April 25, Resistance and Bella Ciao. A Musical Journey

Australians and New Zealanders will be celebrating ANZAC Day today, a national holiday which commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders who served and died in wars and conflicts, with a particular focus on the landing of the ANZACs at Gallipoli, Turkey on April 25 1915. Coincidentally, April 25 is also significant in the Italian calendar as it marks the Festa Della Liberazione (Liberation Day), also known as Anniversario della Resistenza (Anniversary of the Resistance), an Italian national holiday. Italian Liberation Day commemorates the end of the Italian Civil War, the partisans who fought in the Resistance, and the end of Nazi occupation of the country during WW2. In most Italian cities, the day will include marches and parades. Most of the Partisans and Italian veterans of WW2 are now deceased: very few Italians would have first hand memories of that era.

 

One of the more accessible documents from the partigiani era of the 1940s is the well-known song, Bella Ciao, which has been adopted by resistance movements throughout the world since then. The original Partisan version is included here. Open this clip: you can find the lyrics in English and Italian at the end of this post.

Many Italian versions, including this modern rendition by the Modena City Ramblers, have appeared over the years, while international adaptations include punk, psychedelic and folk versions in many languages. A Kurdish version was revived after an ISIS attack in 2014, and the Anarchist movement has also appropriated the song. Popular folk songs are often derivative and evolutionary: the history of Bella Ciao makes a fascinating study in itself. There are two threads to follow here. The original version of this song dates back to the 1850s: the first written version appeared in 1906 which was sung by women workers in the risaie, or rice paddies of Northern Italy. The lyrics concern the harsh working conditions of the Mondine. The fascinating rice workers version can be heard here by Giovanna Daffini, recorded in 1962.¹

The Mondine or Mondariso were female seasonal workers employed in Northern Italy’s rice fields, especially in Lombardia, Piedmont, Emilia Romagna and Veneto. Their task was to remove weeds that could stunt the growth of rice plants. Working conditions were extremely hard, as the job was carried out by spending the whole day bent over, often bare-foot, with legs immersed in water; malaria was not uncommon, as mosquitoes were widespread. Moreover shifts were long and women were paid significantly less than men. For these reasons since early in the 20th century, mondine started to organise themselves to fight for some basic rights, in particular to limit shifts to 8 hours a day.’

From Mondine di Bentivoglio . “Il capo in piedi col suo bastone, E noi curve a lavorar”. The boss stands with his stick and we bend down to work. Line from the Mondine version of Bella Ciao.

The other thread concerns the euphony of the song itself. The much older women’s version, a slower folkloric piece, reflects the plight of the women rice field weeders in their struggle for better working conditions. The 1940s partisan version became more masculine and heroic, despite the sombre sentiments expressed in the lyrics. Most of the modern versions sound Russian, revolutionary, or defiant. Slower versions suggest Yiddish as well as gypsy roots, which may indicate the melodic path of this song during the 19th century. I’ve selected two more versions which reflect these latter impressions. They can be heard here and here.

An Italian partisan in Florence, 14 August 1944. Signore Prigile, an Italian partisan in Florence. Tanner (Capt), War Office official photographer.This photograph TR 2282 is from the collections of the Imperial War Museums and is available for use, with recognition.

The partigiani make fitting heroes for Liberation Day: no one would deny that their struggle was courageous and honourable. However, one might question the level of mytholgising when it comes to patriotic days such as Liberation Day. The day was initiated by Alcide De Gasperi, the Prime Minister of Italy between 1945 to 1953. It could be seen as a very astute political move to create a national holiday centred around liberation.² It signified a break with Italy’s fascist past, an era spanning 25 years, as well as assisting the new Italian government establish a stable democracy.

Parallels may be drawn between the idealisation of the Italian Partisans and the Australian and New Zealand soldiers of World War 1. The stories and the images of those struggles are often used to boost a sense of national identity and patriotism in both countries.

Anzac soldier at sunset, Invergargill, New Zealand

Postscript. I must add this link from the popular Spanish series, Casa del Papel. A wonderful addition to the historical and musical narrative of this folk song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spCdFMnQ1Fk

 

See also my previous posts on April 25, Anzac Day.

Notes

¹ Giovanna Daffini (22 April 1914 – 7 July 1969) was an Italian singer associated with the Nuovo Canzoniere Italiano movement. Born in the province of Mantua, she started associating with travelling musicians from an early age. During the rice-growing season she worked in the rice-growing districts of Novara and Vercelli where she learnt the folk-songs that afterwards made her famous. In 1962 she recorded the song “Alla mattina appena alzata”, a version of Bella Ciao, for the musicologists Gianni Bosio and Roberto Leydi.

² http://www.informatore.eu/articolo.php?title=il-25-aprile-da-pia-illusione-a-volgare-a-menzogna

In the 1960s, the tune, with new lyrics, became a revered song of the Lotta Femminista, the Italian Feminist struggle.

Lyrics.

Partisan Version in Italian and English

Una mattina mi son alzato
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
Una mattina mi son svegliato
Eo ho trovato l’invasor

One morning I woke up
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
One morning I woke up
And I found the invader

O partigiano porta mi via
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
O partigiano porta mi via
Che mi sento di morir

Oh partisan, carry me away,
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
Oh partisan, carry me away,
For I feel I’m dying

E se io muoio da partigiano
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
E se io muoio da partigiano
Tu mi devi seppellir

And if I die as a partisan
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
And if I die as a partisan
You have to bury me

Mi seppellire lassù in montagna
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
Mi seppellire lassù in montagna
Sotto l’ombra di un bel fiore

But bury me up in the mountain
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao,
But bury me up in the mountain
Under the shadow of a beautiful flower

E le genti che passeranno
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
E le genti che passeranno
Mi diranno: “Che bel fior”

And the people who will pass by
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao,
And the people who will pass by
Will say to me: “what a beautiful flower”

È questo il fiore del partigiano
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
È questo il fiore del partigiano
Morto per la libertà

This is the flower of the partisan
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
This is the flower of the partisan
Who died for freedom

Bella Ciao, Versione Delle Mondine. In Italiano
Alla mattina appena alzata, O bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao, ciao,ciao
Alla mattina appena alzata, In risaia mi tocca andar
E fra gli insetti e le zanzare, O bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao ciao ciao
E fra gli insetti e le zanzare, Un dur lavoro mi tocca far
Il capo in piedi col suo bastone, O bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao ciao ciao
Il capo in piedi col suo bastone, E noi curve a lavorar
O mamma mia o che tormento
O bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao ciao ciao
O mamma mia o che tormento
Io t’invoco ogni doman
Ma verrà un giorno che tutte quante
O bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao ciao ciao
Ma verrà un giorno che tutte quante
Lavoreremo in libertà.
Mondine Version in English.
In the morning, just arisen, Oh beautiful ciao……
In the morning, just arisen, In the rice field I’m going to go.
Amongst the insects and the mosquitos, oh bella ciao….
Amongst the insects and the mosquitos. I have hard work yo do.
The boss is standing with his stick, oh bella ciao….
The boss is standing with his stick and we bend down to work.
Oh my mother what torment, oh bella ciao….
Oh my mother, what torment, that I call you every day
But the day will come, o bella ciao..
But the day will come, when we will work in freedom.

Vietnam 1966-2016. Ceremonies and Memoirs. Part 1.

Fifty years marks a significant milestone for all sorts of events, wars especially. Last week I met an Australian man, a Vietnam vet, who had come to Ho Chi Minh City with his extended family to take part in the Long Tan ceremonies. The battle of Long Tan took place on August 18 1966, on a rubber plantation not far from Saigon. The outcome of that battle, in terms of deaths and injuries, included 18 Australian deaths, with 24 wounded and 250 – 800 Vietnamese deaths (Viet Cong and North Vietnamese army) with 500-1000 wounded.

 “245 Vietnamese bodies were officially counted on the battlefield. However, this was only recorded as the official count due to a deadline set by the Australian government. Importantly, many more bodies were found over two weeks after the battle but the official death toll was never adjusted. “¹

The Vietnamese are also mourning their losses this month and this year: small ceremonies are taking place throughout the country from north to south, though these are not newsworthy in the eyes of the international press. Some are public and loud, important to instill a sense of history in the Vietnamese youth: others are quiet and respectful, as they should be, and take place in Buddhist pagodas or simply in front of a family’s ancestral shrine.

Buddhist Pagoda, Can Tho, Vietnam
Buddhist Pagoda, Can Tho, Vietnam

¹ http://battleoflongtan.com/facts-figures-battle-of-long-tan/

Anzac Day 2014. Commemorating Slaughter with a Biscuit?

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“We are about to commemorate the slaughter of millions of young men between 1914 and 1918.”

So begins John Hirst’s provocative piece on Anzac Day and its place in military history since then. Hirst recommends reading James Brown’s new book, Anzac’s Long Shadow, as well as Marina Larsson’s Shattered Anzacs for an understanding of what this legend really means:

“The hidden history of Anzac is the lives of the men who returned severely wounded and handicapped. The government supported them, but the daily burden was borne by their families.”

 Hirst suggests that:

” the second way to sidestep the commemoration of death in battle is to check out your family history for men who served and came home alive, even if damaged. The dead are commemorated in graves tended by the War Graves Commission. The tombstones of returned men usually have no mention of their war service.”

In recognition of wartime’s lost and ruined lives, those who were killed, maimed or psychologically damaged in WW1 and all subsequent wars, I perform a few rituals on Anzac Day (April 25th).

Firstly, I think of my father and his service in WW2.  On most Anzac Days, especially in his later years, he marched with his mates from his army regiment, not to commemorate Gallipoli, or the mythical values of the digger,  but in memory of the efforts of those who fought in WW2 and to recall the five years he spent in the jungles of New Guinea.  Below: My parents during wartime.

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Secondly, I play a few important tunes. I recommend that you listen to these, if you aren’t already familiar with them: Eric Bogle’s moving folk song,” And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda and  Redgum’s  I was only Nineteen,  a lyrical exploration of naive young men at war and the effects of Agent Orange on Vietnam Vets.

The foundation of historical analysis is interpretation, no less so in the case of war.  As a student of Australian History in 1971, during the height of the anti-Vietnam war movement in Australia,  I became a pacifist like many of my fellow students. Consequently, concepts such as patriotism – and by extension, the Anzac Day march, and military legends surrounding the day- were seen as jingoistic and nationalistic.  Latrobe University’s history school was a thriving and intellectually exciting place to be.  I vividly recall my father being annoyed and upset at the tone of the final examination questions, and took to my copy of the 1971 examination paper with a forceful pen!  My views have mellowed since then, and so did his!

These days I think of the fallen and injured from all wars, including the current war in Afghanistan. And, like many others, I would prefer that more of the Anzac Day budget be spent on the rehabilitation of soldiers ( Have Anzac celebrations become a military Halloween?) and that the huge pool of profit from RSL ( Returned and Services League ) gambling dens be questioned.

And finally, I make a batch of Anzac biscuits, and in this activity I am unbending in the interpretation of the recipe. There will be no added chocolate, nuts or heaven forbid, quinoa!! The sugar is white, not brown. And they must be flat.  I make them as my mother and grandmother made them before me.

Image The recipe below is the one that my mother has always used and comes from the Margaret Fulton book of the sixties, who , no doubt, got it from her mother.  My mother, now 91 years old and featured in the first photo above, still makes them this way. Hers are always the best. Her hint for baking great Anzacs? Don’t use baking paper, it dries out the biscuits, and heat the oven to slightly under moderate. 

The Recipe.

Heat oven to 150c/300 f.

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 3/4 cups desiccated coconut
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 125 grams butter
  • 1 Tablespoon golden syrup ( not maple syrup)
  • 2 Tablespoons boiling water
  • 1/1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate soda
  1. Mix the dry ingredients
  2. Melt the butter and golden syrup over gentle heat, then add the boiling water and bicarb soda. Watch it fizz.
  3. Add wet ingredients to dry, mixing thoroughly.
  4. Drop heaped teaspoons onto greased trays. Flatten slightly.
  5. Bake for approx 20 minutes. (check as they cook for doneness)
  6. Cool on trays for a few minutes then remove to a wire rack to cool completely

Store in tins. Image For another great article on this topic from a brilliant historian, see Don Watson’s article from the Monthly, 2008.  If you can’t read it all now, save it for a rainy day.

http://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2008/may/1335251549/don-watson/digging