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The forbidden city: Tombolo between American occupation and Italian imagination

Leavitt, C. (2019) The forbidden city: Tombolo between American occupation and Italian imagination. In: Bonsaver, G., Carlucci, A. and Reza, M. (eds.) Cultural Change Through Language and Narrative: Italy and the USA. Legenda, London, UK. ISBN 9781781888766

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A pine forest located between Pisa and Livorno, Tombolo was the site of a U.S. military encampment and a key staging site for the Allied invasion of Italy, due to its close proximity to Livorno’s port. After the war, it became the site of a flourishing black market, attracting large numbers of Italian prostitutes, the so-called segnorine, who were drawn to the camp by the free flow of U.S. dollars. Because many of the soldiers served by these segnorine were African American, Italian fascination with and opposition to the prostitution and black marketeering in Tombolo were framed in overtly racial and often racist terms. The resulting mix of prurience and prejudice made Tombolo a kind of Italian obsession after the war.I propose approaching Tombolo as an instance of what Mary Louise Pratt has termed the ‘contact zone’, by which I mean to indicate that this space figured so large in the Italian imagination because it represented both literally and symbolically the fraught confrontation with the American Other. But I mean to say something more than this as well. When we consider the ‘radical inequality’ of the social relations in Tombolo, it is important to recognise that this inequality existed not only between the American occupiers and their Italian hosts, but also within each camp. Put differently, in Tombolo, what Pratt calls the ‘conditions of coercion’ and ‘intractable conflict’ characteristic of the ‘contact zone’ not only pitted American against Italian but also white against black, northern against southern, man against woman, right against left. If the conflicts in Tombolo were inflamed by the occupation, therefore, they were fuelled by conditions that pre-existed the arrival of the U.S. army on Italian soil. In particular, Tombolo became the ‘contact zone’ for the competing racial regimes of Jim Crow and Fascism, and for the resistance against those regimes: the nascent U.S. Civil Rights movement and Italian anti-Fascism.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > Languages and Cultures > Italian
ID Code:74251


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