This morning while getting ready to go out, I swear there were about four ideas for posts in my head. I have an extra appointment in Cliffy Hill today, so I’ve come early for an extra lunch this week at my favourite café and while I’ve extra time, all my ideas disappeared.
Ah, I should start all my posts with thought of my mind is a sieve (it has holes in it) because they then all come flooding back.
I thought it was high time I unpacked my Italian part.
If you haven’t read my “About” page, it may be mentioned there. My father came to Australia when he was only 4 years old, way back in about 1952. The ship my father and many other immigrants travelled here on, I recently learnt was called the Sorrento and I understand now why other Italians call their businesses something with Sorrento in their names. A supermarket back in Clifton Hill is the flower of Sorrento.
The journey took 4 weeks. Shorter than I imagined but as a 4-year-old I’m sure it seemed to take for ever.
His father came out some years earlier to pave the way for his family to join him. He worked on the railways, building the train tracks and would send his wages back to Italy to his wife. Every so often, he would travel back to Italy on a ship to see his wife, meet his new son, knock up (that means impregnate) his wife, then get on a boat back to Australia.
He readied a home here in the country (where I’m from). So it was all ready for his wife and children to join him.
My father, the youngest was four years old and he had never even met him. I imagine my dad a little boy at a wharf in Melbourne, holding all his worldly possessions in a small suitcase. My grandparents both worked in factories. The two factories in town made fabric and wool, neither learned English.
I think it was a generational thing that they worked in factories, stayed amongst their own (Italians with Italians, Greeks with Greeks etc) and because they really had no opportunities to socialize with Aussies, they didn’t learn. Whereas the three sons went to school here and had to learn. As a youngster, my older sister and I would tease my dad about his terrible spelling. He thought bath was spelt ‘Barth’. There is no silent ‘R’ in Bath.
Apparently, he used to duck his head down in the classroom so the teacher didn’t call on him. My father didn’t do too badly however. While his two older brothers both worked in the factories also (one worked driving trucks for many years, but eventually ended up in the factory also.)
My father worked as a chippy (that is the tradie name/term for Builder or Carpenter). I learned very little if any Italian from my father. As a child, visits to my Italian grandparents resulted in my cheeks being pinched. Sweet Jesus! If you tried to hide them from Nona, she would pinch your butt cheeks instead. You just couldn’t win.
When visiting them, we would walk down the driveway and while the men would stay outside and chat about the grapevines over the roof of the trellis beside the garage and the vegetable garden. There was almost more vegetable garden than lawn in the backyard. Nona would take my older sister inside, open the fridge door and motion to the bottles of Loy’s soft drinks. Every colour was on offer.
My sister liked Creamy Soda or Portello and I preferred Lime, but we were raised to have whatever was open. Nona would beckon us to just choose and it didn’t matter with very little English, it was easy to communicate. In very simple terms, Nona wanted to feed you and love you. So, food and cuddles.
I know my mum would stay with my father, but because my father spoke only Italian to his father and didn’t make an effort to translate or include her, her resentment has stemmed from here.
Guess I should confess, my older sister and I attended Italian classes when I was about seven. I also did a class in high school as a compulsory subject, when I was about thirteen. Not much stuck. I can count from one to ten at a push to twenty and a few other things.
My twenty’s and thirty’s I spent more time meeting other wogs who would greet me in Italian, I would quickly point out politely I didn’t speak the language and then explain ‘I know a few words’. It was always assumed I know the swear word and I only learnt a few of those when I worked in my first administration job, where my superior was a grumpy ex-sous chef, who thought I was a disgrace to my heritage.
So, in front of an all-male (all wog) group of our clients he would say things like ‘Oh what a misery’ (that was easy to work out) and he had a preference for saying ‘Che fa’ (I hope it’s realised Che fa sounds conveniently like “Get fucked?”) which eventually on a day he used it a lot I eventually called him on it. (his over use of the words) Yeah, yeah, we get it. You are not really asking ‘What the?’ but playing on the fact it sounds remarkably like (my favourite words) Something arse…
I appreciate my grandfather sacrificing seeing his boys grow up to come here to build something for their future. And even that immigrants these days come to Australia for a better life.
I think every generation of immigrants that have made Australia their home have bought a little of their culture with them to enrich our lifestyle with theirs. Not always good, sure. But food culture especially. Better!