Working with dynamite, breathing the gases of the explosion without having any air exchange, in total darkness, except for those small helmet lamps, and then humidity, water, cramped spaces: welcome to the tiring, risky and (very) difficult world of the “little men of the vein”.
The hard work of the "men of the veins"
As if that wasn’t enough, the miners had to go on foot to their place of work. They got up before dawn and with a burning piece of coal, they walked the toughest road, all uphill, because it was the shortest: one was exhausted by fatigue even before taking the pickaxe in hand. Yet there was no time to rest, the only stop allowed concerned those 10 minutes of walking to reach the “canteen” and the next half hour to have a meal. Imagine the tiredness when, after dark, they had to walk their way home. Things improved at the beginning of the 1900s, in those years the road (all flat) along the coast was built and bicycles entered Elba for the first time.
The low salary and the "sacrifice" of the finger
My grandfather spent a few months working in the mines and always remembered them as the hardest of his life. He was a man of few words but there was a story that I heard him tell more than once and it concerned the strange case of the “severed finger”, a fact that I dusted off my memory thanks to a video. Not long ago an interview was made with Filippo Boreali, a man who worked at the “Ginevro” mine, and the words that struck me most, not surprisingly, were these: “[…] Tried by fatigue, work and physically destroyed, it was difficult for people to want to talk about that stub finger, but one day I found a miner who stopped to tell me how many men had come to the sad decision to sacrifice a finger. If they were seriously injured they took a “liquidation” for that injury and this allowed them to get married, if they had to get married, or to use this liquidation to get their daughter married […]”- That makes clear that the work was a lot and hard, but the salary… In short, an impressive thing, but true. And if on the one hand there were those who were forced to make that extreme gesture, on the other there were those who instead prayed every day to Santa Barbara, protector of miners, to help them return safely home to their families.
The interview we talked about above can be found on the YouTube channel under the heading “The man in the mine – Interview with Filippo Boreali”.
The memory and enhancement of Capoliveri’s mining culture is something deeply felt and this is how “La Festa del Cavatore” was born, one of the most important institutional moments for the local community. Two days to commemorate the life of the miners in the Calamita and Ginevro area with videos, music and typical dishes of that period. Another Elban festival not to be missed and immediately marked on the calendar.