To understand some of the events of 1972, we need to rewind a little to 1969. On 12th December, in Piazza Fontana, central Milan, a bomb exploded causing the deaths of 17 people. 88 were injured. Shortly after an unexploded device was also found in Milan. The bag was recovered but the device was detonated in a controlled explosion that evening, destroying vital evidence. A further three bombs exploded in Rome injuring 16 people. The Piazza Fontana bomb was the first and most shocking terrorist act since the war and is considered as “the mother of all the atrocities” that followed .
The investigations into the bombs centred around extremist groups based in Milan. On 12th December Giuseppe Pinelli, an anarchist was questioned by the police. On 15th December, after three days of interrogation, he died after falling from the fourth floor of the police station. The Milan police, said that Pinelli committed suicide because they had proved his involvement in the bombings. This official version of events was strongly criticised by the press, due to inconsistencies in the accounts of the witnesses.
An inquest was held. The three police officers interrogating Pinelli, including Luigi Calabresi, were put under investigation for his death. Luigi Calibresi was targetted by the press and received frequent death threats from extreme left groups. On the city’s walls, graffiti was daubed depicting hands dripping with blood, accusing Calibresi of having assassinated Pinelli.
On 17th May 1972 Luigi Calabresi was shot by unknown assailants from a car as he left his house. Calabresi, mortally wounded, collapsed on the pavement. People tried to save him; an ambulance arrived and took him to hospital, but Calabresi died. The car used by the assassins was found abandonned, it had been stolen. Members of the hard-left Lotta Continua group were found responsible for the killing.
The inquest into Pinelli’s death finally reached its conclusion in 1975. Pinelli’s fall was attributed to him fainting then losing his balance and falling from the room’s balcony. It was proved that Luigi Calibresi was not present in the room at the time of Pinelli’s death. There was found to be no wrongdoings regarding Pinelli’s death .
And what of the investigations into the Piazza Fontana bombing itself? Tobias Jones, in his book “The Dark Heart of Italy” , devotes a whole chapter to this. In 2000, a commission was once again looking into the atrocity, the eighth investigation (yes, you read that right, the eighth) into the bombing. Over the years, any who have come close to explaining what happened on that day, including Pinelli and Calibresi, have become themselves additions to Italy’s long list of “illustrious corpses”. Suspects, witnesses, police and magistrates all became indirect casualties of the Piazza Fontana bomb. Victims of the escalating cycle of recrimination. Vital evidence too has been lost or destroyed in the intervening years.
The investigations concluded that the atrocity was carried out by far-right extremists, organised, promoted and supported by men within Italian institutions and by people linked to American intelligence. The Vatican too, cannot escape mention here. It had an ambiguous attitude to fascism and was in favour of whatever intervention was necessary on the part of the USA. The aim being to spread panic and justify a state of emergency in the country, a plan known as the “strategia della tensione” (strategy of tension). Of the actual perpetrators, several individuals were sentenced, but were always acquitted on appeal. Like Tobias Jones notes in his book, we will probably never know the entire truth and the case will remain one of the “misteri d’Italia” (mysteries of Italy).
Last year I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on the foods that people ate in the 1970s. In the UK our diet has changed quite considerably to embrace cuisine from other countries, including from Italy. Our family used to spend the summer holidays in Italy each year and drove by car from England to Italy. One of the annual rituals was a stocking up on Italian foods whilst we were over there. On our journey back the car would be filled to the brim; there would be the clanking of the wine bottles and a huge canister of olive oil and the aromas of parmesan cheese and cured ham would mingle with the smells of a damp tent and unwashed socks.
Whilst many Italian foods have been embraced in the UK, who doesn’t love a good pizza or pasta dish, the same affection has not been extended to every Italian food. These are the Italian marmite equivalents:
Fette biscottate are packaged slices of toast – light, crisp and largely tasteless. They are the kind of snack you snatch from the hotel breakfast bar on the way out and find yourself nibbling later on the train in disappointment.
This is a fizzy drink that comes in a lurid shade of red. It comes in cute little bottles and is known as an aperitivo (aperitif), so is apparently drunk before dinner . I’ve always known the drink as “gingerino”, but this is just a brand name (the manufacturer being Recoaro), but there are also other brands such as Crodino or SanBitter. This is definitely something you need to grow up with, because trying this drink out on friends and colleagues most can barely manage a mouthful without wanting to spit it out! The only person I found who liked drinking it in this country was Swiss!
Another drink. Cynar is a bitter tasting alcohol digestivo (a digestive – for drinking after dinner, do Italians have a drink for every occasion?) It is made from artichokes. It is similar to some other drinks. My personal favourite is Avverna, made out of basil leaves amongst other things and is somewhat sweeter.
I’ve actually got a few of these chocolates left in the fridge from a recent trip to Italy. They are a little like liquor chocolates, but have what tastes like a sip of neat coffee in each chocolate. There is even a decaffeinated version! They are made by Ferrero-Rocher, but I’ve never seen them in the UK.
Squid ink spaghetti
This one is like all those foods that are just the wrong colour. I can’t say I’m too fond of blue cake either. Of course, it doesn’t really taste any different from ordinary spaghetti. But ee get so used to spaghetti’s usual wheat-like shade, that somehow dress it up however you like, it just reminds me of a plate of black tentacles!
 The Piazza Fontana bombing – wikipedia (in Italian)
 The Dark Heart of Italy (Tobias Jones)
 Cos’è il gingerino? (in Italian)