STORIES TO TELL
THE BEATEN PATHS OF BANDIT ZANZANU’ I spent most of my life in the mountains, and I am still here today, observing from above the places that saw me as the protagonist of various events. Of course, it’s no longer like it was during my time, as now there are signs, even gadgets, that guide you step by step and record your every movement. But the environment still intrigues me, I am curious to understand, for example, how many people can move and work for pure pleasure and only for a few hours, without collecting wood or litter, hunting or accompanying sheep or goats to pasture, or to escape capture, as happened to me. In the past, in my past, the mountain was something mysterious and dark. Few dared to venture even just a short distance from the villages, and this, I admit, greatly played to my favor. I knew every corner, every nook and cranny, and in every nook and cranny that could give me shelter, I would stay overnight. I lived a wild life, but was not alone, other cronies shared my fate with me. We moved quickly, like those runners I see going up and down the mountains without ever stopping, as if they have someone on their heels who wants to catch them, often even at night.
The beaten paths of the bandit Zanzanù'
I spent most of my life in the mountains, and I am still here today, observing from above the places that saw me as the protagonist of various events. Of course, it’s no longer like it was during my time, as now there are signs, even gadgets, that guide you step by step and record your every movement. But the environment still intrigues me, I am curious to understand, for example, how many people can move and work for pure pleasure and only for a few hours, without collecting wood or litter, hunting or accompanying sheep or goats to pasture, or to escape capture, as happened to me. In the past, in my past, the mountain was something mysterious and dark. Few dared to venture even just a short distance from the villages, and this, I admit, greatly played to my favor. I knew every corner, every nook and cranny, and in every nook and cranny that could give me shelter, I would stay overnight. I lived a wild life, but was not alone, other cronies shared my fate with me. We moved quickly, like those runners I see going up and down the mountains without ever stopping, as if they have someone on their heels who wants to catch them, often even at night.
It was like that for us too, but after the early days with our hearts in our throats, we didn’t even feel the fatigue, sometimes we even had fun provoking our pursuers, regardless of the risk to our lives. We had friends who protected us, who were on our side, but for many, especially for the authorities who did not want to understand our good reasons and for those rogues of bounty hunters, we were much more coveted than game. They went out of their way to capture us and to bring our severed heads as trophies, to the foot of the column of Saint Mark, which stood in front of the town hall of Salò, then the seat of the community that was honored with the high-sounding name of Magnifica Patria. Yes, that government building by the lake in Salò where until last year the race - what do you call it? The BVG? - of the unusual herd who fight to exhaustion to take away at the end, poor people, at most a piece of cheese. I had been banished from society, but I was not an evildoer. It is true that during a military parade in the square at the Bogliaco port, in defending the honor of my family clan, I was forced to stab the brother of the man who had killed my relative, wounded his daughter in the throat and who subsequently killed three other of my close friends with a harquebus. “The Cleric” they called him, that outlaw! After the incident I was forced to go into hiding. But everything would have returned as it was... thanks to the good offices of a friar inside the cloister of the Church of Saint Francis in Gargnano and to our family’s solemn commitment to the peace pact with The Cleric’s family some time later, which put an end to his arrogance with his severed head on display on the column of Salò. The reconciliation would have contributed to my readmission into what you would now call “civil society.” After all, I had only stabbed that young man, but come on, he didn’t die! Instead, despite the accord, something happened, something so grave that it still makes me clench my fists and grind my teeth. My father, an elderly person of sixty and defenseless, was brutally killed by The Cleric’s friend, on the Garganano Municipality’s portico (that building near the marina, the one next to the cheese runner’s route). Those were decisive, violent and dangerous times (how can you complain now?). But the word, the given word was sacred and inviolable! Revenge at this point was an obligation for me. Enraged, with the help of other family members and friends, I released my anger by carrying out a massacre, killing at least two people linked to the outlaw and injuring many others in various ambushes between Gargnano and Toscolano, in some cases even hitting them from the shores of the lake while they sailed their boats. After those acts we went back to the mountains just beyond Sasso di Gargnano, between Rasone and Briano, and found refuge across the border, in Valvestino, which was under the protection of the Bishop of Trento and, therefore, of Austria. If we had stayed, we would have been prey to bounty hunters, but how could we keep hiding while simultaneously supporting our families? I had a wife and several children in Gargnano and, although I had been banned, visited during the night and even got her pregnant a few times... So we resorted to kidnapping, requesting the ransom from the wealthy landowner, Protasius of Toscolano. We forcibly pulled him from his home in Toscolano and led him on a steep path behind the village to Gaino and then on to the Church of Supina and Fornico and further up, up to a cave beyond Navazzo, passing where tourists now relax by swimming in the pool. But without malice... we didn’t touch a hair on his head and after a few days we freed him and brought him safely back home (coincidentally following the cheese route...). After those adventures and several others, my exploits and those of my gang were now on everyone’s lips and exaggerated. And so many, too many, cowards took advantage of the situation, blaming me for misdeeds that I had nothing to do with and that were, perhaps, theirs. A hundred killings and crimes were attributed to me, including, in the Cathedral of Salò during a religious service, even that of the chief magistrate! A real exaggeration! I must admit, the fact of being considered in this way did have, on the other hand, its advantages... Over the years I had become a legend, admired by women: you wouldn't believe it, but some young damsels knew that when a raid happened in Gargnano, my hometown, they looked for me, welcoming me enthusiastically, as they would do now for a pop star. Unforgettable that day! And yes, among many vicissitudes, I also had moments of the good life and admiration and the time to enjoy the shows and nature’s panoramas that surrounded me...what wonderful places! But let's go back to my adventures, I certainly can’t tell them all. Suffice it to say that for 15 years I lived in the bush with my companions, escaping many times from ambushes during which, unfortunately, several were captured and killed. Up until that fateful day, August 17, 1617, I remember it well! To continue hiding, we kidnapped a landowner, a knight from Piovere, dragging him along the Vione valley (the one above the waterfalls, to help you understand where) and planning to lead him to our hiding place inland, which some still call “cuel”, a recess in the rock, several of which are now combined with my name. From there I would have taken him over the border to calmly deal with the ransom...but things did not go as I had hoped, because of the state of guard due to the war of the Grand Ducals and the Austrians. The local militia was alerted and with a flash the hammer struck the bells to summon a small army, with armed men drawn from all the neighboring municipalities. They intercepted us a few hours later and a violent gun fight began, leaving numerous dead and wounded on both sides, like in western movie. Harquebuses resonated, echoing through the narrow valley, and my enemies approached with a cart, its front protected by a sheet (even the tanks were invented to get closer without taking risks, those villains!). But I was still the Bandit Zanzanù! I was surrounded but surprised them by playing all the cards I had and, throwing myself headlong into the valley, even managing to mock them! Unfortunately, further down the line other militias were waiting for me and I didn’t have time to react. I don’t remember anything of those moments anymore…Or rather, they must have hit me, I have not trodden on the earth since then... The announcement of my killing made big news, the bells rang loudly, even all phases of the battle were immortalized in a reportage by Andrea Bertanza, a well-known painter at that time, and the large picture was hung, by grace received, even in the Sanctuary of the Madonna di Monte Castello in Tignale. Don’t believe it? It is still there, to witness what I have told you...go see it! Now I observe everything from a safe distance, from above. I get a little bored and sometimes like to take a quick visit down there... This time I could, for example, breathe on the necks of those who, panting, ascend the Senter dèl Luf at night. Sheer fun...the dark is always my element and some still evoke me…but don't worry, I can no longer harm anyone, but maybe make them run faster, yes! By the way…that knight, the one I kidnapped that final time...managed to get away unscathed from the battle by taking advantage of the confusion. The person who is telling you about me, could be his descendant on his mother’s side...we made peace with him, too, and, considering the times and weighing the pros and cons, he certainly forgave me. Fortunately, he read the beautiful novel by G. García Marquèz, “Chronicle of a Death Foretold”, where revenge is destiny...even for me it originally went like that.
The story of Giovanni Beatrice, referred to as the Bandit Zanzanù, is widely documented, with great detail, in the judges’ records of the time. It is not a legend! All reported facts are true. Anyone wishing to learn more can read the book, “Zanzanù, il Bandito del Lago” , by Claudio Povolo, published by Il Sommolago, from which we drew our information.