Monday, 18 May 2015

Another look at the Piave

Since the last blog post I've received much feedback via email and Facebook on two topics in particular.  

One subject was the position of the Sas Levado on the river Piave.  

The Sas Levado (in Cadorino the name means 'rock raised up') is a big rock in the river just to the north of Ospitale.  

It caused the river to split into two narrow channels of fast-moving water and marked the most dangerous place on the river for the raftsmen, the zattieri di Codissago, who worked the hazardous stretch of river between Perarolo and Codissago.

The watercolour by Napoleone Cozzi  above shows a zattera (multi-sectioned raft) in trouble on this stretch of the Piave. 

Map showing the position of the Sas Levado
[Carte e Piante Turistiche Tobacco sheet 21]

I have marked the position of the Sas Levado with a red asterisk on the map to the left.  If the name 'Ospitale' reminds you of the word 'hospital' then there good reason for that.  I am much obliged to Milo Mazzucco of Ospitale for advising me as regards the position of the Sas Levado on the river.

As well as being the site of a hospice on the old pilgrim route north, Ospitale was where the injured or dying zattieri were cared for.

The Sas Levado in the mist to the north of Ospitale [courtesy Milo Mazzucco]

This photo of the Sas Levado taken by Milo Mazzucco shows the water level in the river Piave as it is now.  Upriver a series of dams draw off water for HEP and crop irrigation.  

In the nineteenth century the water level was much higher and the water really raced through these narrow channels.  The zattieri needed all of their strength and skill to keep a heavily-laden multi-section raft from hitting the rocks.

The Registry of Deaths in Perarolo for the year 1792 record that on May 5th alone six zattieri died on this stretch of the river, five of them bearing the same family name, Olivier.  

The eldest was a capozattieri of sixty-eight years, the  youngest, whose body wasn't found for another three weeks, was a youth of a mere sixteen years.

Napoleone Cozzi was a famous Alpine climber and artist.

The Italian Navy in port in Trieste [Courtesy Luigi Boatto]
Cozzi's fine watercolours are held in at the Centro Regionale di Catalogazione e Restauro dei Beni Culturali - they are from the private collection of the Società Alpina delle Giulie in Trieste.

In 1915 Trieste was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, so at first I thought this postcard of the time showed the Austrian navy in port at Trieste. But Giancarlo Soravia's eyes are sharper than mine (thanks, Carlo!).  He wrote to me by email to point out that the ship seen in the centre of the picture is flying the Italian flag!  And there was more... 

The red and white colours (to the left of the postcard) are not those Austria as I thought at first, but those of Savoy (pictured left).  The shield at the far left of the bottom left-hand corner of the postcard shows the Trieste Coat of Arms.  The sword symbolizes the protection of Savoy over the region.

But why the date 1915 on the postcard?  After all, Trieste didn't become part of Italy until 1918, at the end of the First World War. Perhaps a simple misprint? 

No... I think the answer lies in the pact Italy signed on the 26th April 1915 in London (known in English as the Treaty of London  and in Italian as the Patto di Londra).  Trieste was one of the rewards to be handed to Italy at the end of WW1 if she declared war on Austria and Germany.  

So I think the postcard was printed in 1918, and the date '1915' signifies the date of the pact signed in London - that is to say that Italy wished to signify retrospective ownership of the Trieste region, if only by means of signatures on a secret document.  Please, if you know more about this issue, do write to me by email or through Facebook!  

The postcard features the stirring words of the Italian poet Carducci.  The photograph to the right is of the great poet towards the end of his days.  He was awarded the Nobel prize for Literature in 1906, a year before his death.

Carducci wrote a long poem entitled 'Cadore'.  The poem is in three parts, and below are the opening verses from part III, together with an English poetic rendition of the same.  

The whole poem and more of Carducci's poetry can be found in G L Bickersteth's book 'Carducci'. For this reference and much more I am indebted to Giancarlo Soravia in Venas di Cadore. 

You can find the whole poem in English in Giancarlo's 
GLOSSARIO ITALIANO - LADINO CADORINO DI VENAS under section C-D.   I came across Carlo's wonderful archive many years ago and wrote to him at the time asking for help in matters relating to the fragments of Cadorino and Bellunese speech that were needed for my book The Door of Perarolo.  Ever since, over the intervening years, he has been most generous with his help and advice.  I can thoroughly recommend the archive to anyone interested in the history and culture of Cadore.  It is a real treasure trove, containing many fascinating articles.

Note that the last verse in Carducci's poem (above) refers directly to the cidolo at Perarolo. 

Between 15 and 23 June 1918 the Italian army fought the the Austro-Hungarian army along the Piave River, a battle which ended in a decisive victory for Italy.  This was the nation's finest hour - the war finally ending with a further victory by the Italians at the Battle of Vittorio Veneto in November.

The war ended, Trieste became part of Italy.  The postcard above (thanks once again to Luigi Boatto in Cadore) shows Trieste at the time of the visit of the Italian King Victor Emmanuel III in November 1918.

There is one further link to Trieste - it is through the great naval engineer Andrea Salvini who organised the building of ships at Venice under both the Austrian and the French occupations.  In the Door of Perarolo I bring out the enmity that existed between Jean Marguerite Tupinier - another fine [French] naval engineer - and Salvini.  Salvini plotted against the French, of that there is no doubt  - there are plenty of well-documented accounts of his attempts to stir up rebellion in the Venice shipyards - but he also despised the Austrians!  

The French left Venice in 1814 after Napoleon I's first abdication. In 1819 Andrea Salvini suffered a stroke, collapsed and died.  He was in in his fiftieth year.  Above is the cover of my copy of Mario Marzari's book about Salvini.  In 1798 Salvini's nephew Gaspare Tonello was born to Catherine Salvini (Andrea's sister) and John Tonello.  By 1819 he was professor at the Imperial Regia Scuola Nautica di Trieste, a post he held for thirty years.  In his time in Trieste, Tonello made major improvements to the organisation of the shipyards and opened a new, larger, shipyard for the construction of the Conte Kolowrat.  Andrea Salvini's life and work is celebrated in Marzari's book and also in a major exhibition held in Trieste some years ago.  

At the start of this post I mentioned that there were two topics in particular that have caused much correspondence.  The first was the Sas Levado and the second topic was the Bus de le Zate.

While in Belluno in that trip of 1998, I spent a day in  the library there working through books and making notes.  I came across Franco Losso's very informative article Fiumane, Zattieri e Ponti (in  Zattere, zattieri e menadas: la fluitazione del legname lungo il Piave, a cura di Daniela Perco, Castellavazzo, Comune di Castellavazzo – Fameia dei zatter, 1988).  The final paragraph the article (in translation) reads:
Along the first stage, among the so many risky points, the Sas Levado was, for the zattieri, perhaps the one of maximum danger; it rose more to north of Ospitale, and the school children were usually anxious to assist, every morning, to the mishaps of the zattieri in the crossing of the famous Bus de le Zate.  Man has no memory of the first copula of a zattera ever smashed down against the gravelly bed, neither the last man clinging to the spuntèr (wreckage).

From this I was able to deduce the approximate location of the Sas Levado.  But the Bus de le Zate?  Until this month putting 'Bus de le Zate' into Google produced only references to The Door of Perarolo!
(Giancarlo Soravia has remedied that now by adding an entry in his Glossario.)  From the start of the researching of The Door of Perarolo in the 1990s to the publication of the Kindle version (the paperback is now being progressed) in 2013 I was unable to determine what the Bus de le Zate actually was.  But from the name ('bus' means hole while 'Zate' are the rafts - zattere in Italian) and the context of Bus de le Zate of the paragraph above, I decided that the term Bus de le Zate must refer the rapids beyond the Sas Levado.  An that is how the Bus de le Zate is portrayed in The Door of Perarolo.

However, The Door of Perarolo  covers the years 1810 to 1814. Franco Losso was almost certainly writing about the zattieri of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, from accounts gleaned from those still alive those who had lived through those times.  During the nineteenth century the Industrial Revolution had spread across Europe.  Sawmills began to proliferate along the stretch of water between Perarolo and Codissago and by 1858 there were five sawmills in operation along the river between Rivalgo and Ospitale alone. 
The Bus de le Zate  at Ospitale [courtesy Milo Mazzucco]

Dams were constructed to allow the tree trunks that were floated downriver to be taken out for the mills.  But, in each case, a passageway for the zattere was required, and this was called the Bus de le Zate.  It can be seen in Napoleone Cozzi's watercolour sketches above.

I'm grateful to Milo Mazzucco of Ospitale and Arnaldo Olivier of Codissago for explaining all this to me.  Milo points out that the painting above greatly exaggerates the rate of descent of a raft passing through the opening in the dam wall.  The photograph to the left shows how things really were, for example, at Ospitale.  Another error in the painting is the portrayal of the way the sections of raft were joined - the actual mechanism used was much more clever, sophisticated and robust.  Also, the zattera would have left Perarolo heavily laden with a cargo of timber - it wasn't a machine for pleasure trips!

Amelia Edwards in her book Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys (published in 1873) gives us an insight on how things were in her time. This formidable woman had arrived at Longarone for an overnight stay in the inn (the Albergo La Posta - in The Door of Perarolo I based my description of the inn where Padrig and Lucia worked around the detailed account given by Amelia Edwards) yet she was up the next morning at six o'clock:

Of course I went at once in search of the view of Castel Lavazzo, and finding it really characteristic of the Val di Piave, succeeded in sketching it before it was time to return to breakfast. 
By nine, we were on the road again, following the narrow gorge that was soon to lead us into the real world of Dolomite. The morning was now alternately bright and showery, and the dark, jagged peaks that closed in the distance were of just that rich, deep, incredible ultra-marine blue that Titian loved and painted so often in his landscape backgrounds.
Castel Lavazzo [sketch by Amelia Edwards]

At Termine, a little timber-working hamlet noisy with saw-mills, about a mile beyond Castel Lavazzo, the defile narrows so suddenly that one gigantic grey and golden crag seems to block the end of the village street. The women here are handsome, and wear folded cloths upon their heads as in the hills near Rome; and the men wear wooden clogs, as at Lugano. A slender waterfall wavers down the face of a cliff on the opposite side of the river. Primitive breakwaters, like huge baskets of rude wickerwork filled with stones, here stem the force of the torrent brawling through its narrow bed; and some of these have held their place so long that young trees have had time to take root and flourish in them. Next comes Ospitale, another little brown-roofed hamlet perched on a green rise like Castel Lavazzo (the name of the town has changed several times down the years), with the usual cluster of saw-mills and saw-pits down by the water's edge; and now, entering the commune of Perarolo in a smart shower, we rattle through a succession of tiny villages built in the Swiss way, with wooden balconies, outer staircases, and deep projecting eaves. In most of these places, it being now between ten and eleven o'clock A.M., the good people are sitting in their doorways dining primitively out of wooden bowls.

So we go on; and so the Piave, greenish grey in colour, interrupted by a thousand rapids, noisy, eager, headlong, comes ever rushing towards us, and past us, and away to the sea. So, too, the brown and golden pine-trunks come whirling down with the stream. It is curious to watch them in their course. Some come singly, some in crowds. Some blunder along sideways in a stupid, buffeted, bewildered way. Some plunge madly up and down. Some run races. Some get tired, rest awhile under shelter of the bank, and then, with a rouse and a shake, dash back again into the throng. Others creep into little stony shallows, and there go to sleep for days and weeks together; while others, again, push straight ahead, nose first, as if they knew what they were about, and were bent on getting to their journey's end as quickly as possible.

We've reached our journey's end, too, in this post.  In the next post we will pick up the thread of my 1998 diary, having arrived in early September at Castelfranco.  I would like to thank all the many people who have
contributed to this month's post.  One person I haven't mentioned above is Nadine Agnoli.  Nadine lives in Trichiana, south of Belluno, but was originally from Perarolo. Nadine has been very helpful to me this month by providing useful contacts and doing much to promote interest in this blog in Italy.

Last, but certainly not least, I would like to thank all those lovely Aussi-Italians in Melbourne, Australia, who have given me such kind words of encouragement.  Special thanks to Luisa Simiane of the Facebook group Paesani del Nord Italia and Linda Sbisa of the Facebook group Triestini Riuniti e tutti dal Nord Italia. Grazie, amici!  

Note: This blog supports readers of The Door of Perarolo, a historical novel set in Cadore, Italy in the early nineteenth century.  You can examine feedback from readers in the UK here and in the US here.  The Door of Perarolo is a Kindle ebook comprising 140 chapters.  It can be downloaded from Amazon sites worldwide. The launch post of this blog gives further details.  The second post provides links to maps, etc.

If you'd like to track these blog posts, you can follow me, Peter Alexander Gray, on Facebook.

1 comment:

  1. There are some wonderfully chosen images here to really enliven and illustrate the text.