|A remnant of blue ribbon signifying the birth of a baby boy beneath a soldier's head from the Fascist era|
One of the nice things about living in Venice is that when you go out shopping here at the smaller food shops--rather than Coop or Billa-style supermarkets--you come home with much more than groceries.
Recently Jen returned from a visit to a certain macelleria
on Via Garibaldi to tell me that we lived on an island of Fascists.
Now both of us already knew that, yes, the bulk of what is now Sant' Elena was built up of mud dredged up in the process of creating deep shipping lanes through the lagoon in the early part of the 20th Century and that the construction upon it was the handiwork of the Fascists. Prior to this, except for the island upon which the 12th-century church and monastery of Sant' Elena stood, the rest of what is now the island was merely a barrena
, frequently submerged by tides.
But this is not what the butcher meant. No, he said, he'd lived on Sant' Elena for one year but had to leave because it was far too conservative for his taste.
Well, Jen said, it's traditionally been un quartiere popolare
(working class neighborhood) and sometimes those can be conservative...
No, not just conservative, he insisted, but quite literally unabashedly Fascist. He claimed that the families who originally moved into the newly-built Fascist neighborhood in the 1920s were party loyalists, and many have remained so.
He said that in the uppermost stories of certain Sant' Elena apartments there were still to be found busts of Mussolini, which were of more than merely historical interest to their owners. He'd seen them himself.
He couldn't wait to escape from Sant' Elena. After one year here he'd fled to the nearby--but not too nearby--island of San Pietro di Castello. Where he has lived happily ever since.
In our year and half here we've yet to encounter any busts of Mussolini. The life-long Sant' Elena resident we know best is actually quite liberal, and having been to the low-ceilinged uppermost floor of his apartment I can tell you that the only portrait to be found there is a lovely oil of his childhood self painted in the late 1940s, with no trace of Fascism in it.
That's not to say that there aren't visual reminders of the party that built Sant' Elena that you can't see for yourself--and without going to the trouble of finagling your way into some resident's attic. On two sides of a certain large apartment building about a block from Sant' Elena's only hotel (which was once a convent), you can see four soldier heads above four different doors (two overlooking Calle del Carnaro, two overlooking Calle Zugna) in the particular style that Mussolini favored: concrete reminders of the expansionist dreams of military glory that were one of the foundations of the Fascist state. They adorn the doorways of an apartment complex once exclusively designated for Italian veterans of World War I. You'd think that survivors of that nightmarish war could have done without daily reminders of their service but, well, Fascism never tired of selling heroic sacrifice.
As for contemporary flesh-and-blood Fascists, I've yet to meet any in Sant' Elena. Nor even any supporters of Lega Nord
. But I'll keep my eyes open, as these days no matter what part of Venice, or Italy, or the world you live in there are some very dangerous political groups trying to gain traction.