Anna Maria Bierrenbach, Minister-Counselor at the Brazilian Embassy London
When Hayle told me that Vinicius was organizing a trip to Italy to visit the sites of the Brazilian participation in World War II , I did not hesitate : I'm in.
The desire to take part came from two deeply emotional places. On the one hand , Italy itself, a country where I had lived almost twenty years ago. A place where I had been happy, where my son was born. On the other, the stories of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force - the FEB - that I remembered since my childhood. This may sound strange , and it is. But I will explain next. The fact is that, having lived in Italy for nearly four years , I had a frustration of never having visited those places.
I grew up as a daughter of a man who would tell stories about the Second World War, the smoking snake, the pracinhas, and who would often whistle the expeditionary anthem. Not because he had been in the war. Having been born in 1939, the exact same year the war started, he was, however, deeply afected by it. My grandfather, an engineer in São Paulo, was enlisted. The family had to move to Santos, first, and then to Rio de Janeiro, where my grandfather spent years watching for German submarines. That explains part of it. The other part can be explainedby my father's own personality and his very masculine interests in airplanes, guns, battles, war tactics and so on. The fact that he only had daughters did not prevent him from trying to pass on all his knowledge. As little girls, me and my sisters learned how to shoot, were not afraid of flying in his very small airplanes, and knew how to sing military songs, among which the expeditionary anthem. It was also very fortunate that I could share some of this experience with one of my sisters, now married to an Italian and living in Naples.
Monte Castello, Pistoia, Gaggio Montano, Montese.... As we steped on Italian soil, the impact was immediate: I was happy. Coming from the British winter, we finally had sunshine and blue skies. And that Tuscan light. Some people say it is no wonder that the Renaissance flourished in Tuscany. The beauty .The food. Italy has this power of altering your senses and you only realize this after you leave. It is not a small thing.
To walk the same paths our soldiers walked was something powerful. But nothing , really, compares to the realization of how the Brazilian memory is valued there, of how the lives of the Italian population in those areas was affected by the Brazilian presence. It was also very touching to see the extreme dedication of our guide, Mario Pereira, to his job, and to the memory of his father, Miguel Pereira, the only pracinha who remained in Italy, after getting married to an Italian. We are living difficult times in Brazil. It felt very good to be able to feel proud of my country, our culture, our people.
Last, but not least, I have to mention the real pleasure it was for me to have, as travel mates, undergraduate and graduate students of King's College - London, some of whom were only a little older than my own children. Suddenly, I felt I was also in my twenties, and I was even able to climb Monte Castello! I almost gave it up, guys. But with your support, I was able to do it. I will never forget it.
Thank you so much to you all for this most wonderful experience!