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1 Before there was a Capitano Marittimo Moreno, there was the boy, Celso. We could ask what in his childhood instilled in him such wanderlust and lofty ambitions, and what then could have sparked his penchant for exoticism and risk. We could find an answer in his education, both in his family and in school. It would be useful to know what that boy learned from parents and siblings, what his interests were, who were his friends and teachers , which books he read, who were his heroes and who his villains. But if Celso kept a diary or wrote a memoir, it has not surfaced. There is only a brief description of the first half-century of his life as told to the writer Giovanni Faldella. For the rest, for a personality who would turn up in half the world’s newspapers, we must not invent but surmise from the environment in which he grew up how youthful experiences molded his character, mind, and spirit. Celso was born on March 5, 1831, in Dogliani, in the province of Cuneo, about seventy kilometers southeast of Turin, then part of the Kingdom of Sardinia.1 Although one can see snowclad Monviso from its hilltops, the region in which Dogliani is situated, the Langhe, comprises rolling hills, giving it a pleasing but not dramatic appearance. In a natural c h a p t e r 1 The Traveler’s Spirit 2 The Traveler’s Spirit basin defined by the Rea, which flows from the Tanaro River, a pre-Roman settlement developed along its banks. The stream ran dry in summer, but in the spring its waters, fed by the spring snowmelt, became a torrent flooding the lowlands. While the mountain air was celebrated as salubrious , the constricted valley received moisture-laden winds from the east, producing violent storms and causing illnesses, it was said, “for the most part of inflammatory nature.”2 The narrow but fertile plain of the Rea produced grain and vegetables. In the highest subalpine lands, by contrast, the soil produced more meager harvests at the price of hard labor, and herds of sheep and goats survived on scarce pasture. This harsh environment imposed a regime of subsistence farming upon the contadini, the peasants, who in any case lacked access to markets. Giuseppe Cesare Abba, the garibaldino (Garibaldian ) writer from Cairo Montenotte, some thirty kilometers south of Dogliani, seven years younger than Celso, wrote that in these areas, unlike other regions of Italy, “no one died of true miseria.”3 Corn was abundant, and the contadini used it to produce the polenta that, with a bit of cheese, was the basis of their winter diet. In the other seasons, vegetable soup, chestnuts, mushrooms, and game completed the diet, along with abundant libations. Ill suited for the latifondo, or large-scale agriculture, the territory was subdivided into small- and medium-sized properties. The sandy soil on the hillsides was perfect for vineyards. As Casalis’s Dizionario geografico, published in 1840, explained, although “not very productive in terms of cereals,” it “produces wines of the best quality in abundance.”4 The cities of Alba, Alessandria, and Cuneo were markets for the famous Dolcetto di Dogliani, although until the nineteenth century the lack of good means of communication greatly limited commerce there. Modern Dogliani took shape during the fourteenth century with the construction of a castle on a high point overlooking the Rea Valley. As the population grew, its physical configuration reflected its economic and social hierarchies. In a society that was slowly emerging from its feudal past, there were three classes: the signorie, leading families because of their wealth or nobility; the bourgeoisie, middle-class landowners, merchants, and artisans; and the contadini. With the aristocracy’s decline, more expansive lands were divided into more modest holdings that were often cultivated by their owners. During the nineteenth century, the number of landowners doubled. The most celebrated citizen of Dogliani, the future second president of the Italian Republic, Luigi Einaudi, observed that “the share of the land belonging to the non-farmers is much smaller now than less than a century ago; and it will decrease even further, because the only The Traveler’s Spirit 3 ones who can profit from the land are the farmers.”5 A class of giornalieri (day laborers) did not exist. The tenants who acquired land through annual contracts were called schiavandai, a term obviously derived from schiavo (slave) and bearing an echo...


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