Monday, October 30, 2017

The junkyard outside our house has been transformed into a courtyard -- and a gray water sewer?

We saw the west side of our house for the first time Friday. Really. We bought the house two years ago, we’ve lived in it for eight months, and until now, we never saw the west side. We also never knew that our kitchen sink drains directly into the downspouts straight down into someone’s garden—the garden that now hosts Montecarlo’s biggest celebrations, such as the annual wine festival and the haunted house for Halloween.

These are things that sometimes happen when you have a house that was built in the 14th century.
Our house, in the middle, viewed from the courtyard on the west side. That's our terrazza, with the laundry out, on the top floor. Note the downspout that goes down from the roof just below our terrazza and exits directly above the ground.

The east side of our house fronts on via Roma, the city’s lively main street. We can walk outside and within a minute we can be sipping an espresso or ciocolatta calda, dining at Italy’s finest trattorias, restaurants or pizzerias, savoring gelato, sampling wine and stuzzichini (appetizers) or shopping for groceries, shoes or fine Italian clothing. It can be a little loud outside our windows during a festa, but it’s a happy noise.

The west side is a totally different world. From our terrazza, we look over a renaissance-era brick city wall and see the plain of Lucca—groves of grapes, olive trees, rolling hills, the jagged Apuane Alps, the mountains that separate Lucca from Pisa. We can see Lucca in the distance, and the beginning of the Garfagnana valley. Because of the city wall and our position on a hilltop, no one can see us because the nearest house with a view over the wall is a mile away.

Between us and the wall is a private garden, which, when we bought the house, actually was a junk yard. It is owned by a wealthy family that is slowly renovating a huge house that borders on the garden, possibly to make a hotel—we don’t really know. Juri, our downstairs neighbor, said the work has been going on for years. Two years ago, the garden contained piles of bricks, scrap metal and wood and trashed appliances—not a pretty sight, but then we could just raise our heads and look over it all if we wanted. And there were periodic signs of construction on the house and a gradual rearranging and removal of the junk.
The garden/courtyard in October of 2017

We came back this fall to find every scrap of rubble removed and the entire area leveled. A dead tree in the middle had disappeared and gravel had taken the place of the patchy, scrubby weeds. It’s not exactly a garden yet, but it’s definitely a neat and tidy courtyard, It has large scenic photos on the walls of some of the area’s best vineyards, and we were told that it had been opened to help host Montecarlo’s 50th annual wine festival in September.

In the last few days, we’ve seen workers bringing in the metal framework for the house of horror for Montecharloween, and that’s how we finally got a view of the west side of our house. We walked by and saw that the entryway open for the workers, and we went inside with them. We were pleased to see that our house stood out among the half dozen others adjoining the garden, because we had collaborated with Juri’s family to paint both the east and west sides a cheery bright yellow. We enjoy the fresh look of the east side each time we approach from the street, and it was nice to get a few minutes of pleasure and pride by looking at the west side.

The enjoyment was tempered, however, by the discovery the previous day that our sink—including our dishwasher—was draining directly into the garden. Juri had come up to ask us not to use the little sink outside on our terrazza to wash dishes, because it drained into the garden right outside the ground floor of our shared house. We were confused, because we never use that sink. We knew it drained directly into the gutters. Why would he be telling us not to use something we already didn’t use? And then it dawned on me. What if the kitchen sink did the same thing? It only took a moment for all of us to discover, with horror, that it did.

How long has it been doing that?” Lucy asked. ‟Always,” Juri said. ‟We just didn’t know it, because the garden has been overgrown for years. Now I put a sidewalk outside the house, and the garden has been all cleaned up.”
This view from the ground of the courtyard shows the large house in the middle that belongs to the family which owns the courtyard. It may not look like it from the outside, but gradually it is being refurbished.

Fortunately, the soil is fairly absorbent, and the water drains straight across Juri’s sidewalk before forming a small puddle that dissipates fairly quickly—but I see a few grains of rice in the puddle, residue from our dishes. Now I’m thankful that we weren’t here for the wine festival and that we’ll be gone before Halloween. Imagine what a brutta figura this would have made if our kitchen scraps had coming pouring out among a crowd of celebrating tourists and city officials.

Juri will have his idraulico—plumber—see what needs to be done to join the kitchen drain with the bathroom drain (which, we are certain, properly flows into the sanitary sewer system), and it will be fixed by time we come back in the winter. The next time we’re in Montecarlo and the garden is opened for a festa, we’ll be able to enjoy the event and the view of our house proudly.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Padule di Fucecchio ‟marked for death” by soldiers who carried out their brutal orders in a dawn attack

Part 3 in a series on the Slaughter at the Swamp of Fucecchio.

Peasants living in the Padule di Fucecchio had no warning on the fateful day of August 23, 1944. German soldiers armed themselves with machine guns, rifles, pistols, grenades and cannons at 5 a.m. By dawn, they had advanced into the huge swamp from all directions.

Pellegrino Cardelli, 40, and his wife Evelina Quiriconi were working outside their house in the Capannone neighborhood just before 6 a.m. ‟We heard loud voices in a strange language,” Evelina told Ponte Buggianese Priest Giulio Tognarelli, one of the first on the scene after the massacre. ‟Were they Germans? I warned Pellegrino to hide, but he didn’t believe me at first.”

Evelina walked down the lane a little farther. ‟Then there was no doubt, it was the Germans,” she said. Pellegrino fled into the bushes, but Evelina had approached too closely. Two soldiers grabbed her by the wrists and dragged her screaming to their commanding officer.


Her desperate cries brought the attention of other people in the neighborhood,” Tognarelli said. ‟but they weren’t permitted to approach. The soldiers were all around, searching in the canals, looking behind bushes, walking through the fields, with rifles and pistols ready to fire.

They told Evelina that an Italian spy had informed them that everyone in the Padule is a partisan, that the peasants all support the partisans, keeping them informed—that the peasants in the Padule are either helping voluntarily or being paid by the partisans for their services, and now the soldiers have come to execute their orders. All Italians in the Padule are marked for death.”

The soldiers speaking to Evelina were not exaggerating. General Eduard Peter Crasemann and Captain Josef Strauch, having been wrongly informed that between 250 to 500 partisans were hiding out in the center of the swamp, gave both signed and oral orders to kill all inhabitants. The German word used, vernichten, can be translated ‟kill, destroy, exterminate, annihilate.”

Some of the soldiers didn’t strictly obey the orders. If they had, Evelina wouldn’t have survived to tell her story. But that evening, Tognarelli said, Evelina found Pellegrino lying dead, ‟his flesh torn apart by ferocious gunfire.”

Similar events were taking place all around the edges of the Padule, and in many cases, the soldiers were even more brutal. In some homes, the inhabitants were ordered outside, lined up and shot dead—including women, children and elderly men. In all, 175 men, women and children were slaughtered; 25 were under the age of 14, and 62 were women. Only two were partisans.

Sixteen people from the Malucchi family from Cintolese were among the dead, including three children, Franca, 8; Norma, 6; and Maria, only 4 months old. In another location, 92-year-old Faustina Maria Arinci, known as Carmela, who was both deaf and blind, died from a live hand grenade placed in the pocket of her apron.

Most of the dead had previously left their homes in the surrounding villages to live in the Padule, a place considered safe because it was away from the inhabited centers, and the Germans rarely entered it. Ironically, the slaughter took place almost entirely on the more populated fringes of the Padule, Had there been partisans hiding out, they probably would have set up camp in the center, where the Germans never ventured.

Dozens of witnesses survived, and their stories have been well documented in books and military investigations conducted afterward by both British and American forces.
The "Casin di Lillo" has been restored as a landmark to
remember the massacre that occurred in 1944. A marker
on the side notes that it was the site where the Germans killed
a father and his 10-year-old son.

Giuseppe Fagni testified: ‟It was day, maybe around 7 a.m. We heard shooting from over in the canal. A dozen of the Germans were in the threshing floor of the Silvestri house. A voice in Italian said that we all had to come out of the house. Some were already outside. Some refused to go out. The Germans began to fire, shooting three people. Others were standing behind or to the sides.
Color photos by Lucy Spadoni
They shot Annuziata and her baby. They entered the house and shot at the women in the kitchen. They shot Gino Romani to death and my father-in-law, who was only wounded and fainted. Then they shot one of their own soldiers, a German, by mistake. They killed him. Some went towards the swamp with their guns. Others turned back and carried away the dead German and said that we had killed him. They killed Antonio Mazzei with the butt of a rifle. Inside the house the show would make you faint. Ada Silvestri, wounded, died a little later. Also dead were Giuliana, a 16-year-old girl, and her father Angiolo, a paralytic. Armida Silvestri died, and Gelsomina Silvestri too. Next to Gelsomina were her dead children, Giuseppe, 9, and Rosella, a year and a half old. (Source: R. Cardellicchio, L’estate del ‘44. Eccidio del padule di Fucecchio, 1974).
Some of the survivors who testified at the trial against Crasemann and Strauch. Bottom row, third from left, is Baroness
Poggi-Bianchini, whose large estate had been occupied during the war by the Germans.
 Source of the photo:“Summer ‘44” by Riccardo Cardellicchio.



When the massacre ended around noon, the soldiers claimed to have killed 200 ‟partisans.” That evening, while grief-stricken survivors were gathering up the bodies of their loved ones, the Nazis were having celebrations in Ponte Buggianese and Larciano. The Baroness Poggi-Bianchini, whose home was occupied by Nazi officers, said, ‟The day after the eccidio, the command organized a great party and the military band played around the castle until late.” They sang, laughed and cried out: ‟Vittoria, partigiani tutti kaputt.”

Part 4 coming soon . . .

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Our first excursion to the Padule di Fucecchio begs a return visit

Where would I rather be--the library or here? 
Tuesday was a spectacularly clear day in the Valdinievole. Sometimes a haze hangs stubbornly in the plains below us—exhaust from the paper mills and the burning of olive branches, most likely—and we see Lucca and the hills and mountains only indistinctly. Other times, the air is crystal clear. It was nearing 75 degrees F. outside, and yet, there I was, sitting in the library in Ponte Buggianese, researching the Eccidio del Padule di Fucecchio for a blog entry.

Looking at a map, I realized I was only a few miles from the northern edge of the Padule. Suddenly, it occurred to me: I have never actually been in the Padule. Why should I be in the library researching when I could be studying the very place where the slaughter had occurred? Days like this in late October are rare, even in Tuscany.
Birch trees on the edge of the Padule di Fucecchio. All photos by Paul and Lucy Spadoni

Three barchini
I hopped into our rented Fiat 500 and drove past Anchione and turned east. Soon I was bouncing along a dirt road which grew progressively more primitive. I passed an orderly copse of birch trees, and soon I was driving on a clay road next to a wide ditch. There had been no signs, but undoubtedly this was the Padule. I parked and walked along the grassy shore of the muddy canal. Herons and other birds flew by, some singing songs I had never heard before. I startled two bullfrogs on the opposite bank, and they splashed into the slow moving water, gave a few powerful kicks and then submerged. The swamp was alive with water bugs. I found three boats tied up to the shore, one almost half filled with water and attached by a rusty chain. The other two looked swamp-worthy and had long bamboo poles in them for propulsion and navigation.
Tall grass with large tassels on top make good hiding places for wildlife.

Trails led off in two different directions, imploring me to explore them—but I couldn’t. I felt this experience had to be shared, so I drove home and told Lucy. I knew she had plans for the day. She is working on two quilts she’s making for children we support in Africa, and she also has to finish a novel we’re reading for the English book club in Lucca. We are only here for another few days. Never mind all that, she said, after I told her of my discovery—apparently, my powers of seduction are irresistible.

Lucy finds a duck blind and captures
one of the duck decoys.
Camera in hand, we returned and followed both trails through the tall grass and along the shores of canals. We found more boats—I later read that they are special canal boats called barchini—a few abandoned cabins, some duck blinds used by hunters, and many ducks—both real and decoys. We saw a pond in the distance, and I crept up slowly so I could get a photo without scaring away the waterfowl. I must have been very stealthy, because none of the 20 or so ducks even looked my way—and that’s when I realized they were all decoys, set out by hunters. We did later see real ducks, however.
The ducks on this pond were not at all scared of me. I could have waded right in and picked them up, I think.

The thick grass around us prevented us from seeing very far; it was at least 10 feet tall in places. But wait, why was the grass moving over there? We could hear rustling and see the
An abandoned cabin
grass being disturbed about 20 feet away. Herons nesting, perhaps? Wild boar rooting? Deer eating? I might have heard a snort, like that of a deer or boar, but it might have been something else. The rustling stopped and started several times, but after five minutes, it ceased entirely. I grew tired of waiting and we moved on.

Both trails eventually dead-ended, so we went back to the car and tried a different road. This time we found a park, the Casin di Lillo, on the edge of the Padule. It has a public boat launch, places to sit and more trails. We found a cabin with a
More barchini at the Casin di Lillo park.
memorial plaque attached; this was the place a man and his son had been shot down by German soldiers during World War 2. For now, we were the only humans there, although before we left, a man rode up on a bicycle. Many more barchini 
were chained up. Possibly during the summer months, the boats are available for public use. Someday we’ll return to find out—and explore those other trails as well. As of yet, we’ve seen only a few of the 50,000 acres of the Padule and only a half dozen of the nearly 200 bird species present. This is definitely a place deserving to be revisited.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Padule di Fucecchio is a place of danger--and protection--for humans and animals alike

Part 2 in a series on the Slaughter at the Swamp of Fucecchio

The Padule di Fucecchio is the largest marsh in Italy, consisting of nearly 2,000 hectares (50,000 acres), and it is located in sections of the provinces of Florence, Prato, Pistoia, Lucca and Pisa. The largest part is in the Valdinievole area, but it also includes areas south of the Pistoiese Apennines, between Montalbano and the Cerbai Hills.

An airone cenerino, or brown heron.
photo courtesy www.visittuscany.com
Most of it is now a protected nature preserve, noted for the abundance and variety of flora and fauna that are studied and guarded by governmental research agencies. It is part of an important migratory route for birds, and more than 200 varieties have been documented there. A Ministerial Decree in the European Official Journal in 2013 records that the Padule was declared a ‟wetland of international importance” by the international Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

photo courtesy www.visittuscany.com
It has also played a crucial and strategic role for rulers throughout the centuries. Since it is so difficult for enemies to traverse, it provides an easily defensible boundary. In fact, it is famous for that fact that General Hannibal Barca lost an eye when he tried to cross the Padule in the Second Punic War.

Tito Livio, in ‟Ab Urbe Condita, Book XXII,” said that Hannibal, in his march towards Arezzo, took the shortest route through swamps where the Arno had spilled over its banks in those days, although he had the opportunity to take a longer but more comfortable route: ‟He ordered first into the swamp the most experienced soldiers, the Spanish, Africans and Gauls. The horsemen came next, and Magone, Numids and some of the Gauls protected the rear.” The Gauls, ‟particularly talented” warriors, checked to make sure that the column kept moving, because otherwise those who were sick or too tired to continue may have been left behind.

This is the artist Henri Paul Motte's idea of what it might have
looked like when Hannibal and his elephants crossed the
Rhone. More likely, historians say, the elephants swam across.
But making their way through the Padule would have
been more difficult.
‟Those going first carried the army’s insignia through the deep streams of the river, almost swallowed and submerged by the mud,” Livio continued. ‟The Gauls slipped and could not rise from the whirlpools and eddies. Others, stunned by fatigue, died among the mules lying here and there. (They) endured for four days and three nights, being everywhere covered by the waters and being unable to find any dry place where to lay their tired bodies. They piled up their luggage and even their dead mules so they could lie on them and keep out of the water, or they moved on in search of anything that emerged from the swamp so they could rest. Hannibal, already suffering from the sudden and continual changes in temperature, advanced on the only surviving elephant to keep himself taller than the water, lost his eye.”

Just how he lost the eye is not clear. Some believe he lost it as a result of contracting conjunctivitis or malaria. The author Petrarch wrote of the ‟great Carthaginian” that ‟one eye had left in my country, stagnating in the cold time of the Tosco river.” Various popular stories portrayed orally in the area report that it was lost because of an attack carried out by a band of inhabitants of the area, who used a long barrel to carve it out. That story is also reported by Curzio Malaparte in his ‟Maledetti Toscani.”

In passing through the Padule, Hannibal lost almost all of the few elephants that remained after he had crossed the Alps. Polybius described the death of one of Hannibal’s favorites: ‟He died there, bringing to the men a fall, but one advantage: sitting on him and their packed luggage, they remained above the water, so they slept for a small part of the night.”
The Padule di Fucecchio in more recent times. Many canals have been made to improve the water flow and reclaim land.
photo courtesy www.visittuscany.com

In later times, the Padule was used as a hunting and fishing resort for the wealthy Medici family of Florence, who maintained a castle nearby. The Florentines even dammed up some of outlets to raise the water level and improve the fishing. The dams were subsequently removed, but the Padule remained a marshy and malarial area visited mostly by hunters and fishermen—and it also gained a reputation as an excellent haven for bandits and fugitives from the law.

All of this may cause one to wonder: What interest did the Germans have in going into the Padule at all? The answer is actually quite easy to deduce. It would be the perfect hiding place for partisans, and in fact they did use it for just that. For the most part, the Germans kept clear of the Padule, fearing surprise attacks.

Photo from archives of Ponte Buggianese.
Realizing this, the peasants living in the surrounding communities used it to avoid harassment from the soldiers. Many of them knew the area well and could find dry areas to graze their animals, stores their goods, hunt for wildlife or even plant crops, away from observation by the soldiers. Some still maintained homes in the villages and built shelters in the Padule to store their food and equipment. Others built crude shacks and moved their entire families to the swamplands for safety.

Frustrated and fearful by surprise attacks such as those orchestrated by Silvano Fedi in Pistoia the previous year, the Germans were anxious to strike at the partisans before suffering further losses and causalities. In October of 1943, Fedi and five other partisans attacked a Fascist armory near Pistoia, making off with large quantities of arms, ammunition and other supplies. Another time he attacked the Ville Sbertoli prison, freeing 54 prisoners, most of whom had been incarcerated for political reasons.
Notice the lack of roads in the center. That is the heart of the Padule di Fucecchio, although much of the area around it is swampy as well. Many canals and raised roadbeds have been made over the centuries to make it easier to travel through it, but much of it can still only be visited by boat.

The Germans had received faulty intelligence reports that as many as 300 partisans were using the Padule to hide out and store their arms. General Peter Eduard Crasemann had earlier been part of a patrol attacked by partisans at the Passo di Porretta, and he was under pressure to create a safe zone for the fighting retreat of troops to the south. Crasemann issued orders on August 22, 1944, to destroy the partisan camp at all costs, and the officers and soldiers under him interpreted this as carte blanche approval to annihilate anyone who came between them and the partisans. The slaughter was to commence at dawn the next day.

Continue to part 3

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Two free necci, wine, a fox and a new moon at a chestnut sagra in Vellano

I wouldn’t recommend arriving late to a sagra on its final day and on the only day it has really rained all month. Yet somehow it worked out well for us. After church today, we drove to Cerreto Guidi to see a museum that Google lists as open from 4-7 p.m. on Sunday. It was not open, with very different hours posted on its door, and so we decided to go instead to the Sagra Delle Frugiate in Vellano, near Pescia. We didn’t know what Frugiate were, and Google failed us on that one as well. No translation was listed, but we could see from the poster that it was something made with chestnuts.

A large geode at a mining
museum in Vellano.
The poster said the distribution of frugiate began at 2 p.m., and we arrived a little after 5:30 p.m. It started raining as soon as we left the car, so we went first to the museum of miners and quarrymen, if for no other reason than to get out of the rain but also because it was free on the day of the sagra. We saw an interesting display of mining tools and minerals, and when we went to leave, the rain stopped. The museum curator told us that there were two piazzas selling chestnut snacks, but he warned that they might be closing early because of the weather.

We hiked up the hill to the necci stand, but the group of about 15 people who had been running the concession said they had just closed. Now they were in a community hall listening to music, chatting and drinking wine. Sensing we were disappointed, one of the men checked with a lady named Giorgia, who said there was one neccio left and we were welcome to it. The man invited us inside and we were served not only the neccio but also given two plastic cups of wine. A neccio (the plural is necci) is kind of like a pancake made with chestnut flour and spread with either ricotta or nutella and then rolled up like a crêpe. Since the stand has closed and the volunteers were all just socializing at the end of the day, we weren’t changed anything. Of course, we offered our hearty thanks, telling everyone they were molto gentile, very kind.

When we found our way to the other piazza, it was still open, but just barely. We bought two sugar-coated bambole, which were a lot like doughnuts, and then we looked at the other offerings and asked to buy a castagnaccio, something we had never had before. Sold out. So was the frugiate. All they had left was the necci. We declined, since we had already had one. We did ask what frugiate were, and the lady explained that they were basically roasted chestnuts. We walked over to finish our bambole and look at the huge kettle that had been used for roasting the chestnuts. It still had a small fire going under it, but no more chestnuts.

Then the lady who had explained what frugiate meant walked up to us with a warm neccio filled with ricotta. It was closing time, and she wanted us to have the last one. We sat down and shared another neccio and drank the last of our wine. It was getting dark, but the sky had cleared up and the evening was mild.


As we drove home, we still had two more special moments. Driving on a rough and curvy detour, we saw a fox, peeking out at us from some brush. Moments later, we saw the new moon hanging just over a little hilltop town that I think is Medicina. We stopped the car and Lucy took a timed exposure that came out well, though naturally seeing it in person was even better. All in all, it was a great day, even if we missed seeing the museum. It actually would have been good enough even if we had arrived too late for the sagra, because just driving on the back roads of Tuscany is still a treat for us.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Simmering tensions, violence preceded the Eccidio in the Fucecchio Padule

Part 1 in a series on the Slaughter at the Swamp of Fucecchio
Agostino Spadoni

Mid-summer in Ponte Buggianese, Italy, can be boiling hot, too hot to work outside, if one has any choice in the matter. But peasant farmer Agostino Spadoni and his wife Isola Fanucci were accustomed to the heat, and they went to work on their field as they did most every day. But July 6, 1944, was not like any other day for Agostino. It would be his last.
Mussolini and Hitler

The times were extraordinary for Italians everywhere. Benito Mussolini had waited as long as he could before embroiling his country in a war. He had watched carefully to see which side would win, and when Germany quickly overran France in the spring of 1940, Mussolini jumped aboard the German war machine in June, certain that he would emerge a co-victor and sit down with Adolf Hitler to divide the spoils. Mussolini chose badly, though, initiating five years of horrendous suffering for Italian soldiers and civilians alike.
Ponte Buggianese prior to World War 2

When Italy threw Mussolini out of office three years into its war effort and changed sides, the suffering didn’t end. In fact, it became worse, because the Germans were by then so entrenched in Italy that they were already effectively calling the shots, so to speak. In 1944, the 26th German Armored Division and other branches of the German military occupied the Valdinievole—a valley which included Ponte Buggianese, Montecatini, Pescia, Chiesina Uzzanese, Monsummano and many other smaller villages—because of its strategic position just three miles from the Arno River. The German army had formed the ‟Gothic Line” there to make what would be its last stand in an failed effort to stop the northward march of Allied Armies. By July, even the Germans realized that the line probably wouldn’t hold, but they tried to keep it secure to protect their fighting forces that were retreating from further south.
A group of Italian Fascists on the old bridge in Ponte Buggianese.

Resentment and tensions boiled between civilians and soldiers. Germans occupied Italian homes, compelling housewives to cook for them and men to work for them, or at least provide them with a few bottles of wine. In more extreme cases, soldiers would come into a home and arrest people on false charges and then extort them for money or jewelry in exchange for their release. Civilians had little choice but to comply, hoping that by their silence they would be left alone, and this proved true most of the time. But not always.

Among the civilians were groups of partigiani—partisans—paramilitary men who met in secret to plot disruption and violence. The partisans in Ponte Buggianese called themselves the ‟Silvano Fedi.” Fedi had been a law student in nearby Pistoia who was arrested in 1939 and held in seclusion for a year for spreading anti-national propaganda. An ardent anti-Fascist, Fedi returned to his home town after his imprisonment and continued to speak out. When Italy changed sides, Fedi lead a group of partisans that hid out in the countryside around Pistoia. He was killed by German soldiers in an ambush July 29, 1944, and the partisans in Ponte Buggianese named their group after him to honor his courage and conviction.


Silvano Fedi
The Silvano Fedi partisans numbered about 30 and were headed by a friend of Fedi, professor Aristide Benedetti. Other smaller and less organized groups existed as well, and some men from one of these groups took action one day in the Fattoria district of Ponte Buggianese, action that would lead to a reaction and the death of Agostino Spadoni and nearly 200 others like him during what became known as L’Eccidio del Padule di Fucecchio, the Slaughter at the Swamp of Fucecchio.

One of the officers in the Silvano Fedi was Pietro Bassano, a brigadier of the Ponte Buggianese carabinieri. Bassano observed four youths belonging to another group of patriots open fire on two German soldiers that were passing on a motorcycle and side car, wounding them. The soldiers fled and reported the incident to the general quarters of Ponte Buggianese. German officers ordered what the Italians called a rappresaglia, a reprisal.

Italian civilians living in the home of Ada Dal Pino heard about the reprisal first hand, because her home was being occupied by German Lieutenant Josef Brettnacher, Sergeant Major Martin Petschell and other minor officers. Petschell, who already had a reputation in the village as a bully, was heard to say: For every German soldier that is killed, 10 civilians will die as a result. Eyewitnesses recounted that Brettnacher and Petschell left with a patrol of soldiers and returned around 7 p.m. with some stolen bottles of wine. Petschell said that he had killed some civilians and added that if he heard of more attacks on German soldiers, the entire village would be burned.

Stories of the patrol’s activities that day emerged after the war from depositions given by residents to British officers. The Germans went to the neighborhood where the soldiers had been wounded and started firing their weapons in all directions. Then they went to the house of Maria Pinochi and killed Celestino Pinochi, age 77, and started the house on fire by throwing an incendiary bomb. Maria, who was working in the fields, heard the shooting and came running home, finding the body of her father-in-law lying in front of the door, with two bullet holes in his back.

Neighbor Bruna Quiriconi recounted that she was in her home with her husband, Marino, 35, when soldiers arrested him, sacked the house and lit it on fire before releasing Marino and leaving. After a few minutes, the soldiers returned and arrested Marino a second time. Friends tried to gather around and protect him, but they were beaten off by the soldiers and threatened with death. Marino then tried to run, but he had only taken a few steps when Petschell raised his rifle and killed the fleeing man. 

Agostino Spadoni, 73, heard the noise of shooting and went to see what was happening. When he didn't return, Isola went to look for him. She found him in a field about 50 meters away. He had been shot in the head.

Two other civilians were killed in similar fashion that day, and another was killed 11 days later. Another five were killed in nearby Pescia nine days after that. But the worst was yet to come.

Continue to part 2 in the series

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A local tale of death and tragedy in the swamps near Ponte Buggianese

Between September of 1943 and April of 1945, when Nazi Germany occupied Italy, some 15,000 Italian citizens were killed. This figure comes from Dr. Gianluca Fulvetti, a historian who has published two books on wartime atrocities in Italy.
Lucy and I came across this monument in Anchione, a suburb
of Ponte Buggianese, while driving to the outdoor market.

‟This wasn't only a war fought between armies,” Fulvetti wrote. ‟It was a war on civilians who unwittingly got involved and paid with their lives.”

In March of 1944, partisans in Rome attacked a column of SS police officers, killing 33 Germans. On orders from German high command, 335 men and boys were rounded up and executed at the Ardeatine Caves, near Rome. The reprisal killings set the stage for how Germany would conduct the remainder of the war in Italy.

Tuscany was one of the hardest-hit regions, as German troops retreated north following the liberation of Rome. Fulvetti estimates 3,650 people died there, the majority in the summer of 1944.

‟Troops were ordered to retaliate against civilians as punishment for partisan actions,” Fulvetti said. Any form of resistance by civilians was cause for punishment, even simply refusing to shelter or feed German troops.

The largest of the mass killings took place in Marzabotto, a village south of Bologna and about 100 miles north of where Lucy and I live in Montecarlo, Tuscany. Estimates of the dead there range from 770 to as many as 1,830. An award-winning Italian movie, L’uomo Che Verrà (2009), tells the story of a priest who lost his life while saving many local people by hiding them away.

Another well known massacre took place in Sant’Anna di Stazzema, a hill village about 40 miles west of us in Tuscany. On August 12, 1944, the Waffen-SS, with the help of the Italian Brigate Nere, murdered about 560 local villagers and refugees, including 130 children, and burned their bodies. This event has also been featured in a movie, Spike Lee’s The Miracle at Santa Anna, which is based on a book with the same title. The movie tells the story of four black American soldiers who get trapped in the village. I’ve not seen it, but it reportedly takes many liberties with the facts and has received mostly poor reviews.

Since my grandparents have deep roots in the Valdinievole region of Tuscany, where Lucy and I live for three or four months a year, I decided to research our own local massacre, L’Eccidio del Padule di Fucecchio—The Slaughter at the Fucecchio Swamp, where at least 174 civilians were killed. Italian author and historian Mauro Guerrini has written that the massacre ‟is one of the worst perpetrated by German soldiers in Italy and has remained for years unknown to the general public, for the territorial ‘marginality’ of the Padule and, above all, for political reasons tied to the cold war.”

Continue to part 1 in the series

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Celebrating the Madonna di Fátima and some heavenly chocolate

Two important but very different events are taking place this weekend in Montecarlo. The first started Friday night with the arrival of the famous traveling statue of La Madonna di Fátima, or Our Lady of Fátima, in Piazza Garibaldi. The statue was escorted by the parish priest, Don Mario Avella, along with the Filarmonica Puccini di Montecarlo and a large group of city officials and residents, from the piazza to the church. It will be at the center of several church and community events this weekend.
The Montecarlo Filarmonica plays for the Madonna and the crowd.

At the same time, Montecarlo is hosting its 15th annual Festa del Cioccolato, with booths set up along via Roma to display multiple varieties of fine chocolate. It’s great to see that officials here are taking so much care to look after our spiritual, physical and emotional well being!

Deanna and Kori admire the chocolate.
Meanwhile, Lucy and I enjoyed the companionship of some fellow members of the Sons of Italy from Tacoma who are staying in the Albergo Natucci in nearby Montecatini Terme. We consumed a sumptuous pranzo at the Osteria alla Fortezza, right in the midst of the activities. We were in view of the imposing Fortezza di Montecarlo to the north and the chocolate festa to the south while we dined with Gina Natucci and her sister Kori and cousin Deanna, as well as Diana Folino Stewart and her granddaughter Hailey and Deanna’s husband Travis.


After lunch, we strolled through the displays of chocolate and enjoyed some free assaggini, little tastes. Which, of course, led to some purchases and bigger tastes, but not many, because we were still full from the long and delicious lunch. After our guests left, Lucy and I wandered into the park, where we found that for 5 euros, we could get a plate of five pieces of chocolate accompanied by two glasses of wine.

The statue of the Madonna is known as the International Pilgrim of Fátima because it travels around the world to Catholic audiences. It is the Madonna’s second visit to Montecarlo. She also came 50 years ago, and she is scheduled to return in another 50 years. She has special significance to Catholics because her appearance in Fátima, Portugal, to three shepherd children in 1917 was declared by the church a miracle worthy of belief in 1930—incidentally on Oct. 13, the same day the statue arrived in Montecarlo.
Chiesa di San Andrea, Montecarlo.

The statue has been placed in a prominent place in the Chiesa di San Andrea and a number of activities have been planned, including special masses, meetings of prayer, meditation and instruction, and another procession. Earlier this week, a lady from the church visited all the homes in town and gave us rectangular sheets of light blue cloth to hang in our windows to make the town more festive and to ‟help us prepare psychologically” for the event.

Lúcia Santos, Jacinta and Francisco Marto
The three children who witnessed the apparition of Mary were nine-year-old Lúcia Santos and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marto. They were herding sheep at the Cova da Iria near their home village of Aljustrel in the parish of Fátima. They said they were visited three times by an apparition of an angel. In the spring and summer of 1916, they said the angel, who identified himself as the ‟Angel of Peace” and ‟Angel of Portugal,” taught them prayers, to make sacrifices and to spend time in adoration of the Lord. Beginning in May of 1917, they witnessed apparitions of the Virgin Mary and described her as ‟the Lady more brilliant than the sun, shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than a crystal goblet filled with the most sparkling water and pierced by the burning rays of the sun.” The woman wore a white mantle edged with gold and held a rosary in her hand.

Blue sheets on a foggy morning to welcome
the Madonna
Lúcia, who became a nun and lived to age 97, said that the angel taught them to bow with their heads to the ground and to say, ‟My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love you. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love you.” Lúcia later set this prayer to music and a recording exists of her singing it.


We’re looking forward to seeing and maybe participating in that most Italian of events Sunday night, a procession through all the streets of Montecarlo with the statue. It will pass by our house at 49 via Roma, so if we’re too tuckered out by then to participate, at least we’ll have good view.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Italians good at following rules when they are discreto, valido . . . and attainable

I just read that Italians are the best in Europe when it comes to recycling waste, which was a surprise to me. I still see a lot of litter along country roads and the occasional discarded mattress. But that just might mean that there aren’t people who patrol to pick up litter. Italy is also home to the infamous ‘triangle of death,’ an area around Naples where the Mafia has reportedly dumped 10 million tons of toxic and household waste over the past two decades.

Lucy with blue bags for multi-
materiale and the white box ready
to take our carta down to the street.
But the numbers come from a valid source: Eurostat. It is the official statistical office of the European Union, located in Luxembourg, and its purpose is ‟to provide high quality statistics for Europe . . . to enable comparisons between countries and regions.” And Eurostat says Italy is far and away the best, recycling 76.9% of its industrial, urban and other waste. This compares to a European Union average of 37%. By comparison, France is 54%, the UK 44% and Germany 43%.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised, though. It took us months to figure out the complicated system of disposing of waste here in Montecarlo (see I feel weirdly happy . . .). I’m glad to know that the time I take to separate my garbage into multiple categories is helping Italy and its international reputation.

It reminds me of an important lesson I learned about Italians from Tim Parks, the author of several books about living in Italy. Parks, British born, lives in Verona, and his early experiences in Italy are instructive when it comes to adapting to the Italian mentality.

In Italian Neighbors, Parks tells about a friend named Giampaolo, who enjoyed discussing politics and ultimately used the words discreto, valido and relativo to describe almost every Italian law and regulation. Discreto is similar but not exactly the same as discreet in English. Discreto means ‟to comport oneself in a mode appropriate to the situation, not lacking in regard.” Giampaolo tells Parks the new law on drunk driving ‟has been drawn up discretamente (i.e. with intelligence, if not flair) and is in fact for the most part valido (sound, functional), but all of this is relativo (of only secondary importance), since the instruments for enforcing the law are not available, or if they are nobody has any intention of using them.”

Giampaolo could apply those words to almost any area of life. Parks writes: ‟The Italian system of autostrade . . . is definitely discreto, road surfaces and markings are always valido, but all of this tend to be relativo, since with the exorbitant price of gasoline and the very high tolls, one would need to be rich indeed before one could use the roads with regularity.”

Parks continues: ‟And so, if you encourage him, he will go on all evening: the constitution, the electoral system, the TV networks: discreto, valido, relativo. It is a curious and, I believe, curiously Italian stalemate, in which ineradicable Italian pride (and why not?) exists side by side with a sense of cynicism (equally justifiable) and, at the end of the day, resignation. The judicial system has been ‘conceived discretamente bene,’ and the constitution in this regard is undoubtedly valido, in that it establishes the total independence of the judiciary. But whatever the institutional makeup, it is inevitably only relativo given the endemic corruption that always allows the mafiosi to get of scott-free.”

This explains why Italians often double park or even stop in the middle of the street and run into a store to conduct their business. If there is no other way, even the police will understand and won’t write a ticket, and the people who are blocked in by the double-parker realize that on another day, they may need to be the ones blocking someone else for a few minutes.

However, in the case of recycling, the system is discreto and valido without being relativo—because the little trucks come by daily to pick up the designated waste. It turns out that in fact, Italians are actually very good at following rules, if there is a valid system of regulation in place. They’ve spent centuries living in close quarters with their families and neighbors, and they’ve learned to be patient with each other and their country’s slow bureaucratic system.

For some examples, Italian cars have more strict pollution control regulations that do vehicles in the United States. Some large cities are banning motor vehicles on certain days of the week to improve air quality. Limited traffic zones (streets open only to those with ZTL permits) are common all over Italy. All of these rules seem to be followed with little complaining on the part of citizens—because they are discreto, valido and, more or less, enforced evenly.

Automatic cameras catch speeders or people driving without ZTL permits. Tickets are sent by mail, and there is no policeman to argue with or try to bribe (this may not be the best argument about Italians following rules, though, since the locals all know where the speed cameras are and still drive like maniacs between them).

Of course, there still is much waste in Italy, not of the type put in bins but in governmental excesses. That may be why Italy still retains a general reputation for corruption and dishonesty. However, as one can see by the success of Italian recycling programs, a majority of Italians prefer to be discreto when following laws that are valido—as long as it is easily attainable and everyone else is doing it too.