A sad story gets sadder. Our friend Claudia calls to say that Roberta’s funeral is to be held this afternoon. Roberta was one of the many Italian hippies who live in the area between our house and Pietralunga. She died from liver failure related to hepatitis, and complicated by drinking — not least after doctors told her she mustn’t. She was Neapolitan, born to a well-to-do family and she chose the hippy life; she died in her forties. Her octogenarian mother, a quiet, diligent and practical woman who to many seemed indestructible, passed away in March. In October 2007, Roberta’s husband Aldo Bianzino (or perhaps partner, I never asked) died in prison custody after being arrested by police for growing marijuana; he was also in his 40s; a homicide case is, needless to say, outstanding. (There is an outline in Italian on this site and a short letter to the Italian government in English from a pro-legalisation group here.)
So in a beautiful, tiny and now rarely used cemetery in the nearby hills three graves in a row have been dug and filled in the past 18 months for the same small family. Of those living locally, only Aldo and Roberta’s son Rudra (lots of Indian names in Pietralunga…), still of school age, survives.
Not being partial to a chillum before breakfast and doubting the power of their sacred fire statues, I didn’t know Aldo and Roberta intimately. But Aldo was a more than competent carpenter who made most of the doors and the very fine and very heavy kitchen table in our house. Indeed I wonder what he might have achieved if he hadn’t been so stoned: I once spent five minutes watching him trying to hang a door that he was holding the wrong way up; on another occasion he cut through both a piece of wood and the tape measure he had laid out next to it with a circular saw, paused for several seconds, and then said: ‘Ooooooooooogh’. While Aldo was anorexically skinny and diffident, Roberta was frenetic, endlessly talkative and a lethal driver in the finest Neapolitan tradition. The two of them were capable of spectacular arguments. Our friend Lele recalls the first time he met them, when they came round to his house to talk about carpentry work. Earlier that day, Aldo had suggested to Roberta that she talked too much. So Roberta had cursed him and sworn that she would never in her life speak again. Lele opened the door to find Aldo, who then sported a mat of long dreadlocks and a bushy beard on top of his tiny frame, dressed in his modified Indian garb and covered from head to foot in sawdust. He said nothing. Next to him, a wild-eyed Roberta produced sounds but no words, and made zipping gestures across her mouth interspersed with occasional gestures towards Aldo. As I recall, they got the job.
The site of the cemetery is below the house of Raidas, which is the nom de paix (or whatever hippy sobriquets are called) of one of the senior members of the group. In a previous life, he was Mario from Bologna. The house was a priest’s house, attached to a tiny church, and bought from the curia around 20 years ago. If Hollywood was scouting for a setting for a new movie called Love Children of the Appennines, the director could do worse than this place. Outside the little church is a shaded seating area with the biggest cherry tree I know, and below that a simple but elegant garden. There’s also an Indian temple thingy, all very tastefully done.
In reality, from what I have seen, however, the story of the group has not been Hollywood fare. Instead there have been suicides, other premature deaths, and pervasive depression. Of course one can’t make clear judgements, because one doesn’t know what experiences and what predispositions led individuals into the group in the first place. But it hasn’t been an easy ride.
We follow the coffin from the house down to the cemetery. Although I would have thought that few of those present would claim to be Christian, one of the Pietralunga priests presides and most people participate in the Roman Catholic gesticulations. Roberta is laid to rest by the gate of the cemetery, which is walled. She is separated from Aldo by her mother which, while they undoubtedly loved one another, may be a sensible arrangement. Flowers, mostly those of ginestra, and candles are set out on the grave. It is swelteringly hot, but people take their time to say goodbye. And then they wander, in ones and twos, back up to the house. I talk with people I haven’t seen for some time. Lele chats with the lawyer in the Aldo homicide case. And then I make my excuses and leave.
The situation with respect to Rudra is potentially a huge mess, not least because of Italy’s patchy and idiosyncratic welfare state. But I suspect that it is one of those situations that is so horrible that somebody in the system will do something. Roberta’s brother is willing to move down permanently from Munich, where he has lived for many years, to look after Rudra while he finishes his schooling. But he needs a steady job in order to do so. My guess is that the Pietralunga Commune, which knows all about the case, will find him one.