C&B Notes

The History of Incino

We are impressed with Walter Zancanaro’s astoundingly detailed history of Incino,  a small, little known agrarian town in Italy. Translated by Benno Kling, the chronology benefits from a digital format as foreign concepts, locations in and around the town, and esoteric historical events are defined, illustrated, and augmented through external links.

Benno Kling stumbled upon Zancanaro’s work while researching Corlo, a town he hiked through located across the gorge from Incino.  He read Zancanaro’s chronology in one sitting and finished translating it this summer.  Kling writes:

Nothing of world-historical significance came out of Incino.  It was always a poor village, and with scant exception it never had the resources to exert influence on its surrounding area — any brief blips of prosperity would come only from a good harvest; the town would return to its baseline the following year.  But world history exerted itself on Incino, and through this small agrarian community stuck onto a mountain there is a hyper-localized prism to behold plagues, Napoleon’s conquest of the Venetian empire, the subsequent transfer of its territory to Austria, the birth of Italian nationhood, the brutal Italian front of World War I, the whiplash-inducing territorial occupations of Northern Italy toward the end of World War II, and corruption in Italy’s postwar expansion.

Undergirding all of these events is the Catholic Church.  The detailed, colorful church registers are some of the central sources that Walter Zancanaro relies on, and as his history tells it, the church is possibly Incino’s central locus of activity after it is built at the beginning of the 20th Century.  The accounts of the curates, as the local priests are called, make it clear that to be posted in Incino is far from a plum assignment, isolated, poor, and difficult, and they would leave after an average tenure of just 3 years.  And yet, the extent to which the civic pride of the Incinesi is tied to their church may surprise a contemporary secular audience.  The church emerges as a common thread that can be traced throughout Incino’s modern history, bearing witness to wars, celebrations, minor controversies, and ultimately the unwinding of the social fabric as Incino’s population approaches a vanishing point.

But Incino’s history is striking for reasons beyond its decline.  While translating, for instance, I was looking into what appeared to be an editing error: a boy named Vich, son of Vittorio, fell from Drio el Col, the road surrounding the village, into the gorge (a common occurrence, owing to the town’s precarious perch).  Several days later his body washed up 13 kilometers away. A rephrased account of the incident was repeated in an entry two years later with some of the details rearranged. In the first account Vich, son of Vittorio was 11, in the second Vich, son of Vittorio was 12. In the first his body washed up 13 kilometers away after 16 days, in the second it was 10 kilometers after 7 days. The level of detail in the second account was greater, but in both the boy fell from Drio el Col from a height of 220 meters and was swept downstream.  What accounted for the discrepancy?  I read both versions again, and I saw: in 1937, the boy was called Vich Mario.  In 1939 the boy was called Vich Romano. T hey were brothers.  To imagine a family forced to suffer the death of a son in such gruesome circumstances, and then for it to happen again, two years later, in the same way, from the same spot, their child’s body once again washed ashore miles downstream — it was astonishing in its tragedy.

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Given the extraordinary specificity of the subject, I am under no illusion that The History of Incino will appeal just as much to every person on the Internet.  But I hope that whatever kind of readership this gains will take some amount of joy from its unusual voice, and from its persistent fixation on the illuminating minutiae through the march of history in one isolated, impoverished town.  As Mr. Zancanaro writes, “We hope that reading it makes you shudder to think about what Incino once was, and what now is almost no more.”

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