Thursday, 20 February 2014

The Story of the Village of Bell Ville, Córdoba, Argentina (Part 7 of 7)

The story so far:
My grandmother and mother were born in Bell Ville, originally named Fraile Muerto, and this series of posts is the result of my research into this village, later a town.  There were English farmers in the countryside and (mainly) Italian immigrants in the town, and I descend from both.
Part 1:  The history of the area up to the mid nineteenth century.
Part 2:  The arrival of the English farming pioneers as typified by Richard Seymour and Frank Goodricke, who resided at their farm Monte Molino from 1865-68;  their first encounter with marauding indians;  headman Lisada’s gesture of friendship to an indian scouting party.
Part 3:  More encounters with indians; description of gauchos; characters in Fraile Muerto.
Part 4:  The arrival of Richard Seymour’s brother Walter and his friend Hume Kelly.  RS’s stsruggles with farming, loss of all their livestock after an indian attack; the weather and the primitive living conditions.
Part 5:  Shepherd Harry’s story.  Another indian raid; war with Paraguay, effects of cholera on Fraile Muerto.
Part 6:  Domingo Faustino Sarmiento newly elected president of Argentina; new farm machinery arrives from England; Lisada’s encounter with indians when incident related in Part 2 paid off; speculation why Richard Seymour gave up farming and returned to England.  The story of how Fraile Muerto was renamed Bell Ville.

Enrichetta Alina Maria Aloisi, my grandmother,
taken in Florence in 1891, when she was 1 year old.

Graciela Amalia Schiele, my mother,
taken in Bell Ville in 1923, when she was 1 year old.

The Italian Connection
The influx of immigrants from Italy seeking a better life in Argentina is the greatest by far, larger even than those from Spain.  Between 1814 and 1970 the country has welcomed some six million Italian immigrants.  They and their descendants, now 60% of the population, are the backbone of Argentine daily life and culture.  In fact, leaving Italy itself aside, Argentina is the nation with the highest percentage of Italians and with the strongest Italian culture.
After Napoleon Bonaparte’s downfall and the Treaty of Vienna in 1815, Italy was governed by Austria as many separate states until the Risorgimento movement headed by Victor Emmanuel II...

...started the unification of the country under Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Despite its success, the decades of struggle had created social and economic chaos and disunity, with the richer states being in the north and the poorer in the south; and many dialects – 10 in Sicily alone.  Initially the infrastructure to enable them to resolve these differences simply did not exist.  Corruption, unemployment and strong class-consciousness dominated their daily lives to an extent that drove many families to emigrate. 

Rinaldo Baronti, 1890s 
In the mid 1870s Rinaldo Baronti was one such hopeful.  He had been born and bred in the prosperous northern city of Florence, and as a young newly qualified architect met Amalia Bertani, the 15 year old daughter of a friend of his who lived with his family very near the Ponte Vecchio over the Arno river in the same city.

Amalia Bertani (my great grandmother)
as a girl

He fell in love with her, and asked his friend whether he would consent to their getting married one day, allowing via a long courtship for her to grow up a little.  Bertani was shocked and obdurate.  His daughter was too young to think of such things and he was to steer clear of her.  Despondent, Baronti opted for getting away from this forbidden fruit altogether, and he joined the stream of immigrants to Argentina.
Amalia’s sister Enrichetta was older, but already affianced to Vincenzo Rosignoli, a sculptor of renown from Assisi.  There are many statues around Italy which were created by him and in the picture below from 1912, he and her sister Enrichetta - now his wife - pose in front of Nymph, one of them.  He is best known for his tender portrayals of St Francis of Assisi caring for animals. 

Meanwhile Amalia grew up into a handsome girl with the accomplishments of the age – she spoke French fluently, wrote poetry of some merit, painted in oils, made all her own clothes, had a fine soprano voice and played the piano like an angel, being a fully qualified teacher of music.  My mother has told us that she was also fiercely proud of an uncle - il Zio Colonello - who had fought with Garibaldi.  Ten years after her aborted romance with Rinaldo Baronti, she married a marine engineer in Florence, Enrico Aloisi. 

Enrico had come top of his graduating class in 1885 and had been presented with a gold medal by Umberto I, the king of Italy himself.  Below is a postcard clearly used by the sculptor Vincenzo Rosignoli as a way of promoting his business, whose signature is appended.  The statue in the picture is of Vittorio Emanuele II, King of Italy, with a half relief at the base of Umberto I, previous king, who had presented my great-grandfather Enrico Aloisi with his medal. 

Enrico was five years her junior, so she lied about her age and incidentally did so for the rest of her life.  She bore him a son, Enzo, and a daughter, Enrichetta (my grandmother, later spelt 'Enriqueta'), but his life was tragically cut short in 1890 when he died of pneumonia some months before little Enriqueta was born.  The child was named after both her dead father and Amalia’s own sister.
Top left is Amalia Aloisi, newly widowed

Amalia was now a widow in her thirties, still living in Florence.  She was fortunate to be taken on by the Contessa Piscicelli, who employed her as a live-in governess to her children; she taught them and her own children French and music.   They kept close family ties with Amalia’s sister Enrichetta and her husband Rosignoli, and when possible stayed with them in Assisi.  Don Vincenzo, aside from being a serious sculptor, also had a sense of humour, and liked to create tableaus which he would get professionals to photograph.  Here is one where he is portraying himself as a dwarf (on his knees with shoes protruding) with his wife Enrichetta holding a puppy and her niece (my grandmother Enriqueta) front left, next to her older brother Enzo.

This state of affairs continued until she got the surprise of her life one day in the form of a letter from Rinaldo Baronti, her former suitor, now settled in Bell Ville, Argentina.  He had married but his wife had unfortunately died a few years before and left him with three small children to bring up.  He had never forgotten Amalia, and was now proposing marriage to her.  He offered her a new life, a new beginning at the opposite end of the world, and she accepted. 

He then sent her this fond card of himself sitting by a stream -

...which said on the reverse in a touching mixture of Spanish and Italian:  A vos que antes y sola me enoblesisti mente y corazon, ofresco como peño de verdadero amor este ricuerdo simbolo di eterna fe. ("To you, who alone once ennobled my heart and mind, I dedicate this token of true love, a symbol of everlasting faith.")

Amalia, Enzo (12) and Enriqueta (8) arrived in the port of Buenos Aires in 1898, where Rinaldo was waiting on the quayside.  Sadly their feelings on seeing each other again have not been recorded, but being a formal gentleman he had arranged for a civil wedding ceremony to take place immediately, and on the same day the four of them departed for Bell Ville, 450km (285 miles) away, to the Villino Baronti.
Enzo and Enriqueta in Bell Ville,
a couple of years after they had arrived from Italy.
(The original is only about 2 inches high, hence the low resolution)

My mother described the house as large, with an inner patio and fountain, and large bird cages.  It was dark inside, and had tiles on the floors and some of the walls, therefore cool in summer, and the dining-room had splendid and imposing matching furniture in light oak – sideboard, carving table, huge table, chairs and grandfather clock.  In time the furniture was sold along with the house, but the grandfather clock followed Amalia and later Enriqueta throughout their lives, my mother inheriting it eventually.  It is now with me, beautiful but too large to look natural in most modern homes. 

It took little Enriqueta many months to settle down, during which she often cried herself to sleep. 

This might have been in part because of her new surroundings and inevitably less attention from her mother, but it could also have been because it was not always easy adjusting to her new step brothers and sister.  Pepe Bertani was the eldest, then Querubina, and Angelito was the youngest.  Querubina and Enriqueta had very differing personalities, but they were approximately the same age, and Amalia was anxious that her children should give her new stepchildren no cause to clash.  Don Rinaldo was kind to the little girl, but her only real consolation was her older brother Enzo, whom she adored.
In her memoirs, my mother says –
“Amalia kept busy with her music, the garden and birds, of which she always had a number in cages.  The practicalities of housekeeping did not appeal to her, so that by the time my mother was fourteen, it was she who was running the house.”
In 1908 Bell Ville was officially proclaimed a proper town.  Rinaldo Bertani had a successful business as an architect, and had received various local commissions.  The best known of these is a building still standing today which is regarded as one of the best known landmarks of Bell Ville, the Hotel de Inmigrantes. 
As it was then

As it is now

This imposing building was designed to house immigrant families when they first arrived in Bell Ville and before they had found themselves somewhere to live.
As they grew into young ladies, the girls socialised together and chaperoned each other, always immaculately dressed in the garments made for them by Amalia.  This Bell Ville studio photograph is an example, with Querubina on the left at the piano and my grandmother Enriqueta on the right.  Note however that they are wearing identical dresses.  I wonder how they felt about that...

One afternoon in around 1914 her older stepbrother Pepe appeared with a friend of his, Manfred Schiele.  Manny belonged to a large family which farmed in the area, and was presently employed at Estancia La California, some 100kms away from Bell Ville, owned by the wealthy Benitz family.  At that time the young man’s job consisted in checking the state of fencing and gates over a large area, which he did on horseback.  In the evenings he dined with the Benitz family, where old-time etiquette was strictly observed.  Full evening dress, dinner jackets and black ties were required.  The relative informality of the Villino Bertani must have come as a welcome relief. 

Manfred and Enriqueta, engaged, in about 1912

I love this portrait of Granny, and the dog is magnificent, isn't he?

He hit it off with Enriqueta straight away, and it was not long before he was making excuses to stop off at Bell Ville on the way to anywhere.  It became official when his mother Agnes Schiele made the long journey to meet her (or as was the custom in those days to ‘check on her suitability’) and was charmed by her, so they became engaged. 

Edward Constantine and Agnes Schiele, recently married.

...and in later life

After their marriage they lived in Bell Ville for several years for practical reasons because my grandfather held positions at different estancias which necessitated quite a bit of travelling.  In due course they were settled at one of these, and their life consisted of life on the farm, visits to his parents on a farm 200 miles away, to her parents and family in Bell Ville, and to relations in Buenos Aires.  Granny had five children; Dick, Vera and John born in Buenos Aires (“the expensive ones”) and my mother Chela and Fred in Bell Ville (“the cheap ones”).

From left:  John, friend, Richard, Vera, friend, Graciela (Chela).  Youngest brother Fred would have been too young to be in the photo.

John, Chela and Vera

Chela in 1940, at 18

Chela’s earliest memories were of playing in the shady patio with the tinkling fountain, and being treated with affection by her grandmother and step-grandfather (Nonna and Nonno).  The household spoke Italian, and she picked it up from them, remaining fluent for the rest of her life.  Mum and my uncles and aunts were all trilingual.  Her mother Enriqueta worked hard to learn English, as it was spoken by all her in-laws, and I remember well that she spoke it very correctly and fluently, although with a heavy accent.  “Wood in a basket” became “vood in a busket”, for example.  She was very good natured about the inevitable teasing.

The Nonna - Amalia Baronti - in later life.

Enzo in later life

After the Nonno died, Nonna Amalia went to live with her daughter and family, who by now had a house in Buenos Aires so that the children could go to school.  They remained very close, and my uncles and aunt remember the two women sitting close to the old wireless, listening to operas, tears of emotion streaming down their faces – and the Nonna exclaiming… “Ah poveretta! Ora muore!”  (“Ah poor thing!  Now she dies!”)

Enriqueta (Granny), at about 78 years in 1968, with my sister
Belle Ville has come a long way from those days, and even since the 1970s when Mum and I visited it on a hot afternoon.  It is now a bustling, noisy town of 35,000 inhabitants which attracts its good share of tourists, particularly those interested in football.  It has an enthusiastically supported team, perhaps a response to the outstanding success of one of its sons – Mario Kempes, who was the star of the World Cup in 1978, scoring 6 goals, the top individual score of the tournament.

- or Osvaldo Ardiles, who was born in the same province, though not in Bell Ville.
The city’s claim to fame these days is its thriving industry in football manufacture, with their products being sold all over the world.  Research first started on this subject in Bell Ville after the FIFA 1930 first World Cup held in Uruguay when the host team beat Argentina in the final, it was said unfairly because of the ball that the Uruguayans had selected.  What resulted was a new type of ball with no stitching, which is still used today.
The environs are still devoted to crops and cattle farming, and though the sea of waving grass has shrunk considerably and is bounded by fences and bisected by country roads, it is still there.

(1)  Pioneering in the Pampas by Richard Seymour. First published in 1869, reprinted 2002, Stockcero Publishers
(2)  Fraile Muerto by Juan Carlos Casas, 2002, Stockcero Publishers
(3)  A Ramble through my Life, memoirs by Graciela Amalia Schiele de Bridger (Chela), 1922-2007, unpublished.
(4)  Websites: Wikipedia


Matvi. said...

Fascinating! I´d like to see these "parts" published as "chapters" in a regular printed book.

Un abrazo patagón.

Lonicera said...

Thanks Matvi - your remarks are always so encouraging.

Coral Wild said...

Hello Caroline

How are you doing?

I've just re-read your Story and it's a delightful piece of history.

I do miss your blog and stories and hope that you feel inspired to resume blogging one day soon.

My thoughts are with you,

Lonicera said...

Thanks for that Sue, I'm still around, but have been ill for the past 9 months. I'm recovering my strength now and very much want to write about it all. Telling my stories means everything to me and I've no intention of abandoning my blog! I realise I'll have to get my readership back the hard way. Your message will help to push me back into action. Thanks again.

Phil Coba said...

This may seem a little random but,I hope all is well.I have just stumbled upon your blogs about Bell Ville and pretty fascinated. I lived in the tiny town for 3 years (2007-2010) and was very interested in some of the town's rich history. I would be more than happy to answer some questions or even just talk about how the town has grown since the last time you have visited.


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