Adunata Nazionale degli Alpini a Pordenone – Muster (Meeting) of the Italian Alpini Regiment in Pordenone May 10, 2014 Pordenone from May 9th to the 11th hosted the 87th edition of the Muster of the Alpini. The Alpini or Mountain Troops, are an elite mountain warfare military corps of the Italian Army. The Alpini were formed in 1872, ten years after Garibaldi’s unification of Italy in 1860 to defend Italy’s northern borders. The soldiers themselves were recruited from the northern regions of Italy such as Lombardia, Trentio-Alto-Adine and Piedmonte, to take advantage of their local knowledge and experience of the Alps and their hardiness to such climates. In June of 1883 the Alpini were awarded the “fiamme verde” (Green Flame) collar patch. And at this time they adopted their distinctive hat – the Capello Alpino with the traditional black feather. Everyone in Italy knows them as “Le Penne Nere” – The black feathers. During World War I, they saw heavy combat over the Alps against both the Austro Hungarians and Germans fighting there from 1915 to 1918. Typically fighting in 12m of snow and at the highest altitudes of the alps they suffered 120, 000 killed out of 400,000 Alpini. A testament to their tenacity and fortitude. Their equipment was dragged up by horse, mule, cable car, mountain trails and walkways. Tunnels were drilled and blasted into the mountains for defense. Climbing and skiing had become essential skills and it was during this war that the Alpini earned their legend of their fighting spirit and of their battle hardened friend – the mule.
We took the train in the early afternoon on Saturday. It was a bright sunny day. All the way there we saw vineyards, the grape vines an early spring green. And at each station stop more and more people were getting on wearing the signature green hat and black feather. Lots of people wearing t-shirts, printed for the occasion reading “My father was an Alpini, babieswearing t-shirts my grandfather was an Alpini”. By the time we arrived in Pordenone station the train was standing room only.
Pordenone has a population of about 50,000 but today there are 400,000 people in the narrow streets. We pour out of the train station onto a street that is overflowing with people wearing green hats. We move with the tide of people. The first thing you see and continue to see all along the streets and in the piazzas are vendors selling everything from Alpini stamped t-shirts, to the green hats to sausages, prosciutto, gadgets, trinkets and sunglasses. I think every “Marocano” in the Veneto has set up their wares for sale here. Everywhere there are tables set up to enjoy beverages (lots of beer flowing) and to eat.
From all the buildings, across all the streets the Italian flag, il tricolore is on proud display – I read in the paper the next day that there were 80,000 flags. Up to about 2000 I believe, military service in Italy was obligatory. So is much like an alumni gathering of the different regiments and the different years of service. The different years, regiments have made up t-shirts with their regiments-years on them, lots are wearing plaid shirts. Housing and feeding that many people in this small town at the same time is a huge logistical challenge. Every space in every little park, parking lot, open area, has tents and trailers and campers and refrigerated trucks setup. These have all been planned out, allocated and set up beforehand.
Today the historic area and most of the city is a pedestrian only zone. We reach the historic part of town. Corso Vittorio Emanuele II curves from Piazza Cavour to the Duomo. It is lined with shops, all the windows dressed in the colors of the Italian flag – green, white and red. The street feels quite elegant because on both sides are covered portici – arched porches. The buildings themselves are elegant, stuccoed two and three story structures but it is not easy to see them with this mass of people in the streets. We work our way around to the Duomo di San Marco and the Piazza San Marco where an Alpini chorus is singing. Everywhere there are bands playing marching music and all day long we hear the Fanfare Alpina. We go around the Duomo and are at the river Noncello.
Pordonone is quite a green city because it has a river running through it and a lovely tree lined “walkway” along the river, La Riviera del Pordenone. We try to walk across the bridge to the other side. Because the bridge is narrower than the street opening onto it this funnel effect is created and no one can move. So we slowly shuffle our way back. You are literally moving as one because there are just so many people. You would think that with that mass of humanity around you, you would feel uncomfortable or threatened in some way. But quite the opposite. You feel quite safe because you are immediately caught up in this friendly, laid back, “allegria”. You can feel the solidarity and the sense of community of these Alpini. The Alpini are known for their active volunteerism, their sense of duty and always being the first to come to the aid of communities hit by natural disasters, for example. Italian Premier Renzi was in attendance for awhile on Sunday and said that the Alpini were an example to all of Italy.
Now it is time to get something to eat. We are in a Piazza in the newer part of the city where large tents and rows of table are set up. The smell of the grilled meat from the Argentinean Rosticeria entices us and we enjoy our grilled meat, sausage, fries and beer. We walk around for a bit longer soaking in all the music and colors and banners and just happy people.
Then we head back to the train station. It was like walking upstream in a deep river – masses of people to get past, saying prego, permesso, grazie trying to keep each other in sight, zigzagging to find the next tiny air space in the crowd. We just make it back in time for the train. The tracks are lined with people on both sides, ten people deep. An exceptionally emotional, enjoyable and unique experience.
The next day we watch some of the traditional Sunday Parade on TV. I say some because with 75,000 people marching the parade runs from 9 in the morning to 21:00 before everyone has finally marched past the reviewing stand. The last few hours, the hardy alpini march under a deluge of rain, hail and thunder showers none of this dampening the spirits.