The G7 Foreign Ministers are holding talks today in Lucca. These meetings will go on until tomorrow afternoon, Tuesday April 11. Much of the city is off limits to both cars and pedestrians: There is a ‘yellow’ zone, a ‘green’ zone, and a ‘blue’ zone, that no one can either enter or exit without a special resident’s pass. Even at that, people are being asked not to go out of their homes, if they have chosen to remain in the city. Many businesses and restaurants have closed for the duration of the G7 talks. Some have taken advantage of this forced closure (forced in the sense that it makes no sense to stay open, since there would be virtually no customers…) and have elected to offer their workers and extended ‘ponte‘, a long weekend. In other words, instead of reopening on Wednesday, they are prolonging the closure until next Tuesday, Monday being Pasquetta (Easter Monday), and already a holiday. Most merchants, restauateurs, and service providers are losing at least two-days’ worth of business, some much more than that. A few had already closed yesterday, Sunday, anticipating a decrease in clientele. Lucca is not even making money on hosting the ministers and their entourages, for the majority of them are staying in Forte dei Marmi (the jet-set section of the Versilia) and are being bused or driven into Lucca each morning.
Like many others, tourists and residents alike, I was to leave the city early this morning, but a few health issues have grounded me for today and possibly tomorrow — the very days I wished to escape. Which brings me to cite a line from a beloved (at least in our family) philosopher of the last half of the 20th century: Lennon’s ‘Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans.” Go John! So here I was this morning, poring over the special map I was given to help govern my movements over these two G7 days (were I to be foolish enough to remain. . . ), checking out the blue, yellow, and green zones, trying to ascertain whether there was an alimentari (grocery store) I could access in order to get a bottle of milk and some fruit, to tide me over until this G7 libeccio blew past. I found a likely place and headed — tentatively — into the demilitarized zone.
As I carefully inched my way into the ‘white’ section (no restrictions) I found a city that appeared deserted. I will admit that it was fairly early in the morning, around 8:00, but usually, by then, the city is already buzzing: People heading to work, others nipping into churches for early morning mass, parents dragging their children and their heavy backpacks to school, bands of teenagers heading to their high school classes, and folks crowding into the various bars to have their morning cappuccino or macchiato and un cornetto, the Italian version of a croissant.
Today there was very little action. All schools in Lucca are closed until Wednesday because of the meetings, so there were no children or boisterous teens teeming through the streets. Many shops and businesses were closed, so fewer people stopping at their favourite caffe’ for the Italian version of breakfast. The wall, too, was quiet; very few people walking or jogging or dragging their dogs. I must admit that it felt eerie. The road in front of my palazzina looked like a
completely different place. Usually the street is lined with parked cars; today, due to parking restrictions, nothing.
Even the demonstrators have been restricted to one street. Their intention was to march down most streets in the centre to protest the G7. Whether they will actually follow the rules, of course, is anybody’s guess. So far I’ve not noticed any running or yelling or police chases — and my building happens to be surrounded by the yellow zone. All relatively quiet thus far, on the Eastern front — and I hope that’s how it stays.
It is early afternoon now, and there are more people out on the wall, ignoring what is being discussed, argued, and manipulated in the Palzzo Ducale, in the historic centre of the city. It seems that people are wanting to take all the fear-mongering of the past few weeks with a grain of salt. The sun is out: How bad can it really be? I have had a two-hour nap and am feeling better — well enough to venture out again for a short walk and sit in the sun. If things get out-of-hand, I can simply roll myself down the grassy embankment that covers my side of the wall, and be at my front door in seconds.
Now, whether I can get the key to exactly the right position in the key hole so it will turn and open the portone (the main building door) on the first or second (or third) try. . . well, that remains to be seen.
I have returned from my walk in the sun and wind (the wind always picks up here in the afternoon). On the wall, students with a free day were out in droves on bicycles and bike carts, racing each other, egging each other on loudly. The wind finally won the silent battle we were fighting and I descended into the city for a while. Even in the afternoon many businesses and caffe’ were closed tight. People I spoke with, who had kept their shops open, were there to defy, in a way, this heightened fear that was being instilled in the lucchesi (citizens of Lucca) by the media and the authorities. Yes, there was risk of violence — there is precedence enough when one looks back at other similar gatherings — but many feel that we shouldn’t simply give in to it and run away. Everyone who has stayed hopes that the demonstrators who were bused in during the afternoon will make their point peacefully and that cool heads will prevail when hot heads get out of hand.
More disconcerting than the possibility of future violence, however, are the large black vans with tinted windows going in and out through the porte, the ‘doors’ in the walls linking the old city with the new — not to mention the large blue police vans and smaller light blue police cars careening through the streets, blue lights flashing. Not chasing anything in particular, it seems, just making their presence known. Even more disturbing is the lone helicopter which has been flying over the city for almost two hours, a city which has been declared a no-fly zone for the duration of these talks. Again, I assume this annoying, buzzing mechanical bird is police or military in nature. It hovers quite high and then swoops in low, deafening.
When I returned to the apartment not long ago, I turned on the TV to catch up on the latest news. Among other G7 updates, there was an item that, amid this international hoopla, spoke to me in a very personal way. The story was of a visit to Sant’Anna of Stazzema by US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano, and Federica Mogherini, the EU’s High Representative, as well as the Head of European Defence Agency. It spoke to me because my father was one of the first on the scene, that horrible day of August 12, 1944, when 560 people were killed. They were mostly women and children (130 of the latter), and older men who, because of their age, were of no use to either Fascists or Nazis, and did not feel the need to hide in the mountains like many of the younger men.
Like my father. He was 19 at the time, and the Germans had been coming door to door in the towns and villages along the Gothic Line to round up able-bodied men to send to work camps. My grandmother and father always told the story of the Germans at the front door and my dad jumping out of a window at the back of the house. He went to hide in the mountains near Stazzema with a family friend, who had been in hiding for some time already. On that morning, they woke up to see a great plume of smoke rising from the area of the tiny village of Sant’Anna, which had become a centre for resistance fighters. The two of them made their way down the mountain and when they arrived they found the place razed to the ground, and a horrid stench of burned flesh in the air. Every person and every animal had been massacred, their bodies then placed in the Church, to be burned.
Dad had never spoken about that event with me. Not once. I found out about it by accident in 1981 when he and I, alone in Italy for a few weeks, visited an old aunt of his. A friend of the family came over when she heard my father was at the house. It was her husband that had taken Dad under his wing when he fled to the mountains. It was the two of them who had climbed down to Sant’Anna together and found the aftermath of the massacre. Afterwards, when we were alone, I asked him about it. He still didn’t want to talk about it, didn’t want to leave me with any of the horrible images that had been ground into his own memory from that day. But what he did say horrified me even more: The massacre at Sant’Anna was not the worst event of the war for him. The worst, apparently, was when he came upon the train station in Viareggio, just after it had been bombed. I can’t even imagine.
It is now almost 9:00 pm and the helicopter has finally left. My ears are still ringing. It got very intense here for a few hours: I heard what I thought were a couple of shots over to the north, followed by police cars, sirens blaring, speeding along the ramparts. When I looked out, the wall in that area was full of people standing up on the ledge, looking down at something happening below. Others were just meandering along the path as though nothing had happened, which I took for a good sign, so I relaxed a little. Perhaps not shots after all.
Maybe I can sleep tonight.