Then from the dawn it seem’d there came, but faint
As from beyond the limit of the world,
Like the last echo born of a great cry,
Sounds, as if some fair city were one voice
Around a king returning from his wars.
Idylls of the King: The Passing of Arthur Alfred Lord Tennyson
— But the war’s over – I objected; and I really thought it was, as did many in those months of truce, in a much broader sense than anyone dares to think today. – There’s always war, — Mordo Nahum memorably replied.
“The Truce” Primo Levi
Our friend Bruno Signorelli has gone, and it’s as if a mountain has vanished overnight: bewildering and belief-defying. I feel forlorn for all of us who knew him, but also sorry for those who can never meet him. It’s the same feeling I get when thinking about the extinction of the Seychelles parakeet or the burning of the Library of Alexandria, a conviction that the world has been deprived of something really wonderful.
Bruno was a genius. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of everything from Roman military history to Gothic architecture to British literature and he shared his gift with modesty and enthusiasm, in a spirit of such fellowship. His enthusiasm for the world, for films, books, history was wide-ranging and infectious and he was very entertaining when speaking or writing (he published dozens of articles and a book Tre Anni di Ferro on contemporary royal correspondence to do with the Siege of Turin). Only a couple of years ago, in his eighties, he gained a degree in Architecture. For many years he served as the President of the Piedmontese Society of Archeology and Fine Arts, a post he still held until this week. He read voraciously and shared comments on the latest Netflix series, art show or Trump shame with a historian’s perspective.
And history was not abstract. Like his fellow Piedmontese Primo Levi, Bruno witnessed the atrocities of the Second World War; as a young boy he saw his home town occupied by Nazi soldiers and collaborators extremely hostile to partisan-friendly villagers. Before the age of ten he’d seen harrowing scenes that would haunt him his whole life: his mother kneeling in the snow begging for her life at gunpoint, a neighbor savagely beaten and thrown in a truck–he was too scared to go and look at the ‘traitors’ hanged from telephone wires. Like Levi, he was serious about the responsibility of recording, remembering and punishing such crimes so that they would never again be repeated.
Maybe enduring all this at an early age was the secret to his amazing fortitude and obliviousness to objectively terrifying circumstances later in life. Possibly, like Mordo Nahun, he believed that there is always war. In any case, he was an exquisite soldier. After a serious health crisis last year, his family were on tenterhooks for hours as he struggled in the hospital, finally winning out. Shortly after opening his eyes he learned the doctor’s name and started chatting about history. The other patients in the ward were moaning and writhing, no doubt resenting this unearthly display of resilience. That was typical; when he had a knock, he got straight back up again. Physically he may have been a little weaker, but his will was like granite.
The great secrets of this strength, though, were his faith and love for his family. He was extremely proud of his children and grandchildren, quite rightly because they have all inherited more than a little bit of his charm and genius. We are thinking of them today. Addio Bruno, grazie di esistere.