ALBERTO ALBERTINI — A Room of Survival
Text and images by Alberto Albertini
Nobody cares if someone dies provided he is unknown and far. Eugenio Montale
The story started when Alberto was sixteen, around 1943, in a Northern Italian village. The same story is told in words and images, 16 images for his 16 years. He is now 92.
Everyday life in time of war
War is disquieting, the most inhuman manmade activity! Disheartening to think that, at a short distance from destruction, while destruction is happening, there is a calm, quiet state. Such was our condition as adolescents, not yet at the age of being butchered, but mature enough to understand it. It happened that prealpine valleys were crowded with people evacuated from a half destroyed Milan and mountains were the partisans’ refuge. Only some distant exchange of shots caused us to remember. Small towns were under fascist and German control; we used to go to school in Varese by bicycle, ten or fifteen kilometers wouldn’t have been a lot without steep slopes and descents, we went anyway, trains couldn’t go because of the machine guns firing from the allied airplanes. While crossing the town we met squads of black brigades that marched singing hymns of death. Although tragedy was palpable in those moments, we were able, at that age, to get rid of it very quickly.
A secret bubble around him, his entire life
Dear friend of my sixteen, I must confess I arbitrarily used you as a secret room of survival. This door that I quite often opened, and it allowed me to evade the heavier pressures of my existence, represents my unresolved inmost being: that age full of dreams, desires, aspirations, contradictions and disappointments. While we changed, the world also was changing. The war, the loneliness of being antifascists, the golden cage whose privilege we could perceive through the anguishing feeling of what was happening far from us, was an intangible weight on our unprepared mind. The freedom we enjoyed wasn’t deserved, and yet we held her tightly while creating our stories, the first emotions. Nobody —I believe— will hold on so much. Those who came back from the camps, from the war, only have terror in themselves, humiliation and a torn consciousness. We were not able to imagine how much beyond humanity human beings went, but we had unconsciously absorbed the war into the arcadia of our bare fields and chestnuts trees with no leaves on whose branches we rehearsed for the life to come; our magic bubble could hardly contain the overflow that had happened in our most charming and mysterious age. This marvelous nebula floated around me over the years and still does even if I don’t call for her, I feel her presence, and it’s sweet for me to drift away…
My companions and myself were guiding some friends in the mountains to reach the Swiss border, still open for a few days. September was sultry. Growing hot, we took our shirts off. … A woodland behind us was expanding toward the fences at the border, and it was one of those moments in which a stop brings awareness of what was happening to us: separation from friends, a future about to grab either them or us, and meanwhile we were surrounded by an enchanting beginning of autumn, a sort of laziness that starts with leaves looking tired, and fading colors. As the group began to walk again, a girl was still leaning on a tree. Small, with an exuberant breast, she gave off sweat, heat and pherormones, maybe only tired, maybe available. This is something I will never know.
The train to school – before the bombs – was the place for meeting students of other villages.
It’s strange, I entrust my memory to the photographs: I don’t remember at all where and where I made the photo. For instance: the photographs of young people I sent you, I don’t remember I was there making them; one day instead I had talked to the father of a girl about antifascism and Jewish people expatriating and after that I went out with her for a walk on the meadow without taking pictures. And this I remember! AA in 2019