From the hills of San Martino Tanaro1
Sixth period of the autumnal Era
divided into six twenty day periods.
Dear Friend from Montafia2
The other day Riccio wrote me a terrible threatening letter, summoning me to render an account of my strange behavior towards my friends. In your regard he wrote me that you wrote that I never wrote you. As you see I cannot free myself from this thicket of writings without writing my defense: similia similibus curantur3 says the medical proverb.
Well then, as an excuse I’ll give you a view of my situation this past month. I will be brief because time is limited and I still have to send circular letters of my excuse to others including Riccio and Motta.4
From the first half of September my house saw the beginning of the parade of visitors from Turin wanting to enjoy the delights of the country, more solito.5 Now imagine what a strain it must have been for me to live amidst all the commotion these new people brought into my life. It was up to me to do the honors of the house. It was up to me to arrange for all those poor tourists to be satiated with the joys of the country, so as not to return to Turin bored and disappointed. So I had to accompany them to visit the town’s points of interest, the trigonometric and the topographical points of the principal heights, in short the most noteworthy places of this microscopic village. And then add (cursed word6, it slipped from my pen before I realized it) the terrible news of the Capital’s transfer to Florence that fell upon us.7 Oh this was ugly! Imagine disorder, scuffle, frenzy, anxiety, in short a Babel-like confusion, and you will not be wandering far from the truth in judging my situation in those days. From the Religious House of the Mission,8 Fr. Vandero frightened me with talk of the violent attacks, of nights of St. Sulpice, and of so many similar diabolical acts. My cousins from Turin made me nervous by mailing me the well-known booklets Rome and Turin– Is FlorenceRome?– Osvaldo Osvaldi. My pastor’s fears made me terribly apprehensive as he substantiated his feelings of terror by displaying the evidence of a dozen newspapers of every persuasion. Friends and relatives besieged me from all sides with letters portraying the carnage of the Provisional Government in the darkest possible light. Another cause for fear was the sight of my former teacher’s9 signature at the bottom of the declaration made by the Committee of Public Welfare, on the level of the Parisian Revolutionaries of last century. Add to all this a little concern from my perspective as an owner of a house and land in Turin. Add also the madness of the politician in me which made me sweat bullets for fear of economic upheavals and then judge for yourself whether or not I was possessed by the devil in those crucial moments. Now the question of the Capital has been laid to rest, yet that has not brought me peace of heart regarding the economic future of poor Piedmont which has been sacrificed to an idea.
Let us now enter into another class of events which involve only local rather than national interests. I mean the arrival of certain gentlemen to San Martino: the Lawyer Arrò; the Canon Penitentiary,10 the Canon Spiritual Director, Bishop John Balma, secretary Guigonis, etc. But to honor what Saint are so many priests at San Martino, you will ask. Listen and learn.
I forget if some time back I already told you that my Pastor had prepared a most solemn spiritual celebration for the feast of the Rosary. Now let me tell you that the Honorable Arrò the lawyer came to grace the pulpit with his heartfelt preaching of a triduum to prepare the people of San Martino for the visit of the Prelate of Tolemaide11 to confirm in the faith the young Christians of San Martino on the Tanaro. The two Canons came to lend assistance for the Bishop’s pontifical service and to dispel for awhile the anomaly of having a Bishop without Canons and Canons without a Bishop.12 This having been duly noticed, you should know that for the five or six days preceding the Feast of the Rosary, San Martino really looked like a CapitalCity preparing for the celebration of the Nation’s holiday. All the Municipal, Ecclesiastical, Educational, and other Officials were in perpetual motion. The Pastor was in high gear preparing the Rectory, the Sacristan preparing the Church, the gardener preparing the triumphal arch, the municipality preparing the welcoming greeting, the pyrotechnicians preparing the fireworks, and the seminarian Marello preparing the Inscriptions,13 the clergy preparing the people for Confirmation, the teachers preparing the students for the customary reception songs (parenthetically, excuse me for the huge ink blot that just now fell from the pen in the great passion of my writing), all the town workers busy lending a hand with the wall hangings, decorations, ornamental works, etc. To give you an idea of the immensity of these various tasks, I will just say that the inscriptionist (sem. Marello) had to work on his inscriptions until midnight for two consecutive days.
The festivities for the Bishop’s arrival and during his stay were such that they can be better envisioned with the aid of the imagination than through written description. So I think it more timely to leave the details inside the inkwell and to move on to the third page.
However, I do not want to leave the subject of the San Martino festivities without telling you something about the civil persecution the poor inscriptionist had to undergo. God save you from ignorant people, and especially from the half-educated and know-it-all. After having composed the inscriptions for the triumphal arch and the church door, I was careful to submit them to the Municipal and Ecclesiastical Officials who had given me this commission, so that they might review them before I transcribed them in block letters onto the rectangular boards. Since they had nothing to say about them, I followed through with my task by writing them, assembling them and sending them to be set in place. What do you expect?
The town phlebotomist, accustomed as he is to sticking his blades everywhere, that is wherever there are boils to be lanced, had the amazing audacity to thrust his sharp lancets even into my inscriptions, horribly misinterpreting them. Imagine him persistently blabbing to the four corners of the earth and in his Barbershop headquarters, that the Arch’s inscription was a battle cry for subversion, a subversive motto, a threat to the fatherland, and it was only a great act of clemency that saved the author from being branded a public outcast by the boorish commoners who swallowed the Barber’s bait and took his words as Gospel truth. Oh you lazy phlebotomist! This is too much. You saw on the inscription the words “Fatherland”, “tireless”, and “zealot” and you dare to say that the Bishop was an enemy of the “defenseless14 fatherland.” Oh you people, you people were also crying to throw him to the wolves and with your crude comments you joined in the chants intoned by that licensed beast… Oh Rossetti my friend, even now I am still panting and shivering for fear of undergoing martyrdom, a casualty of misunderstanding!
Now we come to the question of the draft. I seem to have bad luck in everything. Saturday evening I heard the rumor flying through town that the seminarian Marello has drawn his number from the lottery… take a quick guess… number five.15 What anger– I go to benediction, and with poorly concealed smiles and badly feigned compassion everyone tells me that my number was five. This is really something. I go to sleep and dream five. Everyone in town drew over one hundred and I am the only one who has to swallow the bitter pill of five. Sunday morning I go to Mass– I go to a burial, I pass close to someone who hands me a little rolled up piece of paper. At first glance I think it must have something to do with a relative of the deceased passing me the offering, but raising my eyes I realize my mistake, for I am facing the Mayor who is handing me the ticket with my number. I barely have time to offer him cynical thanks for his wicked five… I shove the ill-fated ticket into my pocket and I go to the burial. I felt such abhorrence for that cursed number five that I didn’t want to even see it printed on the ticket. On returning home that evening I was just about to throw it away, when I had the inspiration to look at it… Holy Mother of God…128… I rub my eyes convinced that I’m dreaming… Wow… one..hun..dred..twen..ty..eight. I guarantee you that at that moment I really fell out of the clouds… It could be… There is no other possibility: either it was a cruel trick purposely spreading the rumor that I had drawn the five, or it was an even crueler trick of the Mayor to give me someone else’s ticket. As I write to you, I still have been unable to resolve this tremendous dilemma. I pray God that this trick came from the people avenging themselves for my inscription!!!
I have really applied myself to study Theology and I will not stop until the day I leave here.
Thursday I will have the two Damiassis16 and Fr. Vandero here in San Martino. They come to repay my Saturday visit.
Do I have anything else to tell you? Yes. The main thing. I have to beg you to always keep your most precious friendship with me and to hold me excused for having put off until now my duty to answer your very kind letter of a month ago. I await a letter from Montafia bringing me news of your present state and telling me if you still continue to love your old friend with the same affection.
I beg you to kindly overlook my poor and hurried writing — what counts is there — my heart, I mean.
The letter is written from San Martino Alfieri (Asti), which was called San Martino Tanaro until April 12, 1898, when it began to be called San Martino Alfieri in honor of the noble family who owned the castle. ↩
The addressee of this letter, cleric friend Stephen Rossetti, was born at Montafia on August 31, 1843.Ordained with Marello on September 19, 1868, he was Parochial Vicar at Cortanze (appointed November22, 1868), much esteemed Rector of the Seminary of Asti from 1884 to 1901, and Canon of the Cathedral of Asti. He died on January 2, 1911. ↩
Like cures Like ↩
Cfr. Letters 2, 53. ↩
In the usual manner ↩
Here Marello refers to his usage of an antiquated word for “add.” ↩
The provisional transfer of the Capital of the kingdom of Italy from Turin to Florence (awaiting an opportunity for its definitive transfer to Rome) was decided on September 15, 1864, and effected a few months later: the Parliament held its first session at Florence on November 18, 1864. The decision provoked violent popular demonstrations at Turin, where on September 21 and 23 several were left dead or wounded. ↩
The House of the priests of the Mission of St. Vincent in Turin on September 20 Street. ↩
Engineer Bechis under whom Marello had done a practicum in economics in 1863. ↩
Canon John Cerruti ordained a priest in 1842, Confessor of reserved Sins at the Cathedral of Asti and Pro Vicar General of the Chapter (cfr. Letter 76). Canon Victor Molino was Spiritual Director of the Seminarians. ↩
Bishop John Balma resided in Turin and was Titular Bishop of Tolemaide. He arrived in San Martino the Saturday afternoon of October 1st and was received with great honor by all the Officials. The following day, Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, he celebrated the Mass of general Communion, pontificated at the sung Mass, and in the afternoon participated in the solemn procession. On Monday, he confirmed 207 young people from the town, Tuesday those from Govone, and Wednesday those from Antignano, Celle Enomondo and Vaglierano who had all come in procession to San Martino; that same evening he left from San Damiano of Asti where he was awaited by another one thousand candidates for confirmation. ↩
The See of Asti had then been without a Bishop for five years, and remained vacant until 1867, when Bishop Carlo Savio finally arrived to occupy it. ↩
The following letter will also speak of these inscriptions on large posters (“rectangular boards” Marello calls them). The inscription on the triumphal arch reads: “To Bishop John Balma, who taught eternaltruths in inclement foreign regions and, now in the fatherland, a tireless zealot for the faith hastens whereverapostolic duties call him. From the people of San Martino.” The one over the Church door was in Latin: “Ingredere fauste feliciter o Pater o Pastor et nos laetitia gestientes fac beatos adspectu. — Enter happily and fruitfully, oh Father and Shepherd, and as we exult for joy, make us blessed by your appearance.” ↩
“Tireless” and “defenseless” in Italian are similar sounding words “indefesso” and “indifesa” respectively. ↩
The law of that time dictated that those eligible for service (or the Mayor in their stead) draw anumber by lot. Those allotted a low number were drafted while the rest were exempted. This is the origin ofthe Italian word Tiraggio used in Marello’s following letter: though its literal meaning is “lottery” it comes tomean “draft.” ↩
Seminary companions Giuseppe and Luigi Damiassi from San Damiano of Asti. Fr. Vandero wasalso from San Damiano. ↩