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“Quarantine Diaries,” by David Garyan (Day 42)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 42 April 25th, 2020

Trento, Italy

Liberation Day

And just like that, we’ve arrived to the day of Italian liberation, but it looks like it’ll be a while before we ourselves will be liberated from this virus.

Things are taking a turn for the better, however; although The Local says that “Italy’s national lockdown is the longest one currently in force anywhere in the world,” some shops and also construction sites can slowly start opening on May 4th, followed by the most important industries that everyone cares about—bars and restaurants, which, for now, have been given the green light on May 18th; that day, I guarantee you, will be no less significant than April 25th. Sixty million Italians will be liberated and subsequently allowed to consume their alcohol in the confines of different spaces—confines in which they’ll have to pay much more for a glass of beer than if they had just bought a six pack at Eurospin.

Yes, someone has to bail out the economy, and, until now, it was never clearer how much, in fact, alcoholics and gluttons contributed to the well-being of society. I, myself, came to Italy for the eating and drinking; it was either that or go to the Samoa, where “Overeating and inactivity are intrinsic to traditional Samoan customs,” at least according to the American Samoa Department of Health.

For the love of God, how do I always go off track? We were talking about the liberation of Italy—I’m completely sure that the American Samoans (hold the Samoans) contributed greatly to that effort; even though the US was late to the party (like they always are).

Indeed, we love to enter wars fought on the European continent behind schedule and then take all the credit. In WWI, we only arrived in 1917, when the war had already been raging for three years; in this entire conflict, we lost approximately 116,000 soldiers; while that was the total number for the greatest country in the world, at the Battle of the Somme alone, the British suffered more than three times as much and the French almost twice the amount. The French and British each regularly lost more than 100,000 men in several battles. At the Battle of Verdun, the French incurred over 300,000 casualties, but who cares about that? The US entered the conflict in 1917—when everyone was already on their last leg (no pun intended)—fought for about one year, and then won the Great War, as the narrative goes—the only thing is that everything except the last part is left out when the narrative is actually presented on the home front, so to say.

Ah, yes, you have to love this land—they win wars on the backs of other soldiers, but I’ll speak at greater length about that on May 2nd, when German forces surrendered to General Vasily Chuikov of the Red Army. The greatest country in the world opened the second front so late (once again only a year before the end of the war) that they didn’t even make it to the German capital—seeing as how global politics are developing, however, I’m sure the US will soon get a third chance to make up for their constant tardiness to World War University.

I don’t know why I’m so bitter lately; this always happens when I talk about history. Indeed, neither Italy, nor the USSR, nor even the US are perfect countries. They all have dark histories, which they try their best to hide through the good deeds they’ve done. Italy, I believe, has enough greatness in not only its past but also the future to call itself a glorious nation. In WWI, it made the right choice and ended up on the winning side; however, they weren’t given all the territories promised to them by the British and French; thus, Italian glory was referred to as a mutilated victory by nationalists; thus, Mussolini heavily relied on the term to create his Fascist propaganda.

When walking in Trento today, I was surprised to see il Duce’s quote plastered right on a building. As you can see, his name has been carved out of the concrete; however, the quote is most definitely his, as confirmed by il Giornale, and it reads: “The Italian people created the empire with their blood, will fertilize it with their work and defend it against anyone with their weapons.” To some extent, I’m of the opinion that a country must come to terms with its history; erasing the name of a guy who said something isn’t really the way to do that, however. In fact, it’s more dangerous than simply leaving it there; before I get into that, I’d like to compare this dilemma to what the US has been doing.

In the aftermath of racially inspired shootings and violence, the greatest country in the world decided to remove statues of Pierre Beauregard, and Robert E. Lee, although the latter, according to NPR, was kept through judicial intervention; the argument was that historical preservation isn’t based on racist foundations. I’m very much torn on this issue. On one hand, it’s important for the younger generation to know these figures—to be aware of their failures and shortcomings so that they’ll have the historical awareness not to go down the same road; on the other hand, exposing people whose ancestors had a connection to such events may cause them psychological trauma. Given that yesterday was the observance of the Armenian Genocide, I don’t know how I would feel seeing a statue of Talaat Pasha, the main orchestrator behind the whole thing, in a main square, or perhaps his words on a plaque—even if his name had been removed, as was done with Mussolini’s statement in Trento. Yes, we should remember history, but perhaps, also, we should remember it in a way that’s less “invasive,” so to say.

Given my love for Italy, I’m not sure about this fascist plaque. The middle road—removing the dictator’s name but keeping the sentiment—is the most extreme, to some extent, because, instead of communicating the danger behind such ideology, white-washing the attribution not only takes the “learning from history” part out of the equation, but even worse, it gives the statement a positive framework. In other words, since many won’t realize who actually said it, the imperialist ideology inherent to the quote is lost—all that remains is the very purported Italian glory that Mussolini used for his propaganda purposes to begin with. Indeed, the whole thing should’ve either been removed or kept just like it was in the first place. No, the removal of his name is the most extreme position in this case because it takes away the context from the message on the wall and thus gives it an “eminence” it shouldn’t have to start with.

I was a bit surprised because the city pays plenty of tribute to its fallen soldiers in WWI and the WWII resistance; among the most notable examples of the latter is Piazza Mario Pasi. Born on the 21st of July, 1913 in Ravenna, Pasi obtained a degree in medicine and surgery from the University of Bologna in 1936. He was captured in 1944 by the Germans and hanged on the 10th of March, 1945 with nine other partisans in what has become known as La strage di Bosco delle Castagne (The massacre of Bosco delle Castagne). The site was turned into a historical park. For his valor, the city of Trento, where Pasi worked as a doctor, commemorated him with this square.

Another area of commemoration is the Piazzetta 2 Settembre 1943; it pays homage to the bombing of Trento by Allied forces on that day. The San Lorenzo bridge was completely destroyed, along with Piazza Dante; about 200 people died and the Italians refer to it as la strage della Portela (Massacre of the Portela); the aforementioned link will also give you pictures of the bombing. I’ve chosen to include a photo of the square which commemorates the event.

Italians are a very proud people and the memories of WWII linger deep in the minds of everyone. Even the young generation strives to capture the maximum amount of glory they can from the country’s heroic resistance. Women played a big part in the effort as well, both in combatant and non-combatant roles. In his article, “Italian Women in the Resistance, World War II,” Dan A. D’Amelio writes: “Although the majority of women partisans functioned in non-combat roles, a significant number had already been in action. Some 300 women had fought alongside of men in the street fighting in Florence when the city was liberated a few weeks earlier. Women had also fought in one of the greatest pitched battles of the resistance.” Women like Clarice Buni Burini even became officers; in this case a lieutenant, she was captured and subjected to the most horrible tortures, receiving a medal for her heroism.

In every major city, such as Bologna and Rome, you’ll find many plaques and memorials honoring the fallen partisans. Sometimes, for me personally, it even comes across as too much, too overbearing—an act of compensation for being on the wrong side the second time around. Seeing the huge monuments in Bologna, for example, I really felt the degree to which Italians take pride in their country and how difficult it really is for them to deal with the past. For almost every WWI memorial, the WWII resistance is commemorated alongside with it; below is an example of such a plaque in Trento.

Walking by the Cattedrale di San Vigilio today, I stopped by the scale model of the city; I felt incredibly small looking at it. Everything is about perspective. Glancing down at the thing, I did wonder: Does the world itself have the same size to someone else out there?

Approximately 75,000,000 people died in WWII; that number is hard to comprehend, but let me try it this way: Take everyone living in New York City—they would all have to perish nine times before the war could be over and I doubt that New Yorkers have the power of cats.


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