The poets and the world war: "When We Were Soldiers" by Giacomo Noventa

Let’s try an experiment today. Giacomo Noventa was the pen name of the Italian poet and essayist Giacomo Ca’ Zorzi (Noventa di Piave 1898 – Milano 1960). In Italy he is read mainly for his contributions to the great debate rising after the fall of Fascism, but we cannot forget he was a great poet. A limit to the diffusion of his poetry was probably the use of his dialect, the one spoken in the Venice area, precisely the dialect of the lower course of river Piave. He was a young volunteer in the First World War (like in other parts of the world, also in Italy the youngest generation called to arms was the one born in 1899). The poem we propose today is of course in dialect. That’s why we try to give three versions: English, Italian and the original text that is for sure an interesting example of recollection of memories where all is supported by the simile between older fellows in army and the beloved poets (Giacomo is Giacomo Leopardi, Francesco is Francesco Petrarca). Beside of that, in parenthesis, that aside (“Well, we learnt to die…”) that wedges in as the real, dense nucleus of this short poem.


When we were soldiers in the trenches,
resting marching or at the hospital,
and our older fellows talked to us,
no matter if it was about their country,
about the fields and about the unfinished work,
a love story,

a lot of us still did not know
how a woman was, and we listened to them,
we invented a name, and we died,
(well, we learnt to die...)

Reading today, like if they're alive,
in Giacomo, in Francesco, in Dante and in other
beloved poets, no matter if Italian or foreign,
a thought came to my mind:

that we are like the conscripts
in a great war, and the poets
are like those soldiers talking to us,
no matter if it was about their country,
about the fields and about the unfinished work,
a love story.


Quand'eravamo soldati in trincea,
a riposo in marcia o all'ospedale,
e i compagni anziani ci raccontavano,
parlassero pure del loro paese,
dei campi e dei lavori lasciati là,
una storia d'amore,

eravamo in tanti a non sapere ancora
come fosse fatta una donna, e si ascoltava,
ci inventavamo un nome, e si moriva,
(si imparava a morire...)

Leggendo oggi, come fossero vivi,
in Giacomo, in Francesco, in Dante e in altri
cari poeti, italiani o stranieri,
mi è venuto un pensiero:

che noi siamo come i coscritti
in una guerra grande, e che i poeti
siano come quei soldati che ci raccontavano
parlassero pure del loro paese,
dei campi e dei lavori lasciati là,
una storia d'amore.


Cô se gera soldai dentro in trincea,
O a riposo o marciando o a l'ospeal,
E i compagni più veci ne diseva,

E parlàsseli pur del so paese,
Dei campi e dei lavori lassài là,
Una storia d'amor,

Gèrimo in tanti a no' saver ancora
Quel che fusse una dona, e se ascoltava,
Se inventàvimo un nome, e se moriva,
(Se imparava a morir...)

Ancùo lesendo, come i fusse vivi,
In Giacomo, in Francesco, in Dante e in altri
Cari poeti, o nostrani o foresti,
Me xé vignùo un pensier:

Che noialtri se sia come i coscriti
In una guera granda, e che i poeti
Sia come quei soldai che ne diseva,
E parlàsseli pur del so paese,
Dei campi e dei lavori lassài là,
Una storia d'amor.

Signs of War. An exhibition at Palazzo Blu, Pisa (Italy)

The Blue Palace Foundation in Pisa gives hospitality to an interesting photographic and documentary show in memory of the World War One. The exhibition has its focus on how inhabitants were influenced and conditioned by war atmosphere. From the “radiant days” to the military mobilization, besides the material and intellectual efforts of a territory, is here called to be represented the war years’ impact on population. Curator is Antonio Gibelli, professor of Contemporary History at University of Genoa, WW1 period expert, in collaboration with professor Carlo Stiaccini and doctor Gian Luca Fruci, who conducted archival searches. We can look at different shots of a tragedy, beginning from the call-up of fighters, passing by citizens’ different activities to solve war requests (female workers role, hospitals, airport and flight schools). A wide section is fit in memory and celebrations of the fallen. This frame shows the people letters and postcards written at the front by Pisan soldiers. Each of these documents is full of home sickness and talks about great expectations to the end of the conflict. A sort of inner world rises at our sight, depicting the eternal, never explained contradictions of fighting, this alienate junction of human and unhuman through the being comrades and soldiers.

I segni della Grande Guerra ("The Signs of the Great War")
From 28 March to 5 July 2015
Palazzo Blu, Pisa
Free entrance

Honors Commitee:
Prefecture of Pisa
Province of Pisa
University, Normal School, Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies
Court of Pisa
Air Force, 46th Brigade

Ermanno Olmi's war in his last film "torneranno i prati" ("The Meadows Will Return")

The latest film by Ermanno Olmi, a dean among the Italian directors, was dedicated to the memory of his father and to the tales of the First World War experience he made when Olmi was a child. These tales resemble a kind of enlarging memory and legacy inside the director’s mind, who is not new to this kind of historical operations. torneranno i prati (“The Meadows Will Return”) is a short film all set in an extremely advanced outpost of the Italian lines. The place is the enchanting mountain plateau of Asiago (the place where Olmi lives now) and the time frame is tightened to the last moments of war, when there was no doubt around among soldiers about the real meaning of the carnage that was supposed to end soon (only to stop for a while). "I thought there was a task to fulfil: that of telling the great betrayal done to those people who have died and never knew why. And with the dead and children, as we know, we cannot cheat", Olmi said after the première and this declaration is enough to shape the real intent of this work. The story alternates hectic bombardments and quiet, silent and contemplative scenes but what the director prefers is for sure the reconstruction of inner views and subjective perceptions of his group of soldiers.

At a cinematographic level the continuous presence of the moonlight is remarkable, in contrast with the rockets making their contrail in the sky announcing the bombardment and the proximity of death. A great attention is paid on the parallel life of letters, correspondence, family photos and other personal belongings but also a great effort was done to rebuild the linguistic differences among comrades. An episode about the selection for a high dangerous patrolling action includes a suicide and in the short time of this film there is also space to depict the strange appearance of a new plague, namely the Spanish flu, also known as 1918 flu, that turned eventually into an additional tragedy and into a silent killer. Literary fathers of this latest work by Ermanno Olmi are probably the writer Mario Rigoni Stern and Emilio Lussu, and not only for geographical reasons: if the first spent his whole life in the Asiago plateau and dedicated to the post-war period a book (Le stagioni di Giacomo  - “Giacomo’s Seasons”), the second one is the author of probably the most important account that Italian literature brought to life after the war, Un anno sull'Altipiano ("A Year on the Plateau"). 

Finally it makes sense to remember that last year torneranno i prati was the only Italian film selected for the Gala section of the Berlinale, Berlin's International Film Festival. And a quick note and plaudit is almost required for the music, too: the trumpet and flugelhorn player Paolo Fresu is far from simply putting a kind of trademark to the soundtrack (like many other musicians do when asked to create the soundscape of a film) and surprisingly coexists with Olmi’s spirit. You cannot ask more to a music for such a film and to music for films in general.

A meeting with the archivist Jonathan Casey and the subsequent show in Villa Manin (Udine, Italy)

Villa Manin (Udine, Italy)
It's going to be a rich and stimulating Sunday the 12th of April in the wonderful location of Villa Manin (Passariano, Udine, Italy) whose huge park, all dotted with yellow narcissi in this month, shows the brightness of spring. At 5pm there will be a meeting with Jonathan Casey - chief curator and archivist del National World War One Museum at Liberty Memorial (U.S.A.). Casey's intervention, with the aid of previously unreleased images from the American museum's archive, is going to go deep inside the American experience of World War I. Later on, at 6.30pm, in the same venue, people can attend the performance entitled "Chiamate alla vita" (Calls to Life) written by Vincenzo Tosetto and Alessia Cacco. The show is based on letters and correspondence and tries to offer a wide view on the female side of the story (the protagonists are mothers, sisters, brides, lovers) on the background of the rapid depopulation of the Friuli region, on the border between Italy and Austria and Italy and Slovenia.

The First World War in music: "Lament" by Einstürzende Neubauten

Here the link to the page with the dates of the tour. We start by giving this information (and we close with the invitation to listen to the videos below) because there is no doubt that Lament, the recent studio album by the German band Einstürzende Neubauten, is first of all a live show and the whole calibration of his strength can be appreciated mainly in the live dimension. "The Guardian" wrote about this work as the "the weirdest First World War commemoration of all" and it's not hard to realize that when approaching this newest musical research we are light years away from the "machine" of commemoration which is hardly ever an intelligent one, notwithstanding which form of art we are talking about. The German combo is here able to combine the accuracy of the researches in the archives of Humboldt Universität and radio broadcasting of Frankfurt, a never tired and never boring thirty year experience, perfect surprising performances (for example of folk classics like "Sag mir, wo die Blumen sind") and an innovative view of the war in one of the richest artistic proposals about World War I. We hope to offer you a live report soon.