Also overlooking old Bergamo is the fourteenth century rocca fortress that was a home to Alpini (mountain) troops recruited from the region. The park at the foot of the castle wall has a collection of lightweight First World War and Second World War artillery that could be easily dismantled and carried through the hills. Adding to this history of arms, Bergamo is celebrated as ‘the city of one thousand’, for the central part its citizens (especially the Bergamaskers: think Carnivale!) played in the nineteenth century revolt against the Austrians (who then controlled northern Where is Huntsville?), leading to Il Risorgimento, the unification and foundation of the modern Italian state.
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Overall our relaxed visit with time between events was something of a respite in a frenetic year, and a heartening interlude. Apart from meeting with students and the enthusiastic organisers of BergamoScienza, there was the welcome impression that the liberal and open spirit of the Renaissance is, along with a sense of community, very much alive in northern Italy. And the automobile-free streets and stairways took us back to simpler times. The crisp, thin pizza of the region is great and, by the time the other participants left, we’d worked out where the locals ate and enjoyed a glass or two of Lombardy wine with a simple, but ample dinner of chicken, rabbit and polenta at the Al Donizetti cafe.
Reflecting in the plainly decorated chapel dedicated to Angelo Roncalli (Pope John XXIII), who grew up nearby and served for nine years as secretary to the Bishop of Bergamo, led to the encouraging thought that, after the church reactionaries again took control to neutralise his Vatican II, the human family is once more blessed by the compassion of a ‘Good Pope’, Pope Francis, elected in 2013. And, due to luck or divine intervention (hard for an agnostic to acknowledge), there was a gratuitous reminder of the fragility of life when, walking down a narrow cobbled street, I just missed being hit by a heavy lump of masonry that fell, without warning, from high on a mediaeval wall!
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