Oregon State University

Study Abroad in Siena Italy

Dr. McMurray writes, "I thought I would fill you in on what we've been doing in Siena. As you know, I'm here teaching with Joan a group of 11 students. My responsibility is a course on The Anthropology of Italy. Last week we were discussing the fascist period. We spent some hours at the Siena Fascism and Resistance museum one morning. It’s not terribly impressive but its curator was very talkative and interesting. The first thing of interest had to do with the way that Siena remembers its liberation, as told to us by the curator. Turns out the French were in the vanguard of the Allied advance on that day. They entered first. However, “French” actually meant “North African” at the time. The troops were mainly Moroccan country people “from the mountains” she (the curator) said. They raped lots of the local women. So much so that the French were not allowed to liberate any other areas of Tuscany. She said that the French authorities had enticed the North Africans to sign up for combat by promising them the spoils of war. They understood that to include the women. Our site director who accompanied us on the museum tour chimed in to say that her grandmother remembered the arrival of the hated “French” troops and the rapes they committed. Fast forward to about three weeks ago when an Algerian immigrant in town raped a Sienese girl after she left a night club. The site director held a special meeting with the (overwhelmingly female) students to warn them. She laid out the story, guiltily emphasizing the ethnicity of the rapist. She was positive that such a thing hadn’t happened in Siena in her life time. Nevertheless, you couldn’t be too careful. To possibly make up for her guilty feelings, she mentioned that the rapist’s brother had turned him in. Back to December 14, 2011. A man affiliated with the Casa Pound in Firenze murdererd in broad daylight two Senegalese immigrants. Little was made of it on the local news or in the newspapers. (Needless to say, the students were not brought in and lectured to about the danger of murderers in Firenze.) I asked on our trip to the museum about the Casa Pound (contemporary fascist org. named after Ezra Pound) office locally. The curator said that she had never been to the local branch and that the provincial government is thinking of shutting them down all over Tuscany, maybe all over Italy. I suggested that she go to the local branch and buy their stuff and talk to whosever is taking care of the store so that the museum could one day put on an exhibit about the Casa Pound movement, the racially motivated shooting in Firenze, the Lazio football club’s reputation, and anything else having to do with the continuation of fascism in the contemporary scene. She didn’t jump at the suggestion. I think there may be two interesting stories here. First, The Casa Pound story. No one seems to know much about them and yet they seem to be everywhere (Siena only has 60,000 inhabitants but it has a local chapter). They serve food to the poor (!) as a way of attracting a following, I’m told. They of course have a large internet presence, but probably like the KKK in the US, not many numbers actually in the organization, just lots of sensationalist press reporting. The second story is the racialization of the liberation. The problems with immigrants today in Italy are being exacerbated and exaggerated by the refugee influx from the North African uprisings. I'm guessing that people are re-remembering the earlier “invasion” of the North Africans during the liberation. Maybe this story has always been percolating along. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s getting a new lease on life because of the immigrant crisis. Is it restricted to Siena or is this a tale of woe retold all over the region? I wonder if an analogous thing might be happening in Spain with a reawakening of atrocity stories of the marauding Moros during the Spanish Civil War? I think it lends itself to a Passerini-style analysis.

That’s it from here in Siena at the moment. We went out and bought our masks for Carnivale in Venice this weekend. It’s supposed to snow. We’ve had two weeks of unseasonably cold weather. Two nights ago it was (22F or -6C). I wonder if the olive orchards are freezing like they did in 1985 or 1986? We are meeting up with Massimo Bressan, a local anthropologist who studies immigration, next week for dinner and then the weekend after we are taking a field trip to Prato where he will talk to our students about his fieldwork there. Prato is practically a Chinese city in the midst of Italy. Things have advanced way beyond what you saw in Gomorrah. Now the Chinese actually own the businesses, subcontract with Italian firms, and fly in their own planeloads of laborers who stay for a few months and then are rotated out. I’ve got the students reading two of his articles plus a quirky but very readable undergrad thesis written by a Duke Chinese American student about her Prato research. Here’s the url if you are interested:
It opens with a great "encounter with the other" story that turns stereotypes on their heads.

The curator, in response to my naïve questions about the differences between Sicily and Sardinia, was talking about brigandage (Sicily) versus banditry (Sardinia). She said that brigandage was actually a phenomenon in Tuscany as well. It had always been associated with the medieval Francigena pilgrimage route that cuts through Siena (connecting Campostela with Rome and then Jerusalem), but had continued to exist as late as the end of the 19th century, especially in Maremma along the coast, though also closer in to Siena. Didn’t use to be safe to travel around without protection in these parts, not just in the south of Italy. I thought that was pretty fascinating and would make another great research project for someone.

One night we were up until 1am with the local branch of the Siena Slow Foods group eating a five course meal based around the parts of the Maremma cow, which is a white, longhorn breed native to the coast of Tuscany. I dutifully ate it raw, I ate its tongue and I ate its udders (both cooked). I am now an expert. I didn’t care for the udders. The woman next to me kept saying, “It’s the breast,” but I couldn’t figure out what a cow’s breast was until I hooked back up with Joan later in the evening and she enlightened me. We got to wash it all down with the restaurant’s own Chianti Classico, 2009. Turns out the restaurant is located 100 meters inside the zone given the Classico designation. The restaurant owner is also the owner of the thousands of grape vines surrounding the restaurant which is why we got to drink his Chianti. He told me to only buy ’07, ’09, and ’10. The 2011 harvest was damaged by too much heat and sun and not enough rain. I don’t remember what happened to make ’08 a bad year. Speaking of too much sun, it shines here at least 5 days out of the week, right through the worst months of the winter. It’s maybe in the 40s during the day, but with a clear blue sky, that temperature only holds for the shadows. It warms way up when you stand in the direct sun. The 11 students in our group, we are delighted to report, are all eager little OSU beavers and UofO ducks who of course drink too much and stay out too late, but who also make it to class and act interested in the subject matter, and remain upbeat and friendly to each other. It would be nice if they weren’t in two apartments directly across the hall from us, but our sons are their age, as you know, so we are perhaps more understanding than we might be otherwise. I went to the soccer game with two of them this afternoon and it was a thriller. Siena, though a town of only 60,000, is in the premier division playing much bigger towns. Today's match was against Naples, the team that Maradona used to play for back in the day. They were very aggressive, but we fought them to a draw. It was almost too much stimulus for me. I'll be hoarse for a week."

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