Category Archives: books + writing

sign of the old shop…

In this photograph of my family’s fruit shop and milk bar in its earlier days, it’s apparent how it began very modestly with my grandparents standing on the footpath in Ann Street selling produce from a ‘hole in the wall’ before they expanded the space to include a milk bar. Visible in the top left is some of the sign that hung over the footpath from around the early 1950s. It was white with ‘milk bar’ in red Perspex letters and lit up at night.

Below is the only part of the sign we managed to salvage after Brisbane’s 2011 floods (and happens to be the bit seen in this photograph taken almost 70 years ago!) It might be broken but it’s one of only a handful of items my grandparents kept when they closed their milk bar and with now no trace that it ever existed, it seems lucky to have this piece left.

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the gentle work of nest building…

Have some long, solitary hours ahead for a little while as I do the edit on the next book… so it was lovely to sit at my desk this morning and look out into the tree to see a honeyeater building a nest right by my window. I may even get some baby birds for company come spring!

A while back I read in a book (Nest: The Art of Birds by Janine Burke) that as well as using their beaks to build their nests, birds also press their breasts against the inner wall to make it round, imprinting their shape on their home and forming it with their beating hearts. As I sit here I can see the bird doing just that! (Apologies the picture isn’t better but didn’t want to move too much and scare her off.)

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spaghetti per cena…

This is one of the first photographs I chose that I hoped would make the cover of Mezza Italiana (it’s on the back). Taken in the 1960s, it was dinner for my uncle’s birthday and one of the rare times the family got to eat together since one of my grandparents were usually doing a shift at their milk bar.

I love how the young, fair-haired friend (second from left) looks happy to be at the dinner table eating spaghetti among three generations of an Italian family (reminds me a bit of how Roger was when he first came to eat at my grandparents’ house). And of course that is my Dad in the front right corner, being his usual larrikin self!

 

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Mezza Italiana to be released in the US next year….

I’m thrilled to say that in 2018 Mezza Italiana will be available in the US  in paperback and ebook.

Many thanks to ABC books, HarperCollins AUS and HarperCollins360 US.

More closer to the date! xx

 

 

 

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From a laneway in Fossa…

I took this from the tiny balcony of the house in Fossa. As Roger walked along the laneway below on his way to the Boccabella shop and passed someone on their phone, he had no idea I was taking a photograph from above.

It is some years ago now, at a time when we were staying in the family house at the village in Abruzzo for a month and I was starting to write Mezza Italiana. It feels so strange to know that the damaged house now stands empty and the village a ghost town since the earthquake.

But I also feel so fortunate and grateful for the times I got to the experience the village at its happy and lively best, the connection it gave me to family and for the stories it has given, and hopefully will continue to give.

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Books update…

Mezza Italiana and Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar are both now in bookshops in Italy!

It is such a thrill, especially to think back to when I first started writing Mezza in a notebook on the kitchen table in the Abruzzo house of my family. What might the generations who sat there before me have thought?!

Thank you to all of you who have shown such affection and support for these books (and to those who’ve messaged me after spotting the books already in Milan and Florence!) I am very grateful! Tante belle cose, Zoe xx

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Books update…

Mezza Italiana by Zoë BoccabellaMezza Italiana now available in the UK

Including at bookstores such as Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith and others as well as online stores.
It is available in paperback, ebook and audiobook.
Many thanks to ABC Books and HarperCollins 360 UK!!

________________________________________

 

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From 6th June, 1946…

Annibale, Francesca and Remo outside shopToday it is 70 years since my Italian grandparents, Nonno Anni and Nanna Francesca signed the lease on premises to start up their fruit shop and milk bar in Australia.

And so began many years when they opened the shop from 7am until 11pm, only the two of them working there (with a baby in tow) and closing just two days a year at Christmas and Easter.

Thinking of them with much gratitude for all their hard work and sacrifice to make it such a success.

 

 

 

 

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Hand-bound books…

bookbindingIn Bendigo not long ago, I came across a bookbinding shop that is the most similar I’ve found in Australia to the one I came across in Florence (p.212 Mezza Italiana). I couldn’t resist these handmade books and the owner kindly offered to emboss my name on them.
I wrote the first draft of Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar longhand in foolscap exercise books. The pens I used were cheap, plastic biros. The ink ran out in close to a dozen by the end. Mezza Italiana also began in longhand, at the kitchen table in my family’s house in Italy. That time I wrote in several diary planners that were out of date, with similar plastic biros.
These hand-bound books are so beautiful I feel almost afraid to write in them!

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milk bar glass, circa 1950…

milk bar glassAn original glass {circa 1950} from Nanna Francesca and Nonno Anni’s milk bar. These were mostly used for my grandfather’s sought-after, homemade orange drink but customers would also request milkshakes in them too if they preferred glass to one of the metal canisters.

The milkshake flavours available at the time were chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, custard, lime and caramel, with chocolate always the most popular. The only flavours I had in the house to make this one were maple syrup and vanilla bean, which turned out quite delicious. And yes, that is an old-style, waxed paper straw!

Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar

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Italian internees, Australia 1942…

Internees and tent at Western CreekItalian internees at the ‘secret’ Western Creek internment camp in 1942. My grandfather, Annibale (far right, standing) was 18 years old and working as a farmhand at Applethorpe when he was interned.

Those familiar with Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar will know that despite much searching I have to date been unable to uncover any document that officially shows this internment camp existed. This is despite much anecdotal evidence gathered from internees, a guard and residents of the nearby Queensland town of Millmerran. As well as photographs taken inside the camp (see tent to left) and a tiny newspaper article that appeared in The Western Star and Roma Advertiser in 1942.

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Joe’s milk bar, circa 1950s…

Annibale and Vitale in milk barOne of the very few photographs taken inside my family’s milk bar in the 1950s (and also one of my favourites). Nonno Anni is behind the counter and Bisnonno Vitale is leaning on it.

This is the era when my grandparents were working 7am-11pm, 363 days a year at their fruit shop and milk bar. My great-grandfather Vitale helped out at the busy times yet continued in his own job at the Brown and Broad sawmill beside the Brisbane River in Teneriffe.

Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar

 

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Stonehenge Boarding house…

Stonehenge 157 Leichhardt St BrisbaneStonehenge Boarding house at 157 Leichhardt St, Spring Hill, Brisbane, where three generations of my family lived during the 1940s. It is amazing to see how steeply pitched the roof is considering my father climbed to the top of it when he was not quite three and a half and my Nonno had to get him back down. Sadly, this house, built circa 1859 of convict-hewn stone, was demolished in the 1950s.

 

Photograph courtesy of the Fryer Library, University of Qld and http://www.yourbrisbanepastandpresent.com/

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the first copy…

First copyAn advance copy of Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar arrived on my doorstep today… It is quite incredible to hold the book in my hands, flick through the pages and smell the scent of the paper. I have known since I was teenager that this was a book I one day hoped to write so in essence it’s been 25 years in the making! I also received some posters like the ones that will appear in bookshops, which makes it all feel that bit more real. Only three weeks until Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar will be on bookshop shelves!

 

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the Book House…

book house malenyHappened across this gorgeous Little Free Library in Maple Street, Maleny where you can leave a book and swap it for another. Such a lovely idea. I’m definitely going to take a couple of books to leave there next time…

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the art of birds…

“Birds don’t only use their beaks to build: they press their breasts against the inner wall to make it round, imprinting their shape on their home, an interior formed by the steady rhythm of their beating hearts.”

Janine Burke
from Nest: The Art of Birds

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Castrovillari, Calabria…

I first learnt of this town when reading Old Calabria by Norman Douglas (published 1915), and on the map it looked a good halfway point to stay between Palmi and Pompeii. This part of the old town reminded me of some of the lanes in Fossa, (not so the 40 degree heat at the time) and even though it appears not to have changed much over the years, the town was quite different to the one Douglas had encountered about a century before when brigands were still imprisoned in the castle.

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a beautiful place to sit and read, or lie and daydream…

Painted by Estella Canziani (1887-1964) who wrote {as well as drew and painted the illustrations for} one of my favourite books on the Abruzzo about her 1913 travels – Through the Apennines & Lands of Abruzzi.

She painted this picture {oil on paper} from inside her house in London at 3 Palace Green in 1922. The white bird in the painting one of the many birds she rescued and cared for.

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little free libraries…

Love this concept of the ‘Little Free Library’ – “take a book, leave a book” structures built with recycled materials and popping up beside footpaths, coffee shops, houses and parks around the world….

http://www.littlefreelibrary.org/

little free libraries

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un amour des livres… a love of books

Miniature book art by French artist: Marc Giai-Miniet

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Lightly, lightly….

Life Behind by Maki Horanai

“It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them. I was so preposterously serious in those days…Lightly, lightly—it’s the best advice ever given me. So throw away your baggage and go forward. There are quicksands all about you, sucking at your feet, trying to suck you down into fear and self-pity and despair. That’s why you must walk so lightly. Lightly, my darling.”

Aldous Huxley

From ‘Island’, 1962

 

Related articles: Watching Over

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Writing and witches…

Perhaps because my great-grandmother Maddalena was known as the village witch, there is something that appeals immensely about Italy’s most prestigious national literary prize, the Premio Strega being named ‘the witch prize’. In 1944 , Maria and Goffredo Bellonci began hosting at their house in Rome, Sunday gatherings of writers and artists that became known as the Amici della Domenica, or Sunday Friends. This resulted in 1947 the Belloncis, together with Guido Alberti, owner of the Strega liqueur business, inaugurating a prize for fiction, the winner being chosen by the Sunday friends.

Winners include Italian writers such as Umberto Eco in 1981 for Il nome della rosa – In the Name of the Rose and Giuseppe di Lampedusa posthumously in 1959 for Il gattopardo – The Leopard.

Liquore Strega has been distilled since 1860 in the town of Benevento, located roughly between Rome and Naples, the place where witches from all over the world gathered (and still do at a certain time of year). There is an old legend, still very much alive, this drink was a love potion witches created to forever unite couples who drank it. Strega liqueur continues to be tied to the sorcery of its origins. Some modern covens use the liqueur in their rites, burning it in bowls for various purposes.

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Estella Canziani bookplate…

Bookplate: Estella Canziani {1887-1964} artist, writer and folklorist, London {by Frank Brangwyn}, c1919, woodcut, 10.2x9cm.

 

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A lovely way to spend an hour or two….

“If you have a garden and a library, you have all you need.” 

~ translated from Cicero’s Latin quote.

{The Artist’s Wife in the Garden at Skagen by Peder Severin Kroyer, 1893}

Related articles: A lovely spot for lunch…  (zoeboccabella.com)

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