To My Mother

Behind a great man there is almost always a great woman.

Why talk about my mother and who can then be interested in?

For my father Umberto Minnella there is a whole site dedicated to him,, in which his works are described and illustrated, and whoever is interested can know many things about him.
But without my mother, who remained close to him all his life, he probably wouldn't have been what he was and he wouldn't have painted perhaps one painting.

Elena Zucconi Minnella

So let me dedicate at least one page to her. Furthermore, her story, which is not unlike the history of many other women of her time, can give us the idea and the feeling of past moments that have strongly determined our present.

Elena Zucconi was born in Bologna on 16 April 1915, in a family of modest conditions, Her father Tersillo Zucconi, was a bricklayer and his mother Enrica Fiorini ran a small haberdashery shop. At the age of 7 she attended the Fortuzzi open-air school, a then full-time experimental school (we speak of 1921!), With a Montessori address, in which children study (it is still active) in small buildings each containing a single classroom , among the trees, most of the holm oaks. Often, when the season allows it, the desks are taken out and the lessons are held in the nature of the Margherita Gardens.

We leave her impressions of those years to her direct memories:

"Up to the age of eight I was what we call an unique daughter, surrounded by old cousins ​​who were competing to spoil me.
One in particular with his wife Teodora, a typical Bolognese like a 'Balanzone'* who, when he got angry, his only hindrance was "Boia d'un psen" (damned little fish) and he owned a small antique casket that was the object of my desire.
Another cousin president of the Catholic youth of the parish who sweated seven shirts to put me in that line, but failed.

Besides, my family didn't shine for religious zeal. My mother, when she could find a right moment, told the parish priest: that she hadn't killed, she hadn't stolen, she worked for her family so there didn't seem to be anything else to say and do.
My father, following a bad experience, [if he saw him  (editor's note) ] turned the corner and went to another place.
We had moved from my father's house to the schools in  Maggiore road no. 50 where I was born in Santo Stefano road no.122, which had only the white gas light in the kitchen, with the 'biron' toilet (ask the Bolognese people how it was) on the other hand a nice fireplace in which my father enjoyed making polenta and occasionally polenta with chestnut flour. I wonder if there is still someone who knows how to do it.
It was so cold that in the morning I inaugurated that house with a fact. A gentleman had come to us, I don't know for what purpose, with a nice straw hat he placed on a chair. I liked it so much, maybe it looked like my potty, the fact is that I did a nice pee in it. I still remember the dismayed face of this poor man and my parents. Well, I was three years old.
Over the seven years I had very strong rheumatic fevers and I was being nursed as a 'dada' (baby sitter) by an old neighbor, who filled me with tales and stories that made me fearful. In the houses of that time there was generally no running water. So we went to pick it up in the adjacent courtyard.
Growing up, my mother sent me to fetch water with my great fear of the dark, but I didn't want to confess. One evening (about thirteen) tired and angry with myself I had a nice little talk with myself and from that evening I ended up being scary.
To think that under that courtyard flowed one of the many small streams and little rivers that crossed Bologna, perhaps the one that came from the Margherita Gardens.

About that it would be good to know who in those ages had the good idea to hide everything under the ground in Bologna.
I still remember at Porta Castiglione when we kids stopped to watch the laundresses who washed and rinsed their clothes at the banks of the river on special stone wash basins. I also well remember the Riva di Reno street because next to the canal there was the Maggiore hospital so that it often happened to visit the various relatives hospitalized, we boys had fun watching this our Reno Canal.

As a result of this fever of mine, my doctor who was the then very well known Cantalamessa made me go to Fortuzzi open-air school, then in the vanguard, not only in Italy.
Beautiful experience that has marked my life.
Nice school experience with good teachers.
Speaking of water, I believe that few people have taken a boat trip on the Navile. We were in third grade with the other classes of the Fortuzzi school, one morning we left Corticella on one of these boat drawn by horses on the two banks of the canal up to Bentivoglio.
The thrill was when the dam had been open at Battiferro and we came down and down (by the way, they told me that the Battiferro is in degradation),"  

La chiusa del battiferro Click on the picture to enlarge it

--- The dam on the Navile Canal at Battiferro fluvial port today---

IMy parents, when I was a child, were loyal to their belief that it was 'how much salted the other people's bread'**  they took a small haberdashery shop. It stood at door to door with the house, so that sometimes for a few minutes my mother would leave me there, to go and see ragù or broth at home.

Every day a girl went by, to whom I regularly did pull faces.One day, the poor thing took courage and asked me why. I candidly answered her that I didn't know why I disliked her. From that day on she became nice to me.
As proof of how much life has changed in this century (not because 'in my times ...') besides the big changes, even in small things.
We were hoping the arrival of some unexpected guest, because my mother would send us for a giambella***   (very simple giambella ...? The nearby dairy woman packed them in the back room of the shop in between the interval from a customer and another.
Speaking of this dairy, they had adopted or I don't know how they got into the house, a girl about ten years old who did everything, she was very fond of me being also of the same age.  One day she gave me the book of the 'Betrothed', in a beautiful critical edition, which I still have. I don't know how she got it, but I didn't care much about it then! It was my second book in my personal library. The first was Pinocchio who I had won as first prize at the end of the third class. I've always had a weakness for books. Perhaps because they filled my evenings as a child. Then (thankfully !!!) there was no television.
In the evening the shops closed late and while my father came home, my mother was cleaning the house, I read aloud new books that my friends thought about ...?
Our neighbor lady and her daughter came to hear it.
We also frequented the Corale Euridice, which had a good and willing band of amateurs who performed (for free) in the good ones like ...?? weather.

Cars ??? they were few. Do think that from  Santo Stefano gate to Dante  street they were 2. One of the notary Rizzoli, owner of the house at 130 Via Dante [(editor's note) actually was No. 130 of S. Stefano street] with a garage and a chauffeur, and the  other of Mr. Schiavenna, c ....?to who also had a villa on the cliff of  Sasso Marconi.

Compare now with  chaos toward Toscana street. I remember that from Pianoro (?) One came with a small diligence (it seemed that of the Far West) with canvas curtains that I do not know how they could repair from the cold, pulled by a horse, which stopped at  Santo Stefano gate.

The plane as we know it today was still far away. There was some exceptional occurrence mostly close to the military until a man alone, on a small and rickety aircraft ....? leaved from ......? to Paris.
The world in that day was looking at the sky, and every while the newsboys sold newspapers with the latest news, really an exceptional thing.
The other big event was the radio. Then with the Sidney experiment [(editor's note) The Marconi experiment of intercontinental radio transmission with which he lit public lights in Sydney in Australia from his ship off the coast of England] on the other side of the world and the radio that begins to be bought an appear more and more  in the houses.
What I could call (?) radio (?) Umberto (?) gave me a crystal set, a small round circuit of wires with a small box beside it. You had to stay with your ears nailed to the small device to hear croaking of what seemed to us magic words.
In the house we finally bought a second-hand radio and the whole time we were listening.

Then the experience of life was that of everyone. Be grown up, work ... marry,
grow up children.
But to my generation one of the most precious possessions was stolen, youth. Having grown up within the narrow limits of the fascist dictatorship, we found ourselves in an unwanted war, alongside a friend who had been an enemy 25 years earlier.
A war that was beginning to know that it was useless, wanted by (as always) useless ??? and interested people.

There is no 'right' war, holy war or whatever you want to call it. War is just war, useless and stupid criminal forever and ever.
Always and only the bearer of immense profits on those given people.
When we say to defend the homeland we must make war, what an intelligence to destroy this homeland, then sit down to sign the peace! Isn't it better to sit down first?
When I think of the sufferings we have lived (and how many will still live) to the hunger we have suffered, to the pettiness that, out of necessity, there were,  that makes  indignant me, I indignant strongly when I hear phrases like "But war has always been there". Because it has always been there, in the past it is perhaps a little more justifiable with the endemic hunger of that time. It was enough that a small bully who maybe had inherited a house a bit big and a piece of land because he proclaimed himself a king of that piece and promising to eat at least once a day, he would get some so-called believers and leave to rob another equal to him his home and his land.
It is enough to walk our beautiful hills to come across these mansions and reasons (?)
Which then became the so-called blue blood.
I have met several of the latter, the Pepoli counts and the Marchesa Gozzadini, the Countess Bosdari (?) Who every morning from Via Santo Stefano 75 accompanied by the Count of Turin did the walk (on foot) to the Margherita Gardens. The Marchesa Boschi. the Countess Aria, dynasties in decay and transience.
In Bologna a big name had adopted the daughter of his cook to continue the lineage. We boys looked at this chosen girl (?) who was close to us with a mixture of envy and pity.
Going back to the war, remember that children it is  always just crap, proposed by criminals who should never have your consent and help

Editor's note: The text is manuscript and where there are question marks the writing is not clear.

The relationship with my father begins in early adolescence, with troubled moments, but which will then last a lifetime. They will marry rather late, in 1942 during the Second World War.
These are extremely hard times, where many families in the city, in order to escape the danger of the bombing of the Anglo-American aviation, are "displaced", that is they go to live in the countryside in neighboring countries (she in the Casalecchio area - Sasso Marconi) but not too much near to the city.
But even living there is not easy. My father then worked in the city and returned in family when he could, then there were everyday things rationed and that could be purchased in limited quantities and controlled with "ration cards". If you lost them or had stolen them you would stay without eating. Plus a small child to care for and grow despite the lack of everything. Then the front of the war moved and then it was necessary to take up the few things and find another place to stay.
And the front of the Gothic Line around here lasted long and has been full of dead. But my mother was a strong character, one of those who never get discouraged and give up for nothing.
An episode she had told us may perhaps prove it.
  It is the day of the liberation of Bologna (21 April 1945) by the Resistance, with the Anglo-American troops now at the gates. As always it happens on these occasions, whoever is an accomplice of the old regime (in the north there was the Nazi-fascist republic of 'Salò' and the 'Brigades of death' responsible for the tortures and killings of so many Italians) tries to escape by grabbing and stealing any means you find in the surroundings.
In the courtyard of the house where she lived then a Republican officer came and tried to get hold of a car that was parked there, shooting in the air with the gun as intimidation. My mother. that was looking after my feverish brother Maurizio, descended like a fury with blood in her eyes and verbally confronts the officer, saying that one had to be ashamed to make so much noise while there were children who were unwell. The officer, faced with that unexpected reaction and without a minimum of attention to the threat of his weapon, ran away.

Then comes the post-war years, with reconstruction and the economic boom. My father had started a business, which if it did not ensure prosperity or wealth, however, allowed an economic stability to the family to which two other children 
had joined (another more died for a wrong diagnosis still a few months old).
My mother is divided between the collaboration in my father's business and the care of us children. Great rganizer, she manages to convey to us the sense of independence and self-sufficiency without which perhaps she would not have been able to manage the two things, and even later, as a kid, I was surprised that my peers did not have the house keys that I already had from the nine years when I started going to the same school that she had attended at the Margherita Gardens. One day she took me by the hand and told me 'to cross the street, do it like this: first look to the left if no car is arriving then look to the right. and when the road is free, cross it. If you are scared and you can't make it, ask someone to help you through'. Since then I've always been around Bologna, child, without the least fear and without asking for help from anyone, and despite the traffic that was no more the almost non-existent of her memories.

At the beginning of the sixties the relationship, never completely calm, between my father and my mother is shaken. She learns that my father had had a child with another woman, still in the period when they were engaged.
It is a moment of rupture. My mother leaves home for a few days, then comes back, I don't know whether it is out of a sense of duty for the children or out of love for my father, despite everything, or perhaps for both reasons. Return "all the same as before, but nothing is as before". The relationship will always be conflicting until the death of my father in 98. Both characters are independent, difficult to surrender to accept reasons that were not rational and convincing, and my mother had perhaps accepted the situation, certainly not forgiven.

The sixty-eight comes, the upheaval of all the habits of life so far prevailing. If we analyze the first and the then we are amazed at how much has been changed due to such a short period, a few months, from February to June in Italy (I was at
that time studying at Architecture in Florence, one of the hottest points of the student revolts ), both in social life and in family relationships.
And in those moments new ideas, non-violence and conscientious objection in particular entered our family. It is surprising how she and my father then accepted and embraced these ideas, at a age when the ideas inculcated by the education received are normally uncritically poured into the education of their children, especially by people who had suffered the nasty ideas of fascism ( the master relationship between man and woman, who was such if he frequented brothels, lack of interest in politics, uncritical submission to the dictates of the church and its conditioning of civil life, etc.).

Now that the children are already adults or almost, the time remains for her to intervene also in social life. Initially to support and protect his youngest son, Valerio, who, despite the prospect of months or perhaps years in military jail, had
decided to make a conscientious objection. We are in 1970, when only pronouncing these two words we risked jail for insulting and  instigating the soldiers to violate the laws. Don Milani had been condemned very shortly before  for his book 'Obedience is no longer a virtue'.
Although she was shy dealing with others, she agreed to expose himself to speaking on the radio in the transmission 'Chiamate Roma 3131'  (call Rome at 3131 telephone number), which was then very popular with millions of Italian listeners. Valerio had been arrested without anyone having warned his family (he was still a minor then, the majority was at 21).
Starting from this pretext, with the non-explicit support of the presenter Sergio Moccagatta and the guest in the studio who was the journalist Giorgio Bocca, with a heartfelt but also convinced voice she succeeded in supporting the reasons for conscientious objection (here the original recording) .

Remembering this episode also reminds me of the mother of the protagonist of the french film 'Don't kill', while she's shouting after the son they are bringing to jail for his refusal to do military service: 'I'm proud of you'.
Her speech to that transmission, where the film's mother's same proud tone was perceived, was probably the most effective fact that allowed the awareness of many people on that problem, eliminating the existing taboo and certainly helped the approval of the first law that recognized the right to conscientious objection and alternative civilian service.

But after this law, she did not stop but continued her civil activity on these matters, but also new ones that were emerging as drugs. She who had always protected her own private and independence within the family even from the presence of strangers, decided to welcome and support a boy who took drugs, so that he could have a serene environment and away from the road to be able to detoxify.  This was when there was no idea yet of ​​therapeutic communities and family homes. Unfortunately this guy couldn't get out of his way and now I don't know if he's still alive and where he is.

So she faced the new challenges that came to emerge in Italian society, with the same openness she had always had, often even more than the young themselves, derived from a great intelligence and his life experience that allowed her to understand which things were really important.

In the sixties my father began his activity as a painter, first as a simple hobby, then more and more involved in making his profession. In just over 30 years he has painted more than 500 paintings, many more than other established painters
have done throughout their lives. And if initially the commercial activity could provide the economic means to face the costs of this activity (as for the revenues they have always been very few, since my father was absolutely incapable of accepting the compromises and the distortions of the market and the artistic environment for to be able to become a fashionable painter and be commercially successful) once they became retired the economic possibilities had become much smaller. My mother, even with moans (and perhaps not even completely convinced), accepted modest living conditions to leave my father the possibility of continuing to paint. On the other hand, his education and his life spent in childhood led my mother to take care of and care about really essential things, leaving aside anything that was fashion or pure whim.
 An anecdote can demonstrate this side of her character.

One day I see a Vuitton bag at her house on the table, and jokingly I say to her, "Olà! you treat youself well, here!" In response she asks me 'Why, is it worth much? It is a gift from Rirì "- I explained to her that at that time it was the most expensive and sought after brand on the market.
And my mother: 'That's why everyone stared at me at the market today'.
Try to imagine an old modestly dressed lady who with absolute carelessness puts lettuce and onions in a Vuitton bag! Stuff that makes any woman, with a minimum of attention and pretensions to fashion, go out of her mind . Not even the Queen of England would have had the courage to afford so much!
But in reality she was like that (I never asked, but I am convinced that later she continued to use it that way).
This did not mean lack of good taste or attention to beautiful things, indeed the total independence from any conditioning by preconceived ideas allowed her to formulate judgments and recognize talent clearly and often with considerable advance on the judgment of others.

In 2004, as her daughter-in-law said in a joking and tender tone, "she went to teach the Eternal Father how to keep the universe in order."
So my mother was, cold intelligent and organized, rational, independent and jealous of her feelings. Only once I heard her cry, when her father died, but locked in the bathroom because no one could hear her. Attentive to small but also to great things, with a incredible love for knowledge (read again when she talks about her personal library made up of two books) that, despite having only been able to attend until the fifth grade of the primary school, allowed her to reach a  true culture superior to almost all graduates today.
 I myself, every time I think about it, am amazed how she could have succeeded despite the lack of resources and the lack of Internet then.
Until her death she continued to read the books that she gradually added to her "personal library", despite the very great difficulty in seeing them derived from the glaucoma that afflicted her.
But above all an interiorly clean woman, who knew how to maintain the innocence of her childhood expectations and the faith in the things she believed in, despite the horrors and atrocities that the war showed her and the difficulties and disillusions that the life brought her.

*      the bolognes mask of the 'comedy of art' dealing with a slightly overweight and pedant man
**   translation of a verse from Dante's 'Divina Commedia'
***  familiar and typical sweet in Bologna, simple and round, made with a paste similar to that of a biscuit but leavened and baked.