SARONNO, Italy – My neighbor Eddie was in Ravenna last weekend to see the Byzantine mosaics. He’s been to Ravenna in the past, but never like this. Eddie’s got his mojo back thanks to a new set of wheels which give him mobility he could only dream about before. He’s named his wheels ‘Ol Sparky’ after the now long-retired electric chair from West Virginia State Penitentiary, I’m not really sure why.
The first weekend he got ‘Ol Sparky’ he clocked many kilometers tooling around the towns of Lago Maggiore. He told me the unimaginable joy of being able to do what most of us take for granted, take a simple ‘walk’ along the lake, was overwhelming for him, a first in his lifetime of experiences. To say the man is on a roll would be the understatement of the year. The man is on a voyage. (See My Neighbor Eddie http://thisitalianlife.blogspot.it/2011/07/life-my-neighbor-eddie.html)
|Captain Edgardo Simoni|
This weekend he’s doing something very special, something that very few people would ever get to do. In fact, he and his brother may be the only people to ever do this. They are heading north to the Italian Alps to visit three special tunnels and cross bridges that their grandfather, Captain Edgardo Simoni, the father of Eddie's mother and his uncle, Edgardo Simoni aka The Fox, constructed. (See Edgardo Simoni, The Fox - http://thisitalianlife.blogspot.com/2012/04/life-edgardo-simoni-fox.html ) They are also going to visit their grandfather’s grave site.
|The Captain's Men|
Eddie’s grandfather was a Captain in the Italian Army Corps of Engineers during the 1915 war between Italy and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. It was his job was to build tunnels and bridges that those of us who travel along those scenic Alpine roads take for granted now. But they came at a high price in blood and treasure. Apart from the fact that the tunnels and bridges were constructed during a war, it’s estimated that between 9,000 and 10,000 soldiers from both sides died because of alpine avalanches during the winter of 1916.
|Moving Men and Materials Along Mountain Paths|
Two of the tunnels are very special to Eddie and his brother because one is named after their grandmother, Cornelia, and another is named after their mother, Maria Julia. All tunnels in Italy are named, maybe in the whole world, I’m not really a tunnel expert, but how many people know of tunnels named after their mother? I don't know of any, except Eddie.
|Maria Gulia, (Eddie's mother), Cornelia (Eddie's grandmother) and Bravo Maria|
1915 was a particular time in Italy. There had been a long standing rivalry between Italy and Austria-Hungary, dating back to the Congress of Vienna in 1815 after the Napoleonic Wars when the Congress granted several regions on the Italian peninsula to the Austrian Empire. That same year a radical Italian nationalist political movement, called Unredeemed Italy (Italia Irredenta) began claiming the return of the Italian-inhabited territories especially those in the Austrian Littoral and in the County of Tyrol. By the 1910s, the movement had gained momentum and was taken up by a significant part of the Italian political elite. The liberation and annexation of those Austrian territories (inhabited not only by Italians, but also by ethnic Germans and South Slavs) became the main focus of the Italian war against Austria.
|Captain Simoni and the King of Italy|
It was during that war, and under those war time conditions, that Captain Simoni and his men worked. By all accounts Captain Simoni was a good guy. Evidence of the affection and respect his men had for him was clearly shown in the notes and letters they sent to him. And years after his death fresh flowers continue to appear on his grave every week. In his honor, they named one of his tunnels after him, and even the King of Italy made a trip to those alpine mountains to meet him.
|Tunnel Dedicated to Captain Simoni|
NOTE: The photos in this post were taken from a photo album put together by Eddie's grandmother sometime between 1916 and 1918. In addition to photos the album also had postcards and notes Captain Simoni had written to Eddie's grandmother, Cornelia, and notes of gratitude written to the Captain from various men under his command. I want to thank Eddie publically for sharing the contents of that album with me.