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Mille Miglia

The sociale and cultural context



For Italy, as for other European countries, these were socially antagonizing years and times of cultural and political turmoil. All of Europe tried to lick its wounds brought on by the war and the ensuing "unjust peace" (described as unsatisfactory by the winners and humiliating by the losers).

 

The assertions provoked major international and national tension in every country. In Italy, they spoke of a "mutilated victory". In 1919, at the wheel of his Fiat Torpedo, Gabriele D'Annunzio burst into the city of Fiume in front of his legionnaires, with the intent of turning it back over to Italian sovereignty, disregarding the agreement accorded by the international powerhouses. D'Annunzio and his legionnaires manage to resist until Christmas, 1920. And, although defeated (Fiume was declared a "free city" but became part of Italy only four months later), they contributed to the creation of a legendary undertaking, which at that time ruled all.

These were audacious times in which exploration missions to the North Pole and tenacious attempts to break all speed records, on land, air and water were made. Science and technology took giant steps forward for all mankind.


Futurism, having already published Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's "Manifesto" before the war (1876-1944), calms things down and challenges the "bourgeois literature", almost becoming a reaction, or involuntary parody, to the rhetoric and D'Annunzian estheticism: «Without a fight there is no beauty!»

In this cultural climate two young Brescians, Franco Mazzotti and Aymo Maggi, became associated with each other not only for their solid friendship but also because they were so close in age (Maggi was born in 1903 and Mazzotti, in 1904) and both came from socially well-off families. Their passion for sports and desire for challenges leads Maggi and Mazzotti to automobile racing and flying and boat racing, respectively. It is the early 1920s and the two friends were, at the time, among the few to have a car and able to afford the frequent trips to Milan.


Lombardy's capital was considered the most important point of reference for almost all cultural and sports movements. It is here where Renzo Castagneto made his presence known, although infrequently, and where Mazzotti and Maggi met with racing and motor aficionados and other drivers and journalists, including Giovanni Canestrini. These were years characterized by profound and continuous changes, in all areas. Electricity was being introduced into households, with the first home appliances coming into use as a result, while medicine and pharmacology made remarkable headway.

In 1922, in the UK, and in 1924, in Italy, radio broadcasting begins and communication for the masses takes off. The same goes for consumerism, followed by the economic boom in the US and Europe (which is completely relative, given the reduced number of the well-off), causing illusions of grandeur before the disastrous 1929 economic crisis.

During the evenings in Milan (fewer in Brescia, a city more reluctant and late in following the latest fashion) our protagonists frequently wore top hats, often accompanied by a cane and gloves (that were then set aside) to suddenly throw themselves into "the Charleston" dance moves in the company of young ladies, who danced showing off their large necklaces, wearing outfits considered by many to be improper, with short skirts and back décolletages.

Their carefreeness could not be left aside, regardless of the grave political events that were happening across the globe. In Italy, social tensions culminated in major strikes, thanks to clashes between workers and farmhands, on the one hand, and industries and landowners, on the other. Class wars between the proletariats and the middle and upper class hit a peak between 1918 and 1922. And among the leftists one could speak candidly about an armed revolution.