It was freezing cold and it was raining too, on that cold early February morning. I was alone inside the “sample preparation” room, an isolated and external dependence of the chemical laboratory, located just outside the fence of the first area of the plant. It was a small room used for grinding, preparing and storing samples of launch explosives to be subjected in the laboratory to the prescribed chemical stability tests. The samples came to us from the Artificieri Workshop, where the cartridges and launching charges, relegated from the ships and from the depots, were unpacked for checks on a pre-established deadline. Although the room contained only negligible quantities of explosives, as a rule it had the same characteristics as those who stored tons of explosives. It was a small ocher-colored hut, entrenched all around the perimeter, it had its beautiful Faraday cage for lightning protection, the fire-fighting system and the safety electrical system in an "explosion-proof" construction. Unfortunately, there was no heating that at that moment I would have "ardently" wished there was, while I was shivering from the cold and stamping my numb feet waiting, for almost half an hour on the agreed time, for a person in charge of the workshop to bring the new samples to be prepared .
I had always found it odd that in that area of the lower Lunigiana, despite being less than twenty kilometers from the sea of the La Spezia coast and at an altitude of not even 70 meters above sea level, it was so cold in winter. In fact, the morphology and the oro-hydrographic configuration were and are such as to determine very particular climatic characteristics. Avio Conticini had explained them to me. Avio was a talented and very nice geologist who, having graduated with full marks, to an uncertain freelance profession and given the lack of competitions for geologists, had preferred the melancholy stability of a permanent job, as a clerk in the General Warehouse of the Plant . His name, somewhat exclusive, had been imposed on him by his father, a great lover of the blue weapon as well as of a somewhat D'Annunzio nature. Avio had explained to me that we were on the edge of a former Pliocene lake and that this territory has the particularity of hosting the natural confluence of five rivers: the Magra which receives the Vara further downstream, the Aulella, the Taverone, the Bagnone and the small Dorbola; which, for more or less short routes, descending from the Ligurian-Tuscan-Emilian Apennines, channel the cold air of the high altitudes into their beds, pushed and enriched by the large masses of humid air, which press from the mountainous buttresses of the Po valley- Parma. In particular, the Bagnone-Taverone-Aulella hydrographic system, by the locals is nicknamed and known as the "Canale della Freddana" due to the low temperatures reached in winter, hence the local popular saying: "Chi gh 'st'à Substitutes for ga i pe semp ghiati" (those who live in the Surrogates always have frozen feet. "Surrogati" is the name of the suburb of the town, where the factory is located and which during the war housed a factory of substitutes for coffee, cocoa and other self-sufficient or fake kinds).
Speaking of bizarre names, Avio also claimed that, all in all, his name, besides pleasing him, wasn't all that extravagant. True, he had had some problems at school with his classmates, but only at the beginning and perhaps some more problems at the oratory, because there was no saint on the calendar who was called Avio and the priest told him that he had to work to become a saint himself, so he couldn't afford the slightest prank.
He reinforced the speech by bringing a valid example, that of Alberto Beneduce.
Beneduce was a great Italian technocrat and economist of the thirties, radical socialist deputy, who was minister of labor, university professor of statistics, declared Freemason and who, as a member of the government, achieved a rare and unparalleled virtuous balance and in an anti-capitalist key, between industrial power , banking power and state participation in businesses. He was the founder and first president of IRI, with which he secured Italy from the great crisis of '29 and, despite being anything but a fascist, he was very much listened to and highly respected by Mussolini. Well, Beneduce had five children and did not baptize any, he gave his first daughter the name of New Socialist Idea (who became the beloved wife of Enrico Cuccia), the second called her Proletarian Victory and the third Italy Liberated. The last two children, having perhaps somewhat exhausted the ideological inspiration, were more simply called Ernesto and Anna.
I completely agreed with Avio that all three girls, at school, had certainly had greater problems than hers.
Meanwhile, the person in charge with the samples had arrived, it was Parolini.
- Good morning Gregorio. Sorry for the delay, I had some setbacks because the output templates of the material were not ready and Pizzigoni had to finish eating his sandwich first. After the sandwich there is the coffee and then there is also the fact that today is Monday and that yesterday Milan lost at home and, you know how it is, Pizzigoni is a Milan player, today he was very nervous and the discussions were heated and they went on for long. I brought the samples, there are twenty-one. But what are you doing here, I didn't expect to find you, this place is Binotti's kingdom, but where is it? Did he not mark a visit?
- That's right. Hello Parolini, I didn't expect her to come either, but the surprise is welcome. Binotti said he was ill because today he had to give birth to the cow, the Musetta, who is in her second pregnancy; he was worried because with his first maternity he had had big problems due to his narrow pelvis. To give birth to the calf, Binotti told me that he had had to assist her a lot, slipping it into her arm up to the armpit, to turn and correctly channel the unborn child. We hope well.
- He will see that everything will be fine. I know the Musetta is a beautiful beast. Cows are like that, the more times they relieve and the easier things become for them. But then there is that Binotti is too fond of his animals. Just think that twice a year a butcher from Borgotaro comes to take the calves that Binotti fattened, they are of the Garfagnina breed, an uncommon species with excellent characteristics. He comes with the money in his hand and he would pay any price for it, but then he knew the cries that Binotti makes every time, when he has to part with his calves, knowing that they are sent to the slaughterhouse. It will be crocodile tears but he is like that and then he is a small breeder, he cannot keep many and must do it this way by force. But I think maybe we are wrong. Yes, because we have a different attitude towards animals, if they are animals that give income and that we see only as a source of meat, milk or eggs. We become more fond of a dog, a cat, a horse, we consider them intelligent and sensitive, qualities that we rarely recognize in calves, chickens or pigs. I then observed the pigs a lot; most of them see them only as dirty, voracious and insatiable, but in my opinion they are more intelligent and much more sensitive than dogs and if you give them a little attention they become very attached. And to think that it is the most unhappy race. Poor animals, I wish you never to see intensive pig farming; Dante's inferno is a tourist village by comparison.
Anyway, since he's alone and it's raining, I don't feel like going back to the workshop, especially since there's the safety conference this morning, I've heard it a thousand times; if you want I can stay with you and help you grind and prepare the samples I brought, there are twenty-one, so hurry up first.
- Thanks Parolini, both for your dissertation on animals which I fully agree with, and for the offer of collaboration, which I gladly accept. In a couple of hours we should do it, we will finish that it will be lunch time and we have the advantage that, even if it rains, from here the canteen is not even a hundred meters away, and then today there is the baked chicken that as good as they do my mom doesn't do it here either, but I didn't tell her. Since they are Binotti's substitutes, at least he will have to bring us a caciottina made with Musetta milk.
Damn Parolini, how cold it is, even if the thermometer does not mark anything exaggerated it is as if I were at the mercy of a bad cold, I feel it right on me even if I am wrapped up well, it gives me an unhappy feeling, as if the world does not loved me. It would be better if it snowed. Where I come from, even there when it's cold there is cold, but we have Etna, our great regulator. With its four thousand meters it acts as both a heat exchanger and a condenser and so when the mistral arrives in winter, the cold is dry, almost pleasant, it makes the mandarins ripen and the almond blossoms bloom in February. I take this opportunity to reiterate that you and the lady have been called to Sicily, I think he hasn't been there yet, but come in the summer so we can go to the sea. I host you in my house, which is on the seafront of Catania, you can see the stacks of Acitrezza. As for the sea, I will choose between the spectacular lava cliffs, which after the port suddenly stop to start a very long coastline of very fine sand. La Playa.
- Thanks Gregorio. I'd like to; who knows if we will be able at one time or another, maybe when I am retired, now it is very close. What do you want, the countryside is tyrannical and you have to keep up with it. There is practically a little less to do only in winter. However you are wrong, I have been there in Sicily and I have stayed there for almost two months and right in its part; I have a beautiful memory of it and I still think of the lump in my throat when, after the work they sent me to do, I had to leave to return to the base.
- Wow Parolini! But she is always a mine of surprises! He's been in Sicily and for two months too, and he doesn't tell me anything. But where, to do what? If she doesn't tell me everything right away, I lock the place and swallow the key, so I force her to talk, and if necessary under torture.
- There is no need, and then look that the key is pretty big and even if it manages to swallow it, it would have some difficulty in regaining possession of it by way ... natural.
I was in Sicily in 47, it was February like now, in Augusta, between Catania and Syracuse.
- Of course, Augusta, I had to imagine, there is the Navy arsenal. They took me on an eighth grade school trip many years ago. They made us visit the Torpedo Workshop and a ship, it was called “Aldèbaran” and was a former American fighter, somewhere I should still have the blue hat with the name, which they gave us on board. That time it also struck me a lot to see for the first time a submarine live, I think it was called "Vortice", it was of Italian construction, now old and run down and close to being decommissioned; they told me that he had survived the war first and then, with a trick, the demolition imposed by the victors. The boat was Taranto and during the day they disguised it as a charger pontoon while at night it secretly went out diving to do training activities.
Augusta is a beautiful place, where you have to go there on purpose because it is not on a transit road and you have to take a provincial road that leads only there. There was an extraordinary nature, sea and coastline before industries built it. If the Chalcidians, seven centuries before Christ, chose it among the first settlements of Magna Graecia, there must have been a reason. In the fifties and sixties they built the largest petrochemical center in Europe and if you were there in '47 when there was nothing, I let you imagine what caused kilometers and kilometers of plants and thirty years of pollution of the territory, the sea and the air. Sin.
But now tell me about you and your Sicilian experience, and in the meantime let's grind. We make a sample by one, the grinder is ready, I cleaned it first. I'll start.
- Oh yes Gregorio, it was a really nice adventure, I will gladly tell you about it but I think it is necessary to first make a little preamble of the past, and to do this we must reopen an unhappy page in our history and in the history of our Navy in particular; I am referring to 8 September 43, a page that as you look at it you would just want to close it and forget it, but you can't; on my generation and however you think of it, it weighs like a boulder, like a kind of curse that the next generation unknowingly inherited and, as I think, if today and many years later we are not highly regarded abroad , partly because of those facts there, which, but always in my opinion, as a people have also distanced us from the realization of our own, true, unique and shared national identity, which unfortunately we have not yet reached, no matter what if tell us about it and that we have been trying hard to build, since Cavour's time. We bring out our pride and wave the flag only when the national team plays and then have ever noticed that we are the only people who often speak ill of themselves, that we tell and laugh for jokes in which "the Italian" always plays the part of the sly or the treacherous or the loser. It is normal that an American or, even worse, a Frenchman would not even dream of such an attitude.
- Already Parolini, I think I understand what it refers to. My father also lived those days and sometimes he told me about them. But he never talks about it willingly, for those who have been there a general desire to remove these memories, both their own and collective, persists.
Dad was a skier financier and he was lucky because he spent the war period serving in Valtellina, on the border with Switzerland. Every now and then he happened to shoot at smugglers, but without anyone aiming too well, they called them shoulder pads, but they could only be arrested if in flagrantee, or if they caught them with the stuff on; that it wasn't drugs or weapons, but chocolate, watches, cigarettes. The same shoulders with which he had shot in the morning, then, out of service, he met them in the evening at the tavern and, while always keeping his distance, there was a tacit and almost chivalrous rule; if that day they had been rejected, they paid the financiers to drink, if instead, but more rarely, they had managed to pass and therefore had gained something, they offered the shoulder pads.
He told me that when September 8 came he suddenly found himself without superiors and without orders and orders, with the Germans and the black brigades that were going up and raking; returning home to Sicily was not really talked about and there was nothing left for him to do but travel a hundred meters and find himself in Switzerland, where he remained as a refugee until 45, working in Monsieur Peroni's brewery. Do you think that when he returned and was reinstated in the roles of the Guardia di Finanza, he found himself a sentence imposed in absentia and already amnestied, and not for abandoning his job, but for embezzlement to the detriment of the State. This was due to the simple fact that he had fled to Switzerland dressed, so that the uniform, as well as the shoes, socks, woolen sweater and underpants, which were state property, appeared as if he had stolen them and therefore removed from the balance sheet of the inventory and taken abroad. Sure, if he were a naked expatriate he would have kept his criminal record clean, but perhaps the Swiss would have arrested him for indecent charges.
- Of course Gregorio, it seems funny but that's it, the rules of the bureaucracy have always been granitic. And then the war, you know, is always a disaster regardless, but that war was also wrong as well as incorrect if, as is true, that unconscious in '40 without having the means declared war to half the world, just because he was convinced it was over and he needed a couple of thousand fallen to sit with the winners at the peace table. Instead it lasted five years and the deaths were not two thousand but two hundred thousand and more than thirty thousand civilians killed by the bombing and making the armistice without saying anything to the ally is not that it was such a normal thing and the Germans obviously did not take it well . With the King, then, who gets away with his entourage and thousands of our boys in arms, from one day to the next abandoned to themselves and still side by side with the ally of the day before, who the next day had become the enemy . I think he knows what happened to those poor guys from the Acqui Division in Kefalonia. And especially since we were also repeat offenders as a turnaround, if I remember correctly before the entry into the war, in the First World War, we jumped from the triple alliance to the triple entente, or vice versa, I don't remember.
It was therefore on 9 September, the day after, that fulfilling the clauses of the armistice signed in Cassibile, (of which some conditions, it seems, are still secret) which then was simply a total surrender without conditions, the fleet moved between contradictory orders. from Spezia, Taranto and Pola to go and deliver to the British in Malta, but it wasn't that everything went smoothly, far from it! There were attempts to escape the ships (but to go where?) That the Germans obviously wanted to requisition, scuttling, sabotage, sinking by British and American bombs, mutinies and some suicides. A German plane that took off from Marseille, using radio-controlled bombs, an absolute novelty, sank the battleship Roma which exploded off the Asinara. They died in fourteen hundred, including Admiral Bergamini.
As you have noticed, I tell you what I know and I say what I think, but I don't want to use the word “honor”, it doesn't seem the case; I would rather speak of dignity and sometimes I think, when in our anniversaries the "sailor's prayer" is recited, which every now and then it would be right to read aloud, even the letter that Commander Fecia di Cossato, ace of highly decorated submariners, wrote to his mother , with dignity, before taking a shot on the head. On 27 August 44, in Naples. At 36 years old.
What does he want, the French, vanquished, sank in Toulon in '42, as well as the Germans in Scapa Flow, where the British had interned their fleet, in Scotland in '18. History teaches us that in these cases either ships are lost or dignity is lost, and some might even say that we have been so good as to lose both.
The phone rang. It was the doctor from the lab.
- Parolini damn, unfortunately we have to stop. I have to go back to the laboratory. There is an urgent need for melting points to a couple of batches of explosives being tested and which they have now brought. It should be from T4. By now those of Oto Melara have got into the habit of not giving notice even a day before, so at least one gets organized. Look that the story of his Sicilian adventures must however and absolutely be continued and concluded. But now we have to get out that I have to close. Luckily it stopped raining. All right, I'll see you in the canteen at half o'clock. See you later.
- See you later.