Thursday, August 10, 2006

IL FAMOSO 'BAFFI'


In "La Nostra Costa" I write about several interesting ranchers that I knew. One of most interesting and by far the most eccentric was a rancere, nicknamed Baffi (LCN- p.91-92) His real name was Guglielmo Roberto Campioni. After reading the book, Gino "Bobbie" Campioni, s0n of "Baffi" and Ada Campioni sent me the following information including some interesting history regarding "La Costa".

"Here are a few memories, mostly about Baffi, and in no particular order:

Baffi (Guglielmo) was born in May, 1887 in the village of Uzzano in Pistoia. As the townsfolk had some sort of grudge with the local schoolteacher, he and others his age were never allowed to attend school. Instead Guglielmo was sent to work at age 7. His first job was picking olives.

He may have also had some run-ins with other boys his age, as he told of a time that he was walking down the hill near his home, when he was hit on the head by a flat rock thrown by a boyhood enemy of his. It apparently removed a bit of scalp, and he had a bald spot there for life.

When John and Nancy Mitton took me to Italy in April, 1999, we visited Uzzano, and on starting the climb up the winding road to the village, I had the feeling that we were in the spot where that rock throwing incident happened. About half way up the hill, (Uzzano is built upon an extinct volcano) there is a flat area, In it are an abandoned Catholic church, an ancient castle, and the Villa Lavoratti, where Giacomo Puccini wrote the second act of his opera, "La Boheme". There is a restaurant there by the name of Bigiano, where we had the best meal of our entire European trip. It is operated by a fine gentleman by the name of Loris. I think he is Loris Lavoratti. John and Nancy had a fancy meal, but all I wanted was a panino ripieno di biroldo. I was in heaven then. As we ate, I remarked that I could feel the spirit of Guglielmo smiling down at us. Nancy said she felt the same thing.

On approaching maturity Guglielmo worked for a lake fisherman and other jobs. Then he moved to France, and worked at fishing at Marseilles. He learned to speak a bit of French there. I already told you of his trips to America and back.

He never drove a motor vehicle in all his life, since having been raised in the customs of the Old Country, he drank a half gallon of vino rosso daily, and thus had enough sense to trust the driving to someone else. He did, however, buy a car in partnership with Costantino Gemignani, who did all the driving, and Baffi paid for half the gasoline.

Augie taught me to drive that car when I was about 13. I don't think I ever went fast enough on the roads at the Golcio to advance to 2nd gear. The car was a Ford Victoria, probably built around 1930 or earlier. It was painted a rust brown color, or maybe the color of pattume, painted by hand with a brush. It was ugly but it ran. Later on Alfonso Oddone, who lived just East of us on Bay Street, just beyond the backyard fence, let me drive his pickup on West Cliff Drive. (with him in the co-pilot's seat, of course) I didn't even know that was illegal.

I had pestered Baffi to let me help him pick sprouts at the ranch. Finally one day he agreed to take me there. He showed me how to fasten the sack to my belt, and pick the sprouts by placing the heel of both hands against the tops of the sprouts, and pushing down to snap them off and drop them in the sack. I was there about 15 seconds, doing my best, when he roared, "Troppo adagio! Via di qui! Vai al cuccausse!" Thus ended my picking career. I amused myself the rest of the day looking at some fascinating things in the cookhouse. Dante Ramacciotti had some neat rifles there, and a German Luger, among other stuff.

Unfortunately, I probably imitated Baffi's attitude a bit when I had 3 stepchildren, and they were keen on watching me work on my car. It's not so much that they were bothering me, but that I was embarrassed at how little I actually could do with automotive work. Changing oil, plugs, and some minor parts replacement was all I knew about.

Upstairs in the cookhouse was where Baffi lived before returning to Italy to select a bride. He had attended some sort of Italian celebration in Bakersfield, and had won a raffle prize. It was a Victor Talking Machine with Victrola. This radio arrived to his place in 3 cartons. Having no knowledge of English, the assembly instructions were of no use to him. He assembled it anyway, and it worked on first try. It drew so much current, that when he operated it, the other radios in the cookhouse would not play. He was listening to the Dempsey Tunney fight, when the other ranch hands all came to his room to listen, as their radios had gone silent.
They made so much noise that Baffi stealthily kicked the power plug out of its socket, and his radio went dead too. When all the others were gone, he plugged it in again, and listened to the fight in peace.

When the war began, a pair of FBI agents visited the house on Bay Street. I was not there, but Baffi let them in. They had a warrant to search for spy radios. They thought we had a short wave set. Baffi told them that this Victor console was the only radio in the house, and to look for themselves. It had no short wave. Furthermore, if any one of them could lift it and carry it to the car, he could have it. End of search. I doubt the two of them could have lifted it.

As you know, during the war my parents could not legally cross Mission Street. Thus, I had to make any purchase in Youngman's Pharmacy or any of the stores on the far side of the street. I was even permitted to buy tobacco products for my dad. One winter day there was a heavy rain, and the street was awash from our front door sill to that across the street. I was ready to leave for school. Baffi said, “You can't go. You would be washed out to sea if you go outside." "But I HAVE TO GO TO SCHOOL, PA!"
"OK, then I'll carry you." "You can only carry me to the center line!" "You watch". He carried me to the front of Bay View School, and set me down on the dry steps, and returned home. By the time school let out, the road was clear again. Nobody bothered us about his "breaking the law."

You mentioned a nice chap named "Jimmie" at the Gulch. Perhaps that was Jimmie Corno, who visited us on occasion. He was a tall and husky guy, and very pleasant, as I remember. Later when I was working in Portland, Oregon, I went past a wholesale produce place with a sign reading, "Corno Produce". I wondered if that were the same Jimmie Corno, but never had time to stop and ask.

Earlier, while working for Costella & Caiocca TV and Appliance, I had a service call to the cookhouse of the Pilipino workers on the Rodoni Ranch. There I met Mr. Ramon Trigo, the foreman. He was a very pleasant fellow to Gerhard and me, but I suspect he was tough with his ranch hands. The TV had been mounted right above the cookstove, and had become loaded with oil from the daily frying of fish. We had to replace the "flyback". (high voltage transformer) We told Mr. Trigo the TV had to be moved away from the stove, or it would need this expensive repair again. "He gone spoil again?" "Yes, Mr. Trigo. You must move it away from stove." I even remember the model number. Hoffman K1011. (black and white, of course. Color TVs were not yet developed then)

There was also a very nice Mexican fellow, who came to dinner one time. He was very homesick for Mexico, and asked if I could play La Comparsita, or Cielito Lindo on my accordion. I could not, but played something for him. Some Italian song. He wept a bit on hearing the music. I guess just about anything reminded him of his home. He gave me a ball point pen, and asked that I remember "the Messicanaccio" with it. I remember all but his name.

To this day I regret that I never fulfilled my dad's fondest wish that I could earn a good living with music. He had hoped that I could avoid the toil that he had gone through all his life. I had expressed a wish to play accordion because the neighbors next-door, Bartolomeo (Pete) Dogliotti and his wife Maria had a son by the name of Attilio. (popularly called, "Joe".) He could play the accordion like nobody else I ever heard. I wanted so much to be able to do that too. Baffi sided with me, saying that the accordion is quite portable, and not terribly heavy. Ada argued that if I learned the piano instead, I wouldn't have to carry a heavy instrument when I went to perform. Baffi and I carried the vote, and he got me accordion lessons with Joe Boggero. After a few weeks of that, he had Joe order me a full size accordion from Italy. Thinking back, I wonder how he paid for that expensive thing, but pay he did. I still have it, and whenever I play it, which is rarely, I weep a bit at how I disappointed my father.

Several events caused the loss of enthusiasm for accordion playing, besides my laziness:
1. Attilio joined the Army Air Corps in 1943, and after basic training, was assigned to bomber pilot school in Texas. Within a few months he was to have two weeks off, in which he planned to return to Santa Cruz, marry his high school sweetheart, Lina Braida and then return to active duty. His last assignment before the leave was to deliver a bomber to Mountain Home Air Base in Idaho. Crossing above the northwest corner of Arizona, the plane exploded. All aboard were killed. A funeral was held, and a sealed casket was all that was seen. Pete and Mary went into mourning for life. Out of respect, my mother never sang aloud again, though had she been able to have voice lessons, she could have been an opera singer. I also played accordion only when the Dogliotti were not at home, and even then, as quietly as I could.

Imagine the additional grief I cause Pete and Mary when I started to take flying lessons. Thinking back, I wish there could have been a way to keep it a secret from them. I had 8 hours of instruction, and soloed an Aeronca light plane. It was one of the most thrilling things I ever did. I gave it up though, as I knew I didn't want to spend much more on fun and games. Actually, the plane gave up on me, but that's another story.

2. One time I received a phone call. He said it was Joe. I thought it was Joe, my music teacher. He asked me to play for a dance with him at the Laurel Inn. I didn't want to do it. Baffi said, "It's Black Joe, the roofer. He's a good guy. Go with him and make a few bucks". That was the final blow. I only knew 2 songs. I played them over and over, while Joe played his "drums". (actually, suit cases, hat boxes, and other junk) Drunks would lean over me and say, "you play lousy, kid" "I know. I WANT TO GO HOME!" I was about 15 at the time, and probably looked to be 10. It was illegal for me even to be in that dive.


saluti da Gino"

5 comments:

Jerry Mungai said...

"Good grief, this brings back some memories. We had a guy named Trigo
who was the Filipino foreman in the late 1950s. I also remember the
name Black Joe and Laurel Inn; but unfortunately, cannot recall in what
context.

Jerry"


Thanks Jerry (Mungai). Haven't heard "Good Grief" since the mid-1960's.

Lina Gemignani said...

Ivano,I think I remember Ada Campioni as a good looking lady.Gino made me laugh about"Being
washed away to the sea" Room for onother book!Hugo's letter was very interesting, and he really appreciated your book!"Those were the day my friend we thought they never end" Remember that song?
Add that to the"Mazzolin di Fiori!"
Ciao,per ora.Lina

Gino Campioni said...

Ciao, Ivano,

Last night whilst reading further in your book, I came across a reference to the Honorable James J. Scoppettone. I remember when I was called to serve on a jury in which a man was suing a Santa Cruz electronics firm for patent violation. Judge Scoppettone asked me if I knew the parties involved. I replied that I was acquainted with both of the defendants, the person who filed the suit, the attorneys on both sides, and his honor himself. "DISMISSED!"

When I worked at Rainbow TV on Frederick Street, a couple of young men left a guitar amplifier to be repaired. When they returned to pick up the finished unit, I presented a bill for $54.00. One of them said, "Just charge it to Harper's Bizarre." I didn't know who that was, but I told them that we were on a strictly cash basis. Reluctantly, they paid the money, took their unit, and roared off in their Excalibur roadster. One of those fellows was James Scoppettone Jr. I had not recognized them, but realized later that they were underclassmen at Holy Cross High School years before. I also learned that the Right Reverend Monsignor William McLaughlin had given them a whole studio full of recording gear, and they had become a "One Hit wonder" with "The 49th Street Bridge Song", also called, "Feeling Groovy". Remember that one, Ivano?

The good monsignor was quite an electronics enthusiast. He used to tell me that he intended to get his amateur radio license by Christmas. I don't know which year he meaSo much for the trivia of the day. I am working on The Itanglish Dictionary. I'll send a nt, but in any case, I think he never made it.


Migliori auguri,

Gino

Anonymous said...

hei....gente.....sono anni che cerco di capire come posso fare a rintracciare i discendenti del resto della mia famiglia che è emigrata in America agli inizi del '900. Aiutatemi !!!
Vi accenno brevemente la loro storia:
Nel 1903 circa e negli anni di lì a poco i fratelli (4) POLETTI di Condino (TN) Italia (ma all'epoca Austria) sono partiti per gli Stati Uniti in cerca di fortuna. Si trattava di contadini e da quello che sò in tre hanno preso in gestione un Ranch nell'interno della California. Uno di loro invece è andato a lavorare come dipendente...forse in un albergo...e forse faceva il cantiniere (vino). A causa del crollo della borsa di New York del 1929 poi i tre fratelli del ranch non ebbero altro che da vendere tutto ricavare solo i soldi per tornare in Italia. Uno di loro (Achille), mio bis-nonno, diventa Kaiserjäger dell'Imperatore Franz Josef d'Austria...un'altro si trasferisce in Svizzera (Maggia).Di quello che rimase negli States ho poche notizie...sembra che ad un certo punto aprì un negozio di frutta e verdura dalle parti di Davenport forse..e che nella seconda guerra mondiale divenne fornitore di frutta e verdura della 5. Armata che liberò l'Europa dal nazi-fascismo. Quando i miei genitori si sposarono nel 1966 ca. qualcuno della famiglia era ancora in contatto con loro...ma da lì non abbaimo più contatti.
L'unico dato che mi è rimasto è il nome di una certa Sofia Poletti Costello (o Costella) di Davenport - santa Cruz County e un indirizzo: Hollings drive... sono passati tanti anni e mi piacerebbe riallacciare i contatti con i discendenti di quel fratello del mio Bis-nonno "ACHILLE POLETTI"
Se qualcuno può aiutarmi mi può scrivere una mail...(meglio se in italiano) al seguente indirizzo: poletti.corrado@libero.it

Ivano Franco Comelli said...

Just received this story from Gino Campioni, 4/16/08. I thought I would added to the legend of
"Il Famoso 'Baffi' . Thanks Gino: ivano



Ciao Ivano,

April 26 is International Marconi Day. Perhaps only the amateur radio operators will hear much of this. I once participated in the event by contacting the Marconi Memorial Station K1M. This was in 2001, which was the 100th anniversary of Guglielmo Marconi's famous first long distance transmission.

But did you know that Guglielmo Campioni was also an early radioman? Well, he made no transmissions nor had any recognition, but in 1926 Baffi won a Victor Talking Machine with Victrola in a raffle at Bakersfield.

The unit arrived in several cartons to Baffi's quarters at the cookhouse in Il Buco. Baffi put the radio together, despite not being able to read a single word on the assembly instructions, and it worked the first time! He used to tell of trying to hear the Dempsey Tunney fight, and when the rest of the ranceri would gather to his room, because whenever he turned his radio on, the rest of the building would lose power. When the others got too loud and Baffi couldn't hear the radio, he would stealthily kick the power plug on his radio, which would go silent. When all the others left, he heard the rest of the fight.

This is the same radio which was inspected one day during wartime, by 2 FBI men. No, it had no shortwave, and was not being used for secret messages from the Fascisti. Baffi told the agents that if either of them could carry the radio, he could have it. Neither tried.

The radio worked fabulously, giving me the thrill of hearing The Lone Ranger, Captain Midnight, Terry and the Pirates, as well as popular tunes of the times, and all those great 78 RPM records my father had. Alas, in 1948 the old radio failed, and no one could repair it. Dreams of long ago.

Saluti, Gino