Final reflections – Italy adventures

Blog #10, 1 August 2017

How hot can it get in Italy? Today the temperature is 41 degrees …

We are in Spello – one of the most beautiful Italian villages. Well, we think it is! This our fourth sojourn here and we enjoy returning to the familiarity of place – and people. The other night at the bar we frequented in the past for morning coffee, we had an Aperol spritz. (Should I let on that this might have even become a habit?) Alex ordered at the counter and to his surprise he was recognised by one of the owners!

Yesterday we celebrated Alex’s 65th birthday with a fantastic meal at a highly praised restaurant, l’Alchemista at Montefalco, about 30 minutes from here.

Tomorrow morning we travel north to the Veneto, and in just a few days we will be back in Adelaide where the weather will be around 14 degrees. We’ll have a lot of adjustments to make to our daily life.

Reflections on our 11 weeks in Italy …

 The Veneto market gardeners project

The opportunity to record oral history interviews with Irene Zampin and Remo Bernno was very valuable. The interviews provide another perspective of two Veneto market gardener families who returned to live in Italy. I was fortunate that Quirino Bortolato facilitated contact with the mayor of Riese, the parish archivist and provided background information. I was so pleased to know that he was interested in the project. Now I have additional background and information to include in my research and a structure for another research trip.


We’ve been so pleased to meet all kinds of people – including some for the second and third times. Last week we had a meal with a man and woman whom we met in 2005 when we came to Spello for the first time staying in their daughter’s apartment. We’ve spent time with people associated with the Veneto community in Adelaide and we’ve been delighted to make the connections. Although my Italian has improved I’d love to be more fluent.

Participating in conferences

Another new experience was to enter the academic world in two international conferences. It extended my knowledge of my research area – Italian migration studies and communicating the history of a small Italian Australian community. I have some new thoughts about my study and I know that it will be a challenge to immerse myself in study again.

Exploring Italy

Alex and I have been in five regions: the Veneto; Emilia Romagna; Toscana; Lazio and Umbria. We’ve spent time staying in, and finding out about, a wide range of cities and villages. Our Slow Food guidebook has assisted us to locate some wonderful places to eat and taste typical regional foods. We’ve covered

Alex & Madeleine, Spello, dusk 31 July

hundreds of kilometres in our little Fiat Panda – a couple of trips from the Veneto south to Umbria and trips to conferences. The choice not to take highways means that we’ve been on some wild lanes, steep roads and high narrow (scary!) passes. Another consequence is that we’ve taken many more hours to travel the distances. Sometimes less is more! I mean travel! Alex has been the driver, always alert and well organised with Google maps.

Next time we’ll do things differently

  • Travel in spring or autumn and avoid Italy’s summer
  • Stay for an extended time in one, or at the most, two places and take shorter exploratory trips
  • Cover less territory
  • Locate an apartment in Castelfranco to stay in and make research easier over a month or two
  • Find local knowledge – best food, haircuts, cheap petrol, environment, Italian lessons
  • Hire a car for part of the time and take public transport in some circumstances.

We’re agreed that we’re still in love with Italia and that we’ll return.

Post from Remo Berno

Blog # 9, 16 July 2017


Remo is the second child of Pietro and Antonietta (nee Pastro) Berno from Riese, who owned market gardens on Valetta Road, Kidman Park with Remo’s aunt and uncle, Alberto and Elvira (nee Carraro) Berno. Remo grew up with his older brother, Roberto and younger sister, Diana, and  cousins, Johnny and Marisa. Remo’s uncle Alberto arrived in Adelaide in 1926 and his father Pietro, in 1927 and they established extensive market gardens. His mother and aunt arrived in the late 1940s/early 1950s. The two families lived and worked together on Valetta Road and returned to Riese in the Veneto in 1969.

After I interviewed Remo with Diana when we were in the Veneto, he asked to contribute to the blog. Here are Remo’s reflections …

I’m still experiencing the positive sensations that I got during and after our chat on the 27th June. I was glad to be able to register the fond memories of my youth in Lockleys. Thus I must once again thank you and Alex for the opportunity that was given to me and Diana to make these memories become part of a much bigger project and have them live on and be a reference for the future generations.

But more than this, I’ve got a special feeling that I would like to share with you, and maybe if you think so, also to be posted in your blog. During the interview when you asked me to describe my house on the Valetta Road, you opened up a drawer in my mind and out came the home of my youth. With Dad in the car we went down the path that leads from the Valetta Road entrance to our garage. Then from there I entered the old house. I could see the rooms and all of us that lived in them. I could see us around the kitchen table having Sunday lunch (which was one of the few times during the week that our two families got together. For the rest of the week dinner was mainly split up, because we kids would eat early, whilst Mum and Auntie Elvira would wait till Dad and Uncle Berto finished work). It was magic.

After this recall I went to your website (or should I say our website) to listen to some other interviews, and I can see that the way you put simple questions to your interviewees creates the basis for flashbacks to specific moments of the past, in places that are no longer there and sharing these moments with those who were present then and probably are no longer. Thank you Madeleine.

I wish you and Alex all the best so that you are able to continue your long journey with the Veneti and specifically with the ones that sparked off your research.

Remo Berno, Riese, July 2017

Prato, Arezzo, Bomarzo

Blog # 8, 13 July 2017

Where to Utopia? Street art, Faenza

Conference at Prato

The conference for the Australasian Centre for Italian Studies was held in the Monash University Centre at Prato, about 23 kms from Florence. We stayed there from Sunday to Friday. The conference was worthwhile going to and I attended interesting sessions on migration, literature and new ways of presenting history. I met academics, researchers and post-graduate students from Italy, Australia, NZ, Canada, USA, England, Wales and Scotland.

I felt quite pleased with my paper and several questions asked of me will help with my research. One day Alex and I escaped for a couple of fascinating hours to the Textile museum.

The experience of attending both conferences in Italy will provide me with some new ways of thinking about the challenges of research.

A weekend at Arezzo

Alex and I left Prato Friday afternoon and took about two hours to get to Arezzo, an old city with the historic centre spread over a hilltop. We visited a museum that exhibited Etruscan domestic, funerary and written items that reflect its long history. The population is about 100,000 and we enjoyed observing some summer festival activities. We attended a concert in a beautiful old church – a recital of organ and pan flute. And of course, we located a restaurant from our Slow Food guide. Great food!

Bomarzo summer days

Have you had the experience of researching accommodation on the website and the feelings of apprehension and excitement as you approach the destination? Bomarzo is not quite what we had expected but we are happy – and using our muscles to climb and descend whenever we go outside!

Bomarzo is an ancient medieval town, maybe with Roman origins, perched high on rock overlooking a rugged landscape of woods, olive groves hugging hills and rolling pastureland into the distance. Some houses, now abandoned, were caves – carved from rock. The streets in the old part where we are staying are steep and access to houses is via a flight of stone steps, usually steep – some without handrails! In the narrow steep streets where we are, it is not possible to drive a car!

About 75 kms north of Rome, Bomarzo has a population of about 1,400. The air b n b, is owned by a French couple in Paris. They’ve restored the house in a quirky way – an interesting quite spacious design. Four years ago they also purchased a garden about ten minutes walk away. They have been redeveloping it into a beautiful area with different spaces and views that look out over an undulating landscape that extends for miles. We’re here for about another ten days – feeling the heat which is extreme – between 35 and 37 degrees over the next few days. The ceiling fan is good and we don’t move much in the middle of the day!

In addition to some study for me, and reading Italian noir for Alex, there’s lots to explore in the hours away from the heat; a garden designed in the 16th century with strange figures carved out of rock – ‘the park of monsters’ or ‘sacred wood’ which we visited yesterday. Further away there’s Bolsena, a large lake, with several villages along its shores. This morning we found out from a woman who sells vegetables from the back of her van about a jazz festival in a nearby village over the weekend.

We also hope to go to Rome for a day or so before we go to Spello for the last part of our Italian adventure.