APT Basilicata

APT Basilicata

Basilicata turistica

Tarchetti Igino Ugo

The discovery of Lucania-Basilicata as a separate and distinct region was probably due to the Piedmonteses. Soon after the Unification of Italy, and well before Carlo Levi, Iginio Ugo Tarchetti was to discover that Christ had stopped at Eboli, and that beyond Eboli there was “another” world. Iginio Ugo Tarchetti came from Piedmont, too: he was born in San Salvatore Monferrato, near Alessandria, in 1841. After a very troubled and turbulent life, in 1869 Tarchetti died of tuberculosis, the typical disease of the Scapigliatura.

Iginio Ugo Tarchetti had embraced the military calling, but he was destined, like many of his friends, to become an antimilitarist. Being unhappy, he thought this condition was the essence of life; feeling very close to his death, death was his obsession. He portrayed death with a sort of morbidity and a taste for the horrid and the macabre, perhaps to exorcise it. Among his main works, Un osso di morto (short story), Storia di una gamba (short story), and three novels: Paolina (1865), Una nobile follia (Drammi della vita militare) (1866), Fosca (1869, unfinished). No summary of Italian Literature mentions L’innamorato della montagna, a novel written in 1868 and republished by Edizioni Osanna, Venosa, in 1994.

In the years between 1861 and 1863, Tarchetti had been in the south of Italy as a soldier in the army which Vittorio Emanuele II had deployed to repress southern brigandage. It was on that occasion that he happened, like Carlo Levi, to take a trip from Eboli to Potenza. In his eyes, Eboli was a borderland, the door to another world: “A strange sight greets the eyes of the passenger who, a few hours from Eboli, goes deep into those mountainous gorges heading towards Potenza.”

The journey took place on St. Christopher’s Day, January 7. It was in the dead of winter, and there was snow everywhere, which reminded him of Sarmazia. Everything was out of the ordinary. You could see poverty and filthiness with your own eyes: “A thousand Lazarus live out of a four cents’ worth of snails, snails simmered in a black, thick, slimy slop … They usually live out of a cent’s worth of lettuce.”

In Picerno the carriage stopped at an inn, almost a “Spanish posada. It was just like those meetings of Lazarus and carters you could see in the streets of Valladolid, of the Sierra, of Estremadura, there was only a little more misery and a little less romance.” Everything was dirty and greasy. “The corners of the kitchen were in darkness. Everything was shrouded in smoke, indivisible from the room. It was like a huge fog bank rising to the ceiling.” In the cauldron, “on top of a thick and oily liquid, covered with fat bubbles which looked like a multitude of eyes, a mass of black meat appeared and disappeared and then appeared again.” In that inn, Tarchetti, like Carlo Levi, had to share his room with a stranger. He shared not only his room, but also his bed. On the bed’s head-board, a crucifix, a “poor boxwood Christ … in bad shape because of the woodworms, you could hear them gnawing it off from the inside […]. Black pieces of wick … covered the bottom of the glass […]. Flies’ wings and mosquitoes’ relics … lay around the lamp, entangled in dust and oil.”

It was the image of a shabby world. In his words, one could not sense the human and Christian-Judaic compassion which we find in Levi, there is no mention of an improbable rural civilization. Man is nothing more than a Lazarus. If only Tarchetti had had the possibility to stay in a Lucanian town for a while, he would have understood its meaning and reason. On the contrary, he kept in his memories the image of the Neapolitan idlers, who had learnt, century after century, the art of living by their wits and by begging, and were happy. Incredible as it may seem, Tarchetti believed that southerners were happier than northerners. The North of Italy meant crowd, hard work, sense of duty. And spiritual malaise. In the South, on the contrary, there was no sadness under those rags: “How happy is their poverty, how great the simplicity, how wise the ignorance!”

We have to consider that Tarchetti was sick in his body and in his mind, tormented first and foremost by his thoughts. His was the tragedy of city life at the dawning of industrial revolution. Just like Rousseau, he believed science and art, far from helping man on his quest for happiness, had made life even more distressing. According to this point of view, Lucania-Basilicata was an oasis of happiness, a further example of the happiness and the innocence which were inherent in the state of nature. This is the background against which he placed the emotional and romantic story of a young couple who finds happiness in the wilderness in the surroundings of Picerno. This is the reason why, after Fiordalisa’s death, Giovanni, her lover, decides to remain in the mountains and sing, night by night, his everlasting love. This work recalls Rousseau, but also Bernardin de Saint Pierre and his love story between Paul and Virginie, and Boccaccio’s Florio and Biancofiore. In other words, Lucania-Basilicata was, in the eyes of that young man, sick and tired of city life and northern society, as another Mauritius Island, an Arcadia, an oasis in the desert of life. This foreshadowed, at least partly, the quiet Levi found, or thought to have found, here.

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