Travel like Garibaldi: Italy barks (

On his tour of Italy, Tim Parks meets dogs more often than people.

Photo: dpa / Mike Egerton

There are many history books on Garibaldi, hiking books on Italy even more. An Englishman who has lived in Milan for four decades had the idea of ​​combining both. Tim Parks, well remembered by some for his observational study on the field of Italian football thugs (“My season with Verona”), weaves two narrative threads in “The Hero’s Path”: the escape of the 1849 revolutionaries from the Papal State after the crushing of the brief Roman Republic and his own journey in the footsteps of Garibaldi 170 years later.

It has become a very private book. On the one hand, readers learn a lot about the person of Giuseppe Garibaldi, on the other hand the author offers a very intimate look at his own life. An honest book, then: Parks is able to consistently meet this higher demand for his work.

Above all, the author is smart enough not to deliver yet another biography of Garibaldi. He prefers others to tell the story: Garibaldi’s comrade in arms Egidio Ruggeri and his assistant Gustav von Hoffstetter, who grew up in Bavaria, as contemporary witnesses and diarists, plus the historian George Macaulay Trevelyan, author of a Garibaldi trilogy written for half a century later, and finally the freedom fighter himself in his autobiographical novel “Clelia”.

The trick works. In the end there is the unsurprising realization that the hero really lived up to his ideals. But the disappointments that he has repeatedly expected from his followers also come into play. Unlike the annus mirabilis of 1861, which brought Italy the long-awaited unity, in 1849 not all those who followed Garibaldi felt reconciled with history. Until then it had not ended well and Italy, with Rome as the capital of the Papal State, was in the clutches of the pope and cardinals, French and Austrian occupiers and selfish provincial princes for another decade.

Yet “Garibaldi was so important,” writes Parks, “because he understood better than any other patriot leader that, precisely after this long and disappointing retreat, they were no longer allowed to talk about social revolution and republicanism. They had to focus together on the single objective of the Unification of Italy. “

Another concern, which also becomes clear in the course of the book, is Parks’ defense of his hero against the accusation of “popular revisionism currently breaking the ‘myth’ of the Risorgimento. [der Epoche des italienischen Einigungsprozesses, Anm. d. Red.] I want to dismiss it as nonsense. “

Parks rejects the charge that the unification was in fact a war of conquest, which led to the north-south division in Italy that still exists today, at least in relation to the Garibaldi movement – and even populists like Matteo Salvini, the former Minister of the Interior, in the barrier: “Even the once separatist Northern League is now only the League and fights for the votes of the South like any other nationalist party”. According to Parks, the belittling of Garibaldi’s struggle “is guided by the idea that there has never been heroism or idealism in the world, because this belief frees them from the burden of imitation.”

But how do you see Garibaldi on the street today? Parks, traveling with his girlfriend Eleonora from Puglia, usually hears only good things, if not always well-founded, about his and the Italian hero par excellence, to whom most of the streets and squares of the town and the monuments erected are dedicated. on them. Did Garibaldi degenerate into a mere myth, the songs of praise to him are transfiguration, the attitude of the frequently used quotations? Sometimes it seems so, for example when Garibaldi’s desire for freedom is praised and in the same breath he lashes out at migrants, whom Parks sees doing menial jobs along the way.

Another impression of Parks’ excursion – according to the subtitle that takes him »from Rome to Ravenna« – is due to the demographic change, which makes Umbria and the Marche of central Italy appear as a gigantic retirement home, albeit with a magnificent background. Parks, now of retirement age, rarely meets younger ones. The few he meets work in the tourism industry, run bars or rent accommodation. Everyone complains that business is bad.

There are almost exclusively cars on the streets, and hardly any pedestrians: “We haven’t met a soul all day” is a typical observation. She resigned: “It’s sad. A people who were once firmly attached to the earth,” Parks complains, “have been released to sit in air-conditioned rooms and watch events on television or computer screens.” For Parks, the transition from immediate to secondary communication, to be together in passing on each other, is a fundamental problem of society: “The once unshakable bond – place / identity – that produced and justified nationalism liberal of the nineteenth century is dissolving with increasing speed. “

Does Italy go to dogs? Parks, who encounters more four-legged friends on his tour than two-legged friends, suggests this conclusion: “fewer hikers, more dogs,” he despairs. “And they keep barking, through the ages. German shepherds, mastiffs, Dobermans, Rottweilers, protectors of the anxious owners of luxurious provincial estates “to hunting and shepherd dogs, fashionable and cuddly:” All without exception barking, gasping, snapping, snarling, baring their teeth. Every day, in every house we pass. “

There are “moments”, says Parks, “when the whole Italian landscape seems to bark.” What remains of the excursion? For Parks and Eleonora, the best part of each of the 30 stages was that early morning moment when they tied their hiking boots and finally scrambled away. The second most beautiful thing was the end of each day, when, exhausted but satisfied, they slipped off their tired-legged shoes with one last look at the grandiose landscape they had left behind.

Tim Parks: The Hero’s Path. In the footsteps of Garibaldi from Rome to Ravenna. Translated from English by Ulrike Becker. Verlag Antje Kunstmann, 432 p., Born, € 28.

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