‘Oro di Scozia’ – a non-profit cultural association – was established in 2015 to recreate a Scottish atmosphere in Como and ‘to spread the tastes and flavours of that country with its rich historical background’. So writes Ferdinando Viti, Como born and raised, who has developed such a strong affinity with the culture and legends of the Highlands that it has led him to take on the mantle of a Celtic apostle in the town of his birth.
But how did this passion originate? Partly it seems thanks to Mel Gibson and his depiction of rebel William Wallace in the film ‘Braveheart’. A more profound explanation was his almost spiritual response to setting foot on Scottish soil and his growing appreciation of the local culture. This response seemed entirely natural when Ferdinando discovered he actually had a close family connection with Scotland and had Scottish blood coursing through his veins. It was Ferdinando’s great-grandfather, Lorenzo Viti, who emigrated to Glasgow in the 1890s from the Tuscan town of Seravezza in the Province of Lucca. His original intention was to make his way to the United States. But like many other compatriots, he went no further once on Scottish soil. He set himself up selling ice cream, and soon went on to marry his Scottish bride.
Barga, a Tuscan town in the Province of Lucca not too far from Seravezza, happens to describe itself as the most Scottish town in Italy, boasting a ‘Fish n’ Chips – Scottish Festival’ held during the summer for the last thirty five years. The story goes that early immigrants to Glasgow from Barga, like Lorenzo, encouraged other friends and relatives to join them. Subsequently, some who had made a decent living working in the catering industry (hence the ‘Fish n’Chips’) returned back to Tuscany wanting to retain memories of their former home and share aspects of the Celtic culture which they had appreciated so much. That same instinctive appreciation that Ferdinando feels for Scotland – from the lowlands, through the islands and into the highlands – may well derive from that bloodline from his great-grandmother. As he himself has written, ‘From the moment I stood on Scottish soil, I had the feeling that I had been there before and everything charmed me to the extent that I thought I had seen the remains of a certain castle in my dreams and the legend of William Wallace and his fight for freedom enthralled me and moved me to tears.’
Ferdinando and Ulisse’s passion has become Como’s gain with the Oro di Scozia Association coordinating a series of Scottish resources to stage a full range of events and activities.
Thanks to these two, Como residents and visitors can now celebrate Burns’ Night and a full range of other Celtic events here on our lake. They also run the ‘Oro di Scozia’ shop on Via Zezio, 32 assuring access to some of the most iconic Highland products obviously including Scotch but ranging also from knitwear and jewellery to smoked salmon from that culinary hotspot – Loch Fyne. Their mission is to permeate Como with the essence of Scottish charm and romance by organising cultural events, dance classes, whisky tastings and more.
Established for some time now, Oro di Scozia’s courses of Scottish dancing take place twice a year with each course consisting of ten sessions. Both courses are led by Milan-based Scot, John Murphy. The autumn course starts in October and leads participants up to a performance and exhibition on Saint Andrew’s Day (30th November) and at the annual Burns Night celebration traditionally held on or around January 25th. The Winter/Spring course starts in February and its participants work towards a similar dance exhibition at the Gaelic celebration of Beltane, a celebration with pagan origins held around the start of May. They may also appear at the Milan Highland Ball, an annual event also in May normally held at Monza’s Hotel de La Ville in front of the Villa Reale. The venue for the classes has changed over the years but they are currently hosted by the Officina della Musica in Via Giulini, Como.
The association seeks to celebrate the principal cultural events in the Scottish Celtic calendar. Mention has already been made of Burns Night held this year in the delightful setting of the Villa del Grumello with its glorious view over the water to Como’s lakefront. For this, as tradition requires, a haggis is flown in from Edinburgh to be piped ceremoniously into the dining hall by members of the Orobian Pipe Band from Bergamo. Next comes Beltaine followed by another celebration with pagan origins – Samhain. Saint Andrew’s Day rounds off the annual events although who knows if there may well be a future Scottish Independence Day in the calendar or at least a ‘Staying in the European Union Day’! I would certainly down a dram or two to celebrate that alongside Scotland’s sixty two percent of referendum voters.
Oro di Scozia, Scottish Gold, is Scotch. So it should not come as any surprise that the association organises regular monthly whisky tasting evenings called ‘Salotto di Oro di Scozia’ and held in the shop on Via Zezio. This part of the Association’s activities is the responsibility of Ulisse who is an official ‘Whisky Ambassador’ – the first in Italy having followed the appropriate courses in Glasgow. The shop on Via Zezio offers a range of single malts. The ‘salotto’ (sitting room) concept is intended to provide an informal atmosphere for both amateur or expert whisky lovers to meet and exchange information and opinions. Dates and details of the tastings are published on Oro di Scozia’s Facebook or internet page.
Oro di Scozia seeks to promote both new and well-established Scottish musicians bringing artists like guitarist Tony McManus and the young singer, Iona Fyfe, to the attention of Como’s audiences in venues such as the Officina della Musica.
Oro di Scozia is a non-profit association so, once costs are deducted for staging the various cultural events, all money raised is donated to charity. Their favoured charity is ProTIN (Pro Terapia Intensiva Neonata) – in support of the neonatal and premature baby unit at Como’s Sant’Anna Hospital. The money raised in 2017 went to provide heating equipment for preparing the supply of natural maternal milk. Maternal milk is the best source of sustenance for the premature babies in their care. It is to this end that Sir Red McSquirrel was invented. Sir Red was born out of a collaboration between author ‘Viber’ and illustrator Carlo Pozzi. The McSquirrel adventures are published by the association with all proceeds from sales going to charity.
One incident of local interest in the richly varied life of Sir Red McSquirrel sees him falling into Loch Ness after his ascent of Ben Nevis. Inevitably he encounters Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, who so happens to be entertaining his Italian cousin from Lake Como, Lariosauro (Lario for short). (Lariosauro may not be as well known as Nessie but he or she did actually exist, as described in one of our previous articles.)
Clearly Oro di Scozia has a well-defined goal which, thanks to Ferdinando, Ulisse and the association’s members, is pursued with passion and enthusiasm. A considerable number of local people have derived great pleasure from the dance classes through to the cultural and musical events organised by the association. No matter how vibrant local culture might be, we can all profit from the enriching exposure to what may initially appear alien to us. But in fact, the similarities between the socio-economic and cultural aspects of Scotland and those of our own Insubria region (the Pre-Alp borderlands of Switzerland and Italy) are numerous. And even if geographically we lack the sea and so many islands, we at least can both boast our own lake monsters!
Oro di Scozia Internet: https://www.orodiscozia.it/
Address: Via Zezio 32, Como.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Friday: 15.00 – 19.00; Saturday 10.00 – 13.00 and 15.00 – 19.00
Tel: +39.338.5093758 – Ferdinando Viti