Top Secret Literature and History

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The Piedmont of history and literature has in the Hills of Wine some of its most special places. From the vineyard of the first President of the Republic, Luigi Einaudi, to Dogliani and those of the Count of Cavour in Grinzane where he was mayor for 17 years, from the castle of King Carlo Alberto, still engaged in parties and carefree adventures in Verduno, to the cellars of Santa Vittoria where he, with the brothers Cinzano, began production of sparkling wine in Piedmont (but the first to do so was Gancia at Canelli), but also the Royal Castle of Govone where his uncle Carlo Felice loved to spend the summer and the Castle of San Martino Alfieri opposite, where he prepared the draft of the Albertine Statute. Not to mention the Tenuta di Fontanafredda, where Vittorio Emanuele loved to retire with his morganatic wife Rosa Vercellana and the passage of the other great beauty of the Risorgimento, the Countess of Castiglione, cousin of Cavour, who was the lover of Napoleon III and the essential pawn in the agreements of Plombiéres. And speaking of Napoleon, here he fought battles of his Italian Campaign with the grande Corso, was held at the fort at Ceva and was defeated at the pedaggera in Paroldo.
Not to mention the glorious Roman past, whose ruins recall the names of Augusta Bagiennorum, Pollentia (where Stilicone stopped Alaric's Goths for the last time), Alba and Hasta Pompeia, to Acquae Statiellae in whose names we still remember their extermination by a Ligurian consul censured by the Senate, the ignoble Marco Popilio Lenate, while other place names tell of an Emperor, Publius Pertinax, whose name still echoes in the hills of Barbaresco. But it is perhaps the literature, more the stories than the history, that make one fall in love with Piedmont and its locations on the map. The hills of moons and bonfires that Cesare Pavese describes at Santo Stefano are perhaps the most poignant of the twentieth century, while the ancestral struggle of Fenoglio’s damned peasant is found everywhere for the millions of Agostino sent to servitude in infinite Pavaglioni around the world; the magnitude of Beppe Fenoglio is here: in his universality and in his ability to tell of the alienation of a (partisan) war on hills that the writer himself had always thought of as the natural theatre of his love. The pages of Pavese and Fenoglio (but also of Augusto Monti, Davide Lajolo, and Nuto Revelli) are therefore a guide to the Langhe of the Soul, to the spirit and to the essence of the langhetti: perhaps the only possible guide for truly understanding these hills.
Alba and Fenoglio
Beppe Fenoglio wrote the novel that a whole generation craved, published posthumously when we had given up hope, and it is thanks to "a private matter" that we know that a season was really accomplished. These are the words of Italo Calvino in the preface of the most beautiful novel of twentieth century, perhaps unfinished, perhaps truly private, a story of war and love all "winding" between the city of Alba and her Langhe. Today these act as a lookout, a bench, a path or a handful of houses which remember with quiet gratitude this self-effacing man of few words who could deliver, in a handful of novels, an epic in these hills - whether partisan or peasant farmer - that same momentum from Greek mythology to Cromwell which fascinated him in his classical studies. The opening words of his books are gunshots that would madden a Hollywood screenwriter, his heroes (or antiheroes) Milton, Augustine, Johnny, are true but somehow transfigured, partisans and servants but above all "men in their normal human dimension" and therefore immense, alone up there on the last hill summit in the evening. Forever.
Barbaresco and Pertinace
Climbing from Alba to Barbaresco one meets numerous place names all connected to the figure of the Roman Emperor Publius Pertinax. The hamlet of San Rocco Seno d'Elvio, that of Pertinace, the Roman road that climbs Mount Aribaldo to the Martinenga farmhouse, once called Villa Matris (perhaps the birthplace of the Emperor?) and then corrupted to Martis (to celebrate military glories or a simple transcription/diction error?). It matters little in the end. What does matter is that the Roman general elected Emperor by the Praetorian Guard in 192 after the assassination of the terrible Commodus, was really a man of Alba, although he had become half-Empire (upon his bust in the square which bears his name are marked all the provinces in which he served Rome) and this demonstrates the importance that the city of Alba Pompeia held in the second century AD. Tenacious, honest and well-intentioned, he was not to govern long: three months later his soldiers, disgruntled by his honesty, murdered him, preferring the corrupt Didio Giuliano.
Cherasco and Napoleon
Napoleon Bonaparte cut his teeth with the Italian Campaign, that is, the invasion of the peninsula in which he met no great obstacles ... that is, once past the Piedmontese army which indeed gave him a very hard time. Bypassing the Alps, Napoleon entered Piedmont from the Apennines judging them easier to conquer but, after the battle of Loano, was contained at the fort at Ceva (which was the scene of an intense battle) and, in a clash at the pedaggera at Ceva, the French were defeated. The battle of Mondovì opened the road to Turin, the Po valley, and victories over the Austrians. Peace was signed at the Palazzo Salmatoris (now the home of the Mostre family) at Cherasco in 1796 (where the end of the War of Succession of Monferrato was confirmed in 1631).
Dogliani and Einaudi
Dogliani is a quiet village beyond the hills of Barolo –here indeed an excellent Dolcetto is produced which bears its name. A microcosm where perhaps a righteous and prophetic man could watch the world outside, drawing conclusions often bitter but truthful. This man was Luigi Einaudi, born in Carrù but raised here, where we find the family home and where his cousins still produce wines. The book is "Useless Sermons" in which all the modern ills of our country already exist in a nutshell. Einaudi, first President of the Republic, world-renowned economist, rector of the University of Turin and Governor of the Bank of Italy, was perhaps the last of the great politicians of Piedmont for whom the burden was an honour and the service a duty.
Fontanafredda and Vittorio Emanuele II
Vittorio Emanuele II loved three things: war, hunting and women. He did not deny any of his passions but perhaps loved only one woman: Rosa Vercellana, daughter of a drummer that the then Prince had spotted in Moncalvo before she was 16 years old. Appointed Countess of Mirafiori and then his morganatic wife (that is, without access to the succession) Bela Rosin (as Vittorio called her in dialect) was a discreet protagonist of the Risorgimento, perhaps the only one who understood and mitigated the impulsive and plain-speaking impetus of the Sovereign. Tenuta di Fontanafredda was their retreat between hunting and wine (the wine cellars are wonderful), a private corner of peace and intimacy away from the eyes of the world and the national interest.
Govone and Carlo Felice
Carlo Felice resided at the castle of Govone every summer. His reign was not long and to tell the truth he did not wish to become King ... all the Savoy rulers have particular biographies. In any case he ruled better than as described in books: he certainly was not a liberal but he founded the Egyptian Museum, reformed the penal code and rejected slavery (not that it was still being practised in the Kingdom), created the Cassa di Risparmio di Torino and first insurance company (the Reale Mutua). Famously, his funeral epitaph, pronounced in 1831 by the Bishop of Annecy, was "Gentlemen, we here today bury the monarchy". In fact, with Carlo Felice the main line of the House of Savoy was extinguished and the throne passed to the Carignano branch of the family, of which the dissolute and revolutionary Carlo Alberto was the rightful claimant. At Govone, unmissable, in addition to the monumental staircase and the grotesques, the Chinese rooms are among the best in Europe, while the gardens in bloom are beautiful in spring.
Grinzane and Cavour
Count Camillo Benso di Cavour is one of the most popular figures of the Risorgimento. Many have studied his politics, his diplomatic manoeuvres, his visions and the strategies that earned him the nickname “The Weaver” (but surely he preferred the praise of his enemy Metternich, Chancellor of the Habsburgs, "there is only one politician today Europe, and unfortunately he is against us "). What is perhaps less well known is that Cavour was the mayor of Grinzane for 17 years, that Cavour was also a modernizer in agriculture and a passionate vigneron who engaged the French oenologist Louis Oudart from Geneva to improve the wine so special that the Marchioness Falletti (another French national, Juliette Colbert, the great-granddaughter of the Minister of Louis XIV) decided to name it after the village where he resided: Barolo.
Santo Stefano Belbo and Pavese
Cesare Pavese, who was born there, describes Santo Stefano Belbo as "four houses and a large mire" but does so with affection, as if to fix an atavistic peasant identity he felt would be lost after the war. The writer dedicated many short stories and a novel to his home village, "The Moon and the Bonfires" which, through his masterly written words, cemented that ancestral legacy, so delivering that mire to the great literature of the twentieth century. The Foundation dedicated to him is the place to visit to find in the village and in the hills surrounding it the atmosphere and the locations of the novel. On parade for the tourist are il Nido, la Mora, il Salto, Gaminella hill, the house of Nuto and the spirit of that cousin who had gone to seek his fortune in America: Silvio, who Cesare envied a little – empathetically and in literature - not yet knowing that the America of his dreams would become –thanks to him- the Langa of today.

Verduno and Carlo Alberto
Carlo Alberto was a great king, not for his battles (he was defeated and exiled) but for his deep innovative strength. The ideas of his youth remained in embryo in him and in his friends and, when he unexpectedly came to the throne, a new generation of politicians and thinkers took power in Turin. The most important fruit of this was the Albertine Statute, the basis of our Constitution, which was the first (after Poland) and most modern constitution of the time. Carlo Alberto also found time to devote to agricultural modernization with the founding of the Agenzia di Pollenzo (where now stands the University of Gastronomic Sciences), experimentation upon Spumante and Vermouth in Santa Vittoria (whose historic monumental cellars are amazing) and the production of Barolo, his faithful winemaker Staglieno in Verduno where he acquired the castle in 1838. In those cellars Barolo is still produced, while in a mirror in the dining room (now the castle is a charming hotel-restaurant) one can still read his signature and those of all the guests invited to some-or-other reception.
Barolo and Juliette Colbert
Juliette Colbert was born in the Vendée, the region brutalized by French revolutionaries who killed more than 300,000, mostly civilians. Her grandmother, like many of her family, had been guillotined during the Terror but she took refuge in Holland. Napoleon introduced her to her future husband, the Marquis Carlo Tancredi Falletti, the last scion of one of the richest dynasties in Piedmont. At the time of The Restoration, she and her husband moved to Turin and Barolo, where she had the insight to so name that so-special wine produced in its lands. She was beautiful and cultured but, instead of devoting herself to dancing and luxuries, devoted her entire life to works of charity. It was the lament of a prisoner who asked for soup instead of prayers which marked her forever: thanks to her position and knowledge she was appointed Superintendent of Prisons by Carlo Felice, beginning an extraordinary programme of improvements in the prison system, especially for women's prisons. Then came shelters for the homeless, soup kitchens, schools for ex-prisoners and single mothers, the first nursery in Italy. As a widow, she continued her work until the end, founding the Opera Pia Barolo and spending all of the fabulous wealth of the Falletti, 12 million lire, the budget of a state, to help the poor.
Bra and Cottolengo
It was a young mother who died of tuberculosis abandoned in a barn in 1827 who dictated the mission of Giuseppe Cottolengo, who was born in Bra to wealthy Provencal fabric merchants. As in the Apology of St. Martin, the young priest was stripped of all possessions and dedicated his life to the poor, founding the Little House of Divine Providence in Turin that everyone still calls by his name. Cottolengo was the first social institution created to alleviate the suffering of the masses of poor people who swelled the ranks of the first urban proletariat in Turin. And its mission is to welcome and care for the sick, the elderly, the homeless: in short, the lowliest. Cottolengo died not by chance in a typhus epidemic in Chieri aged just 56 years. Sanctified in 1934, he was the first of the so-called Piedmontese social Saints which include Don Bosco and Giuseppe Cafasso.

Text ©Pietro Giovannini

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