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Growing through
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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 theatres was 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 (the old 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 pot overflows).

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 religion 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 war.

 

Diana Ruzzene Grollo
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This page was last modified October 2009 AEST.