The Veneto region has a history that dates back to the Bronze Age,
mainly of the Veneti, Celts and possibly Etruscans tribes. They lived in the
fertile valleys along the many rivers. The Romans conquered this in 225BC. The
region suffered many invasions throughout history even in this century, as
indicated in the book. Perhaps it's most productive time was as part of the
Venetian Empire. Even as part of the united Italy, its people suffered
impoverishment. By the end of the 1800s depression was forcing people to
emigrate, as the author's grandparents Davide and Marietta Cluat. They left for
Brazil in 1897, to take on the work that slaves refused to do after their
liberation. The harsh life of clearing jungle, poor hygiene condition and
disease carrying insects left Davide gravely ill. The Clauts returned to Mure
where Davide had his leg amputated and eventually raised 9 children.
The Great war to end all wars began in 1914, one of it's main
the Austrian - Italian border in the Veneto-Friuli region. Part of this war was
fought on the Piave river less than 20km from Mure. The author's parents
suffered deprivation of food and shelter and many people died, some due to military
fire, other due to malaria, dysentery, impoverishment or the Spanish flu. This
included the author's grandmother, grand uncle and grand aunt. The village was
destroyed as were many families.
In the midst of the wars and occupation the people pursued a life rich with
culture, traditions and religious festivals. The author describes vividly some
of these events. "il pan e vin" on the eve of the Epiphany. It is of the most
memorable festivals celebrated in the fields. The event was called "il pan e vin"
(bread and wine). I suppose bread and wine is the sustenance of the contadini's
life. It was a community effort to gather waste, such as wine pruning, corn
stalks and other inflammable material for a large casera (bonfire). The ritual
was to celebrate the old harvest which had given sustenance to the people and to
call on the coming year's harvest to be in abundance.
On the very top of la Casera we would erect an effigy of the Befana
woman). Children were led to believe that on the eve of the Epiphany, the Befana,
would bring gifts to all good children and a good harvest for the coming summer. This mythical person was associated with the bearing of gifts to Jesus,
by the three Wise Kings on the Epiphany. It was a ritual incorporating the pagan
and Catholic beliefs. Before the Casera was lit, the parish priest came to bless
it with sprinkling of holy water.
Then one of the self appointed local authorities, usually the owner of the
land, would ignite it. We shared traditional foods around, such as polenta e
uganega, vin brue and pinza. The contadini believed that by offering around
their own foods they would receive in return at the harvest.
After the igniting of the casera everyone would call out an evocation. In my paese
(town) it was:
E panevin! la pinza sot el camin!
Dio ne manda del pan e del vin,
e `na bona Befana par i bambin
Dio ne mande tanti sachi de
Formnto, come sassi sul Taiamento
E panevin! La pinza sot el camin.
(Bread and wine: The cake is in the hearth: may God send some bread and wine
and a good Befana for the children. May God send as many bags of wheat as there
are stones in the Tagliamento river; Bread and wine, the cake is in the hearth.)
The contadini and Zio Brazileo would stand back and see which way the sparks
flowed. According to ancient myths, this would predict whether the following
harvest was going to be successful or not. The older and wiser contadino was
always consulted to give his interpretation, as he had seen many Casere and
seasons. If the sparks went straight up it was a good omen and the harvest was
going to be good . If the sparks flowed to the west it would be great. However,
it flowed to the east it was a bad omen. There is an old verse about the smoke,
Se le faive va a matina prepara il sac e va in mosina, se le faive va a sera, la
caliera de polentae polenta ben che piena. (If the ash flows to the morning
prepare a sack and go begging. If the ash goes towards evening the big polenta
The day after the Epiphany, the Carneval season starts and extends until the
Tuesday before Ash Wednesday - Marti Gras.
The Carneval was the inversion of society, women dressed as men, men as
women, nobles as beggars and vice -versa. Everyone wore a mask which created
anonymity and allowed some licentious behaviour. Exotic masks including the
traditional ones, of the idiot, the doctor, la moretta, the wild-man, the
captain, La puncinella, and Arlechino, were sold everywhere. In the large
cities, like Venice, the entire carnevale season involved attending the theatres,
operas, arts, dinner parties, gambling and balls for the high society. The
author goes into details about the Carneval.
After all the licentious behaviour of the carnevale season the catholic church
demanded that its congregation fast, abstain and repent. The church commanded
that only one meal per day should be eaten, no meat or fat on Fridays and Ash
Wednesday, also, to do acts of penance and do un fioretto (good deed). If meat
was eaten, it was a mortal sin, and one died in such a state one would go to
everlasting hell. The fishmongers increased their financial disposition during
lent, as people substituted meat for fish.
For the entire week before Easter we were busy attending church, confession,
prayers, masses and preparation. At Holy Thursday's mass the priest
symbolically washed the feet of a few male parishioners, a re-enactment of
Jesus who washed his disciple's feet at the last supper. The following day Good
Friday was a day of fast and abstinence and we attended a procession, behind
someone who carried the cross. At the end of the procession we all lined up to
kiss the cross.
Participation was not only through prayers and church attendance, but with
new clothes and special foods, these were to reinforce the sanctity of Easter. The rebirth of Spring and the religious new life after Christ's death.
Various foods were prepared for these occasions. On Good Friday, in the
Veneto region it has a long standing tradition to eat Baccala (Stock fish). In
the few days before Easter we coloured boiled eggs. This symbol of the Easter
Egg is an old pagan symbol a renewal of life. A small basket of coloured eggs
was prepared for the Sunday afternoon or on the Monday, when we met with amici e paesani in the fields for a picnic. The eggs were thrown around and eaten. There
was also a special colomba, (Easter cake ) which we shared around. The
was reinforced through the foods and dress, subsequently, it became intermingled
into our culture. This makes it difficult for the average person to
differentiate between the religious and non-religious.
It was customary that on the eve of the first of May groups of youths walked
around the village and gathered flowers, weeds such as lengue di vacca (cow
tongue), strame (reeds), sage and took gates and doors of the hinges. These
represented symbols to be left outside girls houses. The symbol indicated if the
girl was liked, well behaved or considered having loose morals. The symbols of
the flowers and sage indicated the girl was liked and mature, the weed lengua di
vacca indicated she was a cow or bitch, and the gates and doors meant that she
was open to any male that wandered in. I remember some raucous on this night but
I was too young to be part of this ritual.
La Sdrondenada, was another such ritual. It was a form of protest when an
older widower married a young girl, or when a youth from another village came to
marry a girl of their village. This was because these girls were seen as part of
their village's marriage pool. The youths got together with banging implements -
pot, lids and anything that made noise, sometimes guns were fired. They
proceeded to the newlyweds house and caused a raucous, until the new husband
paid a price, usually lots of wine or money to buy wine.
The author in Le Feste Contadine continues to describes all the traditions,
rituals and myths associated with wine making, la sagra, il filo, the harvests
of vegetables, the grapes, and the corn. Perhaps the most notable tradition is
the pig making. Then there are the rituals of all the saints feast days the
procession of the statue of the virgin Mary, the feast of San Marco, the feast
of San Domenico, San Nicola, Christmas and New Year's day, and the various
religious rites. All were richly celebrated with special foods and cakes, new
clothes, singing and socializing.
The Veneto region as well as the Claut and Ruzzene families suffered the
great depression that progressed into world war 2. This was more destructive
than anything experienced before. Churches and building that had stood for
thousands of years were destroyed. The author's father, Giovanni was drafted to
the Russian front with 250,000 other Italian soldiers. He was stationed with 6th
Parco Automobilistico , part of the Torino division in Donetsk in the Ukraine. These unfortunate soldiers not only had to fight their enemy but also cold
weather that reached minus 40%. They had inadequate fortunate soldiers not only
had to fight their enemy but also cold weather that reached minus 40%. They had
inadequate clothing and guns that blocked up with the ice. Giovanni was one of
the lucky ones to returned home all in one piece as many had limbs amputated due
to the cold. Over half of this army was destroyed. After this epic journey of
survival vividly described by the author, Giovanni returns home. Shortly after
an armistice was called that caused more bloodshed and a civil war broke out at
the same time as the war was raging. The Germans were rounding up people for
labour and sent to Germany, and the partisans were recruiting men to support
them. The partisans were not homogeneous they consisted of Communists,
Socialists, Christian, Democrats, Royalists, Fascists and Republicans. This
caused brother to fight brother.
From September 1943 to May 1945 Italy was a melting pot of nationalities and
politics in which many innocent people suffered. Atrocities occurred everywhere,
with one faction blaming the other. Maria often claimed that the Allied forces
had allowed things to run along for far too long without helping. A distant
relative of Giovanni, after a kangaroo court by the partisans, was hung from a
nearby tree. Every village had its own horror stories (as indicated in the book).
Maria's sister died in vague circumstances. Treviso, about 50km from Mure
was bombed on Good Friday of 1944 leaving 2,500 people dead many injured and 80%
of the town destroyed. Many of the dead were women and children who had taken
shelter in the bunkers.
Maria and Giovanni lived an insecure and deprived life. Maria recalled the
heavily laden bombers flying overhead to drop their loads somewhere north,
especially when the Germans began retreating. Later, the bombers would be seen
returning. When the targets were the towns of Motta di Livenza or Oderzo, bombs
fell nearby. Maria, heavily pregnant, would run into the fields with her small
boy beside her and lie in a ditch. She would cover her son and wait. It was
assumed that it was safer to be away from buildings so that one was not hit by
flying fragments. Maria was reliving a nightmare. As a child, she herself had
lain in ditches with her parents to escape the bombing of the previous world