Posts tagged ‘second world war’

January 23, 2014

A flood of memories and thoughts (inspired by Gabriele Testi)

by felicitamodna82

A short text with stories, history, news and sarcasm born from some night chatting about disasters and World War Two

My homeland Modena must miss me. Since I moved to Salzburg things started to go pretty bad over there.

We all have to admit that scoring an earthquake (May 2012), two tornadoes (May 2013) and a massive flood (January 2014) in a row really is a huge achievement. (On this blog you can check where the several epicentres of the earthquake were, terremoto, where the tornadoes stroke, tromba d’aria; the flooded area in blue)

There could be many different thoughts I could share on my blog talking of this last disaster. But pouring out my wrath about politicians and administrations would mean simply picturing them in a bad bad bad light, and this is entirely too easy! I have standards too, I cannot lower them further than they are right now. Even though, in that case I would have to start digging, and digging canals and navigations could be useful in this time of flooding. But I am not an engineer, and besides I have a painful spinal disc herniation, so I’d better leave digging for another time.

Therefore, let us focus on another thing: Italian media are ignoring the tragedy .

Many friends of mine on Facebook started sharing a photo published by a NYT blog, called Lens. Comments pointed to the fact that Italian journalism ignored us, while the American press instead apparently took our situation more seriously. Actually, that was not a news but a blog dedicated to photography, therefore the

New York Times Blog "Lens"  featuring the Modena flood

New York Times Blog “Lens” featuring the Modena flood

enthusiasm should be kept in perspective. Nevertheless one must admit that, although we did not impress the Italian press –  outside Modena, of course -, this NYT blog did list “us” among the pictures of the day, as the no. 5 of the 20th January more precisely, among other pretty bad situations all around the world (clashes, bombings, other massive floods).

After sharing this myself, the friend and journalist Gabriele Testi “liked and shared” the “Facebook way” as well, and took the opportunity to check when had been the last time the NYT wrote about the “Secchia river”. It was 1945, and the Allied Armed Forces were marching along the Secchia in order to reach the Po river. Our Modenese sources and memories (including my parents’ ones) about the end of World War Two all mention the marching troops on the Canaletto, a road following for most of its course the river Secchia and leading to the Brenner. Gabriele’s discovery lead us to some night chatting: I was waiting for the pain meds to kick in and could not sleep, he is a journalist and is probably used to covering news and researching facts at night…

(little remark: Gabriele is a male name in Italian!)

The flooded territories are located between two rivers, the Secchia (the one that literally poured out when the levee in one of the north suburbs of Modena broke, and the Panaro. Their courses come closer shortly after the city of Modena, in its immediate northern outskirts (suburbs of San Matteo, Albareto and Navicello), and they flow this close until after Sorbara/San Prospero and  Bomporto. The Secchia has flooded all the territories to the river Panaro, thus resulting in a terrible flood also in the before-mentioned town of Bomporto (where, by the way, I used to live prior to my migration to Salzburg). Bomporto is located on the river Panaro and has an old bridge crossing the Panaro itself, connecting Bomporto to Casoni di Ravarino. While chatting with Gabriele on my Facebook account about US troops and Modenese rivers I recalled my researches for the Historical Dictionary of Modenese Antifascism, which included consulting a huge amount of orders of battle to understand more of some local biographies (partisans fighting here and there, old books reporting things I found a little suspicious or unlikely). Due to my focus, I only went to Berlin and Freiburg to research directly in the archives for German diaries. Nevertheless, I looked up a few second-hand things about the Allied troops as well. So, I stumbled upon the march of the 10th Mountain Division, marching on Bomporto, or better, occupying its bridge, which was considered strategic. These facts are stated, for instance, on this site and even on my not so beloved Wikipedia, where a footnote about the occupation of the Bomporto bridge on the river Panaro leads  to “Young, Gordon Russell (1959), Army Almanac: A Book of Facts Concerning the Army of the United States, Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office”.

The real-life Trapp family, the one you probably know from The Sound of Music, escaped to the USA (not to Switzerland), had Italian citizenship and had two boys who were sent to serve in the 10th Mountain Division, Rupert and Werner. According to Maria’s and Agathe’s memories, they were indeed fighting in our territories: Agathe mentions Mount Belvedere, which is between Lizzano in Belvedere and Montese. Montese hosted a well-known battle, where the Brazilian Army fought bravely. Moreover, Montese lies in the upper part of the Panaro valley and drainage basin. I have absolutely no evidence that the two Trapp boys entered Bomporto on that April day in 1945 but somehow I can picture them descending with their division the paths leading through Marano, Vignola, Castelfranco, Nonantola to Bomporto. Who knows if they did? Well, I would know how to find out this, but unfortunately I have other projects scheduled as soon as my herniation gets better, so this particular inquiry will have to wait. (About the Trapp family, Maria A. Trapp, The story of the Trapp Family Singers, and Agathe von Trapp, Memories before and After The Sound of Music, as well as their official website).

What is the moral of this story?

Mr Sheffield: And the moral of the story is?

Fran: Everything has to have a moral? What am I, Mother Goose?

(Yet another quote from “The Nanny” on this blog, episode 2.17 “The Will”)

Well, my herniation tells me I am starting to morph into Mother Goose, so here are a few reasons I wrote this story:

– This is an interesting story following a sort of a stream of consciousness with punctuation, a flood of memories brought to us by three things: a flood, my unpaid occupation as an historian and some strong pain meds. No science, just some storytelling here for entertainment purposes, which is something many blogs do, and you will agree with me that this is quite pleasant, especially for curious people like me. I also know that tags such WWII, Bob Dylan, Trapp, Sound of Music, The Nanny will attract people! And this leads to the other reason:

– I would hope to draw some attention on this troubled land and raise some awareness about the situation: yes, it is my personal affection and concern since I was born and raised there, my family and friends are still there. But it is also a land which used to contribute alone to the 1% of the Italian GDP before the earthquake and which is slowly dying due to the stubbornness of the government and of the local administrations, neither granting any tax free time range nor investing in the local reconstruction. Instead, they focus on other “investments” I would not be proud of. But this is an issue I would not like to  address. This land produces a lot of fine eno-gastronomic specialities, excellent biomedical technologies, beautiful cars, and moreover hosts exquisite architectural and artistic treasures. I assure that a visit to our Province would not disappoint you if things were a little more…normal, you know?

If it keep on rainin’ the levee gonna break
If it keep on rainin’ the levee gonna break
Everybody saying this is a day only the Lord could make

Wanna help?
April 14, 2012

Thinking about the Titanic tragedy 100 years later as a human being (sort of) and as a 19th and 20th century historian

by felicitamodna82

Only a few days ago I was sharing  joy, happiness and passion by writing about my beloved Modena F.C., and now….here I am, remembering a tragedy. Nothing new, actually, since I write  mainly about wars, crises and pandemics as an historian (and still manage to make humour when I see the potentiality…have a look at my essay about the Spanish Flu, unfortunately only in Italian at the present time!).

Actually, I mentioned even in my Modena Centenary post that tragedy was in the air (Italian-Turkish war, Titanic itself, Great War). Remembering the Titanic disaster as a human being and as an historian lead me to some thoughts I would like to share. (yes, I also know that everybody will be googling Titanic in the next hours and therefore many poor people will pop on my blog mislead by some evil search engine, so I don’t resist the occasion of being under a spotlight 🙂 )

La Stampa, 19 aprile 1912 - Archivio on-line la Stampa

I did not learn about the Titanic thanks to Cameron&DiCaprio (Leo was and is not my type!). I learned about the tragedy because of my “middle school” English book, named Flying start. One unit had an article with pictures about the Titanic disaster, in order to teach us “sink, sank, sunk” –  in other words, to introduce us verb patterns. The “scuola media” is a kind of school every Italian kid attends from age 11 to 14 and at that time (beginning of the 90s) it used to be the school where a foreign language, sometimes even two, was first introduced. The sad story of the 3rd class sacrifice, of the missing lifeboats, of the “women and children first” rule caught my attention. This lead to two consequences: the first one is that I rarely make mistakes in English verbs since I learned patterns as a sort of song, while I never really got motivated to learn long lists of German verb patterns. (I am grateful to be an Italian native who used to love Italian grammar and literature, because I would hav never learned all those complicated Italian verbs with the same efforts and motivation I faced German ones 😀 ). The second one is that along with my World Wars stuff I started to read about the 1912 Titanic wreck as well, so that by the time Cameron’s colossal came out, I wasn’t a newbie to the topic.

Just a small digression: yes, I saw Cameron’s Titanic 2 times.  I was going on fifteen, so cinema was one of the few free time activities I was allowed to do (times change, don’t they?) and the film is anyway very good, even though the romance in the beginning is not well developed (why do they fall in love? Just because he represents the freedom she is longing for?). No one can deny you “sink with the ship” as you watch Cameron’s Titanic. The first time I saw it, right in 1997, was after  removing one of wisdom teeth. I did not cry a single tear because of (or thanks to) some Novocain still circulating through my face. Nevertheless, I DID cry when I saw it in English a few weeks later. There was a cinema where films were played in the original language and I had a listening comprehension test to pass. So I caught the opportunity, and, boy, did I cry my eyes out! My school mates made fun of me for days because of my state! Actually I was sadder for the poor Neapolitan immigrant, Fabrizio, than for Leo/Jack. Of course, the width of the tragedy and the final scene made me cry as well. (I recently watched the finale on you tube and I still cry my eyes out, but my favourite character is always Fabrizio and not Jack. I mean, he is sexier, funnier and didn’t even got the girl!)

As a human being and as an historian, I am very fascinated by the complexity of this story. I know that there have been worse tragedies. Hell, I research about worse tragedies! Nevertheless, I could not resist the charm of this particular one.

My romantic side – the human being –  is fascinated by tales about couples who decided to stay together on the ship instead of separating. That is true love, the one I am looking for. (…yes, stop laughing, I am single and yes, I know this kind of expectation is not going to make it change…but I better have it this way than being stuck in a relationship without love!). I know that many marriages at that time had little or nothing to do with love, so I perfectly understand that some women jumped into (half-empty) lifeboats and then decided not to “risk their lives” by searching for their husbands. But…reading that even in that era there were true couples that did not part makes my heart warm. I hope they are somewhere still together! So, sometimes people have luck in love and love exists. For those who never loved, I would like to clear one thing: if you really love somebody, losing him/her is a terrible, unbearable pain. So, it is only natural that you  choose to 99% die together with your beloved partner instead of some-percent-survive and 99% never see your love again. (I keep estimates flexible because in accidents like that everything and everything contrary is likely to happen).

I am also fascinated by the elegance of that ship. Especially externally. I mean, compare it with the shape of one of the Costa ships…there is no comparison. Titanic-like ships (its “sisters” and similar ships as well) are elegant, attractive, beautiful. I cannot say anything about interiors, but I’d wish ships were still built like the Titanic externally!!!

Then, the historian comes out. By having a look at the Encyclopedia Titanica, I got the umpteenth evidence of the strong phenomenon of the  Italian immigration characterised by successful stories and less successful stories that ended up together in the same abrupt stop. Not that I ignore or neglect the relevance (and sufferings) of other nationalities and other immigrants, but as an Italian young woman and an historian working on social history those are the names and stories I notice the most. Many of their names are as usual misspelled or sometimes even willingly anglicised. I was also very impressed by the – very clever – supposition I read somewhere (I forgot where, anyway it is not mine!) that families such as the  Goodwin family (see the story of “Our babe“) stayed together because a mother with children but without husband and older male children would have missed the needed financial support – as hard as it sounds, it could be plausible.

I also made some spontaneous remarks . The tragedy happened in 1912, in an era when on the one side modernisation was taking a huge acceleration, on the other side there were so many remains from the previous world. So, the striking contrast between the hyper-optimistic and positivist assumption that finally unsinkable ships could be built,  and the strongly observed, old-fashioned “women and children first” cavalry rule is remarkable. I know that there were men who were not “keen on observing the rule spontaneously”, but nevertheless there are evidences that the captain, some officers and even some passengers believed in it and complied with it. Some of them even used a gun to “make it get observed”. The contrast and the contradictions modernity/modernisation/cavalry/tragedy seem to mirror the constant state of the Western society between the Second Anglo-Boer war and Hiroshima: positive and dark sides of modernisation, resistance towards modernity, nostalgic attitude towards the past. Also, the metaphor of positivist enthusiasm and of dreams of a better life crashing against an iceberg reminds me of the stormy era 1914-1945 (especially the First World war is often seen as a rupture characterised by harsh disillusions). The same goes for the “Titanic lesson”, and I mean by this the improvement of safety measures on ships after the tragedy. After each tragedy of the 20th century we tried to “learn a lesson”: partly we succeeded, partly not, sometimes we only dreamt of learning and improving something just to be harshly disappointed … and then we have – or had –  to start again. And here we are in the 21st century…well, I am letting you draw your own conclusions. (keywords: wars, crisis, tragedies, wrecks, epidemics…). Interesting to see that people from professional fields other that history draw other conclusions about “Titanic&learning lessons”, such as in this article you can click. An interesting perspective for my “other” job as trainer and lecturer!

Reading, reading, I found out that one of the survivors of the Titanic also escaped internment in Fossoli and the harsh situation of WWII’s Italy (hunger, bomb attacks, terror). Fossoli was the concentration camp set up for several categories of prisoners, including civil prisoners, located near Carpi, Modena. I am currently trying to understand more about the civil prisoners and the labour forces departments of the camp.   The woman’s story is incredible  – if you are meant to live longer, you will, even through a wreck and two world wars- , and the “ethnocentric-egocentric” side in me also makes me think how small the world is.

Alright, enough writing, I am closing my post with this article about the recovered baby corpse. I loved because it is so well written, really touching :;

with two linked images  that symbolise the tragedy according to my sensibility, two grave markers (two paired shoes do not happen to reach the ocean floor together by chance): Titanic shoes debris by NOAA magazine  and Titanic shoes by . (Update: I add a third one – read the related Daily Mail article also). About this, I think these two three first linked pictures are “human remains” without any doubt and are heart-wrenching, while this picture – click here – makes me doubt a little more: I cannot see the second boot, and the amount of things and the shape make me think more of a half-destroyed suitcase or trunk. What do you think? (Historians develop also a few forensic skills, as long as they deal with tragedies…)

and my personal soundtrack for the evening, Simple Minds: a group I love, especially for their Someone somewhere in summertime and Mandela’s day. I was in the mood for Simple Minds, and of course I “knew” they wrote a song called Belfast child. So, that was my choice: a Simple Minds/Big Country/other NW groups compilation featuring Belfast Child. The Titanic was a “Belfast child”, so even though the song has nothing to do with the wreck, I find it a good soundtrack. Not that I don’t like James Horner’s heart-wrenching tunes, but New Wave will always be a great love of mine!! Call it “artistic licence”!

Rest in peace, all of you victims (and survivors who joined you afterwards, since nobody is still living).

For further reading, the web is plenty…so visit blogs and sites in the languages you know: a lot of people did a good job 🙂 honour them and their efforts! Some links are hidden in my text and pics (Italian newspapers above, for example), then search on engines and Facebook. Here below, an Austrian newspaper (link to the on-line archive);

Die Neue Zeitung 17. April 1912 - ANNO archive - (Austrian Newspaper Online) by the Austrian National Library (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Biblioteca Centrale dello Stato Austriaco)

I recently found two blog entries I appreciated. As an historian and as a curious human being, I was asking myself a few questions (about preservation, salvaging, and the time), and I found these:

I immediately “liked” them! So, check them out…and never stop looking for anything! (said the PhD student who was drowning in sources instead of quickly finishing her duties because she never stops looking for them…).

March 23, 2011

24th March. From the 80s with fire…

by felicitamodna82

24th March 1982.  A proud woman gave birth to her second daughter (and third child). She had to fight to give the daughter her surname. Having a child outside marriage, giving the child the mother’s name, raising a child alone….well, this was not that common during the 80s in Italy. But that woman survived the Second World War (where her own mother died) and she was not scared by the whole situation.

Somehow that woman managed to go on. Here I am, bearing my mother’s name, raised by a supplementary foster family and still trying to get something “normal” in this life! (“normal” has to be abolished, as far as my vocabulary is concerned…)

Being “abnormal” or “paranormal” is probably the reason why I am such a living earthquake, full of passion, always louder than allowed. Or, at least, I like thinking that this is the reason.

It is my 29th birthday. My twenties are coming to an end. I know: I managed a lot, coming from a difficult family background (including violence and boarding school). Still, I am not satisfied. I am trying to hurry my dissertation to get my Ph.D. I am trying to understand where I have to be and how, what mission I have to accomplish. I am searching for something.

pensa se la incontravi 10 anni fa la tua anima gemella, con la testa che ti ritrovavi 10 anni fa per dire!!!Oh mio dio! (imagine what if you met your soul mate ten years ago…I mean, as the kind of person you used to be ten years ago!!! Oh my god!) Guido aka Abo/Eibo, 23rd March 2011

But the main reason I am writing this for is to thank many people. I finally learned to enjoy the journey – even it is not exactly going the way I wanted to – and I recognised I have to thank many of you for having taken part.

Thanks, mami. I would have never done what you did. Nevertheless I would not be here without you. I know it is hard to have me in Salzburg. I am sorry. I had to try it.

Thanks mami nr. 2 and papi. For everything. I owe you everything.

Thanks, schoolmates of any grade. I still remember any of you. Really.

Thanks, friends from the compagnia Cittadella. You would not believe how much I miss the time we used to be always together.

Thanks old friends. Maria, whom I don’t see that much any more but I still remember. Francesca, who is still here.

Thanks, friend from the BA in Bologna and the MA in Modena.

Thanks, friends from  Modena. Politics? Music? Whatever? We shared so much and sometimes we still share a lot.

Thanks, friends from the Curva Montagnani and Braglia stadium. I am looking forward to seeing you again in a few hours. Sharing a passion and our pride is a strong connection. Many will not understand, but we do.

Thanks, many thanks, Nicola. I am still sorry, believe me, but it was the right decision. Anyway I owe you a lot and we shared a lot. This is the reason why you have your own thank you, even before others I really care for a lot.

Thanks Alice. You are one of the nicest people I have ever met. Entering a “true” job was not that easy but your smile helped me very much. When I am lacking motivation I recall your remarks. It really works! Looking forward to seeing you in the next days.

Many thanks. Florian. In the first place, because you were sitting in the “wrong” seminar ( because I am sure you think of it that way;-)!). In the second place, because you talked to me. You cannot believe how hard it was being alone in Salzburg and trying to talk and to be heard.  There is so much I would have to thank you for. I will never forget what you did. (which can also sound like a threat…).

Many thanks, Sylvia. You have been my only friend in Salzburg for some months. I still miss you.

Many thanks, Marty, for being humorous, almost as irreverent as myself, and an historian as well.

Thanks, Fabio and Francesco. How did you manage to work with me? I am still wondering about it…

Many thanks, Vicky. I found a person who deeply cares for both appearance and soul, as I do. None of us would have believed we could become friends, at the beginning… 🙂

Many thanks, Marie. I know now I am not the only one who is “arrogant” in Salzburg 😉 !

Many thanks to you all for sharing a minute, a day, some months or years, a seminar or a flat, for fighting with me. It was all part of the journey. And believe me, I don’t remember you with rage or hate, even if we almost killed each other.

I finish with a self dedicated video, a sweet saccharine song from the 80s (oh, how I would like to turn back the time and to be 29 in 1988…:-( ) and another song from the 80s I would like to post to celebrate my birthday.

Kyrie eleison, down the road that I must travel
Kyrie eleison, through the darkness of the night
Kyrie eleison, where I’m going will you follow
Kyrie eleison, on a highway in the light

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