North verses South in Italy: from stereotypes to rampant individualism

 

North Verses South Italy

 

Yes, there is a difference between Northern and Southern Italy; in fact it took a major political and social movement to merge the different states of the Italian peninsula in the nineteenth century. The process began with the congress of Vienna at the end of Napoleon’s reign in 1815 and continued with various revolutions and internal conflicts to finally proclaim Rome as the capital of the Kingdom on Italy in 1871.

The reason the ‘Risorgimento’ period took so long to put Italy together is simply because each Italian region is really so unique, even today there is a strong cultural individualism which makes it difficult to group Italians together. It may be a pithy example but just look how each region has its own different cuisine each town has its own type of pasta, wine, cheeses, festivals, traditions and even dialect.

Italian dialects are not simply variations in accents they are different languages, so its normal there is going to be some cultural conflicts there.

A personal example of mine are my own parents, my Dad was born on the Adriatic coastal town of Vasto in the Abruzzo region of central Italy and his dialect is heavy with Croatian and Greek influences. While my mother, born in Sicily and speaks a dialect peppered with diverse influences from Arabic, Turkish, Norman and German (Sicily boasts thirteen distinct foreign dominations in their history each of which has left its mark on the Sicilian language). So if my folks speak their dialects they won’t understand one another, even if standardised Florentine Italian is taught in the schools, dialects are strong in the homes and Italian is spoken with deep regional accents.

Unification of Italy infographic
Taken from Wikipedia

Italians are staunchly parochial, the phenomenon of campanilismo is an important aspect of life in Italy it creates a sense of identity, pride and belonging to the place of your birth with a pinch of local rivalry which is stronger than any sense of national identity.

The geographical isolation between one town and the other thanks to the Italian Alps doesn’t exactly help with unifying the various sub cultures and actually magnifies the Italians sense of distance from their compatriots. I am constantly bemused when Sicilians compare cities from different parts of the same province as if they are talking about two different countries.

Then we come to all the stereotypes like these I have overheard in conversations through my years living in Italy:

Northerners are cold and calculating.
Southerners are lazy and corrupt.
Northerners are efficient and money hungry.
Southerners are inefficient and poor.
In reality these problems exist in both the North and South and such generalisations are nonsense.

Matteo Salvini the ultra-conservative and current leader of the Lega Nord political party is a creation of the Umberto Bossi separatist movement of the 1980’s/90’s which attempted to cut Italy into two pieces. According to the Lega the South has sponged off the North’s industry and would be better off without them. On the flip side Raffaele Lombardo’s independent Sicily movement was seeking the succession of Sicily from Italy after centuries of underdevelopment on the island. Neither have succeeded in their bids, Salvini recently trawling Sicily for votes in the next upcoming election and Lombardo is being dragged through the courts on corruption charges.

Italy is such a rich place which has been inhabited by human beings since Palaeolithic times, each generation layering itself upon the one before, creating endless complexities which link Italian together and create a rampant form of individualism associated with closely linked communities and families.

The North verses South debate is a result of this complex tapestry.

 

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Leading an authentic life in Sicily

Authenticity Quality of being genuine to

My friends and family think I am totally insane to be living my life in Italy, they are waiting for me to come to my senses and move back to Australia, like I’ve been playing around for the past decade of my life.

The truth is it’s been more than chasing a dream, I’m not bathing myself under ‘the Tuscan sun’ or running a bed and breakfast in Puglia.

Brolo c:da castello

I live in small town Sicily which at times is trying for my patience, challenging for my sense of space and privacy and above all it comes with an entire spectrum of misunderstandings and culture shock with whoever is around me. So why do I do it to myself?

Because Italy talks to me, it whispers sweet nothings into my ear, makes me laugh as loud as I ever have, it allows me the time to write, smell the pasta sauce on the stove and taste life.

Italy has infuriated me as much as it has made me fall evermore in love with it.

Moving to Italy has changed me, it has made me let go of many unimportant things, life here is more authentic, a simple less cluttered life which speaks to me louder and clearer than anything else.

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Not quite a Del Borrello: reflections on an overgrown family tree

Chieti mare.jpg
Chieti mare” by Original uploader was Idéfix at nl.wikipedia – Originally from nl.wikipedia; description page is/was here.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

 

I have my surname thanks to my father, who is the dearest Del Borrello in my life, he is the sweetest man I know, always happy, accepting and tolerant of what life has given him and with an almost stoic ability to overcome anything. My Dad loves to talk about his beloved home town of Vasto, memories of his Aunts and Uncles, mostly his mother’s family the Di Cicco’s who welcomed us with open arms on a pilgrimage back to Italy in the mid ninety’s.

We don’t talk much about our branch of the Del Borrello’s but I know my father’s great grandfather Pietro Del Borrello was widowed and remarried with eight children from the first wife (Giovina Zinni) and seven from the second (Maria Nicola Chiola), so you can imagine how many Del Borrello’s there are dispersed around the world. Dad has cousins in Canada (Toronto), the States (Philadelphia), Australia (Perth) and Italy (Vasto).

I’ve never had the desire to go back to Vasto, it would be strange without Dad with me to interpret my family tree and to be honest I’ve been quite distant from the Del Borrello’s anyway.

I have recently discovered some friendly Del Borrello cousins on Facebook who have rekindled my desire to know more about my family.

Since moving to Sicily I’m constantly being mistaken for a ‘Borrello,’ without the Spanish ‘Del‘ the name becomes one hundred percent Sicilian.

I like to think part of my heritage was Spanish and spoke that Vastese Abruzzese dialect which mixes Spanish and Croatian syntax.

The literary lover in me adores the idea I share part of my origins with the Victorian writers Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Christina Rossetti who moved from Vasto to London to become famous poets and writers.

Vasto0003.jpg
Vasto0003“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Thanks to my new family connection I’ve discovered how my Dad’s family came to Australia. Four Del Borrello brothers (offspring from the first marriage of my great-grandfather Pietro) Gaetano, Giuseppe, Domenico and Luigi migrated to Australia. Then Gaetano curiously renamed ‘Charlie’ by the systematic Anglo Saxonising of Italian names which was so common in 1950’s Australia sponsored my Dad’s eldest brother my Uncle Peter who then helped his other brothers Nicola and Giuseppe to come to Australia. Like many links in a family chain they pulled one another into a new life. Uncle Peter moved my grandparents Domenico and Annunziata and the rest of the family, Alessandro, Maria,Antonio, Giovina and Michele to Australia in 1953, after selling off everything they owned in Vasto.

A large chunk of my Dad’s family, Uncles, Aunts, brothers and cousins migrated to Australia from the Abruzzo region of central Italy. I can only imagine the large gaping-hole it left in the Italian family tree.

Since my father was the last to get married, my brother and I are the youngest of all the cousins and unfortunately are slightly ignored, for want of a better word, to a certain extent it is only natural to be thought of as ‘the little ones’ when you are the youngest in a family.

I have vague memories of my elder cousins weddings, Dad introducing me to my Aunts and Uncles and sitting at the table like an eaves-dropper and sometimes never being invited at all. I have never been a part of a large inclusive Italian family, despite the Del Borrello’s propensity to populate and migrate all around the world. For me an extensive family is a dispersed and distant one.

Four Del Borrello brothers
The four Del Borrello brothers from Vasto who ended up in Australia, my Nonno Domenico is the second on the right.

Nonetheless I love trying to sketch out the family tree, after all it still pertains to me. Fragmented stories from my Dad tell me bis Nonno Pietro was a wealthy landowner and had property in the countryside. Dad has wonderful memories of scaling down the escarpment of old Vasto to swim and fish in the Adriatic sea. Today Vasto has become an extensive tourist town with endless ugly hotels along the coast and built up industrial areas.

As for my family recollections, they are quite sparse. I recall visiting my Nonno Domenico in his Perth nursing home, his gruff voice and chain-smoking, his was my first ever funeral. My Nonna Anunziata died the same year my parents got married. I never knew her, yet in photos I am aware of the same sense of joy-de-vivre which is a part of my own father’s heart. Mother and son have the same smile. Oddly enough even if I never met her I dreamt of her when I was pregnant with my first child, who I even considered naming Anunziata until she decided to go directly into her Nonna’s arms in heaven, then giving my daughter the name of Estella, she who comes from the heavens, seemed more apt.

My Dad’s eldest brother, extravagant Uncle Peter died suddenly and I still smile at the memory of his larger than life warmth and those fun pool parties playing billiards were awesome for a girl like myself.

If I close my eyes I can still remember the last time I heard Zio Alessandro’s gravelly voice over the phone as I called him to wish him well before flying back to Italy,

‘Grazie, grazie bella, un bacio.’

I recall Uncle Nick’s positive energy as he was slowly worn down by cancer.

I don’t remember Zia Giovina who was the first of my father’s family to be taken away by an aggressive male as they say here in Sicily, which is our modern plague.

All I have is a handful of muddled yet poignant memories of an overgrown and complex family tree. It would be grand to fill in the missing parts of my family tree, not for vanity’s sake but rather for more tales from my history, as life is about stories.

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Dedicated to my Dad Antonio Del Borrello and his cousins Peter, Karen and Laura, who I hope to see sometime soon. And my own cousins who share the same monumental family background.

Flowers and lights for our ancestors

I morti in Sicilia

November is a sombre time in Sicily, traditionally it’s not all jack o lanterns and candy rather its about taking flowers to the cemetery and lighting artificial lights instead of candles in memory of the dead.

All souls and dearly held saints are prayed for in religious services in the Roman Catholic church and the autumn signals the beginning of winter.

Sicilian’s make the rounds of the graveyards with chrysanthemums cradled in their arms, paying floral homage to their ancestors and placing light globes around the edges of tombs.

Trinacria’s necropolises are decorated by the living as the photo’s of the dead demand it, the images on each tomb and mausoleum plea to be acknowledged. Each photo has surreptitiously robbed a piece of their soul imprisoning their glances in an eerie reflection of life.

As we honor our deceased in among flowers dampened by the rain and hazardous electrical wiring, we secretly utter a prayer for those we love and hope not to be accidentally electrocuted.

The sweet, sad years, the melancholy years,
Those of my own life, who by turns had flung
A shadow across me. Straightway I was ’ware,
So weeping, how a mystic Shape did move
Behind me, and drew me backward by the hair;
And a voice said in mastery, while I strove,—
“Guess now who holds thee!”—“Death,” I said, But, there,
The silver answer rang, “Not Death, but Love.”

                                                                                 – Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Sonnets from the Portuguese.

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Falling into Sicily

Autumn in Sicily

The beginning of Autumn in Sicily can be abrupt. The gradual changes from one season to the next are now a thing of the past, there are no more slightly shortening days or time for the leaves to go from greens, yellows, warm rusty reds or browns, now the fall begins with heavy rains and cool nights, whenever the gods decide.

One day you are sun bathing on the beach and the next you are pulling on your cardigan and sheltering under an umbrella. The first rains are capricious, sometimes drizzling, then pelting, blurring the mountains and threatening with ash coloured clouds and distant thunder drones, initially succumbing to the afternoon sun and the Scirocco.

The heavy breath of the Scirocco is a lethargic exhale held in a cupped hands, a stifling African wind which saps energy, tickling the skin without any relief or pleasure.

This corrupted zephyr, fed by ancient Aeolus the keeper of the winds, ravages the land and utters its curse without any mercy. In the summer it whips up the thermometer, in September it teases as it ushers in the rains, in the winter it tries to deceive people into shedding their skins too soon. First there is the flotsam and jetsam of the winds and then the storm begins.

 

Autumn

October in Sicily means many things to the Sicilian’s table from fruits like: fichi d’india, hazelnuts, mushrooms and grapes. Late ripening in this years season also means a tardy gathering of tomatoes, eggplants (aubergines), capsicums, chili peppers and other summer fair.

The insanity of August is easily washed away as Sicily gets back into it’s daily routine, children go back to school, freshly bronzed public servants are well and truly lazing in their offices and the everyday grind begins.

A new season is always a new beginning, it changes the sensations and assures as we are moving forward despite our want to stand still.

Autumn is like sipping a fine Nero d’Avola, smooth and deeply satisfying with a warm and fruity aftertaste that makes you wish more.

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The toilet situation in Italy

***Warning this post contains images of Italian toilets, bad double entendre and Australian slang***

Cosi toilets in Italy post

I have never understood the reason behind the lack of public toilets in major Italian cities as you would think it is a common courtesy to keep lovely, clean toilets for tourists and visitors.

So what should anyone visiting do to find service rooms in an emergency? Well you can find toilets in shopping malls, at train stations, at ‘Autogrill’ stops on the Autostrada highways, occasionally you can sneak into a bar/café but you are generally obliged to buy something, if you are game you can pop into the town hall or into an office building where no one will say anything to you if you are quick and look as if you work there.

In more touristy areas you can find a clean toilet provided by the local tourist board, which you will have to pay for as there is someone there during office hours to clean it, but these are usually locked up after hours, weekends and public holidays so you are literally screwed if you need to use a toilet in these times!

Apparently it has not always been like this, my husband tells me in the bountiful 1980’s even every small town had clean public toilet service, but vandals and budget cuts put an end to this utopia.

Those few toilets you do find require a gas mask at the entrance, boy toilet paper and disinfectant hand wash it a must. I’m guessing most places have had the same frustrating problem with vandals as the toilets you do find around the place are filled with graffiti, usually proclamations of love and lust, everything from ‘Ti amo Angelina,’ to ‘per divertire chiama Tommy 333333999.’

Well I suppose if you have weak pelvic floor muscles, or you can’t simply tie a knot do as the Italians do and slip in between two parked cars, near trash dumpsters or some bushes and do as nature commands. You are not going to get arrested or fined as we are in Italy baby!

P.S: On researching this post (yes I did put some thought into this one), I came across a couple of useful posts about the toilet situation in Italy which will help you understand what you will come across. Here are some Italian Toilet Basics from Andi Brown at Once in a Lifetime travel and a how to flush tutorial by Alex Roe at Italy Chronicles.

 

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Ten things I really can’t live without

Blogs are curious things at times they can be professional showing off your writing depth and prowess or they can be deeply personal. I’ve been terribly businesslike on Talking in Tongues lately that I’ve forgotten to show a little more of my personality so I’m going to be totally flippant and do a personalized top ten list just for the hell of it.

So here are ten things off the top of my head that I seriously can’t do without.

1) My computer. 

Yes as with most blogger’s I can’t live without my computer it is filled with all my professional and private life. It’s chockablock with old and new projects, games, pictures and is a virtual expression of myself. I am eternally grateful to my beautiful family for the gift of my new MacBook!!

2) Orchestral music

I’ve always loved the world of classical music and even entertained the notion of becoming an operatic stage director. So this music has always been part of my life but lately I’ve been enjoying the pictures orchestral music paints in my mind and feeling invigorated by it. For now I only have time for the shorter pieces of the likes of Sibelius, Hindemith and Stravinsky but I’m always on the lookout for inspiring sounds.

3) Chocolate

I don’t have a particular sweet tooth but there is something soothing in eating a piece of good quality chocolate. A little dark chocolate, a pocket coffee or a Bacio Paragon can be the perfect pick up on a low energy day.

 

4) A good book that intrigues me

I am currently overloading my virtual library on my Kindle with books and authors I should have read years ago only I just haven’t gotten around to them. I will always prefer and old fashioned paperback to fondle and doggy ear but there is something exhilarating about carrying around a library in your handbag. My last five downloaded books include Jack Kerouac’s The Subterraneans, Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, James Salter’s A sport and a Passtime, D H Lawrence’s Sea and Sardegna and The Man who was Thursday by G K Chesterton.

 

                            

5) A beautiful work of art

I believe visual art is an integral part of life as is any other form of artistic expression. I cannot live without turing the pages in an art book or sharing images on Facebook that remind me of different elements of life, beauty and new ideas. There is something revitalizing about art that I can’t do without.

6) The internet

I’m officially dependent on the internet, I literally can’t get enough of it, from addictive social networks to travel blogs, online journals, newspapers and celebrity gossip. It is so comfortable to have a world of information literally at your fingertips. For a curious person the internet is an intriguing place.

7) Something that makes me feel beautiful

My mother always used to criticise me about being the least vain person on the planet and to a certain extent it is true. I always avoid makeup and do keep my beauty routine to the bare necessities as I find beauty products too excessive and exorbitant. With the passing of time I have mellowed a bit, not because I have suddenly become vain or am fearful of getting old and wrinkly, I’ll always take what life gives me. It’s more a comfort thing, there are some things that I genuinely like and make me feel good or relaxed. So I often consent myself the pleasure of a good facial scrub, a new hair cut, some jewelry, a cute nail nail polish or a pleasant perfume. Feeling beautiful makes me feel good about myself, no sin in that my friends.

8) A movie that takes me to a new place

One thing I defiantly hate about living in Italy and in particular about where I am living is the lack of a cinema and good english language films. English is defiantly the foreign language and so we don’t get to see many Oscar films until they have been dubbed and cut down for the television two years after they have been released in the cinema. Don’t get me started on indie films and documentaries. 

Alas there isn’t much I can do about this. Sniff!

I read screenplays, which is rather a good alternative as I am constantly surprised with the capacity of my imagination.

9) A cuddle with my little boy

Ok so I am probably smothering my son to death, but hey he’s growing up too fast and so I don’t care what anyone says!

10) A conversation with my mum

Sorry to be a little too sentimental but I had to mention the simple pleasure of talking to Mum.

It perks me up to hear her voice and feel connected with home. Love you Mammina 🙂

Talking in Tongues 

I still call Australia home

(My little piece of home in the Swan Valley outside of Perth, Western Australia)

Moving overseas away from home is without a doubt the most challenging thing you can do in your life, especially if it involves going to a place with a completely different culture and language. Don’t think that because I’ve moved to Italy and I have Italian parents it means I automatically took to living here.

I am very much a free spirited Ozzie chick who still finds it difficult to adjust to living life in small minded- small town Sicily.

(The towering gum trees back in Perth, W.A (Houghten’s winery out in the Swan Valley to be precise)


I miss my friends and family to death and I defiantly consider Australia my true home. Everyday is a challenge, I’m often puzzled at the way people think but it’s one hell of a journey!

It’s a little cliché but I really still call Australia home!

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What’s your idea of home?

I’m Italo-Australian and proud of it

 (Rome the eternal city)

 

I have the honour of being both Italian and Australian. Thanks to the strength of character of my maternal grandparents who had the determined idea to migrate to Perth, Western Australia from Sicily. It is a privilege to have a foot in both of these intriguing countries.

I now live in Italy but my first 25 years were spent in the care-free sunshine of the youthful culture of Australia. This gave me a wonderful sense of liberty, multiculturalism and a positive outlook on life.

(My home town Perth, Western Australia, which is in a constant state of change)

 

Living in Italy for nearly a decade now has allowed me to immerse myself into some family history and see the realities of this complex, chaotic but all the same extravagant country.

I’m lucky to be a part of two fascinating countries.

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What is your background like?

My hero is Sir Peter Ustinov

(Peter Ustinov at the beginning of his career- picture taken from www.ustinov-foundation.org )

Besides my parents and grandparents the person I most admire and I aspire to be like is the late great Sir Peter Ustinov.

Generally I’m not one who idealises celebrities, for me we are all simply human beings, fame and fortune are things that distort peoples sense of self and lead to terrible excesses and unhappiness.

I admire Sir Peter Ustinov not because he was a famous Oscar winning old school actor but because he was an exceptional human being and above all an exceptional renaissance man in the artistic sense.

 

(Sir Peter Ustinov in his role as UNICEF representative, apologies for skipping everything else in between – picture taken from www.ustinov-foundation.org )

 

Sir Peter was someone who had a tireless energy in life dedicating himself to every possible creative and humanistic pursuit. He was not only a gifted character stage, t.v and movie actor but a talented director of film, opera and theatre, playwright of numerous award winning stage plays, author of hundreds of titles, documentary maker, journalist, visual artist, humanitarian (a UNICEF ambassador), voice artist, stage designer, impersonator (he could imitate every person you can think of), linguist (he was fluent in Italian, French, German, English, Russian and could string a sentence together in Turkish).

Above all he was an extraordinary communicator who respected all humanity and he did it all with an astounding humility. The goodness he did in the world is continued by the Peter Ustinov Foundation whose goal is to continue his work to build a world without prejudice.

I’m almost embarrassed to mention the fact I actually got to meet my so called ‘hero’ (I don’t particularly like that word). It was embarrassing on my part simply because I got terribly overwhelmed that I came across as a complete jackass.

I got to interview him back during my student days when a fellow broadcasting classmate and I ventured to his press conference on his visit to Perth Western Australia when he was touring the world on his one man show.

Thanks to an amazing fluke no one turned up to his press conference and so we got a one on one interview in Sir Peter’s hotel room. So you can imagine what happened to this nervous little thing with no questions and a head filled with Sir Peter memorabilia gathered from years of following his career as a fan. I couldn’t blurt out the fact he was the person I most admire in the world, I would have sounded like a maniac.

Thank goodness Sir Peter came to my rescue understanding that I was completely out of my depth we ended up having a completely normal conversation, which he assured me really is the best kind of interview.

Looking back I am thankful that Sir Peter Ustinov met my expectations and taught me the most important thing is to communicate.

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Who do you admire?

Inside my head

I’ve never been big on the whole self-promotion thing. I’m generally a shy, conscientious person who keeps to herself.

At times I think too much and do too little, which is a terrible fault. But I’m working on this. It’s important to make yourself heard and blowing your own trumpet is what gets you noticed.

Living inside my own head is comfortable and good for the reflection required for writing but it can be isolating.

I will come out of my shell more often, promise.

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What is your worst attribute?

Being a writer in Sicily

Ok, I know it’s a bit pithy but I think we are all writers in the way we create our own narratives and lives. The the endless dialogues we have each day, our own internal monologue and interactions are all pieces of writing.

As life progresses it gives us different masks to wear which allows us to create the different parts of our journey: son/daughter, student, sister/brother, girlfriend/boyfriend, wife/husband, lover, parent, professional, in-law, grandparent … our roles are endless.

The experiences we choose in life dictate the richness of our own unique narrative. The business of writing as a profession takes the natural ability we all have to a different level documenting and crafting each word on the page, whether it be on the virtual ‘page’ of a computer screen or scribbling in a notebook.

I love new ideas and writing helps me to explore different areas which in turn stimulate other interests and move me into other directions. It’s an addiction which gives me an appetite to understand this world. I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of asking questions.

Sicily has become an extensive part of my story, it is a piece of my family’s history and speaks to me so eloquently.

Randazzo side streets, Catania

Moving to Sicily has been a challenge and I struggle everyday with the culture shock, but realistically it is a fantastic place to be a writer. Stories literally come up to you and introduce themselves, others slap you in the face or make friends with you doing a casual conversation. The slower paced life is conducive to reflection and the writerly life sits well with this place. In fact the island has produced many famous writers, who are an inspiration to me. Pirandello, Verga, De Roberto, Brancanti and Quasimodo are my favourites.

 

Rochelle Unwilling expat sign off

 

What are you writing with your life?