Giovanni Mazzola, elegant man, between Eritrea and Italy
Last night the heart of Giovanni Mazzola stopped beating. A strong heart, which made him live a good life, until the very end.
Born in 1940 in Asmara from an Italian father and an Eritrean mother, Giovanni thoroughly loved both countries. He was an elegant man, between Eritrea and Italy.
His story is a beautiful one. As a young and athletic man in 1957, he won the Asmara-Elabered cycling race. When the Italian colonialist ban finally ended, Eritreans who could ride a bike also participated and won.
When he was twenty years old the trip from Asmara to Rome, for the Olympic games.
A beautiful reminder and the emotion for the embrace with Abebe Bikila, the Ethiopian man, who won the marathon and entered the history of sport. In the following years his work in Italy. His apprenticeship in a tailor’s shop in Bologna to learn the job of his life.
“A good dress” he told me “is made with good fabrics such as kid mohair made in England”.
So, as he spoke, he showed me his clothes while still in the making, with white chalk marks on. Stichings, buttonholes, eyelets, all hand-sewn.
But his life did not end with the tailor’s shop, his work or even with sport, even though it is to him we owe the organisation of the first cycling Tour of Eritrea and many other motorbike and car races.
Thirty years’ war to conquer independence (1961-1991) left a deep mark in Eritrea.
Together with peace another battle arrived, the one against the soil’s aridity and deforestation. Giovanni, then became a botanist and a gardener.
He knows all about plants. He knows how to look after them and where they thrive. He tells me about the important nutritional properties of the moringa plant, about the beauty of the flamboyant, or flame trees, which beautifully line the boulevards of Keren. He tells me about vineyards and coffee plants in Asmara’s nurseries.
The last time I saw him it was in Milan. I went to the station to greet him, to drink a coffee together, while he was waiting for his train.
He was very elegant. With his beautiful dark grey suit and a charming red velvet waistcoat. I am glad I was his friend. I am glad he considered me as a such, though I was a journalist.