Alpino hat with black feather (copied from Wikipedia but a universal image)
Let me say clearly at the outset, we have never been Alpini. The reason I chose this image and post title will become clear, though I should also point out that I don’t mean a comrade wounded in action. But nonetheless, this post talks about a family member who was an Alpino and to this day remains fiercely proud of that fact.
Dr B had a significant birthday recently, so we celebrated by having lunch with Nonna on Sunday (we do it most years, a combined birthday and Mother’s Day affair) and a little chocolate cake – one of those bake-in-a-mug numbers – after dinner on the day itself. We also had a sing-along. One of Dr B’s cousins, Sig A, who’s close to him in age, is presently hospitalised after a major health event. His recovery is uncertain. We’re all somewhat distressed but Dr B is quite shattered. I suppose it’s an intimation of his own mortality though a part of the distress is as simple as knowing that it’s now unlikely he’ll be able to carry out the plans hatched for himself, Sig A and YoungB during YoungB’s visit to Italy (they’re three kindred spirits if ever there were any; when Sig A and his wife visited Australia nearly a decade ago, he and YoungB got on like a house on fire, though neither could understand a word the other was saying).
Sig A did his national service as a member of the Alpini (I hope the hat makes more sense now) and has attended annual reunions ever since. Those traditions are important for him and I well recall laughing at his recounting tales that only hinted at the amount of alcohol downed on such an occasion. My educated guess was “an ocean”. He agreed, surprised, I think, that I’d come to such an accurate conclusion so quickly (several oceans might have been even more accurate, but oceans vary in size. Right?). Singing is also an important part of Alpini traditions and Sig A was very willing to sing with us when he was here. We belted out one of the best renditions of Quel Mazzolin Di Fiori (“That Bunch of Flowers”) I’ve ever been involved in because he had the call and response down to split second timing. So on the evening of the recent day in question, this time accompanied by Dr B on guitar, we sang a few of the songs made famous by the Coro della Società degli alpinisti tridentini (or SAT; and you could try Google translate if you’re really keen). We have a battered, because much used, copy of the Canti della Montagna, produced by SAT, that assumes you know the tune but need help with the words. We need a bit of help with both.
Another of our songbooks is Canti Folkloristici e Di Montagna (being Folksongs and Mountain Songs; and it’s number 5 in the series of Cantaintasca or Song in Pocket albums produced by Ricordi). It’s even more battered but does at least provide a chord chart, which is a useful thing in a family of musicians. The chords are Italian – that is to say, pretty much what you might know as solfeggio – but that doesn’t present a problem for Dr B (and, because there’s a chart at the front, even YoungB could attempt it if he had to, though it would undoubtedly take him longer to nut out). We sorted out the right key and away we went with a very famous song whose melodic contour YoungB loves, Dove Sei Stato Mio Bell’Alpino? (“Where have you been, My Handsome Alpino?”).
We finished with a declared nod to Sig A by singing Sul Cappello Che Noi Portiamo which means “On the hat that we wear” and which is occasionally referred to as Su Pei Monti (“Up in the Mountains”). It relates a story of the Alpini – the long, black feather that serves as a banner (see hat above), how they pick flowers to give the girls to make them weep and sigh, and how [in place of those flowers] they build a barracks and drink to the Corps; it’s beautiful and haunting while being quite a rousing number – and, though there’s a generic version, it’s possible to insert the name of one’s own particular company of the Corps. Nonna, for example, always sings the Ninth, which is what her father used to sing (though he was not a member of the Alpini, having fought against the Italians under Franz Josef; but there you are, he had a favoured company and she fiercely corrects us when we get it wrong).
It’s possible to google either of those songs and find a host of recordings, if you’re keen.
Excuse my definite animadversion into what’s clearly neither sewing nor knitting nor anything at all craft related. I, too, have great affection for Sig A and his wife. It’s tough being on the other side of the world at a time like this. The very least we can do is sing for Sig A. So we did.
PS: I’m sorry, that should be regiment, not company.