giovedì 11 novembre 2010
the 11th of November
In 1918, on the 11th day of the 11th month on the 11th hour, World War I came to an end. Statistics vary, depending upon the source, but an estimated 650,000 Italian troops died during the course of the (Italian) conflagration from 1915-1918, 947,000 were wounded, Missing/POWs numbered 600,000. Wikipedia’s numbers more or less agree with what was just cited, but also add civilian deaths, which totaled 589,000 souls.
Ernest Hemingway became a man in Italy while serving as an ambulance driver in the Italian campaign; he was seriously injured by an Austrian mortar shell while handing out chocolate and cigarettes to entrenched Italian soldiers. He would turn nineteen in three days’ time.
He was later given the Italian Silver Medal for Valor, which said, "Gravely wounded by numerous pieces of shrapnel from an enemy shell, with an admirable spirit of brotherhood, before taking care of himself, he rendered generous assistance to the Italian soldiers more seriously wounded by the same explosion and did not allow himself to be carried elsewhere until after they had been evacuated." (And he of course wrote a great book about the experience afterwards.)
Italy’s version of Arlington Cemetery, “one of the biggest in the world,” according to Wikipedia.org, has more than 100,000 bodies of men who died in the war (and one woman). It “opened” in 1938, when Mussolini was at the height of his power.
This is also a big day on the Roman Catholic church calendar, as it’s the feast day of San Martino. Or at least it used to be a big day.
Martin of Tours (c. 315--397) was born in Hungary, became bishop in Tours, founded monasteries in France, trashed pagan shrines, and died a non-martyr’s death (not a bad run for a Christian in those days). From an invaluable dictionary: “A goose at his feet may allude indirectly to the season of his feast-day ... which is said to coincide with the migration of geese (or the season of their killing and eating)."
Carol Shields writes that Martin is the patron saint of, among others, “grape growers, and wine makers, and in some places he is also the protector of drinkers.” Shields also notes that he’s credited with transforming a river into wine (wouldn’t you like to dip into that?). She continues: “It is mostly old people who continue to roast turkey and chestnuts in Apulia and Abruzzo and in Sicily …” (You have to figure that just about no one’s doing that now, as those old people were old when she wrote the book 20 years ago.) In the Abruzzo – at least back in the day -- turkey fed on walnut shells is served on November 11th. Called tacchino alla porchetta (herb-scented roast turkey from Nereto), Shields provides a marvelous recipe in which you cook the turkey sort of the way you’d cook young pig.
In Italy, you don’t say “Indian Summer.” You say l’estate di San Martino (“St. Martin's summer"). Despite the torrential downpours of late, accompanied by gusty winds, today was truly, in every way, the feast day of San Martino. Lulu, Harry, and I took a long walk in the woods, and the sun beat down upon our backs. Rosie managed to extricate herself from her pups innumerable times today, and joined Lulu on the sun-filled terrace chasing and nosing for lizards (neither was successful in today’s hunt; Waldo too often was. Once they stopped moving (i.e., dead or practically so) he moved on, allowing me to deal with the recently-dead or still twitching creature).
“The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."
Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms, 1929.
Recipe next time.
Footnotes in strange form due to problems with blogspot.com:
www.worldwar1.com. According to this site, 126,000 Americans died, 234,000 were wounded, 4,526 went missing.
You’ll find a big discrepancy here re: American deaths, which is significantly lower than worldwar1.com: Wiki says 116,708.
A Farewell to Arms appeared in 1929.
“It is a limestone landscape in itself: a geometrised model of the Carso, complete with its fatal gradient. Beyond a deep drop of stone, the Duke of Aosta lies at the foot of the slope within a 75-tonne block of porphyry: a tomb worthy of Achilles … From below, visitors look like fleas on a Fascist stairway to heaven.” This on the Sacrificio Militare di Redipuglia; Mark Thompson, The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919, London, 2008.
Hall’s Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art, London, 1974. St. Martin is frequently shown on horseback, a beggar at his side, cutting off half his coat to give to the shivering guy.
Most of the rest about San Martino, and the allusion to the recipe, comes from Celebrating Italy, a triumph by Carol Fields (New York, 1990).
Photo of St. Martin and the Beggar (copy), facade, Duomo, Lucca. Work at the Duomo began at the end of the 12th century. (The original of St. Martin and the Beggar can be found inside, the work of a Lombard-Lucchese sculptor, dating from the beginning of the 13th century.)