Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Montecarlo and the Italian unification

Thursday, March 17
We go to a truly Italians-only event tonight, a special program in Montecarlo to commemorate the 150th birthday of the unification of Italy. In the big cities, there are huge gatherings with parades, orchestras, flag raisings, sbandieratori and fireworks, and that’s where most of the foreigners will be tonight. In little cities like Montecarlo, the festivities are quieter and draw mainly the middle-aged and older people, so in that regard, we fit right in. We saw a poster yesterday advertising the city’s celebration and decided that this would give us more insight into the local culture.

For one thing, the event is held in the Teatro dei Rassicurati, and for several years now, we have wanted to see the inside of this building. When we came here during my spring vacations, we would see well-dressed Italians going into the theater in the evening to watch live productions. We even considered inquiring about tickets, but we realized that plays usually have fast-paced dialog with minimal action, and we undoubtedly would understand little. But tonight there will be an orchestra and a chorus, along with speeches from the mayor and two university professors.

Typical of Italian events, the starting time is 9 p.m. We want to make sure we arrive in time to get seats, and we also are not keen on walking up the hill in the dark, so we leave home at 6:30 p.m. We ride our bikes ten minutes until the road becomes too steep for us, and then we lock our bikes and continue on foot, about twenty minutes more. We have clear skies now, but it has been pouring rain for much of the day, so the street and ditches on the hillside are awash with water.

We are fond of walking through Montecarlo because, though small, it always seems friendly and lively. We explore a restaurant that is perched on an outcropping on the edge of the hill and has a large covered outside dining area. It must be a spectacular place to dine in the summer, with a 180 degree-plus view of the valley below. Now it is too cold to eat outside, and the menu is a bit pricey for us, so we decide to go back to the trattoria where we dined with the Grays on the day in which they helped us get settled back at the beginning of February. We have found that a smart way to dine out here is to order a full course meal but split every plate between the two of us. That way we get to sample a variety of foods but don’t get too stuffed and don’t break our budget. The food is every bit as scrumptious as it was the first time, and we also are given a complimentary bowl of pumpkin soup as an appetizer.

We arrive at the theater at 8:45 p.m. and try to look like we know what we are doing as we choose a pair of empty seats. We have plenty of time for people-watching, as the program doesn’t actually get under way until 9:15 p.m. We recognize the sindaco, Vittorio Fantozzi, from a photo we saw on the comune’s web site. He looks to be in his late thirties and is smiling and dapper, with a neatly trimmed short beard and mustache. He is passing out ribbons of green, white and red with pins to fasten them to jackets or shirts, and we give him a grazie as we take ours.

The theater is old, dating back to the 1600s, but it has been remodeled several times and is well maintained with comfortable seats on the ground floor. In the balconies above, the seating areas are boxed off so that families can sit together in relative privacy. A good 80 percent of the audience tonight is composed of people ages forty and above, and there are many smiling and polite greetings between the attendees, though this is a formal event and voices are lower than they normally would be if you put this many Italians together in, say, a restaurant.

The orchestra has only nine instruments and the chorus about 18 persons, equally mixed between men and women. We listen to the Inno di Italia, the Italian national anthem, also known as the Hymm of Mameli, for Goffredo Mameli, who wrote the words. This is followed by a ten-minute welcome from Sindaco Fantozzi (see photo, left), who introduces historians Sergio Nelli (right) and Giorgio Yori (center). Dottor Yori makes a thirty-minute speech about the Risorgimento, the time during which Italy became united. I can understand this a little because I am familiar with the story. He says it was a type of civil war, sad and bloody, but the end result was beneficial.

Fantozzi, Yori, Nelli
Now is Dottor Nelli’s turn, and he talks about the history of the Montecarlo area during the mid-1800s. His speech is long and full of dates, names, cities and census data, and we are at a loss to understand many of the words in between. However, I perk up when I hear the name Seghieri. In fact, by the end of the speech, I have counted sixteen references to various Seghieris, including a Giovanni Seghieri, who could be a distant relative, according to the ancestry research we have done. I think he also says that a Seghieri accompanied Giuseppe Garibaldi on one of his campaigns.  We also hear the names Capocchi and Montanelli, which are in our family line. I wonder where Dottor Nelli works and if he speaks English so that some day I can find out more about the Seghieris’ role in local history, but my time here is packed already and I think that will have to wait for another year.

Then there are more performances from the orchestra and chorus, and we are struggling to stay awake when the end is announced at 11:15 p.m. We will have to walk down the hill in the dark, and we decide to leave quickly so we won’t have a line of cars driving up behind us. The moon is nearly full, and a confused rooster halfway down the hillside is crowing. We make it to our bikes without encountering many cars and arrive home just before midnight, tired by happy to have participated in a small way in an authentic community event.

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