Steely Seamstress

Sewing for life


Sewing The Seventies: 1979 in Italy

We’ve come the end of the 1970s in Italy. It’s been quite a task to write about all the events of this decade, mostly because of the difficulty of presenting what occurred in a simple coherent way. The politics of the era are complex, and unlike the politics in the UK, the mafia, the Church and extremism all play their part and are intricately interwoven.

The last two years of the 70s saw two governments formed by Giulio Andreotti.  He was a right-wing politician in the Democrazia Cristiana (DC) party. He staunchly supported the Vatican and opposed the Italian Communist Party. He has often been portrayed as a Machiavellian character, managing to survive politically (and literally) in an era where corruption changes (and sometimes assassination) claimed many senior figures in Italian politics.

I was re-watching the film, “Il Divo“, directed by Paolo Sorrentino yesterday. The film covers the life of Andreotti from just after the murder of Aldo Moro through to the nineties. The title of the film comes from the nickname coined by the journalist Mino Pecorelli, “Divo Giulio” – the Divine Julius after Julius Caesar. Sadly “Il Divo” is not an easy film to watch and understand. To quote The Guardian newspaper, it is “traumatised with its own information overload”. I wasn’t sure if I understood much more than when I’ve watched it previously, but at least all the political figures were fresh in my mind this time!

Il Divo film.

An investigation in 1992, uncovered endemic corruption practices at the highest levels and several mafia investigations notably touched Andreotti. His faction in the DC party included the politician Salvatore Lima, who was strongly associated with the mafia in Sicily. (Incidentally in 1979 Lima was elected as an MEP in the first European elections that were held in Italy.) At the trial one mafia informer, sensationally claimed that Andreotti had been initiated, receiving the pinprick to his index finger in an initiation ceremony. Another claimed that there had been a meeting between Andreotti and mafia boss, Toto Riina, (mentioned previously here) exchanging a kiss as a gesture of respect. Neither of these two claims, however, could be confirmed.

Andreotti cartoon

Andreotti portrayed, as ever, with his Yoda-like ears. “The name of Andreotti comes up in the State – Mafia negotiations. Andreotti: No personal involvement, I meet them at home, it’s convenient, so that we can meet half-way.”

Over the period of the next year Pecorelli investigated the many links between politics, terrorism, the mafia and finance. He became known as “l’uomo che sapevo troppo” (the man who knew too much).

“They’re not skeletons, they’re relics”

Andreotti was tried on charges of complicity in the murder of journalist Mino Pecorelli. The case was circumstantial and based on the word of a mafia informant. He declared that the murder had been commissioned by the Salvo cousins as a favour to Andreotti. Andreotti was later acquitted along with his mafia co-defendants. Was Andreotti culpable?  We’ll probably never get to the truth, but Andreotti himself summed it up in these words: “Apart from the Punic Wars, for which I was too young, I have been blamed for everything that’s happened in Italy.”

1979 saw inflation top 22 percent. The value of the lira had plummetted during the 1970s and virtually any price label sported multiple zeros. I took a look at some figures for a typical Italian shopping basket. A coffee would have cost 250 Lira (about 30 (US) cents at the time), a litre of wine 660 L (80 cents), a kilogram of pasta cost 725 L (88 cents) and a kilogram of sugar 750 L (90 cents). Well, it is an Italian shopping basket, so of course, there would be coffee and pasta!

Just before Italy changed over to the Euro, virtually nothing could be bought with coins and even small purchases required a handful of 1000 Lira bank notes. You could even be a (Lira) millionaire!

[1] Il divo film review in The Guardian

[2] Mino Pecorelli Mystery (in Italian)

[3] Uncomfortable truths for the powerful (in Italian)

[4] Giulio Andreotti quotes (in Italian)



Leave a comment

Sewing The Seventies: 1978 in Italy

This year is an unusual and disturbing year in Italian history. Two things stand out in particular; the tragic case of Aldo Moro and the investiture of two popes.

At this time the United States and the church continued to have significant political influence. Both were concerned about the potential of communists entering government. Aldo Moro as president of the DC (Democrazia Cristiana) party proposed a cabinet supported by the Italian Communist Party.

On 16th March, the new government of Giulio Andreotti was about due to announce the legislation for the next parliament. Aldo Moro, president of the DC (Democrazia Cristiana) party, expected in cabinet that morning, was collected from his home a little before 9.00 in the morning by his police escort. As usual, Moro sat in the back of one car. A second car followed carrying armed officers. As the cars entered Via Fani, they pass a parked car with two men sat inside. They suspected nothing. Then, at the junction with Via Stresa, a white car with a diplomatic number plate suddenly reversed and hit the car behind which was carrying Moro. Other cars blocked any escape for the politician and four armed terrorists appeared from the side of the street. Many shots were fired, carefully avoiding the rear window next to Moro. All the armed guards were killed. Moro was forced into waiting car and kidnapped.

Just after 10.00 the kidnappers sent a message to Rome, Genova, Milano and Torino “We are the Red Brigades. This morning we kidnapped the president of the DC party, Aldo Moro, and assassinated his escort and special branch officers. A public announcement will follow”

The first communication from the kidnappers with a photo of Aldo Moro, looking dishevelled but otherwise unharmed. Ten days passed and the investigation didn’t seem to be making much progress, when on 25th March a communication was received simultaneously in four cities that Moro would be killed. The Red Brigades had initiated a secret trial where Moro was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Photo taken on Aldo Moro in captivity

It wasn’t until the third communication was received five days later that the kidnappers demands were revealed. They wanted a prisoner exchange. The communication also included three letters written by Moro; the first to his family, the second to his secretary and the third to Francesco Cossiga, the Interior Minister. This letter was published in the newspapers.

From hereon in, every few days there was a communication from the kidnappers, accompanied by letters that Moro had written. These letters included desperate and increasingly bitter appeals to his fellow party members to meet the kidnappers demands.

The government immediately took a hard line position: the “State must not bend” to “terrorist demands”.

In all, Moro wrote 88 letters. Some of those letters were very critical of Andreotti, the prime minister, and the pope. Many were kept secret for more than a decade. In his letters, Moro said that the state’s primary objective should be saving lives, and that the government should comply with his kidnappers’ demands.

From Moro’s last letter to his wife:

Everything is useless, when they don’t want to open the door.

The pope has done very little, perhaps he doesn’t have any scruples….

Moro’s body was left in the trunk of a red Renault 4 on Via Michelangelo Caetani after 55 days in captivity. Cardinal Siri, one of the most powerful figures in the Vatican, when he heard of the Aldo Moro’s fate, responded: “He got what he deserved”.

Letter from Aldo Moro whilst he was in captivity

On 6th August, Pope Paul VI died after 15 years as the pontif. On 26th August, Albino Luciani was elected pope. He chose the name John Paul I, becoming the first pope to have a double name.

Albino Luciani was born in Canale d’Agordo in the Veneto region. Many of my relatives talk about him as being “nostro papa” (our pope). He is the last pope of Italian nationality. He was known as a warm, gentle and kind man and this image was immediately formed when he was presented to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square following his election. In Italy he was known as the “Papa del Sorriso” (smiling pope).

However, Pope John Paul I has one of the shortest papacies in the history of the Catholic Church, only 33 days. In fact, Time magazine labelled him “The September Pope”.

The “Smiling Pope”, Pope John Paul I

It was said that around 10:00 on the night of his death, the pope learned that several neo-Fascists had fired upon a group of young people, outside one of the Communist party’s offices in Rome.  One young man was killed and another seriously wounded. Shortly before he retired for the night, he lamented that “Even the young are killing each other.” Pope John Paul I died of a heart attack between 11:00 pm 28th September and 5:00 am the next morning in his private apartment.

A few months later various alternative theories started circulating about his death. Discrepancies in the Vatican’s account of the events surrounding John Paul I’s death – its inaccurate statements about who found the body and when, where, and whether an autopsy could be carried out. The most sensational account was a theory by the David Yallop in his best seller “In God’s name”. He speculated that John Paul I had been in potential danger because of the programme of reforms he wished to make to the Vatican Bank and that he had been murdered. The corruption was real and is known to have involved the bank’s head Bishop Paul Marcinkus and Roberto Calvi of the Banco Ambrosiano. Calvi had ties with the mafia and an illegal masonic lodge, P2.

Calvi was found dead in London in 1982 after disappearing just before the corruption became public. His death was initially ruled suicide and a second inquest – ordered by his family – then returned an open verdict. The Vatican Bank lost about a quarter of a billion dollars. The theory has been debunked by various authors. On 16th October, Karol Wojtyle was elected pope. He took the name John Paul II.

[1] The Moro Case – Rai podcast (in Italian)

[2] The Moro Case on wikipedia

[3] My Dear Noretta – Aldo Moro Letter (in Italian)

[3] Roberto Calvi – The Guardian (in English)

[4] Debunking four myths about John Paul I (in English)


Leave a comment

Sewing The Seventies: 1977 in Italy

This year saw a series of rallies and protests, often ending in violence. These included the clash at the La Sapienza university in Rome in February and violent street skirmishes in Bologna in March which affected the entire city for two days  [1]. One of the most memorable and frightening images of the decade is from 1977. An image so striking that it has become a symbol for the anni di piombo (The Years of Lead). The photo was taken on 14th May in Milan. It shows a man, arms extended, aiming a pistol down a busy shopping street [2].

On 12th May, the Partito Radicale (Radical Party), a political party, organised a rally to celebrate the anniversary of the referendum on divorce. Groups of students and supporters joined the event. Some disturbances prompted the police to intervene and during an exchange of fire, a 19 year old student, Giorgiana Masi, was shot.

Two days later in Milan protests and a solidarity march were held. The police though, blocked the advance of the march in via De Amicis and this degenerated into an armed confrontation. A young police officer, Antonio Custra, was shot dead. The photo here was taken as these events unfolded [3].

14th May 1977, via De Amicis, Milan

In February the state broadcaster, RAI broadcasts for the first time in colour. Unbelievably this is a full ten years after the BBC started broadcasting programmes in colour. (The first colour broadcast in the UK was in 1967!) Even more private TV stations appeared, transmitting to their local communities.

I think this photo is taken in 1977 and I’m the girl in the middle. You might notice that us kids are all wearing traditional costume. England doesn’t have any sort of national costume, but it’s quite common in Italy to dress up for local events; many towns have an event that ties in with their history or traditions. Whenever this festival occurs, the town will dress up. Sometimes it is medieval costume like in Feltre, other times it can just whatever you feel inspired to wear, like at the Venice Carnival. In the mountains, parents just think it is cute to dress their children up like this, but I’ve also seen people wear traditional dress for activities such as walking in the mountains or housework (yes, really!)

I thought I was alone in the UK with this experience of national dress, but when I happen to mention it to someone who is Welsh or Scottish they often understand, having worn traditional dress in their childhood.

Traditional Dress in Cortina d’Ampezzo

The costume itself consists of a gathered skirt, a white shirt and a little laced bolero. Being near to Austria, Bavaria and Sud Tirol, I suppose it is similar to the dirndls that often feature in the September editions of BurdaStyle magazine [4].

Classic Dirndl Burdastyle 09/2016 #129


[1] The 77 Movement on wikipedia

[2] The story of a photo (Rai Storia) (Video in Italian)

[3] Thirty years ago I shot your father (in Italian)

[4] Burdastyle Traditional Dirndl

Leave a comment

Sewing The Seventies: 1976 in Italy

At the beginning of the year the Italian government was embroiled in scandal. On 5th February the newspapers revealed a series of bribes and contributions made by officials of US aerospace company Lockheed to members of the DC (Democrazia Cristiana) party. The Lockheed scandal, as it became known, showed that these bribes were made to favour the purchase by the Italian Air Force of Hercules transport planes. Former cabinet ministers and also the former prime-minister Mariano Rumor were involved [1].

On 6th May, a seismic shock with a magnitude of 6.5 was felt to the north of the city of Udine in North-East Italy. The epicentre was located between the towns of Gemona and Artegna in the Friuli region. The earthquake is generally regarded as one of the worst eartquakes that has ever affected Italy; 965 were killed, 3000 injured and 45,000 were left homeless. Seventy-seven villages in the Friuli region were affected.

Friuli Earthquake

The tremor was felt as far afield as Venice as well as neighboring Austria, Switzerland and Slovenia (in the former Yugoslavia). My grandmother was in Italy at the time and the quake made her fall out of bed. However, she was in a reasonably newly built apartment, which had earthquake protection features. Relatives in older buildings felt more and experienced paintings falling off walls and furniture moving [2].

On 11th and 15th September further shocks were felt which reached a magnitude of 6.0. Ten billion Lira was earmarked immediately and funds were made available to the regional government of Friuli-Venezia Giulia and the coordinator of aid efforts, Giuseppe Zamberletti. About 40,000 people spent the winter on the Adriatic coast, whilst the reconstruction was started. They returned in the spring to prefabricated buildings in their respective villages.

The reconstruction lasted 10 years. Whole villages were rebuilt. I remember visiting one of the villages some years later. I found it strange how the churches and buildings had been constructed exactly as they were before the quake. All these renaissance-looking churches in pristine new stone.

Gemona (1976-Today)

Gemona in 1976 immediately after the earthquake and today rebuilt

June saw Italians return to the polls. The DC party gained the majority of the vote (38.8%), but the PCI (the Italian communists) received an increased share of the vote (34.4%). A new government was formed with Giulio Andreotti at the helm. The Communist secretary, Enrico Berlinguer approached DC’s left-leaning members with a proposal to bring forward the so-called Historic Compromise, a political pact proposed by Aldo Moro which would see a government coalition between DC and PCI for the first time. The new cabinet, formed in July 1976, included only members of the DC party but had the indirect support of the communists.

On 2nd July, the ETR 401 train (Elettro Treno Rapido) went into service between Rome and Ancona. This train was the precursor to the “pendolino”, the leaning train that is also in service in the UK.

The ETR was developed and built in the early 70s, as a joint project between FIAT and FS (Italian State Railways). However, the economic crisis and political uncertainty reduced spending on the programme and just one ETR 401 was completed.

The idea of developing the leaning train was not just about making trains that were faster. The trains were also capable of raising the average speed of a journey on the more winding regional tracks, thus dispensing with the need to modernise these routes, which of course, would have required considerable investment.

The train service ran three days a week, cutting the time of the journey by half an hour. In time, the service was revised and an extra leg added to the journey so it finished in Rimini on the East coast. The trial was deemed positive, but it wasn’t for another ten years that further investment was made and the next generation of leaning trains entered service [3], [4].

The ETR- 401. Can really see the lean in this photo!

[1] Lockheed bribery Scandal on wikipedia (in English)

[2] The Friuli Earthquake on wikipedia (in Italian, in English)

[3] The ETR 401 Train on wikipedia (in Italian)

[4] The Pendolino on wikipedia (in Italian)



Leave a comment

Sewing The Seventies: 1975 in Italy

In the late sixties, Italian wages were still one of the lowest in Western Europe, even though working conditions were much better than they had been ten years previously. However, the difference between the living standards enjoyed by workers in Italy and those in the United States had grown; every worker in Italy had their eye on car ownership.

The early seventies saw much industrial action, but it wasn’t necessarily provoked by poverty, but the spread of ideological turmoil from the streets to the factories [1].

At the end of January, Confindustria (Confederation of Italian businesses) and the trade unions signed a settlement. It was decided changes would be made to the “scala mobile” (Italian for escalator). The scala mobile is a mechanism where wages are adjusted in line with inflation.[2]

In 1975 the production of the Fiat 500, the “cinquecento” was stopped. The car was an extremely popular small city car with a rear-engine and four-seats. It was made from 1957 to 1975.

This car was just ubiquitous in Italy during my childhood. Many of the Italians I knew had one and I remember in particular a couple of rather tall relatives who owned this car. Their heads grazed the roof of the car and their knees almost wrapped around the steering wheel. Not that this mattered, despite only producing 13 horsepower, these little cars were bumped up dirt-track mountain tracks and whizzed around the city regardless.

Veneto region, Italy. Volkswagen Beetle and a Fiat 128 behind?

In the seventies back seat passengers never wore seat-belts, since cars weren’t fitted with any. However, neither did the passengers in the front; often just reaching for the seat-belt was taken as a slur of the driver’s prowess, so it was often left unused. A passenger could be in for an alarming experience, without trying to reinforce any national stereotypes, I don’t think it’s incidental that so many Italians are passionate about motor-racing. I remember one hair-raising journey, where we were driven by a relative who was in such a hurry, that he was still dressing whilst driving, knees at the steering wheel, putting on his tie!

Doing a little research, I think I remember the 500 L or Lusso version of the car. Lusso being the Italian for luxury. I’m not sure that was necessarily the right adjective as the little cars were rather basic inside. There was a hard bench back seat, two doors (even as a child you had to clamber into the back) and no fuel gauge, just a fuel light came on to warn you that you were low on petrol.

Veneto region (1970s)

Veneto region, Italy. Could look the same today except for those cars. I can spot a Fiat 500, a Fiat 127 and an Alfa Romeo Giulia!

[1] Hot Autumn of 1969 on wikipedia (in Italian)

[2] History of the Federation of Italian Metalworkers (The 70s) (in Italian)

[3] The Fiat 500 on wikipedia (in Italian)


1 Comment

Sewing The Seventies: 1974 in Italy

1974 starts with feeling of apprehension. The country is in the grip of an economic crisis and paralysed by the austerity measures brought in in the previous year. It isn’t possible to use your own vehicle on Sundays. The penalty for doing so is a fine of 1 million Lira. Italians find themselves squeezed onto public transport or on their bicycles on Sundays. Television transmissions finish at 10.45 pm and cinemas at 10.00 pm. There are limits imposed on domestic heating and lighting.  There are queues at the shops for simple products such as sugar. More than this, they have to endure the politician’s “patriotic calls” for a spirit of sacrifice! The irony was that Italy was manufacturing cars, but didn’t have any petrol! [1]

1974 - Corriere della Sera

“Ban on travel by car on holidays. TV, bars and public offices closed.”

The oil embargo, which began in October 1973 resulted in a four-fold increase in the price of oil in 1974. The embargo proved more damaging to Italy than the other major industrial countries. Italy is heavily dependent on raw material imports; nearly all its oil is imported and about 80 per cent of its total energy consumption.

Unfortunately, speculators sprang up that profited from the crisis increasing prices at the petrol pumps even further. The scandal uncovered implicated politicians, oil companies, and financiers.

Bologna: Austerity, winter 1973-74

Bologna: Austerity, winter 1973-74

Kidnappings continued with the Red Brigades kidnapping the magistrate Mario Sossi. The Red Brigades were an extreme left-wing terrorist revolutionaries who promoted and carried out an armed fight for communism. A hostage exchange brought about his release just over a month later. The Red Brigades weren’t the only group attacking at the heart of the state. On 28th May a bomb exploded in Piazza della Loggia in Brescia killing 8 and injuring 101 people. The New Order, a neofascist group claimed responsiblity. Another bomb exploded on 4th August on a train near Bologna. This time, the Black Order fascists claimed responsibility.

The country’s deficit reached nearly $8 billion which greatly accelerated the inflation rate, to a whopping 20%. Some goods like meat and sugar rose by up to 100%. The central bank intervened in the exchange market to support the lira. Italy borrowed from the IMF, the European Community and the Bundesbank a total of $5.9 billion. A restrictive policy was imposed. For example, an Italian tourist could take only a limited amount of money abroad to stop capital from leaving the country. The permitted amount was just enough for a stay of a couple of days . GDP and industrial production fell sharply during this time, Fiat put 73,000 workers on unemployment benefit towards the end of the year. All this provoked a political crisis [2].

Between February 1972 and the government formed by Aldo Moro in November, there had been six successive governments, three different governments in 1974 alone, each a different coalition and each without the slightest idea how to tackle the crisis.

In July, the monopoly of the state broadcaster RAI was ended and in September, the cable TV company Telemilano (in Milan) started broadcasting in the Milan area. The owner of this TV station was Silvio Berlusconi [3].


[1] Storiologia website 1974 (in Italian)

[2] The Italian Economic Crisis of the 1970s (Raymond Lubitz)

[3] Silvio Berlusconi (in Italian)






1 Comment

Sewing the Seventies: 1973 in Italy

In March 1973, The Godfather, directed by Francis Ford Coppola was awarded best picture at the Oscars. The film was released the previous year and is based on the American author, Mario Puzo’s best-selling crime novel. The film details the story of a fictional Mafia family based in New York City headed by Vito Corleone (played by Marlon Brando). The film is set in the forties and fifties, but also provides the story of Vito’s childhood.

The Godfather was filmed on location primarily in New York, but also in Sicily. The town, Corleone, which the family is named after, does exist. It is where the real-life Corleonesi clan originated. However, it was considered too modern in the seventies for filming. Coppola therefore opted to film in other locations, namely Motta Camastra and Forza d’Agro. The scenes where Michael meets and proposes to Apollonia were filmed in Savoca [1].

The character of Vito Corleone was based on Carlo Gambino, who was born in Palermo and was initiated into the “cosca mafiosa” (mafia clan) at the age of eighteen. He emigrated to the United States in the 1920s where he participated in selling contraband alcohol. During the thirties he became involved in various illicit activities and became head of the “famiglia” by ordering the murder of many of his rivals.

It has been remarked in Italy that The Godfather has tended to glorify the mafia and its activities. However, an American may have a different perspective than an Italian about the mafia. The actions of the mafia in Sicily were once more like banditry and the clans ran a type of protection service that substituted for the rule of law in Sicily immediately after the unification of Italy. Perhaps, this romaticised view of the mafia, which was handed down to the Italian immigrants influences this film. In contrast, the mafia in Sicily became an organised crime syndicate involved in protection racketeering, smuggling, drug refining and distribution and the rigging of public contracts. In the seventies they had inflitrated politics at a national level and there are many more victims of the mafia’s crimes in Italy [2].

Bar Vitelli as shown in the film and today

Bar Vitelli as shown in the film and today

The Italian-American Civil Rights League wanted all uses of the words “mafia” and “Cosa Nostra” to be removed from the script, in addition to feeling that the film emphasized stereotypes about Italian-Americans. The two instances of the word “mafia” were removed from the screenplay and the league gave its support for the script.

Kidnappings were commonplace during the seventies and between the middle of the seventies and the middle of the eighties, as many as 489 people were kidnapped in Italy. The kidnappers demanding a ransom in each case [3].

On the 10th July 1973 John Paul Getty III, grandson of the millionaire oil baron John Paul Getty is kidnapped in Rome by the ‘ndrangheta calabrese, a criminal organisation. He was taken, blindfolded, and imprisoned in a cave. It took a while for the news of the kidnapping to filter through. His grandfather for a time was convinced that his grandson had orchestrated a “fake” kidnapping in order to ask for a ransom, hoping to receive the money himself. His immediate family though, immediately recognised that he was in real danger.

The police were able to establish that the perpetrators did not have any scruples and would kill the young Getty if their ransom demand was not met. The Getty patriarch, even through his money could have paid the debts of the entire Italian population for ten consecutive years, refused outright to pay the ransom. The kidnappers, at that point passed the hostage onto another group, who sent a slice of the boy’s ear to a newspaper, complaining that they were endangering John Paul’s life by taking so long (three months) over the negotiations.

A letter arrived for the family containing a few lines from John Paul. He wrote that he was only 17 years old, but he expected to die if they didn’t pay. The letter also included a photo of his severed ear. Finally a telephone call was received by “Il Tempo” newspaper from the kidnappers. The severed ear convinced the hitherto inflexible grandfather to pay the ransom. John Paul Getty III was released on 15th December, after five months in captivity. He was found at a service station on a road between Salerno and Reggio Calabria [4].

John Paul Getty III interviewed after his release

The story of the kidnapping has been told in the recent TV series, Trust. At the end of the series you get to find out how the ransom was used by the kidnappers. The money was invested into the industrialisatiion of the Gioa Tauro region. Today the economic activies of ‘Ndrangheta include international cocaine and weapons smuggling. An estimated 80% of Europe’s cocaine passes through the Calabrian port of Gioia Tauro [4].

In February, the dollar is devalued by 10%. The monetary exchanges are closed throughout Europe. The treasury minister decides to let the currency fluctuate. When the exchanges open again the lira has lost 10% of its value. A strategy of devaluation and prioritising large industrial exports, principally cars and tyres follows. This sees the prices of certain goods that Italy doesn’t produce, such as flour, rise steeply. The price of bread had been fixed at 160 lire per kilo, but in Naples, bakeries refused to bake because this didn’t cover the costs of production. For days shoppers couldn’t find any bread. In other cities it was also difficult to find bread.

An oil crisis began in October 1973 when the members of OPEC (the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries) proclaimed an oil embargo. The embargo was targeted at nations perceived as supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War. With a shortage of oil, the government set various austerity measures in place.


[1] Locations filmed in The Godfather (in Italian)

[2] The portrayal of the mafia in The Godfather (in Italian)

[3] Kidnappings in Italy (in italian)

[4] The ‘Ndrangheta (in English)


Leave a comment

Sewing The Seventies: 1972 in Italy

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 [1].

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.

CALABRESI ASSASSINO (Calabresi is an assassin)

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 [3].

And what of the investigations into the Piazza Fontana bombing itself? Tobias Jones, in his book “The Dark Heart of Italy” [2], 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

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 [4]. 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!

A bitter fizzy drink


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.

A drink made from artichokes

Pocket Coffee

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.

Pocket Coffee

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!

Squid-ink spaghetti

[1] The Piazza Fontana bombing – wikipedia (in Italian)

[2] The Dark Heart of Italy (Tobias Jones)

[3] Pushing past the night (in English) / Spingenda la notte più in là (in Italian)

[4] Cos’è il gingerino? (in Italian)

1 Comment

Sewing The Seventies: 1971 in Italy

A North-South divide exists in the UK, but its influence is not felt as keenly as the North-South divide in Italy. On the surface, geographical differences in Italy don’t seem so huge; the Italian regions, seem to have more in common than anything that sets them apart. The food, culture and climate are broadly similar, although they do reflect the different climates and geography up and down the country. However, there is considerable prejudice. I know people in the North who won’t set foot anywhere further south than Florence. My landlady in Italy used to get very upset about hanging out the washing on the line on Sundays. She used to declare that “we aren’t in Naples here”, the implication being that only Neopolitans would be as brazen as to let their undies flap around in the breeze on holy days. Even cleaning is a prejudiced activity in Italy; many Italians clean their kitchens with an almost competitive fervour; the Southerners must outdo the Northerners and vice versa! I find it perplexing when even a marriage between a Northerner and a Southerner can be discussed in hushed tones.

Dear Peppino, this is the divided Italy before the Vienna Congress…that is the united Italy with its regional authorities

This North-South divide has existed at least since the unification of Italy in 1861 and throughout Italy’s history there has always been some factor that has contributed to this ongoing division. [3] In the seventies, public life was dominated by a “razza padrona” (the ruling class) which exhibited a code of silence, a hidden economy and extensive bribery. This was the beginning of wide-spread corruption and an abuse of power in government that lasted until the nineties. During this year, it seemed that all the parties were engaged in their own internal squabbles and made no attempt to occupy themselves with the evident economic and social problems. There were strikes and there was pervasive absentiism in the workplace. At Fiat, every day 20,000 workers were absent, resulting in 35-40 lost hours in the course of the year. [1] No wonder the Italians suffered from a “stanchezza politica”, a tiredness for politics! Turning their backs on the political vacuum in Rome, the “Modello Terza Italia” (The Third Italy Model) economy emerged. In brief, this Third Italy consisted of the North East and Central regions of the country which thrived on the dynamism of small industries and local and community cohesion.[2]

May 1971 saw the first transmission of “Telecapodistria”. This was a public television and radio service that broadcast to the Adriatic coast area including parts of Italy, Slovenia and Croatia (the former Yugoslavia). It was broadcast from Koper in Slovenia and became very popular both in Yugoslavia and Italy because it was broadcast in colour. Until 1976, when it was ruled that privately owned, fully commercial stations could be established on Italian soil, it was the only fully commercial station broadcast in Italy. [4] Spending much of the summer holidays in North-East Italy, I remember watching this channel on TV, particularly the cartoons. The channel also broadcast the first music video TV show. It featured Western pop music and was broadcast both in Yugoslavia, and neighbouring Italy.

TV Station Telecapodistria

On the 30th December a law was passed extending maternity rights. This allowed pregnant women to stop work two months before the birth of their child and allowing them leave for three months afterwards.

I can’t leave this year without mentioning the continued grip of the mafia on Italian society. In 1971, the attorney Pietro Scaglione and his driver were murdered on the orders of Salvatore Riina, head of the “corleonesi” mafia.  This murder was the first in a war against the state by the mafia. And yes, you would be right in thinking that the corleonesi came from the Sicilian town of Corleone, made famous by the The Godfather.


[1] Storiologia website – 1971 (in Italian)

[2] The Third Italy Model (in Italian)

[3] The North-South Divide (in Italian)

[4] Capodistria TV and station on wikipedia (in English)

[5] Salvatore Riina on wikipedia (in Italian)


Sewing The Seventies: 1970 in Italy

Last year when I was doing research for my year-by-year account of the 1970s (click here to read it), I realised how little is actually written about this period of history. In bookshops or in the library you’re lucky if you come across any volumes about the seventies squeezed between the second world war and a biography of Margaret Thatcher (Yes, Margaret Thatcher was PM from 1979, but her premiership is synonymous with the eighties).

In contrast, in Italy, the years that encompass the seventies are considered of pivotal importance in post-war history and are given their own name – “anni di piombo” or the Years of Lead. These years are characterised by social and political turmoil in Italy including public disorder, social conflict and terrorism. The term’s origin is a reference to a 1981 German film Marianne and Juliane directed by Margarethe von Trotta, which was released in Italy as Anni di piombo. The film centres on the lives of two members of the West German militant far-left group Red Army Faction. However, the term “The years of Lead” has come to have wider meaning, encompassing various terrorist activities, the “strategia della tensione” (the strategy of tension in Italy), Operation Condor (South America) and the cold war (US / Russia). Given the prominence of this slice of Italian history, I wasn’t short of historical source material, only short of my own ability to read and absorb it!

Anni di Piombo film

Juliane visits Marianne in prison in the film Marianne and Juliane, as known as The Years of Lead in Italy.

On the 1st December the Fortuna-Baslini Law was introduced which legalised divorce. However, there was widespread controversy and many of the political parties were opposed to the move. In the same year another law was passed specifically in response to the controversy. This law established that referendums could be used as a means for citizens to express their opinion. The hope, in some quarters, was that this law could be used to revoke the “scandalous” divorce law. [1][2]

Womens' rights protesters in Italy

Placards – “Italians and Love” and “In love we want the same rights as men”

The first regional elections were held this year. There are twenty regional governments in Italy. Although some of these were already in existence before 1970, for example Sicily and Trentino-Alto Adige, the elections saw regional governments set up for the remaining Italian regions. What might not be obvious is just how autonomous these regions are. All regions can keep 20% of all levied taxes. Regions with special status are able to levy their own taxes and are entitled to as much as 100% of the tax revenue raised locally. Italy has only been a united country since 1861 and it is a cultural and linguistically diverse country. This return to regional politics not only retained this cultural and regional diversity, but in some regions alleviated political tensions, such as in Trentino-Alto Adige, where a large percentage of the population are German-speaking. In contrast, the Scottish parliament and the National Assembly for Wales were only granted in 1998. [4] [5]


[1] Storiologia website – 1970 (in Italian)

[2] Divorce on wikipedia (in Italian)

[3] The years of lead on wikipedia (in Italian, in English)

[4] Trentino-Alto Adige on wikipedia (in Italian)

[5] Italian Regions on wikipedia (in Italian)