by Andrea Carapellucci
For many nights every year, when only a vague memory remains of the murmuring of summer vacationers, a deafening silence takes possession of Giannutri, broken only by the waves crashing and by the rustling of the wind that caresses the leaves. They are long nights of nothing, but of solemn beauty, in which the island is cloaked in the pale glow of the moon and of the shiny firmament. It is in these nights, it is said, that Marietta returns to tread the rugged paths of the island, wandering through the bush until finding the places where she lived her sweet and solitary love affair with the bold Gualtiero: the ghost twirls in the thick forest that encloses the Roman villa and slips into the ancient cisterns where she and her companion had found their home; she looks out from Punta Scaletta and here, looking at the sea and the distant outline of the Giglio Island, cries for the lost love in the hope that he may, one day, hear her laments and reunite with her in the eternal embrace.
There are a lot of testimonies of presences sighted or heard by the holiday-makers on Giannutri’s nights: a single specter of a woman seems to wander the island, concentrating her apparitions around the Domitii’s Villa and in the Old Vineyard. Fishermen in transit reported having observed at night the ethereal figure of a woman dressed in rags standing near Punta Scaletta: motionless towards the sea, the sobbing ghost uttered excruciating verses. Laments and sometimes shouts and awful din have terrified those brave ones who at night walked along the path that leads to the abandoned lighthouse at the southern end of the island. “They are the verses of seagulls” answer the skeptics but there are those who swear they have heard distinctly sad laments of a woman.
A “garibaldino” in Giannutri: Gualtiero Adami
Similar testimonies bring to mind a past time when the island was rented by the Municipality of Giglio to Gualtiero Adami, son of the Leghorn banker Pietro Augusto (1812-1898, former Minister of Finance, Trade and Public Works of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in turbulent months between 1848 and 1849, patriot of the Risorgimento, one of the protagonists of the annexation of Tuscany to the Kingdom of Sardinia and among the financiers of the Expedition of the Thousand led by Garibaldi). Gualtiero was born on September 21st, 1838 and in 1859, just over 20 years old, following his father’s political tendencies, he joined Garibaldi’s volunteers enlisting with the rank of lieutenant in the Apennine Hunters regiment, with whom he could successfully fight the Second Italian War of Independence. Next year, promoted to captain, he was among the Thousand who disembarked in Sicily and completed the sensational Garibaldi expedition. In the following years he continued to follow the Hero of the Two Worlds in his military expeditions while his family’s fortune was gradually declining because of the hostility of the Italian government, which poorly digested the father’s attempt to grab a rich contract for the construction of railway lines in the South by relying on friendship with general Garibaldi. So in 1882, at 43, devoid of most of its wealth and afflicted by apparently incurable pulmonary tuberculosis, Gualtiero Adami signed an emphyteusis contract with the Municipality of Giglio and landed at Giannutri together with his brother Osvaldo with the purpose of starting the culture of vine and olive and to install a lime kiln. Despite the initial enthusiasm, from the first months the entrepreneurial project seemed hard to realize because of the lack of a perennial source of fresh water (a circumstance that complicated not just the chance to irrigate the land but also the possibility to provide water for the livelihood of the Adami and of the about 20 workers at their service). After having tilled the ground and planted the vines (in the place then recalled as the Vigna Vecchia of Giannutri), the olive trees (around Cala Maestra) and some vegetables, Osvaldo renounced the project for too many difficulties, leaving the island together with their workers: Gualtiero, which wanted to continue at all costs in the enterprise, remained alone with the purpose of taking care of his Giannutri, isolated from the rest of the world as a modern hermit. In the drastic choice of Gualtiero certainly weighed the example offered by the voluntary retirement of Garibaldi to Caprera, a hero who had always been a model of life for the Leghorn fighter, as well as the sudden and complete recovery from pneumonia, that Adami ascribed to the extreme healthiness of the place.
The immortal love of Marietta and Gualtiero
So it was that the Adami, who settled in the cistern of the Roman villa converted into a dwelling, spent the next years of his life, perhaps with the only relief of some sporadic contact with the two keepers of the Capelrosso lighthouse, in the southernmost part of Giannutri, the only other human presences on the island. He, however, must have maintained some relations, at least by correspondence, with relatives and comrades of arms, because in the summer of 1886, after four long years of solitary life, he received the visit of his friend Luigi Moschini accompanied by his daughter Maria, known as Marietta, born in Florence on 18 April 1867. Almost 30 years separated the two. Marietta’s first meeting with Giannutri and Gualtiero upset the mood of the nineteen year old girl. We can not know what the sight of that veteran of the Risorgimento, now reduced to a hermit holed up in a makeshift shelter inside the ruins of a Roman villa on an uninhabited island, may have caused inside her soul. But that something was certainly disruptive because the girl, before leaving, promised Gualtiero that she would return and that it would be forever. For another three interminable years Gualtiero waited for that impossible love, beyond the logic and the conventions of the time, could really be realized. In the summer of 1889 Marietta persuaded her father to return to Giannutri for a new stay. According to reports by Angela Micaelli Battani in his books Giannutri mistero d’amore and Fra cielo e terra, which tell the story based on documentary sources, the return of Marietta was very different from what Adami hoped: often shy and pensive, evidently devoured by the doubt about the huge choice of life she was about to accomplish, she waited for the last few days to reveal her decision to her unbelieving father and her beloved one: Giannutri would be her home and she would never come back to Florence. So for them began a love that is hard to describe with words. Finally united and alone in Giannutri, they were the shoulder of the other, hardly cultivating what had survived the failed farm project of Gualtiero, to which they added the fruits of the hens, of fishing and hunting for many rabbits in the island. Soon the people of the district were aware of the couple of crazy hermits who had holed up on the island and exaggerations and legends about their primitive habits began to spread. They never married, defying every convention, and had as their only pastime the excavation campaigns at the Roman villa, which began to re-emerge thanks to the effort of Adami. With the few who moored to visit the island they were always friendly, but appearing in a state of absolute poverty, dirty and dressed in rags. And the years passed inexorably but happily. In spite of the hardships and the lack of human contact, Gualtiero aged more and more, reaching over 80 without too many worries, magically protected by Giannutri’s splendor. Then, on December 14, 1922, at age 84 (of whom 40 spent as a hermit on the island), Gualtiero quietly died beside his beloved Marietta.
The inconsolable grief of Marietta
The grief for the passing of her life partner was too great for Marietta. While his Gualtiero was buried wrapped in the Italian tricolor in the Giglio cemetery where he still rests, she decided to continue living in Giannutri, surrounded by the memories of the long years spent together. But she began to show evident signs of insanity: those who passed by boat near the island often saw her on the rocks dressed only in a habit, dirty and without any care of herself, appearing as a savage. The story of the now famous couple had hit the hearts of the inhabitants of Giglio and Monte Argentario, who sometimes docked at the island to leave food and basic necessities. She, in response, hurled herself against anyone approaching. In the most lucid moments she was still able to tell her story to the few Giannutri visitors, remembering the events of his extraordinary love for Gualtiero and their moments together on the island. But the state of abandonment in which the grief of the loss had reduced her fast approached Marietta to her departure. According to the death certificate kept in the archives of the Municipality of Giglio, her death occurred on 19 February 1927 on the island of Giannutri. She was buried at Giglio cemetery near her life partner. The story of Gualtiero and Marietta deserves to be remembered and told, because the whole island still seems pervaded by their insane and all-encompassing love. And who knows if one day Marietta will find her beloved, to live a long life together again.