Friday, November 09, 2012

Montecassino - landscape and emotional connection

Watching the BBC Alba documentary about Montecassino last night was an emotional experience.
In 1972 I walked the site of the siege with my father who fought there in WWII, spending a month in a freezing, mud-bound hole in the ground under heavy fire. The Scotsman interviewed on the programme had exactly the look in his eyes, the sudden tremble in his voice when he recalled going back to visit the war graves as I witnessed in my father's deeply moving reaction to returning to the landscape where he spent the formative period of his life. He fought elsewhere during the long years of war and wrote a memoir of his time as a soldier entitled A Good War, a characteristically ironical title with massive subtext.
But the intense physical, emotional and mental ordeal of Montecassino stayed with him. From it grew, almost as a reactive healing instinct, an equally intense love for the land of Italy. The happiest times of his life were spent walking and hitch-hiking about that simple, passionate country in later years.
It is true that suffering can create strong bonds with landscape that has shared it. In a Somerset village I became great friends with an elderly man who had also fought in Sicily and then Italy. He took up painting in middle age, and his scenes of the Italian coutnryside - in better weather than the incessant rain that beleaguered the Montecasino action - reproduced exactly that particular bond of affection for a landscape that only adversity can breed.
He gave me one of these images that still brings tears to my eyes for all it says to me of a beloved father, who found life hard in many ways and whose powers of emotional expression were crushed in a conflict that both bound him to mankind in general and separated him from individuals for a long life-time.

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