Liberating the Lakefront – Como Recovers Its Greatest Asset

lakefront view

View from the Como lakefront to Cernobbio and Torno

For residents and tourists alike, Como’s greatest asset must be its magnificent lakefront with its views north to Cernobbio, Moltrasio, Torno and to the summit of Mount Bisbino – so why has access to a large tract of it been out of bounds for the last eight years? The wooden barrier that blocks lakefront access went up in 2008 stretching from the roundabout by the railway station and then beyond the ticket office for the boats and up to the park.

lakefront 7

Bringing down the wooden wall – although this photo shows the storm damage which shortly preceded the renovation work

Now, finally the last section of this wall is coming down and the whole lakefront will be accessible to all. This marks a decisive and positive stage in the long-running local saga/scandal of the so-called ‘paratie’ (barriers).

lakefront 6

Before….

Let’s consider what could possibly have caused such a denial of access to our greatest asset for so long. The answer is unfortunately a sad tale which possibly could only have happened in Italy. Way back in 1990, when money was counted in millions of lire rather than euros, the idea of building up Como’s flood defenses was first mooted. The original plans were for a series of temporary barriers to be deployed when necessary.

lakefront 3

….After, but not yet complete

The costs were modest and the project was due for completion by 1995. What optimism! Soon after this in 1998, the first in a series of ‘variations’ to the original plans were submitted scrapping the temporary options in preference for a permanent structure.  Now there was serious money to be played for with all the ‘tangential’ temptations along the way.

To cut a long story short, the contract was finally awarded in 2007 to Sacaim, a company who had worked on the Venice flood defenses as well as many other large civil engineering projects. Work started in January 2008 with the dark green wooden barrier erected thus obscuring the work in progress and of course, our glorious panoramic view.

lakefront 4

Vistas unseen for eight years are beginning to open up

Unfortunately behind that wooden barrier, Sacaim were constructing a wall twenty-odd metres out from the lakefront that was taking a slither away from our lake. This wall was part of another ‘variation’ requested in 2009. Unfortunately doubts were immediately raised over its legality – after all it is one thing to bank up the existing wall and another entirely to alter the contours of the lakefront.  Progress from then until 2012 was slow and intermittent due to these legal and other complications. Slow progress turned into a total stall on the election of a new mayor in 2012 who demanded the end of the new wall and the re-opening of part of the lakefront.

lakefront 1

Undoing the damage – work is now underway on restoring this section of the  lakefront

Again, the contractual issues around variations went back to the courts where the hive of activity there contrasted with the complete shutdown on the lakefront.  Then in 2016, two local council officials were arrested following a legal inquiry and the regional authority, declaring the local council ineffective, assumed control of the project. That about summarises the negative part of this story – except to say it is far from over since legal responsibilities and payments will most likely be contested in the courts for years to come.

lakefront 8

The ‘La Provincia’ campaign ‘Rivogliamo il nostro lago’ asked people to attach symbolic plastic padlocks to the barriers denying lakeside access.

Now for the positive part – from the moment all work was blocked (2012), the long-suffering Como residents and local businesses started to push back. The association of local businesses known as ‘Amici di Como’ (friends of Como) financed and organised the temporary restoration and opening of the lakeside walk and gardens to the west of the Navigazione Laghi ticket office. These were opened in 2014. Subsequently the Amici di Como have financed the upkeep of these gardens so they have remained open to the public year-round ever since then.

Not content with that, the local newspaper ‘La Provincia’ ran an effective publicity campaign in 2016 called ‘Rivogliamo il nostro lago’ (We want our lake back). This brought the issue of the ‘paratie’ to the attention of the nation as a whole and central government. The campaign was structured in three phases providing prolonged and embarrassing exposure throughout the year. ‘La Provincia’ stoked the fires of revolt again at the start of this year with a further effective campaign getting residents and visitors alike to mark their continuing frustration by attaching  symbolic plastic padlocks to the fences that were depriving them of lakeside access.

lakefront 2

After eight long years, work began this May on reopening this section of the lakefront.

The media campaigns were successful prompting the regional government to provide the funds for cleaning up and reopening the lakefront. This work is now in progress – cobbles are being laid and vistas not seen for eight years are re-appearing. Full access is on target for completion by July, just after the municipal elections.

lakefront 5This story of the ‘paratie’ is indicative of some of the less favourable aspects of Italian civic life but I can identify at least two positive aspects. Firstly, it is at least reassuring to see the state showing some sensitivity to public opinion (and financial common sense) when under pressure from those who finally managed to overcome a marked propensity for patience and political inertia! Secondly, the prolonged denial of public access to the lakefront has emboldened a pair of local swans to make their annual nesting home there. One of the springtime pleasures for local residents has been to see the swan eggs hatch and see their cygnets grow. The swans will however have to move elsewhere now that  —

WE HAVE GOT OUR LAKE BACK!

swan collage

Our lakeside swans now need a new home.

Posted in Gardens, Lake, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

URGENT: Expat Como residents need to register to vote by May 2nd

Citizens of other EU countries with residency in Italy can vote in municipal elections – the ‘elezioni amministrative’ – but they will need to register to vote.

Palazzo Cernezzi 4

Palazzo Cernezzi, Como’s Town Hall

On June 11th this year 1,021 local councils across Italy will be electing new council members and mayors. Citizens of EU countries with residency in Italy can vote in these elections. The three biggest councils in our area going to the polls are Erba, Cantu and Como. The vote in these cities may require a second ballot on June 25th if no clear winners emerge on June 11th.

Other local councils around Lake Como going to the urns are Porlezza, the Alta Valle Intelvi, San Bartolomeo Val Cavargna, Gera Lario, Brienno and Blessagno. The following councils are also voting elsewhere within Como Province: Appiano Gentile, Barni, Beregazzo con Figliaro, Campione d’Italia, Guanzate, Orsenigo, Rodero, Rovello Porro and San Fermo della Battaglia (which now includes Cavallasca).

Palazzo Cernezzi

You will need to be on the ‘Lista Elettorale’ maintained by your local council to ensure you can vote at these elections. The deadline for applying to join this list is 2nd May in Como (May 1st is a holiday so act now!). Procedures may differ from council to council and so it may be possible that you were placed on the electoral list when applying for residency although most of us will have to make a separate application.

Palazzo Cernezzi 1

Apply to the Servizi Elettorali in the old courtyard

In Como the procedure for applying is simple. Apply at the Ufficio Elettorale for a form to complete called ‘Domanda di iscrizione nelle liste elettorali aggiunte di cittadini di uno stato membro dell’Unione Europea‘. Or click on the link to download the form electronically. Once filled in, take it and a photocopy of your passport or identity card to the Ufficio Protocollo who will enter your data and issue you a receipt which, if required, will provide proof that the request was submitted before the deadline.

Palazzo Cernezzi 2

Ufficio Protocollo – also in the old courtyard

That’s it so now you just need to have faith that your council will issue you with a ‘Tessera Elettorale’ and subsequently, about two weeks before actual voting day with a ‘Certificato Elettorale’ which will include information on where you are to vote. On voting day itself, take the Certificato and proof of identity (passport or identity card) with you to the voting station.

Como Companion will follow up with more information on the different candidates for mayor of Como subsequently.

Palazzo Cernezzi 3

 

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From Liberation Day to May Day

April 25th was Liberation Day in Italy – a public holiday to honour the signing of the Armistice in Rome 72 years ago. This brought an end to the Nazifascist regime in Northern Italy. It is a day of commemoration strongly promoted by ANPI (the national association of Italian partisans) so as to maintain the memory of the sacrifices made by the partisans and by the even larger numbers of their civilian supporters.

Monument to European Resistance 1

Wreaths laid at the Memorial to European Resistance in Como as part of the civic ceremonies commemorating Liberation Day

pedro

Pedro – Commander of the ‘Puecher’ platoon of 52nd Garibaldi Brigade of Partisans who captured Mussolini at Musso

And for Como, the significance of this commemoration must always be particularly strong, given the way events turned out in the last few days of the fascist regime. After all, it was the partisan group known as the 52nd Brigata Garibaldi which operated on the western shores of Lake Como who captured Mussolini as he attempted an escape from Italy disguised within a column of retreating German soldiers. Mussolini, his wife Rachele and mistress Claretta Petacci along with many leaders of the fascist puppet-state known as the RSI (or the Republic of Salo) descended on Como on April 25th 1945. (Read the 25th April Liberation Day for more information on how Mussolini met his end and where.)

So clearly Como was not itself liberated on April 25th. Instead it turned out to be hosting the fascist Head of State prior to his attempted flight to safety having left Milan following the breakdown of surrender discussions mediated by Cardinal Schuster. He chose to spend the night at the Prefettura on Via Volta, the representative site of national government still in the hands of the fascists.

His wife Rachele stayed instead further up Via Volta at the Villa Mantero which had been requisitioned for her use. On the 26th Mussolini joined up with Claretta Petacci and her brother and left alongside his fascist leaders for Menaggio. Rachele instead tried to cross over into Switzerland but was turned back at the border crossing at Chiasso.

So, in spite of the fascist leaders being mostly on the run, it was not until April 28th that Como itself was liberated. The first indication of the dawning of a new era was the arrival early in the morning of an armoured car captured by the partisans and driven around Piazza Cavour in a celebratory lap of honour. This heralded the later arrival of the American allied army as it came up from Milan. Piazza Cavour thus became the impromptu setting for celebrations as the citizens and armed partisans began to gather in the open.

Christian Schiefer, a professional photographer from Lugano, had sensed that monumental events were unfolding and so travelled down from Chiasso and caught on film the historic shots reproduced here.

ThMetropole Suissee American allied army immediately took over the Hotel Metropole Suisse as their headquarters. It had only hours before been the local HQ for the German Wehrmacht but the remains of the German army had made their way that day to the border crossing at Chiasso where they were allowed to surrender to the Swiss authorities once all arms were given up.

The Fascist party had also abandoned their headquarters in the Palazzo Terragni, also known as the Casa del Fascio, leaving it free for the PCI (Partito Comunista Italiano) to take it on as their HQ.

Casa del Fascio

Palazzo Terragni (Casa del Fascio)

These were just a couple of the monumental changes facing the territory at that time. The partisan brigades including the 52nd Brigata Garibaldi took over policing duties and were free to hunt down ex-fascist leaders and Nazi collaborators until June of that year when their powers were suspended. They and the workers, who had maintained the General Strike from 20th April, were the heroes of the hour.

Aramis and brother

Villa Passalacqua, Moltrasio 30th May 1945 – ‘Eros’ (Angelo Nardi) and ‘Aramis’ (Amos Santi), 2 partisan leaders in the Tomasic platoon of the 52nd Brigata Garibaldi.

During the fascist regime, the celebration of May Day as the day of international labour had been suspended. So 1st May 1945, just three days after the liberation of Como, provided the first major opportunity for a communal celebration of liberty and labour. Thus it was only fitting as to who should head the parade that year – the 52nd Brigata Garibaldi.

may day 1945 milan

May Day 1945 – Milan

Further sources of information about the partisans, the last days of the fascist regime and the liberation of Como are available from:

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Strada Regia – From Torno to Pognana

This post has now been moved to Recreation, Walks, Strada Regia – From Torno to Pognana

 

Posted in Architecture, Culture, History, Itineraries, Lake, Places of interest, Uncategorized, Walks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Don’t Mention the Mafia!

mafia

Artwork from Liceo Artistico Melotti, Lomazzo

The title ‘Don’t mention the Mafia!’ takes inspiration from the episode in Fawlty Towers when Basil admonishes his staff to not mention the war to his German guests. For those not brought up on UK comedy from the 1970’s, my point is that this topic raises such a set of sensibilities such that foreigners touch upon it at their own risk – particularly the issue of mafia presence in the north! In any case, you might well ask why raise the subject at all since it’s unlikely any of this impinges on any of our lives (at least not directly) and certainly does not compromise the natural beauty of our area and the manifestly innocent enjoyment of it by visitors and residents alike. However I do hope to show that, at least once in a while, we should consider this awkward topic.

The main evidence of a mafia presence in Lombardy comes from three investigations initiated by the DDA (Direzione Distrettuale Antimafia) under the Procura of Milan and led by the indefatigable antimafia magistrate Ilda Boccassini.

Ilda Boccassini

Ilda Boccassini

Ilda Boccassini has perhaps the broadest experience within the Italian judicial system in investigating corruption and mafia activities. She worked in Milan on Mani Pulite in the 90s, transferred to Caltanisetta to investigate the Falcone-Borsellino assassinations, returned to Milan to quash the rebirth of the Red Brigades and concurrently to identify the presence of the mafia in Lombardy. More recently she has been leading the investigations into the alleged crimes of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi.

The facts arising from the three DDA investigations (named Infinito, Metastasi and Insubria) do confirm the presence of the Mafia in the north involving primarily the Calabrian form of organised crime known as the ‘ndrangheta. The ‘Infinito’ inquiry was launched in 2003. It led to the arrest of 200 people in Milan and Calabria with both trials and investigations still ongoing. The ‘Metastasi’ investigation focused on the presence of the mafia in Lecco and the activities of old-style mafia boss Franco Covo Trovato.

franco trovato

Franco Covo Trovato

The ‘Insubria’ inquiry was initiated in 2012 and focused on ‘ndrangheta activity in three local councils, including two within the province of Como. These are Fino Mornasco and Cermenate, located halfway between Como and Milan. 35 arrests were made and prison sentences totalling 162 years have been handed out to ex-town councillors  and Calabrian or local business men. Fino Mornasco was described by magistrates in 2014 as ‘one of the most shining examples of a mafia controlled local council in Northern Italy’.

 

insubria

Two of the ‘ndrangheta members sentenced following the Insubria investigation

Should we be concerned by this? Or to be blunt, do we as foreign residents or visitors need to know about it? In one sense, no – because the activities of organised crime are almost invisible to the great majority living here and totally so to those visiting temporarily. Yet there are victims, with 400 incidents of intimidation in the Province of Como initiated by organised crime between 2008 and 2014 according to data gathered by the DDA. Additionally the long term effects of corruption debilitate the local economy with damage to both the environment and the fabric of towns and cities. This is why once in a while, and maybe particularly on the days set aside to remember and honour the victims of the Mafia, even we foreigners should be excused the use of the M word – always in the spirit of sympathy for the victims and to give moral support for those investigating and bringing mafia criminals to justice.

 

eyes and mouth

The tape hides the mouth because the mafia do not speak. It covers the eyes because the mafia get what they want without looking their victims in the face. Art by Rebecca from the Liceo Melotti.

21st March, the first day of spring, has now been designated an anniversary day for remembering the innocent victims of the Mafia. Here in Como, the pupils from the Liceo Artistico Melotti from Lomazzo  – a town close to both Fino Mornasco and Cermenate – staged an exhibition of art in the courtyard of Como’s Town Hall, Palazzo Cernezzi, as part of a school project entitled ‘Against the Mafia’. Their project was part of a series of activities organised by the ‘Movimento delle Agende Rosse’. The exhibition has done a tour of town councils in the Province of Como and will end up at the house of Paolo Borsellino’s son on the anniversary of his father’s  assassination in Palermo on the 19th July 1992. The artwork by the students illustrates many aspects of the character and impact of organised crime and stands as a visual testimony to why we should publicise and challenge its presence. Certainly the assassinations of magistrates Falcone and Borsellino in 1992 were met with mass revulsion and popular resistance to what were audacious challenges to state authority. Since then, the mafia has avoided such provocative violent acts and, for those seeking to operate in the north, have followed a low key strategy of  gaining control in certain industrial sectors through the corruption of small town officials, hence their presence in Fino Mornasco.

 

trovato gang

Franco Trovato and gang members facing arrest and sentencing

The subject of the Metastasi investigation was the old-style ‘ndrangheta boss, Franco Covo Trovato, Calabrian in origin but resident in Lecco, Como’s lakeside sister city. He was arrested in September 1992 hiding out in his town centre headquarters – the Wall Street Pizzeria in Via Belfiore. He owned and used the pizzeria as his centre of operations from where he organised his empire of drug trafficking and money laundering. He met here with his henchmen giving out orders for the physical intimidation and assassination of his victims. He is now serving three life sentences and his property, including the pizzeria, has been seized by the state. Now, after a prolonged legal battle, the state has finally arranged for the sale of the pizzeria which has just now re-opened as the Pizzeria Fiore with a formal ceremony on 21st March (the day set aside for remembering the innocent victims of the Mafia). The opening ceremony that featured Lombardy Governor Roberto Maroni slicing the pizza, also included students reading out the names of the tens of local victims of Trovato’s criminal regime.

wall street seized

Sequestering of mafia property is proving successful in the fight against crime

Whilst organised crime is still very involved in drug trafficking, they try to invest its profits into legally established businesses operating primarily in construction and refuse management. They then seek commercial advantage by corrupting those local officials involved in the commissioning of projects or selection of suppliers. Although Milan’s recent Expo 2015 offered plenty of opportunities for this (a number of cases are now going through the courts), the focus has tended to switch to smaller local councils in and around the Milan hinterland – just like our own Fino Mornasco and Cermenate. It seems easier to forge corrupt relationships and more easily influence outcomes within these smaller public entities.

thousand eyes

‘Contaminati’ by Miriam, Liceo Melotti. The thousand mafia eyes, whilst appearing colourful and friendly are actually observing and controlling us.

So who are the modern day victims of the mafia, assuming that the Trovato style of ill-disguised bullying has become a thing of the past? The DDA figures of 400 cases of mafia-led intimidation in the Province of Como can be broken down as follows: 270 cases involved malicious fire damage to property, 43 were non-mortal gun attacks, 19 were cases of objects thrown against property, 17 cases of damage to cars, 16 were threats over the phone and one case involved a murdered pet. Most of the victims of these incidents were business owners. 37 were owners of earth-moving companies, 15 were bar or night club owners, 13 were building companies, 12 were owners of service businesses and 5 owned garbage collection businesses. However there were some professional victims as well.

One aspect of the northern-style mafia which cannot be ignored is that some small to medium-sized businesses actively seek out a connection with an ‘ndrangheta family. The reason is that a mafia connection could help when seeking to persuade an unwilling client to pay an outstanding bill. There are unfortunately too many brazen individuals who treat paying a bill as a voluntary activity in the knowledge that to seek redress through the courts could take years and will most likely cost you more than you manage to recover. Thus the attraction of an extra-legal persuasion, or as the Italian expression goes  – ‘to have your shoulders covered’. Then there is always the chance that your business may itself profit from whatever projects the mafia manage to win.

la piovra

‘The Monster’ by Samuele Liceo Melotti.

 

The subject of organised crime is a depressing one presenting a shameful side to some parts of the local business culture. However if we avoid the subject we then fail to recognise those who bravely seek to combat it. Truly the efforts of those ‘against the mafia’ shine out against the grey background of the morally compromised. Magistrates such as Ilda Boccassini demonstrate a courage and fortitude beyond my ability to comprehend. The students reading out the list of mafia victims at the rebirth of the Pizzeria Fiore are reclaiming an honest future for this enterprise that will obliterate a landmark of shame. The schoolchildren of the Liceo Artistico in Lomazzo are helping to keep the example of Falcone and Borsellino alive in all our minds, as well as giving us their interpretation of the true present-day nature of this criminal organisation.

mafia stato

From the ‘Against the Mafia’ exhibition by pupils from the Liceo Artistico Statale ‘F. Melotti’, Lomazzo

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Como to Torno Revisited

This post has now been moved to Recreation, Walks, Como to Torno Revisited

 

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Uncover Your Karma in Como

Ayurveda, Yoga, meditation, mindfulness and more – welcome to the world of wellness for English-speakers here in Como. As from 1st April there will be a series of monthly pop-up wellness weekends – with totally flexible levels of participation – held in Como and led in English by a series of specialist facilitators in a range of wellness disciplines. This marvelous initiative is the brainchild of Miriam O’Reilly – the organiser of these ‘Free Your Mind’ weekends. Her ultimate vision is no less than to see Como as one of the primary European hubs for wellness facilities and events. For those of you already fully familiar with the world of wellness, why not check out the Free Your Mind website and sign up for as many or as few sessions as you wish whilst places are still available.

wellness flyer cover

‘Free Your Mind’ flyer

I recently met up with Miriam at Borgo35 – the location of her ‘Free Your Mind’ wellness weekends. I was fascinated to understand more about wellness in general as well as to hear what she has lined up for English-speaking residents and visitors to Como.

miriam

Miriam O’Reilly – organiser of Free Your Mind

Miriam has been living in Como for the last five years and, from those first lonely weeks, has come to feel settled and happily integrated within the local and ex-pat community. Over that time she has developed her own knowledge and practice of wellness, along with a mission to widen wellness awareness and bring like-minded people together in a community of interest. I soon began to appreciate that if Miriam, on first arriving from Ireland, initially faced isolation, she would have very quickly set about taking steps to resolve it with the same optimistic spirit evident now in how she is bringing together the varied wellness resources for her ‘Free Your Mind’ weekends.

With my almost total ignorance of wellness beyond its obvious association with health, I was keen to hear how Miriam would explain it for me. Slightly to my surprise she quickly came back with a succinct definition namely that ‘wellness is the process of seeking out and cultivating the tools that help you to feel balanced in your mind and body.’ However I did sense that Miriam would henceforth avoid any further definitive statements due to her emphasising how both the ends and the means of wellness are a matter of personal preference. She described it as a form of self-discovery arrived at through introspection aided by whatever methods (Miriam referred to tools) best suited to each individual. And this is why she aims through the ‘Free your Mind’ sessions to introduce her participants to a variety of these tools (such as Ayurveda massage, yoga or other forms of meditation) so each of us can uncover which individual or combination of tools best help us along our journey.

wellness lake 1

Karma on Lake Como

So what would be the end goal of this esplorative journey? Why set out in the first place? Again, Miriam had no prescriptive answer to this but illustrated a typical preferred outcome with the simile of a ship’s captain steering his or her vessel through both calm and stormy waters with the same equanimity – in other words, being able to deal with all that life throws at you, whether hard, easy, challenging or dull, with flexibility, calmness and confidence.

wellness image 1Miriam’s own experience is perhaps the best way of illustrating one reason why someone would want to set out towards wellness. I found her approachable, open-minded, and plausible – in short, easy to talk to and to get on with. She is clearly an energetic person but fortunately without any of that stress-inducing aura exuded by so many high-energy individuals ( I am thinking of the Gordon Ramsay syndrome here). So I could readily appreciate how she has managed demanding roles in marketing and advertising within retail while wanting to seek ways of avoiding the adrenalin highs and exhausted lows that go with this territory. For her, the path taken to manage this excess stress was through yoga. She found she could clear her mind through yoga’s predominantly physical focus towards meditation and that it was this that best helped her when starting out.

wellness facilitators

Free Your Mind facilitators

But Miriam is well aware that alternative methods may better suit other people, hence her concept of bringing together various forms of wellness practice so that participants can try out as many as they wish, at one time and in one place. She has brought together a team of English-speaking specialist experts who normally practice in the Varese-Como-Milan area, to staff the wellness weekends. Their combined presence at Como represents a unique mass of experience and expertise. A glance at their biographies and qualifications outlined on the Free Your Mind website will go to show what valuable resources Miriam has been able to pool together, with all facilitators holding qualifications in their areas of expertise as well as having international experience.

The weekends are all scheduled to take place at Borgo35, a co-working and conference centre occupying the ex-convent of Santa Caterina on Via Borgo Vico, 35. It is a short walk down from San Giovanni Station or from the old centre, and there is parking nearby if arriving by car. The weekend seminars will have exclusive use of the centre with its full range of facilities ideally suited to running parallel sessions with break out areas, informal meeting zones and an equipped kitchen.

borgo35 convent

Borgo35 Conference Centre

The location is calm, orderly and well equipped with the internal architecture still retaining some of the features from its spiritual past. Quite apart from Miriam’s wellness weekends, Borgo35 is in itself another great concept offering occasional office facilities for home workers, for networking or as a well-equipped location for meetings – but with a lot more soul to it than a standard hotel meeting room. Sabrina and her staff deserve every success running such a useful facility in support of sustainability and the collaborative economy.

I certainly learnt a lot about wellness through this brief meeting with Miriam and came away impressed with her vision for now and the future. She sees Como as an ideal hub where participants from the area and from across Europe could come to experience wellness breaks given the glorious lakeside settings, the specialist expertise as brought together by Miriam, the facilities and of course, the existing tourism infrastructure. For the immediate present, I admire her plan for developing a wellness community here in and around Como made up primarily (but not exclusively) of English-speaking residents and visitors. I know she will do everything possible to nurture and grow that sense of community and so I wish her every success – and urge you to visit the Free Your Mind website to consider what a single session, half day workshop or full immersion wellness weekend might do for you!

borgo35 kitchen

Borgo35’s kitchen and break area

Just as a final reminder, the first of the Free Your Mind monthly weekends is on April 1st and 2nd with additional weekends set for May 6th/7th and June.  If you are looking for more information on Wellness resources in the Varese-Milan-Como area, join the Wellness for English Speakers Facebook group . Some local Bio resources are listed on one of the Come Companion’s posts – see A-Bio–Como. We also hope shortly to begin listing other wellness resources under our Community listings, so watch this space.

And if you do need to hire a co-working or occasional meeting space, do contact Sabrina and staff on +39 031 6873673 or visit their site at www.borgo35.it.

borgo35 sabrina

Sabrina Dell’Oro and Fabio Indovino – staff at Borgo35

Posted in Culture, Events, Food, Lake, People, Uncategorized, Wellness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Full Jazz Immersion – Com’In Festival

 

comin jazz logoAs from Friday 9th March, ‘Greater’ Como embarks on over a week of full jazz immersion with the launch of the so-called ‘Com’In Jazz’ Festival. This aims no less than to revive Como’s reputation for jazz and musical innovation that apparently thrived in the 80s and 90s. It runs until Wednesday 15th March, but is then immediately followed by its partner festival in Chiasso that runs from Thursday 16th March until Sunday morning.

chiasso JazzBut that is not the only reason why this festival involves ‘greater’ Como since many of the fringe events take place in bars both within the old centre, immediately surrounding it or even out as far as Breccia. Other aspects to this festival that mark it out as imaginative and deserving of every success are the inclusion of marching bands bringing the music out into the streets as in old New Orleans and the workshops for school pupils and other educative sessions intended to spread understanding and appreciation of this vibrant form of music.

Awaiting summer visitors

Como awaits visitors on Viale Geno

So what a great way to welcome in the Spring on this weekend by taking in some live music as many of the local hotels and places of interest  reopen their doors again for the start of the 2107 tourist season. But, as mentioned before, this festival really does intend to involve as many different people as possible ranging from the concerts ‘a pagamento’ at the Teatro Sociale’ with tickets costing about €15 to those concerts with free admission at the Chiostrino di Sant’Eufemia or the Nerolidio Music Factory in Via Sant’Abbondio. Full details of the programme are available at Visit Como.

 

But please note a particularly imaginative idea for extending exposure to jazz beyond the normal scope of concert goers, namely the so-called ‘Aperitivi in Jazz’. This initiative offers more informal jazz sessions in smaller venues located in a variety of city and suburban locations. Check out the map and the listings on Visit Como. What about using this as a way of exploring parts of the city you may never have had a reason to visit before? These sessions run from 19.00 in the evening but a more likely start time is after 21.00.

Map

  1. Nota su Nota, Via Giulini 13 (Sessions for schools)
  2. Be-Bop Cafe, Via Pasquale Paoli 51
  3. Fresco, Viale Lecco 23

    Fresco

    Fresco

  4. Il Gap, Via Sirtori, 12

    Il Gap

     Il Gap

  5. I Giardini di Tava, Via Dottesio 1
  6. Caffe Mazzini, Piazza Mazzini

    Mazzini

    Caffe Mazzini

  7. Ox, Piazza de Gasperi 6

    Ox

    Ox

  8. Cava dei Sapori, Via Guido da Como 2
  9. Bistrot, Villa Geno

    Bistro

    Il Bistrot

  10. Vintage Jazz, Via Olginate 44

    Vintage Jazz

    Vintage Jazz

  11. Al Quaranta 4, Via D’Annunzio 44
  12. Arte Dolce Lyceum, Via Cesare Cantu 36

    Lyceum

    Arte Dolce Lyceum

 

It’s great to see this festival being revived and support for another musical genre being added to Como’s already rich musical calendar.

music festival logosCheck out this range of musical festivals in and around Como on our events page and also get information either from Visit Como or from our own calendar on exact dates, times and locations. Finally, jazz lovers should not overlook the Chiasso Festival that offers three different gigs a night in the Chiasso Cinema Theatre from 16th March Thursday night through to the early hours of Sunday.

 

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From Out of the Swamp, Novum Comum – Roman Como

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Statue in the gardens of Villa Olmo

Como is in origin a Roman city named Novum Comum and founded in 59 BCE by none other than Julius Caesar, the father of the Roman Empire.

The Roman presence persisted from then on until the collapse of the western empire approximately 600 years later with the city boasting a population of up to 40,000 in its heyday in the 3rd century AD.

So how can we best get to understand and appreciate this heritage given how the face of the city has since been overlaid with centuries of subsequent developments? Firstly, we can appreciate the broad outline of Novum Comum simply by tracing the line of the defensive walls that broadly follow and in fact incorporate in parts some of the walls originally constructed by Caesar.

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The red rectangle depicts the line of the city walls marking the city limits of Roman Como however many (particularly recreational) buildings were placed outside the walls.

Those original walls were 2 metres thick and up to 7 to 8 metres tall and had, as their main point of entry on the southern walls close to the current Porta Torre, a double-arched gateway known as the Porta Pretoria. The remains of this gateway form part of Roman Como still accessible to visitors courtesy of the Museo Archeologico.

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Artist’s impression of Como’s Porta Pretoria

Given that many buildings existed outside the city walls (e.g. the Roman Baths, the cemeteries on Viale Varese and the luxury villa on Via Zezio) we also know that, within the rectangular walls and the typically Roman grid street pattern, there would have been temples to the main gods, a forum, theatre, private dwellings and artisan workshops – but no-one knows precisely quite where many of these were placed. And even where there are still remains, they reveal little more than the building outline, bereft as they are of all ornament and decoration. So, whilst it is well worth visiting these remains, may I suggest you first get to appreciate the richness of Roman ornament by visiting the museum. This way the visitor can more easily engage the imagination to overlay fresco, carving and mosaic  to the dry stone foundations on view.

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Bird fresco, Museo Archeologico, Como

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Pliny the Younger, Duomo, Como

The Roman section of the Museo Archeologico is well laid out and well-labelled albeit only in Italian. But most importantly it gives the visitor scope to imagine what the quality of everyday life was like back in Novum Comum – or at least the life of the wealthy.  Excerpts from the letters of Como’s famous son, Pliny the Younger, testify to the sybaritic splendour of Como’s lakeside location (and to the capacity of the Roman citizens to enjoy it!):

 

‘Caius Plinius salutes Caninio Rufo. What is the news from Como, mine and your delight? And of your truly pleasant suburban villa? And from the eternal springtime of your porch? And from the rich shade of your plane tree copse..? ‘ Pliny the Younger, Epistles 1.3.1.

The museum contains some marvellous examples of local artisan work including the marble relief  in two parts uncovered in the Piazza San Fedele which is one of the primary candidates for the original site of the forum.

The top part shows a formal procession by members of the equestrian order, i.e. knights.  Both they and their horses are finely dressed for the formal parade. The lower scene instead is a more informal depiction of hunting, showing one of the pastimes for young Roman citizens of Como. The detail shows a hunter confronting a lion whilst other parts of the carving show more realistic prey such as deer.

Excavations in 1815 also in Piazza San Fedele uncovered the eight massive columns in Greek marble that the Romans transposed to Novum Comum and which have now again been reused to support the portico in front of the Liceo Volta.

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Greek columns reused by the Romans in Piazza San Fedele and since transposed to the Liceo Volta.

Before leaving the museum, do ensure you ask to see the room with the mosaics. It is a separate room on the ground floor housing a mosaic pavement in two parts, the first of which is made up of geometric patterns.

The second and larger part depicts a portico with three arches, the central one showing two deer either side of a vase.  This mosaic pavement originates from a villa just within the city walls in the present-day grounds of the school alongside Palazzo Cernezzi, Como’s town hall.

Now, with the imagination suitably charged with evidence of the Roman decorative arts, let’s take in the dry stone remains demarcating in a different way the everyday life in Como two thousand years ago. And the most extensive remains are the Roman baths below the Valduce car park between the banks of the River Valduce, now canalised and covered by Via Dante, and Viale Lecco. The actual bath complex extends twice as far as current excavations have revealed. This makes Como’s bath complex one of the largest uncovered in Italy – another indication of the importance of Novum Comum as a trading gateway across the Alps for the Roman Empire.  The image below shows the service corridor (running parallel to modern-day Viale Lecco) that links via the arched doorway into the thermal baths.

The excavations allow visitors to imagine the layout of contrasting cold rooms (frigidari) and hot rooms (calidari). The complex was first developed in the first century AD and extended one century later – possibly when Roman Como was at its zenith with an estimated population of up to 40,000 people. The complex declined towards the end of the 3rd century with some destruction due to both earthquake and flood. It then lay abandoned on the edges of the Valduce river to later become used as a burial ground. But back in the days of Novum Comum, these baths would have formed a crucial hub for citizens to visit on a regular basis not just to wash or bathe but also to visit the barbers, eat, drink and socialise sat out in its two courtyards – or simply to chill in an environment richly decorated with frescoes, mosaics and statuary.

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Bust of Emperor Augustus, Museo Archeologico Como.

And as for all those stones used to construct the Roman baths beyond the level of the foundations now visible? They were undoubtedly re-used for future building throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance such that Como’s Roman ancestry is part of the genetic structure of the modern city.

For those who wish to recreate a sense of Novum Comum for themselves, here are the key references:

  1. Museo Archeologico ‘Paolo Giovio’, Piazza Medaglie d’Oro, 1. Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10.00 – 18.00 with €4 entrance fee. Ask here also for access to the Porta Pretoria which is open by appointment only.
  2. Roman Baths, Viale Lecco 9, open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10.00 – 14.00 and on Saturdays from 10.00 to 18.00. Entrance is free. More info is available on http://www.facebook.com/termedicomoomana/

For background and access to the Roman Baths, thanks are due to Giovanni Menna, Tour Manager of Como Lake Holiday and local organiser of ‘Aperti per Voi’ , the voluntary organisation that provides free access to the public to historical sites such as Como’s Roman Baths. Giovanni can be contacted on +39 338.200.46.70.

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Piazza San Fedele, Como – one of the likeliest locations for the forum in Novum Comum.

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Como’s ‘Viaggi della Salvezza’ – In Memory of the Holocaust

Last 27th January was Holocaust Memorial Day in both UK and Italy – and even though Como Companion is behind schedule on this, I would like to mark the event by looking at the heroic activities of one particular group who saved the lives of both Italian and foreign Jews by assisting their escape into neutral Switzerland – guiding them on the so-called ‘viaggi della salvezza’.

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Palazzo Terragni, ex Casa del Fascio & current day Guardia di Finanza HQ 

The group was the Guardia di Finanza – the customs officers whose job was to patrol the borders to prevent smuggling.  The Guardia di Finanza had long-established barracks along the peaks of the mountains where guards recruited from all over Italy were billeted to patrol the border.  They thus had a permanent presence along the mountain borders and a detailed knowledge of the different paths and passes.  Research has now revealed how many of these barracks actively assisted Jewish refugees escape into Switzerland from the moment their lives came under threat following the Italian Armistice in September 1943. One outcome of instituting  Holocaust Memorial Day in Italy  in the year 2000 has been the  increased research into the role taken by various Italian organisations and individuals in helping Jews  to safety. The branch of the Guardia di Finanza managed out of Milan under the leadership of Colonel Alfredo Malgeri, which  included all of the barracks along the Como border, stands out for particular heroism, and some of the individual guards have now been posthumously honoured both in Italy and in Israel for their altruism.

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The Italian-Swiss border between the barracks of Bugone and Murelli. Now demarcated by a single strand of wire rather than the netting during the war.

 

The main national organisation for assisting Jews was known as DELASEM (Delegation for the Assistance of Jewish Emigrants). It operated in Italy from 1939 until 1947 and is credited with assisting around 9,000 escapees but unfortunately could not prevent the ultimate death of up to 7,680 Italian Jews during the Nazi-fascist occupation from 1943. my-italian-secretMany Northern European Jews who had sought refuge in Italy prior to 1943 were interned in the southern part of the country and thus survived when the allies liberated them in 1942. Those in the north had to turn to DELASEM and to the bravery of individuals, as for example Tour de France Champion Gino Bartali,  to assist them in gaining safety. Bartali is credited with saving up to 800 lives and his story along with that of the families of some of the survivors from central Italy is recounted in a lovely documentary entitled ‘My Italian Secret’.

So what was life like for Italian Jews during the fascist regime?  Until Mussolini decided to ally himself with Hitler, he had shown no interest in developing racism as a populist strategy maybe partly  because Hitler’s Arianism excluded the Mediterranean people in its pseudo-scientific theory of racial superiority.  The fascist axis alliance brought a change of attitude and with that the introduction in 1938 of the Italian anti-Semitic Racial Laws. These laws did not at first threaten the lives of Jews directly but they were insulting, demeaning and led to economic and social hardship.  They were not applied consistently and the state’s attitude seemed full of contradictions as with the apparent financial support given to DELASEM in certain regions.  But it all formed part of the stifling arrogance that personified the fascist authorities and their regime with its regular recourse to bullying.  But this already nasty environment turned deadly the moment the Italian state, under a royal decree, dismissed Mussolini and soon after on September 8th 1943 sought an armistice with the allies who had just launched their initially successful landings in the south. The Nazi response was to occupy north and central Italy, rescue Mussolini from imprisonment on Gran Sasso and set him up as head of the puppet fascist RSI (Socialist Republic of Italy).  This caused a mass clandestine exodus from occupied Italy across the borders in Lombardy from Varese, Como and the Valtellina into Switzerland, as well as elsewhere.  These refugees included allied prisoners, antifascists, ex-members of the Italian army , young men seeking to avoid conscription, and, most importantly Jews who now for the first time faced deportation to the concentration camps in Austria, Germany and Eastern Europe to face forced labour and death.

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Salvatore Corrias

A  35 year old Sardinian customs  officer  called Salvatore Corrias, having survived  a dangerous retreat from Yugoslavia following the September 8th armistice, reported for duty at the Cernobbio headquarters of the Guardia di Finanza on 1st January 1944. Marshall Rossi, already an active  partisan, briefed all newcoming officers  on the role of the Cernobbio Guardia di Finanza in assisting refugees to cross the border on Mount Bisbino into Switzerland. He asked all  to consider their conscience and decide if they too would assist the refugees. Salvatore and many of his colleagues agreed to help. He then left to join the patrol in Bugone, just along the mountain crest from Bisbino, where he was delighted to meet up with Francesco Pisano, a Calabrian who had served with Salvatore in the Balkans. Francesco commanded the small Bugone contingent. These two with other comrades set out to provide the last link in the refugees’ ‘viaggi della Salvezza’ by guiding them to safety over the border.

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Rifugio Bugone – the ex-barracks of the Guardia di Finanza where Pisano and Corrias were stationed.

The active role played by the Guardia di Finanza in assisting Jews, ex-POWs and antifascists  across the border has been researched and testified to by a number of witnesses including some famous names such as Carlo De Benedetti, the wealthy industrialist and one-time chairman of the Olivetti company.  Carlo De Benedetti’s family, being Jewish, first escaped into Switzerland in October 1943 via Moltrasio but Carlo, who was only 13 years old at the time, remained hidden by a relative in Brianza. However, when things got too dangerous, he was entrusted to the Guardia di Finanza who smuggled him across the border at Chiasso so he could rejoin his family.

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Marshall Paolo Boetti

Like Pisano, Corrias and Marshall Rossi , many customs officials also became full-time members of the resistance such as Marshall Paolo Boetti who commanded the Chiasso and the Murelli barracks, at Torriggia just past Laglio. He was a member of  the ‘Fiamme Verdi’ Voluntary Brigade of Alta Brianza commanded by Luigi Sartirana who provided the following citation in September 1945: ‘…that he [Paolo] collaborated up until his arrest in May 1944 in the clandestine smuggling of allied prisoners of war and Jewish refugees in the border zone between Moltrasio and Carate Urio , and to be more precise, in the area under the control of the Murelli barracks under his command.’ His eventual arrest occurred on 10th May 1944 when he was caught carrying 325,000 lire across the border at Chiasso for a Jewish refugee, Vittorio Levi  who had previously made the crossing to safety in Switzerland. He was transported to the Mauthausen-Gusen  concentration camp in Austria to undertake forced labour. He finally made it home following the camp’s liberation on the 4th May 1945. On 15th June of last year he was posthumously awarded the ‘Medaglia d’Oro al Merito Civile’ for his humanitarian role.

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Rifugio Murelli – ex barracks of the Guardia di Finanza. Both Murelli and Bugone are now open as ‘rifugi’ offering mountain food for trekkers.

The barracks of the Guardia di Finanza, whilst being singularly inhospitable and lonely locations for most of the year, were perfectly placed to assist refugees. The individual customs men also had detailed knowledge of the different paths and hiding places thus enabling them to avoid the attention of the German army or Blackshirt (brigade nere) patrols.

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View from Mount Bisbino

Bisbino and Bugone were particularly suited to the customs men’s humanitarian work due to its isolation and the network of old first world war defences for which only the guards had detailed maps. But these barracks were just the last link in a network of assistance such as that set up by DELASEM.  In particular the local priest in Cernobbio, the much respected Don Umberto Marmori, played a crucial part in this network. He was imprisoned for his activities and tortured causing his health to fail and precipitating an early death. His replacement, Don Abramo Levi, maintained Don Umberto’s tradition of assisting refugees. He in turn was later arrested by the fascist regime.  The one thing that helped so many strangers to circulate relatively safely in the small towns along the Como lakefront was the fact that they were full of Milanese escaping the heavy and relentless aerial bombardment over their city by the allied forces.

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Don Umberto’s Church SS. Redentore of Cernobbio in the piazza named after him.

The Nazi authorities finally lost patience with the scale of the clandestine activities of the Guardia di Finanza and on 28th August 1944 set up an exclusion zone banning them from the border area and compelling them to abandon barracks such as those at Murelli and Bugone. Francesco Pisano and Salvatore Corrias now became full-time members of the ‘Artom’ Partisan Brigade. Salvatore did however ensure that he kept the keys to the Bugone barracks and the building continued to be used to house refugees awaiting the best moment to cross the border.

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Moltrasio

Salvatore had in the meantime met a girl from Moltrasio called Margherita and they formed a close bond together. Margherita and her brother were also active in the resistance. Salvatore continued to assist refugees and ex-POWs as well as acting as a messenger for the partisans maintaining communications with, for example, the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) located in Lugano and run by Allan Dulles who would later become head of the CIA. The OSS played a crucial role in financing the partisans based on Bisbino and those under the command of Captain Ricci in the Val d’Intelvi.

It was on the return from a mission to escort an allied prisoner of war across the border that Salvatore, on a sunny Sunday morning on the 28th January 1945, was finally taken prisoner  by the vicious ‘Banda Tucci’ blackshirts. Having resisted offers of leniency in exchange for information on his companions of the ‘Artom’ brigade, he was shot stood against the large beech tree outside the Bugone barracks. His companions were unable to retrieve his body until the following May by which time the war was then over. His body is buried in Moltrasio’s municipal cemetery alongside other colleagues and a plaque on the chapel down on the lakeside states how Salvatore was ‘shot by enemies of the country because they desired a free Italy in a just world.’ It was left to Margherita to write back to Salvatore’s mother in Sardinia to inform her of her son’s death at 36 years old and one year on from his arrival at Lake Como.

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Salvatore’s grave in Moltrasio Cemetery and the plaque in his honour. 

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Francesco Pisano, nom de guerre ‘Franz’

Francesco Pisano maintained armed resistance to the fascist regime as commander of a group of up to 50 partisans who undertook a series of heroic actions along the western shores of Lake Como including an attack on a blackshirt barracks in Argegno and on a weapons store belonging to the Province of Como in Laglio. He laid down arms in June 1945 and then died young, but of natural causes, at Moltrasio in 1953 at the age of 40. Margherita herself died a few years back but she and Salvatore did have a daughter who, I was informed locally, used to come back in the summer months until recently to stay in her mother’s mountain house above Moltrasio.

The humanitarian role undertaken by officers of the Guardia di Finanza has been honoured publicly as research continues to reveal the extent of their contribution to the ‘humanitarian corridor’ set up by organisations like DELASEM and priests like Don Umberto.

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The Medaglia d’Oro al Merito Civile

The individual sacrifice of Salvatore Corrias was recognised in 1952 and 1956 with two ‘Croci al Merito di Guerra’  and in 2006 by the Italian State’s award of the ‘Medaglia d’Oro al Merito Civile’  and  by Israel with the award  given to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from the Holocaust  – the ‘Righteous Among Nations’. Throughout the occupation of Italy 5192 customs officers of the Guardia di Finanza were captured and imprisoned by the fascist state and 236 died in concentration camps.

Thanks are due to Captain Gerardo Severino, Director of the ‘Museo Storico della Guardia di Finanza’, for the valuable research he has done on the role of the Guardia di Finanza and the effort taken by him to research citations testifying to the acts of bravery and altruism performed by agents such as Salvatore Corrias.  Let’s hope that none of us are ever called upon to resist such inhumane barbarity as was the Holocaust but if so, let’s hope we can find the same courage and instinctive humanity as demonstrated by Salvatore and so many others at that time.  However let’s also try to avoid complicity in any future form of ethnic cleansing through the sort of apathy and compliance that initially tolerated the imposition of the Racial Laws.

Postscript: Rifugio Bugone is now managed by a delightful young couple with a new baby  and they would be delighted to welcome anyone looking for good mountain food at the end of a brisk walk in the mountains (or by  a 4×4). Call 031 0350027 or email for booking to roberto.rifugiobugone@gmail.com. Murelli is also open to the public.  Call mobile 335 8434493 or email  gogga95@hotmail.it

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