sophia loren's lost childhood -- 9/01/17

Today's selection -- from Sophia Loren by Warren G. Harris. Sophia Loren, nee Scicolone, became an international movie star, but only after a childhood coping with the deprivation of World War II:

"As expected, Signora Mattia didn't jump for joy when cousin Luisa and [8-year-old Sofia Scicolone's] fam­ily [of refugees from Nazi oppression] turned up at the front door of her [small Naples] apartment, but she didn't turn them away. She agreed to provide lodging but little more. Food had become so scarce that the Mattias claimed they had none to share. [They] could use the kitchen, but they would have to buy their own groceries -- if they could find any -- and observe mealtimes that didn't inconvenience their hosts.

Sophia Loren in her childhood

"In 1943 Naples had over a million inhabitants, sharply divided among a small wealthy class; a substantial number of poor professionals, clerks, and civil ser­vants; and a vast majority of paupers and beggars. In the ancient belly of the city, 250,000 people lived in decaying tenements, many in ground-floor or base­ment rooms with cobblestone floors and no windows or sanitary facilities.

"Faced with such overwhelming numbers of destitute and desperate people, Sofia's family spent most of their waking hours foraging for food, or at least the adults did. Grandma Luisa suspected that her cousin might have a sudden change of heart and lock them all out. To guard against that, Sofia and [her sister] Maria were always left behind while the others went out. For the duration of their stay, the sisters' experience of Naples would be limited to what they could ob­serve from the little balcony of their room. If they were lucky, their mother or one of the other relatives would come home with a sack of rice or potatoes that could be stretched into a week's meals. ...

"On September 20, Sofia Scicolone turned nine years old, knowing nothing about the war except for what she saw from the window or heard in the way of gunfire and exploding bombs. Luckily for her and others in the upper reaches of Naples, Allied planes were concentrating on naval installations near the har­bor. Several thousand people were killed, and it was later established that 200,000 were left homeless.

"The bombings ruined Naples' water supply and sewage system. Often the only water was whatever could be collected in pots and pans during a rain­storm. Typhoid was a constant menace. Sofia never caught it, but Maria did. When her sister was burning up with fever, their mother could find no water for her to drink, so she finally ran out into the street and drained some from the ra­diator of a German army truck parked a few doors away.

"By September 28 the Allies had reached the outskirts of Naples and the Germans started evacuating northward, destroying whatever stood in their path and planting time bombs and land mines to greet their pursuers. So many Neapolitans were needlessly and viciously killed that the people finally rebelled and began attacking anyone in German uniform. Without plan or organized leadership, they took guns out of hiding, sharpened knives and axes, built cat­apults and gasoline bombs, erected barriers in the streets, and installed snipers on rooftops. ...

"Hundreds of scugnizzi, the ragged street youths of Naples, were the most courageous fighters. Some had stolen hand grenades from the Germans. Others made kerosene bombs or fashioned torches from bundles of straw. Banding to­gether in groups, the boys blew up tanks and trucks or climbed onto them and tried to incinerate the Germans inside. Many succeeded, but some ended up be­ing killed in the process. ...

"On March 19, [1944,] the world suddenly seemed to be coming to an end, but not due to the war. In Pompeii Mount Vesuvius erupted, and by nightfall the smoke had built into a mammoth cloud that rose 35,000 feet into the sky and covered the entire Bay of Naples area. By the next day, Naples, Pozzuoli and the islands of Capri and Ischia were covered with several inches of volcanic ash. Portions of San Sebastiano, a town close to Vesuvius, were buried under thirty feet of lava. ...

"The black market was seizing the food supplies, leaving the bombed-out and decaying Naples region a seething cesspool of poor, hungry, and homeless peo­ple who would do anything just to stay alive. Many women became prostitutes, serving the thousands of Allied troops now stationed in the area.

"In September 1944, Sofia turned ten years old. She'd grown too tall to be called a bambina, but it would be another two or three years before she was physically a ragazza. Her soul, however, was aging faster. 'When we returned to Pozzuoli from Naples, the experience had changed her. Her childhood had gone,' her aunt Dora recalled."



Warren G. Harris


Sophia Loren: A BIOGRAPHY


Simon & Schuster


Copyright 1998 by Warren G. Harris


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