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The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School's Literary Magazine, 1929-1942

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By Joseph Barbi, '36

The Magpie, May 1935, p. 74.

There are many villages between the Po and the Alps, but only one of them, has a special place in my affections. It is placed at the edge of a sort of plateau and looks down on a fertile valley where one of the swiftest rivers in Italy flows, the Adige. The town is named after a kind of evergreen that grows along the outskirts, called in the Venetian dialect, Busso. As a result the town is called Bussolengo which means, along the Bussos.

By far the most important and most used part of Bussolengo is the "piazza" which is formed by the town hall and the church on one side and rows of low houses on the other three sides. In the center stands Bussolengo's work of art, the fountain. In the afternoon, when the hot sun strikes it, heating up the cobble stones of which it is made, the piazza is deserted except for some solitary figure leaning against the wall. At this time everybody is taking his customary afternoon nap. Not that the people of Bussolengo are lazy, but they begin work at five to escape the heat.

In the evening and on Sundays, however, the piazza is filled with people. Groups form here and there, each for a different purpose. Here, several middle aged men gather to discuss the day's business over sparkling glasses of Soeve, a white wine, or perhaps to criticize some article in the paper which they, as business men, have read. Over there, opposite them, sit their wives, knitting and gossiping, while their children chase around the famous fountain. Right opposite the church, on the other side of the square, is found the literary group. Here all the cultured men of the town come to discuss what they will have the organist play in church next Sunday. The central figure is the owner of the store in front of which the group gathers. He is called Gheto. Three months of the year he is found in the insane asylum in a city near by. When he becomes himself again he is let go only to be returned during his next spells. When sober, he recites Dante's Inferno and is the official organist in church.

Each town in northern Italy has a day set aside for market. Bussolengo's market day is Thursday. On this day, under improvised tents which they put up around the edges of the public square, all the people from the near by villages come to sell their wares, and the farmers from the surrounding country, their crops. The center space is always reserved for the horses, mules and goats, and is the section where most of the shouting and bargaining goes on. Along the walls sit the merchants. These are the ones that go through every trick imaginable to sell their goods. I remember one man who kept his tent dark inside and always placed something at the entrance so as to trip up customers. The dazed farmer, who had come to buy a new hat, would then accept anything just to get out into the open air again.

All this applies to Bussolengo as I used to know it when I lived there about seven years ago. Last year I returned, but my Bussolengo had gone. The new road, connecting the southern cities with Lake Garda and the Alps, passes through it, and the town is now a resting place for the tourists who pass there. Gheto is now in the insane asylum for good, and the people go to the movies instead of sitting in the piazza. There is much singing and guitar playing, but only by professionals for the amusement of the tourists who think they are seeing Bussolengo.

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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