Chris’ Snowshoe

December 30, 2013

snowshoe2013For many years I have enjoyed hunting Snowshoe Hares during the short season between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.  Until our beagle, Dotty, died about five years ago, hunting these animals was relatively easy.  Since then, several times I have guided other hunters and their dogs in an effort to bag a Snowshoe.  With each of these efforts I came to appreciate Dotty more.

Following a Snowshoe is obviously a specialized skill.  Not all beagles can do it.  Perhaps it’s that the scent is different from the Cottontail, or maybe it is the fact that the circles they make it trying to escape are much larger.  Or maybe it is the fact that they make much larger jumps, so the scent trail is not as heavy.  Or maybe it is the fact that Snowshoes seem to back track and then take long jumps at 90 degrees to their previous course, sometimes from elevated platform of a log.  Whatever it is, Dotty was a master.

This year I was leading a group of hunters with two dogs through a clear cut.  We saw old tracks almost immediately.  The snow cover was perfect, just 2-3 inches, so walking was relatively easy.  Soon Roy booted a Snowshoe and I picked up the track which was easy to follow because it was so much fresher than the others.  Then one of the dogs showed up to help.  Unfortunately the result was that the dog’s four feet combined with his enthusiasm and lack of ability to follow a scent trail only resulted in the trail becoming quickly masked by dog tracks.

The older dog (me), was pretty good at following a trail, but I depend entirely on sight.  I am worthless as a scent hound and so I soon gave up hoping that one of us would boot another fresh one that I may be able to track without canine assistance this time.

A few of us had pushed through one part of the clear cut and had just turned to head back to the vehicles when I spotted another fresh track.  Not being about to bay like Dotty and yet realizing that it is important for the hunters to be able to know where the dog (me) is at all times, I began my banter.  In a loud voice I described everything I could.  Most of it was probably useless information, “under the log, over the stump, around the brush pile, hopping down the bunny trail”, but some of it was specific to give a sense of direction.  “The sun is on my left shoulder,” or “now turning to the right, with the sun 45 degrees behind my left shoulder.” As I was getting closer to where I thought the hunters were posted I repeatedly said, “I expect to hear a shot any second.”

Finally, after perhaps 20 minutes of following the Snowshoe, with many changes of direction, I heard a shot, then another.  “It’s not a good sign to hear more than one shot,” I hollered, partly to tease whoever had missed on at least the first shot.  Then three more shots.  “That’s really not a good sign!”

I headed toward the shooters knowing that I could pick up the fresh track from where they had missed, if necessary.  The final shot had found it’s mark and Chris had his first Snowshoe!  The hare had run between Jerry and Chris, neither of whom had previously seen a one of these beautiful animals on the run.

Jerry had missed twice and then Chris missed twice before connecting on the third and final shot.  “I couldn’t believe how fast he was,” Chris said.  “And he didn’t run in a straight line.  He was juking to the left and right so it was hard to lead him.”

It was exciting and Chris shot his first Snowshoe with his grandfather’s shotgun which made it more special.  For me, it was great fun being the dog.  Someday I’ll have to get another beagle.  It may be a few years, but I suspect someday I won’t have the energy to be the dog.  This is definitely a team sport and I miss my team-mate.


Le Grotte Italiane

November 19, 2013

Le Grotte Italiane

Questo e il nome della storia dento il libro per la mia lezzione italiana per questa pomerigio.  Contributero la sequente anche per la mia lezzione.  Scuzi per favore se non e perfetto.  Continuaro imparare.

Parrechi anni fa ho imparato da Francesco, una parente chi abita alla regione Garfagnana, che spesso quando esploravi le grotte dentro i Alpi Apuani di Garfagnana, troveresti indizio dagli Partigiani che si nasconnderebbero dentro le grotte dopo le sua battaglie contro i Nazi durante la Seconda Guerra Mondiale. 

La mese passata quando visitavo con Francesco e la sua famiglia ho lo chiesto se mi prenderebbe visitare una di queste grotte.  Presto un giorno abbiamo guidato a fondo della una vicina montagna e allora abbiamo fatto escursioni a piedi sulla montagna.  Meta sulla cima abbiamo trovato una grotta.

La entrata era approsimativamente quatro metre larga e una metra alta.  La grotta era livella e secca per trenta metre.  Allora era una mura construita di rocce e molta.  La mura era contruita prevenire gente da passare profundamente dentro la grotta.

Poco anni fa ne bambini erano perduti dentro la grotta e era necessario salvare loro.  Presto comunque le gente che si piace fare escursione delle grotte hanno buttato giu la mura cosi continuare esplorare la grotta.

Bella Ciao – Returning to Sant’Anna

November 11, 2013

My earliest memories are mostly pleasant fragments of the days when I lived with Mom and Dad and my sister Becky in a small house in Mt. Gilead, Ohio.  I remember the front porch and the fact that I could squeeze under the barricade that was used to keep me there.  I never wondered far, but I suppose I enjoyed knowing that leaving was a possibility.  I remember a back yard that included a small pond.  The pond was surrounded by some high grass and I remember crawling on my belly to the edge of the pond and then tickling bull frogs with a long blade of grass to make them jump.

I have fond memories of catching fireflies in a Mason jar and using them as a nightlight by my bed.  I think Mom or Dad usually let them go after I was peacefully sleeping.  I remember the coal bin in the basement.  Sometimes I would watch Dad fill the furnace, but it was a dark and dirty and somewhat scary place.

The only other scary place that I remember in those days was a shack at the bottom of the hill.  Becky and I believed that there was a mean old man who lived there.  I’m not sure that was true.  I don’t remember ever seeing such a person.  I do remember that there was a hole under the building which was fairly close to the sidewalk.  We would walk by this building on the way to town.  I suppose Mom or Dad warned us not to go near the hole, or perhaps they were sure to hold our hands as we walked by.  I don’t understand the source of my anxiety about the shack but that was probably the worst memory of my otherwise perfect life in those early years.

If anything I remember the Mt. Gilead days as filled with hope.  Dad was in his first job after college and although we were too far away from the grandparents in Pennsylvania, there was always the hope that someday we could move closer.  I remember looking forward to our first family car.  Once the “Crystal Green” Chevrolet was on order, we would sometimes walk to Main Street where we would sit on a bench to watch auto carriers bringing new vehicles to town in hopes that one might be ours.  I know it was Crystal Green because Mom tells me I pronounced it “Dristal Dreen”.  Mom and Dad surely knew it was unlikely that we would see our car as it came into town.  Perhaps they saw it as an inexpensive family outing, but to me it was an adventure.

Then the day came when Becky and I were told that we were soon going to move to Pennsylvania.  Dad had landed a job at Ajax Iron Works in Corry, PA.  Although Corry was a great place to grow up, at the age of four, the only important part about the move was that it was much closer to the grandparents and that carried the promise that I would see them often.  A lifetime has passed since those days and my pleasant memories resurfaced in stunning contrast to the memory fragments of another four year old boy, my new friend, Piero.

Just a month ago, I was waiting to meet him, now a 73 year old man, at the train station in Viareggio.  I had driven from my ancestral home, Fosciandora, to the station at Castlenouvo di Garfagnana and taken an early train to Lucca where I connected to another train for the short ride to this coastal town where we were to meet at 10am.  My only correspondence with Piero had been through Facebook messages.  At 10:10 I started to worry.  Was my Italian sufficient to arrange this very important meeting?  I did not have a working cell phone and if he needed to make a change of plans I wouldn’t know about it until I returned to my computer in Fosciandora later in the day.

For some time I have been trying to learn more about my Italian heritage.  Five years ago I managed to meet some relatives in the Garfagnana region of Tuscany who share with me the same great, great grandfather.  Through them I found a Facebook group called “Tutti i Pierotti del Mondo”(all the Pierottis in the world), and there I became acquainted with Piero.  But that would not have happened if I hadn’t shared there a particular post and that would not have happened if I hadn’t read a particular book.  Please allow me to fill in a bit of the back story.

Shortly after returning from Italy five years ago I read The Cielo, by Paul Salsini.  This novel tells the story of Tuscany during the later days of World War II.  The Nazis had invaded and were building a defensive barrier, the Gothic line, across the Apuan Alps, meant to halt the Allied forces who were advancing from the south.  Able bodied Italian men were conscripted to work for the Nazis in this effort.  Their other alternative was to join the Partisans and fight a guerrilla warfare against the Nazis.  Many, especially in this mountainous Garfagnana region, chose the latter.  They would mount surprise attacks on the German positions along the Gothic Line and then retreat to the numerous mountain caves where they would hide until their next attack.

The Partisans were so successful in harassing the Nazis that they forced the redeployment of many forces away from Normandy to Tuscany where they faced the double threat of the advancing Allies from the south and the persistent attacks of the Partisans.  The success of the Partisans also led to an order being issued by the Nazis that 10 Italians would be executed in retaliation for every German killed by the Partisans.  Women and children were not exempt.

Among other things, The Cielo tells the story of Sant’Anna, an extremely remote mountain village where the families of the Partisans sought refuge.  On August 12, 1944, as the German army was retreating from Italy, the SS troops went to Sant’Anna and massacred 560 mostly women and children, families of the Partisans.  Roughly a quarter of these innocents were gathered in the church where the priest was executed in front of the congregation before the rest were mowed down by machine gun fire.  The pews were then stacked on top of the bodies, and soon, along with all the other buildings, the refuge of Sant’Anna was set ablaze.

Until reading The Cielo, I had not heard of this horrible event.  I asked one of the “Tutti i Pierotti del Mondo” group, Simone Pierotti, who I knew to be a journalist in the Garfagnana region, if this really happened.  He not only said it was true, but also also told me that Sant’Anna was only a short distance from the village of Fosciandora.  That led to correspondence with the author, Paul Salsini.  The horror of this event struck me more personally when Paul later shared with me the names of the victims.  Ten of them were Pierottis.  Then I knew I must visit this place which was now a national park and memorial to peace.  A fine museum has also been built there so that all visitors would be able to learn about that horrible day in hopes of motivating a passion for peace.

When I posted a message on “Tutti i Pierotti del Mondo” saying that I wanted to visit Sant’Anna to pay my respects I received a response from Piero, who told me that he had lived in Sant’Anna with his family until the day before the massacre.  They had narrowly escaped.  Piero told me that he had never returned but he would be happy to guide me to that place when I came to Italy.  Of course, I anticipated that this would be an emotional experience for me but even more so for Piero.

Then, on April 25th, the day celebrated for the liberation of Italy from the Nazis, I saw a video of Don Gallo, an old Italian priest, finishing a mass by leading the congregation in singing “Bella Ciao,” the song of the Partisans.  That song immediately became especially important to me and although my Italian was not sufficient to understand the lyrics I could feel its message as I heard the passion with which it was sung.  The refrain, “Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao, Ciao, Ciao,” was easy to remember.  It is a song of lament, most appropriate for that awful time, “Good bye beauty, good bye beauty, good bye beauty, good bye, good bye, good bye.”

I had arrived in Fosciandora a week earlier and I had told the local relatives that I was planning to visit Sant’Anna and that I had learned that there were 10 Pierottis who had been massacred that day.  Maria was quick to say, “They were not relatives.”  I didn’t pursue it at the time, partly because of my limited ability with the language, and partly because I wasn’t sure if they defined family differently than I did.  I also wondered if denying a family relationship was a means to avoid some of the pain of that event.  A couple days later I managed to explain my feeling to Gessica, Maria’s daughter, that in one sense all of humanity is related and surely those who share the same last name and live in the same region must be related in some way, especially since Italian families in previous generations usually had many children, often 10 or more.  Gessica’s response encouraged me to stay with my emotional quest.  “Of course,” she said, “we know that Adam was a Pierotti.”

We enjoyed a magnificent pizza dinner at Gessica’s house on one of those first few days.  It was a very happy occasion with many relatives in attendance and a wide variety of pizzas accompanied by many bottles of Mario’s wine and much reminiscing and expressions of joy about being together as an extended family.   Then Francesco, Gessica’s brother, found a bottle of grappa and the mood became even more celebrative!

I asked Francesco if he knew the song, “Bella Ciao.”  “Of course,” he responded, “it’s my favorite song.”  And then he began to sing and Alina, his girlfriend joined in.  I also sang the refrain but didn’t know the rest of the lyrics.  The others clearly enjoyed the singing although they didn’t participate.  I announced with sincerity that before returning to the United States I would learn to all the verses and I urged Francesco to write them down for me.

The day before my trip to Sant’Anna I asked Gessica if I could borrow a needle and thread to make a small repair on my jacket.  She offered to do it for me so I left the jacket.  When I picked it up later in the day, she did not tell me that she had placed something in the pocket.  As I waited for the train at Castlenouvo the next morning I found folded in my pocket the complete lyrics to “Bella Ciao.”  What a perfect prelude to meeting Piero and our visit to Sant’Anna!

A Man of Faith

October 21, 2013

The last two Sundays I’ve attended mass at a small church in Fosciandora, Italy.  My Italian is still minimal, but, because I know the shape of the liturgy, I have been able to participate somewhat.  I have not understood much of either sermon, but that didn’t matter so much. On October 13th I knew that the Old Testament reading was the story of Naaman, the commander of the army of Aram and I could understand that the gospel reading was the story of the 10 lepers.  As the priest spoke I listened to words that were spoken too rapidly for me to understand but at the same time I was remembering other sermons I had heard on these lessons, so I felt fed.

But more than that I felt fed by being surrounded by a congregation that clearly had a powerful spirituality.  Mario, whose great grandfather, Giovani, was a brother to my great grandfather, Francesco, had told me that he needed to be at the church 15 minutes early to lead the rosary.  While I was in the sacristy speaking with the priest, Mario began to lead those who had gathered early in praying the rosary for a solid 15 minutes before the mass.  As I reentered the sanctuary I was nearly overwhelmed by the beauty of perhaps 20 voices praying antiphonally to prepare for worship.  Mario’s strong voice kept them going and the crowd grew to perhaps 40 before the mass started.  And Mario was always right on cue with every response throughout the liturgy.  And every piece of music was supported by his clear baritone in perfect pitch.

The next Sunday, October 20, I took three other relatives from the United States with me to Mass.  Valerie, her husband, Joe, and her mother-in-law, Jane, had come to join me for a few days in Fosciandora before heading to Rome.  On that day we went to an earlier mass so that we could go to the wine festival at Riana after worship.  Mario arrived shortly after we did on this day.  This time there was no rosary as a prelude to mass, but Mario served as acolyte, assisting the priest with setting the table for communion, ringing the bells at the appropriate times, and of course leading the vocal congregational responses.

Last night at 3am local time, Mario and his wife Maria, in the middle of a horrendous thunder storm, left by bus for a 17 hour ride to a religious shrine in Bosnia.  We had shared good-bye hugs earlier that day as we left the wine festival.

The church faces many difficulties in Italy, as it does in the United States.  Younger people are not coming to worship as they did in years past, there is a shortage of priests, and difficult decisions must be made about which churches should be maintained and which closed in the face of these realities.   Many times in the last few days I’ve found myself thinking how fortunate that Italian priest is to have a man like Mario as a part of the congregation.

I’m sure every week the parishioners listen to the priest’s sermon and they receive the sacrament and they are fed.  But I am also sure that they are inspired by Mario’s example.  He is indeed a man of faith.


Bella Ciao, A Visit to a Cave

October 18, 2013

Because of my interest in the Partisans of WWII(Partigianni), Francesco took me yesterday to see one of many caves, which may have been use by the Partisans where they relentlessly attacked the Nazis along the Gothic Line at the point where it crossed the Apuan Alps to the west of the Serchio River valley.  We drove as far as we could and then began our hike.  Soon we found a cave about 30 yards off the trail.

The entrance was perhaps 5×8 feet.  It was easy and dry for the first 25 or so feet with a slight downward slope.  We then came to a broken stone wall with mortar between the stones.  It had obviously been built only in recent years.  Francesco told me that a group of school children had drowned in the cave while exploring and this wall had been built to keep people out.  Soon after it had been constructed, others had broken a hole through the wall so that they could continue to explore the cave.

Shortly after passing over the wall, we heard the rush of water and soon came to a crystal clear, fast moving stream.  It was very beautiful, but not wanting to get our feet wet, we concluded our visit.

We made our way back to the entrance and as we came out Francesco commented on the exhilarating feeling he always has when returning to the light after spending some time in the cave. Sometimes he had been in caves for several days at a time.  “In this environment,” he said, “you loose all sense of time and you don’t know if it is day or night.”  He also told me that he needed to go to the caves as a young man.  The caves had taught him.  They had made him strong.  They had given him confidence.

“However,” Francesco cautioned, “you cannot go deep into the caves only occasionally.  To do so would be dangerous.   It is so physically and mentally taxing that to do serious caving you must do so at least once a week to stay sharp.”  Several years ago Francesco was enthusiastic about caving.  He no longer does this.  His girlfriend, Alina, told me it was because of his respect for the mountain.  Francesco told me it was because his mind know longer lets him. Maybe it’s the same thing.

This day you might say we had only entered the narthex.  The mysteries of the sanctuary will remain mysteries.  It is enough to know that they are there.  


Bella Ciao, 3rd Verse

October 18, 2013
I am honored here to share fragments of memories from my friend Piero Pierotti.  These have been translated by Bing so there are some errors, particularly in gender.  It sometimes says “he” when it should say “she”, etc.  Nonetheless, the meaning comes through.  The original Italian is available and for those who read Italian it would be better.  I would be please to share it but knowing that most of my readers do not have this ability, I share the computer translation.
Il cappottino rosso

• Aprile 1944, Pietrasanta (Lucca)

In casa c’è fermento. La famiglia di Piero è fuggita da Pisa nell’agosto dell’anno scorso, la città distrutta da un bombardamento terribile. Si sono rifugiati, lui e i genitori, a cas…See More

— with Giancarlo Cobino and 48 others.

The red coat

• April 1944, Pietrasanta (Lucca)

In the House there is a ferment. Piero’s family fled from Pisa in August last year, the city destroyed by a terrible bombardment. They are refugees, he and his parents, to his paternal grandparents ‘ House: all there, a great family, “enlarged” we would say today, although that was different and tragic reasons.
MOM, just 22 years old, expecting the second child that is coming sooner than expected. Is undernourished, lean to the sufferings of war and almost doesn’t look like a young pregnant woman … He thought it would give birth to a second child two months later, in mid-June.
And instead, the April 8, Paul is born. Piero doesn’t understand the reason for so much turmoil and known them much later.
The weigh, Paul, just one pound and 200. It is covered with hair and does not give signs of life. The war, despair the young bride and groom, we did lose the baby. They cry all around and Piero is kept on the sidelines, unaware of what is happening. Give him awkward explanations and he fails to curb his curiosity, trying to peek, to pick up some of the words whispered in the other room.
Paul is sitting in a shoe box, resting in the first drawer of the dresser. Some hope remains alive, in spite of everything. At the end wins that unknown force that does survive and grow a fig tree in a wall of stones or makes you rich a little plant in the middle of the desert (“from manure arise the flowers”, with Fabrizio).
The little survives. Piero looks so curious, strange … learn, really, now know the meaning of the word “brother”.
One day, without explanation to the children (there is also a cousin of Agostino, 8 years), the whole family “displace”, moved to a place considered more safe from German raids. Come on in the mountains – on top of a hill, really – to Sant’Anna, right on top of Pietrasanta, where you get through real Mule. Where you can be safer there? And in fact there are a thousand displaced persons, arranged in any way in hospitals, at relatives, friends, strangers … The war brings mankind together.

• August 1944, Sant’Anna di Stazzema (Lucca)

Piero lives serene these days; in the village there are many, many women, many older people. Men are largely in the Woods, make the partisans. And then – Piero doesn’t know it yet – in situations of extreme danger in women and in the elderly grows even more protective instinct. Probably all adults, these days, watching those children with eyes, and the heart, different from the usual.
What you don’t know is that in the village a few days before Anne was German command qualified “white zone”, which is a suitable location to accommodate evacuees. This is enough to decide the SS Commander, Max Simon, a punitive expedition. Is dawn on 12 August when three SS departments climb to Sant’Anna, while a fourth Department closes each escape downstream, at Valdicastello. At seven o’clock the country is now surrounded, without any hope.
And Piero? His family? Any sign of imminent danger had come because the partisans are occasionally in the country, so the Paramasivam (“these” Paramasivam because there are other families of the same strain) decide the 10 day, or maybe it was the 11, look for another shelter. Collect what they can carry and take off down the road towards Camaiore, Pietrasanta, Viareggio.
Her father, Armando, it loads into the shoulder of whatever you can: a blanket, some clothes, little food. His mother, Rina, takes on Paul, now four months old, healthy although undernourished and still very small. Piero, four years and four months, walks on foot, according to parents. A family alone, hungry, down the Hill and are looking for a chance at life.

• August 12, 1944, massacre

The SS arrive in country while dawns. Are driven by some fascists that make them as guides in this which will be one of the most heinous crimes committed against civilians. The war is over, is lost, but the barbarians killers give free rein to their anger: sudden fierce relentless killers. Within hours, in the small village is massacred 560 people, mostly elderly women and children. Poor remains of people terrorised, rather grieve only because, burned. Killing entire families, eight brothers, the priest that welcomes people to church, burn the Church, killing everyone. Beasts in the grip of insane murderous rage. And finally the fire, to destroy their bodies, houses, stables, animals, household goods, remember ….
It wasn’t a retaliation. Investigations of Military Prosecutors in La Spezia will establish that it was a terrorist act, a premeditated action and cured in every detail.

• Walk, Versilia

Piero, with his family, walking head down, trying not to look at how the road is still long. The four desperate arrive towards Viareggio when it is now dark, burrowing units in a ruined house, throw some blanket for sleeping and embraced for a few hours.
The next morning they rise just makes day and put into gear. Destination, the first Pisa and then kicking, where his mother’s family. Other 30-35 kilometers of roads, trying to avoid “nasty meetings”, hiding just appears on the horizon, a car, a truck …
The danger materializes when I am close to Kicking. Stops a truckload of German military. Offer a lift to the four hapless but Rina is terrified: don’t know anything of the massacre of Stazzema, but has vivid memories of many fugues, of bombings, deaths …
Eventually they are forced to climb on the trucks. Maybe they accepted because hungry, thirsty, exhausted. Nothing happens, the Germans indeed are gentle, offer a little water and make them get off in the village centre.
Begin another life.

• Today, Cascina (Pisa), 16 October 2013

Obviously I have vague memories of those days, in fact I only have some flash. The red coat is what I began racing once, just woke up in the middle of the night because howling alarm. We had to escape. Infilarono me that coat but underneath I left naked, and I remember that I was crying because I wanted to at least her panties. I well remember that, bright red coat, all brignoccoloso with pellets. Evidently it wasn’t that summer, it was summer …
I recall also another episode of the forced march towards Kick: when we did camp in the ruined house, I started rummaging through the rubble looking for something, I know, a lost toy. And my dad ordered me to stop because he could be some mina. And then I remember the German truck, once almost kicked. Or better, just remember your eyes my mother’s terorizzati.
Others are not memories, are recounted episodes many times and now mingle with real memories.
I’m back at St. Anna yesterday, after 69 years. I was in the company of Tom, an American Professor, Paramasivam like me, who came to find relatives in Garfagnana, and who I met on Facebook. We moved both and then, on his return, he pulled out a pocket the text of “Bella Ciao”, closely guarded, which printed the relatives. “I love this song, it makes me in his Italian that makes him resemble Alberto Sordi in the voiceovers of Hardy – sing?”.
He spoke out in his own way the words (“O partigiano, portami GoTo”) but it was very nice too nosedive to Pietrasanta, taking turns wildly and singing their hearts out ciao Bella!
Was how to remove a Boulder from above the chest. Today I feel another …

Piero Pierotti (Translated by Bing)


Second Verse of Bella Ciao

October 16, 2013

The evening before my trip to Sant’Anna I picked up my jacket that Gessica had repaired for me.  I didn’t notice until I arrived at the train station in Castlenouvo di Garfagnana that she had placed a paper with all the verses of “Bella Ciao” in one of the jacket pockets.  As I waited for the train I worked on memorizing the words as I sang softly, not wanting to attract attention.

Piero met me at the station in Viareggio and we began the drive to Sant’Anna while trying to become acquainted, each of us only knowing a little of the other’s language.  We managed well perhaps because we each knew the importance of this journey.  As we ascended the mountain, Piero, now 73, told me that this was the first time he would be at Sant’Anna since he fled with his family at the age of four.

It was the day before the massacre and at that young age he walked with his family 50 kilometers to relative safety.  His mother was carrying his two month old brother, Paulo,  while his father was carrying as many of the family’s belongings as he could carry.  This was their one chance to escape.  What an incredibly difficult journey that must have been.  Not only were the steep mountains treacherous, but there would have been the constant danger of being discovered by a patrol of Nazi soldiers.

I thanked Piero for guiding me to this place.  It felt strange to hear him thank me for my desire to go there.  He told me that because of my interest was he able to summon the  courage to return.

There is now a modern museum near the church which had been burned after more than 100 mostly women and children had been machine gunned at that spot.  The rest of the 560 victims had been murdered where ever they could be found in the small village before all the buildings were torched.  It was part of a campaign against civilians who were sympathizers and family of the partisans, who valiantly fought against the invading Nazis.  The horror took just a few hours but the pain lasts forever.  Hence the song of the partisans, “Bella Ciao” which means “Good-bye Beauty;” good-bye to the beautiful life that these people shared in that otherwise peaceful village on the top of the mountain overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

Miraculously, 20 or so survived that day and added their voices to the evidence of indescribable atrocities.   The church has been reconstructed to look as it did before the massacre on August 12, 1944.  La Via Crusis leads from the church to the memorial on the mountain peak.  Along this stone path through the forest are bronze plaques as stations of the cross.  At each place there is a depiction from the passion of Jesus and a smaller bronze plague showing one of the horrors of that day.

I was particularly moved by the station that showed Jesus nailed to the cross under a sign proclaiming him to be “King of the Jews” and the smaller plague showing a young villager crucified on the church door at Sant’Anna.  Into the church door, above the head of the young man, the Nazis had carved “ERA UN PARTIGIANI”(He was a partisan).

Indeed, this is the reason Jesus died, to share the very worst imaginable of human experience, so that we might also find, in the story of the Resurrection, hope for new life, even in the midst of all that is evil.  And that’s why it is important to remember.  As we visit Sant’Anna we die a bit with Jesus as we die a bit with the Partigiani.  Yet strangely, it is within this death that we are blessed to find hope.

I offer my crude translation of “Bella Ciao.”

This morning I woke up

good-bye beauty, good-bye beauty, good-by beauty, beauty, beauty

This morning I woke up

and I found the invador



O partisan take me away

good-bye beauty, good-bye beauty, good-bye beauty, beauty, beauty

O partisan take me away

I feel I am dying


And if I die as a partisan

good-bye beauty, good-bye beauty, good-bye beauty, beauty, beauty

And if I die as a partisan

you must bury me


And bury me on the top of the mountain

good-bye beauty, good-bye beauty, good-bye beauty, beauty,beauty

And bury me on the top of the mountain

in the shade of a beautiful flower


And the people that will pass by

good-bye beauty, good-bye beauty, good-bye beauty, beauty, beauty

And the people that will pass by

they will say to me, “what a beautiful flower”


This is the flower of the partisan

Good-bye beauty, good-bye beauty, good-bye beauty, beauty,beauty

This is the flower of the partisan

I die for freedom

This is the flower of the partisan

I die for freedom

The word “Ciao” in Italian is used both as a greeting and as a farewell.  We too are invited to go with the partisans to the mountain and with Christ to the cross.  Is it not the message of “Bella Ciao” that we must always strive to change these words from a farewell to a greeting.

Bella Ciao,



Bella Ciao

October 14, 2013

It was a wonderful pizza party at Gessica’s in my ancestral home of Fosciandora, half way up a mountain in the Garfagnana region of northern Italy.  Mario’s wine perfectly accompanied the endless variety of pizzas that were set before us, hot from the wood fired brick oven. Francesco then brought out the grappa and Gessica added a couple other drinks that were fruit flavored distilled beverages.

A few years ago Francesco told me that while caving he had found evidence of the Partigiani, the Italian guerrilla warriors who so valiantly fought the Nazis who had invaded during WWII.  I asked him if he knew the song, “Bella Ciao.”  He said it was his favorite and he once sang it in Rome among a crowd of over a million people.  Francesco and Alena knew all the words and they led us in this very emotional and significant song of lament and inspiration for the people of the Garfagnana.  I only knew the words to the refrain, but I promised myself that I would learn all the verse before returning home in 10 days.

Tomorrow, Piero Pierotti, a Facebook friend that I have not yet met, will guide me to the site of the Sant’Anna massacre, where the Nazis slaughtered 562 women and children on August 12, 1944.  These people were families of the Partigiani and ten of them were Pierottis.  Piero, at the age of four, and his mother fled the day before the massacre.  I am told that these people who bore the same name as me are not close relatives.  None the less, I feel compelled to pay my respects.

I will board a morning train in Castlenouvo di Garfagnana.  Piero will pick me up at the station in Viareggio and we will drive to the ruins of Sant’Anna.  It will be an important day.

The Jordanian Pharmacist

October 13, 2013

Next to me on the plane from Atlanta, was a Jordanian pharmacist wearing traditional garb.  We talked of changes in the drug industry in recent years and the new standards for cholesterol.  I told her that I had resisted statins for some time and that recently I had some success with Niaspan along with increased exercise and more careful attention to my diet.

At one point in the flight I was surprised to see that she turned around and knelt on her seat and leaned her forehead against the backrest in an effort to assume a posture of prayer.  At other times she was fingering prayer beads.  Somewhere over the North Atlantic, just before she fell asleep, she advised me to try one avocado blended with a cup of skim milk and a teaspoon of honey each morning.

As she slept I watched The Life of Pi.  It was quite a start to an important journey.

Then there was the young French woman in a black leotard who sat across the aisle.  She was amazingly adept at stretching while seated in an economy seat.  From this position, she was able to stretch one leg and then the other into a vertical position and touch her knee with her forehead.  For a grand finale she moved into the aisle and performed a series of squats and other amazing stretches.  Sometimes the aisle seat isn’t so bad.

Don’t Forget to Plant the Flowers!

May 28, 2013

For many years my father hosted a family golf tournament on Memorial Day weekend to which he invited all of his cousins on his mother’s side and their families.  Annually, Dad would create and mail humorous announcements of the coming event using many and suggestive double entendres.  All the proposed activities would be listed in the most tempting fashion; practice round on Saturday followed by dinner at Chetty and Dee’s house, breakfast Sunday at the Arcade Restaurant on Fraley Street and then the tournament at the Kane Country Club or Pine Acres followed by a picnic at Mom and Dad’s with constant eating and drinking and storytelling.  And finally, the ceremonial presentation of the “Blue Jacket” to the winner, who had the dubious honor of wearing for the rest of the day, the ragged old denim engineer’s coat, the regular attire of a long deceased family friend, whose errant tobacco juice still stained the garment.

Although it was not really true, Dad and the other men pretended that the women of the family were more concerned with responsibility and decorum.  Because all the guests traced their family history to Kane, they all had relatives in the various area cemeteries.  And so each year the invitation, which listed every imaginable opportunity for two days of fun, also always included, in great contrast to the other events and as a nod to the matriarchs of the family, the bold reminder, “Do not forget to plant the flowers!” 

This year on Memorial Day morning, Mother and I planted flowers on my father’s grave and also, because it’s a double stone, on my mother’s still empty grave. Then we did the same for the graves of Dad’s parents.  Digging in the soil on the graves of people we’ve loved brings memories to the surface and adds depth and purpose to the rest of the day’s activities.

Most of us will have abundant opportunities to enjoy wonderful occasions with our friends this summer.  We will also have many opportunities to do small tasks that add beauty to places and things that otherwise may only speak of loss.  In honor of my father, I hope you enjoy your summer to the fullest, but don’t forget to plant the flowers!