SURVIVE TO CARRY FOOD: THE HISTORY OF SHOULDER SHOES
by Kyt Lyn Walken
A plaque, placed in an inaccessible place such as Passo Mondelli (2893 meters), north of Macugnana, recalls the names of ten Spalloni.
Men of different ages and origins, and fallen in as many different eras, but united by a trait – that of having been carriers of food, and other basic necessities, across the border, up there, in the middle of the mountains, towards the Swiss territory.
They called them the Spalloni, because they carried a huge rucksack in the shape of a parallelepiped on their back (the bricolla), but each area had its own name, depending on the dialect of origin.
They were men – but also women – of poor, sometimes very poor, extraction. They were born and raised in mountains that left no way out, and surviving was the task of every single day.
Bringing huge quantities of rice (in the years between 1943 and 1945 this commodity was extremely in demand in Ticino and Valais) constituted a conspicuous source of money: 10 kg, in fact, were paid by the Swiss between 20 and 25 francs. One franc was worth 240 lire. It was more than a single villager could imagine earning in a whole year of hardship and hardship.
They loaded everything into the bricolla, tied their boots tightly, and set off at night, along paths that today would represent a breakthrough even for experienced climbers.
We made our way through forests, and then gorges, ledges, clinging to a tuft of grass or a spur of rock to avoid falling.
We reached the pass, and breathed a sigh of relief. The return, relieved of that cumbersome but well-paid weight, would have been lighter.
Entire generations followed one another on those mountains, and their memory is now entrusted to groups such as “Sentieri degli Spalloni” who have taken their stories to heart, and even restored the paths and itineraries of the past.
I had the honor and pleasure of speaking with the journalist Teresio Valsesia, who patiently told me about all the exploits – sometimes incredible, but witnessed by many different sources – of the Spalloni. Some of them even managed to accompany many Italian Jews to Switzerland, guaranteeing their safety.
Memories of that enormous memory now remain, some photos, bricolle and boots and various articles that appeared in “La Domenica del Corriere”.
And then there remains the silence of those mountains, which know everything and guard everything.
We at Bivo love and respect the historical heritage of our country, because precisely through the lessons of the past we can learn to deal with the present with positivity and success.
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