“A’s tuca nen” The hat
from the Valle del Cervo
“Cà 'd buschin”: this was the name of the house where I was born in 1953 and grew up until I was 10, in the village of Tavigliano - 700 inhabitants and many crazy people. One day, in Tavigliano, I found a very special hat orderly tucked inside a wardrobe. Within the family, that hat was called “a‘s tuca nen...”. “A’s tuca nen” was a Cervo-branded hat. Cervo stood for the Cervo valley, the Cervo stream, and ‘Cervo’ was simply a very common name in the Biella area, the name of businesses too. To us, Cervo meant home. “A’s tuca nen” was the tangible sign of so many stories, experiences, tales…it was, de facto, the very memory of my father’s life. It was my grandma Irma who, in 1931, gave this important hat to my father Attilio as a present for his 18th birthday, when he turned of age. To dad, that hat was not only useful, but a companion for life; it followed him step by step in all his experiences. He always treated it with great respect and always proudly took it in his travels around the world.
Our history deepens its roots in our land, in the Biella area and, particularly, in the Valle Cervo. Since the early 1800s to date, hats have been an essential part of the Valley’s economy: two important businesses like Barbisio and Cappellificio Cervo are well known all over Italy and even abroad. “A’s tuca nen” was one of the two million hats that contributed to making the Biella area famous all over the world. Yes, hats, the great protagonists of the Valley: firmly planted on one’s had, slightly tipped when meeting a lady on the street or walking by a church…Good old times… “A’s tuca nen” reminds me, first of all, of how I used to rush to work along the Tavigliano coast every day, always late, to reach the factory owned by Grosso and Tribola, in Sagliano Micca, pervaded by the unmistakable smell of cast iron and steel. That old factory produced the first machinery for the textile industry, the first industrial mechanised systems, taking the first steps towards automation, which would soon considerably relieve workers from manual work. At the end of the day, after the standard10 hours at work, I sometimes popped in at the Recreational Club for a “sciop” - 25 cc of well-deserved genuine wine, and then back home, along the coast, this time on the way up. Once home, I placed "a's tuca nen" on a shelf and listened to my family telling about the day, a pleasant chit-chat that was almost an accompaniment to the evening rituals and to the metallic sound of the pots being placed on the wood-burning stove, the ‘putagé’.
Life was slow, disciplined, and very tiring, but there was always time enough to do everything. On holidays, we often went up to the Valley. Walking up, at the Balma (the cave) there was another piece of history, and a different ‘smell’: it was the dust of syenite from the caves, perhaps the one that most hindered breathing. How wonderful, however, to admire those granite masterpieces: polished, opaque, smooth, rough… all over the world, they have become the symbol of a glorious tradition, that of building contractors, who exported the ‘Balma stone’ everywhere, from New York to South Africa. At home, the comment “a t’é la testa pu’ dura d’la pera ad la Balma” (which could perhaps be rendered as “you’re more hard-headed than you’d be if your head were made of Balma stone”) was very frequent and clearly inspired from the nearby cave. “Ai picapere” (the stone workers) said that those important – or simply useful – masterpieces crossed the ocean to decorate “ai cá d’ia sgnor” (the homes of important people). The ocean they were talking about was one day of travelling away from our Biella area, but only a few lucky ones had seen it. How wonderful it was to listen to them, I felt like I was sailing too, although I had no idea what the colour of the water was. This was life.
“A’s tuca nen”’s memories are different. The sweet-smelling dust of chestnut wood accompanied us throughout the Valley. In the house courtyards it was common to see piles of wood - “a’d busc” - waiting to be used. The ‘luckiest’ wood was used for furniture, of which we find evidence in our homes to date. A less noble fate was to be turned into beams for the house roofs, nubby and sturdy to bear the weight of so much snow in winter. The least lucky wood was used for heating and cooking. “L’arbo" (the chestnut tree), a typical tree in the area, was also the source of staples, as chestnuts were turned into Pline (roast chestnuts), grelle (soft chestnuts loved, in particular, by children and old people), and into the very much longed-for flour that was used for so many recipes in our homes. Everything was rational, there was no waste, and everything was useful and meaningful. The “a’s tuca nen” hat, on top of the wardrobe, saw everything, as if from a box seat in a theatre - nothing could elude it.