Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Wasps' Nest

By Patricia Winton

The area of Rome where I live was dubbed Nido di Vespe (wasps’ nest) by the Nazis during World War II because it housed a major network of partigiani, the guerrillas who engaged in sabotage and other anti-Nazi activities. The Germans ultimately swept through with a mass roundup on April 17, 1944—seventy years ago yesterday.

By the beginning of 1944, Rome was in chaos: the allies were marching from the south; troops had landed at Anzio; the king had fled; the Italian government had surrendered to the allies; the Jewish ghetto had been swept and many of its citizens sent to Auschwitz. The Nazis were in control. Against this background the partigiani stepped up their activities in central Rome, culminating in an attack near the Spanish Steps in which 33 German soldiers were killed. The Nazis retaliated with a massacre on March 24, 1944 with 335 Italian men killed—ten Italians for each German, plus five for good measure.

On April 10, Easter Monday, a partigiano shot three German soldiers at point-blank range in a trattoria near Cinecittà. For the Nazis, this was a last straw. At 4 AM on April 17, German troops blocked all access to this neighborhood, known as the Quadraro, going house to house and rounding up about 2000 men between the ages of 16 and 60. Half of these managed to escape, but 947 were transported to concentration camps where they were forced into hard labor. Known in Italy as the Schiavi di Hitler (Hitler’s slaves), in Germany they were called Volunteers for Germany. About half of these men died in the concentration camps. The event is known as the Rastrellamento del Quadraro (the Raking of the Quadraro). It was the second-largest Nazi roundup in Italy after the Jewish ghetto in Rome.

Each year, there is a commemoration. On this, the seventieth anniversary, there are several days of events, including concerts, releases of a new book and a video, art exhibitions, and others. Yesterday, I went to a wreath-laying ceremony. A group of local dignitaries, military leaders, and citizens—some representing families of victims of the rastrellamento—assembled near the spot where the detained men were initially held. A military band played the national anthem. A couple of aging men held banners.

Then with little fanfare, we all marched to the nearby Parco del 17 Aprile 1944 where a monument honors the victims. On the way, we passed a newly painted mural of giant wasps on their nest. The mural proclaimed, in English, “You are now entering free Quadraro.”

The band had scurried to the park by bus while we marched and reassembled, performing again. The wreath was positioned in front of the monument, and representatives of various levels of government spoke. A man from one of the affected families laid a bouquet.

I feel honored to live in a neighborhood with such roots.

Next week I’ll continue with a post about my visit to Sicily.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Party Pan

By Patricia Winton

Yesterday I went to a birthday party. When the birthday girl, my friend Gaby, invited me a couple weeks ago, she said, “I’ve ordered pan brioche.” I’d never heard of this before, so I asked about it.

Gaby said, “Oh, I used to see it at parties. It’s a collection of sandwiches all put together inside bread.” I had trouble getting my head around that. Somehow, I imagined a loaf of bread hollowed out with sandwiches stacked inside. Then I forgot about it until I arrived for the party.

I live very nearby and turned up as the first guest. At her request, I’d brought a plate of my famous deviled eggs. “And here,” she said, “is the pan brioche.” I saw a tall round loaf of bread encased in cellophane and topped with a red bow. I still had trouble understanding how it worked.

Eventually, when I was no longer the lone guest, we opened the package—a somewhat difficult task because the cellophane had been taped as if to ward of an invasion. Even with two sets of hands and a pair of scissors, we were almost thwarted in our attempt to breach the fortress.

The bread had been sliced horizontally. Gaby removed the top piece, which she labeled “the hat.” revealing four bamboo skewers holding the slices in place much as toothpicks hold together club sandwich triangles.

Each layer had a different sandwich filling: prosciutto and cheese, bresaola and rucola (dried beef and arugula), tuna and tomato, mushroom and cheese. There was probably some salami as well. I didn’t sample every layer. The bread had been cut into quarters vertically creating dainty sandwiches

It made a festive party food, and I’m sure to get one at some point in the future. The shop where Gaby had this one made is just down the street. I’m not sure I’m up to tackling this in my own kitchen.

I'll return to my tales from Sicily in two weeks. Next week, I'm writing about a World War II anniversary in my neighborhood.