The joy of marriage vanished and the uncertainty
and anguish erased even the memory of it. A time of waiting, deprivation and
pain began For Angela…

From the book *Angela (the heirs of the Messapians):


«Like small specks of dust, in the universe of catastrophic events that shook the world, Angela and Gaetano were completely lost from sight. She regretted the time when it was enough for her to write on the envelope “Dragone Borbone Gaetano, quarto battaglione, posta militare, Roma” and post her letters for him to receive. “I will always love you,” he had told her as he walked away from her. She used to soothe her despair by recalling those words to her memory over and over, when the news she stole from la gente buona, that is “those who mattered”in town, used to tear at her heart.»

In her house exposed to the elements, Angela defied the sharp whistle of the north wind and the violent storms of the west that raged around her body and even more in her heart tormented by the fear that her dragon might perish in war. "Lord, save him!", She prayed, "If he is on the right, let the bombs fall to the left and the other way around. Let him come back, let my brother come back and all of mom's children come back."
In the part of the house intended for her, on the east side of the house, behind the window, which so many broken hearts had wished to see open, during the many serenades, Angela slept restlessly having dreams inhabited by nightmares and prayers. The oven next to the entrance had forgotten the aromas and abundances baked for Angela and Gaetano’s wedding, burning no longer for celebrations and parties and sadly filling itself with loaves, in the few bread-making of survival.

And… there came a time when the conflict erupted like an unstoppable fire, closing Angela and her world out of this world, in eternal waits with no more glimmers.



It was the postwar period that, with makeshift photographs, gave documentary consistency to the occasional stories of the survivors. The underlying ones were what Angela found of the war in Gaetano’s suitcase.

Balkan campaign / return from the front. In the photo Gaetano is the second standing, from the right.
Inscription on the back of the photo (which the scanner does not detect): "Memory of the day 9 December 1941. First attack on the rebels, there have been three wounded brothers in arms."
Balkan campaign/ Gaetano is the first, from the right, with his right knee on the ground.
Balkan campaign / machine gunners position. Gaetano is among the soldiers just off the night shift, who are trying to catch up on a few hours of sleep and who are raised from the ground to be recognizable in the photo. He is second from the right, behind the reclining soldier.
Gaetano was a knight capable of performing incredible acrobatics, on horseback and with the horse, and of galloping in competition with the wind. He was a connoisseur of horses, with which he used to establish a perfect harmony and jump legendary obstacles. He won various horse races and even a gold medal for show jumping. On the right: the back of this photo.
On the back it reads: Bihac. 17. 3. 42. Horse: Soriano The erased black writing suggests a slip of the horse's name, the rest is illegible. Bihac today is in Bosnia Herzegovina.

In the Balkan campaign Gaetano was awarded a War Cross for the campaign of Albania, one for that of Greece and one for that of Yugoslavia, three WAR CROSSES, which he never exhibited in his life and kept for decades, until, from the desk of his office in the Municipality, someone stole them to show them eventually and obtain the emoluments that Gaetano had never requested. He was like this: an energy generator and a pole of human brotherhood, an idealist and a dreamer who did not attach much value to material goods. At the time of his military discharge, in the name of his motherland, he was given a check with no expiry date, to be paid on sight, issued on 2 December 1944, in Turin, by the Bank of America and of Italy, for an amount of L. 500. That sum, with which the total upheaval of life, suffering and the daily risk of death was rewarded, was worth a quarter of the average salaries of that time which, in the large cities of Northern Italy, were around L.2000, and even a fifth or less of the wages of skilled metropolitan workers. However, Gaetano could have accomplished something important with that money, because in the South, instead, it was worth a fortune, but… he received the check as an acknowledgment, folded it with respect, put it in his wallet and kept it in his breast pocket, on his heart, his whole life long, like a piece of that flag he had served without asking or expecting anything in return.

There it was found by his daughter, who framed it and hung it on the wall of her library, when a sudden stroke cut the life of Gaetano at the age of sixty-eight.

This is a photo given to Gaetano as a sign of esteem by an officer, who signs the photo on the back, as seen on the right.
Back of the photograph.
This photo is given to Gaetano by his friends, whose name is dutifully immortalized on the back, as a testimony of their existence in life at that moment, despite the uncertain survival of tomorrow.
Back of the photograph
This photo has no name, but is clearly entrusted to Gaetano to deliver it to the address written on the back.
Back with recipient.
This is a double photo with writing on the back of both, with probable tacit agreement to deliver one to the family in case of death in the war.
Back of the first photo. We do not know which of the soldiers in the photo is Bellettino Giuseppe from Trevigno, but he is certainly one of the soldiers on horseback, given the reference to the mare Tressa.
Second photo of Bellettino Giuseppe.
Back of Bellettino's second photo. The inscription reads: "Group of fighting dragons of Albania. Taken the photograph in Tirana.”
Photo to be given to the family of one of the photographed soldiers, who are from Southern Italy like Gaetano and certainly his acquaintances but belonging to another weapon of the Army. The soldiers pose, to be immortalized as they want to be remembered, because for the men in war the photos assumed the vital role of sentinels of their identity, a legacy for the families and a witness for the future. From the writing on the back it is clear that the person concerned would have liked to send his loved ones a memorable photo.
Back of the photo opposite. Many soldiers learned the mechanism of writing in the army, where some literate sergeant formed real classes of pupils, who, later, with great pride wrote to families in an Italianized dialect, feeling erudite and no wonder, because they were times when people who signed with the cross were numerous in all social classes. The one who assigns the photo to the family says: “These are the villagers I have here (with me), many. I am sending it to you (this photo) to show you how they make the photographs here, they suck”, and adds something that seems to amount to “so much you can't show them to anyone ”.

Handing the photos to others and exchanging them with multiple comrades meant increasing the chances that the family would receive news from the front and also represented a sort of superstition that resembled an unconscious life insurance or at least the memory that one wanted to leave of oneself. The photos given to Gaetano all remained in his suitcase. Taken into the gear of war, he passed from the Balkans to France, experienced the general collapse of the army left in disarray between occupied enemies and occupying allies who had become enemies.

He saved himself, his horse, his fellow soldiers and reached the national borders, to settle on the front of the homeland to serve. He never delivered the photographs that had been entrusted to him and he himself was unable to communicate with his family; until 1945 he lived in a sort of limbo in which every hour of survival was the only present to live without expecting a future.

Double photo, one to be delivered and one to keep as a souvenir.
Back of the double photo
France - Gaetano is fourth from the right.

On the back Gaetano wrote only “France”, his name and added “and companions”.

France - Gaetano is the third from the right, standing
Back: "Group of old Genoa Cavalleria machine gunners."
Gaetano is on the right, standing.
Back of the photo

Gaetano fled from France on horseback, with his fellow soldiers. Ragged, exhausted and hungry, in Giaveno -Piedmont- they were helped and clothed by the community, then they became part of the painful metamorphosis with which Italy passed from the war of aggression to the war of liberation, through the national liberation committee similar to a single body by the limbs scattered on the homeland. Hunted by the Germans and forced into the bush, they acted at night and hid during the day. Families sent, at great risk to their lives, women to carry out tasks outside the town, with the leftovers of their families’ meals hidden in baskets. They welcomed that fortuitous and irregular food as the true hand of Divine Providence and, often, did not even have time to eat it, to escape the merciless hunting of the Germans. They frantically hid it in saddlebags or wherever they could fit it. Those who survived ate it at night, blindly, in the darkness of the meanders in which they hid, and often, as Gaetano was to tell when the war was over, along with the food they also ate some plant bugs or other insects that ended up inside it; when they had nothing else, in order not to die of hunger, they ate the very hard beechnuts of the leafy beech woods. The story of the period that Gaetano spent in Piedmont has adventurous pages and chilling aspects that Angela only discovered when everything was over. From the book “* Angela (The heirs of the Messapi)”: «I have seen young people die in the prime of life. I saw the asphalt tinged with the blood of my teammates, when we used to come down the mountain and hit the Germans before disappearing into the scrub again. I’ve seen my friends riddled like bloody flesh. I’ve seen young people jump to shreds, with bombs and grenades. I’ve lived through times when life wasn’t even worth a dressed cane. But what really marked me and that comes back in my nightmares is something that the human being, as such, should not be able to conceive. I have always known that wars are ugly and that you die in war, but I have always thought that dying for the homeland must be a highly dignified heroic act. Discovering that some human beings can even use inventiveness to give death to other human beings in an atrocious and frightening way has turned off something inside me. I was afraid of dying throughout the war, but, in Piedmont, I had to deal with another type of fear, a subtle fear that resembled the urge to throw up. Acts of heroism are, in general, acts of courage, this is what everyone thinks; for me, acts of heroism were all times when I had to expose myself to the danger of dying horribly. You see, having courage means not being afraid of dying or, rather, ignoring the fear of dying and accepting the idea of death, but the idea of death in war has to do with the duty towards the homeland and towards all that the homeland contains. This falls within the rules and laws of war itself.

Soldiers from opposing sides face each other, kill the enemy in battle or hold him prisoner when they capture him. This is what you know when you go to war, so you think that the enemy is someone like you and that the worst thing he may do to you is shoot you. Finding out that he can do unspeakably atrocious things and that he can even enjoy doing them is something that changes you inside forever. I have always done my duty without hating the enemy, but / … / ».

I close this insight with the image that should have started it. Gaetano is the first at the bottom right. This photo was taken before June 10, 1940, in Rome, where the dragoons led a pleasant life, between service and free exit, still unaware of what would happen. It was the time when Gaetano was not yet married and he refused to think that Italy would enter the war or perhaps, just thinking about the war, he adjusted his life to “who happy wants to be so be he, of tomorrow there’s no certainty”. 

When the discharge from war finally arrived, the soldiers who were preparing to return “home” were no longer the people who had left nor did they know what would be awaiting them there.

The war was over … The rediscovered peace had to hover for a long time before it could open a passage among the world’s populations surrounded by ruins, afflicted by misery, pierced by pain for the fallen and destabilized by the unknown fate of the missing. The “liberated” world wrapped itself in the skies of the shattered known realities. The masses and individuals had to deal with the known and unknown shadows that the passage of the war had left inside and outside them. Angela and Gaetano were no exception…

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Photo V Perugia – words B. Spagnuolo

In the nuptial ritual of the communities clinging to the Lucanian slopes of Mount Pollino, the nuptial bed played a very important role. From the book Angeli in ginocchio (La saga del popolo messapico)- *Angela (Gli eredi dei Messapi) – Kneeling Angels (The saga of the Messapian people) – * Angela (The heirs of the Messapians): “On the day” of the cloths “, pots and pans of tinned copper were hung on the focagna (the kitchen)’s wall rack, the dishes were placed in the new cabinet, which Giovanni had had Giuseppe Lequerce make and which still smelled of sap, and the trunks were placed in the room on the upper floor.

Two splendid wrought iron andirons (trastiellI for dialect jargon) and some beautiful new boards for the bed were brought. While the women arranged the boards on the andirons and placed on them the bed size big sack, made of broom cloth, with fragrant and rustling cob wraps padding, to support the white and soft woolen mattresses, they exchanged a glance and / … // Lucrezia walked away, to fetch the rest of the linen, and the women began to gossip again, commenting that the beautiful Angela, naked in that princely bed, with her beautiful loose mane, would be so beautiful that the groom would pass out /… //. An admiring murmur followed mother Lucrezia’s words. The prolonged exclamations were dispelled with an impatient gesture by Lucrezia, who gazed at the wedding bed satisfied with it. One of the women said: – With the embroidered fold of this sheet turned over and these perforated pillows edged with fine filè, the shiny blue of the quilt is almost blinding. I wouldn’t put the bedspread on it, though one of the seven beauties itself. – / – The bedspread will be put on the wedding day, when we will sprinkle it with sugared almonds and coins.»

The wedding sheet and pillow covers, the only things not embroidered by the virtuous hands of the bride but bought, as for the noble girls, were a surprise from her mother for Angela and at the same time the special symbol of the bride's valor and the wish of prosperity added to the trousseau.
Detail: lateral part of the sheet's fold .

Angela’s bed photographed here was set up with the original linen of her wedding but in the present historical time and on current mattresses and bed bases and not on the boards, which in 1941 rested on high iron andirons. The height of the period bed was (as opposed to the height of modern beds) a valuable display, which allowed the embroidered side part of the fold of the sheet to fall in full view and the beautiful elaborate fringe of the bedspread to frame the bed with a princely touch.

Detail: central embroidery in the fold of the sheet.
Detail: embroidery on the central part of the sheet’s fold and of the pillow covers.
The purchased pillow covers hide the above two magnificent pairs of cushions embroidered by Angela (whose name is not the real one in the novel) with open hemstitches and an emblem that surrounds the initial letter of her name like a precious crown.
Two pillow covers and two pairs of embroidered cushions accompanied each set of the double bed and Angela's were among the most beautiful sets ever seen in the "day of the clothes" of the promised peasant brides.
In the novel it is said that for a long time "no mouth was shut" about the extraordinary nature of Angela's trousseau and this was not only due to the virtuous embroideries but also to the excellent quality of the fabrics. In fact, even the under-covers of the cushions, as you can see in this photo, were made of precious fabrics.
On the wedding day, money was scattered on the bed of the couple, to wish them a prosperous and worry-free life. The small change to put on the bridal bed was almost always a present note, but the banknotes were a note of distinction and a cause of wonder. Angela's wedding bed, adorned with coins and banknotes, aroused admiration without envy due to the profound knowledge of the hard and dignified sacrifices of her parents who were just, honest and loved by the population.

The coins that Angela’s wedding bed showed off on Holy Saturday of 1941, the day of her wedding, as well as the handfuls of light coins that were thrown, together with the tiny cylindrical sugared almonds with a cinnamon soul and wheat, when the bride and groom left the church, were the currency of the time. The coins that S.O.S.ROOTS scatters on her wedding bed set up in 2021 have different world origins and “ages”. This has various meanings that eventually converge into a single meaning.

The origins are different as well as the world races and their ethnic groups. They all “meet” on the wedding bed of an unknown peasant girl (who was unaware of the existence of their peoples in turn unaware of the remote corner of the far south of Italy where Angela lived) and unite the history of their peoples and their girls, with all the related epics and with all the values that inspired their life, to the story of Angela, of her world made up of sowing, harvests, reaping, threshing, tears, singing, and timeless values.

Different are the coins as different are the populations and the epochs to which they belonged, one is the bed on which they were scattered as one is the world that is home to the peoples and as one is the human race. One is the “girl”, whose wedding ceremony is commemorated here, and she is a legendary peasant from a past that must be stolen from oblivion so that does not carry away with it the bridges that are needed for the present to meet the future. Angela, who is the symbol of her world centered on self-denial, solidarity and the fear of God, becomes the symbol of all the brides of other times and other places represented by coins and, together with them, of the indispensable identities to be handed down and of the need to celebrate the undeniable brotherhood between the populations of the earth.

The last touch to the wedding bed was to scatter the sugar almonds (“confetti”) among the coins, to wish a life not only generous, but also kind and sweet with the two young people and with the new family they founded.

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Photos V Perugia – words B. Spagnuolo

The young women of the past, who were not called “girls” but maidens, received a “dowry” from their parents, which could include land, money and the precious and indispensable “trousseau”.

Considering that the arable land was measured in “tomoli” and that the tomolo was worth more than two thousand square meters, only very few families had suitable economic conditions to “marry” the female daughter with several tomoli of land as a dowry and also add money and a good trousseau. Few girls, therefore, could receive a few blocks of land and money, and almost all of them received neither land nor money, because the family could not deprive themselves of any part of the little land that was barely enough to survive and had no savings. The trousseau was an important part of the famous “dowry”, it was almost always the only thing the brides of humble origins received and was the subject of prenuptial agreements, in which the groom’s family could ask, in the absence of land or money, at least an important trousseau.

The request could be for a trousseau “of four”, “six” or even “twelve”, which included, that is, four, six or twelve items of linen (including underwear for the groom).

The trousseau, therefore, was the first thing mothers thought of, as soon as they gave birth to a daughter, inspired by the saying handed down from generation to generation: Daughter in sash, cloths in cash /the chest (for the dialect jargon:”figghya fiemmInI ‘n fascI, pannI’ nd’a cascI).

They began to save and put in the crate all kinds of linen that could be used for their daughter’s trousseau and for her future home, because they knew from experience that time would pass quickly and that at the right moment they would not have the economic strength to procure everything in one go. They used to assigne to the little girl, immediately, every piece of canvas that they could weave on their own, if they were able to, and every fabric (percale / poplin / linen / flannel / Flanders / linen) and fabric of all kinds and above all of cotton canvas robust and durable, for the sheets, when they had some savings to spend at the great annual fair and, a little at a time, they prepared them or had them prepared by the seamstresses for the linen that, growing up, the girl would embroider for her trousseau. The maidens had to grow up chaste and pure and without crickets in their heads (that is without strange ideas in their heads). They were to be industrious and hardworking, were to know how to look after the house, how to cook and how to work in the fields. The hardworking and also virtuous maidens, who even knew how to embroider, were rare.

Even rarer were those who managed to find, in the pasture, in the farmyard, on the donkey horseback or by the fire, before it got too dark, in the evening, the infinite spare time necessary for the wonders of the trousseau Of them it was said: “That girl has painted hands” (italian for the dialect jargon: quila guangnonI ghead’i meanI pindI). Angela, who was not only one of the girls with painted hands, but was good at peasant jobs like a man, took care of the house like the most virtuous women, knew how to cut and sew linen and women’s and men’s clothing, could knit sweaters and stockings, weave on the loom, darn in a refined way, embroider and do lace marvels and crocheting like an angel, was a legend.

The dream of every bride was to have a new trunk, one of those lined and with a rounded lid, and to be able to keep in it the embroidered linen  to show everyone with pride. Memorable is the day when Angela can buy not one but two of those wonders (pages 272-273 of the book * Angela – (Gli eredi dei Messapi) / Amgela (The heirs of the Messapians).

Angela is no longer on this earth and, together with her life, the innumerable riches of her trousseau have been lost, but … her trunks still contain some of the wonders that, at Angela’s wedding ritual  that goes by the name of “day of the cloths”, left the simple souls of the guests admired and amazed. Angela is no longer on this earth and, together with her life, the innumerable riches of her trousseau have been lost, but … her trunks still contain some of the wonders that, at Angela’s wedding ritual  that goes by the name of “day of the cloths”, left the simple souls of the guests admired and amazed. The past has fled but… the wind tells and will always tell Angela’s story; murmurs it and will murmur it always and everywhere, so that the values of which her world was imbued do not die, because they are part of the roots of human survival…

Pillows and sheet with embroidery and lace
Pillow- detail
Sheet and pillows with handmade lace
Cushions with hand embroidered hemstitch
Cushions with hand embroidered hemstitch
Open hemstitch - detail
Pure and resistant cotton canvas bridal nightgown
Bridal nightgown knickers
Nightgown of the bride's week (the days when the bride did not go out, until, on the feast called "in capo dell'otto", that is, on the eighth day after the marriage, she went out as a married woman for the first time and, with the groom, she visited her parents and was received in celebration and with blessings.
-Set pillows sheet-


This is the historical learning patch ("imparaticcio") of a little girl from 1919 / the little piece of fabric on which Angela learned the first rudiments of embroidery, as a young girl
Two of Angela's historic embroideries that have survived a century of washing

Doilies and lady handkerchiefs turned into precious things by Angela

Lace and frills that had never been seen in the countryside and that made Angela legendary

and… last but not least: the refined socks for the groom done by Angela, tied together, with the last thread, to avoid mismatching them and still inhabiting Angela’s legendary trunks…

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