Protagonista: Antonietta Pagliaga
Autore: Antonietta Pagliaga
These pages speak about a life full of love.
The grateful love of the Slavic peasants towards my father, who proved to be a good and honest man.
The daughterly love towards a mother with her difficulty to carry on.
The love towards myself, increased by such an incredible birth, full of omens of wellness and unwavering optimism. Fortunately able to live without anxieties the difficult moments seeing them as a chance for new opportunities.
The love towards a city I knew as a child in its most picturesque corners.
The friendly love of speaking to each other beyond a tent, the admiring love towards a teacher able to open the doors of knowledge.
The accurate love towards my job.
The passionate love.
I wish bats at night, to wake up at sunrise, to run reminding me of the instant when I saw the light on that far Sunday of June.
I come from Orsera/Vrsar, paradise of Istria, where my family, uncles, grandparents have always lived, since we had memories of it.
I felt that the bunches of grapes bent the grapes more than usual, the hazels gave very big fruits and the figs tasted like honey and they pooped if they weren’t picked up in time. Along the coast lived the Italian that, like my relatives, worked the land helped by Slavic workers, everything in perfect harmony.
One day (28th June 1942), Meneghetta, old midwife of the place, had to deal with a more complicated birth than usual; she looked for the doctor at home but she couldn’t find him. The travail was hardworking, she took courage with a drop or two. At the end the baby girl was born and she felt surprised to be facing a screaming little thing, with something on her that made Meneghetta exclaim amazed and then joyful.The woman in travail doesn’t exist anymore. “She was born with a silver spoon, look, look1” she repeated. She didn’t realize that nobody could answer her exclamations. At this point we must clarify what happened: my mum, Maria, couldn’ tell me exactly what “camisetta” (shirt) is, because she couldn’t see it, being after the travail more dead than alive. “Camisetta” is a part of a membrane inside the amniotic sack; because it is rarely that a being born baby has some of this membrane on him, the popular legends see it like a good sign, or fortune; from here comes the saying: to be born wearing a shirt. We have to think that whoever explained it to me is a popular obstetrician and,in some Trieste mothers’ opinion, the most respected person in giving a baby to birth, either for many years of experience or for passion in her job. On the contrary Meneghetta worked in a small village, where there weren’t daily births, I would not be able to say if she was a midwife or if she had started this job for passion. We could figure how she had reacted to this event: she was at the end of her career and a simple woman and therefore superstitious. One of the neighbours, Maria de Salvatore, called also with her husband’s name to distinguish her from the other “Maria”, arrived, first to help the new mother and then for Meneghetta’s scream, it was summer and in the village the doors were kept open. She immediately realized how pale my mother was and she understood that she was bleeding to death. Everything became turbulent except for the woman who was going on to take care of the baby, despite what was happening. The baby was the centre of her attention because she had seen a lot of dying women, but she had never seen a baby born with a shirt. Maria de Salvatore ran out home screaming, going down along the road to the sea. “The doctor, where is the doctor?” she cried desperately: “Maria is dying!” Some old women came, drawn by that scream disturbing them in their usual and quiet Sunday noon business, while their husbands were lingering at the tavern, chattering and joking, waiting for lunchtime. Meanwhile, children and nephew enjoyed a deserved prize, basking in the sun, swimming in the clear water of that praised sea.
Someone had the idea to go to the beach.
He was there, enjoying that warm midday sun, before July and its heat came; there wasn’t time to dress, he kept his swimsuit, ran to the house, finding the woman exhausted and soaked of her own blood. They were very busy trying to save her ( I could not say how the things went, I only knew that my mother had a severe bleeding due to uterine atony; a midwife would have known what to do, consequently I think that Meneghetta was only an assistant). Finally the doctor breathed a sigh of relief, my mother was safe and that allowed Meneghetta to show everybody the baby girl, still with the membrane on her; in the village the doctor took car of everything, from giving birth to remove a nail and he was surprised too, it was his first experience. Meneghetta could at last peacefully take care of the baby girl, who had caused a lot of troubles with her birth. She cleaned me for a long, in that moment I was only hers. “This girl was born wearing a shirt and on Sunday at noon” she repeated to herself (I have never understood what she meant with Sunday at noon): both facts are believed to be of good fortune in popular myth. The doctor answered with relief to the woman: “In fact her fortune has started today, I had to go Trieste, you found me by chance”.
So my life began, confident that nothing bad could have happened to me; for this reason my mother raised me without anxiety, something she didn’t with my brothers, influenced by those optimistic prophecies.
My father, Innocente, born in 1900, he was the youngest of six brothers (Francesco, the first- born, Silvio, Maria and Giovanna); he studied only to Gymnasium, at Capodistria/Koper Seminary, because he would have remained in the house to handle with the land, to take care of the two unmarried sisters, which would have never worked, and of the old, widow grandmother Antonia. And this because he was “el caganil”, the last of the sons. My mother Maria, was born in Polcenigo, in Friuli- Venezia Giulia, in 1911; she had four brothers (Lisa, Gigia, Gigi and Fiore the youngest and beloved). My parents met in Trieste, where my mother,since she was a child, lived as lady-in-waiting; she was chosen by a wealthy family for her grace and refinement, when some acquaintances of that family went to Polcenigo to have some shoes made by my grandad, whose ability reached Milan too; he taught his job to some apprentices with great skill.
Their wedding, celebrated in 1933 in Trieste, had always been hindered by my father’s two unmarried sisters, who probably feared losing their last brother, their only support at that time, living the oldest in Trieste for work, He loved the land, even if he always repeated that the land is low; he didn’t hoe, others did it for him, he attended more important questions: cutting the grapes and reconciling the workers; this was his talent, he was always respected in his life, also afterward, he was called: the mayor of Gretta, for his being nice and lovely.
We were in 1942, when I was born; we jump to 1944 more or less, I wouldn’t be able to say the right month, we started to feel a sort of uncertainty, my dad decided to send us away from Orsera, he sent us to Polcenigo, my mother’s native village. His decision was wise. I was two years old, my sister Liliana was ten, he told us to not worry and he promised to come as soon as possible. We didn’t know anything about him for months. In Orsera they needed people who looked for meat for the army, he was recalled up, against his will he had to wear the uniform; he had the mansion to go to the Slavic peasants, who when they didn’t work on the coast they lived on livestock; he had to take a cow and made it slaughter. It was an ungrateful duty, accomplished by him in as a fair manner as possible, trying to not deprive the poorest people of their only nourishment.
THIS SAVED HIS LIFE!
It wasn’t so bad in Polcenigo, there was uncle Fiore too, he was my mum’s elder brother, he had just arrived and he loved me. During the last days of war, he was caught in a trap in the mountains and he was shot by a stray bullet: this was the official theory, when the body was given to his desperate family. His death circumstances had been never cleared and my mum and grandma had grieving hearts forever. My remembrance of that time, when we arrived at the village, are unclear, faded: I was very young, my memory is Liliana, my sister, which I continuously consult to better understand the events; my mum, still clearheade and indipendente at 90 years old has a vivid memory but confused about the dates.
Our grandfather’s big house was placed in the centre, with a little courtyard in front of the doorway; her groundwork was built on Gorgazzo, a little river that split the village. You could reach its spring, ascending the same-named village. A wonderful source for its beauty: water flowed from the bottom of a sort of rocky peak that in August was full of cyclamen, the smell was inebriant; this made the pool of water even more charming, a funnel that after few metres became very deep and the water took an intense and incredible colour blue. The interest that this natural miracle arises has many new followers among speleologists and divers, who don’t resign themselves to its unconquerability, that origins several legends.
I have always been fascinated by the beauty, I loved watching all the photographs and the paintings in the churches since I was a child; try to guess when I knew that a young photographer had rented a room in a neighbouring house. I planned to make me do a beautiful photo. I visited him everyday. He was poor and he hadn’t anything to warm up and we were in winter; in the room there was an empty brazier and I tormented my mum to give me some embers from our fireplace, always burning, and everyday I took it to him, untiring, as long as he rewarded my perseverance: “Let’s take a nice picture”.
I ran home, panting, I asked my mum to dress and comb me and that’s how I had the much desired photo. I was only three but I had already understood that perseverance with tenacity and patience are always rewarded: if you desire something very much, and it’s not the moon, you can have it.