In French, “Le Miroir des Sports”. That’s the name of the old publication I picked up on Ebay recently. I have mad Ebay skilz. Have I mentioned? These “skills” lead to trouble, of course. The trouble is, I find stuff I can’t resist buying and I spend money. Hence, trouble. But this one? I can’t feel bad about this one. I’ve been perusing old papers like this ever since my Budapest trip when I picked up several old sports papers with fencing photos and stories. I caught the bug, so to speak. Not the one that had me shacked up and immobile in my hotel room for 6 days. That was a far, far different bug.
It seems that sports papers in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s were unafraid of losing readers when they chose to put up stories of fencing matches, amateur or professional. However, the covers of said papers are often less than explicit in determining what may await inside the pages in regards to fencing coverage. Just an all text article in a language I don’t speak? What I like are the covers with pictures, especially when I can parse the captions based on the players and the action that can be discerned from the photo. Still, sometimes the captions alone, with no pictures, are just too intriguing for me to pass up. As an example, I’m waiting on pins for a package to arrive from Italy. I have no idea what to expect. However, the Ebay headline had three key words strung together to entice someone just like me – just like the me I see in the mirror when I’m brushing my teeth. Because it only took three words to hook me.
They were, in order: Nedo, Nadi and Piller.
That’s it. In an Italian paper that looks like it focused on celebrity divorces. No pictures of what’s between the covers in regards to fencing, just a photo of a late 1920s actress looking to kiss a late 1920s actor who seems… distracted. No idea what’s going on with that photo.
But anyway, that’s a story for another day. It’s currently on the way from Italy to California, so I’ll just have to wait and see what’s in store.
This topic today is about something I already have in hand, with a printing date of Thursday, February 2, 1922. And while it isn’t about Nedo Nadi, it is about his younger brother. I don’t seem to be able to escape the gravitational pull of Aldo Nadi. Every time I think, “Ok, I don’t need to buy another bit of Aldo Nadi memorabilia”, I find something irresistible and I can’t help myself. That’s the case here. I mean, really, look at the cover of the paper I had to purchase and you’ll see why. It’s just great.
Famed French champion Lucien Gaudin on the left, famed Italian champion Aldo Nadi on the right, from the first of their three famous matches. This is the one Nadi writes about as to the foolishness of letting his ego get the better of him. A pre-bout agreement allowed touches to some amount of bicep to be counted as good touches. In foil. Gaudin made full use of this irregular target. Nadi was probably ignoring points headed toward his arm until remembering too late, “Aaah! That’s target tonight!” Something like that is what I imagine went on in Nadi’s mind. Only in Italian. And with cursing.
But look at Nadi’s guard here. It’s exactly what he describes in his masterful tome, “On Fencing”. A coiled spring, ready to strike, but completely loose and relaxed. There is YouTube footage of bits of this bout online. Not the whole thing, alas, but you get a sense of what the action was like by looking at it. Fortunately, this isn’t the only photo from the match in the paper. The center two-page spread has plenty of coverage from the match. Let’s look!
Gaudin is wearing the black pants, Nadi the white. Somebody stepped in close at the moment this photo was snapped. As the infight is about to begin, Nadi is smart enough, even in these pre-electric days, to move that back arm in and up close to cover some target. Nice little bit of inside work. Illegal I believe, even then. But hey.
The caption on this one is pretty thorough. Gaudin is making an off-balance (hey, it happens…) and ill-timed stop thrust into Nadi’s (probably second intention) preparation. The photo catches Nadi’s parry as he picks up the stop and scores with a riposte. What I really like is the action of Nadi’s back foot. But is he going forward or backward? If he was attacking when the stop came, he may be recovering forward as he parries. If he was stepping forward when the stop came out, he’s more likely mid-retreat as he picks up the blade with the parry. Either way, he’s clearly well balanced and prepared to score.
Any number of things could have happened here. The caption says that Aldo has attacked, (“Aldo Nadi est parti a fond sur une attaque”) but clearly things have otherwise gone awry. Nadi has stepped forward and closed the distance after getting parried according to the caption, and Gaudin looks ready to put his mask into Nadi’s solar plexus. But did they continue from here or stop due to the close distance? Hard to say from just a still.
This shot shows Nadi in full fleche mode and the caption states that he scores with the attack. I wonder if the gentleman in the tuxedo standing on the right and leaning back away from the action had to catch Nadi. The strip, at least from this angle, looks pretty narrow and it doesn’t look like there is very much room for Nadi to get past Gaudin without winding up in a spectator’s lap.
Nadi gives Gaudin a nice kiss on the cheek – probably both cheeks – because that’s what you do. Of course, there is every possibility that, like other prizefighters of note, Nadi is attempting to remove Gaudin’s ear. Or maybe he’s whispering, “Next time, no bicep hits”, or something to that effect. But Gaudin won the flowers on this night in Nineteen and Twenty-Two, and that’s just the way it went.
Why can’t we get this kind of interest for fencing anymore? I mean, look at the crowd here. The area closest to the stage is packed with the folks who paid for seats and came out in their fancy evening wear. The next row up appears to be the standing room only area. It doesn’t look like they’re seated to me. And above – above – there is a full balcony. Assuming there was a similar seating arrangement on the camera’s side, there has to be several hundred people there, at the very least. And if you look at the wider shots above that are taken from a higher vantage point, there could be over a thousand folks on hand. And who knows, maybe there was a second balcony. Now this sort of event was a European thing, for sure. The US has never had the population of fencers to support this size of crowd. We’ll come out of the house for boxing and MMA. And for the inheritors of Hulk Hogan’s crown, you know we’ll turn up for a good wrasslin’ match. But the European crowd used to come out for fencing prize fights. It’s said that this all died out after WW2, but I wonder why? Money? Depressed economies? Did the evening wear all get lost at the cleaners? It seems like something people would have worked to recapture after the horror of war; a way to right the ship, get back on track, normalize life again. In many ways, all that happened. But this cultural phenomenon was left behind. I wonder why.
When the post delivers my Nedo Nadi/Piller magazine, I’ll write that one up, too. I hope it’s worth the wait. Stay tuned!