The grannies who had never seen the sea

By Alison Gee
BBC News Magazine

  • Published
Three funne in the seaImage source, Katia Bernardi

A group of elderly women from a village in the Italian Alps have returned home after their first holiday - which for most of them was the first time they had seen the sea, let alone put a toe in it.

Many of the women, as the Magazine reported earlier this month, had never left the valley surrounding their village, Daone, until they set off on the 12-hour coach trip to the Croatian island of Ugljan.

"They were like little kids in a way, they were very emotional. They sang during all the trip," says Davide Valentini, who went along as part of a team making a documentary about the women.

"They played in the water and some of them, the most brave, literally jumped in the sea so it was a pretty intense emotion."

"As I saw the sea, the first thing I wanted to do was to put my foot in the water," says Iolanda Pellizzari, who at 73 was one of the youngest on the trip. "I'm not able to swim, but I felt a great sense of liberation."

"Despite the infirmities of age, swollen legs and the great heat, we will never forget the thrill of getting all together in the sea, holding hands," says Armida Brisaghella.

Image source, Katia Bernardi
Image caption,
Feeling liberated - Iolanda Pellizzari

But what made the biggest impression on the women was a procession to celebrate the Madonna of the Snow.

The group chose Ugljan as a destination because the island has the Madonna of the Snow as its patron saint, just like their own village of Daone. On 5 August the islanders decorated a statue of the Madonna and took it by boat from one church to another.

Image source, Katia Bernardi

"Taking part in the procession of the Madonna of the Snow and singing our hymn on the boat has been the strongest emotion I've ever experienced, after giving birth. I will never forget it," says Erminia Losa.

But although the funne, as they call themselves - the word for women in their local dialect - were treated like celebrities, not everything went smoothly.

"Sometimes they had issues with the food because they are not used to fish," says Valentini. "The Croatians wanted them to try all their beautiful fish so we had some problems."

Fortunately the women were prepared. "They had some polenta in their bags," Valentini reveals.

Media caption,

Armida, Erminia and Iolanda on holiday

Many of the women had dreamed about a trip to the sea for years, but had never been able to afford it. An attempt to raise money by posing for a calendar came to nothing. In the end they resorted to crowd-funding - but were determined to send postcards to all their sponsors.

"It took us almost one entire day to personally write all the postcards," says Armida Brisaghella. "But every one of them deserved that. They made our dream possible and we are all extremely touched by the reaction of people." They sent nearly 200 postcards in all.

"One special postcard is the one they sent to the Pope," says Valentini. "When the whole crowd-funding thing happened they were called by Vatican Radio and they promised to send a postcard, so the very first one they wrote is the one to Pope Francis."

If they get invited to the Vatican next, the film will be called Funne 2, he jokes.

Reaction to the women in the world's media has been overwhelmingly positive, Valentini says, and a great help to the women in answering critics at home.

"People saw a story of hope and strength but what happened in their small village is the opposite, because these women are considered rebels so they needed to have the accomplishment of their mission to be recognised."

Image source, Katia Bernardi
Image caption,
Erminia (left) and Iolanda
Image source, Simone Cargnoni
Image caption,
Armida (left) Erminia and Iolanda

Katia Bernardi's documentaryFunne - sea dreaming girlswill be released at the start of 2016.

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