It came, with only a minimum of delay, all the way from Italy. As I wrote in my last outing, I was awaiting the arrival of an Ebay purchase. This Ebay purchase:
I guess my earlier description of the cover was a bit off. The girl isn’t trying to kiss the guy here, just staring up with heartfelt concern as he looks away with that ‘for those who are about to die, we salute you’ sort of look that Italian actors pull off better than just about anybody. Has to be proximity to the Coliseum.
Anyway, that’s the outside. The reason it caused me interest was what was on the inside. Let’s start with the caption:
“Il match Nedo Nadi-Piller al Lirico di Milano. L’italiano, campione del mondo, ha battuto l’ungherese (16-12), campione d’Europa.”
And (thank you, Google Translate) in English:
“The Nedo Nadi-Piller match at the Lirico in Milan. The Italian, world champion, beat the Hungarian (16-12), champion of Europe.”
An interesting caption, given that Nedo Nadi hadn’t been World Champion since winning the Olympics in 1920. And Piller, winning both 1930 and 1931 “European Championships” was accorded the title of World Champion, as that is what the European Championship was, at that time. Nadi was, in fact, retired from active competition at this point. He traveled the professional fencing circuit as he chose – and whenever he wouldn’t run into his brother, Aldo. So how this match came about, I can’t imagine, but I remembered hearing about it only once before. The below is something I believe I’ve quoted before, but in a different context. This is from a 1948 edition of the West Coast fencing magazine of the day, “The Fencer”, which was published for about 3 years beginning in 1946. Aldo Nadi writes:
Now, a couple of things. Nadi was writing this in 1948, almost 20 years removed from the actual events, so I will forgive him a couple of mistakes. The first is referring to “the late Piller”. Piller was, in 1948, very much alive and coaching the Hungarians to a sweep of the 1948 Olympic Sabre events. Sadly, Petschauer had died in a concentration camp during WW2, so through a fault in memory or typography, Nadi transposed the two in the sentence. The second lapse, and this has to be accounted to Nadi’s poor recollection of the timing of events, he notes that Piller won the Olympics in 1932 (true) and was subsequently defeated by Nedo 16-12. That, based on the Italian magazine that arrived in the mail today, is an inaccuracy that lay squarely upon Aldo’s head.
The rest, that Nedo proved by defeating Piller a ‘superiority of class’ and that he, Aldo, would have mopped the floor with Piller (my interpretation), are claims that can’t be substantiated at this late date, nor are they, in my own opinion, supported by the available data. Now, anybody can lose any given fencing match, given relatively equal skill on the part of the participants, right? And both Nadis, in 1931, were excellent fencers, but not fit to hold up to the rigors of the all-day strain of a championship-level competition. Give them a match or two on any day and sure, they can hold their own for a bout. But Nedo was 11 years removed from the need to survive multiple pools and 20 or 25 bouts to win a championship, and that was never Aldo’s strength to begin with. So what am I saying here? Here’s the thing. On any given day, Aldo may well have beaten Piller or anyone else. But on any given day, he could have lost, too.
The other point, the ‘superiority of class’, well, I guess it all depends on your definition of the word, ‘class’. From all the research I’ve done into the life of George Piller, I’m confident in my opinion that he was a world class fencer, coach, and human being. From what I’ve learned of Aldo, my opinion is that he scores a 1.5/3.0 of those same traits.
Ok, anyway, so the point is, it wasn’t until I read the above about 2 years ago for the first time that I even knew Piller and Nedo had crossed swords. And finding confirmation or details of the match were impossible to track down. There is no record that I know of delineating wins & losses on the professional fencing circuit that ambled around Europe between The Wars. In my Archive collection I have one or two examples of handbills and programs outlining an evening of fencing entertainment, pitting this fencer against that with this or that weapon, but nothing to show the scores of said matches. Only by chance in finding articles like the one captured in this Italian magazine do I get any idea of who did or didn’t win the day.
So buying this magazine, sight unseen, with only the Ebay description to judge from, was a bit of a leap of faith that I might find pertinent information confirming the truth of Aldo’s writings from 1948. Based on the shipping details, I should have had this in my mailbox about 4 days ago, but it finally arrived this morning. And, lo! What treasure do I find between the pages? Gaze upon the sole item of reference:
That’s it! No accompanying article, no other photo, no other anything. But! And that’s a big but! I have this. Piller on the left, Nadi on the right, with a score confirming at least part of Aldo Nadi’s memory of the event. I can only assume he’s in the crowd somewhere.
It’s not a large photo, buried as it is on a page with many other events highlighted by a picture and caption. But there it is. Nedo Nadi, 11 years removed from International competition did, indeed, defeat reigning World Champion Piller Gyorgy at the Lirico di Milano, which looks like this:
I’m guessing they pretty well filled this place. This is after a remodel, but it’s basically the same layout. Not a bad venue, eh?