by David Downie, just back from the Italian Riviera, an opinion piece
There’s a reason “Wreck-Oh!” is the irreverent nickname for Recco, the Italian Riviera’s self-styled “culinary capital” and probable birthplace of the cheese-filled delicacy focaccia con formaggio.
This once-charming seaside village was flattened by RAF and USAF bombers in an 8-month period from summer 1943 to spring 1944. The goal: blow up the railroad viaduct spanning the Recco River. The Allies ran 20 bombing raids on Recco, a small place, smaller than an American shopping mall. The effects were devastating. Only a few buildings — and the railway viaduct — were left standing. Hundreds of people died.
Since everyone on the Riviera lives to be about 100, many in Recco remember those raids. Most are not Fascist sympathizers. They wish the Allies had had better aim.
The bombing raids explain the abundance of unexploded munitions: discoveries of bombs are frequent even now. A big one – 500 pounds – dropped by the USAF was unearthed a few days ago. A new apartment building is going up in Recco. When the bulldozers got down to the foundations the bomb was revealed. It’s too rusty to be disarmed on the spot. So, fittingly, on Sunday, January 16 the bomb will be blown up – hopefully not on site. It will be eased from its bed and taken to Savona and blown up there. Unless something goes wrong. That’s way the entire town is being evacuated – 4, 442 residents – and the highway and freeway closed. Train service will be cut. Everything will be closed. Anyone hoping to eat focaccia con formaggio will have to look elsewhere (go to Camogli and eat at La Rotonda — the chef is from Recco; see my Rotonda blog post).
The other day I was reading about the bomb at a local caffè a few miles from Recco. In “Il Corriere Mercantile,” the regional business daily, I paused and reread a sentence. My blood – the blood of someone whose mother was in the Italian Resistenza, and whose father fought in Italy during the war – rose in temperature.
In the article, an elderly gentlemen from Recco was quoted (though no attribution was given) as saying that the bill for shutting down the town and blowing up the bomb should be sent to the White House. Yes: the White House.
This is the kind of sli
ery, sideways Fascist nostalgia that we’re seeing more and more of in Italy — and elsewhere. The decades have passed. People forget. The young are ignorant (sound familiar?). The real, authentic Fascists of Mussolini’s day were not cuddly and neither are their heirs, who run several Italian regions or cities. Mussolini’s Fascists assassinated dissenters, tortured people (including my grandfather), and destroyed families of those on the political left. They passed the “Racial Laws” of 1938 and packed off Jews by the thousand, sending them to Nazi camps. The Italian Fascists may not have been as horrible as the Nazis or the Soviet zealots who massacred millions in those ugly years. But they were monstrous in their own right.
I calmly put down the newspaper but couldn’t help pointing out to others at the caffè that if the bill for the bomb were to be sent to the White House, then maybe the White House should in turn send a bill to Rome and Berlin. Those bills would include the phenomenal cost in lives and treasure of removing the Fascists and Nazis, and keeping the Soviets from taking over Western Europe, including Italy.
I also pointed out that the vintage gentlemen in Recco should be among the first to thank the Allies. They did their best not to kill the locals during the war, and it was thanks to the Allies that this gentleman had been able to spout nonsense for the last 65 years, in liberty, and with remarkable prosperity. Much to my surprise everyone present in the caffè agreed, and derided the stupidity of the elderly gentleman in Recco who’d made the egregious, unattributed remark.
Then came the inevitable talk about my family, and about the lamentable state of affairs in Italy and America. “You have your own brand of Fascism now,” said one good fellow (no attribution – I am a citizen reporter, and this isn’t the New York Times). Sadly, I had to agree with him. What most people forget, or do not know, is that Fascism in Italy and elsewhere was triumphant in part because it was a movement that combined populism, ignorance, fear and a denunciation of a flawed democratic system, a system in desperate need of reform – as is ours today. Fascism though populist was funded by the super-rich, with backing by reactionary Catholics. It appealed to the rich as a means to thwart Communism. It appealed to the middle classes for the same reason, and to the poor, because it promised full employment. The Fascists drew cross-hairs on their enemies, and long before they actually took power in Rome, they systematically attacked, murdered and brutalized rivals, all the while presenting themselves as a new, fresh, people’s movement, a movement that would at least free il popolo from the ills of an inefficient government.
Recco has a bomb in the heart of its cheese focaccia, and we have many bomblets scattered around the country, waiting to explode. Will we in America ever learn from the past? The saddest truth is this:some Americans have taken the lessons of history to heart. They have learned to imitate the populist fear-and-hate mongers, populists who will have you believe that government is not the answer, it’s the problem. The problem with that catchy line is that it’s a lie and it’s designed to wreck democracy in America. We are the government. We the people. The corporations and banks and the billionaires who fund political movements have no business running our government. So next time you hear ignoramuses gloating over how they’re going to dismantle “the bureaucracy” and go after the crooks in Washington, don’t let them get away with it.
(Photos: Recco before the war: Comune di Recco; Recco bombardment: liguri.net; focaccia con formaggio: atala.blog)
David Downie is author of Food Wine Burgundy and Food Wine Rome. He loves honest, terroir food, hates artifice. He can spot chemicals in wine before it even gets to the back of his mouth.