The Bronze King
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  Versione Italiana

‘U Rré ‘e Brůanzu
The Bronze King


(for the studying and spreading of Andreolese culture)


It seems somewhat peculiar and entirely novel that in Calabria, traditionally considered vox populi as an area in which agriculture was the natural vocation of its people, there existed in the valley of the river Stilaro (Bivongi, Monasterace, Pezzano and Sitlo) and in the mountainous areas of the Serre, (Fabrizi and Mongiana) thriving mineral and steel industries (mines, ironmongery, foundries, army factories etc) capable of earning a good living for over 2000 years until the total downfall which occurred more than a century ago, to many generations of Calabrian people. The first to exploit the mineral resources of the Calabrian soil, were the indigenous population of the Iron Age, followed by Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Normans and all the dynastic rulers, from the Suevians to the Bourbons, that swiftly followed.
It was however with the last of these rulers, the House of Savoy, that the disastrous political decisions to transfer the foundries to the Northern areas of the new kingdom, determined the final collapse and produced rampant unemployment, forcing almost 3000 people who depended on this sector for their living, into brigandage or emigration.
Sursum corda; saluti e frasca! Best wishes and prosperity to the new tyrants!
From these remote, forgotten fine arts and noble trades has come to us ‘u rré ‘e brůanzu (bronze king).
‘U rré ‘e chi ?
The king of what?
Ah diŕmmani!
Gosh! What is it all about this unusual and remarkable chronicle? One has heard about the good king, the wise king, the big nose king, the sun king, the King of Heaven, do’ rré ‘e bastuni (the king of clubs in the popular card game of briscola). However, never of this weird sovereign. Never! Nenta ‘e minu (no less): made of bronze. Bah!
Nevertheless, there are no doubts and the tale is anything but a novelty: the only deviation from the truth is that the bust has always been of cast iron and heaven knows why it has been always referred to as ‘e brůanzu (of bronze).
Anyway, please do not get distracted: relax and follow the compelling narrative.

In St. Andrea, this title was bestowed to the bust of Ferdinand II of Bourbon, nicknamed king Bomb, in its times ‘mpalatu (firmly installed) in the middle of the old Piazza Malaira.
It all started around the mid 1800s, following the nomination in 1846 of Don Raffaele Maria Spasari, native of Badolato, to Archpriest of our village.
A fiery supporter of the Bourbons and such a profound admirer of Re Bomba (king Bomb) to be utterly intolerant of whoever disagreed with his convictions, he did all in his power and succeeded in having at his side the daily presence of that king with the chubby cheeks. Well, if he did not manage to achieve this in full, he managed, so to speak, by half. If not exactly in person, at least armless and from the head to the chest: to conclude, a reproduction of a bust.
It had not been simple, you know! It had been even harder to persuade ‘i ‘ndrůali (the Andreolesi) to cooperate. But, as they say, ‘na prěadica (a sermon) today, a warning tomorrow or, better still, hurting the population were it hurts, don Rafěali realised that in order to fulfil his target he had to persevere and follow literally the old popular adage: Tira ca vena! (Lit. ‘Pull and it will happen’, persist and you’ll be rewarded)
E vinna:
(and indeed it happened): the bust of the king was commisioned, cast in Mongiana and paid with donations by all the andreolesi. Well... cchjů o minu (more or less).
This should be noted because a group of liberals that met clandestinely in a basement still today remembered as la casa dei carbonari (the house of the carbonari), under the leadership of the lawyer Antonio Jannoni - tried and persecuted by Bomb King himself, paid mancu ‘nu sordu (not even a cent), at the contrary did everything in his power to ostracise the project.
In reality the group had a marginal and purely propagandistic role, nevertheless it was sufficient to disrupt the sleep and tranquillity of the council administrators who met as a matter of urgency to deliberate on the purchase of ammunitions: “ in the year 1848, the eighth of May in S.Andrea, on a meeting of the authorities under the invitation of the Mayor (Saverio Mattei)… considering the present situation, it is rendered necessary the purchase of six barrels of explosive and fifteen rolls of bullets to arm the national guards …”.
The historical wave of these events made themselves felt even in our neck of the womb and, looking at the dark clouds of the Sicilian storm, the cautious politicians thought well ‘u si guŕrdanu ‘i tacchi (of watching their steps) by heavily arming their police force.

  Meanwhile, as the monarch spruppava (feasted) avidly and worried, according to A. Dumas senior ‘ about giving a fixed salary to the executioner because the 25 ducati he was entitled to for every execution were sending the royal bursary in ruin’, the wretched locals, dragging the little flesh still hanging on their bones, were getting ready with don Rafěali to welcolme with due pomp ‘u rré ‘e brůanzu coming from Mongiana.
It arrived on ‘nu carru (a cart) pulled by oxen, firmly tied and fully hidden, followed by a greciamagna (multitude) of screaming children, more interested in annoying the animals than to give honour to the concealed rré (king). Although extremely heavy, it was carefully deposited on a baldachin constructed in front of the altar of the Chiesa Matrice (main church) and don Raffaele, as soon as the bells started ringing in celebration, initiated a cheering oration: ‘ Oh faithful, ecce regis! (here is the king). He is your sovereign by divine order, as desired by the King of kings. Hoc erat in votis, he is here to envigilate and control our (but he really meant ‘your’) actions. Full of light and superior grace, our understanding Ferdinand is sensitive to the human condition! Love and honour him, because with him incipit vita nova (will start a new life).
Oh faithful, yours and our king will be positus ‘mprunti (placed in front) of the town hall and must be revered every time you pass in front of him. Per tutti i secoli saeculorum, amen! (for all centuries of centuries, for eternity). Amen! And now, my beloved, let sing ‘nzema (together) Te Deum.
At the end of the ceremony, people congregated round the exit without having understood ‘na měnchja (nothing at all) of the archpriest’s words; they understood, however, ‘u ‘ntinnu (the tone) of what clearly seemed a threat and quickly realised that they were involved cu’ du’ brutti ‘nzěarti: ‘u rré e don Rafé (with two ugly individuals, the king and don Raffaele).
The bust was then erected in the middle of the square, on an imposing, carved stone pedestal and surrounded by a circular fence in which were planted a few acacia trees; all, naturally, at the expenses of the population, forced to give, free of charge, materials and labour. Everyone, passing by, had to curtsy to worship his majesty! If you did not bow as a sign of respect you were in big trouble! Don Raffaele, who lived across the square, controlled, took notice and reported.

Re Bomba gave back his soul to God in 1859 and missed therefore the Garibaldi’s landing at Marsala, which would culminate in the demise of the Boubonic kingdom.
Don Spasari, l’amaru (the unfortunate) knew and vitta tuttu (saw everything) and the last years of his life were marred by the events of the new order. Often, he saw the walls of the Rione Castello’s houses, lined with posters that almost always ended in «Abbasso ré Bomba; abbasso il ré bigné e il suo scagnozzo don Rafé!» (Down with the king, down with the cream puff king and his henchman Don Rafe’!).
And more: «Viva Garibardi ‘u crastaturi! ( Cheers to Garibaldi the pig castrator. There was at the time a popular credence that Garibaldi used to castrate priests).
Don Raffaele was ‘mbalenatu (embittered) and his fury touched desperation when, towards the end of 1860, a sizeable group of people met outside his home armed with ropes, batons and picuni (axe) and started demolishing the fence surrounding the bust: «Viva la Riprůbbica; ebbiva don Peppi Garibardi; abbassu lu rré, scioddhŕmulu a Carcé! (Long live the Repubblic, Long Live don Peppi Garibaldi, down with the King, lets throw him down Carce’) (a local district).
Oh yes, this is exactly how it happened. The fence was knocked down and in a flash they were all on the bust, tying the king’s stocky neck with ropes e ti salutu nanna (and goodbye for good), they pushed and pulled until they toppled it.
Placed on nu catalěattu (a stretcher) a fake funeral was staged, symbolising the actual ‘death’ of the royal dynasty; the disgraced bust was paraded through the village and then dumped in a caseddha (rural small country house) outside the walls of the parish, were it was left for decades until, nobody knows who, took it to a warehouse of the old town hall ‘e Malajhira (old name of a district) and later in the present place were the underwriter, in 1994 found it, decayed by the time, under a collection of old things and brought it back to light with the help of a council dependent, Vincenzo Mannello.

Perfectly restored by two volunteers, Pasquale Mosca and Leopoldo Gobbi, it was initially placed in the hallway of the new town hall and subsequently, after a few years, was again discarded in that Babylonian laughing stock that somebody still stubbornly calls the municipal museum.
The bust is undoubtedly to be appreciated and considered as a fine example of local artefact, a masterpiece of trades now vanished but that should be revisited, revalued and rediscovered, giving them the proper merits and the moral value they represent.
I would go as far as to say that the repugnance the andreolesi felt for this square, a place of coercion that forced and subjected them to the harsh, brutal constraints of renouncing to their own free will and personality, to forsake themselves to the tyrant command of having to bend to a metal bust has contributed to immortalise the reputation and notoriety of a place; as vivid corroboration, in a death certificate of 1809 we discover, for the first time, amongst municipal documents, the existence of the Rione (neighbourhood) Malajhira: malu jhira, dreadful, depressing path which make us think of heaven knows how much exploitation and abuse was carried out in this small spot. Perhaps, actually definitely, it would be useful giving back to the small square its previous, ancient name of Malajhěra (and not Malaira, which has a completely different meaning), so that we can revalue the historical memory of episodes that have abandoned the mind and heart of the andreolesi.

Cuneo, February 2002

Alfredo Varano
The translation is by Anna Mongiardo Goodman


The group of study ELPIS ZEROUNO




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