In this blog, guest writer, Aida Innocente recalls a visit to Italy with her parents in 1964 when she was nearly nine years of age. Aida has a very strong, detailed memory of the time spent with her relatives in Caselle di Altivole and travel in Italy.
In February 1964 I took a memorable trip with my mother and father. After months of planning and preparing we set sail on the ‘Galileo Galilei’ for Italy. I was almost nine.
I had not really thought about what the trip would be like. My imagination could never have matched my real-life experiences!
Everything about the boat trip was colourful, exotic and to my child’s eye, wondrous. The gardens in Singapore with screeching monkeys; the bazaar in Bombay (now Mumbai) and its low display platforms of vivid bolts of fabric; the perfectly square buildings in Aden; the oh so narrow Suez Canal. And finally, the rows of big, boxed bambole (dolls) on the dock in Messina – my first glimpse of Italy.
The day we docked in Genova we had lunch in the port cafeteria. It was in a big, glassed thirties-style portside building. We ate cotoletta alla Milanese and insalata (schnitzel and salad). Dad bought me an aranciata (orangeade) in the sweetest, smallest bottle I had ever seen. It was a San Pellegrino aranciata.
We took the train to Castelfranco Veneto where my grandfather was waiting for us. He had organised a car and driver as he rode a bike for day-to-day transport.
We arrived at Via Canesella in Caselle towards dusk. My father’s home was an old, run-down eighteenth-century country house. The courtyard was full of people. I could see a little Madonna above one of the wooden doors that opened to the courtyard. The Madonna was lit by a tiny, dim light – the only glow in the courtyard.
I stood alone. My parents were joyfully welcomed by this sea of people. A woman approached me and asked me if I knew who she was. She was my grandmother, Teresa.
Via Canesella was full of young children. Behind my grandmother’s house lived Fernanda Fogal who became my best friend. I spent afternoons with the Canesella children roaming the fields filled with violets. Via Canesella was a dirt road and a stream ran alongside it. My grandmother still washed her clothes in the fosso (stream/drain), like so many other women. I jumped across the fosso incessantly. Behind the fosso I remember tall cherry trees.
My grandparents’ house had a granary, wooden stairs and inter-connecting bedrooms. Only the ground floor was occupied in 1964. All the rural houses had a stable. Ours had one cow and a donkey – a prized possession. One evening he escaped and I can still see my grandmother chasing after him waving a pitchfork! She eventually caught up with him on the main road. At night we would sometimes sit in the stable with neighbours who had come in fiò (visiting). Sometimes we played tombola (bingo). The stable was the centre of socialising in contadini (farmers’) homes. We also bathed in the stable in a big round wooden bowl, like a half-barrel. There was no bathroom. The toilet was outside, next to the pigsty.
We visited families with gifts from Australia. We visited my godmother (santola) Maria Rizzardo’s family in Monfumo. (Santola Maria’s sister was an ex-girlfriend of my dad’s! She had migrated to Venezuela.) Santola’s house in Monfumo was in the idyllic Montello hills about 15 kms from Caselle. They even had a small private chapel. I was entranced.
One afternoon we attended a religious ceremony in a church near Caselle. Supposedly a young girl was exorcised. My grandmother said the girl had spat out forks! I was terrified.
Before Easter I went with my grandmother to make focacce (traditional sweet bread for Easter) in a farmhouse on the outskirts of Caselle. The farmhouse had a wood-fired oven. Women gathered with their ingredients to make a batch. We took home about 12 focacce that we stored in the larder.
My grandparents would breed silkworms each year as a source of income. The year we went to Italy my dad gave them the equivalent of their expected income so they did not have to do this work. My grandparents secured a small number of silkworms for me to look after. I fed them with mulberry leaves and then one day we took the silk cocoons to the silk merchant who paid me for my crop.
Together with other families from Australia – Luigi, Italia and Luciana Tonellato, Frank, Ina and Michael Marin, Nico Zampin, Adelaide and Amedeo Valentini, and new lifelong friends we had met on the ship, Giorgio and Norma Smania and their two little boys (Giorgio was from Ciano) – we toured Italy in a car convoy. We went to Lake Como, Trieste, Milano, Rimini. In Rome we attended Palm Sunday Mass in St Peters celebrated by Pope Paul VI. We were lucky to be standing near the Baldacchino, under the dome of the basilica. At one stage rose petals fell profusely from the dome. Petals blessed by the Pope! A petal landed on the shoulder of the man next to me. He gave it to me.
One Sunday, it was time to leave Caselle. The courtyard was again filled with family and friends. I shook hands with my new friends. And kissed them goodbye.
This time my father had organised a car and driver and together with another family we drove to Genova. I cried almost the entire way. Nothing could abate my great distress and sorrow. Until the driver taught me a popular song. He managed to distract me.
At night, on the ship from my top bunk I looked out over the endless ocean that was distancing me more and more from Italy. On these nights distress and sadness overwhelmed me again. I had fallen in love.
May 22, 2022