Fascists and anarchists, from New London to Italy
About ten years ago, I had a patient in his 90s who grew up in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood and told me an interesting story about his anarchist father. On Columbus Day in 1928, his father “busted some fascist heads.” I knew nothing about anarchists, or that New London’s immigrant Italians were divided into fascist and anarchist factions. I had heard, of course, that New London was a hotbed of bootleggers violating prohibition.
I couldn’t make it as a writer, so I became a cardiologist. Now that I’m a cardiologist, I figured I’d write a novel about bootlegging Italian anarchists of Fort Trumbull and fascists from the 1920s. All of them were simply struggling to carve out a slice of the American Dream.
When my dear friend in Italy, Giampa Toccafondo, heard about my research, he decided to help me. So this past weekend, he took me to Villa Minozzo, a farm in the Italian Appenine Mountains run by present-day anarchists. We met Gago, a bearded, long-haired sage whose deep intellect and insights were gems hidden within hilarious stories of struggling anarchists and partisans fighting the Nazis and fascists during the second world war. He spoke, all the time squinting an eye at the smoke curling from the cigarette in his mouth.
On an organic farm, his wife made homemade goat cheese, homemade tagliatelle with goat meat sauce, farro soup, followed by a roasted goat and potatoes all dressed in garden herbs. Sangiovese wine flowed with the conversation. I was too stuffed for dessert but I had some homemade grappa and other brown nut-cello "to help digestion." Another treat was the roasted chestnuts bathing in grappa. Gago told me through thick cigarette smoke that the key was to add a little anise liquor, Sassolino, “because it prevents the chestnuts from making you fart.”
We broke bread with other anarchists, artists, musicians, including the famous Italian singer Mara Redeghieri, and artisans. Like all conversations in Italy, we talked loudly and laughed about art, music, love, sex, food and politics. Immigration was a hot topic. Different from the current Italian government, Gago, Mara and the other anarchists at the table are much like American Libertarians wanting to live and let live, rather than worrying about whether an African or Chinese person lives next door or is at the table breaking bread. In contrast, the new Italian government is nationalistic, eager to scapegoat “foreigners” from Africa, China, and the Middle East (although they have no problem with Americans). The new government claims to want to make Italy great once more.
In the 1920s in America, there was much the same discussion. The KKK had its largest enrollment and was focused mostly, in that period, on combating immigrants who looked darker, spoke a different language and practiced different religions — though they didn’t seem to mind immigrants from Nordic countries. In Cold Spring Harbor, The Eugenics Records Office falsified eugenics into a pseudoscience to justify a push for racial purity, a horrible precursor to German Nazism. Since everything old is new again, these same discussions happen on tables across Italy and America, though in Italy, wine and grappa seem to make the conversation a little looser.
As far as the anise liquor and its gastrointestinal effects, well, I have no idea about the science of that statement, but since it tastes good, I’ll go with it.