Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

30 September 2009

Tuscany: Castiglione Revisited

Many years of peace make peaceful gardens

Since 1945 when the last German invasion of Italy ended, the people of Castiglione di Garfagnana have lived at peace. They don’t even have to worry much about internal strife because government goes on despite the annual changes of political masters in Rome, and it’s only down south that the mafia blows up judges. Over fifty years without fear. Now, instead of casting anxious eyes over the landscape they can look inwards at the bimbo shows on television and enjoy the comfort of washing machines, fridges, pop-up toasters, stereos, espresso machines, cell phones and three-wheeled Piaggios… their ancestors would have thought them the trappings of the devil.

In a tranquil, deserted but well tended little public garden there’s a memorial to men and women killed in the war. Italian soldiers don’t enjoy the best of reputations, appearing too fond of wine, women and song. The myths of Italian soldiery - they swapped sides readily; they strutted after Mussolini’s conquests in Ethiopia; they wore sumptuous uniforms and reeked of garlic and toiletries; they harboured cravens who hunted with the hounds and ran with the hares - overshadow the courage of resistance workers who fought Nazis in the hills above their native villages knowing that their families were being raped and singled out to be shot in reprisals while they themselves were in constant danger of capture and summary execution. It must have been hard. It is not forgotten: these shrines and memorial gardens exist all over northern Italy.

San Michele, Castiglione

Once my eyes adjust to shadow inside the Porta Principale I can make out a battered painted statue of Our Lady. Holding Jesus, she’s wearing a crown and is sumptuously dressed. Interesting how the Catholic church has rococo-ized the holy family; there’s something meretricious in the way the church has abandoned the simple country girl who gave birth in a stable.

From ‘Antipasto’ random samplings from various writings made over a few years of visits to a ‘New Zealander’s Italy

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By Don Donovan