Geoffrey called while I was driving
to the seaside on Ash Wednesday. I was supposed to meet the builders
who are in charge of restoring the apartment my family owned since
1962. Geoffrey wanted to run the Easter article I wrote in 2020 again,
but I am not sure the feelings and the meanings are the same. In 2020
I was trying to go back in time to the late 1950’s when we were
able to use a car for the first time and drive to the fields for our
Easter Monday traditional al fresco, often with rain or even snow.
In 2020 I wrote: “There
being no climate change yet, winters used to be long, gloomy and
freezing, 1956 in particular, with Turin frosted and buried in snow,
as though Siberia had moved 150 K’s from the Mediterranean.
Spring was long in the making, so we were all hoping for Easter
and specially Easter Monday, the day when everyone was out and about,
trying to arrange picnics in the fields. That is where the all the
fun was.” In 2022 the weather forecast leaves no doubt:
the climate has changed, I am sitting here in my drawing room and
outside the weather is sunny, the temperature is around 20°
C and the Easter weekend is set on very mild weather.
In April 2020, I wrote: “As
it happens 1957 was also the year I experienced the first pandemic
in my life and I narrowly escaped death myself, while 30,000 other
Italians died of the disease in that period.” It was
just the beginning of the COVID19 pandemic, April 2020 was the “first
wave”. We know now, what kind of toll the world has suffered.
As we speak, we are facing the greatest risk of a big scale war
in Europe since 1945. We have all seen what is happening in the
Ukraine and nobody can ignore this sad, sad story. I am at a loss
to decide whether I was more scared of the disease or we should
be more scared of a possible escalation in the warfare now.
But I must say that in 2020 we were
in complete lockdown and were quite unsure about what our future
would hold for us. We are now fully vaccinated and hopeful to survive,
even if we get affected, a picture that in April 2020 did not exist.
Vaccines had not been produced yet and we could only protect ourselves
by avoiding any human contact, not a great option . . . I am here
sitting in the old “tinello” i.e. an old fashion dining
room and looking out onto the valley below, a landscape I know so
From the terrace I am looking at the
countryside that I have contemplated so many years of my life and
my memories come back in a rush. In the ’60’s the Sorgettis
are a happy, small family of four. Today this could be considered
a large number for a family in my country, which is probably one
of the worst in the world with regard to birth rate, but then ours
was considered a small family.
Not many faces, but we were enterprising,
oh boy, relentlessly enterprising. I loved animals and at the time
of my greatest engagement as a breeder we had a cat, a dog, a tortoise,
four lovely hamsters (one of which insisted on peeing over my turntable
where I used to spin him thinking he would enjoy it . . .) We also
had many birds: there were two cages, one with canaries and another
one with two couples of zebra finches. Another larger cage contained
a turtle dove, a female, and she was incessantly weeping for love,
at least so I thought. This was not going too well with my granny,
who could not sleep because of the noise the bird was making. She
also hated the cuckoo clock on the wall and she told her son, my
father, that she was going to throw it out of the window, if he
did not manage to stop its hourly call, in particular in the still
of the night. Grandma never threatened to throw the birds out of
the window, as they could actually fly away. One day we found the
dove’s cage open and the bird missing. Nobody knows whether
granny’s helping hand had made the miracle: fact is for many
years we heard the incessant ter-ter,
ter-ter that a very big number of turtle doves were making all
around the house. Evidently my turtle dove had found love, indeed
in Spotorno, not the only creature to do so . . .
With dogs it was another story. When
my father came home with a Brittany hunting dog my mother said:
“either the dog or me!” Then she walked out imperiously
and strolled around the block as she would do when she was upset.
Normally she would come back in about half an hour and we would
get back to a talkative mood in another ten minutes. This time it
took unusually longer, but the end was written in the stars: mother
and dog found an arrangement and my mother actually liked having
a dog in the house for many years. The same thing happened when
my sister came with a cat, when I came with the hamsters, the canaries
and the turtle dove. By that time my mother had already started
to reduce her around the block stroll, in the end she would just
get out of the door and come back immediately to fondle the brats.
We were five humans (including my
grandmother) and many animals packed in a three-piece apartment
at the seaside for Easter in 1962. I was up first and walked the
dog into the woods that were just a few hundred yards uphill, then
I was back and changed all the birds and last the hamsters, who
were the laziest. The tortoise only rarely came out of its den at
Our car was no longer our 1957 “seicento”.
In the ’60’s we were sporting a cream-white FIAT “millecento”
type F. By today’s standard it would be a small city car,
but it was considered a medium-size car in those years. It is a
pity I have no picture of the packed-solid car on arrival in front
of the house. In minutes you could have witnessed the explosion
of bags, birdcages, barking dog and bottles, bread bought on the
way in Vicoforte, where we stopped and visited the “largest
elliptical dome of the world”, as my father would tell us
for the umpteenth time.
I am not sure what the car looked
like from the outside, considering it was equipped like a mobile
zoo with visitors (us). This happened regularly every Saturday after
school time. Everyone worled on Saturday morning then, so we left
at 13.00 sharp. We would drive to the apartment at the seaside,
stay on Sunday and leave at 04.00 on Monday morning to meet work
and school in Turin. Obviously according to today’s standards
for keeping pet animals, we would be reprehensible, but our ignorance
of better rules did not impede our love for the animals, who at
the end of the day seemed to even like us. Arriving in Torino around
07:00 all animals were transferred into the apartment, cleaned and
fed. I sincerely have no idea how we managed all those chores. Just
thinking of it today makes me tired, but then it was the most natural
thing to do.
So Easter at the seaside prvided the
additional benefit of Easter Monday and we would camp out in the
fields just outside the house, which was built on the hills close
to the ruins of the medieval castle of Spotorno.
Those who know literature know that
D. H. Lawrence resided for a period in Spotorno and he wrote that
“just above the village and the sea. The sun shines, the
eternal Mediterranean is blue and young, the last leaves are falling
from the vines in the garden”. That looks so much like
the place I remember from my adolescence.
As my friends say, everything remains with me: so the old radio,
the old blenders and the cuckoo clock that my granny so much hated
are all here, in different parts of the house, used now as timeless
decorations. There are no animals and I do not regret having decided
to give up that habit when my last dog Zeno died. All that remains
of the zoo I was entertaining are sweet memories.
During the lockdown period in 2020
we heard tales of people trying to get hold of dogs so that they
could take a walk outside, instead of being confined at home. This
year, amid much angst, we heard tales of Italians who went to the
Ukraine to rescue animals from the war. This was actually in the
news in my country. I understand, when things become unbearable
and you feel useless, you try to do what can or what seems to be
the right thing to do, even though, with hindsight, it seems to
be a small drop in an ocean of plight and suffering.
was so happy with my hamsters rocking and rolling on my turntable
and I was even happier when my canaries actually started hatching
and the small chicks came out of the tiny eggs. Unlike wild canaries
in the Atlantic, our local birds do not hatch at Easter, rather
in the summer, but these tiny beeping chicks were such a strong
message of resurrection and hope in the future, that lingers in
my memory! This reminiscence befits Easter 2022 and fills my stay
here in the old apartment in Spotorno with Easter hope as though
nothing else in the world mattered. Whatever your creed is, I believe
that the resurrection of hope in the spring is a universal concept
valid for everyone.
Marco Sorgetti, Turin, 13th of April 2022.