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Sorrow and bliss in Italy

Wednesday, 16 October, 2013

The recent spate of migrant deaths in the waters off the coast of Italy has highlighted the tragedy of Africa and its failed states. But the heartrending fate of Africans in Italy is not new, as Iris Origo noted in her diary 70 years ago:

16 October 1943: “Antonia goes down to Chianciano and returns with the news that at Magione a German captain, as he was driving through a wood, was shot and killed; he was buried yesterday at Chianciano.

In the evening a Moroccan soldier turns up here, an escaped prisoner from Laterina. He can speak only a few words of English and Italian and is very completely lost — travelling north, although he says he wants to get to Rome. We give him food and shelter for the night and point out the road to the south. ‘Me ship,’ he says, ‘Me not swim’. Very slight are his chances of getting home again.” Iris Origo

Iris Origo was an Anglo-Irish writer best known for works such as War in Val d’Orcia, The Merchant of Prato and The Vagabond Path. Following her birth in 1902, her parents travelled widely, particularly in Italy, where her father contracted tuberculosis and died in 1910. Her mother, Lady Sybil Cutting, then bought one of Florence’s most spectacular residences, the Villa Medici in Fiesole, which was built between 1451 and 1457. Iris Cutting married Antonio Origo, the illegitimate son of Marchese Clemente Origo, in 1924 and the couple devoted much of their lives to the improvement of their estate at La Foce, near Montepulciano. The Marchesa of Val d’Orcia, as Iris Origo was titled, died in her beloved Tuscany, with its cultivated hills, picturesque towns and magnificent Brunello di Montalcino in June 1988, aged 85.

Tuscany


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