Apr 26, 2020

Bella Ciao!

April 25th. In Italy this date marks the liberation from Nazi-fascism. Festa della Liberazione is a public holiday, schools and businesses are normally closed and people get the day off. On this day we normally go on a picnic, or take a walk in the park. We snack on the first fava beans of the season, pairing them with sharp aged pecorino romano. We snooze after a few glasses of wine. We each celebrate the recurrence in our own way. One thing that's common on venticinque aprile however, is signing "Bella Ciao!"

bella ciao album cover
"Bella Ciao!" album cover
Younger generations may know the song from La Casa de Papel. People my age and older know it's actually the anthem of anti-fascism.

Italian partisans in the mountains
Partigiani in the mountains, along the Gothic Line

"Bella Ciao!" was originally a protest folk song of the mondine women, protesting against the harsh working conditions in the paddy rice fields of Northern Italy, in the late 19th century. The song was later modified and adopted as the hymn of the anti-fascist resistance by the Italian partisans between 1943 and 1945 during the Italian Resistance against Nazi German forces occupying Italy. The author of the modified lyrics is unknown.

Italian partisan women
Valentino Petrelli / Public domain

It's a song we all know the words to. My friend Laura's mother would sing it to her as a lullaby. I used to hum it to myself when I was racing down the dark corridor in the big house where I grew up.

"Bella Ciao!" is a song about Rememberance and Courage. It's a song of Resistance, of Sacrifice. It's a song that talks about the invader and of death.

A new kind of invader has recently entered our lives. It has broken our courage. It has us locked us into our homes, divided us from family. It has ruined our life. The enemy, silent and faceless, has taken away our jobs, our freedom. It has taken many, too many lives. This year there were no picnics, no naps in the park. We sang "Bella Ciao!" from the window, confined in our homes.

thanks to those who resist
Banner in Bergamo: "Freedom is like air: you realize its value when you're short of it.
Thanks to those that resist. Now and always."

In addition to the difficulty of living in lockdown, I personally am still in shock for having lost someone I knew to the new invader. Matteo was an old love and for the past 17 years a dear, dear friend. He was a romantic, an artist and an epicure. Matteo was handsome, witty, smart, talented, kind and gentle. Anti-fascist to the core, he was dearly loved. He leaves behind one big incredulous and heartbroken family spread across Bari, Sydney, Puerto Rico, New York and Rome. Yet, he died alone in an ICU unit in New Jersey, unconscious. A true partisan fighting in a battle that he lost in only 4 weeks.

It was surreal singing "Bella Ciao!" this year: a song about freedom as prisoners. I opened the window at 3 pm and sang. Shyly, a little choked. Then the somber remembrance of the victims of Nazi-fascism––with every word I uttered––turned into a loud, hoarse scream against the cruel new invader that took the life of so many, including my friend's.

"Bella Ciao!" is the hymn of the partisans who helped liberate Italy from fascism 75 years ago, giving their life for freedom. From now on "Bella Ciao!" has a new, added significance: it's also the anthem of all those that are still fighting against the faceless enemy, and I will continue singing it in remembrance of those victims defeated by the new invader of 2020.

Apr 3, 2020

The New York Times "36 Hours in..." column

It was one of the bad days.

One of the days during lockdown when you can barely get out of bed. Sink full of dirty dishes, laundry piled high in the bin. Those days when not even food picks you up.

I dragged myself to the computer and, like every day, braced myself to read the news.

In browsing The New York Times' Travel section for some escape therapy, I spotted a call for entries.
The paper's popular 36 Hours series was launching their first ever reader-generated itinerary. The first with no actual traveling
Without thinking I filled the fields in the contact form and sent without even doing a spellcheck.

I've always dreamed of having my writing published in The New York Times. The Holy Grail of journalism and reporting.

Lesson number 4,937,583,262,543 that I learned during quarantine: dreams do come true. Even on bad days.

36 Hours in… Wherever You Are ~ a weekend of traveling you can do from home.