Heartfelt novel set in LONDON and BRISTOL
Talking Location With Amanda Weinberg – PITIGLIANO
13th October 2020
TalkingLocationWith… Amanda Weinberg, author of The Tears of Monterini, novel set in Pitigliano.
In the summer of 1998, I discovered Pitigliano, a medieval village in the Maremma in southern Tuscany. Set amidst vineyards and olive groves, it rises majestically from a golden mound of tufo rock littered with Etruscan caves. I had never heard of the Maremma. It was the era just before the internet had really taken off and we had to dial up on CompuServe to see what we could find about the area and the village. Nothing. We flicked through guidebooks in search of inspiration. They stated quite clearly, “the boring southern part of Italy” was not worth a visit! Nevertheless, we bundled our children into the car and drove through France and central Italy to the village which has become our second home.
Nothing prepared us for our first glimpse of Pitigliano. As we turned the corner by the church Madonna Delle Grazie,the town rose majestically from its mound of tufo, a vision of honey-coloured houses perched one on top of the other, church spires and Etruscan relics. We drove along the twisty road snaking the village, up the hill and past what we later discovered was the old Jewish cemetery. Little did we know, that we had stumbled upon La piccola Gerusalemme, Little Jerusalem, as the town is known, steeped in Jewish history and culture.
At the entrance to the village, a blue sign with the word Sinagoga pointed us towards the centro storico, the historical centre. Here in the middle of nowhere, was a village of outstanding beauty with a synagogue and shop windows displaying pane assime, round Italian matzo, vino kasher, kosher wine and dolci tipici ebrei, typical Jewish cakes. We had fallen upon a gem; a world where Catholic and Jewish interests intertwine amidst a landscape of Etruscan pathways and tumble-down medieval houses.
What was to unfold has become a love story which has lasted over 20 years. Almost immediately the idea for a novel germinated in my brain. It was as if I could see my characters, Angelo and Jacobo sitting on the terracotta terrace in the burning heat of the sun waiting for the birth of their children. There is a magic to Pitigliano and I felt it instantly the moment I arrived. I allowed the magic to sweep me up and carry me on a journey where fact met fiction, invention entwined with reality. I explored and researched and discovered that Jews first arrived in Pitigliano in the 16th Century. By the mid 19th century there was a population of over 400, living principally in the ghetto area and coexisting peacefully with their neighbours. All that was to change when Mussolini came to power.
This was the era that fascinated me the most. I began to research the effects of fascism on the village and its inhabitants. I set about talking to the old folks of Pitigliano and gleaning stories and anecdotes, discovering the dangers of being a partisan or a Jew hiding in the surrounding area, in grottos and Etruscan caves. Combining authenticity with invention was one of my biggest tasks. I wanted to tell the history of the village, the effect of the 1938 racial laws on the community of Catholics and Jews. I wanted to relate the kind and brave deeds that people did to save their Jewish neighbours.
As I continued my research, I learnt of other tales of courage outside the village and began to weave these true events around the lives of my characters, setting the account of an orphanage in Emiglia-Romagna into the fictional town of Monterini. I spent months in Pitigliano every year, experiencing the colours of the seasons, the smells of lavender, rustling of olive trees, and the taste of the local delicacies. I listened to stories and imagined what it was like to walk the cobbled streets when Mussolini came to power, to feel threatened yet at the same time protected by the community. I felt my way through the historical events and wove them into a fictional account. Set almost entirely in Pitgliano, my debut novel The Tears of Monterini is the fruit of many years of research and offers a glimpse into the history of the era and the astounding beauty of the region.
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