In the early spring of 1938, my grandfather was approached by a representative of Chang Kai-shek's government and was invited to lecture at Chongqing's Polytechnical Teachers' Institute. Chinese forces had recently moved their capital from Nanjing to Chongqing to continue fighting Imperial Japan's brutal occupation of China's coast and cities. China's strong man had been impressed by my grandfather's easy wit and strong command of the Chinese language and following a chance encounter, while attending a conference on Sichuan's largest city, the two men had struck up a friendship which was to last for forty years and enrich both their lives and families.
It had been during an extended trip to China's western provinces, where my grandfather had hoped to further refine his already prodigious knowledge of Chinese dialects and languages, that he had unwittingly walked into a temple in the hopes of visiting with the local abbot, but had instead stumbled, quite innocently, into Chiang and members of his extended family. The two men had exchanged pleasantries but had soon been engrossed in conversation the likes of which his aide de camp had never seen him indulge in. At the time, the great man was secretly planning on leading a million nationalist conscripts in a bloody campaign to flush out Mao's red bandits from Gansu and Shaanxi; instead of fighting the Japanese with the help of the communists, to which he had earlier agreed.
In 1934, Mao's troops had managed to regroup and lick their wounds after enduring a forced march and a fighting retreat to escape Chiang's military advances into their original soviet base in Jiangxi province. His army, thinned by hunger, disease and fiercely contested military clashes had seen it ranks severely diminished, as well as those of the first Chinese Soviet Republic. Only a few thousand bloodied and exhausted veterans remained. Strategic plans to finish them off had been drawn in 1936 but Chiang had been kidnapped by Chang Hsueh-liang and forced to agree to a truce and a much hated treaty between him and Mao's communist party to fight the Japanese menace together in the East.
A few weeks earlier, after a long and treacherous sea voyage on the HMS Bering Straits and a fourteen day trip up the Yangzte, my grandfather had found himself gazing upon a great alluvial plain, absentmindedly marveling at the expertly planted rice paddies over which so many tanned and bare chested natives toiled night and day. To get this far into China's countryside, he had managed to hitch a ride in Chiang's private car which had now just stopped to let its half dozen military officers and their mistresses stretch their legs and smoke the french cigarettes, he had bought in Hong Kong upon disembarking in Tsim Cha Sui; knowing that someday he might call upon this camaraderie to achieve his many aims, dreams and wishes. Making life long friends out of casual acquaintances had always been a gift he by now, almost took for granted; but this time, it was to forever change his life in ways he could never have anticipated. While China tried to march onward and away from its troubled and tortured past, my grandfather found himself swept up and transformed by events far beyond his grasp, and which were to irrevocably change his life; in ways his children and grandchildren would to this day marvel at. China was about to be further put to the sword and the torch but his fate was about to become more unexpected than his already storied escape from the impoverished and vengeful hills of his Corsican birthplace.
My grandfather started life as the youngest son of a family of merchants whose fortunes were being rapidly diminished by an influx of cheap imported salt and a new road recently built and completed by German prisoners of war; as part of reparations designed to punish, but also to compensate French economic losses suffered during the first World war. The road brought my ambitious grandfather new found opportunities to escape the family's trade but along with the outside world in came the Spanish flu, and the cheap salt which had previously brought them the great wealth and prestige this family of Corsican aristocrats had grown accustomed to, in their distant and storied past. The back of the family's mules and it's fortune, were soon broken by this newfound commercial route and the dreaded flu sent most of his siblings and relatives, to early and unexpectedly rocky graves.
Shortly after burying a sister and an older brother, in November 1920, he rode the last mule train to the sea and boarded the rusted hulk of an Italian ship ferrying a load of wine and tangerines to Sorrento, on Italy's Amalfi coast. From Sorrento, he made his way to Padua and called on a family friend his father had befriended in World War I. Over a glass of wine, tomato slices and Bruccio cheese he recounted the family's fall from grace and called on him to make good on the promises he had made while battling the guns the Kaiser and his Huns had so fiendishly and abundantly mass produced in the Ruhr valley.
Luciano Battesti had met my grandfather's father in the trenches and had been billeted in small rain beaten, beet farming villages, between Lille and Cambrai. Even-though my great grandfather was Corsican, and Luciano Italian, they had managed to disregard the ancestral enmities between the two countries, and in and amongst the muddied guts and rotting corpses of their compatriots, the two young men had become friends in Pozières and Bazentin.
Four years had past since that summer and Luciano could do nothing but mourn the death of his old friend and offer my grandfather a job as a clerical Orientalist in Padua University's Institute of Far Eastern languages; where he remained until 1922, when he was releaved of his duties after refusing to help Padua's militias torch old books and anarchist manuscripts, deemed unpatriotic by Benito Mussolini and his fascist brutes.....
To be continued......
In other news:
A man walks in his house with a duck tucked under his arm. Upon seeing his wife he pronounces out loud: "This is the pig I've been fucking all this time....!" Upon hearing this, his wife, perplexed and amused, responded in surprise: " Honey, that's not a pig, that's a duck under your arm...! " I wasn't talking to you...." the man quacked back to his wife.