Welcome to Italian Histories, I’m Jordan Bradley and I’m excited to share this new podcast which explores the varied histories of the peoples and regions of the Italian peninsula.
My great grandfather immigrated to the States from Vallata, a little mountain town, on the outskirts of Campania, east of Napoli, in 1912. My great grandmother came from another little mountain town nearby, Montella, in 1914, the same year World War 1 swept the continent. They were married two years later in Brooklyn, and my grandfather, the youngest of 4 was born another 8 years later in New Jersey. I remember my great grandmother’s plastic-coated couch and incomprehensible dialect, and the pleasure of going to Nana and Grandpa’s for Sunday dinner. 51 weeks a year it was pasta and gravy (a tomato sauce cooked with sausage, meatballs, and a couple bones) with a salad that my aunts loved to steal olives from, and on Easter it was ravioli. They were the quintessential Italian-American family, and I learned to love Italy and her food from their traditions.
When I received news in 2002 that I’d be moving to Italy – Catania, to be precise – I excitedly called my grandpa first. His reaction was also quintessentially Italian – “Catania is Sicily, not Italy.” While living in Catania, I worked with a great man, Adolfo DaPonte, who was from Bolzano in the Sud Tirol region of Northern Italy, right on the border with Austria. He said being in Sicily felt like living in another country, and after I had lived all over southern Italy for a couple years and travelled up to visit him in Bolzano, I knew what he meant – Bolzano did feel like another country. And that’s not because its where I got my first parking ticket. All throughout my time living in Italy I met and made friends with people from all over the country and had the privilege of returning over the years to explore their home towns and experience firsthand how varied the cultures and histories and trajectories of these various regions are. Visiting Italy, reading on her history, and exploring her food has long been a passion of mine, and in this podcast I’m excited to explore the various regions of Italy and look at their histories, to better understand and enjoy why i Siciliani, i Pugliesi, i Napolitani, i Romani, e i Milanesi are different, and what they all bring to that great country we all romanticize – Italy.
“Venice’s history is complex and contested.”
Season 1 will explore the lagoon and empire of Venice. I was 13 when I first went to Venice, for all of a day. It was flooded, none of my pictures turned out – that’s a film problem for my younger listeners – and I remember lots of pigeons fighting us for what dry land there was. But I fell in love with a city that felt, unlike any other ancient place in Europe, truly apart from time.
That sense made sense when I returned, 17 years later, and realized it felt so different because there was not a single car in the city. No motor bikes. No stop lights. It is a place, as much as any can be in our world, unconquered by modernity. That does not mean that modernity, or a number of other forces, aren’t trying to conquer her, but that’s for later in the story.
Venice’s history is complex and contested. I first started reading significant accounts of Venetian history trying to understand why Machiavelli, writing in the early 1500s, when Venice already had over 1,000 years of history under its belt, was arguably at its peak, and was unarguably still a century away from its greatest naval victory, didn’t included Venice among his examples of great republics in his great work on republican theory, the Discourses on Livy. In that research I’ve found accounts of people who have loved Venice as a beacon of republican freedom, of entrepreneurial spirit, and of a cultural openness centuries ahead of its time. I’ve found accounts that accuse Venice of the foulest tyrannies, darkest intrigues, and perpetual exploitations. As we get closer to modern times, these accounts are mixed, reframed, and most commonly, selectively acknowledged, to answer what seems to be the most pressing question of the last several hundred years of Venetian history – to whom does Venice belong? To the Venetians, to the Italians, to a greater European heritage (which is kind of a fancy way of saying in a museum), to the tourists, or the intellectuals? Everyone makes their claim at some point, but again, that’s for later in the story.
For now, we’ll turn back the clocks to the fall of the Roman Empire and beyond, when the first refugees fled to the lagoon and started the process of building a city like no other – la Serenissima Republica Veneziana – the most serene Republic of Venice. Thanks for joining me on this adventure.