that should have gone into the State's coffers.

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Who wou= ld have driven half the length of  the Italian peninsula, dodging bombs, partisans, to get to a mountain village = where they could be attacked at any time, just for two trunks of old clothes?

 

Who had= directed them from Valledoro to Montello?

 

Spies w= ere everywhere and at times it was difficult to understand some happenings wit= hout admitting the presence and the work of informants even amongst trusted peo= ple. Often the Germans knew exactly where to look for somebody, sometimes peopl= e who were not guilty of anything, as often the informants were driven by reveng= e, jealousy, greed for rewards.


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CHAPTER &= nbsp; 13

 

 

 

 K= atia

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Some of= the episodes in which victims lost their lives by German retaliation would not= have happened had there not been on scene always a number of informants, spies, traitors. Some of these spies came to be loathed even by the Germans at ti= mes, when, after having used  their services, they would dispose of them. One could not trust anybody, any vis= itor could be an enemy and if you ever had an enemy, revenge could be a most powerful weapon in the hands of an informant. One could usually only guess= the identity of some people not to be trusted, but in Valledoro, one well known spy, one who did not bother to keep her identity a secret, a person who ca= me to be feared by all, lived in the barracks, together with her German lovers a= s she had done before with her fascist lovers.&= nbsp;

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The Ger= mans now were in command, so she found  more rewarding to give her services to them. She was a local girl, who had been= a shop assistant in the main Rosati shop until, following the bombardments o= f the town, the shop had been closed and the assistants made redundant.

 

She was= a girl nobody would notice, plain, from a humble background and a numerous family= , she was a dreamer, her head full of  dreams of adventures and love she enjoyed when reading, or better devouring the cheap novels she took every week out of the public library. = When she lost her job, it had been a big disappointment, while probably she still  hated her bad luck tha= t had not put her in the place of another fellow assistant in the shop, the one = who, a couple of years earlier, had become the boss's wife and, as consequence,= her boss too.

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With an= other girl, she started befriending some fascists; from there to the position she held= now, it had been plain sailing. Now she called herself  Katia, problably one of the heroi= nes from a novel she had read. She was in a position of command, she could do whatever she wanted, she had money, goods that other people could not obta= in, the best food, clothes, and, most of all, she had power, power to frighten others, power of life and death over the ones she disliked, power to make = them suffer, to terrorize them.

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All thi= s gave her a new stature, an enormous satisfaction. She only had to say a few words t= o the Germans whose bed she shared and her will was satisfied. Well known by the German troops, by the fascists and by the victims, she was very pleased wi= th her new life, because, by her own words "She liked adventure". <= o:p>

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More an= d more Germans were gradually conveyed into the zone for the inevitable push by t= he Allied Forces which could come at any time in the Spring. For this reason = the Germans took as a priority task the fight against the clandestine forces. A Lieutenant Kesselring was in command. Katia was present at many of the "rastrellamenti", the raking of the countryside, that always end= ed with the capture of some innocent citizens. She had even learned a few wor= ds of German, which gave her more importance and a little prestige. <= /span>

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On a vi= sit to a farmhouse, Gio' spotted a group of Germans probably directed to some raids nearby. He saw the young girl, wearing a red commando style jacket, a gun = on her belt, could not understand who she was, until he suddenly knew her: he= had seen often enough the nice and polite young assistant when with Giovanna h= e had gone to one of the Rosati shops. He just managed to hide out of sight of t= he group, but back home, he informed the Rosati brothers of his discovery.

 

They we= re surprised, because she came from an honest working family, but the fact di= d not concern them and they dismissed it as something they could not worry about.  Their conscience towa= rds the girl was clear, she could not nurture any ill feeling at being dismissed.<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'>  Everyone in the shop had been dismissed. 

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Katia w= as known to give sweets to the children to get to know the whereabouts of somebody she= was after. She could circulate after curfew hours, knocking at doors with the = butt of her gun, to see if the men were in. With the pointed gun, she wanted to= know where husbands and sons were, if not at home. When a train full of arms was derailed by a resistance group, she changed her way of dressing, adopting a full German uniform and, with a machine gun across her shoulders, she went house by house, to find hostages to hand over to the Nazis.

        = ;      

When sh= e entered the barracks now, the German guard was to present arms to her. She was sup= posed to have had a prominent part in the arrest and murder of a local doctor. <= o:p>

        = ;      

This ne= ws came to Gio' via the partisans who frequented the zone and who were warning the pe= ople to be on the alert, especially Gio', who was always a useful contact with English speaking escaped prisoners of war who were in the district waiting= to join the Allied Forces. Gio' was warned to fear Katia's activities, becaus= e she knew the family well, she was probably aware of Gio's knowledge of the Eng= lish language and she might even know where to find him and  her ex employer.

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It beca= me known that through her deeds two British officers hiding in caves, were caught a= nd shot. The same fate was met by two Polish soldiers. So many were the episo= des that came to the general knowledge where Katia had played her sinister par= t, that it is impossible to pick out any where she might have had no part at = all. She was omnipresent in the district, together with the ex school friend of hers, which she used like a pawn, making her do what she wanted, but who d= id not really have any part in the bloodthirsty deeds that Katia was masterminding. She was only living with the Germans to get good food and clothes.

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After e= very capture Katia had helped in, a party was to follow in the barracks, a nigh= t of orgy with the Germans who at the time valued very highly the services of v= aried nature she provided. Some of the captured partisans, interrogated and tort= ured by the SS with all the persuasive means at their disposal, did not betray = the others, but her insatiable sadism looked always for new victims, she was a= lways on the search of more men to find for the Germans and for the small nucleu= s of republican fascists left in town.

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The par= tisans were very active in the Region, they knew all the people in the villages, who h= elped them as much as they could, by giving food, warm clothing, by taking messa= ges. A young man, the son of Alessandro, called Raffaele, was one of the fearle= ss messengers, forever travelling with his buggy pulled by Bella, the mare. H= e was the same young man that years earlier used to accompany the Perotti on mou= ntain climbs with his mule Romeo.

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One day= he had been to take some arms from one place to another and he stopped at the Mil= l, to say "Hallo" to Gio'. When he travelled, he always had a sack of = grain with him.  If he should be st= opped, he would pretend he was  going t= o some mill to have it ground for flour, to feed all the people in his house. That particular day, he felt he needed a drink. He had just taken a cache of ar= ms to a spot where somebody was waiting to collect them, but while travelling, h= e had met with two Germans on a motorbike, one with a side car, whose engine had conked out. The Germans stopped Raffaele, asking where he was going. Raffa= ele, showing great concern, offered to take one of them to the nearest place wh= ere he could get help, so up climbed one soldier, to sit next to Raffaele, on = the wooden seat of the buggy which was full to the brim with arms for the part= isans!

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When th= ey got to the place where Lieutenant Emilio was waiting, he could not believe what h= is eyes were seeing: a German delivering the arms? Emilio hid to watch Raffae= le go by without looking around, but as he was passing the spot, Raffaele said t= o the German, in a loud voice: "We are getting near now", as a message= to the waiting Emilio. There was in fact a German detachment on the other sid= e of the hill, only a few miles ahead, where the German said "Goodbye"= ; to Raffaele, thanking him profusely.

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When Ra= ffaele came back, after he got rid of his cargo, he felt the sweat pouring from his br= ow. He had not been scared while he was carrying the German soldier, but sudde= nly he felt drained of all his courage.  On his way home, while Bella trotted along, he thought of stopping = to see Gio', whose place was on his way. He felt he had to take a rest. Also = Bella deserved some food so he put her in the stable with old faithful Carina. W= hile they were having a snack, the sound of an approaching engine came to spoil= the peaceful time they were having, as they were laughing their heads off at t= he account of Raffaele's adventure.

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Gio' de= cided Raffaele must hide, in case the Germans had found out anything about him. = He told him to get quickly into a tunnel that ran under the outbuildings and = not to make a sound.

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Fortuna= tely the horse and the buggy had been put away. An armoured truck, with four Germans  stopped outside Gio's house, two of the occupants burst into the kitchen, shouting: <= /span>

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"V= enti secondi, venti uovi!", twenty seconds, twenty eggs.

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Virginia got up to get the eggs while the soldiers kept= their guns pointed at the occupants of the house. While she went into the chicken house, the Germans searched the place from room to room, they scoured the cellar and finally emerged looking more or less satisfied that nobody was hiding in the buildings. They asked for wine, one of their usual requests,= did not go into the other houses and the occupants there made sure they did not move or made any noise, so the soldiers did not know that there was any ot= her family there.

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After t= he search of the house was over, the Germans looked around, to the stable and made a beeline for it.  Gio' went pa= le, would they take the horses? Would they deprive them of the last mean of transport, even if Carina was really so old that she could not carry anyth= ing.

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The Ger= man who was in command waved to his henchmen to follow him into the stable and he stru= tted towards the open door where one could see Raffaele's mare tethered to the = post. The stable was very large and dark and from that point the German could no= t see Carina, so he thought there was only one horse. Gio' pointed to the mare  and introduced the animal to the = Officer who had entered the stable:

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"Q= uesta e' Bella", this is Bella. The German smiled, a smile that conveyed  derision, cunning and determinati= on that no Bella whatsoever would keep him from doing what he had in mind:

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"B= ella, Bella", he went to pat the mare's head. . . . . smiling. His smile di= d not last long.

Hearing= her name being called, she nodded her head and, shaking her voluminous mane, Bella neighed cheerfully, and with a swish of her tail, gave a dutiful acknowledgement, as if saying : "The pleasure is all mine", performing in the best equine manner, showering the unamused visitors who quickly retreated to the door and out, swearing with fast flowing words do= tted with angry

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"I= talieniche!" which by guess one could have translated : "Bloody Italians and their horse".

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A quick= command, a last warning all around with their pointed weapons and they were all back = in their armoured vehicle, soon on the way down the road, even forgetting the twenty eggs that Virginia had duly prepared in a basket.

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With a = sigh of relief, Gio' looked at the others and suddenly he remembered Raffaele, sti= ll in the tunnel. He gave two whistles, as agreed which meant : "It is safe= to come out". Slowly, very slowly a bedraggled figure, covered in mud, crawled out, dripping from head to foot in what could be described as &quo= t;eau de Bella", unable to speak, partly from the shock of having survived = once again, partly from the unexpected shower.

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What ha= d happened? Nobody had thought, least of all Gio', that the stable was on top of the t= unnel and Raffaele had been sitting quietly just under the drainage grid. In com= plete silence and fear he had endured the harrowing experience of squatting unde= r the mare's legs and the never ending spray, trying to keep eyes and mouth well shut, while trying to hear what was going on.

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One day= Katia came to the house and asked Virginia, who was the only person present, where he= r son was. She announced herself as a friend who had come to warn him of impendi= ng danger. Virginia said her son was not there, he ha= d gone to the village with his family to try to get some food. Soon the house was surrounded by German soldiers who had kept a low profile until then. They searched the place but found nothing compromising, e. g.  arms.

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They mo= ved to the village to continue in their search for Gio' and other men. Luckily, Gio' = and family had left by another way, not the road, but through fields. In one h= ouse Katia saw one of the men they were looking for, as he was visiting his sick mother. He managed to escape while partisans nearby engaged in a battle wi= th the Germans who were throwing grenades terrorising innocent inhabitants. As result at the end of the incursion, some houses were burned down, some peo= ple lost their lives.

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From a = high spot, on his way home, Gio' had managed to follow the event, through binoculars.= He never forgot the face of the girl who had led the search.

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By now = he had seen her in so many occasions.

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He prom= ised to himself that one day he would find her again. ......... 


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CHAPTER 14

 

 

 &= quot;Auf wiedersehen freunden"

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Since t= he month of March the territory of Valledoro district was completely under German mili= tary command, while until then the population had been given orders, that nobody followed, by the Fascist government of Salo', represented locally by the la= st fascist Mayor, who lived with his family on an estate in a beautiful villa= a short distance from town. This had been their summer residence for years, = while they usually lived in Rome . It was a well known fact now that the Mayor'= s wife had been one of Mussolini's mistresses.

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Gio', w= ith some friends, shared the task of going to town every now and then, to find out = what was going on, and to read the notices put up  for the people to get directions.= Hardly anybody was aware of these, unless some were put up in the villages where = the people were now.

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One of = the first notices put up by the German Commandant had been an order for the civilian population to hand over the keys of their houses.

 

"I= f you do not comply with this order, your house will be opened forcibly by this Com= mand. "

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What a = laugh, when the houses already had all been taken by the soldiers. Gio' and Francesco = one day had tried to get in their homes to take something that had been left b= ehind and they had been denied access. This was well before they had been asked = for the keys!

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All wea= pons had been confiscated from the civilians, with the result that there were now m= any guns hidden. The owners of hunting guns were not going to give up very eas= ily one of their most treasured possessions, although it would have been suici= dal to have any found in your home.

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Another= notice, that brought to the fore the desperation of the group of Fascists trying to hold on to their bit of power said:

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"T= he food situation is disastrous. The Army, German and Italian, have taken all the = means of transport.

We have= no flour.

We have= no wheat.

We have= no pasta.

All far= mers are requested to bring what they have. "

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Since A= pril the partisan activities and, in consequence, the German repression, were intensified, and the civilians were warned once again that capital punishm= ent was reserved for anybody helping the partisans, listening to enemy's radio stations, feeding British ex prisoners of war, etc.

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"A= ny village where any act of sabotage should be committed against the German soldiers will be burned to cinders, the male population shot and the women sent to labour camps". And more:

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"W= ho helps the enemy in any way, who helps the bandits, who gives them food or clothi= ng, will be shot.  For every Germ= an soldier wounded or killed, ten civilians will be shot. "

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It was = not the case of the biblical "one eye for an eye", but ten eyes for one.= The German beast was getting more ferocious and more terrifying with every day= that went by.

 

The las= t notice by the German command said :

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"P= eople that live in hiding, take the last opportunity to rejoin the fascist and German forces. If you do so before midnight of May 25th, you will go unpunish= ed. "

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The Ita= lian controlled radio, which the population was supposed to listen to, in a last effort to keep people on their side, was warning of what the life would be under the Allied Command, blasting out outraged descriptions of the Allied troops, which consisted of nearly all black soldiers, rough and cruel, who= se aim was to loot, rape, submit the conquered enemy to all kinds of horrific ordeals. So everyone should fight, fight to the end.

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As matt= er of fact, people waiting for the Allied Forces to free them from the Germans, often = were worried at what this change would bring.&= nbsp; Soon other troops would be where the Germans had been. What troops?= Nobody knew. It was becoming an everyday talk between the terrified families, of = how they would survive first, dodging bombs, machine guns, German reprisals, l= iving "with their heart in their mouth" every day and night.

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Then, w= hat next?

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When yo= u dared to think about a tomorrow, it was anybody's guess, although nobody really fel= l for the propaganda dished out by Radio Salo', from Mussolini's hideout on lake Garda.

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Mothers= were telling their daughters to make themselves look ugly, squinting their eyes, covering their figures as much as they could, even under the scorching hea= t, whenever soldiers should come.  The funny part was that usually mothers of quite plain looking daughters were = the ones more worried than others!

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Better = educated members of the middle class were looking forward to seeing and meeting som= e of the men from countries like Great Britain and the United States, which at = that time were considered like men from outer space, except to people like Gio'= and the ex emigrants.

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In scho= ols, the younger generation had been taught that Anglo Saxons, Americans, were arro= gant, selfish, stand offish, snobs, cowards, people with no compassion, only interested in their five meals a day!

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What co= uld you expect from such a crowd? What then would be the fate of the ones lucky to survive the Germans?

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One day= Gio' had to shut up a young priest who had talked so much nonsense about the matter, that made  Gio' see red: one = of the rare times when his family saw him lose his temper.

"T= he British are Protestants", the priest had declared, "so they are not as religious as us. How could we trust them?"

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All the= se conjectures came to a halt when, one night, an aeroplane dropped an Italian Officer nearby, so he could join the resistance movement. He had news for = the ones who wanted to know what "the other side" was like. One of t= he strangest tales he told was about some people in Southern Italy= , who had taken refuge in a cave d= uring the fighting. The place was soon in the hands of the Allied troops, but they d= id not dare come out of their cave, as the artillery was still firing above t= heir heads. They had run out of water and food. To their astonishment, the Alli= ed soldiers first priority had been to take water and food to them, while endangering their lives in the process. This bit of news spread around for miles, bringing smiles to many, especially to Gio'

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To list= en to the national daily news bulletin was a must even when one knew that there was = not much to be learned from it, as it was more or less always on the same line= :

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"A= fter a bloody and long resistance our troops have taken up new positions". 

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This ga= ve some idea of where the fighting was on and the fact that the Allied troops were movi= ng forward.

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To get = more detailed and truthful accounts of the situation, one had to tune to Radio London, as Gio' did whenever he could. Although a decree had been passed t= hat stated : "Chi ascolta Radio Londra e' traditore della Patria";  He who listens to Radio London is= a traitor of the Motherland, and severe penalties were imposed, culminating = with death, as time went on, more and more people tuned in to listen.

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Like in= a seance session, the listeners sat quietly in an atmosphere of expectation, for the opening notes of the transmission: Boom, boom, boom, boom, the refrain of Beethoven 5th symphony, after which, the voice from the other world, as fr= om a world after death, brought the sound of the magical words:


 

"Q= ui parla Londra, E' Londra che parla. E' al microfono il Colonnello Stevens " = (Here is London . It is London that speaks. Colonel Stevens at t= he microphone).

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These w= ords brought a shiver down the spine of the people huddled in silence around the radio set, their eyes veiled with tears of emotion.

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"B= uona sera", were the greeting words of the dear Colonel, whose voice, just= with a hint of a foreign accent, made of him a household friend, someone everyo= ne knew, but could not talk about, somebody one would have liked to meet, to = thank for his words  to the people = living in terror. His voice  gave ho= pe for tomorrow, a tomorrow free from war, death, hunger, squalor, and, most of a= ll, from the Germans. There were times when it was impossible to hear any radi= o at all, so frequent were the electricity cuts due to air raids.

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PICTURE
COLONEL STEVENS

Sometim= es days went by without knowing what was happening. The Mill had been without electricity for some days, when, as it was restored, Giovanna was trying t= o get some news, so impatient she was, she could not wait for the time of Radio London 's broadcast.

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She hea= rd a transmission in French, of which she could just make out the meaning, in h= er poor school French, but she heard it right, yes, she was sure. She run to = tell Gio' and all the others that the Allied Forces had landed in Normandy. This would mean that the Germans= would retreat quicker than expected from the Italian soil.

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This al= so meant that Valledoro and the villages would be a battlefield earlier than expect= ed, war was to come upon them, the fighting would be on those mountains and fields.  What would become of= them all? As foreseen, the Germans started to go on the rampage, in groups and isolated individuals, spread terror and death among the population, using = their machine guns as children use their toy weapons. They seemed to spend their= days going around, demanding food, wine, anything they fancied, rustling cattle= from farms, while with smirks on their lips, they would spray bullets on houses, animals and people.

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Sometim= es the excuse was that they thought partisans were in the area, other times there= were no excuses. Gio' and his family tried to spend this last period of the Ger= man occupation, like all their friends, keeping well away from trouble and hid= ing whenever they knew there were some Germans in the vicinity.

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The mou= ntains were so near and there was always somebody on guard. No matter your age, if it = took the Germans fancy, they would march you off with them. A  boy of 16 was taken in Montello f= rom the house where he was with his mother, to be sent to a labour camp in = Germany, no matter how much the poor woma= n pleaded with the SS, telling them that her son was only a young boy.

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Two Bri= tish airmen were hiding in a cave over Montello and the villagers took turns to take t= hem food, hoping that with luck they could remain undetected until the Allied troops arrived.

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Everyda= y that went by, the fear was there, in minor or major degree, while in the evenings one felt a sense of calm as darkness came, giving the body  a much needed relaxation.

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Often G= io' sat outside for a while alone with his thoughts, as lights signals appeared he= re and there, occasionally dimming the intermittent flashing of the numerous fireflies that filled the valley, while the drone of the very low flying aeroplanes made a strange cacophony with the continuous singing of the cic= adas.

 

Only sl= eep brought some peace, although it was a temporary relief as often the night brought = its share of fear. "The partisans of the night", were also bringing = some terror to the people .  These= were sporadic groups of men who, giving themselves the name of partisans, went around at night demanding money, clothes, anything of value to put in their pockets.= They were no more than bandits, who eventually were dealt with by the real partisans.

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On June 8th 1944,= late in the afternoon, as it started to get dark and at the Mill the occupants were ready to sit down for their evening meal, which they were having early, wh= ile there was still some daylight, as there was no electricity.

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The sou= nd of an engine brought sudden apprehension.  There was no time for anybody to go into hiding, the visitors were = there in no time at all. Any motorised visitor meant "Germans", as nob= ody else had vehicles. It was an armoured car that brought an SS Captain and t= hree soldiers. They pushed open Gio's kitchen, which was the first door of the = first house, when one arrived at the Mill. They looked around, then asked where = their friends, the two Rosati families, were, the owners of the shops in town. G= io' showed them the other house, next to his.

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By this= time Stelvio had opened the door to see what was happening. The officer went in, asking Gio' to follow him. They knew Gio' by name, but they did not say any more to him. They talked to Stelvio, asking about his brother's whereabout= s. The family was not complete, because the brother, Alfonso had not returned= from having gone with his son to find a doctor in a village where there was sup= posed to be one.  The son, Giorgio,= was a great worry to his parents, because he&nb= sp; had suffered a couple of fits recently, a form of epilepsy, from wh= ich he had recovered quickly, but  they were hoping a doctor could throw some light on the cause of the attacks.  They were  expected any minute now, and in f= act they  should have been back a= lready because of the curfew. The German seemed to be well informed of all the me= mbers of the family. He added that he was aware that some partisans in the zone = had been clothed with merchandise which had come from their stores. 

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Stelvio= had no time to deny the fact, because, with a well studied magnanimity, the German quickly added, in reasonable Italian:  

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"I= am here only to warn you and tell you that we forgive you this time" ...=

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He exte= nded his charm to smile at the baby that Elena had in her arms.  With that, a kick of his heels an= d a

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"a= uf wiedersehen freunden",   <= /span>

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the Ger= man departed, taking no more notice of Gio', who had been waiting fearing the worst. 

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Elena c= ried for joy, as they left, relieved that the Germans had been so understanding, although her husband had nothing to reproach himself for. Some partisans h= ad come, yes, to ask for clothing and food, but they took it anyway, they did= not wait for the brothers to give them what they wanted. Elena had worried on = that occasion, as they knew that their former shop assistant lived with the Ger= mans and that she was an alleged spy.  Had she promised vengeance when she had lost her job? Now Elena tri= ed to put this suspicion behind her; the Germans had gone and it was all over. S= he was crying with happiness tugging her husband's arm, while cuddling her two children. Obviously the German's plan was not to rouse any suspicion withi= n the families, by letting them think that all was forgiven, while they prepared their next move.

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They wa= nted all the men together, not just two.

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On the = afternoon of June 17th  the families at= the Mill were sitting outside, under the shade of the great walnut tree, passi= ng the time just talking about the events and about what the next days would bring, hoping always for a quick ending to their troubles.  It was very warm, even if the sun= had just disappeared behind the mountains and the light breeze was not strong enough to bring any relief to the earth scorched by the fierce rays of the= sun .

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It was = not yet dark, when they decided to go in Gio's house and have something to eat all together, when out of the blue, a military vehicle appeared, followed soon= by another, from where a number of German soldiers poured out  led by the same officer of the pr= evious visit. Maybe they had been hiding in the vicinity, to make sure all the occupants of the houses were there this time.

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The SS = officer was not smiling on this occasion, as he followed into the house two soldiers w= ho pushed the door open with their machine guns, shouting :

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"F= uori tutti!. Rous!, rous!",   all out.

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All obe= yed and came out on the paved area in front of the houses, even old Virginia was pushed out, while the Rosati = babies were in bed. The two armoured trucks were placed in a position as to bar a= ny way of escape, with more soldiers ready to shoot anybody who made a false = move.

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The Off= icer called the two brothers by name, and, without any explanation, ordered them to get into one of the trucks.  To t= he cries of the two wives,

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"W= hy? Where are you taking them?", there was no answer.

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The "nice" Captain had certainly changed his lamb's clothing . =

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Everybo= dy was speechless, standing there, under the point of the guns, waiting for the n= ext move, when the officer, looking around at them all in turn, with his pierc= ing eyes, asked:

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"C= hi parla Inglese qui"? "Who speaks English here?" =

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Nobody = answered, as if they had not understood his broken Italian. Again he asked, his jaw twitching in an effort to contain his anger, this time adding: =

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"I= o SO, una persona qui parla inglese= ", emphasising the "So", I know.

 

As he s= aid it, he quickly murmured something in German to the soldiers who seemed ready to t= ake aim at the members of the families.

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Old Virginia looked up, Gio' had the impressio= n that she was going to confess that she was the one to speak English, which in f= act would have been the truth, but Gio', after a glance towards Giovanna who s= tood there with their children, knew his time had come. He stepped forward sayi= ng :

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"I= o parlo Inglese".

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A soldi= er quickly pushed him into the second truck with the barrel of his weapon and was abo= ut to close the door, when Gio', who was wearing a short sleeved shirt, feeling a sudden chill due more to shock than to&nb= sp; the evening air, took the courage to ask:

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"C= ould I get a jacket?"

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The Ger= man was taken by surprise, but the officer, who had heard, nodded.  Gio' jumped from the truck  and hurried into the house. He we= nt into the bedroom to take his beloved suede jacket from the hook behind the door= , the Simpson jacket of so many memories. For a split second he paused, should he run? It could have been possible, taking to the back entrance of the house, towards the fields, but  &quo= t;no, the Germans might shoot my family, thinking my escape is a confession to my guilt".

 

As thes= e thoughts flashed through his mind, he heard some shouts in German and explosions.  He ran out, fearing the Germans w= ere shooting the people there. He found the engines of the German vehicles rev= ving, while the soldiers were throwing grenades against the houses and the surrounding spaces, it was bedlam, with people shouting and running. 

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The Ger= mans were jumping into their trucks, shooting all around. Again the thought of escap= ing crossed Gio's mind, but quicker than his thoughts, the barrel of a German'= s gun was pushing him into the truck where his friends were. He managed to look around for Giovanna, who was lying down hugging their two children and he shouted

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"G= o to the Witch!".

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That wa= s a code word between them, the Witch being the mountain, the phrase  "going to the witch" me= ant "going to the mountain, going into hiding". He was telling her t= hat they must go away, in the old house at the foot of the mountain, from wher= e in few seconds one could escape and hide from any unwelcome visitors. With Giovanna he often had talked about this possibility in case of need and da= nger and the family of the "mezzadro" who now lived in the house, was ready to welcome them and give them sanctuary at any time.

 

Stelvio= 's face appeared as he tried to look for his wife, who had not moved, petrified by= the events.  His last words to he= r were : "Go in to see the children that they should not be frightened"= .

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 A German pushed him back in and in= no time  the two trucks were off= and out of sight. Sitting next to the captain leading the raid was a young wom= an wearing a German uniform.

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Slowly,= as the people left recovered from the terrible shock, they looked at each other asking: "What happened?" Evidently while Gio' had gone to get his jacket, there was a sudden rustling noise in the bushes, maybe made by an animal or by a gust of wind.  The Germans must have feared an attack by&nbs= p; partisans, hence the shooting and the sudden departure. They had go= ne now, with what they had come for: the three men they so badly wanted.

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As she = came to life again and the numb limbs responded to her will, with her mind set on following Gio's instructions, Giovanna, helped by her children, gathered as much food as they could carry, some blankets and they set off towards the = old house.  They had to walk thro= ugh the main part of the village to get there, but they knew, no matter who saw th= em, they would be safe there.  Th= ey were amongst the most trustworthy  of friends.

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When th= ey got to the house, they were made very welcome by Armando's family, the "mezzadro" that looked after the old farm. Next morning he would= go to the Mill and fetch Gio's mother, Virginia, so that they would be all together.

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A few d= ays later some Germans came back to the Mill, they took some food and looked around,= but to the questions the Rosati wives put to them, as where their husbands had= been taken, they gave no answer. No news came to anybody about the hostages, no= body had heard anything concerning them, no corpses had been found. That could = be a sign that they were still prisoners and perhaps being taken to some concentration camp. That was some hope, even if a concentration camp could= be equal to certain death. 

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Sitting= on the floor of the armoured truck, between two armed soldiers, forbidden to talk= to his friends squatting in front of him, with a German at each side and one between them, Gio' closed his eyes, to concentrate on his thoughts. He did= not feel afraid, he always thought that on the whole he had been lucky during = his life. He had got through so many tight spots and overcome many difficultie= s. His worry was about his family, what would they do without him, if the wor= st came? What could the Germans do to them once they established he had been helping Allied soldiers? They could burn the house, harass them and behave= in their typical despicable manner. He did not want to think what they could really do. He only hoped that Giovanna had understood his message and soon= they should  be safe with Armando's family.

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For him= self he felt a rather strange calm inside, the irony of it all being the fact that recently he had been thinking so much of how different their world would s= oon be, with the arrival of the Allied Forces

. =

As in an interrupted dream the hope of freedom had been shattered by the reality of finding himself in a hopeless situation, a prisoner, unable to plan his own future, at the mercy of cruel individuals, more cruel now than ever before, because of being in retreat and frightened of being ambushed at every corn= er.

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He was = not a religious person, he did not openly admit he believed in a Superior Being,= but now, like a sailor at sea in a sinking vessel, he wanted to think that if = God was really there, perhaps "He" would  show his existence by looking aft= er his family.

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Suddenl= y, with a great jolt and a shriek of brakes, the truck came to an abrupt halt, while= an increasing noise of engines overhead filled the air, becoming deafening, as commands in German were shouted and the soldiers, quick as lightning, push= ed everybody out of the truck, into the ditch at the side of the road. Two li= ght planes, maybe Mosquitoes or Spitfires, were discharging their machine guns= on the vehicles and the surrounding area, while a couple of explosions shook = the ground.

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Gio' sa= w a lot of smoke from the bombs then the petrol tank of their truck went up in a ball= of fire. It all happened so quickly, there was nothing to see now but smoke a= nd Gio' knew this was his chance. Maybe "God" was there?=

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He roll= ed over and over, as if he had been hit, down the bank, over brambles that tore the sk= in from his face, down into the tall maize plants growing in the field at the bottom of the slope. In no time he was up and running, running with all his might, even before the Germans had realised what had happened to him, if h= e had been hit in the shooting.

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When th= ey found out he was not there any more, they sprayed bullets all around, but the of= ficer in charge decided they could not waste any more time. The planes could be = back for a second wave, so they all crowded into the one truck which had withst= ood the aerial attack, and drove to their quarters with the two prisoners left, the Rosati brothers.

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Gio' di= d not know where he would go, where he was running to.  He knew roughly the countryside, = there was a village nearby, Romita, but he decided against stopping.  He did not know anybody there and= there could be spies, also he thought it was too near the spot where he had esca= ped from and the Germans could come back to look for him so he went on, toward= s the mountains, towards the Appennines, that's were he could find friends and w= here he knew best the people and the villages.

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He stop= ped for a few minutes to have a drink at a fountain, outside a farmhouse, but he did= not dare to get too comfortable, or he could fall asleep.  It was pitch dark and the only no= ises were from the aeroplanes that made nightly drops for the partisans far awa= y to the North.

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By now = he was walking through a countryside  that he knew and he had more or less made up his mind of where to go, unless, of course, something happened to change his decision.

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He had = to reach the mountains, he could see the familiar silhouettes of the ones he knew so well, against a starry cloudless sky.

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He woul= d go to stay with a friend, the only person who would not, and could not give him = away even under torture.

 

In time= he would let Giovanna know of his escape.


 

 

 

 

CHAPTER    15<= /p>

 

 

Putting down "strays".

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June 17th 1944 had been  a peaceful day for the people of Romita.

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In the = evening they sat, as usual, outside their houses, on the doorsteps, on logs, on the ground, enjoying the cool breeze after a very hot day. There was not much = work they could do during those days now that they were on the front line. The rumble of the heavy artillery guns could be heard over the other noises. <= o:p>

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On that= particular night the traffic of German vehicles was heavy on the road  between the main and the secondar= y chain of the Appennines: they were in retreat from Monte Cassino directed North towards the Romagna region, hoping to make a stand on= a new front.

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Often t= hey were the subject of attacks by the partisans who set traps on their route. Harassment, damage to vehicles and men, sabotage, was the main aim, anythi= ng that would give trouble to the moving troops, lowering their morale, making difficult their plan of reassembling on a new defence line. Organised grou= ps of partisans, led by Italian Army Officers parachuted behind the German lines, sometimes together with escaped British prisoners of war, were trying to m= ake the Germans retreat as difficult as possible, placing explosives here and there, throwing grenades. Unfortunately sometimes it was the civilian population that took the brunt of such actions.

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It was = nearly two weeks since the Allied troops had established a beach head in Normandy. The Germans, knowing they were n= earing the end, showed their feelings  like wounded animals fearing to be trapped. That flaming June had already so ma= ny dates for the people to remember as dates of episodes of cruelty, death, of denouncement by local spies, of families wiped out in terror. <= /span>

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"T= hey don't have long now", was one of the phrases often heard, "they", being the Germans.

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"M= ay the devil carry them to hell".

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The peo= ple of Romita, a small village about two kilometres outside Valledoro, went inside their houses at curfew time, knowing that to have a restful night would be= out of the question, the village being not very far from the road taken by the Germans. They often spent the night wide awake, ready to run, to hide at s= hort notice.

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It was = very early morning on June 19th, when a grenade exploded on the path of some German armoured vehicles by a country lane near the village. Nobody was killed, o= ne vehicle was damaged and a couple of German soldiers wounded. The military vehicles stopped, bullets were showered all around, but although they spra= yed hedges and bushes with a hail of lead, they did not hit or see anybody. By= a strange coincidence this happened on the road by Romita's cemetery, near t= he spot where Gio' had escaped from his captors. The purpose of the German exercise was to look not only for Gio', but for the people who might be he= lping him now,in hiding and what better proof did they need that he was in league with partisans, if German soldiers had been attacked  nearby?

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The peo= ple of Romita were aroused by the sound of shooting. They had no idea of what was going on. They knew nothing of the happenings of the previous day, apart f= rom the attack by the Allied Air Force on the road, but surely the Germans cou= ld not take them responsible for that.

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At firs= t they thought the shooting had come from a long way off, not just outside the village, but soon a detachment of SS, led by an Officer and by an NCO, arr= ived in the village square, in front of the church. They were armed to the teet= h, they even carried an artillery gun. Some soldiers, holding their sten guns, spread out towards the houses, surrounding them, while others, encircled t= he square. The officer, in broken Italian, shouted that he wanted to see the = Mayor, who should pay for the outrage perpetrated against his troops. =

Frighte= ned faces appeared looking out of the windows, nobody dared to come out. The NCO sta= rted banging on doors with the butt of his rifle, getting everybody out, men, w= omen, children and old people. An elderly man came forward to explain to the off= icer that in a small village there is no Mayor. The fury of the SS turned then towards the priest's home.  <= o:p>

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"W= here is the priest?" He was not in. 

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His mot= her came out to say that her son had gone to a Monastery, some kilometres away and = would not be back until late that day.

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"H= e must come now"  answered the Germa= n.

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The pri= est had fled when the Germans were approaching, warned by a friend. He had no know= ledge of what had happened on the road, but he feared he could be a target as he= was helping the clandestine army.

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"W= e will wait for him", said the German.

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The sol= diers started demanding wine,  whic= h they drank while eating their ration of black bread and sausages, then suddenly= the Officer said they would wait no longer. He gave some orders and, pointing = their sten guns at random, the SS chose 20 men, some of which were mere boys and= some elderly men. They lined them up against a wall and said they would be host= ages until the priest's return.

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"I= f by 8 o'= clock this evening the pastor, as he ca= lled the priest,  is not here, then the hostages will be kaput",  adding:  "Do you understand?"

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Every I= talian knew the meaning of the word "kaput".

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"A= lso,  the village will be burned to ashes".

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An inte= rpreter then explained that they were regarded responsible for the explosion earli= er that morning against one of their convoy.=  

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The maj= ority of the people there had not even heard of the incident.

"My God",  cried the mothers= ,  wives, relatives. They knew very = well that these things happened all over the countryside and usually ended in d= eath. Hostages? Hostages of the Germans had little hope of survival. Maybe if th= ey managed to find Don Pietro,  = the priest,  he would be able to = explain that these people were not guilty of any act of sabotage and they knew not= hing of what had happened.

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A mothe= r,  a widow,  pleaded for her young son, an eld= erly woman threw herself at the feet of the young officer, his name being Leute= nant Kesselring, alleged son of the General. He dismissed them with a wave of h= is hand, his eyes avoiding to look into his victims eyes. Under the peaked ca= p, they shined with the cold expressionless steel streak of a deep sea predat= or. Through the interpreter he repeated his warning:

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"I= f the priest is not back, at eight o'clock we will start shooting the hostages, then we w= ill take some more. "

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The rel= atives had a quick word between themselves to decide what to do; they must go quickly= and find the priest, because his word and his authority might bring weight to confirm the innocence of all those people. As the sun was getting hotter a= nd hotter, they scattered towards the many different ways that could lead to = the Monastery.

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Nobody = knew which way the priest would have taken and he might have decided to stop somewhere before getting there. Many were the paths he could have taken. Some of the tracks were in the open,  voi= d of trees, there were sections where any moving object could be a target of the light planes, but nobody bothered about the danger.

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They we= nt in groups of three and just ran  joining  in the search= .  Through the fields of ripe corn, = through maize stalks taller than any of them, towards the mountains of the seconda= ry chain, the echo of their shouts filled the air:

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"D= on Pietro! Don Pietro!"

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The Mon= astery where Don Pietro was heading was of the Benedictine order, built around the twelfth century. It sat right on top of a great green expansion, at 800 me= tres above sea level, like a sort of trampoline from where to launch the spirit= high up, while the eyes rejoice in the view of the space towards the horizon. F= ar away,  past valleys, , hills,= dotted with villages and houses, the horizon is encircled by a ring of another ch= ain of mountains. Behind those far mountains, towards the East, when the sky is clear, one can see the blue of the Adriatic sea, while to the North West rises the gigantic hump of Monte = Catria.

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In the = XXI Canto of his Par= adise, Dante Alighieri mentions it with= these verses:

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"T= ra due lidi d'Italia surgon sassi. .......

 .......... e fanno un gibbo che si= chiama Catria".   (Between= two shores of Italy= some stones rise. . . . and make = a  hump called Catria. ) ....

. =

They sa= y that God one day, observing the Earth he had created, moved his hands over it as if drawing a mysterious sketch, and put some dots on the map, here and there,= in the world.  These dots became islands of silence and peace, oasis for the needing souls to stop and pause every now and then to recover from the stress of life. When one gets there= from the cities, often sad and discouraged, as for a miracle, in the restful atmosphere of that solitude, the spirit forgets every trouble and feels ne= ar Eternity.

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These o= asis are the Monasteries. "Ora et labora" is the motto of the Benedictine life. Prayer and work, are harmoniously linked and alternate one another i= n the monks' daily life. In war time their door was always open to visitors, to refugees from the town, to people who had lost their homes, and their lard= er was there to cope with all their needs. They ran a school for boys who mis= sed a lot in their education because of the war, teaching academic subjects as w= ell as practical work. The monks had a full larder in this time of hunger, but= they kept most of its content, which comes from the farm they own and work, for charity, to quell the hunger of people less fortunate than themselves.

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It was = lunch time on June 19th. Don Pietro, just arrived,&n= bsp; had been invited to share the monks' meal. He accepted and followed= the Abbot and other monks to the refectory.

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He woul= d tell the Abbot the purpose of his visit later on. With their hands joined together = right into the great sleeves of their white habits, the monks walked in Indian f= ile towards the dining hall. They took their places around the long tables, set along three sides of the rectangular room, in a horseshoe shape. The middl= e of the short side was reserved for the Abbot. Above the Abbots chair was a la= rge painting of the last supper and on the wall opposite hang a large wooden crucifix.

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"S= ilentium " was the message on the entrance to the refectory.

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While t= he body refreshes itself, the mind must rest, this is the policy. The tables were covered with immaculate white cloths, on top of which were placed scrubbed= pine slabs. On the slabs, steaming polenta was exuding an appetising aroma, aro= ma of grated pecorino cheese and dripping mixed with maize.

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On Sund= ay this meagre meal would be improved by the addition of some sausages. The monks waited,  heads bowed, for the= Abbot to give his blessing for the meal to start, then in complete silence, each= monk picked up his fork to start eating the section of polenta right in front of him.

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When th= e three young men from Romita, erupted into the refectory to the consternation of = the guardian monk who had opened the front door to them, he could not keep them away from the room. He could not make out anything of their shouts,  of their excitement, of their obv= ious distress. As if demented they had entered the Monastery, shouting.

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"D= on Pietro, Don Pietro, where is he?"

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Through= the corridors of the enormous building, looking in every room, towards the cloister, full of plants, they finally got to the refectory, to the long r= oom with some of the longest tables they had ever seen, to face the astonished monks, the Abbot and Don Pietro.

The boy= s were given a drink, then slowly, the one called Andrea, his words choked by a l= ump in his throat, managed to explain what had happened.

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"I= f you don't come back in time they will all be killed, ", he told Don Pietro, "because the Germans believe that somebody in our village is guilty. " The other boys joined in to say that the priest must hurry and come before it is too late.

Don Pie= tro had no hesitation on what his action would be: he knew he was not guilty, so with= the Abbots blessing, decided to leave straight away to try and save his parishioners. He must do his utmost to help and be ready to face the music= .

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"F= iat voluntas Dei", he said, pausing a few moments for a prayer, then turn= ed towards the boys and all together started towards the road that would bring them back to Romita.

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He knew= he was taking a risk for his life, but the love for his flock was greater. He had= been known for his shy character, but today he felt strong, he had taken an her= oic solution. He would offer himself as a hostage, the people must be freed. O= n the way back the boys talked of their fears and hopes, of episodes of similar nature happening  in other vi= llages.

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Anybody= who has encountered the actions of any SS soldiers, would not be at all hopeful. O= nly a few days earlier the Germans had shot four people in a village, just as th= ey opened their front door to see what the noise outside was about. The day b= efore the same thing happened to two farmers who tried to save a calf from being rustled by some soldiers.

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They hu= rried, almost running, exhausted and with sweat pouring down their brows, they got back by three thirty in the afternoon. The Germans were not there, = they had moved to another village, where was their Headquarters, taking the hos= tages with them. They had left a message: "The ultimatum still stands, 8p.= m."  The priest must be where Lieutenant Kesselring wants him, about 6km. away.

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In the = small village square, where all the people were gathered, everybody was in a sta= te of agitation and shock. Some of the parishioners were shouting, some were cry= ing, they seemed to have been taken by a collective madness. Some families, who= se men were hostages, reversed their anger on the priest. Don Pietro stopped, listened equally to expressions of irreverence,  of encouragement, of hope, of gra= titude. He looked absent, his thoughts with God, he was praying for inspiration. <= o:p>

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He turn= ed to his mother, said goodbye, then accompanied by a few faithful friends who did n= ot want to leave him, he hurried away: "Let's go", he said,  knowing in his heart that he was = having a last look at his sons whom he blessed for the last time.

 

As he s= tarted for his journey,  no eyes were dr= y.

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They ar= rived before the set time, hoping this would be a  point in their favour. The hostag= es had been locked in a cellar of one of the houses requisitioned by the troops. = When the priest arrived, he presented himself to the German Commandant. Without= a word, the Officer gave the order to throw him in the cellar with the rest.=

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Despond= ent and in fear, the others saw in their priest their saviour. They trusted his word, "God's word will win". After all, are not the Germans religious persons? They cannot disbelieve the word of a man of God. Is not their mot= to: "Gott mit uns" God with us, engraved in their buckles?  No God could be part of this terr= ible injustice.

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Outside= ,  an interpreter was summoned and t= he priest was called out. Seeing the interpreter, a woman known to the priest= , he felt renewed hope, the hope that at least what he had to say would be translated properly. If she conveyed to the Germans exactly  his words, they could not come to= the wrong conclusion. His parishioners were not guilty of any crime and, for h= is part, he was only guilty of being absent at the time.  Now he will vouch for his flock, = to declare their innocence.

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After h= is statement the German said nothing, looked at him then sent him back to the= cellar.

 

It was = any body's guess what would happen next. Back with his friends, they prayed together,= the priest comforting the ones without hope. Soon the priest was taken out aga= in and this time two interpreters were present, the same woman and a soldier. Walking by the woman, Don Pietro managed to shake her hand as to say: "Help me,  don't abandon me". He knew and trusted her, she was interpreting only because the Germans had found that she knew their language.

 

So Don = Pietro trusted her, as in his innocence,  he even trusted the Germans.

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In fron= t of the two translators, the Commandant posed his question. It had taken him quite= a time to think of how to interrogate the priest in a way that could set a t= rap.

 

"A= re you a patriota?", came the question.

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Don Pie= tro hesitated, he was not prepared for riddles and this was proving quite a ri= ddle, in the double meaning of the word. Was he a "patriota?"  If you open an Italian dictionary= , you will find that a patriota is somebody who loves his motherland, his countr= y. He could not deny that.

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Unfortu= nately the Italian Resistance called "patriota", another name for "partisan", the people who joined the clandestine army, being "lovers of their motherland".

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To answ= er "No", would be wrong, Don Pietro said to himself. He loved his country, he was not ashamed to admit it, yet to answer "Yes", co= uld mean death.

 

His ans= wer came loud and clear: "Yes,  I= love my motherland".

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The wom= an interpreter tried to intervene, wanting to explain the double meaning of t= he word, but with a wave of his hand the Officer halted the proceedings and announced his decision to free the hostages. It was enough for him to have heard that the 'pastor", as he called him, loved his country. This confession made him a rebel and, therefore,  guilty of treason. The trap had w= orked as he knew it would. He ordered that the priest should be taken away, back= to the cellar.

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The hos= tages were interrogated at length, but they gave away nothing of fugitives, of Gio', = of hidden arms, etc. By nightfall all  were released. Exhilarated by the sudden freedom, they did not worry unduly about the priest. They expected his turn to be freed would come very soon.

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Nobody = knows whether Don Pietro was interrogated again. The priest from the village ask= ed for permission to visit him. Through him,=   Don Pietro made a request, to be allowed to say Mass the next morni= ng, request which was granted by the Commandant in person, at his Headquarters, which was the parsonage. Knowing this, nobody had an immediate fear for the priest's fate. In the darkness of his prison, alone with his thoughts, Don Pietro was on his knees, thanking God for the release of his friends. He k= new his faith was strong and believed in human love and compassion.  Nobody could harm in cold blood an innocent person, war or no war, German or Italian,  Nazi or Fascist. God was his insp= iration and would answer his prayers, he felt sure. The Commandant will now realise that he, too is innocent. After all he was not even there, so he will cert= ainly soon be returned to his flock, to his mother, to his village. <= /span>

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In peac= e time, which should come very soon, this episode will make a good story to tell d= uring the long Winter evenings around a log fire.  He smiled at these thoughts, then= he realised that a few hours had gone by, when a sudden clap of thunder and a heavy downpour came to disturb his dreams. He felt a shiver run through his spine, as the cellar's door opened and four German soldiers came in. =

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Without= a word, they pushed him with the fixed bayonets of their rifles up the steps to the outside cellar door. He was not brought to the Commandant for his release,= as he was hoping, there was nobody around in the dark night under the pouring rain. The soldiers did not speak, they just pointed where they wanted him = to go. He felt that some of his friends must have been watching, but they wou= ld be too frightened to come into the open. He was taken behind some houses, nea= r a manure pit.

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They ha= nded him a shovel, pointing where to dig, muttering some words in German to convey th= eir order. Don Pietro had hardly any time to collect his thoughts to what was happening to him, he started digging, not yet  aware of why he was doing it. He = was not very strong, he could hardly shift the soil hardened by the Summer's heat.=

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The sol= diers became impatient, he tried harder, but while he was making an extra effort, they shot him in the back. He fell forward without seeing the faces of his assassins, without seeing the expression in their eyes, of guilt or  pity or even cowardice, the latte= r the more becoming to them.

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They sa= y Don Pietro died instantly, or so his friends hoped. If he did not, his executi= oners made sure of his death by battering his body with the same shovel he had u= sed to dig his own grave. As matter of fact the injuries to his poor body show= ed that death came from the blows of the shovel.

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The sol= diers covered roughly his corpse, with stones and earth and in the rush  left a piece of his cassock showi= ng in the mud.  Soaking wet, they s= topped at a house, trying to get friendly with a young girl, drinking away throug= h the night, boasting to have been putting down a "stray dog".

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Next da= y,  to answer the villagers' question= s on the fate of the priest, Leutenant Kesserling merely commented : "Past= or kaput", with the same nonchalant cruelty and absence of any decent fe= eling that he had when he had granted the victim's request of being allowed to s= ay Mass. He knew very well that by the next morning the pastor would be "kaput" by his order. The cellar where Don Pietro had been kept prisoner was empty, the Germans were not volunteering any news.=

 

Later a= young boy, walking to a field, discovered by chance the freshly dug earth, with part = of the black habit showing. Shocked, but certain of the macabre nature of his finding, he run back home to tell his family.

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That wa= s how the grave was discovered. So, shot in the back, like one of the worst criminal= s, his body half buried in the mud, denied a decent burial, as nobody was all= owed to give burial to a "patriota", ended the terrestrial life of a priest called Don Pietro. Hardly anybody knew him in life, but in his deat= h he became a name that nobody would ever forget.

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Who wou= ld go and tell his mother in Romita? Two of his best friends, who had followed him d= uring his Calvary, knew this was the sad task for them to perform. They asked for permission to give Don Pietro a proper burial, which was denied, with the warning that nobody must go near his body. It was well known how the Germa= ns wanted to make examples of what happened to the ones who defied their powe= r.

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Cesare<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'>  and Alfredo, the two friends, hur= ried along the road to Romita. Signora Clelia, Don Pietro's mother, saw them approaching the house. As they got close, she looked at them, they did not= need to say anything, but in her heart, perhaps she still hoped that her son had been taken hostage, away to a concentration camp, to a prison. She was not prepared for the cruel truth. Cesare embraced her, and then she knew that = her son, her beloved Don Pietro, was no longer on this earth. The son she was = so proud of, the one for whom she had made so many sacrifices to send to stud= y as a priest after her husband's death. The only possession the family had, had been a few acres of woodland right up the steep side of a mountain, on the secondary chain of the Appennines, right above their village. She had work= ed incessantly, year after year, to cut the wood, one strip every year, to se= ll logs. That was the income that had kept young Pietro at his studies.<= /o:p>

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Now she= wanted to go to see her son, to compose his body, to take him to the village cemeter= y, next to his father's tomb. She got a bundle of clean clothes, the only hor= se and cart in the village was ready to take her. Cesare and Alfredo had no courage to tell her any more, hoping that when she got to the other villag= e, the Germans would  let her bu= ry her son. A coffin was ready in no time, there were always spare coffins in thi= s sad war. When they arrived, the mother was denied permission to give a proper burial.

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Some vi= llagers took her in their home, while they waited every day for a change of heart = of the Germans. Many days went by, a guard always making sure that nobody went near the spot where Don Pietro died. Just before the Germans left, they al= lowed  the body to be taken to the cemet= ery, but only the mother and a few people could take part in the funeral. =

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The ste= nch of death in the Summer heat and the sight of fat crawling maggots did not det= er women and children from bringing armfuls of wild flowers to cover the rough coffin, taken shoulder high to the village cemetery, only a few yards away= from where it had all started.

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During = the next few days the Germans were retreating from the district.  At night one could hear the noise= of the wheels from their heavy vehicles, the jangle of the mules harnesses, the soldiers marching along the roads that led North, singing their war songs = to help their steps, and what a welcome sound that was, as long as they did n= ot stop to bring down on the unfortunate population their frustration, anger = and cruelty.  <= /p>

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Of the = two brothers,  no news, except th= at they had spent their first night of captivity in Valledoro, in the local prison,  but nobody had seen = Gio'. He was not with the Rosati brothers, as informants had established. Nobody could guess what his fate had been. Giovanna had tried in vain to know something, without success. Had he been shot, his body would have been discovered. All she could hope was that he had been separated from the Ros= ati and taken to another prison.

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Evident= ly nobody had known of his escape either, as it had been so sudden during the air raid.  The three wives were p= inning their hopes  that their husba= nds were alive somewhere, perhaps even on their way to a concentration camp. <= o:p>

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Anythin= g better than death.

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It was = July 14th 1944, when the Allied troops arrived in Valledoro, and still no news. The families prayed and hoped that they would see their beloved again, soon wh= en the war would be over.

 

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PHOTOGRAPH

 

CHURCH OF ST LUCIA

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CHAPTER 16

 

 

Fischietto, the whistler.

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If you = walked from "The Mill"  towards= the main chain of the Appennines, south of Montello, you found a small road th= at led to a deep valley . Through thick woods of deciduous trees you came to a clearing where some houses stood, no more than ten dwellings, that made up= the village of Vallombra, so called because the sun hardly got there as in the afternoons. "La Costa", a mountain next to the Witch,  very early spread its shadow all = over it.

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A cool,= refreshing place to live during the heat of the Summer, but in the Winter the village would be frozen for a few months and the villagers were looked upon with commiseration by other country folk that lived in better locations. The pe= ople from the village on the next hill could see Vallombra in shadow so early e= very day, while they still enjoyed the warmth of the sun. Ten houses, very roug= h and poor, some stables, chicken coops, some haystacks, that was all, plus a to= rrent that ran down one side of the village, from the deep ravine overhead. The = water was beautifully clear and so cold, it was the only precious commodity that= also helped those people to irrigate their vegetable gardens, situated all alon= g in a row along the banks of the stream. Drinking water came from a spring on = the mountain and was piped to a communal fountain. 

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The dir= t road went through between the houses and the other farm buildings as far as the last house, then it became a "mulattiera", only fit for climbing with mules.

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Gio' kn= ew that road well, often, in the past he had climbed that mountain, right to the t= op, then to the next peak, along the tiny passage that the peasants called "the chicken perch", so precarious and dangerous it was.

 

 

 

PHOTOGRAPH

 

THE STAIRWAY IN THE CAVE

T1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PHOTOGRAPH

MONTE CUCCO
T2

The far= mers ' main fields, where they grew mostly corn and maize, were on a sort of plateau o= n the north side of the stream. On the south side, in a clearing amid a stretch = of woodland, away from the village and well&= nbsp; hidden from the main track, there was a small hut, made of local st= one, where a poor deaf and dumb man lived on his own. Everybody knew him and he= was everybody's friend. He helped the farmers in the fields, he kept rabbits,<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'>  chickens and a vegetable garden f= or the Saturday market in town, so he made his living. Nobody knew anything about= him, nor where he had come from or if he had a family anywhere.

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His fac= e was so weather beaten that one could think he was getting on in the years, until = you saw him at work and you realised he had the energy of a young man. "Fischietto" the whistler, was the name given to him by the villagers, because the only sound that the unfortunate creature could make= was a whistle. His name fitted him perfectly. He was always happy, always smil= ing, he lived a life without a worry whatsoever.

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Often o= ne would hear of somebody fed up with city life, wishing he could live like Fischie= tto, away from stress, without possessions or responsibilities, the dream of any frustrated town dweller. Fischietto was well known in all the villages of = the neighbourhood and in Valledoro, even if people had not actually met him, t= hey knew "of him". He used a sort of sign language to communicate, particular to him, but only the ones who knew him really well understood t= he meaning of his gestures. He was dumb, but not dim by any means, often he g= ave advice that could have fooled any educated individual from town.

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In June= that year, some young men came to occupy a tumbled down wooden hut which had been ere= cted at an earlier date for hunting purposes, quite a way  from Fischietto's home, in line w= ith the village, a couple of miles up the mountain side. As Fischietto 's main occupation was to walk anywhere his fancy took him, he soon found out about these strangers, but as they did not seem to bother anybody,  he just forgot about them.

 

He was = at first surprised to see these young men but soon he thought that they must be som= ebody's friends, people that were escaping from the bombs.  After all, the village was full of strangers who had left the city because of all the explosions that occurred every day, explosions of which he could only see the smoke, and feel the g= round shake. So these people did not bother him at all.

Nobody = really knows what Fischietto understood but, obviously in the closed world in whi= ch he lived, he took in a lot more than people gave him credit for. <= /span>

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The you= ng men were a group of partisans who had made their base in that particular spot as it= was only a few kms away from the main trunk road, the road that the German tro= ops would eventually have to take in their unavoidable retreat. The villagers pretended to have seen nobody and nothing, they did not talk even to each = other about the strangers, it was too dangerous, but they always gave the young = men supplies of food when one or two of them ventured into the village. <= /o:p>

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One day= an armoured German vehicle had come to Vallombra, questioning people about strangers. The hut was on high ground, from where one could spot any vehic= le coming, so on that day the partisans had fled. The Germans had tried to ma= ke poor Fischietto talk, until they realised that he was mentally handicapped= . Who else would have gone on whistling at gun point? Now the villagers had deci= ded the best policy to adopt was to act like Fischietto.

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Fischie= tto may not have understood everything about the Germans,  but certainly he knew they were n= ot his or any body's friends, by the way they acted. He could not hear the bombs falling; when he saw the black smoke, when the earth shook, he used to smi= le and shake as if he was trembling, not with fear, but with fun. He just wen= t on whistling without a care in the world.

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Exhaust= ed, aching in every bone of his body, with dirt caked on his face and limbs, still clutching his suede jacket, Gio' arrived at Fischietto's place, just as the dawn was breaking, and from across the valley and the mountains to the Eas= t, the first rays of the sun came to light up the door of the hut with a warm golden colour,  like the door= of an enchanted palace welcoming an errant stranger.

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Fischie= tto was at the back,  feeding his chicke= ns and it was a while before he finished his task and came back, to find Gio' on = the doorstep, fast asleep.

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Nobody = could have given Gio' a better welcome, Fischietto was happy and no doubt, honoured t= hat anyone should want to come and stay with him, as Gio' made him understand, because of the bombs. Gio' felt safe there, although he would have wanted = to be able to let his family know where he was.

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There w= as no need for Fischietto to go to Vallombra while Gio' was there, and there was no d= anger of anybody seeing him, as people did not come by chance as the place was c= ut away from tracks and paths in use.  = Vallombra did not even have a church, which made the place quite different from other villages,  as there was no be= ll tower,  no building higher th= an a house.

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The day= s went by. Fischietto had everything one would have wanted, eggs,  chickens, flour to make his bread, maize, animal food and all the vegetables he grew in the small patch at the back of the hut.  That stretc= h of land was commune land, so anybody could have used it and nobody would have objected to Fischietto living there. 

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The pri= est that cared for the souls of Vallombra lived in another village, San Sebastiano, situated on a hill south of Vallombra. This priest,  Don Amedeo, had not been there lo= ng. He had replaced the old clergyman,  Don Vittorio, who had died a couple of years earlier.

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Don Vit= torio had been the parish priest for such a long time, that he had known three generations of his parishioners. He had been loved and respected by all, w= ho missed his friendship, his advice, his generosity. Now Don Amedeo was very different from Don Vittorio. Where the latter was humble, Don Amedeo was f= ull of himself, detached from his flock, slightly ironic and distant in his contacts with the peasants, a part of his character which was resented very much. He would show off, make inappropriate remarks, on the beauty of young girls, who often were heard saying:

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"I= would not like to be left alone with such a priest!"

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He cult= ivated and welcomed friends from town, much more than the village families who lived = near him. He was not at all close to the community he was there to serve. =

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In many= instances priests played their part helping the partisans who needed reliable person= s in a position of authority, who often would warn them of oncoming danger or w= ould provide a place of sanctuary when things got rough and when the church would be the last and only hope for a fugitive. Many priests gave shelter to men wanted= by the Germans. Don Amedeo gave the impression of not bothering or caring for= the fate of some of his fellow men,  and he was not altogether trusted. The peasants of San Sebastiano were not eas= ily fooled.

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"S= carpe grosse e cervello fino", rough boots and fine brain, says an Italian proverb.

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Many vi= sitors, friends and enemies, came to see Don Amedeo. He welcomed the Germans, the Fascists, the partisans. He would drink and dine with any group that came along, making people think that he was neutral, that he did not approve or disapprove of any of the happenings. He treated them all in the same manne= r, or so it looked.

It was = very worrying for the young partisans to be aware of the comings and goings of German vehicles, taking the SS members&nbs= p;         to talk to the priest . Maybe the diplomacy of Don Amedeo was of such a hi= gh level that in fact he could keep the Germans at bay, keeping them happy wi= th small talk, good food and wine?

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One day= he went out of his way, taking a walk through the village of Vallombra, as far as = the hut, to see the young partisans, if they needed anything. He surprised them with his sudden friendship. What an extraordinary thing to do, when it was= so unusual for him to go for long walks. He was known to prefer the comfort o= f his home, his garden, his balcony which had a magnificent view over the whole = of the valley, right down to Valledoro.

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As the = days passed Gio' got more and more worried and impatient to get to know what was happe= ning, as the war could be heard thundering nearer and nearer. He had to make a m= ove, so he decided to take the mountain path that coasted the bottom of the App= ennines, through gorges and hills, uncomfortable,&= nbsp; but by far the safest way of getting to his family. Any sign of dan= ger and he could find a hiding place up the mountain.

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On  July 3rd, Gio' was ready to leave Fischietto's place. He was a little apprehensive about Fischietto's behavi= our. After one of his walks, he had come back excited,  making a lot of signs, trying har= der than ever to communicate with Gio'. He was acting most strangely, making t= he sign of the cross, pointing to the mountain, mimicking soldiers pointing g= uns. Gio' could not make much sense, unless Fischietto suddenly had got worried about the war?

 

Had he = got frightened as he saw Gio' getting ready to go ? Gio' tried to reassure him, telling him that he would be back to see him, but nobody knows how much of= that really sank in Fischietto's mind. Maybe he was just worried about Gio' and wanted him to stay, that must be, Gio' concluded as he started off on his = trek.

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One day= later, July 4th,  the answer came lo= ud and clear. While the young partisans were asleep, waiting for orders from their group leaders, suddenly in the middle of the night, machine gun fire awoke= the population of the village of Vallombra. The Germans had arrived in the vil= lage, unheard because of the noise of aeroplanes overhead and unseen as they did= not use any lights, pouncing on the village, barring the road with their armou= red trucks.  They started firing everywhere, towards the houses,  the barns, the trees,  the bushes= , as if they were engaged in a battle with enemy troops of a sizeable number.

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They ha= d caught everybody by surprise, spraying a hail of bullets as they surged forward towards the mountain track. They knew exactly where to go, as if they had = been given a detailed description of the terrain. Only somebody who had seen the place could have directed them with such accurate instructions. They had l= eft the armoured vehicles in the village, then proceeded on foot, the whole operation had taken only a few minutes.

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Roused = by the lights from the shooting or by an instinct, Fischietto tried to flee from = his hut, but as he opened his door,  he was mowed down by the lead of a German soldier who did not bother even to = look whom he was shooting.

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The boy= s up the mountain had just time to get up and run, without any weapons, into the wo= ods. The population had been lucky,  because they did not have time to escape.  Had they been running,  they would have all been killed. = Nobody out in the open would have escaped the bullets from six hundred German soldiers, who were out in force to hunt those unfortunate men, all so youn= g. They were not given a chance  and all fell, one by one, while unharmed and surrendering. <= /p>

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The las= t,  a seventeen year old boy, was str= uck as he reached the crest of "La Costa".  Another step and he could have be= en safe, on the other side of the mountain. The last round of bullets, then silence the silence of death, and the SS returned to their vehicles. =

 

On leav= ing the area they gave the villagers their usual warning, of not touching the bodi= es on the mountain. Did they stop to pay their respect to Don Amedeo after their successful raid?

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The day= 's toll had been : fourteen men dead, plus poor Fischietto.

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Ten day= s passed after this incident, before the dead could be buried.

As soon= as the Allied troops arrived, a group of friends of the missing men went on their mission of mercy, to recover the corpses, guided by the smell of death . O= ne by one they brought down the bodies, or better,  the decomposed carcasses, trying = to put them together as much as they could, in wooden coffins made by the village= rs. Two hay carts drawn by  oxen = were brought to the beginning of the mulattiera, and loaded with the macabre cargo. 

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Through= the fissures of the rough wooden boxes the maggots were wriggling their way ou= t, as the carts passed through Vallombra amongst a line of reverent villagers, w= ho could not hide their sorrow even when on that day their hearts should have= been full of joy,  for the newly f= ound freedom from fear.

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While t= he law of the gun was still in force in no man's land, somebody went to pay a visit = to Don Amedeo.  He was sitting o= n his balcony, enjoying the pleasant warmth of the afternoon, whiling away the t= ime on his hobby, crocheting a mat, looking happy and smiling like a person wi= th a clear conscience and nothing to worry about. . . . The bodies on the mount= ain had not concerned him. . . . .

The vis= itors had come to give him his due, after some inquiries had proven that the priest = had played the main part in giving away the position of the partisans to the Germans.

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The smi= le that Don Amedeo had for his guests soon turned into a grin, when he was marched awa= y to be seen no more.

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Poor old Fischietto. he was the only one to see the truth.

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His min= d, that no noise, no words, could side track from his thoughts, had brought him to the right conclusion, which in vain he had tried to communicate to Gio'. Gio's= luck was still holding on. . .

Back ne= ar his family,  but still sleeping r= ough by the woods, he felt guilty of not having understood Fischietto's message. <= o:p>

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The Ger= man Army was in full retreat on the Adriatic side of the Italian peninsula,  North of Ancona. The ground shook= , not only from air raids, gun fire, but from the explosions provoked by the Ger= mans in destroying any bridge, tunnel, roads left, making the countryside like a burned out desert, in the vane attempt to slow down the advance of the All= ied Forces.

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The ver= y few people who dared to look into Valledoro as the Germans were leaving, found= it deserted, doors knocked down, smashed furniture, shops and homes robbed, looted. The departing troops, if they found nothing worth to carry away, w= ould throw a grenade in the already devastated houses, while others came out wi= th bundles of booty found in some hideout. The never ending days of the long = wait were slow and terrible.

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The art= illery had been pounding the countryside around Valledoro and its villages for a few = days. At night nobody slept,  liste= ning for the guns which were getting nearer.

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They fi= red incessantly on the night of July 13th.

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On the = morning of July 14th, a beautiful,  sunn= y day, a  marvellous day the memory = of which will never be forgotten, everything went quiet, unnaturally quiet, a= nd the artillery was firing only at  intervals,  the only n= oise was the whining of the shells on their path to the target far beyond.

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Gio' ca= me to the house from the mountain to get some food for himself and other men, when he heard somebody shouting:

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"G= li Inglesi, gli Inglesi".


 

 

 

PHOTOGRAPH
GERMAN RETREAT

NA 18322

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PHOTOGRAPH
ALLIED ARTILLERY

NA7624

A vehic= le was approaching the village . At first some feared they could be Germans,  but when they looked more careful= ly, the vehicle was of an unusual type, never seen before  (it was in fact a jeep) and the h= elmets the soldiers were wearing were not Germans,  no doubt, they were flatter. Shou= ts of joy went up. They were, indeed,  British, the men of the Eight Army.

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All cam= e out of their houses, calling to the men to show themselves, there was no need to = hide any more. They welcomed the strangers with broad smiles, as nothing they c= ould say, until Gio' stepped forward to welcome them in their language. The sur= prise was on their faces now, it was very rare to find someone with a good comma= nd of the English language in a village. These men were "smiling" at t= he people, no guns pointed any more, no demands  whatsoever. They were offering cigarettes to the men, chocolates to the children, all things not seen for ages. They had open, friendly faces.

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PHOTOGRAPH

 

NA  18418

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Gio' wa= s very useful to them: he could answer all the questions they were asking, which = way the Germans had taken on retreating, anything that could help them Gio' was ready to do.

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No othe= r soldiers were seen that day. The men in the jeep were an advance party which at nig= ht went back to their unit. They had been made most welcome by all the people= , but in one village in particular, "La Sella" the priest had thought = that, as nobody could  speak Englis= h, they should use their church bells to make them welcome, and to show their gratitude.

 

The joy= ous music resounded down the valley, being heard a long way off. Happy that night, t= he people of  "La Sella&quo= t;, took to their beds, looking forward to the first night of peaceful sleep i= n a long time, thanking God to be alive.  As they slept, the German artillery opened fire on the village, wak= ing the terrorised men, women and children who once again fled to the safety o= f the mountains.

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Unknown= to them, while they were hiding,  the = Germans came back that same night, then left the village again. 

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The nex= t day more British troops arrived, so the villagers felt safe once more and went back= to their houses again.  They fou= nd them destroyed, looted, but the important thing was that they were safe, so they took to their beds and the homeless ones went to sleep in the church.

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It was = the middle of the night when the mines planted by the Germans exploded, blowing up the church, some houses, killing several people including the priest, women and children. From the rubble 14 corpses were recovered: the youngest was of a= 3 year old girl,  while the old= est victim had been aged 83.

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It had = been too much for the Germans to hear those pealing bells rejoicing for their depar= ture, that they could not resist their innate cruel streak by giving those peopl= e a lesson German style.


 

 

 

 

CONCLUSION

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Gio' be= came a very useful member of the community, on their return to their house in Valledoro,  translating and h= elping people who had to have some contacts with the Allied command,  people who needed to travel to ot= her parts of the country who were required to obtain a travel permit from the Allied Town major. His services were always given with pleasure,  kindness and, free, while if peop= le needed the services of the official translator, a lady of Yougoslav nationality, one had to pay her in goods, mostly chickens and other farm produce,  before obtaining any permit.  Obviously the Allied Command was not aware of what was going on under their noses, but it showe= d how everybody tried to get on the band wagon any time there was hope of gaining anything. Nobody expected the friendship, kindness, humanity that most peo= ple encountered in meeting the Allied troops.=   They shared people's houses, living with them as part of the famili= es. The soldiers even cleared the snow during that Winter of 1944, for the ben= efit of the civilians, while during the previous Winter, old men and women had = been forced to do it, under the pointed guns of the Germans. =

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The nig= htmares that people had nurtured for so long were to be dispersed overnight. Who w= ould ever have believed Gio', had he said this was the real nature of the Briti= sh and Americans as he knew them?

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It was = now a laughing matter to discover that the South Africans were in fact, all whit= e and that some New Zealanders, a group of which was in Gio's house, called &quo= t;all blacks",  were part of a= rugby team. Springboks, Kiwis, Maori, Tommies, became friendly names, welcomed b= y the majority of the population, who struck up with them life long friendships.=

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In all = the rejoicing, Gio' could not forget the fate of his friends,  the Rosati brothers.  No news of them, could it be good = news?

As the = war in Europe ended,  the two wives were hoping any day they would hear that they were sa= fe somewhere.

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Friends= and relatives scoured the length of Italy, to try to find a clue, somebody = who had seen them, when  the Germans = had taken them. Only by chance, when they had given up any hope, as one of the relative was asking priests in villages and towns, he came upon Don Vincen= zo.

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To put = two and two together was easy. Don Vincenzo had found the bodies a year earlier, but as there was no clue to their identity, he had been unable to contact the fam= ily. He had given them a Christian burial, after the Germans had retreated from= the zone, but now they could be brought back to the wives who still did not wa= nt to believe  those corpses were t= he ones of their beloved husbands,  u= ntil the post mortem cleared their identity.

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Nobody = can guess Gio's feelings when he knew of the horrific end of his friends. He could n= ot picture the scene that had faced Don Vincenzo on that unfortunate July day= in 1944, without seeing a third body dangling next to the Rosati brothers fro= m the mulberry tree: his own corpse.

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As the = Allied troops reached Valledoro, Katia had disappeared, following her German frie= nds, people thought. No, they did not take her with them, they knew they would = find other girls, other Katias,  j= ust like her, in other towns,  to provide them with the same services.

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Where h= ad Katia gone?

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It was = general belief that she must have gone North, where she was not known and where she could stay undisturbed at least until the end of the hostilities, then per= haps nobody would find her and people would forget.

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She mig= ht have hoped for a happy ending when she established herself in = Rome, occupied by the Allied troops, w= here she probably transferred her favours from the Germans to the Americans or to soldiers of any other nationality that she met on her way.

Some mo= nths after the end of the war, on a visit to Rome, Joe was walking along one of the main streets= in the centre of the city, Via Nazionale, when he saw a figure, walking in front = of him which brought a thump to his heart. That walk, those swinging hips, the same height, the same red hair, could that be the dreaded  "belva dell'Adriatico?"=   The wild beast of the Adriatic, that was the name given her by t= he people at large.

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He acce= lerated his step, got to her side, his instinct told him he was right, so he grabbed h= er by the arm. She turned, facing him; no more the defiant, cruel look that had = terrified so many innocent people.

Now her= eyes were those of a frightened animal, caught in a trap, a trap from which she trie= d to escape, by protesting:

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"W= hat do you want? Who are you?", when well she knew who Joe was.

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"Y= ou have no right to hold me, I am not the person you want, "

she wen= t on shouting, hoping a crowd would gather to help her to be set free from "this mad man. "

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"T= he police will decide", Joe replied and holding a firm grip on her, he marched = her into the nearest police station, where the Fate of Katia came to its deser= ved conclusion. 

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She was= found to have false papers, vehemently denied her identity, but soon she had to con= fess her real name, adding : "I have done nothing". She was arrested = and taken back to the capital of the province where she had made herself famou= s.

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The bea= st of the Adriadic was found to be pregnant. Her baby, a girl, was born in prison ju= st before her trial. On the day of reckoning the court was full of women, wom= en that wanted justice, justice against this creature who only had the appear= ance of a woman, none of the softness and compassion.  Some of the details of her monstr= ous deeds came to light by the deposition of the witnesses and some of the one= s who had managed to stay alive throughout their ordeals.

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One wit= ness swore he had seen her giving the orders to a firing squad, another of seeing her ordering a victim to dig his own grave and afterwards made him run around = it while she pointed her gun at him.

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Other w= itnessed her presence at some executions, while the families of hostages taken in h= er presence recognised her very well. Thirty nine witnesses could not all be wrong, while not one of the depositions were in her favour. She was given a good defence lawyer.

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PHOTOGRAPH

 

 

NA 18415

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The pub= lic prosecutor ended his summing up speech with these words:

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"Y= ou are a mother. Show yourself as a real one and accept the punishment that this Co= urt will find fit to inflict upon you, so that one day, when your daughter wil= l be grown up, on meeting the fatherless children of your victims, she can keep= her head high and say: "Yes,  my mother has done wrong, but she has paid". . . .

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The wom= en present in Court were sobbing, recollecting the moving memories of the murdered relatives and friends, thinking of the children who would grow up without a father, thinking of the young men whose lives had been severed in their pr= ime, just for the kicks of excitement of such a jackal.

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Katia w= as condemned to death, one of the few women to be ever given such a sentence = by an Italian Court.  The sentence was l= ater commuted to life imprisonment.

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She loo= ked cold, without any emotion or any feeling of remorse, with a fixed grin on her fa= ce, still wanting to show her superiority over those poor humans condemned to a life of sorrow because of her.

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And Gio= '?

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His tho= ughts were forever with his friends, the Rosati and with their unfortunate families. = It was a meagre consolation to know that Katia was paying for her crimes.

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When th= ings settled and it was possible to travel comfortably again,  Erroll made his first post war tr= ip to Italy. As he came back,  the love for this country, once a= gain overcame him . As he went back to the States, where he had no relatives left,  he realised his wish w= as now to settle down and make his home in Rome. He had so many friends there. Wh= at he wanted now was a family life, as he was getting on in the years.  He resumed his work and Gio' once= again assisted him, all those years apart had not made any difference to their friendship and to the respect Erroll felt for the Perotti family.

Gio's a= nd Giovanna's children were married, Giovanna was going soon to give up her j= ob as a teacher and retire.

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Erroll = wanted to live with somebody who could make a real home for him, so he approached Gi= o' and Giovanna with his proposals of joining him. They should go to see their children as much as they wished and the children should do the same.  Gio' and Giovanna should also kee= p their house in Valledoro, which now was a new apartment they owned. From his par= t he was offering them to live in a beautiful palace in the centre of Rome, they could have all they wanted,= money no object.

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After c= areful consideration, the Perotti accepted Erroll's proposal and the palace in Via Sistina became their home. Here, from its windows, as far as the horizon, = the Eternal city stretched in front of them in all her beauty and majesty, from where one could admire well known monuments and landmarks which Erroll nev= er tired to show his visitors. Enormous rooms, beautiful and richly furnished, dazzled Giovanna when Erroll showed them the place, with his wing, their w= ing, the servants' quarters and the marvellous reception rooms.

 

He had = brought some of his possessions from the yacht which he had sold a long time ago, = the painting being the one which had the most conspicuous position in the main reception room. The figure of the young beautiful lady was often the subje= ct of admiration between his guests who often wondered who she might be.

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Gio' an= d Giovanna took care of everything in the household and instructed the servants in th= eir routine, arranging sumptuous dinners for the entertainment of Erroll's guests. 

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The fir= st time Giovanna was given by Erroll the task of organising a dinner party, it was= her first encounter with names from the Italian aristocracy, from the British community, plus the guest of honour, The American Ambassador, Mrs.Claire B= ooth Luce. Giovanna did not sleep for a few nights, worried at the thoughts that such an important event should rest mainly on her shoulders. With her eyes shut, in bed, while Gio' was sound asleep, she kept going through imaginary lists of what she could serve.

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"W= hat was she doing, Giovanna Perotti, ex school teacher, in charge of entertaining such people with titles and famous names?"

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"T= hey must be used to dishes prepared by the best chefs of this world, with exotic ingredients that I have never seen or even heard of"  she kept telling herself.

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She wou= ld nudge Gio', who, in his sleep, would just moan monosyllabic answers. One night h= is answer came fuller than usual:

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"Y= ou are a wonderful cook, remember the marvellous banquets at the end of the school years?"  He said, before turning on the other side. Giovanna sat up in bed, her heart thumping with= such excitement, pondering on what Gio' had just said.

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Why not= ? she thought, "why not give them what I used to cook for our friends in Montello?"

 

Nobody = made better and tastier lasagne than her, she had always been told, and the follow up dishes too, had to be tasted to be believed. She needed no cookery book. N= ext morning she just handed over to the cook the list of the requirements and touched iron  (Italians do no= t touch wood) for good  luck.

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The din= ner was such a success that made her name known to all of Erroll's friends, who th= anked once again his good fortune for his newly found family.  Entertaining, meeting old friends= and making new ones, was Erroll's way to overcome the loneliness and sadness o= f his life that came to the surface when he was alone.  He hated his own company. When ot= hers were present, he was jovial, cheerful, he would tell jokes and laugh as if= he did not have a care in the world, a side of his character which disappeared when people left.

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That's = why he felt it was so good having Giovanna and Gio' under the same roof. He had someon= e to talk to, someone with whom he could be without inhibitions.

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 When they were on their own,  just the three of them, it was a = real family life for him, the family he never had having lost his parents early= in life and having never married. During the last few years of his life he wa= s not enjoying very good health, but he never seemed to get tired, his energy was astonishing for a man of his age, over seventy years old.  Gio' and Giovanna loved Rome, too. Giovanna had the added plea= sure of having her sister Maria living not very far away. Also they liked the clim= ate, not as harsh as Valledoro in Winter. Giovanna's health had given some conc= ern, so the milder climate was just what she needed. They always left Rome in the Summer to spend some time = with their children and grandchildren at the same holiday resort of their young= er days, while Erroll would go to his old haunts, the Danieli in Venice, or the Cappuccini in Amalfi.

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At some= point Joe and Giovanna would have to face the thought of what would happen in the ev= ent of Erroll's death, especially after he had an operation to the prostate gland,  which, although succe= ssful, brought the knowledge of the existence of an unsuspected tumour.

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A very = calm and composed Erroll had accepted the news as an inevitable event, with no regr= ets, but only thanks to Fate that had given him a long, comfortable, good life,= in beautiful surroundings, in the company of his friends and of all those who shared his love for every form of art.

 

 

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Index of Illustratio= ns

 

=

=

=

=

=

=

=

=

=

=

=

=

=

=

=

=

=

=

=

=

=

=

=

Front= cover

=

Allie= d Troops in the Appenines

=

Back = cover

=

Gio' = and family walking in the countryside near Valledoro

=

page<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'>    3=

=

The A= uthor

=

page<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'>    5=

=

Allie= d troops - picnic - Comrades reunited in Italy after escape of prisoners of wa= r.

=

page<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'>   71

=

Medie= val Main Square "Piazza Centrale" of 'Valledoro'

=

page<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'>   99 - above

=

The W= omen had long hair

=

page<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'>   99 - below

=

Giova= nna and friends outside the family home.

=

page = 100 - above

=

Young= People resting after a Sunday walk in the country picking flowers.

=

page = 100 - below

=

A fam= ily group.

=

page = 103

=

In th= e Village= School

=

page = 129

=

The R= ise of Fascism

=

page = 143

=

Fasci= st Youth.

=

page = 158

=

Notic= e to Italians to co operate with the Germans

=

page = 162

=

The s= tation of Valledoro blown in half by bombing.

=

page = 166

=

The M= ill - "Il Mulino"

=

page = 193

=

Colon= el Stevens

=

page = 215

=

The <= /span>Church<= span lang=3DEN-GB style=3D'font-size:14.0pt'> of Santa Lucia

=

page = 217 - above

=

The s= tairway into the Caves

=

page = 217 - below

=

The m= ountain paths and view of the 'Chicken Perch' in distance.

=

page = 225 - above

=

The G= erman Retreat

=

page = 225 - below

=

The A= llied artillery

=

page = 226

=

Ameri= can soldier with local child.

=

page = 231

=

Katia= - "La Belva di Valledoro" - The Beast of Valledoro - hair cut off and led= to trial.

=

 

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