Thursday, June 28, 2012

Accents and Dialects

Italian is relatively easy to spell. The language is written as it is spelt, unlike English. The ‘ough’ words come to mind – thought, bough, dough, cough, through. This gives rises to the ‘wog’-like accent of saying every letter in English

Salvatore was an expert with the Italian/English accent and could always make me laugh with his Italian pronunciation of English words where every letter is pronounced. The suburb where the Nescis lived when they first arrived in Australia was  Glebe or Gleebay (pronounce the bay a little shorter) or the suburb they moved to =  Five Dock or FiveeeDuck. The street where friends lived was PinenavenNEW. Changing the order of adjectives was always a problem.  Nonna’s ‘ball meats” became the family parlance and jokes about Italians always had lines with the wrong placement of swear words such as “It’s a hot day, bloody!” or “at’sa no good, fuckin”

The Italians who came to Australia after WW2 have kept the dialects alive . When the next generation went back to Italy to visit ‘the old country’ they found that everybody spoke Italian not Calabrese. Salvatore was an Italian teacher for many years and taught Italian to mainly second generation Italians who only spoke dialect at home.

I love the dialects and have a particular fondness for the Neapolitan dialect and the songs by the great Roberto Murolo.

It seems that some of the dialects are making a comeback. In the north of Italy , in the Veneto region and in particular around Lago di Garda (where my brother-in-law has a house) the young still speak the dialects. On a walk along the lake one can hear different dialects from village to village.  Recently, my brother-in-law was hosting the son of a friend of  from Verona. My daughter and I took him to the Sydney NY’s Eve fireworks and we had a long talk about dialects whilst waiting for the midnight fireworks to explode. He comes from an upper middle class, professional family who frown on the use of dialect. However. this educated young man uses the local Veronese dialect as a type of street language which has now become ‘cool’.  I couldn’t help imaging a scene from Romeo and Juliet with the cocky young men talking about their exploits or simply making sure no-one else understood what they were saying.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Nonna or Antonuzza 2

Antonuzza had to make the pasta everyday for lunch. When I say make the pasta, I mean roll out every strand by hand. Pasta was always the midday meal and the evening meal was carne (meat) and vegetables. To make the pasta Antonuzza and Gina (her sister) would go down to the mill and collect the doppio 0 flour or the double zero flour which was the finest. All morning the two girls would sit and chatter and roll the strips of pasta by hand while the rich tomato and meaty sauce would be slowly cooking for 2-3 hours.

The family would come home from school, the mill and the fields and gather around a big table. A huge platter of pasta is placed in the middle of the table and everybody has a fork and just tucks in. There was no place for the faint of heart. If you hesitated you wouldn’t get enough lunch. Everybody just twirled their forks into the mountain of pasta and ate till the mountain disappeared. 

There was no time to twirl the pasta onto a spoon like the Australians or Americans did – only directly and deftly onto the fork. Salvatore always scoffed at people eating pasta with a spoon.
Gay Talese in 'Unto the Sons' , a memoir of his Calabrian tailor father moving to America remembers when his father said that he would have to learn how to eat pasta properly , without twirling it onto a spoon like other Americans did. Only uneducated people ate pasta with a spoon. I could never see the need to use a spoon as pasta so easily twirls naturally around a fork and it is such a great way to eat.

On feast days there was more work to do – cooking extra dishes like pasta et polpette (pasta and meatballs), melanzane ciene (stuffed eggplants) and of course preparing the goat. Nonno ( Monteleone) would kill a goat in the morning, Antonuzza would cook the meat into a thick pasta sauce with lots of chilli and by the afternoon it would be eaten. Nonna, describing the sauce  would put her fingers to her lips and kiss the tips of her fingers saying “Beautiful”.

All the food would of course be complemented with the bread. Once a week was baking day down at the mill. There was an endless supply of flour from the family Molino. Thursdays was bread baking day and it took both girls all day to bake for the week. Nonna always was and aficionado of good bread. You always knew it was good bread when she gives the thumbs up. “Buono, questo pane es buono”. (Good, this bread is good_

Nonna worked very hard. Again it is hard to imagine when I drag Raffaela, my daughter out of bed at 11 on the weekends how a young girl had to work so hard from such a young age. One day she was so tired that she slept through the day which happened to be bread baking day. Her father came home to find that there was no bread. She of course got a walloping and there was no bread for the week.

After my years living in France and relishing the Parisian baguettes, I now can’t go past Italian peasant home wood fired bread. Many Italians in Sydney still have illegal wood fires in their back yards and reproduce wonderful bread. Now many Italian bakeries in Sydney provide, rosettas, mantovanis, ciabatta, foccaicia, crocannte but the Haberfield bakery is still the best. On a Sunday morning the queue of all the local Italians down the street is legendary. 

Bread was baked down at the mill. Infact most things were made at the mill – bread, salami, wine, cheese, vinegar, dried beans, passata, curing olives and of course the flour was made at the mill. Everyday was a special day for some particular task. Each time I ask Nonna I get a different version of  which day was for which activity, Monday and Thursday was bread baking day or just Thursday. Tuesday was for vegetables such as drying the beans. 

I soon came to realise that the truth of these details didn’t matter. The only truth that mattered was the fact that these things were done. In the village in Nonna’s time, they made just about everything they needed. The vegetable garden and the terrano ( the farm plot) produced all vegetables needed – beans, bitter greees, potatoes, garlic, onions (Calabria is reknowed for its sweet onions), tomatoes, eggplants, capsicums, all manner of herbs – parsely, basil, oregano as well as fruit – oranges, apples, figs, and of course grapes for eating as well as wine. Nonna also made her own soap, spun her own wool and of course knitted all jumpers, shawls (without patterns) and made all clothes as well as curtains, bedspreds, sheets, talecloths, coats.

“What did you used to buy ?” I asked her. “Salt sugar, meat and fish” She replies. Hre father bought rock salt and sugar by the quintal (100kg) and there was a macellaio (butcher) in the vllage. Fresh fish would arrive for Fridays and of course there was always piscstock soaking. Pisstoc or baccalao or salted codfish was a staple and had to be soaked for eight days prior to cooking. The water had to be chagned everyday. It was then cooked into a type of casserole. All I remember of my father-in-law’s episodes of cooking pistoc is the very strong malodorous smell throughout the house. However,the end result was delicious.

For many years Salvatore and Raffaela and I lived in the Portguese quarter in Sydney and every Saturday one of the “Portuguese Chicken”places would bring out a huge tray of baccaloa cooked with potatoes, onions and olives ready for take wawy orders at midday. Salvatore was usually on the doorstep at 12.05 to make sure he didn’t miss out as they only made one large tray. It was delcicios. The Portuguese are well known eaters of salted cod fish.

The quintal of rock salt was just that  - a rock of salt. Nonna said that they had to crush it up after going over to her fathers’s and chipping off a supply.

Other things were made such as soap and other cleaning products. kNowing the Italian love of bleach I presume that they also bought bleach.

When my mother-in-law moved into the Italian old people’s home my husband was having a bad run with his health and it was up to me to clean out her house – a very sad thing to do as one’s possessions when they are all laid out on the front lawn don’t ever really amount to much. However, I did retrieve bulk supplies of washing powder ( 5 kg) and 5 litre bottles of bleach.

Her freezer was always stocked to survive the nuclear holocaust. Even when there was only her and her husbnd in the house and when she was alone. There would be bags of dried broadbeans, chickpeas, frozen fresh beans, frozen basil, dried, salted codfish, veal chops, quails. The fridge would stock large amount of parmesan. The larder had bottles of passata, olive oil, cured olives, salami, many tins of tomatoes. There was always something to eat. You would never hear the complaint of my daughter “There’s nothing to eat”. Although I have learnt from my mother-in-law ( and my mother. I can always ‘throw something together’ from what is in the pantry. I always love the Puttanesca recipe which is hot and spicy like a prostitute – you can make the whole sauce from items in the pantry;tinned tomatoes, dried chille, anchovies, olives, olive oil and one always has a little garlic and some onions. I always have either a tub of pecorino cheese or paremesan in the fridge.

I feel I am becoming a mixture of my mother-in-law and my mother who was brought up with the use everything and don’t throw out anything attitude from the depression.

During a visit on a ‘festa’ day to The Scalabrini Village –the old people’s home where my mother-in-law spent her last years, my mother-in-law kept asking Raffaela why she wasn’t eating. Raffaela had eaten an Italian sausage on a huge breadroll with cooked onions followed by a large cannoli filled with ricotta. Raffaela was complaining to me that Nonna thinks I haven’t eaten enough! Nonna was sitting beside her when she was eating and ate the same things but that didn’t seem to make any difference. There does not seem to be any logic when an Calabrain mother or grandmother has an idea that a child hasn’t eaten enough.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Nonna or Antonuzza

Crossing the street one day with my mother-in-law by my side I realised that she only came up to my shoulder. She loomed so large in everyone’s life and I usually only saw her in her kitchen where she reigned supreme. She looked so vulnerable standing beside me at the lights but very pleased to be out with me.

Calabrians are short. Protein deficiency or more precisely a shortage of meat led to the ethnic characteristic of being short. When Salvatore went back to Fabrizia for the first time he was astounded that he had to duck his head to enter through the front door. He was not a tall man.  There was not enough meat. Although, Nonna as she became known after my daughter was born, always maintained that there was ‘abondante’ food when she was young. They may not have eaten beef or even veal which now is the staple of all pasta sauces but there was ‘abondante porc for salami and goat for festive days. Cheese was made from goat’s and sheep’s milk to make the delicious formaggio de capre or pecorino.

Antonuzza Monteleone married Raffaela Nesci in 194... It must have been a relief as from the age of ten she initially helped then was in charge of looking after her 7 siblings and cooking for the family. Even when she was married she still came and helped her mother. That only stopped when her family came along. It’s hard to imagine that starting a family will lessen your work burden.

Antonuzza went to school for one day and that was when she was thirteen years old. The teacher wouldn’t let her stay because her mother had not given her authority to go to school. Her life was to be looking after everyone and she did it so well. Breakfast, lunch dinner, the brothers and sisters left little time for leisure. The concept of leisure and holidays is completely foreign to Antonuzza. Her first ‘holiday’ was going back to Italy to visit the family.   She didn’t tell me this with any bitterness – it was just how it was.

Consequently she never learned to read and write but could always sign her name. I felt very guilty as a language and literacy teacher having an illiterate mother-in-law. I made noises to Salvatore and his mother that I could enrol her in English classes but she started to make the typical excuses that her eyes weren’t good enough or her health wasn’t good enough. She had coped until now and wasn’t motivated to change anything. I soon gave up my mission of teaching my mother-in-law to read.
She was a very intelligent woman with an incredible memory especially for dates. Illiterate people seem to have a very good memory. She remembers the dates of all birthdays, and any significant date in the history of the family. Only now, after the death of her beloved Turuzzo is she starting to waiver when asked questions such as “When did your brother, Antonio get married?”

Antonuzza Monteleone had 7 brothers and sisters -, Fiore, Gina, Rezieri, Antonio, Bruno, Damiano and Rosa. Two migrated to Sydney, four to Melbourne and two remained in Italy.  Only rezieri stayed in the village and worked in the mill while Bruno, like many southern Italians left to work in the north of Italy. He joined the Railways, a good government job and the goal of many Italians because it meant an easy job for life. Bruno, however was a hard worker and always had a pride in his work.

Salvatore on one of his early visits to Italy liked to visit his uncle working in such places as Canicatti in Sicily. He just liked to say the name of the town Canicati, Canicati. The 1990 film, The Station which I believe was set in Calabria romanticised the work of a stationmaster at a small station and I always had the image of this film when Salvatore told the Canicati story. Even though it was a very small village, nothing more than a railways siding, the stationmaster always dressed in full regalia with gloves and military style hat when a train went past. I always imagined Bruno did the same.

Salvatore and I went to Fabrizia in 1994 and Rezieri and his wife were down at the mill. They always still hung out at the mill. I felt that I was stepping back into another era. His wife had on a rough wool skirt and a scarf around her head. She couldn’t have looked more like a Calabrian farm worker if she tried. I think she was very embarrassed to be seen in her work clothes as we ‘sprung’ a visit on them as we hadn’t been able to contact them.

After so many years absence, Salvatore still knew the way down to the mill.  He was only five when they left. We climbed down a track down to the creek and there it was with the old mills stone propped up against the wall. When Rezierei realised who it was he was surprised, shocked then overjoyed and in true Calabrian style of complete hospitality to guests offered us food – olives, salami and some of the delicious Calabrian mountain spring water.

I tried to chat with......... while Reziere was having an animated conversation with Salvatore and gesticulating and pointing to the woods. He kept going without taking a breath for at least twenty minutes.

Afterwards I asked Salvatore what he was talking about. He said that he couldn’t really understand everything he was saying but it was wild stuff about ghosts, mythical creatures in the woods. I was surprised that Salvatore had just quietly listened and wasn’t really surprised to hear these stories and didn’t think to tell me about it.

People from the rural mountains in the past believed in a shaman type of Catholicism where protectors and mythical creatures and characters played an important role. I wanted to know more but Salvatore wasn’t forthcoming with detail so I let it go. 

                                            Salvatore in the backyard with his mother. Notice the stack
                                            of wood, boxes etc. All for the garden.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Mr Nesci or Nonno

Mr Nesci didn’t utter a word until he was seven years old. He remained a man of few words but he did love a joke – especially practical jokes and slapstick. Salvatore told me he was especially fond of the three Stooges. Imagine if a child today didn’t speak until they were seven – the endless rounds of ‘ologists’ would be hypothsising, probing, questioning until the child would scream “ Leave me alone!” – forced to speak just to have a bit of peace and quiet.

I always called him Mr Nesci. It just wasn’t appropriate to call him by his first name. My years in France had taught me the European mores of respect for age. Salvatore of course called my parents by their first names. Mr Nesci was a simple man. In Calabria he was a peasant farmer and after he married Antonuzza worked the fields of his father-in-law. He was paid very little and when he decided to migrate to Australia asked his father-in-law , the local miller and relatively well-off, for a loan. Mrs Nesci’s father was not known for his generosity to others and said no! MrNesci left Fabrizia when Salvatore was three months old and never went back. He worked  hard in Australia for five years to bring out his family.

The achievement of two illiterate parents being able to educate their two boys at University in one generation is remarkable. Although Mr Nesci used to constantly say to Salvatore “I’ve paid all this money to send you to University and you can’t do anything!” Salvatore didn’t have a good knowledge of the practicalities of life until much later. He couldn’t really cook, he brought home his laundry, he didn’t know about gardening or fixing things and certainly couldn’t make salami or passata.
My first dinner with the Nescis was a memorable day. Salvatore was trying to downplay the ‘taking me home to meet the folks’ bit. Mrs Nesci had been cooking for hours and there was the usual mountain of pasta with a very rich, spicy tomato-based , meaty sauce. There was also a bowl of roasted blood red ‘pepperoni’ or capsicum. Mr Nesci used to roast them on a little BBQ outside so they were infused with a smoky flavor. Lots of olive oil, salt, chilli and garlic were added to a make a strong, delicious side dish. I devoured everything and had second and third helpings of the pepperoni and mopped it up with the bread cooked in a backyard wood oven. Brought up to eat everything on my plate I all but licked the platter clean. I didn’t realize the opposite is etiquette for Calabrians. It is polite to leave food on your plate as this is a sign that you are not so poor and hungry. I completely cleaned up all the pepperoni. Mr Nesci started laughing and I was a little perplexed and asked Salvatore what he was laughing about. Finally Mr Nesci addressing me in the third person laughingly said, “She’s eaten my breakfast!”

I was mortified. He always had this spicy pepperoni dish for breakfast and I had eaten it all.
Mr Nesci loved his pasta. Even though Mrs Nesci would put out the best plates and serviettes and tablecloth when anyone came for dinner, when the pasta was ready he would place a couple of sheets of newspaper under his plate. The pasta sauce always had pieces of bone from the veal chops used in the sauce. He would place the bones directly onto the paper which would then be rolled up and thrown away at the end of the meal. The sauce would always be ‘picante’ or very spicy and yet Mr Nesci would chomp into a fresh chilli while eating his pasta. Calabrian stomachs were made of cast iron!

The best pasta sauce was cooked by Salvatore’s father, Raffaele rather than his mother. She didn’t like to be told this of course.

Mr Nesci’s veal chop sauce
Finely onions and cook until transparent then saute chopped veal chop with the onions. Add dried chilli to taste and some basil leaves. Cook until well browned. Add peeled and chopped fresh tomatoes, a bay leaf, salt and olive oil. Later on add more basil. Cook slowly for two hours.

Even though I knew the recipe and my sauce is good, I could never make it as good as theirs. Even Salvatore made a better version than mine. Sometimes when I think I have cooked a good Calabrian sauce it’s because I put in far too much salt and far too much olive oil.

All the time I had known Mr Nesci he had had prostate cancer but it seemed to go into remission for about 10 years. Eventually it caught up with him again and the thing that Salvatore had always dreaded – the death of his father   happened. We were called over late one night. The doctor was already there. We raced into the bedroom and he was still warm. I went into the lounge room and asked the doctor “Is he dead?” He nodded and I had to go back into the room and tell Salvatore his father was dead. I will never forget the look of fear on his face. I said my goodbyes to Mr Nesci and left Salvatore with his father.

When we finally got into bed that night Salvatore started sobbing and I held him, not knowing what to say and realising that there wasn’t anything to say and all he needed was to cry and be held. The next day was like a new dawn for him. That dread he had been carrying for so long was gone.

Then they all started arriving – la familiga. This was the first time I met the whole clan from Melbourne – the Monteleones – Antonuzza’s brothers and sisters – Gina, Damiano, Fioro, Antonio, and Rosa from Sydney. Bruno and Riezere were still in Italy. Various cousins and children also came.
The day of the funeral came and I could see that it was part of the tradition for the grieving widow to do nothing except grieve. I wasn’t familiar with my own culture’s death rituals let alone Calabrian rituals. All I knew was that there should be a wake after a funeral and that meant food. Bruno, Salvatore’s brother was organizing the funeral and his new partner hadn’t been around long enough to be involved in the organization of the food so I took it upon myself to do what I thought was required. I got up early that morning and made a mountain of sandwiches and bought some cakes. I laid out the best tea cups and saucers and bought some beer and wine and soft drinks. I was thinking of the good old Irish tradition of everyone getting pissed at a wake and celebrating their life rather than mourning their death.

Calabrians , of course, didn’t do this at all. They would sit around wailing and saying clich├ęs before the funeral and pay their respects afterward but there was not a tradition of eating and drinking straight after the funeral. Family and paesani started arriving at the house to be greeted with a cup of coffee, tea and delicious Sicilian cakes and good ol Aussie sandwiches. The men were thankful for a beer. They were impressed with this Aussie tradition of a wake.

Later that afternoon friends and pasesani started to leave. Then seemingly out of nowhere the procession started - food, crockery, cutlery, drinks, pots and pans, plates, stared coming into the house. One arm of the family, Mr Nesci’s nephew was bringing in. I have never seen s a huge amount of food. I had never seen such an operation. Everything was brought into the house. “What is going on?” I said to Salvatore. He had no idea but Bruno who was 13when he left Calabria knew of the old traditions.

The grieving widow doesn’t cook, usually for up to a week after the funeral but with family living in different suburbs and towns it was only possible for the night of the funeral. The name of the custom,      is the orginal name of the basket in which the food is carried into the grieving person’s house.
Mr Nesci loved practical jokes and Sam told me tht he loved the three stooges – a love shared by Sam. He was forever teasing our daughter, Raffaela by putting up his hand like Mo from the three stooges and saying “Pick two”. Of course then those two wee then supposedly to be used to poke you in the eye.

I was the butt of one of these practical jokes once. When visiting for lunch one Sunday I wandered into the kitchen and saw bubbling on the stove what I took to be the end piece of the paremesan cheese block – a chewy delicacy placed in the pasta sauce and ws always a surprise for the kids. I had grown to love this cheesy chewy delicacy. Innocently I sked “Is that a piece of parmesan you are cooking?” “Yes “ They both replied why don’t you try it. I thought this strange but didn’t want to be a wimp oso took a piece out of the pot and bit into what I subsequently found out was pig skin!! The only other time I saw them both laugh so much wsa when I asked would I be able to help with the next salami preparation. For some reason tis idea ws  hilarious to them. They laughed so hard that they were crying.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


We were all gathered for the 50th anniversary of the Nesci family migrating to Australia. Little did we know then that this was the last time we would hear Salvatore’s humour. He didn’t disappoint and this time wrote an Ode to Nonna (his mother of the equivalent of grandma in English) in Calabrese or Calabrian, the dialect of the region.  The written poem is all the more amusing because Calabrese is thought of as a spoken dialect.

C’era na bell chiamata Ntonuzza
Contadina, durmia cui cucuzza
ma si sposao cu Raffaele
senza luna di mele
ma po dopo disseros nindiimo di ca –che puzza

Dopo tant’ anni lavorando colu mulu
Raffele partio per luaustalia sulu sulu
Ciangendo disse addio alla famiglia
partio cu poco robba in valigia
gridando : Fabrizai vanculo

Che vitaccia ogni girono in Fattoria
e a notte chiamando “dove sei cara mia?”
In quei giorni non cera lalitalia
per portar la gnete in Australia
dop un mese viaggiando con in pesci
finalmenet si riuniro tutti in Nesci
 e oggi siamo qui per dare grazie a Antonuzza mamma mia

Loosely translated it reads as:

There was a beauty called Antonuzza
Peasant, mother and great cook,
But she married Raffaele
Didn’t have a honeymoon
And was told that she had to leave – that stank

After many years working in the mill
Raffaele went to Australia alone, alone
He said goodbye to the family
With very few things in his bags
And said “Fuck you” to Fabrizia

He worked every day in factories
And at night said where are you my darling
Not sure of the next line
To bring them to Australia
After a month of travelling with the fishes
The Nescis were finally reunited
And we’re here thanks to my mother Antonuzza.

                                  Antonuzza and her father and mother on a trip back to Calabria

After years of listening to Calabrese, I came to realise that I could follow part of the conversation with my knowledge of Italian, just by adding ‘oo’ to the end of many words. The “oo” sound is similar to the final sound in the word ‘who’, for example ‘sulu, sulu” is Calabrese for solo, solo or alone, alone.
My first encounter with trying to understand Calabrese was when my father-in-law died. Death is a time when you can really delve into another culture as death rituals are a mirror into the heart of a culture. 

Family and paesani would come around and just sit. All the chairs in the dining room were placed around the walls of the room and people would sit and in turn sigh out another a platitude. “Ahh What canna you do.” “Ahh he had a good life.” “Ahh he’s in a better place.” “Ahh he was a good man.” These were in either Calabrian, Italian or English

Someone would also be telling a story or explaining something in Calabrian and I was able to follow the main idea of the conversation because I would hear a word in English like ‘bathroom” “that’s right”, “high school”. Eventually I started to piece together some of the stories but after the obligatory introduction of platitudes they really started to talk and talk and talk.

All Italians are masters in the art of conversation, particularly those from peasant backgrounds like the paesani from Fabrizia where literacy levels are very low. Theirs was an oral culture and everything was passed on verbally. Everything was spoken. Stories are embellished and detail is important. The truth is often irrelevant. 

When my mother –in-law, Antonuzza, was staying at my brother and sister-in-law’s house in Italy, she was helping in the kitchen. Robyn, my sister-in-law is an excellent cook and her kitchen is her domain. Antonuzza vocalises every action. “Now I’m chopping the onions.” “I’m going to take out the centre of the eggplants.” “You must stir the sauce all the time.” It was driving Robyn mad as the chatter continued all through the preparation for a large family and friends dinner and of course every day while they were in Italy together.

Afterwards we could both imagine Nonna with her sisters all talking and the kitchen about rolling the pasta, baking the bread and stirring the sauce for the pasta. All the learning and information about life was passed on in this great oral tradition. This was their work and life, they didn't have anything else to do such s rush off after dinner to a show or write a blog or go down for a swim after lunch.

Professor Jo lo Bianco, Chair of Language and Literacy Education at the Melbourne School of graduate Education at Melbourne University and President of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and most importantly,  a Calabrian, claims that Calabrese is a dialect of Italy not of the Italian language. 

This means that the Calabrese dialect is equal in importance to the national language which comes from the area of Tuscany.  He states that the so called dialects of Italian are all direct descendants of proto-Latin, that is  vulgar Latin and that the different influences of each area were all absorbed into the ‘dialect. 

Calabrian has a lot of Greek influence as Calabria was part of Magna Graecia in the eighth and seventh centuries BC. The language also has influences from the Byzantine period which although it was a continuation of the Roman Empire was actually quite Eastern and Spanish. Further he claims that what is commonly called ITALIAN is also a direct descendent of Latin, that is lingua Toscana in bocca romana which is Tuscan as pronounced by Romans. So this thing, which linguists call standard Italian, or Italiano standard is a sister of Calabrian, not its parent.

English: Ancient Greek colonies and their dialect groupings in Southern Italy (Magna Graecia).
   NW Greek
Date6 September 2008
  • Own work
  • Dialect areas according to: Roger D. Woodard (2008), "Greek dialects", in: The Ancient Languages of Europe, ed. Roger D. Woodard, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p.51. (= partial re-published version of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Ancient Languages, 2004). Positions of cities after various on-wiki sources.
AuthorFuture Perfect at Sunrise

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Salvatore's writings

Fabrizia, where I was born in 1953, is a remote village high up in the Calabrian mountains.  Before you start imagining a quaint rustic village, bucolic countryside, endless nostalgia, let me assure you that Fabrizia is totally devoid of any charm.

There is a local legend that explains the origin of the village: Local bandits used to seek refuge in remote hills surrounding the village. One band finally came upon the spot of what is now Fabrizia and decided to set up permanent camp here on the premise that the area was so remote and inhospitable the authorities would never suspect that anyone would be hiding there. A more plausible explanation is based on the plague of malaria that infested the lowlands of Calabria in the 19th century forcing the coastal dwellers to abandon their homes and migrate to the mountains.

Whatever explanation we believe, the fact is that Fabrizia was a most unfortunate place; the only industry was farming yet little was produced in the fields because the soil was so poor. The Romans had virtually deforested the area to build their fleets. The harsh winter when it snowed for months coupled with the ferocious heat of Summer made farming even more difficult. The end result was that Fabrizia since its founding has been a miserable place to live and the only escape from such misery was to migrate yet again and so for all of the 20th century any Fabrizian that could, would arrange to migrate to any country possible. Early on before the first world war the favoured destination was the United States; later especially in the fifties Argentina and Australia became the main destinations.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

San Antonio

Fabrizia is a village high in the mountains of Calabria, a region in the south of Italy. It’s not on the tourist trail but it is a place that is very close to my heart. It is surrounded by some of the last remaining virgin forest in Europe which, according to local folklore, is still populated with wolves. The land is unforgiving but the air is fresh, the forest mystical and the natural spring water is the most delicious water I have ever tasted. It’s still possible to stop by the side of the road and fill up your empty water bottles with crystal clear naturally ‘frizzante water.

The origin of Fabrizia, however, is less than salubrious. Again, according to local folklore, three robbers or brigands were escaping the law and decided to flee to the most inhospitable place they could find and took shelter in a cave, thinking that nobody would even think of looking for them there. This cave grew into a village called Fabrizia, the birthplace of my late husband, Salvatore Nesci.

Most Italian villages have a patron saint who watches over and protects the inhabitants or the Fabrizioti in this case. The patron Saint of Fabrizia is Saint Anthony or San Antonio and he has a lot of work to do to cover the Fabrizian diaspora as they migrated far and wide to Australia, North America, Argentina and of course to the prosperous north of Italy.

Most Calabrians of the previous generation had a small shrine or grotto in their living rooms dedicated to Saint Antony. He is a benevolent saint always carrying a small child as he is also the patron Saint of sick children.

Saint Anthony has become an integral part of my life and I still have a statue of him in my living room, taking pride of place next to the photo of Salvatore. Some would see my shrine to St Anthony as ludicrous. Others would see it as a miracle worked by the great saint, that a protestant-raised girl of the seventies with no real religious bent should display such a mediaeval tribute to Catholicism. I often wonder myself.


Ciao paesani

Mention to anyone that your partner is Calabrian and you are confronted with knowing looks and smiles. Mafiosi, revenge and marijuana plantations at Griffith in NSW Australia come to mind. Today on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald was an article about the Italian government wanting the extradition of three Calabrian/ Australians wanted for drug/Mafia related crimes.

There is of course another side to the Calabrian stereotype and that is the hard-working loyal and family loving (when not feuding) Calabrian. My in-laws were the latter and in thone generation went from illiterate peasant farmers with very little, if any, schooling to proudly attending the university graduation of their two sons, Bruno and Salvatore.
Salvatore Nesci, my partner for nearly 30 years died on May 10 2009. He was born in Fabrizia, a small town in the hills of Calabria and migrated to Australia with his family when he was five years old.

I wanted to tell his story as a tribute to all he did for me and our daughter, Raffaela. It is also a thankyou to my brother-in-law, Bruno who pledged that he would look after us on my husband's deathbead. I am forever grateful, if a somewhat difficult person to look after.
The picture for this blog is of Salvatore when he was 2 or 3, dressed as a little Saint Anthony. This, my friends is a good place to start Calabrian Tales.