This blog entry is in English. Yet English is not my native language (Italian is), so have some indulgence with typos or grammatical mistakes. Also, I have been told that I write complex things - whether this is good or bad I don't know: but so, if you are unfamiliar with articulated prose you may see grammatical errors not only where there could be some, but also where just a prose you're not acquainted with is. Native speakers with an A+ grade in english said my english, obviously not perfect, imports no major issues. Lend a deaf ear to the errors, vocally disagree with my thesis whenever you want, but enjoy the style all the while.
There was this guy on the Italian TV, a respected anchorman, respected by all political sides too, named Corrado Augias: you know, the type of guy who is always picked to lead TV transmissions on cultural events, a dash of elegant formality, some white hair with some strange shade of sort of light blue shimmering streaks fathering light blue sparks, and a consistent amount of appreciable culture and personal education. Fine suit, traditional tie.
This TV program was on the newest books currently in the bookstores.
"Let me tell you a story before I introduce this book" Corrado Augias said.
"I want to tell you because many of you are pretty young, you lucky - but I bet what I'm going to tell you is something that, arguably, you've not been taught at school.
In Italy during the war we had really very few things. Most of the things you have now were not simply absent, they just were downright impossible even to conceive. We lacked many things, so many that the fascist government inaugurated the practice of what soon started being called the 'orti di guerra' (wartime vegetable gardens).
This was the idea: the government told us that we had to start growing vegetables wherever possible, not only in our poor house courtyards, but also wherever a tiny section of free land could be found; this included public gardens. And no matter how surprised you may be -please send the picture on air now- in the very center of cities like Milan and Rome we could see, nearby the main square or at Via Dei Fori Imperiali in Rome, then just named Via dell' Impero, sections of land amidst the streets and the cars where, well yes, where tomatoes and most of all wheat was grown. See the picture - trucks loaded with wheat, three men with a sickle reaping wheat in the middle of a street! You could see the Duomo in the background, they were doing that in the main square in town!
On those times, there were things which were very precious to us. We had chickens on the terraces, and my mother went to get the eggs from under the butts of the chickens, and when we found one egg we felt very, very lucky men. Olive oil was almost impossible to find, and who got it treasured it like gold; and also sugar was pretty hard to find. And... please sir? Oh, yes, also salt, as this guest reminds me: we rarely ate salt too. Yes, I remember. Salt. It was very rare."
"I remember when the Americans arrived" Augias continued.
"There was this huge crowd gathered, the whole of Rome was invaded by romans, all of them in the streets. We knew the Americans were arriving. We were so excited, because we never saw an American before, only Italians, and then nazis and fascists. I was about a 7 yo kid then, but I still remember it as if it were today, very clearly and distinctly. Suddenly, we saw the first Jeeps coming out of the turn. I remember I was holding my breath and my hearth was pounding. And suddenly, with glimmers of sun on their screens, a whole column of trucks, trucks like we never saw before, started articulating along the main streets of Rome. I saw tanks, tanks so big and huge I think I never saw tanks like those before. On top of those tanks and jeeps, they were, well they were crammed of Americans waving at the crowd. I remember, as a kid, that I noticed that each tank had a man out of a hole on top of it, ya know. I remember nearly all of those men leading the tank from atop where black men. I never saw a black soldier before. They were smiling, and some of them clearly looked very happy, very happy that they survived the battles they went through to enter Rome, and that now they could see a liberated Rome and we could see them. Some of them were big men indeed, they seemed immense and very strong. They were throwing stuff at us, cigarettes, candies -oh a lot of candies, we kids rushed on them!-, and chocolate. And that was the first time in my life I tasted chocolate. (the public, mostly young men and women, is now deeply plunged into an eerie silence while listening to Augias). And what more struck me is what I thought then, I'm still surprised that as a kid I was able to have a thought like that: tasting chocolate for the very first time in my life I understood, I understood with finality that those men, those armies, it was not just about an army bigger than the nazis, or about tanks bigger than the fascist tanks: it was about a whole social and economical system completely different from ours: those soldiers weren't just leading bigger trucks or wielding more powerful weapons: they got fed differently and they came from something completely different also socially and economically. "
"So" Augias goes on "let me read to you these ten lines by this book titled Orti Di Guerra": and Augias starts quoting:
'the man with the trained monkey made a living showing off what his monkey could do, and thus collecting a few coins. The day the Americans arrived and entered Rome, I was near him and we both started seeing a long queue of trucks, Americans, marines, tanks, English infantrymen, all throwing cigarettes and candies at us. The went on the whole day. They started passing through Rome, waving and smiling and with the crowds going crazy around them, and they started in the early morning and at night it wasn't over yet, they were still passing with tanks and big jeeps and tall soldiers. The man with the trained monkey kept staring with me the whole day. After maybe 24 hours the Americans and the English weren't over yet. And I remember this man turning to his trained monkey and finally spell out what he probably kept thinking all the way: 'gee, my monkey: see, my little monkey: those are the guys we wanted to face up'.
I was thinking of this and in the afternoon, today, I met my father. So I asked him "Hey, dad. Do you remember the Americans?"
F- "Uh? The Americans?"
Me- "yeah, I mean the Americans when they arrived in Rome"
F - "Oh! Of course I remember them! Of course. They where everywhere, incredibly long columns. When I saw them, when they entered my neighborhood it was dusk.".
Me - "I saw a program with Augias on TV today at Martino's. Do you know what Augias said: he said that when the Americans arrived they started throwing candies and chocolate and that was the first time Augias ate chocolate"
F - "Oh, but me too Alberto! Augias must be my age then, because I was a kid too and that was my first time I ever tasted chocolate. My mother once told me she ate chocolate, and maybe my sister and brother too, but I was the younger in the family and that was my first time I saw chocolate. My cousin too."
Me: - "Augias said you cultivated wheat... in the..."
F - "...oh wheat in the Fori Imperiali. Sure, we did that: I have a photo of myself as a kid in the Fori Imperiali with the wheat in the background!"
Me: "wheat in the Fori Imperiali?"
F - "yeah, that's crazy I know ah ah! We went there with a sickle to get it. Crazy, indeed. I'll show you the picture next time."
Me - "Incredible. Well, Augias said it was the Americans on trucks and tanks throwing candies and chocolate"
F - "Yeah, I remember them very well. Actually I was with my family, ya know your grandpa and grandma and your uncles and aunts. We were hiding in our house my cousin too, because the nazis wanted him to go to the fields - hey no not the killing fields, but to the work fields to make him work for free and dig trenches against the Americans nearby Anzio ya see. He fled the fields and so we were hiding him in the house. It all happened of a sudden. One evening they started shouting from the windows: "The Germans are going away! The nazis are fleeing, the nazis are leaving the city!" We couldn't believe it. The whole family went in the street and I saw the nazis going away indeed. I could not understand why. We knew the Americans were nearby, somewhere, but we didn't get complete news you see. The nazis left only one jeep, those nazis. Then somebody started shouting The Americans! The Americans! The Americans are entering! I was dazzled and startled, my dad couldn't believe what he heard. Then we saw an isolated jeep really full of Americans coming up from the slope, and then getting downhill and turning and suddenly stopping. They saw the jeep the nazis left behind. People were gathering in the streets all shouting: The Americans, the Americans are here, see they are the Americans, see! The American soldiers on the jeep saw the nazis strangely idle on the jeep. I remember those Americans somewhat surprised to see three nazis left alone like that in the city, it made no special sense to me too. Suddenly, form the jeep of the Americans we heard a quick sequence of cracking gunfire. We all knew it was gunfire by the sound, we were used to that sound when the nazis ravaged the houses to collect workers for the working fields. All the people till then rallied, immediately fled away to make sure not to be caught by chance in the crossfire. My family fled home and guess what Alberto, they forgot me in the street!"
Me - "oh Jesus!"
F - "no, no problem. I just found myself there staring at the Americans and the nazis on their jeeps ya see... The nazis jumped on the jeep and fled and the Americans with their jeep started running after them, still shooting at them, I still remember the jeeps running like hell. Then I saw a huge column of trucks and tanks arriving from the same route the first jeep did, and the shouting started again: The Americans, The Americans! They're a lot! The Americans! All the crowds came back into the streets, and I saw a few men getting out of corners where they hid themselves when they witnessed the gunshots between the Americans and the nazis. And then the columns arrived, yeah throwing candies and chocolate at us and that was my first time I ate chocolate too".
Me "Dad, Augias said they went on crossing the city for the whole day"
F - "the whole day? They went on without interruption for at least three days. We couldn't believe that, and we couldn't believe we were free. I mean, we couldn't believe my cousin haven't to hide himself any longer, the nazis could kill us all for hiding him; and so me and him spent three days eating chocolate ha ha!".
Me : "Augias also reported a story of a man with a monkey saying to his monkey: 'gee, my monkey: see, my little monkey: those are the guys we wanted to face up', and Augias added: the fascists thought to fight them with the orti di guerra... with the wheat grown in the public squares".
My father laughs. "One day I'll show you that picture; I also have one with the marines on top of the tanks. But I haven't any chocolate left".
Giggling at the remark of the man with his monkey and repeating it to himself 'gee, my monkey: see, my little monkey: those are the guys we wanted to face up', mumbling it to myself and adding "exceptional, exceptional!" my father goes home after saying goodbye, and disappears from my sight.
And I get here, right now, writing this short story full of Italian misspellings to you.
Indeed, something at school they never really told us, the generation grown up in the longest European peace that our European history records.
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