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STORIES OF WOMEN, STORIES OF STREETS: VIA LIBERA, A BOOK TO CELEBRATE INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY

Books | Culture

Written by Cristina Bragaglia

“Via Libera” Valentina Ricci, Viola Afrifa e Romana Rimondi publ. Sonzogno

If I hadn't read Via Libera, I wouldn’t have noticed the road sign in the neighborhood where I was lost: Via Luigina Fasoli. Medieval History: the first lesson attended by me at the University. An unforgettable professor that eventually became a role model, who with verve and without the useless rhetoric of slogans, subtly conducted us to open our eyes, not only to an era until then misjudged, but also to female autonomy and the new landmarks to be undertaken by the backward Italian society.

The pleasant reading of the book by Valentina Ricci, Viola Afrifa e Romana Rimondi, as a matter of fact, introduces us to the variegated world of streets dedicated to women: rare and usually located in the suburbs, because only recently secular oblivion is being redressed, in such a way that for every hundred streets dedicated to men, we can count just seven that carry women’s names. An embarrassing gap. The volume published by Sonzogno, travels through Italy examining 50 of them. Each character recounts their own story in first person, thus making those events lively and convincing.

The idea, developed during walks and bike ridings, came to a Bolognese, Romana Rimondi, a renowned graphic designer with a temptation for writing. Her images, collages of drawings and photos or paintings, share the pages on an equal footing with the profiles and are played with two colors: black and yellow. As Romana explains, the latter means light and alludes to both road signs and to the yellow of the symbolic mimosas. By her side, the author wanted two youngsters ,who were well-known to radio listeners, forming a team that brought together people of different ages and that shared the task of choosing the names, the research on different sources

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(the precious Site on female toponymy, various texts, journalistic articles, interviews, photos, paintings, etc.), as well as accurate checks of the streets, both on paper and digital maps. A daunting task because of the lockdown, but, in any case, the product of a great harmony of intent, such as that of recognizing these women, whose names are most often unknown to the passer-by. In a kind of compensation, the authors restore them the right of expression and recover their vicissitudes, written especially to arouse the curiosity of a young reader, inducing her to draw inspiration from the strength and courage of almost all of the protagonists.

Who are these women? One of them (Arethusa) comes from mythological legends, the others belong to diverse social environments (from nobility to the manual laborer), to very different eras: all of whom, in their lives, have rebelled against conventions, in the name of consistency, justice and faith in their own ideals. There are four Bolognese: Bettisia Gozzadini, who, in the thirteenth century, is the only woman to have taught Law at the University of Bologna; Elisabetta Sirani, “master” of Baroque painting, head of a workshop that bore her name and where 11 apprentices worked, destined to become professional painters; Irma Bandiera, heroic protagonist of the city’s resistance, tortured and killed in 1944; Mariele Ventre, founder of the Piccolo Coro dell’Antoniano, whose legacy up to this day inspires the annual singing competition Zecchino d’oro, enlivened as always by children.

In the reading, these women seem to come back to life, immersed in their cities or villages, where the streets dedicated to them are often situated.

You can imagine them in their homes (sometimes accurately described), in their workplaces, in the natural environments in which they move and act. It almost seems like you can see her, Giuditta Levato, in the lands around Catanzaro, working in the fields, while her husband is at war, fighting as a communist against the exploitation of laborers, only to die, seven months pregnant, defending her own harvest against the landowners as well as for the rights that the Gullo decree had awarded the peasants. The street dedicated to her is in Catanzaro Lido.

Among the high mountains of Tyrol lived, in the nineteenth century, Frau Emma: daughter of hoteliers, when her husband inherits the Hotel Aquila nera, in the center of Villabassa, she turns it into a tourist paradise, combining fine local cuisine, décor and the organization of trips to the mountains (she was the only woman registered in the German Alpine Club). Owing to her, a new concept of tourism and a hotel dynasty were born, that of the Hellenstainers, which would be expanded throughout the province, culminating in the construction of the Grand Hotel Frau Emma in Merano, dedicated to her memory.

International Women’s Day (8 March) often risks being crushed by rhetoric and banality: let's celebrate it instead by reading the book, let’s go in search of the streets dedicated to women and let's remember the inscription the authors have affixed: "To all the women whom no road has ever been dedicated to. To all those who will never have it". To the names on the road signs, we add the women we will never forget, perhaps by linking them to the places where they lived or worked, creating a new path, real and imaginary at the same time, for our walks, whether alone or in the company of friends.

Cristina Bragaglia (traduzione di Natasha Brand)

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