I spent last weekend in Pallanza on the shores of Lake Maggiore in northwest Italy, where the family of my friend Betta (alias the Upstairs Vegetarian) has a house. Loyal readers may remember my visit there last summer, complete with big dumb orthopedic shoe. This time we were meeting some friends from Milan who brought along their Bearded Collie, Dino. So I invited Morgan to come as well. It was his first long train ride (3 hours from Rome to Milan and another 90 minutes to Pallanza) and I was anxious to see how that would go. In principle, animals are supposed to ride in pet carriers on major train routes. All I had was a busted up cat carrier but I brought it along as a sign of good faith, hoping that the conductor would be so impressed with Morgan’s excellent train-riding deportment that he wouldn’t make me load the dog into the carrier which was 1. way too small for him; and 2. where he would definitely cry and bark. To my amazement, Morgan was an absolute angel and the conductor didn’t give him a second glance.
Once in Pallanza, the angel flew the coop. Morgan was highly intimidated by Dino, who, in fairness, is about ten times his size. Dino also enjoyed giving Morgs the stink eye, which freaked him out even further. My little pup spent the first 24 hours hiding behind my skirts, yapping nervously at Dino, who could not have cared less.
Then came Night Two. I had just turned off the light when Morgan jumped off the bed and went and sat by the door. Crying. One does not want to take any chances with regard to possibly full dog bladders in a friend’s house and so even though he had been out an hour before, I put on my clothes and got ready to take him out again. Everyone was asleep and the house was quiet and dark. Morgan ran right to the door of the room where Dino was staying and started crying and scratching at the door. Apparently a full bladder was not the issue. It was the knowledge that a — for some reason no longer scary — new friend was within playing range. I hauled him off to bed and the next day they were thick as thieves.
Pallanza and its environs are interesting, and not just because of their proximity to the pretty Borromean Islands. Here’s some interesting war stuff. Luigi Cadorna was born in Pallanza to a famous general, Raffaelle Cadorna whose brother Carlo was a big political deal in the area. Luigi’s son was also a successful general in WWII and a famous resistance fighter after 1943 and there are statues and streets named after the Cadornas all over the place. L. Cadorna was chief of staff of the Italian army during the first part of WWI. He was a very nasty guy: he authorized the execution of over 750 soldiers and dismissed 217 officers for incompetence.
That brutality came around to bite him in the butt: Cadorna’s disastrous handling of the Battle at Caporetto got him fired. It also probably helped to inspire some of the the many jokes made at Italy’s expense thereafter (“Have you seen the new Italian battle flag? It’s white with a white cross.”). The Italian army, completely caught off guard at Caporetto and unprepared for the Austro-German army’s use of poison gas, fled in disarray and 275 000 soldiers surrendered. Despite a post-war report that was highly critical of Cadorna, he was made a Field Marshall when Mussolini came to power. Pietro Badoglio was another military leader implicated in the Caporetto disaster. He was the guy that became Italian Prime Minister (briefly) after Mussolini was sacked in 1943.
Stresa, across the lake from Pallanza, was the scene of a 1935 conference between Italy, France and the UK where they reaffirmed their commitment to the division of Europe as determined in the Locarno Treaties and pledged to ensure the continued independence of Austria. Stresa figures in A Farewell to Arms, as does Caporetto, prominently. Stresa is also where the foundations of Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy were developed in 1958. Anyway, in 1935, Mussolini figured that if he hosted the meeting and pretended to be all let’s-protect-the-integrity-of-(Western)-Europe, the neighboring countries might turn a blind eye when he attacked Abyssinia. Wrong.
The Stresa Front was a total flop. The Brits were still trying to appease Hitler and started acting behind the partners’ back, giving Germany the go-ahead to build up its navy and what not. Then Mussolini invaded Abyssinia and the whole thing collapsed.
The next story is only sparsely recorded on the Interwebs and I’ve tried my best to piece it together. In 1944, the Allied forces had invaded Italy and were slowly heading north, where Mussolini’s puppet state held sway. This pushed the German occupiers north as well, into the mountainous district of the Alps and Appenines, which the Italian Resistance used as a major base for their guerrilla attacks. As they retreated up the Italian peninsula, the Germans staged many partisan roundups. This included the collection in June of a group of 43 partisans in the Alps at Valgrande, which may or may not have been a reprisal for 40-odd members of a German garrison that were captured (but not killed) at Fondotoce by the famous resistance fighter Mario Muneghina in late May. That seems likely because after two people died during interrogation at the German command post at Intra, two more were brought in to make up the numbers. This included Cleonice Tomasetti, the only woman in the group. She had been with the partisans about three days and only joined up because of a guy. On 20 June, the 43 partisans were forced to march along the lakeshore from Intra to Pallanza and Suna, up to Fondotoce. They carried a sign reading “Are these the liberators of Italy or are they bandits?”
The partisans were executed in groups of three near the channel separating Lake Mergozzo from Lake Maggiore. Miraculously, one of the partisans — 18-year old Carlo Suzzi — survived. You can read his testimony here (in Italian). He continued to fight for the resistance under the nom de guerre Quarantatre (43). Today, the spot is occupied by the House of Resistance and Park of Memory and Peace, which honors the 1300 partisans from the area who were killed during the war.
Shortly after this, the partisan resistance staged an uprising behind German lines and, under the leadership of the Committee of National Liberation of Upper Italy, established a number of provisional partisan governments in the mountainous northern region. The most prominent of these was the Free Republic of Ossola, in the series of valleys just north of Lago Maggiore. The rebellion was crushed within a couple of months and that was the end of the Free Republic.