The bivouac

The mountains can be dangerous: sometimes the light of a bivouac means life.

o carry his smuggling load to a secure place Gino chooses the less trodden trails, where the controls are less frequent. The roughest trails, though, hide perils and sometimes the danger lies exactly in a trail that winds up in the dark and cannot be found anymore. While the night falls, the cold becomes biting and the shadows that grow longer are frightening, especially if one is alone on top of a mountain.

Gino beholds a fire in the distance: someone else is on that trail. It could be anybody: guards, gendarmes or – even worse – the Germans, but the call of the fire is too strong. The flame in the distance is a light that attracts him to life. He has to take the risk. While he approaches, he hears a melody sung in a low voice, the refrain of a French song. It seems to be just one. Now there is nothing left to do except to discover who it is…

The protagonist

Raphael

A load of salt on his shoulders and a lot of warmth for the Italian friends in his heart.

The protagonist

Gino

An experienced smuggler who is not afraid to travel alone on the trails to elude the controls.

Historic hints

The smuggler of the alpine valleys is very different from the smuggler-outlaw of the Ancien Régime. The latter is glorified with the aura of a champion of justice, a kind of hero in the eyes of the farmers who see him as one who fights against the state’s tax excesses. The smuggler of our mountains instead is a farmer himself: he has a wife, children, a house, livestock and fields to cultivate. The “hero-outlaw” brings off bold coups with big and organized gangs, while the alpine smuggler is often part of a network of local exchanges and modest commerce connected with husbandry activities.
The alpine economy requires a lot of movement on the territory to reach the alpine pastures, a trait that was used by the smugglers to disguise their commerce. Even in the years of the Second World War, when smuggling was a requirement to survive, the smuggler – in order to reach the villages beyond the border – eluded the surveillance of the customs officers by means of concealing his goods under faggots or hay loads, and he used the alpine cabins as a place of support and shelter in case of need.

Bibliography

Ottonelli Elisabetta – Il Contrabbando – Storie di contrabbando per i colli di Viso – Comunità Montana Valli del Monviso – Progetto Alcotra Vis’Oc
Ottonelli Elisabetta – Les contrebandiers – Histoires de contrebande entre Queyras et vallées du Viso – L’ Office de Tourisme du Queyras – Projet Alcotra Vis’Oc

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