This is a date which has sunk somewhere below the waterline of general knowledge, but in Italy it still carries serious significance. By which I don’t imply that people commemorate it or talk about it, but it remains one of those watershed dates in European/national/sometimes individual history.
I bring it up — today being September 8 — not to indulge in a monologue about politics and World War II, but because Lino’s father was briefly and importantly involved.
The barest outline is this, with apologies to true experts and connoisseurs of all the fine points: Italy and Germany were allies at the outbreak of the war. The war was going very badly for Italy because it had begun to go badly for Hitler, so Hitler essentially abandoned his Italian so-called friends. Abandoned (as noted), the Italian government decided to forego large amounts of futile bloodshed, and asked the Allies (more particularly General Eisenhower) for an armistice. One of the conditions of this surrender was that the Americans would land on the Italian mainland. It was an excellent plan; the armistice, known as the Armistice of Cassabile, was duly signed on September 8, 1943. All this was kept as secret as possible for reasons which even I can grasp.
Except that secrets are tricky. The change of label from “enemy” to “friend” or vice versa worked fine on paper, but nobody told the army this was going to happen. Came the dawn on September 9, and the troops didn’t know who they were supposed to be fighting anymore. Even their generals, who were similarly blindsided, basically told their men “Do what you want, we have no idea what’s going on.” So the armed forces disbanded, just like that, every man for himself. Most just ran away somewhere (not to be confused with “running away”); many headed for home, a good number struck out for the mountains to hide and become guerrilla partisans. Not everybody made it, however.
The Germans saw the Italians as traitors, i.e. adversaries, and proceeded to occupy the peninsula, up to and including Venice. And here, as elsewhere in Italy, the Germans began to round up all the Italian soldiers they could find to cart them away to Germany as prisoners. Ships were engaged to hold the growing collection as the Germans went up and down the Adriatic coast seeking Italian deserters. Some of those ships were in Venice.
Therefore, one day in this turbulent and panicky period, a ship was moving along the Giudecca Canal, sailing away with its load of Italian troops, destination: Depths of Hell. Some of the prisoners decided to risk an escape, and jumped overboard. And that day Lino’s father was rowing back home from an interlude of fishing (there were ten mouths at home to feed), and was crossing the Giudecca Canal when he saw one man hit the water.
Lino’s father rowed over (I don’t know how far he had to go), pulled the man into his boat and threw a spare jacket on him as a makeshift disguise. He rowed the man home and hustled him upstairs. His name was Mario Dossi, and he was from Naples. Lino says they used to have a photo of him standing with Lino’s brother, Puccio, on the Ponte della Paglia near the Piazza San Marco.
But the apartment was small (Lino’s sister still lives there, and it’s perfectly fine for one person. But not for ten — or rather, eleven.) Some ladies down the street took Mario in, and there the story ends.
Except that it’s a happy ending, because some time after the war, one of Lino’s sister’s boyfriends was in Naples, and looked Mario up. So he was fine.
A substantial number of films, some of them famous classics, deal with the war and Italy after the fateful September 8. Their common theme is brutality, as you might expect. I’ve seen Spike Lee’s “Miracle at Sant’Anna” (one of many massacres committed as reprisals). “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” follows the same thread of warfare between the Italians and Germans after September 8 in Greece. In my opinion, two films on this theme that belong in the pantheon of great cinema, however, are “Everybody Go Home” with Alberto Sordi (“Tutti a Casa”), and “The Two Marshals” with Vittorio de Sica and Toto’ (“I Due Marescialli”), if for nothing else than the divine scene of the German colonel and the unidentifiable fart.
If you can see those movies, you’ll be glad. Just remember that there wasn’t anything funny about September 8. But be glad for Mario Dossi.
I may have mentioned that I was RUDELY interrupted on Sept. 2 by my computer, which cut my post into chunks and then wouldn’t give them back (hence only that brief mention of the Return of the Gondolinos).
Although a few days have passed, I won’t be happy until I’ve finished the job. So cast your minds back to last Thursday, when part of the “world of the oar,” as it’s called here, gathered for the annual ceremony of the blessing of the gondolinos and, unusual at this late date, the drawing of lots for the assigning of the boats to the racers. Who gets what color boat is random, and the drawing usually follows shortly after the last elimination has whittled the list of rowers down to nine competing teams plus one reserve team, to be called in at whatever moment before the starting gun it’s clear that one team is not going to be racing. It happens — not often, but I’ve seen the reserve boat actually win one time. Considering that being the reserve means that you barely squeaked into the lineup against faster men (or women) than you, this outcome makes it clear that all sorts of factors, apart from sheer speed at the trials, come into play in the race itself.
This may well be true in many other athletic competitions, but I’m sticking to what I know.
There is no significance to the colors; the boats are painted in order to make it easy to distinguish and identify them from medium to far distance. This ensures that the onlooker (say, a judge….) is identifying the appropriate boat as it crashes into its closest neighbor, or as it crosses the finish line. (Even in good weather, red and orange are almost impossible to tell apart.) Furthermore, in the non-official races in which people sometimes race on their club boats, there is almost no way to identify the boats because they’re all pretty much the same mash-up of colors. The relatives of the racers know who’s who, but the judges almost certainly don’t. To avoid any possible problems, the judges following the race in motorboats call out instructions and warnings by color, not by racer’s name.
As an extra security measure, which is very useful when there is rain and/or fog, numbers have been painted on the bow of each boat, as follows:1 white, 2 yellow, 3 purple (lavender, violet, whatever), 4 light blue, 5 red, 6 green, 7 orange, 8 pink, 9 brown, reserve: red and green.
The racers get a sash and a neckerchief to match the color of their boat; it used to be considered helpful. Now it’s just part of the tradition. The neckerchief was supposed to deal with the sweat (this was before terrycloth headbands), and the sash was intended to help truss up what sometimes, in the old days, were men who either did, or would soon, need one.
Yesterday afternoon, as per tradition, the ceremony of the blessing of the gondolinos for the Regata Storica was held in front of the basilica of the Madonna della Salute.
But as all the world knows, it was not a foregone conclusion that this tradition would have been maintained this year, considering that just two weeks ago these elegant craft were reduced to kindling. Technically, not quite kindling, but to everybody’s splintered emotions, yes.
Three boatyards called their people back from vacation and got right to work, repairing the seven mutilated boats in record time. For this we can thank the skill and determination of the maestri d’ascia, as they are called here — masters of the adze — and also the excellence of the gondolinos’ original construction, which revealed no weakness or defects after 35 years. And a shout-out to advances in tools and especially materials, up to and including epoxy resin glues which dry in 12 hours instead of two weeks.
I’ve never seen a complete, new set of nine boats, nor would I ever have thought to see one, considering how much the things cost. (A knowledgeable source revealed that a new gondolino would cost around 30,000 euros.) Seeing all the boats lined up, gleaming and still smelling of varnish or paint or whatever that smell was, was thrilling.
As for the malefactor(s), I hope they enjoyed the sight of being so spectacularly foiled. We all certainly enjoyed it immensely. The only thing I’m going to enjoy more than that is to see them identified, cuffed, and presented with the bill for the repairs.
Sorry for the truncated post about the resurrected gondolinos. My computer ate 3/4 of what I wrote. More on this as soon as I get my machine to function.
Anyway I was able to announce that the boats are back and ready to rock and roll, and this makes me happy!