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Alberto Battistelli: Return from Africa

Posted on Jul 12, 2013 by

Alberto Battistelli sits on the wall and smiles for his close-up. Photo by Rachel Phelps / Gonzaga in Cagli.

The year was 1946. In the aftermath of World War II, Italy’s monarchy had come to an end, and Alberto Battistelli was beginning his new life as a married man.

Each day, the young man from Cagli drove the city bus from his hometown to Pesaro and back, never straying far from the people and places that made Cagli home. But three years later, Alberto and his wife would exchange their quaint and familiar town for a very different life.

These days, Alberto is hard to miss around town. On a bright Cagli morning, with all the swagger of a distinguished Italian gentleman, Alberto confidently crosses the piazza, cradling a grocery bag in his arm. His tasteful leather shoes and belt accessorize the perfectly pressed pants and shirt that adorn his small frame. A light blue, wool sweater adorns his shoulders, tied at his chest, and he dons the kind of black-framed sunglasses coveted by much-younger men. Few people portray such a perfect image on a simple trip to the grocery store. His way of being implies that, while Cagli is home, and life is simple, he has been shaped by forces beyond this town.

Alberto’s story is that of a man from small-town Cagli, who moved to Malawi, a country in southeastern Africa, to work for a British tea and tobacco empire. In 1948, the owner of Conforzi gave 20 Cagli residents jobs working for his company. He offered Alberto a supervisory position, to which Alberto responded, “If you have a job for me, I will go.” Four months later, he and his wife were off on a new adventure.

“The first year was very bad,” says Alberto, admitting that many days he was reduced to tears. Eventually, the benefits outweighed the difficulties, and he remained at his post for the next 24 years, returning every few years to Italy for several month-long holidays.

Alberto earned a salary four times what he made as a Cagli bus driver, and his housing was free, so he and his wife were able to save. Two gardeners and three housemaids staffed their comfortable home, and he recalls his working schedule with fondness.

His days began at 6 a.m., and he returned home by 8 a.m. for a full British-style breakfast that included meat, eggs, bread, and tea. He resumed work by 9 a.m., and came home again for lunch and “pausa” at noon.  By 1:30 p.m., he was back to work until 4 p.m., when he was off to the men’s club where he was joined by other colleagues and British locals. They shared drinks, rugby, tennis, and swimming. “Everything was there,” he says. “I like the English.” Pull-Rachel

At work, he was always addressed as “Mr. Battistelli,” but when he arrived at the club, he heard “Hello, Berto!” a greeting he cherishes to this day.

But his good life in Malawi would not last forever. In 1968, Alberto says he felt conflicted about whether he should stay at his work or return to Cagli. Things in Malawi were changing.

“The wind of independence was blowing,” Alberto says, and he decided that “it was dangerous to stay there.” And so, nearly two-and-a-half decades after leaving, the Battistellis returned to Cagli. Once there, Alberto says, he let his brain and his money do the work. He lived simply, invested in real estate in Pesaro (a coastal town just east of Cagli), and focused on enjoying life with his wife. He and his wife never had children, which he says is “much better.” She can focus all her attention on him.

“From 1972 until now, I never do anything,” Alberto says. As Alberto makes this declaration, he swings his arms across his chest, and cracks a mischievous smile.  “This is the life. I’m very happy.”

His face shows no regret. “Life is funny,” he says. “If I had listened to my parents—it would be bad.”

He doesn’t much like being old—being old is not good, he says – and he would prefer to live near the sea. But Cagli is home, because this is where family is. After all those years in Malawi, Alberto knows when a place feels like home.

On any given evening, Alberto can be seen on the piazza or sitting along the wall of City Hall, enjoying laughter and friendly banter with locals. He has walked the short cobblestone road between his apartment and the center of town countless times. Alberto traverses this path with assurance and contentment. This is the path he has known for the past 24 years, and, as far as he is concerned, this is the only path he needs.



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