An International Language

It was a great pity that the low pressure area moving over Europe hit Gombereto during its three-day Festa Della Madonna Addolorata. Some events were able to happen – but others not. The Sunday procession, band concert and refreshments were severely curtailed by the sheets of rain lashing the valley. This has happened at least once before since I’ve been here but September is a notoriously fickle month for the weather in Val di Lima.

One event which did take place was the poetry and music on Friday evening in the beautifully restored chiesina of the Madonna. Aldo Baiocchi brought a bevy of poets along which almost outnumbered the audience and there were recitations of poems both in Italian, English and in livornese vernacular, both tragic and comic and also including a short story.

For me the highlight of the evening was Piero Nissim’s recital of some Yiddish songs. Piero Nissim is a musician, puppeteer and Esperanto promulgator. His father, Giorgio Nissim, received the gold medal for civil valour by the President of the Italian Republic for his opposition to fascism. His mother was a Jewish Lithuanian. Piero Nissim has received many awards and recognitions for his stance against neo-fascism and anti-Semitism

Nissim’s artistic career began in the mid-1960s, at which time he became interested in folk music and has been part of the Canzoniere Pisano and the Italian Nuovo Canzoniere (up to 1970). Later Piero approached the world of theatre and puppets. In 1976, with Claudia Brambilla, he set up a theatre company called the Puppets of Pisa, which in a few years became well-known in Italy and abroad in the field of animation theatre.

Nissim continues to write music for his plays and in 2005 resumed doing live concerts with a repertoire of Jewish songs and songs in Yiddish.

Piero Nissim is also close to the Esperanto movement, has translated Yiddish songs into Esperanto, and often takes part in Italian and international Esperanto meetings. As a matter of remarkable coincidence we found that we knew members of his family in the UK, one of whom is also a puppeteer and another much involved in films!

As sometimes happens my camera’s batteries went flat and I had to use my mobile so I apologise for the quality of these takes on the evening.

Here is one of the songs in Yiddish Piero performed.

The following song is about a resistance fighter and cyclist who smuggles identity documents, to help get Jewish children out of Nazi-occupied Italy, by concealing them in his bike’s tubing and thus evading enemy searches

Piero’s appearance, almost like a rag-puppet himself, and his laconic performance occcasionally flaring into passion was so appealing – it made me understand a little more about the great Jewish artistic-cultural tradition in Italy, here stemming in particular from the establishment of the port of Livorno by the Medici family which gave Jewish communities rights and freedoms they had never previously known and which were so horribly threatened by Italy’s “leggi razziali” of 1938.

It was just another great pity that the majority of Gomberetans didn’t bother to turn up for this memorable evening at the chiesina..


6 thoughts on “An International Language

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