A Plea for Justice and Civility in Italy

Piero Nissim would not object to being called a modern-day troubadour. Musician, poet and puppeteer, besides being a great advocate for the use of Esperanto, his creations embrace both children and adult worlds.

I’ve already mentioned some of Piero’s major achievements: his ‘apron theatre’ in my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/pumpkins-and-puppets/ , his ‘Stabat Mater’  at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/stabat-mater-dolorosa/ and his guitar-accompanied songs at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/an-international-language/.

Piero comes from a Jewish Livornese family with a rich cultural past. Piero’s father was cousin to Elio Nissim who was a great friend of my wife Sandra’s parents. Living in the UK, Elio did much to help the plight of Italian POW’s during WWII and led a distinguished career as a lawyer.

It was, therefore, with much pleasure that I attended the launch of Piero’s new book of poems, ‘Poesie legali’ at the elegant Sala Tobino in Lucca’s Palazzo Ducale yesterday evening.


Present were also Lucca’s deputy mayor, the publishers, and the president of the Italian resistance association who all spoke incisively about Piero’s creative energy.

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Piero’s poems have also formed part of a show he’s performed in Italy and his recitations of them are an integral part of their very strong effect on the public. If anyone thinks poems are all about birds and bees and beautiful things then they should read Piero’s latest collection for these poems are steely, political, angry and compassionate at the same time.

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After a preface, each of the twenty eight poems describes a tragic situation in Italy which involves suffering, corruption, and, miraculously, hopes too. There are poems on the Viareggio railway accident in 2009 when a train carrying liquid gas cylinders derailed and cause a massive explosion killing 33 people and demolishing a considerable residential area near the station. There’s a poem on the L’Aquila earthquake, also from 2009 (what a terrible year that was for Italy) to say nothing of the Mafia and the assassination of the great Falcone and Borsellino in Sicily. For most poems there’s a second section which explains the events the poems refer to. This is to help not only those children not old enough to remember the events but also those non-Italians who may not have much idea of recent Italian history. If the poems are expressions of Piero’s feelings then the prose explains the facts which inspired those feelings.

Here are Nissim’s  two poems on Viareggio and L’Aquila with my translations of the poems and their commentary.


Viareggio non piange


Dopo la strage del 29 giugno

Viareggio non piange,

ha il volto asciutto dal salmastro,

come in tempo di guerra

resiste, è solidale,

è terra di coraggio.

Viareggio, gente antica

scolpita nel dolore

come la cartapesta

dei carri a Carnevale,

come la vita dura nel Cantiere

o la pesca di notte in mezzo al mare.


gente fiera nel dolore,


quanto dovrà aspettare?



Viareggio doesn’t cry
After the 29th June carnage
Viareggio isn’t crying,
its face is dried by the sea’s salt water,
as in wartime
it resists, it stands together,
it’s a courageous land.
Viareggio, an ancient people
carved in pain
like the papier-mâché
of Carnival floats,
like the shipyards’ tough life
or the night-fishing in the middle of the sea.
a proud people in its agony,
how long will they have to wait for it?


Notes on ‘Viareggio doesn’t cry’

On the evening of May 29, 2009 during its transit through Viareggio station a freight train, consisting of a convoy of 14 tank wagons containing LPG liquid gas, derailed because of the fracture of an axle in its first wagon. The tank wagon’s  derailment and its subsequent damage caused its cargo of gases to escape spreading about in a liquid state alongside the rail track before igniting and exploding. The fire created an apocalyptic scenario with thirty-three persons dead and many properties destroyed. A comprehensive engineering survey established beyond doubt that the weakness in the axle was present for many years and that a more careful examination could have discovered this and the axle could have been replaced by a new one. Thirty three human lives were sacrificed for not replacing a piece costing a couple of thousand euros. The railways were accused of negligence and the trial is still carrying on with continual postponements and railway defense lawyers attempting to reclassify, or even deny, any negligence in the tragedy.



Quando la terra trema


Quando la terra trema

e arriva sordo proprio quel rumore,

ecco, squarcia la notte

e la ferita,

ti coglie di sorpresa

nel terrore

e spezza i fili

che tengono sospesa

la tua vita.

Un tonfo, un baratro

e l’Aquila reale

gente ch’è forte e fiera

cade ferita a morte,

di notte il 6 di aprile.

L’albero ha perso rami

e foglie e frutti

ma ha solide radici

per ricominciare.

E vuole ricordare

i figli persi ad uno ad uno,

parole e versi

per tutti e per ciascuno.

Per non dimenticare!



When the earth trembles
When the earth trembles
and that dull noise arrives,
it suddenly pierces the night
and the wound,
takes you by surprise
in fear
breaking the strings
holding your life
A thud, a chasm
and the strong and proud peopleof the Golden Eagle
fall mortally wounded,
on the night of April 6th.
The tree has lost branches
leaves and fruits
but it has roots solid enough
to start again.
It wants to remember
those children, lost one by one,
words and verses
for each and for all.
Never to forget!

Notes on ‘When the earth trembles.’

On the 6th April 2009, a 6.23 magnitude earthquake on the Mercalli scale devastated the city of Aquila, causing 309 deaths and extensive damage to the city and surrounding area. This event is especially remembered for its particularly painful dynamics. The earthquake occurred at the height of an intense seismic activity that had begun as early as December 2008 and had already caused psychological distress among the population well before the actual earthquake. One wondered what to expect next. In an odd mixture of scientific data and political and media communication, the city’s civil protection tried to calm its citizens on March 31st by stating the absence of  danger from earthquakes (which anyway are notoriously unpredictable events). Later, regarding a report on survey public contracts corruption relating to reconstruction, a telephone conversation recording was made public in which two well-connected contractors in the public sector stated they were glad for the extra reconstruction business they would obtain if an earthquake did occur.



The collection also include a moving letter to Piero from the recently deceased Father Paoli, the priest who is elected among the ‘Just of the world’ for his saving over eight hundred Italian Jewish people during the darkest days of WWII. (See my reference to Don Arturo Paoli in my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/from-bagni-di-lucca-to-auschwitz/ )

Then occasion was dignified and moving at the same time. Piero manages to inject humour in the most appalling human conditions and his work combines two great virtues: religious charity and socialist solidarity. If anyone wants to understand the real Italy and the angst it has gone through and still experiences, together with the esprit de corps that it faces disasters and sadness then Piero Nissim’s book is essential reading even for those who do not normally rush to buy a poetry book.

We are arranging now for Piero Nissim to attend Bagni di Lucca’s Shelley festival to be organised this summer by Luca and Rebecca the couple who direct that great new addition to Bagni di Lucca, the Shelley House bookshop and gallery.For Piero Nissim’s new collection of poems are essentially a plea for much needed justice and civility in Italy

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3 thoughts on “A Plea for Justice and Civility in Italy

  1. Francis great post I do hope that Piero is happy with this though I must correct you Danny is Elios son Robert is Renzos son. Remember also I introduced you to the Paris Museum Nissim de Comandeau (unsure of the spelling) it was the same family if you remember it is a fabulous museum. Mother is besotted with the idea that Piero is such a good puppeteer especially to entertain the children he is so very talented and as his cousin Elio I used to love my visits there in UK. Elio just after the war did radio programmes in UK for Italians in UK and Italy that my Mother used to listen to before even knowing him so to is really amazing that thanks to my Babbo who knew Elio well as both being Florentines managed to finally meet him and the rest is history. No it is best not to cry as you only lose vital salts and minerals in fact the Egyptians collected tears as they are so precious the Viareggio event was just a terrible tragedy that surely could have been avoided but nothing can redeem this situation only remembrance of these lost souls it is indeed a desperate situation as with natural catastrophes too nothing can ever mediate such losses of life.

  2. Pingback: Bagni di Lucca’s ‘Shelley House’ is No More – From London to Longoio (and Lucca and Beyond) Part Three

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