My Connection to Beppe Fenoglio

Photo by Aldo Agnelli
One of the beautiful things about having a sister city is that one can be connected to a place and its people, to its beauty and its greatness. Today, on eve of the fiftieth anniversary of the untimely death of Beppe Fenoglio,  I have been reflecting on how my connection with Alba has allowed me to enjoy at least a tenuous connection to the author and his works.

I first learned of Fenoglio in 1972 when I was enjoying an extended work experience in Alba working in the studio of Architect Valerio Demaria. This was less than a decade after the writer’s losing his battle with lung cancer and the living memory of Fenoglio was still very fresh in the minds of most Albesi. I was teaching myself Italian and had developed a voracious appetite to learn about Alba and the Langhe. Reading the works of Fenoglio was a perfect way to do both. I read “La Malora”, "Il Partigiano Johnny” and “The Twenty Three Days of the City of Alba”. Fenoglio allowed me to visualize the life that had played out on the ancient streets I walked every day and in the in the rolling hills of the Langhe that surround the city.

I learned that many of my new friends in Alba had been close friends of the Beppe Fenoglio even during the momentous days of the Free Republic of Alba. I have been able to learn about the remarkable man I never met through the recollections of his friends, friends I now share. In the film, “Una Questione Privata”, I see dear friends like Gianni Toppino recalling the author with great emotion. In our house there is a beautiful black and white photograph of a young girl taken by Enzo Agnelli, the brother of Aldo Agnelli who is so closely associated with Fenoglio. For many years I thought it was a photo of Agnelli’s daughter. It was only a few years ago we learned that it was a photo of Fenoglio's very young daughter Margherita. Enzo and his wife Diva are the godparents of our oldest son, Ryan. That makes my connection familial in a way. We have had the pleasure of meeting Margherita at several sister city events in Alba.

In 1984 we received a beautiful poster from Alba commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the historic twenty-three days during which the brave partisans of Alba defied their oppressors and occupiers as a free republic. I got goosebumps when I saw that the date on the poster was the date of my birth. I had entered the world during the very days that the brave heroes of Alba were giving up their lives for freedom. Knowing that added to my fascination with the events, times and places chronicled by Beppe Fenoglio.

Some years later we were able to host Paolo Rivella whose parents I had gotten to know during my first stay in Alba. We learned from Paolo, an avid student of Fenoglio's works, that, while he was visiting Medford, the University of Oregon was hosting a symposium on Beppe Fenoglio and his writings. That was my first awareness that Fenoglio was universally regarded among the great authors of the twentieth century. Many compare him to Ernest Hemingway.

Today I received an article on Beppe Fenoglio from my dear friend Pino Dutto. The La Stampa article was written by Piero Negri Scaglione, an author, journalist and scholar of the works of Fenoglio. I recognized the name and looked for it in the book that the people of Alba published in 2010 for the fiftieth anniversary of Medford and Alba becoming sister cities. I found a photo of Scaglione with a group from Medford that included my late niece Renee Snider and another dear friend Nicoletta Demaria. More goosebumps.

It is serendipitous that 2013, the year of the fiftieth anniversary of Beppe Fenoglio’s passing, is also the “Year of Italian Culture in the United States”. I am not aware that any events that the Italian Foreign Ministry has scheduled during the year involve the great works of Fenoglio but it would be a tragedy if he were not remembered with all the great artists of Italy. I would encourage other lovers of Alba and all things Albesi to acquire and read Fenoglio’s books. There are excellent translations available and some he actually wrote in English. It would be a great year to get connected with a dear friend I never met.

Doug Snider