The poets and the world war. Francesco Tomada in conversation with the landscape of the Great War: "Io vivo qui"

Francesco Tomada
Francesco Tomada is a highly original Italian poet, a charming voice in singing the tiny precious things of human life, as well as in conversing with his land, i.e. the Friuli. In reading his works we oft have the feeling to touch a “primitive poetry”, in which even the most complicated things can be depicted in a plain way. And it is not about gratuitous simplification, nor about naïf superficiality. On the contrary, Tomada succeed in touching and moving his reader because he really discloses the basic feelings of our life – love, friendship, peace, trust, joy, loneliness, desertion – without bypassing the innate vulnerability to which we are exposed in them. A powerful key of his poetical spectrum has to be found in the relational nature of human beings: primarily in the inter-action with “the other” and in the affection that rises from the encounters we can touch our borders, retrace our shape, portray our face and finally recognize ourselves. Lovers and children, mothers and sisters, but also places through which we walk, old rooms and trees in the garden, smells and weights: all specks of dust that Tomada collects to show us where our fading personal cosmos can still find a home and a fragile, yet true significance.

Tomada is an observer, who has not yet lost his child look and his curiosity, a collector, who desperately saves the tiny things to which we are anchored in our natural life, and a witness, who does not fear to show himself and his look on this common world: authentic and thus trustworthy, both when he confesses his life and when he discloses something about ours.

Among his books – the last one, Portarsi avanti con gli addii, has been released few weeks ago – we’d like today to speak about his second work, A ogni cosa il suo nome (Le voci della Luna, 2008), where we find a poem entitled Io vivo qui – I live here, which is divided in two parts, both related to the Great War. Tomada lives in Gorizia, near the former Isonzo front, where the Italian and the Austrian Armies clashed. Nearby there is Redipuglia, where the largest Italian Military Sacrarium is located, and Mount Sabotino (see a picture beside), today on the Slovenian border, which was the scene of bloody battles during the Great War. These two places are at the center respectively of the first and of the second part of this poem and introduce with their symbolical meaning a reflection on the World War One. Both parts swing between past and present, life and death, presence and absence, both try to offer a (maybe) reassuring understanding of the massacre by referring to the mathematical order, which is however doomed to fail, even if it seems to square. By reading these verses, indeed, we are somehow forced to share the author's active interaction with these places and the legacy they preserve: so we add up with Tomada and as soon as we have made our calculation we realize that we necessarily fail in measuring with our human criterions the emptiness that the Great War left in our history.


Una volta sono venuto qui a Redipuglia, tra tutti i nomi ne cercavo
uno per mio figlio che stava arrivando, cercavo un’idea. Poi ho
scelto altro, non volevo che avesse un’eredità così pesante, bastava
già il mio cognome. Eppure qui di nomi ce ne sono abbastanza,
trentamila nomi per intere generazioni di figli del nordest e
settantamila militi ignoti, anche per tutte le volte che si è fatto
l’amore e non ne è nato niente.


Ti voglio descrivere un orizzonte:
dal pendio del Podgora alla conca dove riposa la città e poi su al labbro scuro
del Sabotino saranno tre chilometri in linea d’aria.

Adesso lo voglio misurare:
per riempire il cielo serve un pugno di rondini in volo;
novant’anni fa per conquistare questa terra morirono quattrocentomila soldati.

Gorizia ha quarantamila abitanti, per ciascuno di noi ci sono dieci morti.
Le rondini invece non bastano per tutti.
Per questo, quando ne arriva una, fa primavera.



Once I came here, to Redipuglia: among all these names I was looking for
one for my son, who was arriving; I was looking for an idea. Then I
chose different, I didn’t want him to get such a heavy inheritance, my surname
was already enough. And yet it’s plenty of names here,
thirty thousand names for whole generations of sons of the Nordest* and
seventy thousand unknown soldiers, even for all those times people made
love and nothing was born.

[*Northeast Italy, in particular the regions Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Trentino Alto Adige, which suffered the most during the Great War]


I want to trace you a horizon:
from the Podgora slope to the hollow where the city rests and then up to the dark lip
of the Sabotino it’s about three kilometers as the crow flies.

Now I want to measure it:
It takes a handful of swallows on the wing to fill up the sky;
Ninety years ago four hundred thousand men died to conquer this land.

Gorizia has forty thousand inhabitants; for each of us, ten dead men.
But swallows aren’t enough for all.
That’s why, when one arrives, it does make a summer.

A photo reportage from Val delle Mure, Croce dei Lebi and Cima Grappa

The below photo reportage was taken during the day trip to Val delle Mure, Croce dei Lebi and Cima Grappa. The full itinary is described in the post published a few weeks ago here.


    1 Trenches near Monte Boccaor

    2 Val delle Mure and Pian dea Baea from Croce dei Lebi

    3 Detail on the trenches above Val delle Mure

    4 From Croce dei Lebi, looking toward Cima Grappa

    5 View north, on the Dolomiti Feltrine

    6 Trenches in front of Croce dei Lebi

    7 View East, on the Prealps and Pianezze

    8 Alta via degli Eroi, from Croce dei Lebi to Cima Grappa

    9 View south, Vedetta and on the background Piave and Montello

    10 View west, Ossario on Cima Grappa

Italian Great War Museums #7: Great War Museum of Forte Tre Sassi in Cortina d'Ampezzo

Old postcard showing the ruins of Forte Tre Sassi
The city of Cortina d’Ampezzo, the well-known touristic centre in the Dolomites, is the ideal starting point for many tours and excursions in the surrounding area. It is also the place to reach if one wants to figure out what happened in that peculiar absurd war inside the war that was fought with the mines in the Lagazuoi. At the outbreak of the First World War the city was soon abandoned by the Austro-Hungarian army, persuaded to put all the efforts on the defense of Badia and Pusteria valleys, and consequently entrenched in the Forte Tre Sassi (Tre Sassi Fortress) in Valparola pass. This fortification was erected by the Austrians between 1897 and 1901 and later modernized in 1911. Right after the beginning of hostilities (we have to remember that Italy enters the war against the Austro-Hungarians on May the 24th), already on the 5th of July, the fort became useless because of the perforation of Italian 210 and 260 shells. The building was illuminated even after this date, turning into a kind of “ghost fortress” and in a false target for the Italian artillery.

Today the fortress represents the richest museum of the area with its 10,000 war relics. Unlikely many other Italian war museums, regardless if they are WW1 or WW2 museums, Forte Tre Sassi stands out thanks to his tidy and clear layout. If you chance to visit it, you will immediately dive into a clear itinerary through the different aspects of war. Fundamentally, what we want to point out is that the weakest point of the Italian World War One museum attitude is often a general propensity to pile things and relics without a clear idea of what to do with them. This fact has of course bad consequences on the museums' layouts and sometimes even on the internal signage. It's not always a matter of dimensions: you can detect this problem in big museums while you can find interesting paths and smart solutions going on the lower scale of a very small museum or viceversa. This is something related with the Italian history, the way of organizing the cultural heritage and offer and not rarely connected with a short-sighted political intrusion. Luckily this is not the case of Forte Tre Sassi, a unique place also for another reason: after spending some time inside the fortress, you can easily walk outside and reach the close trenches, see the restored Austrian barracks in the Edelweiss village also known with the name of Edelweiss Stellung.

Forte Tre Sassi
Museo della Prima guerra mondiale
Passo di Valparola, Passo Falzarego
Cortina d’Ampezzo (Belluno)

“Ypres” by Tindersticks, the music for the permanent exhibition of In Flanders Fields Museum

How would you call a kind of soundtrack for a permanent exhibition of one of the most prominent European museums dedicated to the First World War? Site-specific music? Or maybe “soundscape" music, like we’re getting used to read around? Probably these could stand for good definitions, among many others. But then you can buy the CD, and not only while making a tour at the above mentioned museum and stopping at the bookshop but also visiting your favorite record store or adding this item to your cart while shopping online. In this way you could realize how this music is not only site-specific and “soundscape”. More or less this is part of the story of “Ypres”, the project and challenge that the Tindersticks, the British pop band headed by Stuart A. Staples, accepted four years ago, after being commissioned by the Belgian museum to provide the music of the their new permanent exhibition during the centenary years. This choice is a kind of clear statement of the contamination of a movie logic with the more traditional layout routines of historic museums.

While waiting to visit and report about this World War I museum of Flanders (hopefully in the next months) and its renewed permanent exhibition, we can give a short account about the Tindersticks' soundtrack. Probably it’s something uncommon, usually it’s the other way round. In the booklet we read that “a deep connection and inspiration for the work was found in the quiet, dignified German memorial garden of Vladslo and Kathe Kollwitz’ famous ‘Grieving parents’ statue that resides there”. We can breathe this music as “the sound of the air within the museum” housed in the medieval building in the centre of the Belgian city. The orchestra work that you listen in this CD is the same that loops endlessly everyday inside the In Flanders Fields Museum.

“Ypres” was written by Stuart A. Staples together with the bassist of Tindersticks Dan McKinna and recorded in April 2012 in London by an orchestra led by Lucy Wilkins and featuring several violins, cellos, violas, double basses and trombones. In "The Indipendent" Adrian Mourby wrote that the music “by Stuart Staples of Tindersticks creates an atmosphere of abiding sadness but the experience is highly personalized”. We cannot but agree on the music, while waiting to listen on site again to this work in the unique synesthesia that a music ("without a beginning, middle or end”, like the booklet's note states) and places always create.