One hour ago I put the finishing touches to the final revision of Piemontesi ai confini del mondo (The Piedmontese at the world’s end), a book about 19th and early 20th century travellers, adventurers, explorers and other oddballs from Turin and Piedmont, that is set to be published in time for Christmas by a small but high-quality local interest publisher.
We have treasure-hunters in Egypt, African colonial adventurers, spies and soldiers in the Far East, missionaries, botanists, political mavericks, aristocratic thrill-seekers, polar explorers, painters and photographers, mountain climbers and mariners, spread over five continents, from the very beginning of the 19th century to the World War years. The only common trait, they were born in the industrial towns and the wine country of Piedmont, in Western Italy, right here where I am sitting.
They were all bogianén – the nickname that is usually applied to us Piedmontese, and that means “don’t move”; but it does not mean we stand still, it only means we hold our ground.
The name comes from the battle of Assietta, a significant episode in the War of the Austrian Succession which took place on 19 July 1747, fought on a mountaintop, at 8000 feet above sea level.
On that occasion, 4,800 Austro-Piedmontese soldiers entrenched themselves behind dry stone walls to stop the advance of 40,000 Frenchmen. Given the desperate situation, the general staff sent a message to the Piedmontese commander, Count Giovanni Battista Cacherano di Bricherasio, with the authorization to withdraw to more favorable positions. According to the anecdotal of the time, Bricherasio replied in Piedmontese with the phrase: “Dije a Turin che da si nojàutri i bogioma nen” (“Tell Turin that we do not move from here”) . The resolution of the unequal battle in favor of the Austro-Piedmontese made that phrase become a very widespread popular motto and the word “bogianén” used to indicate the Piedmontese, with reference to their stubbornness and determination.
So yes, basically our regional nickname is “hold the line.”
Toto would be so proud.
Collecting the biographical information, reading the books and diaries of these adventurers was an adventure in itself. Tomorrow I will check the text one last time, I’ll review the bibliography for any missing title, and write the thank you note to all those that helped – the editors and the friends that provided support and suggestions.
Then it will be out of my hands.
There will be a time to chose the pictures, and to check the maps, but that’s the last thing, really. That and checking the galleys, when the time will come.
I am tired, and happy, and a little scared.