The Barber of Fiesole

Look for the holes in the statues

Sad news from Italy. When I was a doctoral student at the European University Institute in San Domenico di Fiesole (above Florence) I stayed in a small flat in a villa (Villa Mazzi) just off the main square, Piazza Mino, in Fiesole. The man who collected my rent and lived with his family in a larger flat in the same villa, Lino Bertaccini, was the barber of Fiesole. He had inherited the trade from his father, Egisto. Together, for 91 years altogether, Egisto and Lino shaved the chins and cut the hair of the men of Fiesole. Lino and his wife, Olga, and their son, Saverio, and daughter, Monica, became a second family to me. Once, just once, Lino rolled down the shutters of his barber shop and solemnly pulled down his trousers and pants to show me the grapefruit-sized hole in his backside where a shell had almost killed him during the war. You can see similar-sized holes in the statue of The Meeting of Garibaldi and Vittorio Emanuele II at Teano in the middle of Piazza Mino. The story is as follows. It was 1944. The Nazi occupiers had taken a group of village elders as hostages and had locked them up in what is now the Albergo Aurora just off the main square. Lino, then a young boy, was sent by his father with a bowl of hot water and a shaving brush to lather up the hostages in preparation for a visit from Egisto, who was allowed to shave them every day. Lino was halfway across the piazza when a stray British shell fell between him and the statue, punching large holes in both. He could have died. He could certainly have lived off an invalidity pension if he had so wished, but Lino returned in time to the barber’s shop and kept up the family tradition. Now, sadly, Lino has passed away. His funeral was held in the cathedral of Fiesole, San Romolo’s, and the congregation of mourners was so large that it spilled out onto the piazza. If you read Italian, you can read about Lino in this article in Il Reporter di Fiesole, penned on the occasion of Lino’s retirement last year. As to the hostages, three carabinieri, who had deserted to become partisans, gave themselves up in return for their release. The selflessness and sacrifice of the young carabinieri (they were shot) is one of surely many largely forgotten stories of Italian heroism and altruism in that horribly confused period towards the end of the war. With the passing away of Lino Bertaccini, Fiesole has lost one of its most familiar and endearing personalities.


  1. clare

    Westlake, are you sure the carabinieri were partigiani?

  2. Martin

    Pretty much, Clare, yes. As I remember the story they had abandoned their positions and had hidden (was it in the theatre?) whilst waiting to join up with the partigiani. In any case, their desertion was considered a capital offence.

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