In a recent conference dedicated to the history and cultures of the Arbëreshe, Pierfranco Bruni, a scholar among the major experts in the culture of linguistic minorities, Head of the Mibac on the problems related to these issues, made a report pointing out some details on the relationship between Italo - Albanians, travelers and territories. A heritage to protect and enhance.
On the steps of travelers - Foreign and Italian writers among the Arbëreshe
Italy has been visited by travelers and writers who have dedicated emblematic pages to the territory and the landscape as well as to develop research on the history of Italian communities. Especially those travelers who have focused on minority languages and ethnicities have highlighted some particular elements that have a literary value as well as research and historical reflection. Foreign travelers in Italy. In the Italy of submerged cultures and "cut" languages.
The project, therefore, aims to launch an "action" in favor of the conservation and knowledge of cultures of ancient tradition in our country, which derive from a constant relationship of osmosis between the populations of the eastern coast of the Adriatic and the regions of central and southern Italy, among those coming from non-Italian traditions well integrated in the national context to those rooted in the islands, between those in the north and those purely of Mediterranean origin.
From De Rada to Koliqi there are traveler writers who remain the crossers of generations who have told the story and the metaphor, religion and aesthetics, time and literature. The theme of the wanderer remains fundamental both in the poet of Macchia and in the Albanian writer and critic. One of the major scholars who created a fundamental link between literature and travel and was able to capture the soul of Italo-Albanian culture, in a context where places are not only a representation of the real but also an anthropological and metaphorical model, was Ernesto Koliqi.
Between metaphors and real scenarios it gave an image of the impact of a journey among the Albanian countries. Not a traveler but a traveler who speaks Koliqi. A real coloring of impressions that offer a unique insight.
Ernesto Koliqi in a Conference, held in Cosenza the 20 September of the 1964 on the occasion of the Dante Alighieri Congress, entitled "The Albanians in Calabria" emphasized: "Even the most experienced traveler of the most diverse parts of the world, rarely happens d 'meet like in the land of Calabria, full of unknown wonders, costumes so suggestive for harmonious fusion of colors.
The vivid colors now reflected in the Mediterranean sea and sky and the enchantment of springs springing up on planes and hills that cover the remains of ancient civilizations and whose musical resonance of the name preserves tenacious classic flavors are reflected in them. The solemn horizons that give us the sense of infinity, getting lost beyond the grandiose scenery of the mountains, seem to be immersed in an aura of primordial solitude where space and time witness buildings moving in succession of human conditions, which keep them almost intact in their interiority a remote wisdom of millennial experiences.
Land of monks, philosophers and poets, of shepherds and heroic outlaws who always preferred the freedom of the woods to a life diminished in its dignity by harsh Tyrrhenian constrictions, a very mobile land inhabited by rough and silent people that hides in the folds of the soul singular human qualities , which flash of sudden sudden beauty to those who approach it with a friendly heart in the likeness of the secret recesses full of brave flowers and fresh waters, inserted between the wings of its rugged mountain cliffs.
In the midst of these airy landscapes and these strong people, the costumes and the many in the polychromy of the native customs stand out without exaggeration, the exotic color charge of the customs of the Albanians of Italy and their spectacular Byzantine religious ceremonies "(Ernesto Koliqi, Saggi of Albanian literature, Leo S. Olschki, 1972, page 76).
The figure of Girolamo De Rada remains, clearly, central in a speech in which we talk about travel literature especially if we think, in allegorical terms (because literature is also an allegory) to the vision of the "Milosao". But this could become a journey of its own that goes into all Arbëreshe literature in a reading between identity, tradition and memory.
The Balkan countries have experienced a conflict that has been of a spiritual nature and that has found its most important aspect in Europe and in Italy. An example because it particularly affects southern Italy, that Italy which is in fact the Mediterranean. The war between the Albanians and the Turks in the 1400 climate tells of a clash of civilizations but also a precise choice. The Albanians, right at the end of the 1400, represented a bulwark of Christianity. The defense of Christianity against the Turks and against the Islamization of the countries that revolved around Albania. An ethical and historical clash between Muslims and Christians.
Christian Albania has turned to Italy in that particular situation and has found a connection of civilization here in the Mediterranean of Italy. However, the discussion seems different from what happens in these years. There was defense in the name of Christ. And Skanderbeg had become the protector of Christianity in those countries. This is a small cross-section of a historical reality that must be fully understood. But that story gave birth to a culture of diversity in the Italian context, whose diversity is still wealth.
The Arbëreshe were a fleeing people that focused their awareness of the journey. A literature no longer of escape but of memory and therefore of memory.
Memory and imagination are elements of the place of the metaphor of literature. A people that has lived through escapes and diasporas go inside the "lost" as a laceration of an identity value. This is why memory constitutes the soul of the tradition of a people that clings to the heart of a civilization (the hereditary one) that is marked by separation.
In the literary culture of the Italo-Albanian world these two concepts (which are established through a dialogue that is all lived between metaphor and reality) constitute a process in which the basic term remains essential. We talk about travel. Writers traveling to places or writers who claim the fundamental presence of the term travel as an allegory or symbol.
In the first case it is necessary to recognize that real places are elements of a mere representation, which must be told and described through a vision that touches on events, testimonies, news.
In the second case, we enter a dimension that is completely absorbed in the feeling of memory and in the fascination of overcoming the same news, even though we do not lose contact with the same real places. A literature of the immediate and of the description and therefore of the representation always in the first case. A literature of the deposition of history and physiognomy, sometimes dreamlike in the second case. A physical geography that places contacts in the first case. A geography - time in the second case.
Most of the time, the literature that finds a point of reference in physical geography is made by travelers - travelers, that is, by colors that traveling in Italy have found themselves crossing, deliberately or not, arbëreshe countries and territories and have described them, almost photographing them or painting them, even with extraordinary wonder: I refer to Alexandre Dumas or Norman Douglas. Memorable pages in which the story moves on the description.
We report a passage from Dumas from the pages entitled "Bellini": "After an hour and a half we arrived in Vena. Our guide had not deceived you because at the first words we spoke to a resident of the town it was easy for us to understand that the language we were speaking was perfectly unknown to us as we were the one in which he answered us. What came out of that conversation was that our interlocutor spoke a Greek-Italic dialect and that the country was one of the Albanian colonies that emigrated from Greece, after the conquest of Constantinople by Mohammed II "(Alexandre Dumas, Journey to Calabria , Rubbettino, 1996, page 113).
Yes, it is the extraordinary wonder that affects travelers in particular. In their presence seem to appear rare populations and also establish a contact of curiosity with the territorial realities. A reference to Greekness is widespread even if questions of a historical nature are posed. However we remain in the literary field. This is that aspect which is properly defined as travel literature.
Travel literature, in this case, is also dictated by curiosity. Knowing to satisfy the need for curiosity and not so much of awareness and not so much of reading identity models that are already, in many cases, an integral part of the story itself of the writer who travels.
Instead the literature - travel (or rather literature and travel) does not show itself with wonder but with a state of awareness and the approach is completely different.
Reference is made, for example, to Raymund Netzhammer, a Benedictine monk who made a trip to the Albanian countries of Calabria in the 1905 and wrote some pages of a singular importance. The places are there, the images too, so the atmospheres but in this testimony the awareness of an identity that is belonging emerges. There is no curiosity tout but meditative interpretation is present.
In this case, although there is, however, a physical path in the places, the approach is of another nature. We are looking for these places to strengthen identity codes and not to lighten the extravagant curiosity of travelers even if they have given a sure contribution to the knowledge of the territories. Because their writings have allowed us to develop an imaginary of places and traditions. Which clearly should not be denied.
We should dwell on the term trip. It is on this concept (noun) that the roads of a literature that offers interpretations even on the arbëreshe literature open up. The journey consists of a departure and a return.
The issue becomes complex, however, when travelers or writers who travel are members of the same Italo-Albanian culture. It is natural that the feeling is a fairly deep transport.
As in the case of Raymund Nethammer. But already, perhaps, in his case there is a particular question as he is a Benedictine monk, even though Rector of the Pontifical Greek College of Rome, the Arbëreshe assume an imaginary sentimental but not profoundly related.
This passage by Nethammer is emblematic: “The main purpose of my journey was to come to know the home of my students and the local ecclesiastical conditions. The latter are all the more characteristic in that those Albanians, completely surrounded by Latins, have maintained the Greek rite of their homeland.
In this way I traveled a few hours quietly towards the north. I knew that first I had to go down to the Gulf of Taranto, at the Corigliano station "(Raymund Nethammer, Among the Albanians of Calabria, Il Coscile, 2003, page 10).
And still with Nethammer: “We had just come out of the village that already the talkative old man had happily brought the conversation about the great national hero Skanderbeg. He spoke with such enthusiasm and with such clarity of the deeds of this hero of the Albanians that one could have believed that the old singer had been the squire of the hero in all his hard battles against the Turks. And yet the battles and victories of the bold Giorgio Castrista which is properly called Skanderbeg, took place in the mid-fifteenth century ”(Op. Cit).
Norman Douglaslascia in addition to descriptive brushstrokes this chasing: "The pride of Saint Demetrius is his college (...) ... The language is of such difficulty that after five days of residence, I still find myself in an awkward position ..." (Norman Douglas, Vecchia Calabria, Hammer Joints 1983, page 272).
In a passage of the letter of Duret de Travel of 1820: "... These exiles have preserved their language, the free exercise of their religion and their customs, which are very rich and elegant, as well as of a singularly graceful effect ..." (Duret de Travel, Letters from Calabria, Rubbettino 1985, 51 - 54). A fragment of Jorgaqi's journey, which shows his interesting reading.
We read in Nasho Jorgaqi: “Going among the Arbëreshe and not passing through Naples means not knowing fully the theater of their history. Almost all their wanderings through Italy pass through this city. Later Naples, as the capital of Southern Italy, entered the history of the Arbëreshe, as these to some extent entered into its stormy history "(op. Cit., Page 202).
A researcher of Arbëresh origin, Grazia Marchianò, in a page dedicated to Coomaraswamy, reflecting on art, emphasized: "... art is a vehicle of the sacred, and the artist is the officiant of a rite that uses the form for to awaken consciousness, memory, the vocation to the formless "(Grazia Marchianò in Ananda Coomaraswamy, The Transfiguration of Nature in Art, Rusconi, 1990, page 7).
Art and literature are a constant encounter. Especially when the time categories form the place - not the place of travel. An aesthetic of being that without the horizons of memory would not have the same literature that is a metaphor for travel. An ulissism that in the allegory reads as an exodus. The memory in Arbëreshe literature acquires the Homeric but also biblical reading.
The sense of time, however, is a metaphor that also in arbëreshe literature crosses places in a precise model of identity. But in this journey destiny there is always the anxiety of return. A journey without the desire to return would not make sense as a literature without a sense of memory would not make sense.
In a writer properly Arbëresh we read in the sluice of one of his stories: "I recommend you if you pass by the Albanian countries go to greet Macchia with its sunsets of water and leaves. Wait at the exit of the church for the few old women dressed in black, among them is my mother; two steps behind a lonely girl with the color of the sea in her eyes.
Once again I leave with the same shadows in my heart "(Franco Esposito, With the face in the sun, Microprovincia, 1984, page 55).
The sweetness of memory is in the melancholy of a departure that is gathered in the feeling of detachment. But departure and detachment are essential references in the travel literature. Of that travel literature that is not travel literature.
The crucial point is right here. A sublimate the images that separate the news from the symbolic. In the passage just quoted everything goes beyond representation and remains as an indefinable engraved in the memory that recovers the signs of time.
Travel literature is a path in which the signs of aging are existence. Trips and travelers between places and stories. Those places that always remain real dimensions but
also metaphorical dimensions in a time that is consumed giving space to memory. Travelers and wayfarers. In these "travelers", mentioned here, the soul of the traveler, well defined by Koliqi, is a voice that becomes destiny.
The same fate that led the Albanian people, in the diaspora or in the exodus, to stop among those Italian territories that now mark the path of a life and entire generations.
The 20 September 1964 conference in Cosenza said:"For five centuries now these Albanians have settled in the Italian peninsula ... The superior civilization permeated the people of Italy allowed the exiles to keep alive the language and traditions of origin".And then later:"Today's Albanians are descended from the Illyrians and continue their speech. Illyrians were also related to the Albanians also the Messapi and the Peucezi of the Italic coast as they were more on the Veneti. Already in distant antiquity, blood akin to the two shores promoted close relations, but these were growing in the Roman and Byzantine periods ... ".A journey through the history of a people and the geography of the community. The traveler does not stop traveling because the meaning and the horizon of this going and returning metaphorically lives inside the heart, inside the soul.
The literature of Arbëreshe or Albanian travelers in the land of Arberia has the well-marked connotations that are immediately visible and readable at first glance both for knowledge and experience and for that sense of rooting which gives an impression of extraordinary sensitivity (not always in a positive sense) to the relationship between feeling and travel. But in this case one feels the passion, the desire to define oneself and the subtle critical spirit that does not favor descriptions and narration is lost.
Precisely for this reason, important impressions and expressions are captured by writers and travelers who do not belong to the Arbëreshe culture. Think of Guido Piovene and Carlo Belli's journey, of Carlo Levi's impressions, of a letter by Antonio Gramsci, of a significant cross-section of Nicola Misasi.
Carlo Belli in his "trip to Lucania" (dating back to 1956) so notes:"... we leave Venosa and enter the Albanian village of Maschito shortly afterwards. People are very kind: they express themselves correctly in Italian, understand Lucan and speak the eastern dialect of origin. But how he lives! Mules and pigs are part of the family: they live in the same room; and nobody finds anything to say about it. (...) Maschito ... is high enough to dominate most of the Tavoliere: Puglia is right there. If they see large white patches at the top of the 'murge' ..."(Carlo Belli, Giro Long for Lucania, Editions of the Comet, 1989, pp. 65 - 66).
While in Guido Piovene we read:"... A special mention goes to their Albanian chants, in which the eastern chant seems to mingle with rtimi reminiscent of spiritual megri. Near San Denetrio Corone stands the church of Sant'Adriano with Byzantine frescoes similar to those of Monticchio in Lucania and related to the mosaics of San Vitale di Ravenna ... " (Guido Piovene, Journey to Italy, Baldini & Castaldi, 1993, pp. 661 - 662).
Between travel in places and travel in a culture that is the expression of processes that are not only anthropological but also existential where there is no lack of social elements. Because in the end everything could be translated as the true journey into a culture through traditions and art.
Among the non-Italians besides Douglas and Dumas and the aforementioned Netzhammer it is important to mention, among others, a letter from Duret de Travel, another by Astolphe de Custine, a book by Nasho Jorgaqi (Albanian writer) entitled: Lontano is near. Journey among the Albanians of Italy, Pellegrini, 1991.
The landscape, the place, the look are the elements of the description. A description that compares, however, with time. But time is also made of ruins that infiltrate our imagination
Author: Pierfranco Bruni. Read the article in Albanian language