While Italians are slowly catching up with the commercialisation of Halloween, Italy is miles ahead when it comes to celebrating the dead. The 1st November, All-Saints Day, is a national holiday in Italy. The 2nd November, though, is Il Giorno dei Morti, the day of the dead. On this day it is custom to light candles and visit the graves of deceased relatives. Indeed, this is how most of my students were planning to spend at least part of the day.
Not wanting to miss out on this expression of reverence for the deceased, we decided to mark the occassion ourselves by making a pilgrimage to the memorial at Monte Comun, where Rita Rosani, a Jewish partisan, was killed during the second world war (for the full story, see una Ragazza in Guerra and A school called Rosani).
The 2nd of November was a beautiful bright Sunday morning in Verona. Armed with a map and a camera, we set off early, stopping en route at a florist outside the local cemetery. It was already busy. Cars were double parked as people flocked to the graveyard. The florist was doing a roaring trade. Ten minutes and a €20 bouquet later, we were soon climbing up the hills behind Quinzano to the north of Verona.
It had been difficult to pinpoint beforehand exactly where the memorial was located, so we weren’t entirely sure that we would be able to find it. Sure enough, we made a couple of wrong turns along the way, before eventually finding ourselves in the country lanes high above the city to the north of Montecchio. Somehow we stumbled upon a sign to Montecomun. Encouraged, we soon arrived at the sleepy hamlet.
A private road in one direction, a dirt track in the other, we decided to abandon the car and set off along the dirt track on foot. The dirt track soon proved to be something of a dead end and we turned back towards the car. While a delicate mist shrouded the valleys below, the high pastures of Monte Comun shone in the afternoon sunshine. But still, there was no sign of the memorial.
As we are about to give up our search, a car passed which we rather desperately flagged down. Take the private road, they tell us, and again we set off on foot, this time along the narrow track.
Passing a few houses, we presently arrive at an area of well-maintained woodland. I realise, with intense relief, that we have found the place we are looking for. Behind a row of ornamental graveyard cypresses, a series of inscribed stones encircle an ageing cenotaph inscribed with the names "Rita Rosani" and "Dino Degani", the two young idealists who died here 70 years ago. Beyond stands a shady forest of conifers atop a carpet of brown needles.
The afternoon is passing and the temperature in the hills is falling sharply. The sun disappears below the mountains to the west.
Trying to understand what happened here 70 years ago, we leave our bouquet and head back down the road to the car.
Like millions of other Italians, today we remember the dead.
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Richard Hough writes about history, football, wine, whisky, culture + travel and is currently working on a trilogy about wartime Verona.