The Importance of History

Tony woke me up at 6:00 a.m. this morning. “Sarah! Sarah!” I rolled over and looked at him blearily. “Domenico wasn’t Italian. He was French! I’ve been up all night worrying about it, and then I got online and saw a map. The Duchy of Savoy was up in the mountains, and the French just went around and conquered the plain. Everybody wanted the plains of Piedmont.” By now, sleep had fled.

It couldn’t end this way. Domenico had to be Italian. Could it be possible that we hadn’t thought of one crucial detail? We got up together and went out to the living room. It didn’t take too long to find a map showing Italy in 1815. Italy as a “geographical expression,” or more a collection of small kingdoms and duchies.

For those of us who never achieved a perfect working knowledge of Italian history, after Napoleon’s empire fell apart, the great powers of Europe got together at the Congress of Vienna to redo the map and bring some stability to the Continent. Mostly they reinstated what existed before, with some special improvements, intrigue, and political favors thrown in. Fun fact from Wikipedia: the Congress of Vienna was the subject of Henry Kissinger’s doctoral dissertation.

In any case, due to the Congress of Vienna, from 1815 on, the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia remained intact, eventually becoming the springboard for Italian unification in 1861. That’s good for us, since Domenico was born in 1826, well after the Kingdom was reinstated. He died in 1920 (well after Italy was established in 1861). The general gist of the argument is, he could not have been stateless, and thus must have been Italian, not a citizen of a country that had ceased to exist. It reminds me of a movie I watched when I worked for an immigration attorney. In The Terminal, Tom Hanks’ small Eastern European country is annexed while he is en route to the United States by plane. As he has no valid passport (his country no longer exists) he cannot leave the terminal without being apprehended as an illegal alien. Countless visits to the office of Citizenship and Immigration Services fail to move the powers that be. So he ends up living in the airport for months. Hilarious movie, chiefly if you’ve ever had dealings with that particular government entity. I’ll take Italian beaurocracy any day.

With our belief in Domenico’s Italian-ness reconfirmed, we decided that Tony would go back in today with Carla to translate. He took with him a map of the United States in 1850, to show that Utah wasn’t a state. Gianfranco understood (and indeed, had probably looked it up himself) and agreed that the documents from the Church for that time period ought to be valid, just as they are in Italy. Then they talked about Domenico and how since he was born after the Congress of Vienna, he could not possibly have been French. This argument is strengthened by the fact that Gianfranco is Piemontese, and of course feels justified in thinking that the Piemontese are really more Italian than anyone else. He’s right. Unification began here. After the Savoy kings had conquered sufficient neighboring territory, they simply renamed their kingdom “Italy.” Whew. Good thing we’re applying here. The consulates might not find the argument so compelling.

His only other auxiliary concern was Louis’ infamous death certificate, where Blaine made Domenico French. Tony had to explain that Blaine was one year old when Domenico died, and thus never really knew his grandfather. Thirty years later, when asked for information, he just turned out to not be a reliable source. And as Tony pointed out, the information on a death certificate that is certified by a professional is the person’s identity, the date and time of death, and the cause of death. Everything else is just what people remember. Gianfranco was O.K. with that too.

However, he still maintained (and rightly, if you consider it from his point of view, which we did) that there were too many doubts for him to just put it on the Mayor’s desk for signature. That’s why he wants to send it to the Ministry to have them confirm the decision.

Finally, it was time to play the card Tony had been saving: “Would it be helpful if we went and asked the Mayor if he has doubts about these issues?” Gianfranco nodded. “Buonissimo!” The way should be clear from here. As Carla keeps saying, the Mayor loves us. And really, these points are not so serious. I have become more convinced myself of the true legitimacy of our argument. So hopefully we can get an audience with the Mayor this next week. We’ll dress our children up in their very cutest clothes and everything should be smooth sailing.

We’ll be human again by midnight!