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For a couple of weeks the main streets of Rapallo have been criss-crossed with hundreds of little Italian flags.  Why? we wondered.  This weekend we found out: the Bersaglieri visted Rapallo and some neighboring towns for a gathering of the Corps from central and northern Italy.  There were many events around their visit, including a concert on Saturday evening and a parade on Sunday morning.  We were able to go to the parade for a few hours, which made us  swell with pride, if not for being Italian, at least for living here.

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There’s something about a uniform – or at least there always has been for me – and the signature feathers of the Bersaglieri hat are so over the top (oh excuse the pun) that they are divine.  Where did that idea ever come from?  Was it a type of ill-thought-out camouflage?  Perhaps it was to suggest the speed of flight (though wood grouse, the source of the feathers, have never been noted for speed)?  Me?  I think it was simply a Style Statement, and a very fine one, too.

The Bersaglieri were founded in 1836 to serve as high-speed infantry in the Piemontese Army (this was before Italy was unified). Piemonte could not afford a large, expensive horse-mounted cavalry, so instead developed a superb corps of sharp-shooters that featured quick movement, either on foot or bicycles, and later on motorcycles.  The Bersaglieri never walk – they run everywhere, whether in training, in the field, or in a parade. Their demanding physical training made them useful as mountain troops, too; the Alpini, the elite mountain troops, were founded in 1872, and there is still a friendly rivalry between the two groups (there were several groups of Alpini in the parade and some proud veterans watching).  While there have been as many as 12 regiments of Bersaglieri in the past, today there are six, and they are all now mechanized.

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In addition to unique headgear and running everywhere, the Bersaglieri are famous for their fanfara, the brass bands that accompany every regiment.  The musicians must be adept not only at playing, but at playing as they run, because they, too, are obliged to run everywhere they go.  The Fanfara from northern and central Italy formed the major part of Sunday’s parade, and they certainly impressed with their musical skill and physical stamina!

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During World War II there were both bicycle and motorized troops:

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There was a huge ovation for the oldest gent on a bicycle – 92 years old and still going strong:

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And how about the fellow who has to ride a bike AND play the trumpet??

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I find it very moving to see old Vets watching a parade, and Sunday was no exception.  There were scores of former Bersaglieri watching the parade; it wasn’t always easy to read their expressions.

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And of course there was a viewing stand full of dignitaries:

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A parade is always fun, and a military parade particularly stirring.  But only in Italy, I think, will you find a military parade that showcases such stamina, showmanship and style in one package: The Bersaglieri.

If you’re interested in some more photos of the parade, you may see them at a web album here.  I recommend a slide show, F11 for full screen.