Ottavio Missoni, pirate of Dalmatia-

And dghela co is Antigone, Ottavio Missoni told me when an article of mine appeared in the Corriere which spoke, not for the first or the second time, of the most radiant human figure ever to appear on Earth, as Hegel called it. My first contact – a word that in this case must be understood in the most literal sense – with him was in Trieste, behind the curtain of the Politeama Rossetti. The Trieste Association of Retail Traders had awarded two prizes – two Silver Roses – to two people whose identity would only be revealed at the time of the award ceremony. While on the stage they are about to say the name of the winners, Ottavio’s powerful voice is heard: Here is one, while with a push he throws me over the curtain and I, staggering and managing not to fall, try to say: it was him, Missoni !. It was the first time that – so to speak – we had spoken, because in the darkness where we had been hidden we had not even had the opportunity to introduce ourselves.

The real prize, that evening, was for me the beginning of a friendship grown over the years, that made me feel how life could and should be, if lived with vigorous and passionate disenchantment, with that generous and bold self-irony that, apparently taking it lightly, gives it meaning.

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Since that evening we have seen each other several times, in Trieste, in Milan, in Miholašcica, enchanting bay on the island of Cres where I spent so many summers and where he, Rosita and their children and friends often dropped anchor on their Issa, the pot-bellied transport boat that raised the most bizarre sails. Rosita, he and the others dived and disappeared to the bottom, looking for molluscs whose pulp surfaced, or, if the prey was larger, threw them on the deck to prepare lunch. His friends were worthy of him, like Albano, a fisherman who lived more in water than on land and had become almost a fish, a Glauco of the Greek myth.

The legendary champion and the great artist lived the relationship with others – with his family, his friends and potentially the whole world – like a game of cards, a sea to be faced in a storm or a light tack, with an unrivaled ability not to be fooled and a generous instinct to help those in difficulty .

His homeland was the Adriatic coast and islands, Dalmatia, that Venetian, Italian, Slavic, Illyrian, Hungarian world, a jagged unity interwoven with mixes and clashes, in which Italians often wore Slavic surnames and a father of the Italian Risorgimento like Tommaseo could define himself as Italo-Slav. An archipelago that embraces similar and different individuals – such as the glorious and plural Ragusa where Missoni was born. A world that is a bit mine too – my maternal grandfather was born in Sibenik. A world of encounters and even ferocious clashes, violence inflicted and suffered, rancor, persecutors and victims on both sides. Missoni strongly felt the pain of the violent loss, at the end of the Second World War, of Istria, Zadar and other lands and cities, due to the exodus which at the time also involved my family. Until the end he was present in the associations of Istrian and Dalmatian exiles, but it was wrong to consider him, as some have done, an Italian nationalist; he was and knew he was interwoven with that plurality.

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Every now and then, several years ago, we went to dinner in Milan, also with Enzo Bettiza and Dario Fertilio. Three Dalmatians, three exiles – Bettiza wrote as well Exile – that someone might have suspected anti-Slavic sentiments. But at our table the three of them often started talking in Croatian.

The only one at that table who didn’t know Croatian and therefore he did not understand anything, it was me.

He was a great oral, epic and at the same time anarchic narrator; as when he spoke of Guillaume Misson, a Breton privateer who let us imagine his ancestor and who had traveled the seas, intertwining boarding and looting with Libertalia, an imaginary pirate republic. Once a very young niece of Ottavio, returning home after having seen, crossing the city, the flags of some political procession, had asked him to put one on their windows too. Yes, Grandpa had replied, but the Jolly Rogers – the black pirate flag with the skull.

His account of the battle of El Alamein is unforgettable, where the English army defeated the German and Italian forces.

Missoni crawled along under the hurricane of bullets and, in a particularly furious moment, he had hidden himself in a hole where he had fallen asleep. By the time he woke up, the battle was already lost. From a tank with a machine gun he is ordered to raise his hands. Cossa you speak english, mona, but after a few seconds, he understands the situation, raises them and sets off for a long imprisonment.

February 9, 2021 (change February 9, 2021 | 10:47)

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