Please note that all the images in this series are the copyright of Marco Giani and are not to be reproduced without the express permission of either Playing Pasts or the author
Special thanks to Rachel McNamara for the linguistic review and translation
Over the last months I have had the wonderful opportunity to have four meetings with Grazia Barcellona [Born in Milan in 1929] at her family home, located in Città Studi [University quarter of Milan]: 1st on 29 April 2019; 2nd on 6 May, together with Deborah Guazzoni, Sports historian; 3rd one month later, on 6 June, together with some of my History students at La Zolla Middle School, Milan [https://www.lazolla.it]three of whom at the time were studying Italian Fascism with me, while the fourth is a synchronized skater; and 4th on 20 June, together with Corriere della Sera journalist Federica Seneghini, who was writing an article on the Gruppo Femminile Calcistico ‘Women’s Football Club’, aka GFC.
As I have written previously in a Playing Pasts article [see http://bit.ly/30xdXco ], I initially met Grazia [who is the daughter of Giovanna Boccalini Barcellona, and the niece of Marta, Luisa and Rosetta Boccalini], the only living witness to have seen the GFC in action, however, as I was talking with her I discovered another striking Sports History story. After speaking to colleagues from SISS [Società Italiana per la Storia dello Sport ‘Italian Sports History Society’, https://www.storiasport.com ], I realized I was totally unprepared for a historical discussion about ice-skating, luckily, however, Deborah Guazzoni, told me that, actually, she was very fond of the sport.
For this reason, I took her long with me to the second meeting with Grazia. At the third meeting, the presence of my students proved very useful too, since Grazia was able to share her experience of life as a teenager during the Fascist regime. The students asked her questions about her daily life in 1930s’ Italy, living under a dictatorship, having a sports career and being a student at the same time. Their questions have helped me to better identify with Grazia.
Flipping through Grazia’s photo albums …Today Grazia is a 90-year old lady and while she is still quite active, and able to understand our questions, unfortunately, she can only answer very short questions and sadly her memory is fading, for instance she cannot always remember names. However, the human mind is a wonderful thing and Grazia is able to recall a lot of events surrounding the 1948 St. Moritz Winter Games, but struggles to remember more recent happenings. Yet the real treasure, capable of helping the shaky memory of Grazia, is hidden in her house and is taken out and shown to us by Grazia’s two sons [Francesco and Luigi] – in the form of three old photo albums.
The first. ‘the Black Album’, contains 243 photos, taken between 1938 and 1950; the second, ‘the Brown Album’; contains the 35 photos taken from the St. Moritz Olympic Games, and 1 journalistic clipping; the third, ‘the Red Album’, contains 119 photos, taken between 1950 and 1952. In addition to the albums, there are 59 photos, 2 documents and 28 clippings that are kept with them – as I say a real treasure trove of sporting information.
Among the array of paperwork was this particular 1942 document from the Federazione Italiana Sport Invernali ‘Italian Winter Sports Federation’ [FISA], asking Grazia for the authorization for her personal data, in order to gain a sports honour. Please note here the header ~ with a ‘fascio littorio’ inside the logo and a Mussolini quotation in red.
Other memorabilia from Grazia’s career, such as medals, Italian championship cups, and the two Olympic Games participation certificates are also shown to me.
Grazia’s sports archive comprises of an immense quantity of historical sports records, the city of Milan, which together with Cortina has been selected to host the 2026 Winter Olympics, ought to recognize this little treasure, of a Milanese skater. However, as Angela Teja wrote some years ago, it would appear that Italy, in a sort of sexist historical oblivion of the women who have represented the nation in the past, does not wish to recognize the value of the personal archives of its sportswomen.
1st classified cup
1946 Italian National Skating Championship
Since the sports event – organized by FISI took place in Milan, the cup is composed by a skate and the biscione ‘serpent’, traditional heraldic symbol of Milan still used sometimes by FC Inter Milan
1946 medal ~Still in its original presentation
Focusing just on the three albums, the main point in studying them as historical records is to understand what they are, and why they are different from the other 59 ‘free’ photographs. The fact is that the photos inside each album belong to a wider historical source, which also comprise the handwritten white captions that accompany the photos in the albums.
Since Grazia doesn’t recall anything about how the albums were put together, Luigi and Francesco told me that the handwriting is most likely Giovanna’s and not Grazia’s. If this is the case, then these albums represent a female record of memories, the sporting achievements of the daughter [Grazia], commented on by the mother [Giovanna]. This collective record of their memories may be even more interesting than an individual one that is, where the sportswoman comments on her own career, it can tell us about the shared perception of female sports by women from two different generations.
Since I listened to Grazia’s tales with the visual support of the albums, I’m certain the best way to share these tales with Playing Pasts readers would be showing and commenting on them and this I shall do in the next few installments of this series.
Part 2 will begin with
a commentary of the ‘Black Album’
‘Grazia the ice-skater 1938-1950’
Article © Marco Giani