The Boy in the War Zone

Greek-Gothic War and a fire by Pandolfo Malatesta in 1528. In short, the bridge of Tiberius was not just the emblem of the imperial power of Rome but the symbol of Italian resilience.

For our small family band on the run, that bridge became one more watershed of our survival. We got to the bridge at dusk. It became immediately apparent that crossing the river via the Roman bridge was a very hazardous undertaking. The bridge itself and the immediate northern
bank, where a fish market was located, were under constant bombardment. The shells from mortars and howitzers were raining down from the hinterland as the Allied forces tried to trap the remnants of the German army in its retreat. My father was desperately thinking of ways to escape the deadly fire. He timed the intervals at which the mortar shells were coming down and prepared us to run and thus traverse the bridge. At his signal, we pushed the cart with all our remaining strength and ran like crazy. We made it across unscathed.

Exhausted, we had barely breathed a sigh of relief when another shell hit. It destroyed a vehicle that was just exiting the bridge: tragically, it was an ambulance. The blast from the explosion knocked us to the ground. My father yelled: “Run to the beach!”. I abandoned the cart that I was pushing and made a dash for the seashore. And then another mortar shell exploded on the beach, stunning us. I was the last of our group and the sand whipped up by the explosion sprayed my face. I felt it on my cheek. Fortunately, I was not hit by shell fragments. Once again Providence had spared me.

Frightened and bedraggled as we were, we recovered our precious cart and pushed ahead on the road north. We had no idea of what to expect or where to stop and rest. And of course we were very hungry. The next small town on the Adriatic littoral was Viserba, two and a half miles from Rimini. From an administrative standpoint, Viserba was a “frazione” or an outlying ward of Rimini, on flat land. It was not far from the Rubicon river, where Caesar threw the dice, metaphorically speaking, by crossing it in 49 B.C. and precipitating the Roman civil war. In addition, starting in the 12th century, it staged one of Italy’s first palios, with the horses racing from the bridge to the arch of Augustus.

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