When I was first met Rita at Castello Gropparello we visited over Piacenza cuisine, castles, Celtic legends and Italian ghosts. General conversation for a woman who together with her family have transformed a medieval castle and surrounding wood into one of Italy’s top gastro-historical sites with food festivals and evocative events. Rita’s esthetic is for the imagination and when I mentioned that I had lived in Colorado she immediately asked me if I knew of Tex Willer and Kit Carson. Carson, yes. Our Colorado cousins live in the town of La Junta, along the Old Santa Fa Trail. Trappers, explorers and traders like Carson frequented the area. In fact, La Junta is the home of many distant relatives of Carson and many of the town’s businesses and buildings are named after him. As for Tex Willer, no. But I was soon to find out that he was as renown as Kit Carson, if not in body at least in the spirit of the Old American West and the most famous comic strip in Italy.
Created in 1948 by Gian Luigi Bonelli and Aurelio Galoppini, Tex Willer is still published today. Willer is a Texas Ranger who fights, with his three friends, against all sorts of evil. A little like the Lone Ranger in an Italian-made interpretation of the American Old West. There are lawmen and Indians, trappers and bandits but in typical Italian fashion there is also a fantastical collection of magicians, illusionists, wizards and an Irish boxer as well as El Morisco, a warlock, scientist, naturalist and doctor from Memphis, Egypt and the Black Tiger, a Malay prince from Borneo. Rita loves Tex Willer and although Kit Carson seems pretty tame by Tex Willer standards on my next visit to Italy I brought Rita a book about Kit Carson – Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West. It was the most sensational title I could find but I warned her that it couldn’t compete with her hero Tex.