The white gold of the Val Venosta
<<Hic sub ista lapide marmorea qvem Vector ver in lvster preses ordinabit venire de Venostes hic reqviescit dominus.>>
“Here, below this marble tombstone the illustrious Count Victor had brought from the Val Venosta, lies this gentleman”
Tombstoneof an unknown individual ordered in Val Venosta by the Archbishop of Coira Victor III in 720 A.D.
Connoisseurs call it the “white gold” of the Val Venosta, and it adorns monuments and buildings in New York, Rome, London, Vienna, Munich and Berlin. However, the fame of the white marble from Lasa, forty kilometres or so west of Merano, does not derive from its use in busts, statues or altars. The over 80,000 pieces the US armed forces ordered from the Lasa Marmo company at the end of the 1940s were used in their verdant military cemeteries, and to this day the typical white marble crosses made from them preserve the memory of the American soldiers who lost their lives during the Second World War.
Oscar knew nothing of all this in 1950 when he took his seat on a train to Merano. Together with another twenty or so others in search of work, he had set off northwards from the area around Verona in response to an invitation from Lasa, in the Val Venosta, where they were to find employment in the marble quarries. The work was hard and tiring, but Oscar was lucky, because – unlike so many other workers, over 500 after the end of the war – he was an expert marble polisher, and was thus put to work on the end product, which was much less heavy going than working in the quarries.
Initially, the marble crosses business was profitable, but it soon became clear that the finance experts – who had drawn up the offer for the American Battle Monument Commission – had not consulted marble experts before making their calculations, and difficulties arose regarding both the cost estimates and the products: the former were too low, and in the second, coloured inserts occasionally appeared, and for the American customers this was sufficient reason to immediately send back any crosses that were not immaculately white.
Thus, this work with crosses and with the deaths they commemorated proceeded symbolically at the same pace as the work, and the industry was soon on the verge of bankruptcy. Just as the production of those white symbols was dusty and monotonous, life in Lasa became desolate and grey. A hostelry with a billiard table in the next village and the occasional party in Merano: there was little alternative for Oscar and his colleagues. Until one day the lovely Giulia made a visit to Lasa Marmo. Her father was Tommaso, the financial manager. And he had very clear plans for the workers and for the “white gold factory”…