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Monday, April 27, 2015

Liberation Day: The Politics of "Bella Ciao"



RST attended three April 25, 2015 Liberation Day ceremonies.  At 2 of them, and possibly 3 (we left before the end of the 3rd one, televised by RAI 1), the "Bella Ciao" anthem was sung.  To further understanding of the importance of the song and its place in Italian culture, we are republishing a revealing 2010 piece by writer and translator Frederika Randall.  Following her commentary, Randall presents the song's lyrics in Italian and English.


Frederika Randall returns as guest blogger with this post, that begins with a curious but telling incident at a Rome public school. Randall has written about Italian society, the arts, literature, film and culture for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and now reports on politics for the Nation and the Italian weekly Internazionale. She lives in Rome.


The G.G. Belli is a middle school in Prati, named, as state schools in Italy are, for famous men--in this case, the great 19th C Romanesco sonneteer Giuseppe Gioachino Belli. (Just about the only schools honoring famous women are those named after female saints and martyrs.) On an ordinary day, not much happens at the G.G. Belli beyond the usual stuff that happens in a school full of budding teenagers. But May 27 was no ordinary day.

The school orchestra had been invited to the Education Ministry in Trastevere, to give a special concert for several illustrious members of the Berlusconi adminstration including the Undersecretary for Education, a certain Giuseppe Pizza (I had to look him up, a former Christian Democrat politician, I learned from the Corriere della Sera, who never merited a single dispatch by the national wire service ANSA in his first forty years of service.)

And so the kids performed their program and after they had finished, they played, by way of an encore, a few bars of Bella Ciao, a rousing partisan song dear to the Italian Resistance, and a piece of music known around the world.

Bad choice.

Minutes later, the Belli’s principal was fit to be tied. She immediately dashed off a letter to the teaching staff, students and parents calling the encore rendition “a deplorable act” and suggesting it had been prompted by some unnamed adults.

So what was wrong with playing Bella Ciao?
Only a few years ago the anti-Fascist Resistance was practically sacred in Italy, for it was the resistance movement that had battled the Nazi invaders and the Fascist dictatorship and gave birth to the Italian Republic in 1946, and the constitution in 1948. But for some on the right, Berlusconi among them, the Resistance smacks of disobedience, of insurrection, of the Communist brigades among the partisans who fought Mussolini and who some once feared would inherit power after the war. Berlusconi--who regularly campaigns on an anti-Communist platform despite the fact that the Italian Communist Party was dissolved in 1991, before he entered politics—not only governs with the support of the former neo-Fascists, he has often had kind words for Mussolini, who he seems to think has an underserved bad rep. A lot of people on the right don’t like Bella Ciao. In parts of Northern Italy, where the extreme rightists-separatists of the Northern League govern, the song was banned this year on April 25, Liberation Day.

We can only guess that the Belli school principal had all these facts in mind when she chastised the kids for playing Bella Ciao. The performance had “cast a lingering shadow of discredit, placing the entire school in difficulty,” she warned. “We must never forget our duties toward our hosts,” she added, urging the parents to send letters of apology to the ministry. God knows these are grim days for school budgets, but her reaction seemed, well, a little excessive.

The parents thought so, too.
After a flurry of organizing on Facebook, a little group of kids and parents (see above left) turned out one morning to sing Bella Ciao in front of the school as the students were going in. For a video of the event, see http://tv.repubblica.it/copertina/bella-ciao-al-belli:-un-coro-contro-la-censura/48424?video
******

Prequel: In the summer of 2008 my husband and I were traveling through Montpelier, Vermont when we heard a busker playing Bella Ciao on the street. “It’s a beautiful old Italian partisan song,” the musician told Vittorio, who’s not only Italian but old enough (just) to remember the Resistance. They sang it together, Vittorio in Italian and the busker in English.
Strange to say, there is some uncertainty about the origins of the song. Although there’s general agreement on the lyrics, they do vary slightly from rendition to rendition. Those below come from Wikipedia, which also offers several English translations. Mine, below, is an attempt to provide a singable text that follows the meter of the Italian. To that end—sorry about that--some of the Italian words have been preserved.

Most musicologists believe Bella Ciao was adapted from a work song of the mondine, the women who worked in the rice fields of northern Italy, standing knee-deep in cold water, picking out tiny weeds. But recently, an amateur musical historian noticed that the melody of Bella Ciao was astonishingly similar to a klezmer song called Koilen, recorded in 1919 in New York by a Gypsy klezmer performer from Odessa named Mishka Tsiganoff. It was theorized that perhaps the song had made its way to Italy via returning Italian immigrants in the 1930s. Although an Italian origin is more likely, it does seem odd that a work song (and a stirring resistance melody) would be so melancholy, so minor key, as this one.

And now, for the good news: for the first time in many years, the National Association of Italian Partisans not only didn’t shrink in size as its members aged and died, but actually grew by some 20,000 members, many of them young people from 18-30 years of age.
So maybe there is a future for the Resistance after all.

Bella Ciao [this version is devoted to the Iranian dissidents]





Una mattina mi son svegliato,
o bella, ciao! bella, ciao! bella, ciao, ciao, ciao!
Una mattina mi son svegliato,
e ho trovato l'invasor.
O partigiano, portami via,
o bella, ciao! bella, ciao! bella, ciao, ciao, ciao!
O partigiano, portami via,
ché mi sento di morir.
E se io muoio da partigiano,
(E se io muoio sulla montagna)
o bella, ciao! bella, ciao! bella, ciao, ciao, ciao!
E se io muoio da partigiano,
(E se io muoio sulla montagna)
tu mi devi seppellir.
E seppellire lassù in montagna,
(E tu mi devi seppellire)
o bella, ciao! bella, ciao! bella, ciao, ciao, ciao!
E seppellire lassù in montagna,
(E tu mi devi seppellire)
sotto l'ombra di un bel fior.
Tutte le genti che passeranno,
(E tutti quelli che passeranno)
o bella, ciao! bella, ciao! bella, ciao, ciao, ciao!
Tutte le genti che passeranno,
(E tutti quelli che passeranno)
Mi diranno «Che bel fior!»
(E poi diranno «Che bel fior!»)
«È questo il fiore del partigiano»,
(E questo è il fiore del partigiano)
o bella, ciao! bella, ciao! bella, ciao, ciao, ciao!
«È questo il fiore del partigiano,
(E questo è il fiore del partigiano)
morto per la libertà!»
(che e' morto per la liberta')

--Anonymous


And here, in English is that “beautiful old Italian partisan song”

Early one morning, as I was waking
Oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao,
Early one morning, as I was waking,
I found the foe was at my door.

O partigiano, please take me with you
Oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao,
O partigiano, please take me with you,
For something tells me I must die.

If I should die then, as a partigiano,
If I should die in the hills, in the hills up there,
If I should die then, die in the hills there,
Then you must dig for me a grave.

Up in the hills there, dig me a grave then,
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella cia, ciao, ciao,
Up in the hills there, lay me to rest there,
There in the shade of a flowering tree.

So all who pass by, so all who pass by,
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao,
So all who pass by, so all who pass by,
Will see a splendid flowering tree.

The flower of freedom, of the partigiano,
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao,
The flower of freedom, of the partigiano,
Who died so all may now be free.
It’s the flower of freedom, of the partigiano,
Who died so all may now be free.

--tr F. Randall

2 comments:

Gerald said...

Bella story! I now have Bella Ciao running continuously in my head with images of Iranians in green ribbons and facepaint. Inspiring. Thanks for this and the other wonderful narratives in this set, especially the German evening at the Academia. Bella Bill and Dianne!

凱文 said...

令人心動的好文章~~.........................