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The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, Its Regions, and Their Peoples Paperback – November 13, 2012
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A provocative, entertaining account of Italyâs diverse riches, its hopes and dreams, its past and present
Did Garibaldi do Italy a disservice when he helped its disparate parts achieve unity? Was the goal of political unification a mistake? The question is asked and answered in a number of ways in this engaging, original consideration of the many histories that contribute to the brillianceâand weaknessâof Italy today.
David Gilmourâs wonderfully readable exploration of Italian life over the centuries is filled with provocative anecdotes as well as personal observations, and is peopled by the great figures of the Italian pastâfrom Cicero and Virgil to the controversial politicians of the twentieth century. His wise account of the Risorgimento debunks the nationalistic myths that surround it, though he paints a sympathetic portrait of Giuseppe Verdi, a beloved hero of the era.
Gilmour shows that the glory of Italy has always lain in its regions, with their distinctive art, civic cultures, identities, and cuisines. Italyâs inhabitants identified themselves not as Italians but as Tuscans and Venetians, Sicilians and Lombards, Neapolitans and Genoese. Italyâs strength and culture still come from its regions rather than from its misconceived, mishandled notion of a unified nation.
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I wanted to give this book 3 stars. The topic is interesting. Even if unsubstantiated, many of Mr. Gilmour's observations seem plausible. However ultimately the book's flaws overcome its strengths.
The book start with an overview of the first almost 2,000 years of history for the geographic area now known as Italy. Unfortunately, the overview suffers from a surfeit of facts and too little context. A typical sentence from this early part is... "After Charles had taken Naples from Austria, the vanquished power annexed Parma but was soon forced to return it to a Bourbon-Farnese ruler, Philip, a younger brother of the new Neapolitan king." The next sentence is on to other rulers, other areas. The point is that different geographic areas had different histories, geography and languages. This would have been much more persuasively told with fewer facts and more nuanced discussion of the various regions.
I think the main point that the author wants to make in this book is that the Risorgimento of the late 1850s and 1860s that produced a unified Italy was less the result of a desire for unity within its citizens than a result of battles and diplomacy by Italy's more powerful neighbors, added to the national aspirations by a small number of largely Piedmont-based politicians. At the time of unification, less than 3% of the population spoke Italian. Instead they spoke local dialects or languages from the nearby countries, including German, French and Albanian. The author describes the difficult geography making transport among the country's regions difficult, and the vastly different political and economic environments in the various regions, particularly stressing the distinctions between north and south.
Despite my sense that the author means this book to call into question the idea that there is anything inherent in the concept of a united Italy, the real theme of the book is the pompous, venal, corrupt egomaniacs that have run the country and its military since at least the Risorgimento. With the exception of Garibaldi he has little positive to say about any of the military or political leaders of the 1860s (well, he does agree that Cavour was better than his replacements). And then the country muddled along with inferior governance and laughable military leaders until Mussolini. "All countries...had unimaginative commanders [during WWI]...but Cadorna [Italy's commander] was in a league of his own" is a typical description.
And Mussolini? The author carefully instructs the reader that he was very popular and garnished a good percentage of the votes well before making himself dictator. He and his fascism were well received in the country, despite the myths Italians told themselves after the war. And fascism in Italy was hardly benign. "Fascist Italy was a braggart state, a bully state and a police state...[but not] a very bloodthirsty state." The author then provides plenty of example of its bloodthirtyness, especially in its African campaigns.
And since the war? One lousy government after another, corruption in high places, cooperation with organized crime, failure to adopt enforceable planning laws, continued poverty in Southern Italy, the lowest birth rate of any country in the history of the world...and then Berlusconi. The worst of the worst of the worst. The author practically spits his name.
As this reader dragged herself to the end of this deeply pessimistic book I wanted, I needed, a strong summary that would point to a way forward or at least boldly summarize what he meant by this depressing laundry list of a failed country. Instead he slips back to his Italy isn't really a country spiel. The book doesn't argue that individual regions are great, no. It argues that everything political in all of Italy is a pathetic failure. I certainly didn't get the sense that if the country broke up into regions its futures would be brighter, despite the rhetoric of the Northern League. And then the book ends on a non-sequester. "Yet the millennia of their past and the vulnerability of their placement made it impossible for them to create a successful nation-state." Of the dozens of themes raised in this book, "vulnerability of their placement" hasn't featured in the narrative for the last 100 years.
I'm going to document some examples of Italian & Sicilian bravery/chivalry, beginning after the Roman period, so bear with me..
Challenge of Barletta
The tournament was provoked by a French knight Charles de la Motte who, after drinking too much of the local wine, made disparaging remarks about the Italians. It consisted in a mounted tourney between 13 Italians (the most famous being Ettore Fieramosca), who were part of the Spanish army based in Barletta, and 13 French knights who were based in Canosa di Puglia. The Italian knights won the battle, and the French had to pay ransom. Barletta has since acquired the appellation Città della Disfida (City of the Challenge) as a result.
Cause of the challenge
Detail of the Monument to the Challenge in the City of Barletta.
French troops made an incursion up to Canosa di Puglia, where they had a smal fight with Spanish troops. Few French soldiers were made prisoners and were brought to Barletta. Among the French prisoners there was the nobleman Charles de Torgues, also known as Monsieur Guy de la Motte.
On Juanuary 15 1503, the French prisoners were invitated to take part to a banquet during which la Motte questioned the valor and courage of Italian soldiers, then allied with the Spaniards. A diatribe followed. In order to solve the question, the French waged a challenge according to specific rules set up by the French in order to show whether the Italians were up to the valor of French soldiers. The challenge consisted in a mounted tourney between 13 Italians (the most famous being Ettore Fieramosca), who were part of the Spanish army based in Barletta, and 13 French knights who were based in Canosa di Puglia. The number of 13 knights was set by the French la Motte who believed that that would give to the Italians an opportunity to refuse the challenge because of the superstition associated with the number 13. The winners would receive as a bounty the weapons and the horses of the other army who had also to pay a ransom of 100 ducat for each knight. Moreover, each army had to provide two hostages as a collateral.
The Second Seige of Otranto
All of Italy was by now in a state of alarm. Pope Sixtus IV was reportedly so concerned for the safety of the Eternal City that he renewed the call first made in 1471 for a crusade against the Turks. A number of Italian city-states answered the plea. Not surprisingly, Venice refused, still bound by its treaty. The pope also made plans to evacuate Rome should the Turks arrive near the gates of the city.
Time was now of crucial importance to the safety of the Italian peninsula, and the king of Naples, Ferdinand I, quickly gathered his available forces and charged his son Alfonso, duke of Calabria, with the campaign. The two weeks that were purchased through the sacrifice of the people of Otranto became the key to organizing an effective response to the invasion, for the Neapolitan forces now had the chance to bottle up the Turks in Apulia rather than battling them across Italy.
Toward the end of August, Pasha Ahmed sent 70 ships of the Ottoman fleet to attack the city of Vieste. Turkish troops pushed on and destroyed the small church of Santa Maria di Merino and in early September set fire to the Monastery of San Nicholas di Casole. The monastery's famed library was reduced to ashes.
In October, the Pasha attacked the cities of Lecce, Taranto, and Brindisi. He left behind a garrison at Otranto of 800 infantry and 500 cavalry. But time and the weather were now against the Turks. Ahmed had lost his chance to strike northwest, and he was finding supplies and food difficult to find in Apulia. He was also aware of the impending advance of the Neapolitan forces. He therefore decided to set sail from Italy before the winter storms in the Adriatic cut him off completely from all communication with Constantinople. The garrison at Otranto would remain, and the Pasha intended to return after the winter with an even larger army.
Duke Alfonso led his army into Apulia in the early spring of 1481. He was assisted by a force of Hungarian troops that had been dispatched by King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary, a longtime foe of the Turks and a monarch eager to deliver them a defeat in Italy. Like the people of Otranto a year before, the Turkish troops retreated to the rebuilt defenses of the city as the Christian army arrived at the gates on May 1. The city was thoroughly invested. The siege of Otranto continued apace for several months, culminating in two large assaults, in August and then September 1481. The city fell with the second attack, but the last vestiges of Otranto were destroyed in the vicious fighting. None of the Ottoman troops were left alive.
The Sicilian Vespers (Italian: Vespri siciliani; Sicilian: Vespiri siciliani) is the name given to the successful rebellion on the island of Sicily that broke out on the Easter of 1282 against the rule of the French/Capetian king Charles I, who had ruled the Kingdom of Sicily since 1266. Within six weeks, three thousand French men and women were slain by the rebels and the government of King Charles lost control of the island. It was the beginning of the War of the Sicilian Vespers.
The Battle of Montecatini
was fought in the Val di Nievole on August 29, 1315 between the Republic of Pisa, and the forces of both Kingdom of Naples and Republic of Florence. The army of Pisa, commanded by Uguccione della Faggiuola, won a decisive victory despite being outnumbered. The Neapolitan forces, made up of nearly 60,000 men, were commanded by Philip I of Taranto. While he survived the battle, his eldest son Charles of Taranto and his brother Peter, Count of Eboli and Gravina, were both killed in the fight. Additional deaths included members of 114 Florentine noble families, as well as Francesco della Faggiuola, son of Uguccione.
The Battle of Parabiago
was fought in the February 1339 near Parabiago, in Lombardy, northern Italy, between the Milanese army and the St. George's (San Giorgio) Mercenaries of Lodrisio Visconti. A renowned condottiero, the latter was an exiled member of the Visconti family then in power in Milan with a kind of triumvirate formed by Azzone and his uncles, Luchino and archbishop Giovanni Visconti, all Lodrisio's brothers. Aiming to return victoriously to his city, he hired some 2,500 knights, mainly from Germany, and 1,000 Swiss infantry which had fought in the unsuccessful war of Mastino II della Scala for the hegemony in northern Italy. These units were led by Werner von Urslingen and Konrad von Landau.
On 20 February 1339, with high snow on the ground, Lodrisio's army attacked one of the two corps in which the Milanese army had divided, and which was camping near what is now the Canale Villoresi, near Parabiago. The Milanese were routed and retired to Milan with Lodrisio's troops in pursuit. Here the two main corps met and the Milanese were again defeated with Luchino captured. However, the Milanese militia did not retreat completely and offered a confused but effective resistance. In the meantime da Panigo's knights joined with some fugitives at Rho and moved to Parabiago where they defeated the 400 men-at-arms left by Lodrisio and freed Luchino.
In the meantime, news of the initial defeat reached Azzone, who ordered his men to move in and prepared to besiege Lodrisio's army. When the German mercenaries were attacked by da Panigo's men they were completely routed, and Lodrisio captured in turn.
Total casualties amounted to some 6,500-7,000.
Lodrisio Visconti was imprisoned in an iron cage in San Colombano al Lambro until 1349, when Azzone and Luchino died and Giovanni Visconti freed him.
Result Milanese victory
Battle of Fornovo
The Battle of Fornovo took place 30 km (19 miles) southwest of the city of Parma on 6 July 1495. The Holy League, an alliance comprising notably the Republic of Venice, was able to temporarily expel the French from the Italian Peninsula.
After over an hour of fighting, the French were forced back to a hilltop. Both sides took to camp. The French had lost about a thousand men, while the Venetians lost twice that many. Many nobles had died. The French had lost the booty of the Italian expedition. A day's truce was declared for burial of the dead. The dead and even the wounded were looted by the victorious League infantry and then the local peasantry.
Charles left Italy, without having gained anything. He attempted in the next few years to rebuild his army, but was hampered by the serious debts incurred by the previous one, and he never succeeded in recouping anything substantive. He died two-and-a-half years after his retreat, of an accident -- striking himself on the head while passing through a doorway, he succumbed to a sudden coma several hours later.
The Battle of Sant'Egidio
was fought on 12 July 1416 at Sant'Egidio, near Umbertide (central Italy) between the condottiero Braccio da Montone and the troops of Perugia, under Carlo I Malatesta. Braccio's victory resulted in his long desired conquest of Perugia, of which he became lord.
The battle lasted for 7 HOURS!! and saw the massive use of heavy cavalry. Braccio used his famous tactics of using repeated cavalry assaults carried on by smaller units, seeking for weak spots in the enemy's line. This also allowed his troops time to refresh, as the battle was fought under an implacable sun.
The Perugians had 3,000 cavalry captured and 300 casualties; Braccio da Montone's troopes had 180 men-at-arms killed. Members of the Michelotti family taken prisoners were killed, a not usual outcome for condottieri battles. Both Carlo Malatesta and his cousin Galeazzo Malatesta were taken as prisoners.
The Battle of San Romano
was fought on June 1st 1432, some 30 miles outside Florence, between the troops of Florence, commanded by Niccolò da Tolentino, and Siena, under Francesco Piccinino. The outcome is generally considered favourable to the Florentines, but in the Sienese chronicles it was considered a victory. As the 1430s began Florence had found itself in conflict with the rival city state of Lucca, and her allies, Siena and Milan.
The Florentine deployed about 4,000 horse and 2,000 infantry. The clash, which lasted for some SIX OR SEVEN HOURS!!!, consisted of a series of heavy cavalry fights. It was decided by the intervention of a second cavalry corps commanded by Micheletto Attendolo.
Malatesta da Verucchio (1212-1312)
Castruccio Castracani, Lord of Lucca (1281-1328)
Cangrande della Scala (1291-1329)
Giovanni Ordelaffi from Forlì (1355-1399)
Astorre I Manfredi (1345-1405)
Alberico da Barbiano (1344-1409)
Facino Cane de Casale (c. 1360-1412)
Angelo Broglio da Lavello, aka Tartaglia (1350 or 1370-1421)
Andrea Fortebracci, aka Braccio da Montone (1368-1424)
Muzio Attendolo, aka Sforza (Strong) (1369-1424)
Francesco Bussone da Carmagnola aka "Count of Carmagnola" (1390-1432)
Giovanni Vitelleschi (d. 1440)
Erasmo da Narni, aka Gattamelata (1370-1443)
Niccolò Piccinino (1380-1444)
Micheletto Attendolo (Muzio Attendolo's cousin or nephew, c. 1390-c. 1451)
Francesco Sforza (1401-1466)
Sigismondo Malatesta (1417-1468)
Bartolomeo Colleoni (c. 1400-1475)
Federico III da Montefeltro (1422-1482)
Vitellozzo Vitelli (1458-1502)
Oliverotto Euffreducci (1475-1502)
Cesare Borgia (1475-1507)
Niccolò di Pitigliano (d. 1510)
Bartolomeo d'Alviano (1455-1515)
Ettore Fieramosca (1479-1515)
Gian Giacomo Trivulzio (c. 1441-1518)
Giovanni dalle Bande Nere (1498-1526)
Italian 3rd 'Savoia' Cavalry Regiment
More celebrated still was the charge of the immortal Savoia at Izbushensky near the Don, 24th August 1942. Here 700 Italian cavalry took on and drove back over 2000 Siberian infantry who were attempting to encircle them in the sunflower-growing plains near the river. A much loved and much honoured survivor of the carica was Albino an Italian horse, who lived, though blinded in the battle, until 1960. And one of Italy's proudest boasts concerning the Second World War is that they led the last victorious cavalry charge in history.
During World War II, an estimated 1.2 million Americans of Italian descent served in the U.S. military, constituting one of the largest segments of the US combat forces of about 12 million. However, elderly Italian mothers and fathers were not allowed to visit sons in the U.S. armed forces, who were assigned to military installations.
List of Italian-American Medal of Honor recipients
Luigi Palma di Cesnola
Rank and organization: Colonel, 4th New York Cavalry
Date and place of action: 17 June 1863, Battle of Aldie, Virginia
Entered service at: New York, New York
Date and place of birth: 29 June 1832, Rivarola, Piedmont, Italy
Thomas W. Hyde
Rank and organization: Major, 7th Maine Infantry
Date and place of action: 17 September 1862, Antietam, Maryland
Entered service at: Bath, Maine
Date and place of birth: Florence, Italy
Rank and organization: Corporal, 8th U.S. Cavalry
Date and place of action: 23 September 1869, Red Creek, Arizona Territory
Entered service at: Cleveland, Ohio
Date and place of birth: 1845, New York City, New York
Frank O. Fournia
Rank and organization: Private, Company H, 21st U.S. Infantry
Date and place of action: 1 July 1898, Santiago, Cuba
Entered service at: Plattsburg, New York
Date and place of birth: January 1873, Rome, New York
World War I
Rank and organization: Private, United States Army, Company D, 107th Infantry, 27th Division
Date and place of action: 29 September 1918, east of Ronssoy, France
Entered service at: Ogdensburg, New York
Date and place of birth: 5 February 1895, Cassino, Italy
World War II
Rank and organization: Sergeant, United States Marine Corps, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division
Date and place of action: 24 and 25 October 1942, Lunga Area, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands
Entered service at: New Jersey
Date and place of birth: 4 November 1916, Buffalo, New York
Vito R. Bertoldo
Rank and organization: Master Sergeant, United States Army, Company A, 242nd Infantry, 42nd Infantry Division
Date and place of action: 9 and 10 January 1945, Hatten, France
Entered service at: Decatur, Illinois
Date and place of birth: 1 December 1916, Decatur, Illinois
Willibald C. Bianchi
Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, United States Army, 45th Infantry Regiment (PS), Philippine Scouts
Date and place of action: 3 February 1942, near Bagac, Bataan Province, Philippine Islands
Entered service at: New Ulm, Minnesota
Date and place of birth: New Ulm, Minnesota
Rank and organization: Corporal, United States Marine Corps, Company D, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division
Date and place of action: 1 November 1942, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands
Entered service at: Brooklyn, New York
Date and place of birth: 16 November 1920, Brooklyn, New York
Rank and organization: Major, United States Army Air Corps
Date and place of action: 18 August 1943, near Wewak, New Guinea
Entered service at: Brooklyn, New York
Date and place of birth: San Francisco, California
Joseph J. Cicchetti
Rank and organization: Private First Class, United States Army, Company A, 148th Infantry, 37th Infantry Division
Date and place of action: 9 February 1945, south Manila, Luzon, Philippine Islands
Entered service at: Waynesburg, Ohio
Date and place of birth: Waynesburg, Ohio
Rank and organization: Private First Class, United States Army, Company C, 398th Infantry, 100th Infantry Division
Date and place of action: 7 April 1945, near Untergriesheim, Germany
Entered service at: Duluth, Minnesota
Date and place of birth: Hibbing, Minnesota
Peter J. Dalessondro
Rank and organization: Technical Sergeant, United States Army, Company E, 39th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division
Date and place of action: 22 December 1944, near Kalterherberg, Germany
Entered service at: Watervliet, New York
Date and place of birth: 19 May 1918, Watervliet, New York
Anthony P. Damato
Rank and organization: Corporal, United States Marine Corps
Date and place of action: 19 and 20 February 1944, Engebi Island, Eniwetok Atoll, Marshall Islands
Entered service at: Pennsylvania
Date and place of birth: 28 March 1922, Shenandoah, Pennsylvania
Arthur F. DeFranzo
Rank and organization: Staff Sergeant, United States Army, 1st Infantry Division
Date and place of action: 10 June 1944, near Vaubadon, France
Entered service at: Saugus, Massachusetts
Date and place of birth: Saugus, Massachusetts
Gino J. Merli
Rank and organization: Private First Class, United States Army, 18th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division
Date and place of action: 4 and 5 September 1944, near Sars la Bruyere, Belgium
Entered service at: Peckville, Pennsylvania
Date and place of birth: Scranton, Pennsylvania
Frank J. Petrarca
Rank and organization: Private First Class, United States Army, Medical Detachment, 145th Infantry, 37th Infantry Division
Date and place of action: 27 July 1943, Horseshoe Hill, New Georgia, Solomon Islands
Entered service at: Cleveland, Ohio
Date and place of birth: Cleveland, Ohio
Robert M. Viale
Second Lieutenant, United States Army, Company K, 148th Infantry, 37th Infantry Division
Date and place of action: 5 February 1945, Manila, Luzon, Philippine Islands
Entered service at: Ukiah, California
Date and place of birth: Bayside, California
Reginald B. Desiderio
Rank and organization: Captain, United States Army, commanding officer, Company E, 27th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division
Date and place of action: Near Ipsok, Korea, 27 November 1950
Entered service at: Gilroy, California
Date and place of birth: 12 September 1918, Clairton, Pennsylvania
Rank and organization: Corporal, United States Marine Corps Reserve, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division (Reinforced)
Date and place of action: 15 and 16 September 1951, Hill 749, Korea
Entered service at: Beverly, Massachusetts
Date and place of birth: 1 August 1929, Beverly, Massachusetts
Rank and organization: Private First Class, United States Army, Company B, 5th Battalion (Airmobile), 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division
Date and place of action: 1 December 1966, Republic of Vietnam
Entered service at: Seattle, Washington
Date and place of birth: 27 April 1946, Cornedo Vicentino - Province of Vicenza, Italy
Vincent R. Capodanno
Rank and organization: Lieutenant, United States Navy, Chaplain Corps, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division (Reinforced), FMF
Date and place of action: 4 September 1967, Quang Tin Province, Republic of Vietnam
Entered service at: Staten Island, New York
Date and place of birth: 13 February 1929, Staten Island, New York
Jon R. Cavaiani
Rank and organization: Staff Sergeant, United States Army, Vietnam Training Advisory Group
Date and place of action: 4 and 5 June 1971, Republic of Vietnam
Entered service at: Fresno, California
Date and place of birth: 2 August 1943, Royston, England
Frank R. Fratellenico
Rank and organization: Corporal, United States Army, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division
Date and place of action: 19 August 1970, Quang Tri Province, Republic of Vietnam
Entered service at: Albany, New York
Date and place of birth: 14 July 1951, Sharon, Connecticut
Gary W. Martini
Rank and organization: Private First Class, United States Marine Corps, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division
Date and place of action: 21 April 1967, Binh Son, Republic of Vietnam
Entered service at: Portland, Oregon
Date and place of birth: 21 September 1948, Lexington, Virginia
Louis R. Rocco
Rank and organization: Sergeant First Class, United States Army, Advisory Team 162, Military Assistance Command
Date and place of action: 24 May 1970, northeast of Katum, Republic of Vietnam
Entered service at: Los Angeles, California
Date and place of birth: 19 November 1938, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Humbert R. Versace
Rank and organization: Captain, United States Army, Detachment A-23, 5th Special Forces Group, Army Special Forces, Intelligence Advisor to Military Assistance Advisory Group, Ca Mau, Republic of Vietnam
Date and place of action: 29 October 1963 to 26 September 1965, Vietnam
Entered service at: Norfolk, Virginia
Date and place of birth: 2 July 1937, Honolulu, Hawaii
War in Afghanistan
Jared C. Monti
Rank and organization: Sergeant First Class, United States Army, 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division
Date and place of action: 21 June 2006, Gowardesh, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan
Entered service at: Fort Sill, Oklahoma
Date and place of birth: 20 September 1975, Abington, Massachusetts
Rank and organization: Staff Sergeant, United States Army, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade
Date and place of action: 27 October 2007, Korengal Valley, Afghanistan
Entered service at: Fort Benning, Georgia
Date and place of birth: 21 January 1985, Clinton, Iowa}
And last .. I'm going to leave you with this...
Fabrizio Quattrocchi (9 May 1968 - 14 April 2004) was an Italian security officer taken hostage by Islamist militants in Iraq, notable for his defiance of captors shortly before being killed.
He was taken hostage together with Umberto Cupertino, Maurizio Agliana and Salvatore Stefio. They worked in Iraq as security contractors. Quattrocchi's kidnappers forced him to dig his own grave and kneel beside it wearing a hood as they prepared to film his death, but he defied them by trying to pull off the hood and shouting "Vi faccio vedere come muore un Italiano!" - "I'll show you how an Italian dies!"