American history buffs will recognize the cliché from the plethora of plaques and monuments up and down the eastern Atlantic Seaboard that announce that “George Washington slept here.” The Italians harbor a similar attachment to the peripatetic Giuseppe Garibaldi, who, judging by plaques and monuments, appears to have slept and fought in every village on the peninsula. This fort outside Grosseto, for example, claims to have been the Great Liberator’s base of operations during the i Mille Expedition–even though he only spent one night here provisioning his ragtag army.
Garibaldi and Washington share a number of characteristics, most famously that both were Republicans who disdained the power and riches thrust upon them by a grateful population and retired instead to their farms and agricultural experiments. Both were Renaissance Men, although the list of Garibaldi’s occupations dwarfs Washington’s–from seaman, merchant marine captain, and Admiral through schoolmaster, farmer, and novelist, to revolutionary, soldier, General, and reluctant statesman. Neither man won very many of his battles, but instead wore down the enemy by the same sheer force of personality that galvanized and held together his armies and nation.
One place the great men differed was in their choice of women. Washington took the safe route in his marriage to the wealthy widow Martha Custis and remained more or less faithful to her throughout his travels. Garibaldi was a ladies’ man whose wife Anita (Ana Maria de Jesus Ribeiro di Garibaldi) rode, sailed, and fought right alongside her husband from South America to Sicily and up the spine of Italy to Ravenna, where she took a break from all the struggle to die of malaria. It was a romance for the ages and thoroughly in keeping with the spirit of il Risorgimento.
If Garibaldi’s attachment to this village and fort was fleeting, Hollywood (or at least the English Pinewood equivalent) appears to have made up for it in the movie Quantum of Solace. MI6 compensates for doubting and torturing Rene Mathis (played by the great Giancarlo Giannini) by buying him this very fort for a retirement home, along with the comely Gemma (Lucrezia Lante della Rovere) to keep him company. It’s hard to imagine the flamboyant red-shirted Gaucho Garibaldi disapproving.