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Sunday, June 12, 2011

History: Il Gatto Con L'Ombrello


Here is a little local curiosity that makes me smile every time I see it. The photo above is of the official town statue in the center of the tiny village of Brovello Carpugnino. Yes, it is an adorable cat holding an umbrella over his head. Why did Carpugnino do this?


You're not likely to see Carpugnino on your trip to Stresa, unless you make a wrong turn, or unless you are a golfer. Because in this sleepy village of only about 500 inhabitants is located the world-class Golf Club des Iles Borromees, thanks to the pure green meadows with spectacular views over the lake.

And the cat. The reason he is here is simple and charming. The residents of Carpugnino call themselves 'gatti,' the Italian word for cat. And he is holding an umbrella to recognize the town's history as the center of umbrella makers, who in the past three centuries have made this region famous for the quality of their products. They and their descendants still consider Carpugnino their base, although the official umbrella museum, Museo dell'Ombrello e del Parosole,  is located in Gignese, just a bit more up the mountain.

Their history began as one of poverty and ends as one of pride. There is also a plaque in the piazza, behind the cat. Information from the museum teaches us something about it: In the 1700s, the very poor residents of the area, many of them immigrants seeking work, found an opportunity when they met wealthy French in Torino who were in need of umbrellas, parasols, and repairs. The plaque reads, "Al prumm dal lungon a Carpignin, a trua' l' Case'r senza an bergnin." It's the dialect of the umbrella makers, and it means, "On New Year's Day, to seek his master, without a penny." It is describing the practice of young apprentices being offered in this piazza on the first day of the year, to learn the trade from umbrella masters. The umbrella makers, due in part to their diverse backgrounds, and in part to a desire to be able to speak privately, developed a singular dialect that was both secret and witty. And the apprentices, if they did their work well, could return home at Christmas well trained, with new shoes and a silk umbrella.

Museo dell'Ombrello e del Parasole:  www.gignese.it/museo



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