04-04-2022 by Freddie del Curatolo
Exactly half a century ago, in Kenya, the most tragic crime of jealousy involving two Europeans took place. The victim was an Italian nobleman.
Having collected testimonies of those who were there and the few writings in the archives of Italian magazines and local chronicles, Malindikenya.net tells you about this dramatic, fictional story.
At the beginning of the 1970s, while Nairobi was growing more and more in the hands and spirit of independent Kenya, with all its positive aspects, problems and difficulties, the so-called White Highlands were still the kingdom of nature, hunting (which would be abolished in 1977) and of the big landowners of Western origin.
Not only British historians, such as the descendants of Kenya's first "landowner", Lord Delamere or the Sackvilles, but also many Italians who arrived between the 1950s and post-independence, from 1963 onwards.
They were mainly lovers of hunting and of the nature that allowed them to practice this passion.
Among them were nobles, industrialists and wealthy adventurers.
Unlike the British, who were often people with a dubious past who had found a second chance in Africa, the Italians were generally cultured people who had invested (even sight unseen), purchasing hectares of land that the British themselves had had to give up under pressure from the government, which had reduced their holdings and tried to limit their power.
Between Naivasha, Aberdare and Nanyuki came well-known families that have made the history of Italian Kenya such as the Rocco, Bisleti and Natta families, as well as Bruno Brighetti, musician and co-author of one of the most famous Italian songs: "Estate" interpreted by Sergio Martino.
With or through them, dozens of friends, fellow jokesters, collaborators, professionals or simply fellow countrymen who wanted to dare to change their lives, embarked on the Kenyan adventure.
Among the many whose vicissitudes we will soon recount, there was also a Veronese aristocrat, Count Piero Guarienti, whom the rumors of the "Happy Valley" (as the green and undulating lands between the lakes of Naivasha and Nakuru were called) described as a bit lapsed or rather in financial trouble in Italy. A shaky marriage, not exactly prosperous business and the need to "disconnect" for a while. Like many others, he arrived with a few recommendations and the need to find employment.
The Mentasti family, owners of San Pellegrino water, hired him to look after their interests in an estate they had purchased in the Kipipiri area, on the edge of the magnificent Aberdare forest. Guarienti, as described by the then correspondent of the newspaper La Stampa, was "inept in business, and so lazy that he could not get out of bed before noon. But he was courteous, jovial, he played the post-war Italian songs on his guitar, and his noble title made it easier for him to enter the Muthaiga Country Club, which in the last years of the Empire was still one of the sanctuaries of the English colonial world".
Above all, Count Piero was a womanizer. The scarce propensity of the "mzungu" of that time to mix with the local population, led him to look for prey in the environments frequented by Europeans, such as the lounges of the Stanley and Norfolk hotels in Nairobi or in the many evenings in private homes that revived the splendor of the lascivious parties in which a few decades earlier Karen Blixen had participated, Lady Sackville (whose story is told in Frances Osborne's book "The bolter") and Lord Erroll, whose murder inspired the bestseller "White Mischief" by John Fox, from which the film of the same name by Michael Radford starring Greta Scacchi was made.
Returning to Guarienti, the pleasing and brilliant nobleman from Veneto in one of those high society parties of expatriates and white residents, met a perfect "victim". Elly Grammaticas belonged to a family of Greek farmers who had made their fortune from tobacco cultivation in Uganda and were in charge of the cigarette trade, as well as being involved in safari (until a few years ago the Grammaticas family owned the well-known Governor's Camp in the Maasai Mara) and other plantations in the Rift Valley. Ellis Phaedra, known as Elly, was not exactly a beauty, but she fell into the arms of the Italian playboy with an ease that allowed Guarienti to establish a more than casual relationship with her. The two became a de facto couple, with her parents pushing for marriage. As Viola himself recalled, "when they saw a penniless Italian count in their home, they had to consider their social climb wonderfully complete". While Elly was busy running the family's farms and shuttling back and forth between Naivasha and Kipipiri, the Count did not disdain other adventures with the fair sex and managed to take advantage of the distance and the often inaccessible roads to carve out time for conquests.
Despite the fact that the rumors arrived like "an arrow from above" in the tea rooms of Nairobi, Elly was satisfied with the weekends spent with her dashing companion and perhaps accepted the trend. But there was still no question of a wedding.
At the beginning of 1972, however, the arrival of a young relative of Guarienti's upset the couple. The girl, who had landed in Kenya to recover from a difficult adolescence, quickly became much more than a protégé of "Uncle Piero".
Even for Elly's blind love this was too much. Galeotte, it seems, were some letters she found in a writing desk that confirmed the young girl's passion for the charming nobleman.
So, one evening in April 1972, the thirty-year-old Hellenic girl waited for her Piero on the threshold of Naivasha's house, brandishing her rifle and asking him for a complete and sincere account of the latest affront to her dignity, this time even close to incest.
At the umpteenth colorful answer (with one too many derisive laughs, according to the chronicles of the time), Elly stopped thinking. She fired a single shot that reached Count Piero Guarienti in the abdomen and killed him.
It was not self-defense, but a drama of jealousy. Elly spent seven months in prison in Nairobi, while a successful lawyer of Greek origin tried in every way to exonerate her.
On the other hand, the Italian had no relatives or close friends who could in any way assert his posthumous reasons. Seven months in jail in Kenya is never light, and it wasn't for Ellis Phaedra Grammaticas. But the sentence was certainly an African-style release: 1 day in jail. Before Christmas 1972, the woman, though tried, was free to return to life in her (former) Happy Valley.
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