Sunday, April 29, 2012

Much still to be uncovered about the fascinating Nuragic civilization

This nuraghe (tower) has lost its top. It was once about twice this height.

Friday, April 28
Most of the week, we have been enjoying dolce far niente—reading, walking or lying on the beach, sitting on the deck, browsing through the street markets, people-watching in piazze. Today we decide to take a short history lesson, and we drive to a nuraghe to find out more about the prehistoric tribes that populated Sardegna.

Inside the tholos, the top is
thicker and the opening narrows.
A nuraghe is a tower in a middle of a community center of a civilization that had its roots here as early as 1800 BC. A nuragic village served as a fortress, city hall, center of trade and dwelling place for the tribal leaders. The people who built them are referred to as the nuragic civilization, taken from the name of their primary structures, and there are between 7,000 and 8,000 nuraghi in Sardegna, one for every three square kilometers.

The nuragic village we visit, La Prisciona, was largely buried by the natural forces of wind, dust, decay and erosion, but careful excavation in recent years has uncovered some of its treasures. Our guide, Ornella, tells us that the heart of the village is a naraghe, a conical tower. La Prisgiona has one eight-meter tower left, but in ancient times, it had two, and they were probably about 40 feet tall.

Many nuragic villages have more towers than La Prisciona did. On the outside, the tower walls are pretty much vertical, but inside they widen at the top, making the opening smaller and smaller. This is called a tholos, or false dome, because from inside, it has the appearance of a dome, but it can still stand without the top being closed completely to support the wall structure. Between the outer wall and inner wall, there was a winding stone staircase, but in La Priscione, it has partly caved in and is no longer passable.

This 1000 BC bronze
Nuragic statue may
give an idea of
what a more elaborate
naraghe looked like.
Outside the tower, Ornella shows us an ancient well, which still has fresh water in the bottom. Many pottery vases have been retrieved from the well and are now displayed in a museum in Sassari. Some were very plain and were used to draw water out, but others were ornate and may have been thrown into the well as part of some kind of ritual, she says.

She also shows us a round meeting room where tribal elders probably met to talk about work, exchange gossip, argue about soccer and gripe about taxes. Well, she wasn’t really that specific about what they discussed, but I am basing my theory on what Italian men of today do in their little groups. In the center of the room was a granite stand which held a pottery pitcher, but archeologists don’t know whether it held wine, beer or some other kind of drink.

Other round rooms outside the tower were likely workshops for potters, tool makers and other craftsmen, Ornella says. This opinion is based on the various fragments found buried on the floors. Perhaps as many as 100 other huts are still buried in the four hectares surrounding La Priscione, and these will be excavated in the coming years. Many were probably homes.

Not far from the nuraghe is another tomb of the giants, bigger than the one we explored on Monday. The island is also dotted with these tombs, since all the villages had to have burial sites. The nuragic people dominated Sardegna until they were defeated by the Carthaginians around 500 BC and forced to take refuge in the mountainous interior. The Carthaginians were defeated in turn by the Romans, and Sardegna became a Roman province. The nuragic civilization still maintained a separate identity until around 200 AD.
This is another Nuragic village, Barumini, and it gives some idea of what archaeologists may find when they
finish excavating La Prisciona.

Once back in our room, I look up more information and find that these people have fascinated and baffled historians for many years. According to Massimo Pallottino, a scholar of Sardinian prehistory, the architecture produced by the Nuragic civilization was the most advanced of any civilization in the western Mediterranean during this epoch, including those in the regions of Magna Graecia.

It is surmised that the nuragic people were organized in clans led by a chief. Many bronze art figures have been found, and from these it is guessed that religion and warfare had a strong role in the society. They raised crops and animals and were fishermen and traders. Since Sardegna has remained relatively undeveloped in comparison with the rest of Italy, most of the nuraghe remain undisturbed. Only a handful of the 7,000-plus nuraghi have been scientifically excavated, so we can look forward to more of the mysteries about this ancient culture to be revealed in coming years.
Bronze figures reveal much about the once powerful Nuragic civilization, which had advanced armies and
boats that may have once dominated the Mediterranean.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Getting to the Sardegna ferry on time

Sunday, April 22
We met Eberhard and Dorothea last year at our church in Lucca, and although we spent only a couple of days with them, they seem like old friends. They are back to stay in their little house on the coast for two weeks, and we share lunch after church.

Once again we feel right at home with these gentilissimi tedeschi, who offer to take us to our ship in Livorno. Since we still don’t know how we would have arranged the second leg of the trip by bus, we accept gladly. Our only disappointment is that their time here is just beginning and ours is ending, so this is the only time we will see them.
Lucy in Livorno, waiting on deck for the ferry to leave.

We board a large ship, operated by Moby, which is really a combination of a cruise ship and a ferry. It has restaurants, entertainment, rooms and free wi-fi, but the meals are not included in the fare. We board at 8 p.m. and the ship leaves two hours later. The trip will take about nine hours.

We are fortunate to have a room provided free of charge. We had paid for a shorter daytime trip from Civitavecchia to Sardegna on Monday, but it was canceled. When a Moby representative offered us an exchange of an overnight cruise from Livorno, cabin included, we were delighted with our good fortune. It saves us from paying for a night in a hotel, and Livorno is much closer to Lucca than Civitavecchia, so we also save on train fare.

We enjoy a nice dinner on board and go to sleep in our cozy cabin, lulled by the gentle rocking of the boat. When we wake up, we will be in Sardegna.

Hunting for wild boars, tombs, ogres

Monday, April 23
Cacti, flocks of sheep and cows, rugged granite mountains, odd rock formations, isolated farm houses—these are our first impressions of Sardegna after we leave the dock in Olbia and drive inland with our rented black Volkswagen Golf. Olbia is on the coast, as is our apartment in Tanca Manna, and we know we will see plenty of water during the week—thus we chose an inland route so we can see a different part of the island.
We saw this field on our walk to the Tombe dei Giganti.

My knowledge of Sardegna is very limited, but it is obvious that its economy is dependent on tourism on the coast and farming in the interior. We also see that larger cities are on the coast, and the interior is green, hilly, pastoral and sparsely populated. It reminds us a little of Arizona, though for the most part, it is greener and at the same time rockier.

OK, if they were giants, how did they get in this little door?
We stop once to take photos of some unusual rock formations, and I gradually come to the opinion that this entire island consists of granite that has been thrust upward from the sea, though I am seeing only a small portion of the north, so I should reserve judgment. When we see a sign that says “Tombe dei Giganti,” we turn off at once. Who wouldn’t want to see tombs of the giants?

After a short drive over a rough dirt road, we find a place to park near the trailhead. One couple is just climbing in their car and leaving; otherwise we are the only ones here. The path leads past a flower-covered pasture with craggy mountains in the background. With not a human or house in sight, we feel we could have jumped back in time a thousand years. We note that even the fence posts here are carved out of solid granite. However, to remind us that we are in the 21st century, the mountain ridge is topped with a silhouette of communications towers.

A wild boar dug up wild flower bulbs
and ate them, leaving only the stems.
We also note that the ground has been disturbed in numerous places. Our first thought is that someone has been poaching wild plants, digging them up by the roots for transplanting. But on closer inspection, I realize that this widespread shallow digging must be the work of cinghiali, the wild boars of Italy that are highly prized for their delicious meat. It would be quite an experience to happen upon one of these, and while I’m pretty sure it would run from us rather than attack, I will be satisfied to say I saw sure signs of one rather than boast of an actual sighting.

I found a way in through the top. No bones, though.
We cross a beautiful arching wooden footbridge, and moments later we are at the end of the trail, standing beside a giant’s tomb. It is essentially a stone hallway, about four feet wide, four feet tall and 50 feet long. Dirt has been mounded up all around the outside. One end is blocked off with stones, and the other has a small rounded doorway, carved out of a piece of granite, that only a very small person could pass through. The top is covered with large, flat chunks of granite, though there are a few gaps that allow entrance. We can see that this would make a nice tomb, but we aren’t sure what giants have to do with it. We find no interpretive signs, so this is something we will have to explore later on the web.

One can enter the tomb through this gap in the top.
As we continue our drive, we see another sign for giant’s tombs in a different direction, so there must be more, but we need to continue to our apartment now. We are staying near the mouth of a harbor on the northern shores of what is called the Costa Smeralda, the Emerald Coast, so named for the color of the water.

The advertised free Internet at the resort is out of service, but I go to the only bar in town that has wi-fi and have time to look up a little about the giant’s tombs. It turns out there are 231 known tombs on the island, and nothing like them has been found anywhere else in Europe. It is thought that only the bones of the dead were put in the tombs, after the bodies had decomposed, and probably a large quantity were deposited at one time. As for the giants, when later generations of Sardegnesi came upon the tombs, they surmised that the bones inside were the remnants of a feast held by man-eating ogres. They called them domu 'e s'orcu, ogre houses, and though no traces of ogres have been found, the idea of giants has remained a part of the name that survived the translation into contemporary Italian.
These twisted querce (a variant of an oak) trees are all over island. I took these in a traffic mirror put up on a blind corner while driving near Calangianus.

We kick off our vacation with a memorable concert and a sciopero

Saturday, March 21
Arrivederci, San Salvatore. All morning and into mid-afternoon, we pack our belongings into boxes—the things that will stay here for next year—and suitcases to take with us. Then we catch a train to begin a two-week Italian-style vacation.

One could argue that our whole time here is a vacation, but most of the time we stay in one place while we try to fit into the daily routine, learn the language, study my family history and write. Lucy has also made two baby quilts for anticipated grandchildren. But now we are going to try out the daily routine of Italians on vacation. We will spend a week in Sardegna at a resort popular with Italians and rarely visited by Americans. After that, we’ll take a five-day trip with the Italian cruise line Costa.

After leaving San Salvatore, we check into a hotel in Lucca. From there, we go back to the train station to purchase tickets to take the little diesel train up the Garfagnana valley to Ghivizzano, where we will attend a concert. Oh, what’s that on the wall? We see a sign posted announcing a sciopero dei treni, a train strike, scheduled for tomorrow. This won’t affect our travel to the concert, but we are supposed to take a train to Livorno tomorrow. We have prepaid tickets to take an overnight ferry to Sardegna at 10 p.m., an eight-hour trip that has cost us more than 100 euro. Once on the island, we also have prepaid car and hotel reservations, so we don’t want to miss the boat.

We had wondered how we could have lived here almost six months without experiencing a sciopero, and now we have encountered one at a most inconvenient time. Strikes, of course, are supposed to be inconvenient, to draw attention to the important services the strikers provide. Italian strikes, however, are very civilized, because they are announced in advance, allowing people to make alternate plans. There is even an Italian website where all the coming strikes are listed on an easy-to-read schedule.

We are lucky to have seen the sign, because we don’t listen to the Italian news and might have been scrambling to make alternative plans at the last minute. We quickly develop a backup plan using the bus, though the local service will only get us as far as Pisa, and from there we’ll have to search for another bus to take us the last half hour to Livorno, but that’s a problem we will leave for tomorrow.

This is the war memorial, taken from
an Internet source. On the back side is the
Donati name. There was also a Natucci.
Now we are off to Ghivizzano, a small hillside town about 25 minutes north of Lucca by train. It is not far from San Romano, the birthplace of sisters Leona and Renata Donati, who moved to America as children and married into the Seghieri and Spadoni families. In the town square, we find a monument to those who fell in the wars, and we see the name Donati, but my camera battery has conked out, so I don’t get a photo.

The concert is a free community event and features choirs from the two major churches of the city and a group of young adults called Stereo Tipi. The headline group is the Chorus of the Alpi Apuane, 40 men who sing Italian folk songs of the hill region. All sing a cappella, unaccompanied, and the acoustics in the old stone Chiesa del Sacro Cuore are perfect for showcasing the amazing range and harmony of these singers. I can’t find the words to describe it, but my family will understand if I say that the concert began at 9 p.m., ended around 10:30 p.m., and I never once came close to falling asleep (I am notorious for nodding off during plays, movies and concerts).

I found this online photo of the Chorus. It was taken at a different
church and I don't think all the men were present this night.
Afterwards we enjoy an Italian rinfresco, with healthy snacks such as meats, cheeses and breads, although there are some delicious varieties of torta as well. One of the performers, Andrea, is music director in the Valdese church we attend, and he gives us a ride back to Lucca. We arrive after midnight, and we realize a train strike has its bright sides as well. Though our hotel is right next to the train station, there is not a sound all night, because the sciopero has begun and the trains are still. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Inside the doors of Stignano’s church

Friday, April 20
Even some residents of Stignano have
not been inside the doors of this church,
but we are fortunate to have a private
Carlo has made connections with Stefano, the Stignano resident who has the keys to the Pieve di Sant’Andrea, and together Carlo and Stefano take us inside this ancient church which closed to the public  some years ago. Constructed between the late 10th century and early 11th, the church is in sad shape both inside and out. Stefano says some people have inquired about having weddings here, but that’s not possible in its current state of disrepair.

Frescoes on the walls were painted over with gray paint after World War I, and tiles were put on the floors that cover the Spadoni tomb and four others. A huge and ancient hand-powered pump organ has been damaged, probably vandalized. One 14th century fresco is showing through the flaking gray paint, and Carlo and Stefano agree that the quality and style show it could have been from an important early Renaissance school for Florentine artists. Some of the art is as good as the works in the Uffizi gallery in Firenze, they tell me. Not all of the paintings were covered by gray paint, and some of these have been cleaned or repainted.
Though built around 1200, some of the art is from the years of the Renaissance, around 1300 to 1400.

Carlo has also given me an article copied from an Italian magazine that mentions a curious mystery. It says that behind the ostensario (an ornate display vessel) is the bust of a man with long hair, a beard and a cape. We did not see this, but the author of the article speculates that this could be the head of Giustiano, the Roman emperor for whom Stignano might have derived its name.

On the floor of the presbytery, in front of the
niche for the patron saint, is the Spadoni tomb.
As for the Spadoni tomb, it is located under the pavement in the presbytery, right before the niche for the church’s patron saint. Other tombs, including one for the Guelfi family and others for some priests, are back where the congregation would be seated. The Spadoni tomb is placed in an unusually prestigious spot for contadini, and we wonder what the family did to merit this honor.

Carlo hopes that the people will become aware of the treasures of Sant’Andrea and apply pressure on the various governmental and church authorities to allocate funds for repairs and restoration. Private donations could also be used. However, at this point, restoration seems low on the list of priorities of both church and state.

Carlo straightens the curled corners of this sign posted
outside the church, which has information in English.
Maybe some unknown wealthy members of the Spadoni family will step forward to contribute, he says with a smile. However, he thinks that none of the hundred-plus Spadonis in this region even realize that they are descendants of the Stignano family. As for the American side, I can pretty much guarantee that prior to my recent family history research, no one even knew there was a Stignano (by the way, for any Americans reading this, it is pronounced steen-yah’-noh).
This restored Renaissance-era painting shows Mary enthroned with
Jesus, between Saint Andrew and John the Baptist. To the right is a
deteriorating older fresco, once covered with gray paint, that shows
Saint Andrew and another saint. 

Once outside the church again, Carlo points out another important building, an old inn that was used to host pilgrims on their way from Canterbury to Rome. Stignano was on the Via Francigena, a major route once used by thousands of pilgrims, mostly in the beginning of the 11th century.

That may seem surprising, because Stignano is not only small but also up on the hillside, where today there is no traffic except a narrow road leading straight up the hill from Borgo a Buggiano. However, in earlier times, the flat valleys below were swamps, and travelers had to traverse through the hills to make their way past here.

The quality craftsman-
ship of these wooden
trusses has held up for
nearly 1000 years.
This broken organ is more than 300
years old.
I’m sure there is still much more about this church that I don’t understand, because at times Carlo and Stefano are speaking too quickly for me to understand, but now it is time to go. Lucy and I have to pack, because we leave San Salvatore tomorrow afternoon, but I hope to discover more about this church in future years. Even more, I hope to see its restoration in my lifetime.
These two paintings on wood have been retouched to
restore color. The top one shows Mary and some
saints. The bottom depicts the slaughter of the innocents.

Friday, April 20, 2012

To all members of the Spadoni family in Seattle: Welcome to our family tree

Thursday, March 19
The fifth entry shows the baptism of Michele
Spadoni and gives the names of his parents, as
well as that of his paternal grandfather.
I have time for one more trip to the church archives in Pescia before we leave San Salvatore on Saturday. I decide that I will focus on the Spadoni family of Seattle, to see if I can find the link that ties our families together. I know the first Seattle Spadoni came to the United States from Ponte Buggianese in 1905, two years after my grandfather Michele arrived in the states and ultimately ended up in Gig Harbor, about an hour by car from Seattle. Oddly enough, the head of the Seattle family was also named Michele Spadoni, and both were roughly the same age, my nonno being five years older.

I have made contact with various members of the Seattle Spadonis, and we have wondered if the two Micheles knew each other, either in Italy or Washington. Donald Spadoni of Seattle says he remembers his nonno Michele taking him on a ferry to visit relatives in Gig Harbor when Donald was very young. He thinks it must have been a visit to the Gig Harbor Michele. He remembers that the house overlooked Puget Sound, which I can confirm. He also remembers a number of other older Italian Americans being there, which could have been Nonna Anitas siblings Ruggero, Seghiero and Rosina, all of whom lived in the same neighborhood, as did Nonnos nephew Adolfo.

Carlo Spadoni of Italy says all the Ponte Buggianese Spadonis are descendants of the Spadoni family of Stignano, but I hope to find the specific link today, so once again I enlist the help of super sleuth Andrea Mandroni.

Before I continue with this story line, I must relate an interesting sidebar. Just a few minutes before we finish our research today, Andrea asks me where I am living while in Italy. I mention that I am living in San Salvatore to be near the relatives of my nonna, who was a Seghieri. It turns out that Andrea’s nonna was also a Seghieri, also from Montecarlo, so we too are distant relatives. We find that our family lines split around 1450, in the same century that my Spadoni line split from Carlo Spadonis line. So I have found yet another distant relative!

Back to the Spadoni research: We find the Seattle Michele’s birth records and another odd coincidence. Michele celebrated his birthday on September 29, but his Italian birth records say he was born the day before. My nonno said his birthday was October 8, but the Italian archives show he was born October 9.

The Ponte Buggianese records are filled with the name Spadoni. While looking in the marriage files, I briefly follow the wrong track, thinking I should be looking for an Enrico Spadoni. I find four different men with this name, all from different fathers, who married in the same 20-year period in the same city. But soon we get back on the right trail and find Michele’s father Angelo, born in 1826; then Lorenzo, born in 1793; another Angelo, whose date we don’t have time to pin down, preceded by another Lorenzo born in 1723. This looks like the same Lorenzo who is in my line. In a few minutes, Andrea has found the confirmation: Lorenzo’s father was Lionardo, which means he is the same Lorenzo from my family tree. Therefore, the Michele Spadonis who grew up in neighboring cities in Italy and moved to neighboring cities in Washington around the same time had the same great great grandfather. The Micheles were third cousins.

Gig Harbor Michele's brother
Enrico stayed in Italy, but
two of his sons, Adolfo
and Alfredo, also came to
Washington, so some Gig
Harbor Spadonis are their
I doubt they understood the specific details of their kinship or knew each other well. It is unusual for third cousins in Italy or America to know much about each other, especially when they don’t live in the same city. Now, however, the world is smaller. It is possible for the Gig Harbor family to communicate with our Seattle cousins by e-mail, Facebook and phone, and I notice that I am not the only Gig Harbor Spadoni who is Facebook friends with at least one Seattle Spadoni. Only now we can write with absolute certainty, “How ya doing, cousin?”

Second from last on this page shows
the baptism of Pietro, Michele's
brother, of the same parents.
Post script: After coming home to record this information in my computer, I find on that someone has a different name for the Seattle Michele Spadoni’s father and mother. Could I have found the wrong information? I go back to Andrea again and we double check, and I photograph the documents so I can validate my research. It clearly shows that Michele’s father was Angelo Spadoni, and his mother was Teopista Giovannini. They were married in the year 1862. Further verification comes when we check the birth record for Michele’s brother Pietro, who also came to the United States. His father and mother are shown as Angelo Spadoni and Teopista Giovannini as well.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A visit to Stignano of Buggiano, ancestral site of large Spadoni family

One of the two doors to Stignano. Behind is
nearby Buggiano Castello.

Wednesday, April 18
Carlo Spadoni has invited me to accompany him to Stignano, in the hills above Borgo a Buggiano, the home of our common ancestors of about 600 years ago. We take his car up the steep one-way street for about a mile. When we reach the edge of this little community, he has to slow to a crawl to slip through the narrow portal that leads to the strada centrale—which, in fact, is the only street in town. I would estimate that there are around 30 homes here, with maybe 20 actually occupied, though it is hard to tell because so many houses in Italy are attached to each other.
Two landmarks stand out. One is an inscription on the exterior wall of the former home of Lino Coluccio Salutati, Stignano’s most famous citizen. He was the secretary of state for the grand duke of Tuscany in the 1300s, just a little before the first Spadoni, Francesco, moved to Stignano. The other is the 11th century Pieve di Sant’Andrea, with Romanesque adornments and well-weathered walls. We are not able to go inside today, as Carlo is not able to locate the local resident entrusted with the key, but we walk around the outside.

The church is of special significance to us because under its floor are tombs of our Spadoni ancestors. Even if we were able to go inside, we would not be able to see the names, because the floor was resurfaced after the last war—an ugly job, Carlo says. He wishes they would remove the covering to reveal the names on the old tombs, but that is unlikely, since current Italian laws don’t look favorably on changing landmarks. It’s a pity those regulations weren’t in effect when the floor was covered.

Carlo tells me that the fact that Spadonis are entombed beneath the church indicates that the family was of some significance locally, or at least faithful or wealthy enough to have contributed sufficiently to the church to be deserving of honor. Since they were farmers, they may well have grown olives, grapes, figs and other crops on the hillsides surrounding the town. Carlo believes they owned their own land; they were not tenant farmers.
This view from the edge of the village shows the surrounding hills and farms. Many of these are olive trees.

This is now the main entrance, taken from inside
looking down the hill toward Borgo a Buggiano.
At one time, the town was referred to as a castle. It had walls surrounding it, but now only two stone doors and a few short walls remain. Wars between Firenze, Pisa and other regional powers caused the destruction of the walls. Sometimes they were rebuilt, but finally the residents gave up. Though it has always been a small village, it has a clear view of the valley below and would have been of strategic importance as a vantage point over the roads below.

Once the swamps in the valley were drained, Stignano lost many of its residents, including all the Spadonis. A building in the central piazza looks like it was once a bar or a general store, but it is closed up. The church is no longer in use.

However, many of the houses have been remodeled and modernized, and the community’s proximity to other thriving cities means it is not in danger of becoming a ghost town. Some of the more isolated hilltop villages to the north are losing residents because it takes so long to commute to larger cities for jobs and services. The road up the hill is not bicycle-friendly, but if one had a car and money to buy a house, Stignano would be a very nice place to live.
Stignano's view of the valley below.

Going inside the marble mountains of Carrara is an unforgettable journey

Tuesday, March 17
It looks like these marble blocks have been
carefully stacked together, but they come this
way naturally.
Everybody who drives or takes the train along the west coast of Italy has seen them from a distance. Anybody who has read The Agony and the Ecstasy has read about them. The white marble mountains of Carrara are interesting from afar—many people mistake the shining white marble for snow—but up close they are truly amazing. And there is no better way to see them than by going up the steep, unpaved roads in a 4x4 vehicle to drive right into the quarries, indeed right inside the mountains themselves.

Lucy and I, along with friends Steve and Patti, have booked an excursion with Cave di Marmo Tours, which takes us on a three-hour excursion into the heart of the land where Michelangelo came to select the marble slabs he used to create his masterful sculptures. The mountains above Carrara are basically one huge block of crystallized calcium carbonate, which originated during the Jurassic era. Marble is created when limestone crystallizes under extreme pressure and heat. Limestone itself is formed from layer upon layer of sea shells. Tectonic action first buries the limestone, squeezing it until it crystallizes before thrusting it upward to form mountains.

This photo is taken from one of the higher quarries. You can just make out the Mediterranean Sea, top left.
Our German-Italian guide Heike fearlessly drives us up rugged, rain-rutted service roads overlooking the marble quarries, the city of Carrara and numerous small islands in the Mediterranean. The ride reminds us of Disneyland, with the added thrill of knowing that we are not on a secure track and that the scenery was originally created by the hand of God rather than man. As we bounce and skid first up and then down the steep slopes, Lucy tries to close her eyes and think about something else, but Heike keeps pointing out sights to see and takes pleasure in the knowledge that her tour is thrilling on a variety of levels.

These work better than the oxen that workers once used.
We learn that the Romans discovered marble here in 176 BC, which meant they no longer had to import it from other countries. They built a port at Luni and roads into the mountains. Then they faced the puzzle of where to find strong workers willing to wield mallets and chisels and endure extreme weather conditions while working year-around in dusty quarries? No problem. They were rulers of most of Europe, so they just took some hearty northern Europeans as slaves and put them to work in the quarries. Heike says you can still see many light-haired, blue-eyed Italians in Carrara who are descendants of these early quarrymen.

The first blocks were taken from the mountains to the sea by slave power alone. Later came oxen, then trains. Now huge front-end loaders and dump trucks are used. All of the methods made use of wheels, and the city’s motto is “My strength is in the wheel.”

The motor side of the chain saw. This is inside one of the caves.
Harvesting techniques have also changed. Marble contains natural pressure fractures, and early workers used chisels and wooden wedges to widen the fractures and break off slabs. Later, explosives were used, but this had to be carefully done to avoid fracturing the slabs. Hand saws have also been employed.

This worker is setting the diamond-tipped chain to make
this irregular side straight. The motor is out of the
picture to the left.
Current techniques use drills and a type of chain saw incorporating industrial diamonds fastened to a flexible cable. Holes are drilled in the marble and the chain inserted in one end and pulled out the other. Then the cable is looped around a pulley powered by an electric motor and run for hours at a time until a clean cut is made. All the while, water is running in the hole to cool the chain and minimize the dust.

We were just about to go in this cave, but we had to back
out when our driver saw this loader coming out.
Much of the work is now done inside the mountains so as not to disturb the terrain, and we are able to go inside to observe the process up close. It is difficult to describe the scene in words, and photos don’t do it justice as well. The walls and ceiling are flat, though not uniformly so, as some support pillars remain. It reminds me of being inside a large cathedral, but instead of being built by adding marble slabs, it is what remains after removing slabs from the center. Moisture drips from the ceiling, and the floor is covered with a quarter inch of wet marble powder. The workers spend most of their time monitoring and repositioning the saws. It is dark, damp and dirty work, but I’m sure it would be a dream job for the first slaves forced to do everything by human strength alone.

This is taken just after we went inside.
The 188 quarries are all privately owned by very wealthy families, Heike says. The country should be earning more income from this lucrative business, but the quarry owners still benefit from an ancient agreement they reached with the duchy of Modena. They agreed to provide Modena with the choicest marble, and the duchy agreed not to tax them. I’m not sure how this agreement survived to the modern age, but Heike suggests it has much to do with money, politics and corruption, which Italy has long been famous for, so we are inclined to believe her.

Toward the end of the tour, we travel through an old railway tunnel, and I have read that this tunnel is 400 meters long, 400 meters above sea level and has 400 meters of stone above it.

We rarely pay for tours in Italy, but much of what we experience today would be impossible to do on our own. All in all, this is my kind of tour, as I relate more to the manual laborers and engineers of Italy than to the artists—even while recognizing that the great artists were also engineers, architects and laborers. For me, the 35 euro per person cost is worth the price. 
If only they had hidden the key in the cab, I would have given our tour group a ride to remember
in the bucket of this loader.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Ancient family ties, common interest bind me to cousin Carlo Spadoni

Monday, April 16
Education and psychology have their share of buzzwords, many of which I have learned and since forgotten during the 31 years I was a teacher. One that has stuck with me is the term closure, which can be defined as filling in the gaps, or reaching a state of resolution, conclusion or completeness. A simple analogy can be made by comparing closure to the feeling of fitting the final piece of a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle in place.

Today I feel a sense of closure on my Spadoni family tree research, not in the sense that I will cease adding names or lose interest in meeting relatives, but more in the sense that I have found everything I could have hoped to find when I set out on this journey. My encounter this evening with Carlo Spadoni feels like I have put in place the final piece.

Two days ago, I received an e-mail from Carlo. He obtained my address from Andrea Mandroni,  the archivist who helped me trace my family back to 1600 and then showed me how it fit into a family tree done by a local Spadoni family that took the family line back to 1430. Carlo is the man who spearheaded this research, and unlike my closer Italian relatives in Italy, he shares my interest in family history and is eager to talk about it.

We meet in our apartment at Casolare and enjoy Lucy’s homemade apple crisp, topped with gelato, as we share information about our immediate families, and I question him about the greater Spadoni family in Italy. He gives me a 90-page book containing the story of his research into the Spadoni family of Stignano. It includes photos and transcriptions of ancient documents and very brief notations of events that took place, such as a notation that 1631 was an Anno Pestilentie, a year of widespread disease.

The book focuses on Stignano, Carlo says, because this is where one finds the first records of the Spadoni family in this region. Stignano is a hill town, on the same set of hills surrounding the Pescia valley as Montecatini Alto, Buggiano Castello and Montecarlo. Prior to the 1600s, the flatlands below were swampy, full of mosquitos and subject to frequent flooding. The grand duke of Tuscany made the problem worse by damming up the rivers to create a lake for his fishing vacations. Local residents had little choice but to farm the hillsides.

When the lake and swamps were drained by a series of canals and levies, the areas below opened up for farming wheat, corn and other grains, and people of the hillside cities moved into the lowlands, which had been enriched by soil deposits from the years of flooding. Many of the Spadoni families, my ancestors included, moved to Ponte Buggianese. Not a single Spadoni remains in Stignano today.
But with the groundwork that Carlo has done, it is theoretically possible for every Spadoni family in the area to do what I have done. By tracing my line back as far as my Stignano ancestor, I can see how I am related to Carlo. We are very distant cousins, since our branches diverged in the late 1400s. He is descended from Michele, born around 1480, and my line comes from Michele’s brother Bartolomeo, born around 1490. Not important, Carlo says. We are still cousins, and I agree wholeheartedly.

What about the other Spadonis who now live in Ponte Buggianese and Borgo a Buggiano, I want to know. They are all descendants of the Stignano family, Carlo says. I am delighted to hear this confirmation, as it means that I have been correct when I told members of the Chicago and Seattle Spadoni families that I believe we are related. All of the Seattle family and most of the Spadonis in Chicago come from Ponte Buggianese and Borgo a Buggiano. If they can trace their lines back to Stignano, we can find the specific connection. This also means that the Spadoni who was sindaco of Ponte Buggianese around 1900 is a relative, as was Italo Spadoni, who has a street named after him with a memorial affixed to the wall of the city’s central piazza.
Can you see any family resemblance? Carlo says his blue eyes come from his mother.

Carlo also knows that the father of Michele and Bartolomeo, Francesco, moved from a little town called Marliana, about eight miles deeper in the mountains behind Stignano. Francesco’s father, also named Bartolomeo, certainly came from Marliana. I’ll have to put that on my list of places to visit next year. Beyond that, Carlo has no records. We are fortunate, he says, that the churches and government offices in this region kept such detailed records, because many Italian families in other parts of the country can’t trace their roots nearly as deeply as we have.

As for the surname Spadoni, he does not know when that originated or if we are connected to the other Spadoni families in other Italian provinces. A number of early descendants had the middle name Romolo or Romola, so that could suggest a Roman origin, but that is only speculation. One thing he does know is that nearly every Spadoni ancestor he found is listed as a contadino, a country farmer. No kings or counts, I joke? No, he says quickly, and from his expression, I detect that like me, he is proud to know that his ancestors were diligent, hard-working people of the soil, surviving the perils of the centuries by sweat and honest labor.

As Carlo departs, we promise to keep in touch, and I sense the reason we feel an extra element of kinship is that not only do we share the same last name but we also share a reverence for family and for the sacrifices our forebears made to provide for the generations that were to come. Finding this simpatico distant cousin near the completion of our six-month sojourn gives me a feeling of completeness, of conclusion. Suddenly the word closure is much more than just a buzzword to me.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Mario Seghieri, World War 2, Montecarlo and the Gothic Line

Mario Seghieri in his home, just outside San
Salvatore in the Comune of Montecarlo.
Sunday, April 15
Reading about the tragic events of Italy’s involvement in World War 2 has always both saddened and intrigued me. The country suffered so intensely from the arrogance of one power-crazy man who plunged it totally unprepared into the wrong side of a vicious conflict. Mussolini joined the Germans in 1940 because he thought they would win, and he hoped to get in line when the spoils of war were divided. He is reported as saying to his chief-of-staff: “I only need a few thousand dead so that I can sit at the peace conference as a man who has fought.”

My cousin Mario Seghieri, 88, joined the Italian army at age 19, just before Italy tried to quit the war, and he and his wife Loretta Forassiepi have agreed to talk to me about what life was like in the Montecarlo area during the war. I have taken some liberties in quoting them, because they speak only Italian, and their words are translated by Elena Benevenuti, but I have done my best to accurately represent what is reported to me.

“I was in the infantry, in La Spezia,” he said. “There were 300 to 400 men in our battalion, and we were living in tents, ready for war, waiting for instructions.”

This would have been the summer of 1943. But while Mario waited for his first action, other battles were being fought in the political arena. The Italian Grand Council, fed up with Mussolini, stripped his powers as prime minister in July, arrested him and gave control of the army to King Vittorio Emmanuele III. Italy then started secret negotiations to change alliances, and on September 8, 1943, Italy officially quit the war, and then on October 13 declared war on Germany.

Loretta Forassiepi
Mass confusion ensued. The Germans broke Mussolini out of prison and set him up in a puppet leadership role in the north of Italy. In La Spezia, Mario and his fellow soldiers were waiting orders to repel the British and American invasion from the south, but they suddenly found themselves enemies of their German counterparts. The Germans, who controlled the region, told the Italian soldiers to put down their weapons and submit themselves to arrest.

Mario’s Italian commanding officers told their soldiers to put down their weapons, but they also told them to get themselves out of there subito. Go home as fast as you can, they said. Mario took a train to Monsummano, where he hid out in the attic of a cousin for two months before daring to come home to San Salvatore.

“It was safer in the country,” he said. “If I went into Montecatini, I would be captured as a prisoner of war.”

Mario did make his way back to San Salvatore, but he and the other men had to keep themselves out of view when the German soldiers would come to collect food for their troops. The soldiers took eggs, chickens, wine and anything else edible, and they compelled the women to repair their clothing. Ivo Seghieri told me last year that his father would keep sour wine in the front of the storage shed so he would have something to give to the Germans. Loretta, who was only 11 when Italy switched sides, remembers the Austrian soldiers being gentler than the Germans, who “followed orders without feelings.”

With the Germans occupying Italy, none of the men except the very oldest were safe. Mario remembers that the Germans would often come early in the morning, hoping to surprise the men in bed and capture them as prisoners of war.

“We children were the lookouts,” Loretta said, “We would alert the adults by calling for Maria. When they heard us shout that name, they would hide themselves.”

Mario and about 20 other men had to hide silently in the attic of Casone Marcucci (the actual name of what Lucy and I call the Seghieri house). There was a secret passageway into the attic, covered by a wardrobe. Once the Germans searched the house, including the upper bedroom, but they didn’t look behind the wardrobe.

In memory of those who died in World War 2 from
Montecarlo and the surrounding areas.
Some of the locals tried to disrupt German operations, and a German soldier was killed in Montecarlo, but this brought swift retribution. The German policy was to kill 10 civilians for every soldier killed, and on the wall in Montecarlo’s main piazza are listed names of soldiers and civilians killed in  World War 2. Among  the 15 civilians put to death is Faustino Cappochi, probably a relative of my great grandmother Ines. No members of the Seghieri family died in this war, but a nearby World War 1 memorial shows two Seghieris who gave their lives.

The Germans were very angry,” Elena explained. Italian men were subjected to forced labor, digging trenches to establish the Arno River Line and then “la Linea Gotica,” the famous Gothic Line. “The German soldiers thought the Italians were cowards, that they had betrayed Germany by going back on their word to fight with Germany.”

When the American and British soldiers started advancing through Italy from the South, the Germans established lines of defense known as the Arno River Line and the Gothic Line. These defensive lines extended almost straight across the center of Italy, from west to east. Right smack in the middle of these two lines were the cities of Lucca and the smaller nearby cities such as Altopascio, Pescia, Montecatini and Pistoia, crucial outposts in the most important of Germany’s last stands. These cities, especially the train stations, were heavily bombed by the allies in an effort to cut off German supply lines. Mario vividly recalls the sounds of the American bombers with four engines flying right overhead, with some bombs falling only 500 meters from his house.

American bombs set a large tank of gas on fire, and it spread throughout the woods near San Salvatore. Loretta was living in nearby Fornace at the time, but when that area became the headquarters for German troops, her family fled. There was a large forno in Marginone, about a miles from where we sit in Mario and Lorettas home, that the Italians used to make bricks, but the Germans appropriated it to bake bread for their troops. The Americans sent out spies to find the location of the forno, and then they targeted it with bombs.

“We made ditches to hide ourselves and protect ourselves from the bombs,” Loretta said. “They bombed Chiesina, too (Chiesina Uzzanese, about a mile from here in the opposite direction). We had to live inside these big ditches, not just us, but people coming from the cities that were being bombed, like Livorno. Those of us who were young didn't realize how much danger we were surrounded by.

We were starving. We had almost nothing to eat. During the German occupation and then the bombing, we hadn't been able to plant our fields. No one was working because we were afraid for our lives.

After the fall of Rome in June of 1944, the Nazis retreated to the Gothic Line, which historians describe as a heavily fortified belt some 16 kilometers deep and the site of the biggest and most crucial battle fought during the Italian campaign. When it was finally breached in late August, it marked a significant turning point in the war, and it meant the fighting was over around Montecarlo.

Mario and Loretta remember the American soldiers bringing food to the community, especially chocolate. The final allied victory in Italy did not come until the spring offensive of 1945. The official Italian independence celebration is April 25. Mussolini was captured and killed by partisans in the small village of Giulino di Mezzegra in Northern Italy while attempting to flee April 28, and life slowly returned to normal.
For more interviews with Mario and Loretta, read:
Memories of Fascist rule unpleasant for Mario Seghieri and family
Mario Seghieri recalls his youth while still going strong after 91 years