The Obsessions of General Garibaldi
Captivating micro-history/micro-biography of General Garibaldi and his thwarted attempt to divert the fetid Tiber from Rome.
In 1875, a few years after Italian unification, General Garibaldi, the legendary military hero of the Risorgimento, left his island retreat in the Mediterranean for Rome. His battle cry no longer required, he was pursuing a mission that would become an obsession in his old age: to divert the River Tiber from Rome. Through this forgotten episode, Daniel Pick observes Garibaldi's passionate attachment to Rome and Italy. In the bitter debate that ensued many myths were laid bare, and prevailing medical, social and political anxieties about the future of the state were exposed. In the ebb and flow of this epic project, strong currents of emotion swirled around this larger-than-life Victorian hero and the city with which he and his contemporaries were obsessed. Garibaldi's campaign also focussed on the urgent questions of flood, fever and the fate of the peasantry in the dangerous landscape of the Roman 'Campagna'. The flood-prone Tiber had caused havoc, disease and death throughout history. But beyond the public rationales for the scheme, The Diversion of General Garibaldi suggests more personal motives were at stake. Garibaldi had his own reasons to fight the scourge of malaria and reclaim the health of central Italy. His desperate endeavour reflected his wish to repair the past. Behind his florid promise to revitalise 'Italy' and convert the Tiber's course into a Parisian-style boulevard that would be a wonder of the modern world, lay a traumatic event felt by Garibaldi as the defining tragedy of his life: the loss of his wife. Despite himself, he became embroiled in the political labyrinth of Rome, trials and tribulations worthy of Kafka. This story of thwarted ambition, grand illusion and delusion, was not lost on Garibaldi's later admirer, Benito Mussolini, another self-styled redeemer of Rome and the fever-ridden marshes of Italy.