October 24, 2009


          Italian souvenirs by Mirino

My very first visit to Italy was from the North, travelling down from Munich to Bolzano. It was during the winter many years ago and I was with a girl friend. It was to be my initiation to skiing. She, a Bavarian, had helped me to buy second hand skis. Long, dark red 'Atomic' ones. Too long, too heavy and too fast for a total beginner who thought skiing would be a bit like roller-skating.

(My generation had 'Jacko-Skates'. Two pairs of wheels- front and back to each foot on an extensible chassis that was strapped to each shoe. As the wheels were made with hard, black rubber- far less noisy than the old metal ones, and as they rotated on ball-bearings and had a degree of 'torque', they were considered a revolutionary must. No one then would have ever come up with the single roller blade of wheels on special, dynamic, ankle protecting boots, knee and elbow protection pads and helmet. And an Ipod with ear phones would then have been considered even more alien. With 'Jacko-Skates' it was everyone for him or herself. We simply hoped to steer clear of little stones that tended to 'scrinch-jam' the wheels, and avoided, as best we could, from falling over).

Thus no doubt I was over confident, and so keen to ski that as soon as we arrived at the ski resort in the evening I went out in the dark, put them on to try them out on what I vaguely made out to be the nearest, gentle slope of deep, crisp snow.

This was a mistake of course. I took off, narrowly missed what I discovered the next day to be a car park on one side and a wood pile on the other, then eventually, fortunately, fell hard without breaking anything. It took me what seemed ages to wearily climb back up to the chalet in those black leather, lace up ski boots, heavily laden with my skis and smart chrome 'bâtons', yet unaccountably pleased with myself.

It's unlikely that there's a worst nor more irresponsible way of introducing oneself to the art of skiing, but it gave me even greater, totally unjustified, confidence for the following, sparkling, crystal clear morning when I could see where I was going. All I needed from then on was to learn how to turn and how to stop.

I no longer have those long, dark red skis, on which I learnt to ski, more out of necessity (the will to survive) than from any instruction or the mere pleasure of skiing, but I still have the very neat, and extremely reliable, Geze fixations. They'll work perfectly for generations, even though one would always have to attach leather straps to avoid losing the skis when having fallen, one is smartly ejected from them, as I so often was.

None of this has anything to do with Bolzano or Italy, but then I was very young, fool-hardy and one track minded- certainly in this particular case. I knew nothing of the local history or that if Benito Mussolini succeeded in accomplishing something positive, 'Italianizing' Bolzano (formally Bozen, the ethnic German city until the end of the first World War) might be considered an example.

I recall that, after a few days, still incredibly unscathed, I left my friend and my skis in her care, to take the train down to Genoa, then on to Monaco, France, to visit another friend. I vaguely remember having to change trains somewhere very early in the morning, maybe Genoa. In the cool, little waiting room there was a young soldier smoking, a priest reading, and old lady fast asleep. The stage was set. I remember thinking then, 'this is Italy'.

The train was packed when it eventually arrived, far too late, and it stopped at every single station from then on. I remember supporting someone who was sick, then at another moment sitting opposite, and far too near, a little, old, rural lady eating a black radish.
Then I remember the fresh sea air, the warm sunshine of the delightful morning, the Bougainvillea and the turquoise to deep blue sea as the little train puffed along the Mediterranean coast. It was the first time I had ever seen la Côte d'Azur.

It all now seems like a strange dream, and perhaps in a way it was.

Text © Mirino (PW) October, 2009. 
Modified image (with thanks to Google Images)

Italian life under Fascism

The only place where I’d really appreciate coming across something called (or similar to) Fascism is.. in a history book held in the Rare Books & Special Collections section of a library. Well, this online exhibition—maintained by the Fry Collection, which is based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA—of books, posters and other printed material relating to Mussolini’s regime from 1922 to 1945 is something very close to that. The site includes basic accompanying text about the history of the period. Good stuff for history teachers and scholars. Thanks : Mike Stajduhar.