Monday, March 31, 2014

Fresh Tuscan air, an outdoor fair, family history and even Leonardo impel us to take a long bike ride

Sunday, March 30
Lucy buys a vase in the outdoor market of Collodi.
Truly spring-like Tuscan weather beckons us nearly every day to take a brisk bike ride, and we more than answered the call. Signs around the community advertised today as the “Antico Mercatino di Pinocchio,” a little market selling things “antique, new, made by artisans, collectables and so many curiosities.” The sole connection to Pinocchio is that the fair was located in Collodi, the maternal home of the iconic children’s tale author.

Dawn's poster
Despite living only six miles from the little town, we had not yet visited it, mostly because it was in the direction of the hills north of us and not on a route to anywhere we normally travel. We had a second reason to make the trip, as a couple of years ago I had seen a poster that my cousin Dawn Stanton had brought to a family reunion in Gig Harbor. The poster advertised a musical performance directed by the “Ornatissimo Maestro Signor” Torello Seghieri, who was listed as conductor of the Philharmonic Choir of the Chiesa of San Gennaro in Collodi. Torello was the great grandfather to me and many of my Gig Harbor cousins, and I wanted to see the church where he had been employed. Ornatissimo can be translated as
“most decorated.
So it all added up—a sunny Sunday in the low seventies, an interesting outdoor market and a chance to see a historical church that was only a few miles from the center of Collodi. We took the train to Pescia, which shortened our bike ride to only a couple of miles up a gradual incline to the Collodi fair. I bought some Italian comic books (Topolino and Tex) and Lucy bought a vase, and we also picked out four used movies on DVD to help us practice our language skills.

Collodi viewed from partway up the
opposing hillside.
Collodi is also the site of the Parco di Pinocchio, which has received 219 “terrible” or “poor” reviews on Trip Advisor as opposed to only seventy-three “excellent” or “very good” ratings. It seems the park is more of a monument for fans of the story than an amusement park, which is what many of the negative reviewers expected. We had no desire to pay the 12-euro entrance fee to make our own judgment, but we did grab a bite to eat outside the park.

I had looked up information the day before about author Carlo Lorenzini, who used Collodi as his pen name. Lorenzini is a very old family name in this region, and I note that Maria Pasqua Lorenzini was the great grandmother of a Guido Spadoni who immigrated to San Francisco in 1903. Thus my California cousins can make a legitimate claim that they are probably very, very distantly related to the author of Pinocchio.

Getting close to San Gennaro.
What we had not realized is that San Gennaro is on the side of a hill, perhaps a 400-foot change in elevation from Collodi, so we had to push our bikes most of the way. But as more than adequate compensation, we received inspiring views of the green valleys and hills north of Montecarlo, so we took the climb without a word of complaint. Most interesting was the view of upper Collodi, an ancient city with an unusual rectangular shape, on the hillside opposite the one we were climbing.

When we arrived at the Pieve di San Gennaro, it was closed (a pieve is a rural church with a baptistery, upon which other smaller churches depend). However, after we sat for ten minutes recovering from our long climb, I rang the bell of the rectory and asked if we could look inside the church, explaining that I wanted to see the place where my bisnonno had once worked. We were allowed to enter for a few minutes and take some photos. We could see a balcony on the side which was probably used by the choir director, and there was also an old organ in the back, evidence that music is indeed a central focus of this parish.

Another notable feature of the church is a terracotta angel that may have been carved by none other than Leonard Da Vinci. This is not some wildly imaginative story—it could really be true. Vinci is only about twenty-three miles from San Gennaro, and both are hillside villages overlooking the Valdinievole. There are records showing Leonardo was regularly consulted regarding canal engineering, and San Gennaro is included on a map that shows the route of one of the hydraulic engineering survey trips.

Ample evidence exists that Leonardo worked as a sculptor from his youth onward. The statue in San Gennaro, which depicts the archangel Gabriel, is about four feet tall and is estimated to have been made between 1476 and 1482. Da Vinci was born in 1452, so he would have been less than thirty when the statue was made. If this is indeed the work of Leonardo, it would be the only one of his sculptures that survived.

The leading expert on the life and works of Leonardo has added credence to this belief, though he stops short of giving a full endorsement. Carlo Pedretti, born in Bologna and now professor emeritus of art history at UCLA and author of numerous books on Leonardo, is cited in an online interview that I have translated from Italian:
“I’m not saying that the sculpture was done by Leonardo . . . (but) . . . the draping on the arm and the setting of the body suggests movement” similar to the works of the great artist and scientist. “Then there is the particular anatomical detail of the feet. But above all is the hair, typical of Leonardo, and the face, like the faces of the images in his early paintings, which backed up the later works of Leonardo.”

Whoever did the sculpture, it is certainly of the highest quality for a little country church, and seeing it made our visit even more worthwhile. Riding back to Pescia was all downhill, and we arrived forty minutes before the next train, giving us plenty of time to sit under an umbrella and enjoy some gelato. We had to change trains at Altopascio, which gave me time to go to the Panificio Gianotto and get two loaves of our favorite bread, the perfect ending to a great outing.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Last links made with local Seghieris

Saturday, March 29
With a couple of trips to the Municipio of Montecarlo, I have finally had the satisfaction of clearing up the mystery of how the final two family groups on Via Mattonaia fit into the family tree. Last week I asked the clerk in the anagrafe office if I could have a copy of every Seghieri “state of the family” document. She has not always been the most patient with my halting requests for information, so I was pleasantly surprised to receive eighteen tabloid-size photocopies, all without being charged a penny.

After taking a couple of afternoons to analyze them, and using information Elena had given me about local families, I made the connection to Sandro Seghieri and his descendants. His grandchildren Morena and Moreno once occupied two empty houses on the end of Casone Marcucci that we sometimes dream about buying. But until today, I was still not sure about Ivo and his brothers. I had a suspicion that a Francesco Celestino I had found on one of the documents might be their grandfather. He was born in 1889 to Angelo Seghieri, so the date was about right. When I went back to the Municipio, I asked for the birth certificate of Ivo’s dad Angelo, which gave the name of Angelo’s father and grandfather: Celestino and then Angelo. This was a perfect match with the state of the family document I had, proving the connection.

Ivo and his brothers Fabio and Celestino, then, are my fourth cousins, not quite as closely connected as third cousins Fiorella, Manuella, Ivano and Fausto, the figli of my next-door neighbor Mario. Moreno is a fourth cousin as well, as would be Morena, though she died about six years ago. Ivo and his brothers, though, are probably doubly related, because their grandmother was Emma Capocchi, the daughter of Enrico. My great grandmother was Ines Capocchi. Just how Emma and Ines were related is not clear. The records show that Ines, born a generation earlier than Emma, did not have a brother named Enrico, so the answer will not be simple to find. The Capocchi family has been here since the 1500s and has many branches, so I may never discover that connection. Oh bother! Just when I solve one mystery, another pops up.


This chart shows how some of the Seghieri families are related. Sorry it did not appear any clearer. I include my line as well, although when my grandmother Anita married Michele Spadoni, the Seghieri name ended. I have not included Dante Marcucci Seghieri, who moved to Minnesota in 1913. He was the brother of Brunone Seghieri. He had a son Peter and daughters Joan and Lita.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The sad story of Zelinda Spadoni

Thursday, March 27
While going through the civic and church files in Pescia in recent years, I learned that my grandfather Michele once had a little sister Zelinda, who had died at age seven. I had asked cousins Enrico and Grazia if they knew anything about her, but they knew nothing. The files showed that she had died in 1887, when Michele was ten and his brother Enrico—the grandfather of my Italian cousins—seventeen. I had assumed it had been from an illness, since the area suffered from frequent cholera epidemics in the late 1800s.

Thanks to a conversation Lucy and I had with Franca Spadoni yesterday, I have learned the sad but true story of Zelinda. Parents Pietro and Maria and the older children were out working in the fields, and Zelinda had been left home with her nonna. A fire broke out around the wood stove downstairs, and Zelinda ran upstairs to tell her nonna, who was nearly ninety years old and confined to bed.

“The nonna was very, very old,” Franca said. “The girl’s clothing was on fire, but the nonna couldn’t do anything to help. She told her to go get someone else to put out the fire, so the little girl ran back downstairs, but she never made it out. She was in the middle of the fire, and she pleaded with her nonna to pull her out, but she couldn’t do it.” By the time the rest of the family arrived, Zelinda had perished in the flames.

When Enrico married and had his first daughter, he named her Zelinda. This Zelinda had a long life, dying at age eight-six in 1986.

Italian relatives faced difficulties that finally subsided after World War II

Grazia Michelotti and Franca Spadoni in Grazia's house.
Wednesday, March 26
While my grandparents Michele and Anita were struggling to make a start in the new world of America during the early 1900s, Michele’s brother Enrico faced his own set of difficulties in Italy. My aunts Lola and Clara had told me that Enrico, as the eldest brother, inherited the family farm from his father Pietro, while younger brothers Eugenio and Michele had to make it on their own, but today I learned that this was not so: Pietro had no land for any of them to inherit. He was a sharecropper, working under the mezzadria system.

GianFranco Del Terra

Lucy and I learned this while interviewing my second cousin Franca Spadoni, at age 82 the oldest of my Italian cousins, at the home of Grazia Michelotti, another second cousin. Also present were Grazia’s sister Marta and Martas husband GianFranco Del Terra, who helped me translate phrases beyond my understanding.

Franca, born in 1932 to Enrico’s son Ferruccio, grew up around her grandparents, and she said her nonno still holds a “very special place in my heart.” He would carry her around in a little bag strapped to his shoulders when he went out working on the farm or even hunting. Pietro died in 1904, the year after Michele left for America, but the most Enrico would have inherited would have been some tools and furniture. By the time Enrico’s grandchildren were born, his family no longer lived in San Salvatore. They had moved to a neighborhood near Pescia called Molinaccio, and later they moved again to Via di Campo, very near Molinaccio. It is possible they also lived other places between 1910 and 1930, but Franca doesn’t know.
Marta Michelotti

They moved because mezzadria contracts typically lasted no more than five years before having to be renewed, and the contadino or colono might find a better contract at another farm. Either that or the padrone might demand a more favorable contract for the right to continue farming his land. Under the mezzadria, land was divided into poderes, varying in size from seven or eight to thirty acres, sometimes even more. A padrone would provide a house, barns and stables, plow animals and other livestock, presses for oil and wine making, and carts and other tools. Instead of paying rent, a colono would give one half of every crop harvest and half of any profit made from the sale of animals, vegetables, eggs and milk. A manager known as a fattore kept the accounts. Some fattore were said to skillfully manipulate the ledgers to make a profit from both padrone and contadino, as is expressed in this old saying: “Fammi fattore un anno e se non mi aricco, mi dannĂ³.” Make me a fattore for a year, and if I don’t get rich, I’ll be damned.

The system strongly favored the landowners, though, because of the abundance of peasants struggling to survive. Landowners could require additional payments beyond the fifty percent, such as extra meat and other produce for holidays, and the contadino might also have to provide his own tools. The harshness of the system eventually led to uprisings and strikes shortly after World War I which threatened to paralyze the country’s agriculture system. In turn, this led the landowners to support the Fascists, who promised to restore order and crush the uprisings—and they did, bringing further suffering to the oppressed contadini.

Ferruccio Spadoni

Enrico’s eldest sons Adolfo and Alfredo had escaped this poverty and oppression by immigrating to the United States in 1913 and 1920, respectively, but Enrico and his two remaining sons, Ferruccio and Pietro, continued to struggle, not only under the mezzadria but now under the strict rule of Benito Mussolini. Ferruccio and his wife Nella had their passports in hand and were ready to follow Adolfo and Alfredo to America, but they had waited too long. In 1921 and 1924, new U.S. restrictions on immigration essentially closed down the borders. Marta said her parents tried to go to France, but that didn’t work out either. Ferruccio owned a horse, though, and he supplemented his farm income for five or six years by running a delivery service between Pescia and Livorno and other cities—until one day he woke up to find that the horse had dropped dead.

Pietro Spadoni

Ferruccio, along with Domenico, the father of Marta and Grazia, did go to the island of Corsica, a part of France, for three or four years during the late 1920s and early 1930s. They worked making paving stones and laying them down for roads. However, this was during the Great Depression, and they ended up doing much of the work without ever getting paid, and so they returned as poor as they were before. Pietro moved to nearby Pieve a Nievole and worked a very productive farm with his own horse; he also had  a dozen piglets and a big sow. He enjoyed a good relationship with his padrone, who owned a restaurant in Montecatini Alto, and Pietro would go daily to collect the leftover food for his pigs. However, when Italy went to war, Pietro’s house was occupied by German soldiers and he was taken to Germany by force to work. Domenico was recalled into the army in 1943, but fortunately he was not sent to fight outside the country. He served on guard duty at Postumia, a small city in Northern Italy, and when Italy changed sides, he was captured by the Germans, but he escaped and made his way home with the assistance of helpful farmers along the way.

Rina Spadoni and Domenico Michelotti, taken
around the time of their wedding.

A few years after World War II ended, Italy made a remarkable recovery that is referred to as the Miracolo Economico. Bolstered by U.S. aid from the Marshall Plan and a demand for metals and other manufactured goods prompted by the Korean War, the Italian economy experienced an average rate of growth of nearly six percent per year between 1951 and 1963 and five percent annually between 1964 and 1973. “A nation once literally in ruins, beset by heavy unemployment and inflation, has expanded its output and assets, stabilized its costs and currency and created new jobs and new industries at a rate unmatched in the Western world,” President John Kennedy remarked in 1963. Electric lines were run to the farming neighborhoods. Machines took over much of the farming work. The mezzadria disappeared because the peasants could find better paying work in factories and stores. Franca’s brother Romano, for example, went to Milano and worked many years for Alfa Romeo before returning to retire in Toscana. With few experienced farmers available to work their fields, landowners had to start selling off pieces of their property, which went for bargain rates to contadini who wished to buy their own land.
Since then, most of my Italian cousins have left their contadini roots and found work elsewhere. Before retiring, Franca’s eldest son Giovanni worked in a factory making glass bottles, and Paolo, her other son, repaired cars in a body shop. Both of Marta’s sons are policemen. Others cousins of the same generation include a chemist, a geologist and an orthodontist. Another is interning in a law office, and one is a tennis instructor at a sports club. After years of struggling under inferior economic conditions, the relatives who stayed in Italy are now enjoying essentially the same prosperity that their American counterparts achieved a bit earlier. While most Spadonis today still enjoy working in their own small gardens, no one depends on working the soil for a livelihood. However, it seems that the farmer’s work ethic and love of family learned through the centuries have not been lost.