First World War one day itineraries through Italy. Suggestion no. 4: Monte Tudaio and its fortification

Each post of the unit tagged as Itineraries will correspond to a one day trip proposal, so that everyone will be able to assemble and disassemble these suggestions to prepare a "more than a day schedule". Of course these are intended to be only suggestions, and you should always take into consideration the travel variables.

The fort - Photo Courtesy of Ugo Agnoletto

Google Maps Starting point: Piniè di Vigo di Cadore (you may take into consideration the Chalet "Pino Solitario")

This one may be a half-day itinery and combines perfectly historical and naturalistic interests. Well, almost every itinerary we suggest in the Alpine region is able to combine these two spirits. Let's say we could suggest this itinerary to people looking for World War One forts. Mountain forts are an interesting architectural type belonging to period that ends with the outbreak of the Great War, the so called Belle Époque. Today itinerary rises to the Monte Tudaio, a strategic peak between the mountain Piave area and Comelico region. The place where they built the fort was basically the point of convergence of many possible attacks to Italy coming from the Austro-Hungarian empire. If you take the map (by the way, if you're used to the popular Tabacco Maps this region is mapped in the number 16) you will easily catch this first localizing Santo Stefano, then the Ansiei Valley and finally the Mauria pass. Architecture-wise the fort is laid out in three floors and its volumes try to fit the summit of the mountain. As it often happens, eventually the fort did not play a key-role during the war. From 1915 to 1917 it was too far from the front and after Caporetto, when the Italian army gave up a huge portion of territory to the Austro-Hungarian troops, it was used only for a few days by the Italian army during the chaotic retreat. One year later, it was destroyed by the Austro-Hungarians retreating northward.

From the chosen starting point, we have two possibilities to reach the summit: the path n. 339 (a former military road, from 900mt to the 2140mt of the peak of Monte Tudaio) or the via ferrata "Sentiero attrezzato dei Mede". In this second option (probably not the most crowded via ferrata you may find in the Dolomites) you will have Cima Bragagnina at your right, while the large path n. 339 rises with a constant presence of the rivers Ansiei and Piave at your left. On the summit, besides the fort, you can enjoy with a spin the entire view. The Tudaio belongs to the Bretoni mountain range. From the top the view embraces the Cadore and the Comelico regions, Antelao, Cadini and Cristallo, Marmarole, the Three Peaks of Lavaredo, Monte Paterno, the Brentoni and Cridola. If you walk the normal way, don't forget that you can take advantage of the some hairpin bends from where some small paths start and lead you to nice panoramic spots of the Ansiei valley. Finally, not far from the fort and the peak, at a level of 1900mt, you will for sure enjoy the gallery.

The forthcoming conference at DHIP (Deutsches Historisches Institut Paris)

WWI gains more and more interest even among the cultural studies, which are focusing growing attention on the particular research field of “conflict studies”. Already E.J. Hobsbawm claimed in his The Age of Extremes: The short Twentieth Century that the history of the 1914-1945 years has to be considered as an uninterrupted “age of catastrophe”, emphasizing so correctly the deep interaction between both world wars. From the perspective of “entangled history”, the upcoming Summer School of DHIP (Deutsches Historisches Institut Paris) – “Conflict Studies et nouvelle histoire militaire. Regards croisés sur l’ère de la guerre 1914–1945″ from 30th June to 6th July 2012 – aims to go into the topic, taking advantage of new methodological approaches. Transfer processes will be analyzed in “space- and time-line” during this “age of catastrophe”. The papers will offer so not only a view of the impact of both conflicts in economic, intellectual, social and military history in different cultures and countries (space-line), but will also provide a comparison of how these same issues were handled during first and second world war, tracing so their parallelisms and differences (time-line). Discover the program here.

The First World War in music: "Le tombeau de Couperin" by Maurice Ravel

There's not only one way to write about what the First World War brought to music. We see at least two (does anybody see more?). Firstly we should depict the Great war as a singing war. Think about the importance of war songs among soldiers and for the mood of the troops. The preservation (perhaps by digitalization?) of that huge cultural and linguistic heritage should be one of the aims of all Centenary international projects. Secondly, we could recall some great composers that somehow got involved in the Great War or contemporary musicians that still draw inspiration and contents from World War One. This is much easier and the reason why this new musical unit opens with this second option will be sooner or later evident to everybody: we have scores, recordings and even books. Not that difficult compared to the dirty but awesome job we foresee in the first side of the "singing war" (it would be nice to see something moving quickly in this first side). It's not a matter of "cultured" and "popular" music, since we should look (listen) to the war songs belonging to the Italian Alpine troops (and to any other troops) with the same level of attention we pay to the Futuristic music movement or to Ravel.

Maurice Ravel is not new in Great War speeches. We all remember the Piano concert for the Left Hand he composed for Paul Wittgenstein (Ludwig's elder brother, who got amputation during the war and developed his original left-handed style). Ravel could not enter the army due to his poor health condition and joined the troops as a driver in the area of Verdun. His popular suite for piano solo, Le tombeau de Couperin, apart from being an homage to François Couperin, is also a tribute to friends who died during the war. Each of the six movements is dedicated to the memory of a friend (the fourth, Rigaudon, is a double tribute to Gaudin brothers, killed by the same shell) and the whole suite remains as an outstanding example of what First World War injected into contemporary music.

To learn more you could read this page.

Novels of the Great War: "La peur" by Gabriel Chevallier

It would have been much easier to start this new unit with a more popular novel coming from the Great War literary legacy. The so called top-of-mind World War One novels are almost worldwide the same (Ernest Hemingway, Erich Maria Remarque, Ernst Jünger, Henri Barbusse, Emilio Lussu just to mention writers from different belligerent countries). The reason why it is preferable to postpone a post dedicated to these is simple: there's already too much about their novels that can be found. Furthermore, it really makes sense to launch this new unit with the key-feeling of the Great War: fear. We usually don't pay enough attention to the simple matter of fact that fear was the most relevant and widespread feeling among the European trenches. We often dwell on strategies, battles, equipment without realizing that the simple condition of terror was by far the protagonist of that war. So simple that we don't dare to think about fear in darwinian terms, as one of the emotion of the war.

So let's start with a less popular work of fiction, a French novel coming out in 1930 with the straighforward title of La peur. Gabriel Chevallier (1895-1969) took part in war operations as a simple soldier (poilu). Now put  together the year of publication and the title: wasn't it a kind of revolutionary thing to write about fear in that time, when all countries were doing all the their best to come up with narration strategies able to refund people of those heroic acts? Wasn't it desecrating to title the book "Fear" when all goverments were trying to explain that wasteful and ultimate sacrifice? Probably the best historical research is the one that proficiently joins data with fictional works (nothing better to study the so called economical Italian miracle of the Sixties than comparing facts and figures with the great fiction works of that decade). The same can be true also for World War One. If we are able to find the junction between figures and the "fictional" heritage we will get close to its core. We may find a great help in Gabriel Chevallier's book. Finally, this novel by Chevallier is a great contribution to outline another fundamental topic of the First World War, namely the relationship between the higher echelons of the armies and the fearful soldiers possessed of their resigned compliance.

The poets and the World War: "Killers" by Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) 
Although he never took part to WWI, Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) presents in his War Poems the cruelty and foolishness of the Great War in a vivid way. He tells, soft and terrible, things, as a man speaking with or singing to a dead child. The 11 War Poems were composed between 1914 and 1915, and  appeared in 1916 in Sandburg's first book (The Chicago poems), which inaugurated his career as one of the most important American poets of the XX century.
It is true that all wars are somehow similar to each other and Sandburg reshaped maybe his own short experience, as in 1898 he volunteered for service for the Spanish-American war and spent few months in Puerto Rico. Yes, all wars are somehow similar to each other - they all make men killers and victims at the same time, they all send their "shining teeth, sharp eyes, hard legs" in the trenches "eating and drinking, toiling", and dying, they all let "red juice" soak "the dark soil", "the green grass" - and yet they all are unique. Unique, as each tragedy is. So it's poetry, revealing the oneness in what is always repeating. Yet it still seems astonishing how Sandburg depicted the WWI in Killers and precognized at the beginning of the conflict even that number: 16 millions. A number, and much more: 16 millions.


    I am singing to you
Soft as a man with a dead child speaks;
Hard as a man in handcuffs,
Held where he cannot move:

     Under the sun
Are sixteen million men,
Chosen for shining teeth,
Sharp eyes, hard legs,
And a running of young warm blood in their wrists.

     And a red juice runs on the green grass;
And a red juice soaks the dark soil.
And the sixteen million are killing. . . and killing and killing.

     I never forget them day or night:
They beat on my head for memory of them;
They pound on my heart and I cry back to them,
To their homes and women, dreams and games.

     I wake in the night and smell the trenches,
And hear the low stir of sleepers in lines--
Sixteen million sleepers and pickets in the dark:
Some of them long sleepers for always,

Some of them tumbling to sleep to-morrow for always,
Fixed in the drag of the world's heartbreak,
Eating and drinking, toiling. . . on a long job of killing.
Sixteen million men.

"The Great War in Russian Memory." A review of the latest book by Karen Petrone

The Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917 shaped the memory on the WWI: On the one hand, Russia’s withdrawal from the First World War made German troops available for operations against the Allies on the Western Front and influenced massively the further development of war events. On the other hand, the Soviet understanding of the WWI was progressively subsumed into the history of the October Revolution. The construction of the memory of the Great War – which corresponds in part to the construction of a long lasting collective self-perception of the post-revolutionary Russia – is the topic of Karen Petrone’s book, The Great War in Russian Memory, Indiana University Press, 2011. This study gives evidence of the newly grown interest in the WWI at Eastern Front and in its memory. This topic has been partially neglected in the literature, which tended for a long time to focus on other settlements of the conflict. 

The book handles the years 1917-1945 and argues the lingering memory of the First World War in Russia, despite government intervention and manipulation of the official Soviet culture of remembrance after the October Revolution. The interactions of memories and myths of the WWI and of the Civil war are considered in the first part (Chapters 2-5) within the context of religious, cultural and public representation during the war and the postwar period. Using literary and anthropological methods of analysis, the Author examines writings, movies, rituals, museums, traditions, in order to depict “the rich fabric of World War I discourse in the interwar period”. Although affected by a multidisciplinary approach of a not very stringent “cultural studies” tradition (methods of analysis and choice of the sources seem to be sometimes questionable), this part of the book discloses to the reader a fascinating view of the literary activity – in broader sense – and religious discussion – from the Orthodox to the atheistic ideology – , which played a significant role in the Soviet representation of WWI. The second part of the book (Chapters 6-7) traces the changing, disappearance and new shaping of the WWI discourse in the postwar period. While the memory of the First World War during the 1920s – not least because of mixing the memory of the revolution with that of civil war – had fallen into the shadow, it was revived in the early 1930s, in connection with the construction of Soviet patriotism. Focusing on censorship and institutional communication, the Author pinpoints the shifts in the WWI memories over time, revealing so the articulated policy in shaping the Soviet ideology, even in relation with the other Europeans countries. Post-1917 cultural leaders adopted a complex attitude, mocking and – at the same time – drawing direct inspiration from the pre-revolutionary tsarist narrative, in order to delineate the models of new Soviet heroes. The final Chapter (Chapter 8) handles lastly the period after 1945, giving a general outline of the further development of the discourse. Intermingling WWI memories and Russian Revolution mythology, this study provides a brief but fascinating overview of the complexity of Great War memory. 

The book fails maybe to assess appropriately the role of the multi-ethnic background of the Russian Empire and of the Soviet Union, providing sometimes a standardized image of the topic; it has however the merit of being an important contribution in integrating Soviet WWI memories into the history of European war representation, without underestimating the peculiarities of Russian history and culture. On the eve of the centenary of the First World War, we can thus welcome this book as a further step toward such a goal: Rediscover WWI history, seizing the tones of the single countries as a part of our collective memories, which still survive as interconnected network of legacies, beyond national boundaries.

World War I Editathon at British Library, St Pancras, London

WWI symbols - The summit 
of Monte Grappa in Italy 
and its military sanctuary
We guess that World War I web audiences and communities will be happy to read about the World War I Editathon that will be held next 16th of June at British Library, St Pancras, London. You can catch a first overview of this forward-looking project at this link where, among other interesting things, we also read the following: "Our goal is not only to improve Wikipedia articles on World War I topics, but also to build bridges between Wikimedians and academics" (by the way, nice reference to the naming of this blog). We would like to do our part supporting this initiative that comes under the always brilliant supervision of JISC. We are aimed to keep you up-to-date with the follow-up. Hope it will be feasible. Last but not least: good luck!