Saturday, 22 February 2014

Italian Twinning Backed by new Mayor as Bridgwater College students visit Priverno

February 2014 and Sedgemoor's floods are global news. Sitting on the plane heading from Bristol to Rome I spotted a copy of my neighbours 'Daily Mail'."Any news about the flooding?" I asked."Only more nonsense from that idiot MP" said the lady from Cheltenham. So Bridgwater was making it's mark again - well done Mr Liddell-Grainger. Not.

But as ILG was telling the world that there were apparently some intemperate, rude, name calling pseudo-dignatories in this part of Somerset, the Bridgwater College students, off to Italy on a study programme, made exactly the opposite impression. No less than 3 different people mentioned how polite, well behaved  and cheerful the students were. First the bus driver, Augusto, was nervous when the singing at the back of his bus started, and had to be reassured that 'the wheels on the bus' didn't refer to a diversionary tactic to nick his hubcaps, then said he had never had such good natured students on board. Then it was Genny the manager of the aptly named  San Francesco 'Charming' Hotel, the delightful wedding themed  lagoon side accommodation where the students were staying. "It was lovely to have them, they were polite, tidy and looked after the rooms and each other".


New Mayor of Priverno Angelo Delogu
And crucially it was the new Mayor of Priverno, Angelo Delogu, who welcomed the students and their Italian partners with a rousing internationalist speech at the  Teodosio Rossi  High School  and who joined them on the dancefloor for a farewell Italian reggae party at the hotel, that added the icing on the wedding cake of our new civic courtship, saying he was pleasantly surprised by the Bridgwater students and that their visit made him even more keen to come to visit Somerset and develop further links. Angelo, a 34 year old lawyer and musician, looking startlingly like a young Cat Stevens, has been Mayor of Priverno for less than a year and is already making an impact in his town where he is proving a popular choice as civic leader. On the day we visited the town, banners from striking workers who were occupying the town hall in protest at lack of wages from the Region had been proudly permitted by the Mayor who was a strong advocate for their case.

Priverno town hall under occupation
Having such good civic links with the town of Priverno  clearly helped us develop a programme for the Bridgwater College students. Visiting the Teodosio Rossi school, where his vice Mayor Anna Maria Bilancia was head teacher, the College students were able to meet with Italian students who were involved in making their own newspaper and participated in a piece of journalism which ended up in the local press. 


While at the school the students watched a film made by a local Italian student about the dangers of Fascism.  And what better place to investigate this subject than the province of Latina where Mussolini (the well known Italian fascist) had embarked upon his fascist dreamplan by draining the local swamps and building several 1930's style 'Fascist New Towns', resettling party members from around the country there in their own individualistic villas and  relocating sections of the working class from out of their urban communities and into more divided and isolated small towns. Well, it didn't stop them from eventually stringing him up feet first from a petrol station at the end of world war two, so ultimately not the best advert for the subject.

Luigi and Egidio at Lazio TV
The Mayors contacts proved invaluable for the day in the city of Latina where we were able to visit Lazio TV and were taken on a tour of the studios by Mayors assistant Luigi to meet the stations top anchorman and director Egidio Fia and then invited to an audience with the Latina Oggi Newspaper's  star journalist Mino Picone who talked frankly to the media students about a day in the life of an Italian journo.


Polish war cemetery at Monte Cassino
The Lazio region of Italy is rich in not only Roman and Renaissance history but particularly more recently the story of World War Two was played out in this part of the world. One day we took the students to the heights of Monte Cassino where a 6 month long battle raged in 1944 as soldiers from all over the world attempted to dislodge the German paratroopers from the monastery on it's summit.  Several students were deeply moved on the visit to the Polish war cemetery  sitting as it does on the ridges where the Polish units within the Allied army finally broke the German defences and took the mountain marking a turning point in the liberation of Italy from Fascism. Whilst visiting the Monastery itself (rebuilt after the American contribution to the battle involved flattening it with an aerial bombardment) the group was warned by a guide from Senegal to dress appropriately and respect the place. And then would you know it the same guy half an hour later joined the litany of compliments about the students good behaviour.


Italian students from Teodosio Rossie
But of course one of the main positives of linking with this region is it's proximity to Rome. A two hour flight from Bristol and you're in one of the most beautiful capital cities in the world then a short drive down the coast and you're in the resort town of Sabaudia then up into the hills and you're in the medieval town Priverno. A perfect place to have a twinning!

Rome in a day is not easy. But we tried. Starting on the steps of the Campidoglio, designed by Michaelangelo (some time back now) we wandered  around the ancient Roman Forum to the  currently scaffolding clad Roman Colloseum (building works can take some time in Italy apparently...).


Mino De Francesca in his element
Taking a short walk across the Tiber (where someone had apparently just jumped in) we arrived at the Vatican (where someone set fire to themselves). A typical day in Rome no doubt.  Then we wandered back into the centre and had a look around the Pantheon, a place where you could pick a God of your choice and then stare at him (her,or it) through a big hole in the roof. Which today was letting the rain in a bit.

Then it was 'hunt the missing students' . Only 2 this time. Taken in no doubt by the breathtaking beauty of their surroundings. Or possibly in a pub.  Suitably rounded up we headed back to the coast.

Italian students identify themselves, sometimes as continents
Every year college lecturer Mino De Francesca takes his department to explore the Media options in different countries with us. We've done Czech Republic , Hungary, and Slovenia, but this is the first time he's taken his students back to the same place. Maybe there's an element of reconnecting with his own Italian roots, but that's twice now we've visited Rome and with the aid of our new friends in Priverno -the Mayor, the Teodosio Rossi school, Marissa and her staff at the Oasa di Kufra in Sabaudia and crucially our hard working interpreter Susie Cioe (from the Italian colony of Chicago,USA)  this link is proving one of our most successful so let's hope we can develop it to a full twinning.

On the final day the group returned to Rome for their key visit which was to the Cinecitta film studios. Being Media students, this was a must. And being media students, they probably filmed everything. But we've yet to see the evidence.

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