Interview with Edmondo Marra, Author, former MD and Mayor
by Maria Teresa De Donato
I could have titled this article of mine and cataloged my interview in various ways, but my instinct immediately suggested me to classify it first under “Neighborhood and sense of community” for a series of reasons that will emerge during this meeting. Today’s guest is, in fact, my friend and fellow author, Dr. Edmondo Marra, whom I am honored to introduce to you.
Dr. Marra is a physician who practices in Volturara Irpina (Province: Avellino) and, in addition to having been Mayor of his hometown, he is – by his own admission – “a fan of historical and genealogical research”, activities that he carries out at the same time and full-time, for that matter, giving his very best in helping his fellow citizens, the majority of whom respect, admire and love him.
I shall always be grateful to Edmondo for letting me know the story of a branch of my family, that is, the Pennetti(s), who would otherwise have remained almost unknown to me and for having written the beautiful Preface to my autobiographical-historical-genealogical novel Missing Puzzles.
I am very happy, therefore, to host him today here in my Blogand Virtual Cultural Salon.
MTDD: Welcome, Edmondo, and thank you for taking the time for our interview.
EM: It is a pleasure to talk to you, so I found the time easily. Culture is a spring that is overlooked, but it serves to grow and motivate us. You spend a lot of time of your day writing and meditating and I am happy to have known you and to be your friend.
MTDD: I thank you. Edmondo, I have introduced you by briefly listing your titles and your activities, but I would be pleased if you could elaborate everything and present yourself personally to our readers in the way you prefer and share whatever information you wish to. Who is Edmondo Marra?
EM: I am 69 years old; I have been practicing the profession as a family doctor for 44 years in my hometown, Volturara Irpina (Province: Avellino) and together with the care of the body of my fellow citizens, I have been dedicating myself to research in archives and libraries, because only by knowing the past you can find the solution to the many problems of today. We live in Southern Italy, in Irpinia, with towns with a strong emigration of arms and minds and finding livability and work solutions would be a great brake on the desertification of our areas. I like politics as a source of ideals and planning, and for years I have been interested in the issues of my hometown which bases its economy on agriculture, on cattle breeding and on the collection of chestnuts, which are really of excellent quality. A normal life also dedicated to sport (local football coach in the past until the beginning of the second millennium) and physical activity (manual work in my small country house). In a town with no historical memory, I have tried to bring to light events and characters from the past that deserve praise and attention and which until now were covered by a blanket of fog and forgetfulness. I have been married for 35 years and I am the father of one boy and two girls.
MTDD: Let’s talk for a moment about Edmondo, the Physician. Tell us about you, beginning with your studies … and up to your practice …
EM: I graduated at “La Sapienza” University of Rome in 1976. I wanted to become an orthopedist, but the story of life and love for my hometown brought me back to the South and I have been practicing the medical profession as a general practitioner (GP) treating entire generations of Volturaresi. Today I am on the verge of retirement and I believe I will spend my old age sifting through the various provincial and regional archives in search of other documents. I’ve always liked to understand the why of things, going to the source.
MTDD: There was a time in your life when the activity as a physician that always kept you – as it still does – particularly busy seemed not to be enough for you anymore and you felt the need to further help your hometown by dedicating yourself to politics. You ran for office and were elected Mayor. Where did this need come from? What additional help were you able to give, through this very assignment, to your community and with what results?
EM: Irpinia is a beautiful but poor province. Those who wish to grow professionally and socially go away. Volturara Irpina is one of the poorest towns in the province, in the hands of a political class still of a feudal character, with recommendations and nepotisms that leave little room for meritocracy. I engaged in politics to try and improve the social and working conditions of my countrymen and bring the town to progress. Without strong provincial representatives and without empty promises, I had the pleasure of being elected in 2001 and re-elected in 2006 for a second term. The results of my efforts are in my heart, but they did not enable the town to make the leap in quality as I would have expected: I opened the municipal library; I improved internet, speeding it up with ADSL; I had all the monuments restored; I methaneised my hometown; I removed the pre-earthquakes of the post-earthquake of the 1980s that contained asbestos and I put many families in public housing that had been unfinished for decades (one of the tragedies of Italy is the excessive bureaucracy); I tried to complete the after-earthquake private reconstruction and many other things, but in the end the town remained with its ancestral problems and, also thanks to the chestnut crisis that occurred after the end of my two mandates, due to a Chinese fly, the economic and livability improvement did not take place, and the emigration of young people continued as it still does to this day. On the other hand, there was a climate of social equality, individual freedom, love for the past and for its history that no one knew and that halo of mystery and legends that the town has through oral transmission has grown the fireplaces during the winter which is very harsh here, since we are 700 m. (2296.59 ft) above sea level, in a town full of fog and often of morning frosts.
MTDD: What else has added your political experience to your personal, professional and social life?
EM: I have socialist ideas, in a nation where socialists take 0.05% and politics changes constantly with populisms and sovereignties well addressed by the mass media. Having done politics has helped me understand problems that I had never faced and whose resolution is the driving force for growth and development. It is not easy to realize expectations and dreams, faced with bureaucratic and party-political barriers, but trying gives an emotion that makes you feel good and pushes you forward.
MTDD: When was your passion for historical and genealogical research born and why do you find it so interesting and stimulating?
EM: It was born at the end of the second millennium. A provincial historian, Edoardo Spagnuolo, gave me a book on the Volturara revolt of April 7th, 1861 against the unification of Italy. It resonated so much with me that I saw the protagonists in front of me with their names and their stories and I decided to understand everything about those days. I saw that the notions inculcated in me at school were not complete and that I had to understand how it went in those days and if my ancestors were in favor of Garibaldi or Francesco II, and I began to study this topic. Over time, I expanded my research and went to other historical periods that had affected my town, putting effort into it, rewarded by a growing enthusiasm that made me feel good. I photographed all the notarial deeds of my town from 1500 to 1750 and learned to read them, cataloging them. I scanned thousands of documents which I then transferred to excel. I made the family tree of all citizens (4000 people) with kinship connections between people with the same surname and I published them on Amazon. A titanic feat that brought me back to the town 400-500 years ago. It was also interesting to come across the collection of news on the plague of 1656, which killed about 600 people out of 1000 with the names of the dead being registered day by day (source to understand the origin of the surnames).
MTDD: I’ve never been to Volturara Irpina. I have seen, however, photos of it and understood that it must be a wonderful place with a truly enviable position: Can you describe it and tell us if and how this town has changed over time?
EM: Volturara Irpina is a small town of (currently) about 3,200 inhabitants with a large migratory footprint in the last decade (about 1000 people have left). It is the third wave of migration after that of the late 1800s and that of the 1950s and 1960s. Closed in a heart-shaped valley (green heart of Irpinia), it is located from 700 meters (2296.59 ft) above sea level of the village at 1,800 meters (5905.512 ft) of Mount Terminio, the highest peak in Irpinia. In winter, a lake is formed in the plain, called Piana del Dragone (Dragon’s Plain), due to the water that flows down from the mountain, which dries up in summer. Volturara water flows into the belly of the earth and reaches three southern regions giving drinks to about 5 million inhabitants scattered between Campania, Puglia and Basilicata. It is an isolated town with its own culture and peasant cuisine that sees dairy products, cheeses, the Quarantine bean and potatoes excel. There is no shortage of corn. Thousands of cows and sheep graze on the Dragon’s Plain in the summer, producing milk and its derivatives of a wonderful taste. It is a peasant land, permeated with legends and mysteries that make it unique and mysterious. The village is surmounted by a hill on which stands a Lombard castle, a bit in ruins (the only regret of my office as a Mayor is not having been able to restore it) called the castle of San Michele.
MTDD: Which are the families that marked the history of Volturara Irpina and how did they do so?
EM: The families of Volturara that have marked and determined the history of Volturara are the Masucci and the Pennetti, your direct ancestors. The Masucci have managed the town administratively for the past 200 years, but the culture has always been in the Pennetti dna who have had writers, historians, doctors, lawyers and libertarians. Above all, Vincenzo Pennetti, the father of your grandmother who at 30 years of age became a university professor in Naples and founder of some Irpinia newspapers. Friend of Neapolitan poets and writers, such as Salvatore Di Giacomo and others, he could have given much to the country and to Irpinia, had he not died at the age of 33 from a sudden illness in an era without antibiotics, depriving Campania of one of its best children. Costume flogger, with the scalpel psudomino he hammered the deviated and deviant political and cultural behaviors of the late 1800s.
MTDD: Which were the major events that took place in Volturara Irpina over the centuries and that marked its history in an indelible way revolutionizing the course of it?
EM: Despite being a small town, Volturara has participated in the provincial and regional historical events since 218 BC., the year of its foundation by Carthaginian soldiers who, tired of the Punic War II, took refuge in this forgotten valley. The etymology of the name could derive from vultur and ara, the ‘vulture refuge’, which the valley was full of until the early 1900s.Unfortunately, the documents of the many events that saw Volturara as protagonist are missing. Those we have been able to read begin in 1154 with the catalog of barons of the Norman age, from which we know that he sent soldiers in the first Crusade of 1196, which in 1528 was destroyed by the Lansquenets sent against Baron Giacomo Antonio della Marra, who sided against the King, who in 1799 played a role in the Neapolitan Republic, so much so that they sent an army to destroy it, having sided with the French Jacobins and having killed a commissioner with his soldiers sent to keep calm. They failed because the army was called back at the last moment to face the enemy who was invading Avellino. On that occasion he had the front page of the Monitore napoletano, the government newspaper. In 1809 the brigand Laurenziello attacked it to avenge his lieutenant Aniello Rinaldi killed by the soldiers, with the intention of destroying it, but was compelled to flee due to the people armed with rifles, hoes and pitchforks. On April 7th, 1861 there was a popular revolt against the Piedmontese with all the armed people who forced all notables who were against the Bourbons to flee. It lasted one day because the army arrived on the 8th with 1000 men killing and injuring many. Most of the population fled to the mountains, a recurring refuge against wars and enemy invasions.In 1936 it hosted the Italian army under the command of the King and Mussolini for the great maneuvers in the Plain of the Dragon. 65,000 people came and Volturara had worldwide echo. In 1943 it was bombed by the Americans, due to the presence of Germans with fighter planes on the plain, which caused about sixty civilian deaths. In 1980 it was brought to its knees by the earthquake that hit Irpinia and Basilicata.
MTDD: The books you have written are many and, therefore, it is impossible to mention them all in one interview. In this, however, I would like to deal with some issues that you have addressed, starting with the “Brigandage”. What can you tell us about it and, in your opinion, are there any historical links and commonalities between brigandage and organized crime as we know it, and if so, what are they?
EM: The Volturara brigandage and banditry that have seen famous protagonists have the same origin. It all stems from the heeling of soldiers after a lost war. It happened in 1806, 1860 and again in 1945. Tired, disoriented, poor, in a context of political instability, young people who have returned from the war committed criminal acts with thefts and murders that over time were severely punished by the state. It happened with the Rinaldi brothers in 1809, with Ferdinando Candela, called Pagliuchella in 1861 and again in 1946 with Vito Nardiello, a bandit famous at the time throughout Italy. They were characters without political color, determined and unscrupulous, who over time were reduced to impotence. The first killed in 1809, the second in a raid in 1862 and the third arrested after 13 years of hiding and forced to prison until 1983, with seven life sentences in his criminal record. The political significance is undoubtedly in the three episodes, but it is marginal, affecting other people who manifestly or in subtle way struggled in the name of their ideals. Ultimately brigandage is a kind of banditry, which always existed in our areas and in some historical circumstances has taken its name.
MTDD:Maledetto Garibaldi e la sua Italia: pagliuchella (Curse Garibaldi and his Italy: pagliuchella) is one of your publications. Its provocative title leads us all to a profound reflection and also to ask ourselves questions about our history and our national unity. In the history books, Garibaldi is always presented as “the hero of the two worlds”, as one of the greatest figures of the Italian Risorgimento. How and why do we get from this extremely positive view of him to the one that considers his work ‘a curse’? Would it have been better if this unity of Italy had never taken place? Can you, please, explain this to us?
EM: History is not based on the search for justice, it is a succession of events that are remembered in retrospect to understand the path of man. The Lombards came and mixed with the autochthonous, then the Normans arrived and the same thing happened. This went on for many centuries until the unification of Italy. We can discuss whether an invasion or annexation was positive or negative, but there is no going back. Today Italy is there, it is one and indivisible, and we are all proud of it. It could have been otherwise we would have accepted it as we accepted wars and masters. Today we must look ahead and also try to overcome national limits for a strong Europe and a herald of progress.The provocative title of my book ultimately refers only to a peasant girl who emigrates to America and who curses Garibaldi because he stole her everyday life, which was a simple one, close to nature. The book recalls the period of Unity while keeping distance from emotional participation. It explains the reasons for both sides without judging who is right or who is wrong. In history, whoever takes the lead and dictates his belief through his men who exalt the exploits of their heroes and speak ill of defeated enemies, delegitimizing them, wins the story. Critical analysis can be done after decades, but it does not change the course of events.
MTDD: Thanks, Edmondo, for all the information you provided. There is much more to be said about your publications and many other topics to be explored, especially historical ones, which due to our limited time we are forced to postpone. I will be happy to host you for another interview and continue this interesting conversation by considering the many aspects that we have not been able to examine today.While waiting for the next interview, how can those who are following us and/or will follow us contact you and where can they buy your publications?
EM: My books are all found on Amazon. (https://www.amazon.com/s?k=edmondo+marra&ref=nb_sb_noss) In recent years I have published them in Irpinia with local publishers but the readers are few and the costs are enormous. There is no profit on Amazon, but at least the expenses for further research are recovered. It is a work of passion, with no economic return. Another aspect that encouraged me to publish on the internet is that even after I am gone, someone will be able to find the history of our country online and will remember a family doctor who spent years and years to find documents and news.
MTDD: Thanks again, Edmondo. It was a great pleasure and honor to have you as my guest.
EM: You were very kind to allow me to be able to talk about my hometown and my hobbies. I did it with real pleasure because I believe that culture is the spring to improve ourselves as well as the society we live in. These last 70 years have changed a reality that has been walking slowly for many centuries, making a world of ignorance and fears disappear, but also of values that are being lost. I hope that progress has not regressed and that man continues his path in the search for the common good and social equality, without wars, without pollution and with respect for the planet that hosts us, our Mother Earth.
Best regards, Edmondo Marra