I should really be asleep at this point of the day. Here, it’s almost three a.m. and although to the average college student that may not seem very late, tomorrow and the weekend that will follow are going to both be very busy. I could use as much sleep as possible, but after today’s events, I just really felt the need to write some things down. Also, as I just mentioned, this weekend will be busy: me and a few other girls are going to Venice for the weekend to celebrate Carnevale. I wanted to write about today before I left for that trip, but I should probably warn you: most of this post will probably be a bit of a Debbie-downer. But not everything in life is puppies and pink champagne, so here it goes…
This week, in class, we’re studying La Resistenza; that is, the Italian resistance to Nazi Germany’s invasion and occupation of Italy during World War II. I’ve had a sort of morbid fascination with World War II and the Holocaust since I was about nine years old; in Italian school, I had to memorize the chronology of the entire war, the geography of Germany, how an atomic bomb works, and various poems written by Italian Jews who survived the concentration camps. All of this was a part of my final exam in fifth grade, in which I graduated from elementary school, and all of it had a profound effect on me. I’ve made the mistake of saying, “I love World War II!” multiple times, before realizing that I should clarify and explain that I don’t actually love the existence of an awful war. I love studying it.
With that being said, it should be no surprise that when we were told that we’d be traveling just outside of Bologna’s city limits, into the mountains, where there is a key landmark of Italy’s history (or at least Bologna's history) of resistance during the war, I was extremely excited.
The bus wound its way up hills and small roads that would barely fit an SUV, let alone a vehicle filled with 20+ students and various professors. The surrounding hills and valleys were beautiful, with little orange, red, and brown villas and farmhouses scattered around, with steep vineyards and cliffs dividing them. After about thirty minutes, we arrived at our destination: a small memorial on the side of the road. It looked like the sort of thing that you could easily drive by if you didn’t know it was there.
It seems like a simple little place, at first. Just a wall with the words: “A memorial for the fallen partisans at Sabbiuno.” There’s an old farmhouse further up the hill (where the museum is housed) and the fog from the early morning blocks almost everything below in the valley from sight, besides the pale sun that fights its way through the clouds.
And then Professor Pretti, a UNIBO professor, and an elderly man from the memorial museum step in front of us and they both tell us the story of this cliff and these people.
It’s hard to give you an accurate representation of the significance of this hillside to the Italian people (or at least the Bolognese) and what it symbolizes without an extensive background of Italy’s participation in WWII. I feel that some knowledge of history would help put it in perspective and I guess the best way to make you understand (if you don’t already know your European history) is that at this point in the war, Italy is in a state of chaos. An armistice has been signed, so Italy has officially pulled from the war, but apparently these orders are not sent to everybody, so there’s some confusion. The Allied Forces are marching through Italy from the South, slowly but surely moving towards the heart of Europe. The Third Reich obviously doesn’t like this and Hitler also sees Italy as a traitor in their little alliance, so he sends a large amount of troops into Italy from the North. Let’s not forget that the Italian fascists are there too, so there’s also a bit of a civil war going on between Italian fascists and Italian ‘rebels,’ which come in many forms. One type of rebel? The partisans; or rather, i partigiani: the farmers and factory workers and the occasional student who saw the Germans as invaders of their own land and decided to engage in guerilla warfare to drive them from the Italian countryside.
An ambitious endeavor. They had some success and it’s certainly noteworthy that they fought back, but these acts of rebellion resulted in serious retaliation from the Nazi’s, as can be seen on the little hill of the area of Paderno right outside of Bologna, where I was this morning.
Over one hundred young men were rounded up and kept in the prisons of Bologna, suspected of being partigiani. Some of the men were indeed rebels, others were just farmers who had been kind enough to provide a roof and some food to the partigiani. Regardless, they were held captive and tortured for information for a good amount of time in a building that now belongs to the University until December of 1944, when this group of over one hundred young men was marched up into the hills surrounding Bologna. They were brought to Sabbiuno di Paderno, on a tall hill that overlooks a peaceful little valley. They stood on the edge of the cliff and were then executed, en masse, by the Nazi soldiers. Their bodies rolled down the cliff and were buried by the snow in the valley until the following summer, when the snow melted and a hunter found them.
This is where I was today. I stood right there, almost precisely where they would have stood. Where boys—some no older than twelve or thirteen—stood shaking in the snow, facing the muzzles of German automatic weapons. They were so young
. Younger than me. Braver than me. How do you do that? How do you, as a poor farmer, take on the immense power of the Third Reich? I think that’s what amazes me the most: the fact that these men (and women—although in this case there weren’t any women killed, there were certainly plenty killed in other instances) took this incredibly huge risk, but not for a political motive or even for an ideological one. The did it for their land
. As we watched L'uomo che verrà in class this week (a film depicting the tragic mass murder of partigiani and innocent farmers—women and children alike—in an area called Montesole, also very near Bologna), they kept emphasizing that idea. This was their land, their home, and it always had been. Thatwas why they fought.
I am always amazed by the connection Italians seem to feel to the land. I’ve had a lot of Italians tell me that the U.S. is much more patriotic than their country and in some cases that’s true, but I see a very individual sort of patriotism in Italy. Americans are often patriotic for an ideal: the American dream. The idea that you can do anything, if you try hard enough. The flashing lights of New York City, the beaches of California, the cowboy boots of Texas. We’re patriotic for the red, white, and blue because we’re proud of this immensely expansive country that has been a country for all of two hundred years. But Italians? They’re proud of the land they’re standing on. That hillside, with the trees sloping down the cliff to lead to a giant, white cross to mark the spot of the bodies? That’s what they’re proud of: the tangible home that you can reach out and touch, not an ideal of stars and stripes. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being proud of those stars and stripes (I will admit to singing my fair share of hard-core American country ballads). But when Italians tell me that there’s no patriotism in their country, I think that they’re wrong. I can hear it in their voices when they talk about their people; the ones who fought back against the impossibly-strong force of the Third Reich of Nazi Germany. I see it at Rita’s table in our cooking classes, when she explains the differences in wine that are particular to each region of Italy. I feel it in the way my housemate, Marta, describes her family and shows me the pictures of her backyard, where she and her cousins used to play beneath the shadow of the Alps. We listened to our elderly tour guide describe not the movement of armies, but the names of the partigiani. Dante Drusiani? He was a ladies-man and apparently very charismatic. He was also very short, so he was sometimes teased by the other rebels; he chose the codename Tempesta (Storm), to seem more fierce. He ended up being one of their best fighters, until he was killed. For some reason, hearing these small details was even more crushing than looking at the overall statistics of how many people were killed in the war. It made it so much more real, as we were walking along the cliff-side, where each man that had been identified had his name inscribed on a large stone. I read every single name. I felt that if I had been willing to die for something, I would want people to remember my name. I would want them to read it out loud and wonder who I was and what I had done or what I would have done.
That’s what’s so beautiful about Italy. The past isn’t in old history books or museums—it’s on the streets, it’s in the mountains, it’s in the old ladies who shuffle by with canes to keep themselves upright, clearly old enough to remember a time when three different world powers marched themselves through their countryside. I love that history is just a part of daily life here.
After we walked around the cliff and our fingers were numb with cold, we were brought down to the lower level of the farmhouse, which used to be the barn, where “the old lady has made you some tea and food.” Literally, an exact translation. Waiting for us was steaming lemon tea and homemade pizza and foccaccia. Our elderly tour guide took turns coming up to each of us and telling us how beautiful we are. He especially insisted on staring into our eyes and marveling at their colors, so it’s good to know that after the age of 75, you’re still allowed to flirt with people fifty years your junior. Then later this evening, I had my third cooking class with Rita. We made pasta fresca; that is, we made tagliatellefrom scratch and they were delicious. Kneading the dough required a sort of swaying motion, so Rita put on the equivalent of Italian salsa and told us to dance while kneading the dough. When we apparently weren't moving in the correct way, she told us to pretend there was a handsome man at our backs, watching us. As we got into the dancing, Rita laughed, clapped her hands, and proclaimed: "You see? Pasta is sexy!"
With the tagliatelle, we made a ragu’ sauce! And then a salad with some sort of green lettuce, slices of blood-orange, fennel, raisins, pine nuts, slices of pecorino romano, and a balsamic vinaigrette (AMAZING). Then we made tiramisu’! Again. Everything was so great. Rita gave us a small lesson on wine while her husband Giovanni made jokes down at the end of the table. We talked about America’s tendency for binge-drinking and how drinking wine “con calma” (calmly) makes you appreciate alcohol so much more. I’ve been trying to drink wine with dinner; I’m not a huge fan of the taste, but I’m getting used to it. When in Rome [or Bologna]…
With the morning having such a heavy subject, ending the night with the cooking class was nice. It’s almost impossible notto be in a good mood when leaving Rita’s house, with all the amazing food, interesting conversation, and good company. We spent a large portion of the evening trying to explain the words “awkward” and “clumsy” to Giovanni. Of course, there is no exact translation for either of these words into Italian because Italians are neither awkward nor clumsy. Ever. Giovanni really liked exchanging English colloquialisms for Sicilian ones, so I think it’s safe to say that both sides are learning something. I’d also like to say that Sami (another American) and I successfully did laundry for the first time in over three weeks! Don’t ask me how I’ve survived this long with the clothes that I’ve had. Also, chances are I’ll be doing laundry very infrequently. Seeing as the laundry room used to be the morgue, it is absolutely terrifying. I actually was planning on taking a picture of it to post on here to show you, but I was legitimately afraid of offending some random spirit. For the record, I do not believe in ghosts…except for maybe in the laundry room of this building. It’s dark down there and things rattle and it’s just…incredibly creepy. Pictures will come soon once I’m brave enough to take them. Now it’s really late and I should probably get to bed. This Friday I’ll be off to Venice and you’ll get another update after that. Hopefully I won’t fall into a canal because, unlike the Italians, I amclumsy. Once again, thanks for reading! I hope my overly-passionate history lesson didn’t turn you off from tuning in next week for a Venice update. I hope you have a spectacular rest of your day! I’ll leave you with this quote that was on a sign overlooking the cliff: "Better men will be born to us. The generation that will come will be better than those born from the earth, from the iron and from the fire." -Nazim Hikmet, 8th grader
© Copyright Danielle DeSimone. 2013.