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I have just finished reading Mezza Italiana and wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed reading it. My Italian grandfather arrived in Australia before yours did and unfortunately the ties to Italy were not maintained as strongly as yours were. On my first trip to Italy I experienced strong cultural ties, as you did, and found an answer for some of my feelings of “being different and not fitting in”. My grandfather died when I was young but I still remember him starting to teach me Italian and our times in the backyard eating fresh picked beans before dinner! You are very lucky that a family house was kept in Italy and that you had the chance to learn from your Nonno and “Nonna”. I have since returned to Italy three times!
Thanks Liane, lovely to hear from you. It’s amazing when you go to Italy and feel that recognition of your heritage, isn’t it? I realise now just how fortunate I was to be able to stay in the family house and wish I had realised it sooner (the house remains damaged and uninhabitable nearly 4 years after the earthquake, along with most of the village). I love that image of you eating freshly picked beans in the backyard with your grandfather – it often seems to be the quiet, simple ‘everyday’ happenings with a loved one that we hold close. I am all for holding onto these memories, they are so precious. Thank you for sharing your similar background with me. Zoe x
I was in Fossa for the first time in March and loved it! My father was born there. Frank Lazzaro is a great friend of our family and his sister Alberta’s last name is Boccabella! Is she related to you? I met her at her market on my visit! I look forward to spending a lot more time there in the future! I’m trying to find somewhere to buy your book on line or somewhere in the US. Please let me know if you know where I can get it! Thanks!
Hi Riann, that’s wonderful that your father was born in Fossa – I’m glad you enjoyed your time there, it is such a special place. I’m not sure I know Alberta though it’s possible we’re distantly related given Fossa is a small town. And I also know many of the Lazzaro family, including those here in Australia who are lovely people.
Mezza Italiana has been released in paperback form in Australia and NZ however you may find a copy online by clicking this link… stockists. It is also available as an ebook and audiobook and I’m aware the ebook version may be purchased from Amazon in the US. Hope this helps! Zoe
Zoe I really enjoyed your book.I have had the privilege of having visited folks in Fossa pre- 2009 and it does sadden me to think of the damage and legacy of the quake.My husband is of Fossa heritage and am pleased that 2 of my 3 youngsters had a chance to visit pre- 2009 also.It saddens me also that my father – law ( a migrant from Fossa in 1934) passed away recently so the family now no longer has this direct connection. Keep writing and embracing your heritage.
Thank you, Wendy! That’s lovely that you were able to visit the village before the earthquake occurred. Sadly, many residents continue to live in the temporary housing, almost five years on now. I understand what you mean about losing that direct connection, having experienced the same myself. And yes, I continue to embrace my heritage and am currently writing the next book. Zoe xx
My husband and I have just spent a month in Southern Italy based in Apulgia and from there we explored this region plus a road trip from Maratea across the mountains to Matera, just stunning. We were lucky enough to stay with an Australian friend who has a house there so a rather unique experience for us. My friend gave me your book to read on the flight home and it was the perfect end to our holiday. I enjoyed the book so much especially as we had all those experiences fresh in our minds. I really related to your descriptions of being a passenger in a car and actually spent some of the time traveling in the back seat sitting behind my husband. I know food is so important in your life and I was wondering if you had a traditional recipe for baked ricotta? I often buy it from a deli and they say it’s their secret recipe. Thank you so much for a wonderful read.
Thank you! Your trip sounds wonderful. Matera is such an incredible destination and driving there from Maratea you would have come within about an hour of one of the places I mentioned staying – Castrovillari (am picturing driving through that landscape in the south and wishing I was there now!) I’m looking forward to going back and exploring it further, including the ‘route of the seven stones’ in Basilicata. With regards to baked ricotta, when I was growing up my family would purchase it from a local Italian lady who had a tiny shopfront at her house and that recipe has remained a secret also! I’m currently putting together recipes to hopefully include in the next book – an interesting process as most of the recipes my Italian grandmother taught me were spoken recipes without exact measurements. In the meantime, if I discover the secrets of a good baked ricotta I’ll be in touch. Zoe xx
I have just finished reading your book and thoroughly enjoyed and have been telling my friends and family about it. They want to read it too!
I can certainly relate to a lot of things mentioned in your book. I am also from Abruzzo (Tocco Casuaria – Provincia Pescara) and I migrated here with my mother in 1954 when I was five. My father was already here (the men usually came out before) but I hardly knew him when I arrived as I was only 2 and a half when he left for Australia.
It was certainly a hard time for migrants then and it is not as bad now, but I still find discrimination exists, even though I have lived here for 60 years.
There are instances when I wish that I had never left my native land. I returned to Italy for the first time in 2004 and when I was shown where my grandmother’s house was, I instantly remembered sitting on the steps in front of the house. It’s unbelievable what lies in our memory!
I really identify with you that when I am in Australia I feel more Italian and when I am in Italy I feel more Australian. I know exactly what you mean.
I would read a little of your book every night before going to sleep and I felt that I was there with you and Roger in Italy!
Thankyou so much for some of the historical facts you mentioned in your book. I really appreciated these and also learnt something new, such as
that the five confetti used in the bomboniere had a meaning (something I did not know). I remember that when I was getting married, I said to my mum
we could add extra confetti because we had so many, and she replied that no, the number must be five. Now I know why.
Also, the fact that the person who made the Centerba was from Sulmona. I was always led to believe that he came from my town, Tocco.
Can you shed any light on this?
Last year I went back to Italy on an organised trip with some friends and we toured from the north (Bellaggio) right through to the south (Sicily).
I loved every minute of it. I really feel at home there and absolutely love their lifestyle.
I would like, as you and Roger did, to live there for some time (maybe about 3 months) and really take in the culture and lifestyle. This will be my next dream.
Thankyou for the recipes as well!
Lovely to receive your message, Elsa. It means a lot to me that you enjoyed reading Mezza, particularly being from the Abruzzo yourself. And I appreciate your sharing with me your experience in coming to Australia. Sadly a lot of migrant families lived through periods of separation when the men often came out to the new destination first and the rest of the family could only follow on later as the situation became possible. This is something my own family also faced, and which I am writing about in the next book. It is also lovely to read of your experience in returning to Italy and instantly remembering sitting on the steps of your grandmother’s house as a child – wonderful!
And yes, The Casauria Distillery that makes ‘Centerba Toro’ is right near Tocco da Casauria. You may visit their website via this link: http://www.centerbatoro.it/homepage.htm The bottle of centerba I wrote about was in fact a different brand, ‘Centerba d’Abruzzo’, with Ovid, who was born in Sulmona, on the label. It was the only brand Roger could purchase in the particular bar in L’Aquila at the time. However I couldn’t mention centerba without of course mentioning Beniamino Toro too. (Incidentally, the centerba I mention in the next paragraph when I write how Roger and I first tasted the liqueur at my parent’s house was in fact the ‘Centerba Toro’ brand distilled near Tocco da Casauria!)
I hope the opportunity arises in the future for you to fulfil your dream and live in Italy for a time. I really look back on the time we stayed in the village of Fossa as precious, particularly as we have not been able to stay in the house since. (It remains damaged and uninhabitable as it was the day of the earthquake.) In the meantime, I have been continuing the journey of my Italian family after they came to Australia and how their lives evolved – including some more recipes which I hope to be able to include too. Thank you again for being in touch, Elsa. Auguri, Zoe xx
Thankyou Zoe for the information about the Centerba. I will be looking forward to your next book.
Tanti auguri a te la tua famiglia. xxx
I first heard about “Mezza Italiana” yesterday from a Facebook friend from Australia. I immediately tried to purchase it online. I finally succeeded on Amazon, but they had only 1 book available, which I purchased. ( they had lots of audios, though) ….. But, I prefer the whole “book” experience.
My parents were both born in Fossa…Emidio Lazzaro (1902) and Giacinta “Elena” Padovani (1913). My dad came to the US in 1919 and my mom in 1926.
I finally had the opportunity to travel to Fossa in 2011. Unfortunately, it was after the earthquake ! But I was able to visit with my cousin Erminio Gentile and his family and my cousin Ada and her family.(Ada’s family owns the cheese factory in Fossa). I was fortunate enough to walk up to the village and to the monastery. I had heard so many stories from my parents about these places. My life would not have been complete without this pilgrimage. My bothers, Roland Lazzaro and Anthony Lazzaro and several of my nieces and nephews had been to Fossa before the earthquake and were able to stay in the village.
There are/were some Boccabellas who were friends of my parents..they lived in Cokeburg, Pennsylvania. My family is also from western Pennsylvania.
Also, I have family in Melbourne, AU. One is my first cousin, Lidia Lazzaro Giampetrone.
I cant wait to get my book and read it !!!!! I am so excited !!!
Just wondering if it is possible to purchase Juan Alfedo Parisse’s lovely prints of Fossa?
So glad I heard about you and your books.
Cindy (Lazzaro) Queen
Thank you, it is lovely to receive your message. I’m very familiar with the surname Lazzaro as my grandparents were close friends with the Lazzaros who came from Fossa to Queensland in Australia. And I was fortunate to be invited to a wonderful lunch with some of the Lazzaro family in Fossa back in the mid 1990s. We also purchased some cheese – pecorino I think it was – most likely from your cousin Ada perhaps! And yes, I’m aware there were Boccabellas from Fossa in Pennsylvania too, one of whom contacted me. It’s lovely how there seem to be ‘pockets’ of those who migrated from Fossa in various places around the world – mostly in the U.S.A., South America and Australia.
I do understand your life feeling more complete after making the journey to Fossa – I felt the same way. Even though I was born in Australia, returning to Fossa where my family came from felt like ‘coming home’. I was fortunate to stay there before the earthquake, and also went back just after the earthquake occurred, which was quite overwhelming – all of which you will discover when you read Mezza. (And I’ve just finished writing the next book in which Fossa does feature again!)
Regarding Juan Alfredo Parisse’s beautiful paintings, you may try finding out through his website http://www.juanalfredoparisse.it or his Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/JuanAlfredoParisseWatercolorArt – he is a lovely person who lives near L’Aquila. One of his paintings of Fossa (part of which appears above here on my website) I was very fortunate to receive from my husband back when I turned 40 and I treasure it!
Thank you again for being in touch, Cindy. I hope you enjoy Mezza Italiana.
Zoe, Hello. I have a painting of a potted lemon tree. The pot is blue and white and the border of the painting is yellow gingham like checker squares. It is signed by Zoe. My sister-in-law lives in Santa Barbara, California and had it in her house. Is it by chance yours? Do you paint?
Hi Kathy, I do sometimes paint when I get the time but I cannot take the credit for the painting you mentioned. Best wishes, Zoe
I loved Mezza Italiana. I am from Brisbane, but spend half the year in Italy in Bagni did Lucca. My son was born in Italy the same year that you were born. I look forward to following your blog and reading your other books.
Thank you! Lovely to hear from you. That sounds wonderful to divide your time between Italy and Australia, and especially the beautiful town of Bagni di Lucca in Toscana. I would love to visit the town and the nearby thermal springs one day.
PS Your son was born in a great year! – smiling.
Dear Zoe… WE’RE RELATED!!!
I didn’t realise until I bought your book (yesterday for Mum’s birthday) …and when we opened the front jacket she spotted Dad’s photo amongst all the others: We were so impressed!!!
Apparently my father, Joe Solano, was your grandmother Francesca’s 1st cousin.
Mum’s spend the day uncovering lots of other old pics of Dad’s time in Qld with your family… and she can’t put your book down! :)))
xxxx Joseph Solano jnr.
Great to hear from you! I’m assuming the photograph with your Dad in it is the one of the apple harvest? I realise now he must have been the cousin who came up from Sydney up on a working holiday that year. Wow – how wonderful to realise that connection between our families now, more than 60 years later! And it’s really lovely to hear that your Mum is enjoying the book – is that Mary? Please say hello to her for me.
Hi Zoe, just wanted to say it was lovely to meet you last night. I so enjoyed Mezza Italiana and am looking forward to Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar. I hope you enjoy my book Roman Daze – La dolce vita for all seasons… I loved the way you wrote about Rome in Mezza Italiana ‘Rome feels to me like a person who has seen too much, exhausted by time and demands, and almost loved to death, and yet it is so wonderful, the pure history of it’. I completely agree! Congratulations again and kind regards, Bronte
Hi Bronte, thanks for coming along to the evening at Malt Café hosted by Beaumaris Books. It was lovely (and overwhelming!) to see so many with Italian and Australian connections to Italy come along. Great to have you there – and thanks for the copy of your book! Warm wishes, Zoe x
Hi Zoe, I heard you interviewed on ABC radio and just had to get your book. You see, in 1967 I was a young teacher at Goondiwindi high school, as was one Remo Boccabella whose parents owned a fruit shop and milk bar and who had grown up living in New Farm (Where my grandparents lived and my mother also grew up in New Farm). I was delighted to discover that you are the daughter of the RB who was my colleague. He would have known me as Miss Ruth McIntyre. I married a local grazier and my life was never the same again after Goondiwindi! I have not finished your memoir yet so am still curious as to what there awaits about your Dad.
I am revelling in the stories of the cane cutting. My uncle had a cane farm outside Gordonvale where I spent a lot of time as a child growing up in Cairns in the fifties. I can almost smell the farm beside the Mulgrave river as I turn the pages you have written. Not only was there anti Italian sentiment but also anti Catholic prejudice. My grandmother warned us girls never to marry a Catholic. But she might as well have saved her breath to cool her porridge as my older sister left Australia to travel the world in 1964, eventually finding work in Rome as a private live in nurse for a Contessa. While in Rome she met and married the handsome Francesco di Jorio, so I have a gorgeous nephew who, like yourself is half Italian.
Do give my kind regards to your father if he is still with us (sorry but at my age one cannot take continuity for granted).
Dr Ruth Armstrong
Lovely to hear from you! My Dad has very fond memories of his time in Goondiwindi and he’s spoken about it often over the years. He is well and currently does much travelling os. I will definitely tell him about your making contact with me. I’m sure he’ll be delighted.
I hope you are continuing to enjoy reading the book! – smiling. Really lovely to hear your feedback and to also hear of all your other links with different aspects – New Farm, cane farms, and of course a nephew who is ‘mezzo italiano’!
Thank you for including your email address, I will contact you again shortly.
Again, it was really lovely to hear from you.
I’m in the middle of reading your book Joe’s Fruit Shop & Milk Bar (which I’m loving), and got to the chapter on Palmi and discovered we have the same the family name. My grandmother was Rizzitano and my father Misale. Would love to hear from you.
Hello Enza. Yes, with both those surnames in common from Palmi I would say we are definitely related in some way. Thanks for providing your email address, I will be in touch. Hope you continue to enjoy the book! Zoe x
Hi Zoe, I have just finished reading both books…😍😍😍 wow…I can relate to all of the experiences… My Nonno immigrated to Aust. In 1924 and his brother arr.in 1928 ….. My father arrived here in 1949 with my mum and Nonna… There has been no evidence of where my Nonno and his brother were between1924-1948…. I was so curious when I read about your Nonno in an Internment Camp… I now believe that perhaps they were interned as well…..but I can’t find any list of names or documentation on any Camps….no nno’s brother bought an orchard in the Stanthorpe area.. Nonno worked around the Yelarbon area on tobacco farms….. It’s so funny as my Nonno and Nonna also moved to Brisbane in later years…New Farm… James St.
I hope you may give me hints on how I could find lists of internees….😊😊
My Nonno was Guiseppe Francesco Mondolo( buried in Nugee Cemetery)
His brother was Sante Luigi Mondolo ( buried in Stanthorpe)
His nephew Deri Carlotto and his family worked on the orchard as well he was married to a Francesca … All moved to Brisbane
The boys Mario and Carlo Carlotto had a fruit shop supermarket in NEW farm..
I am obsessed with our Family history and need to find answers …. I return to Italy every two years… Fruili…very special…
There was a time in my life….late Primary School- High School years where I didn’t want anyone to know I was Italian as I was bullied as they say today…..!!!!! It was difficult to deal with at times.. Thank God we were strong….good Italian blood…
I now have my Italian passport and am very proud….😍😍
Thank you again for your books…I am sharing with friends…. !!!!!!A must read….!!!!!
Hi Linet, lovely to hear from you! Thank you for reading both books – I’m thrilled! I can imagine your surprise when you were reading and coming across so many familiar names and places – quite incredible how many similarities there are it seems with your family story. In some ways, while I have written my own family’s story, in many respects it is the migrant story that belongs to so many of us.
In answer to your question, you might be able to find out more about what happened to your Nonno and his brother between 1924 and 1948 by conducting searches of their names through the National Archives and Qld State Archives. You can begin by entering their names in an online database for free and if you find files that are not ‘open’ you can request copies for a small fee. That said, as you will know from reading Joe’s especially, sometimes these searches may be successful and sometimes not. All the best with it!
How lovely that you return to Italy every two years. Very lucky! And thank you for sharing my books with your friends. I appreciate that very much!
Again, really great to hear from you and hope you have some success in further research through the archives.
Best wishes and tante belle cose, Zoe xx
Thank you Zoe….take care😍😍
Thank you so much for having written such an important and heartfelt story – your story, our story, the story that showed the creation of a new culture: the Italo-Australian culture.
I had no idea that racism was so rampant during those years! My Dad and his father – hardworking Italian immigrants, were also incarcerated during WW2. In fact, Dad (Alfio Russo) was about 1 year older than your Nonno, and worked on the family sugar cane farm in Euramo/Tully. Who knows if their paths ever crossed??
These mighty people, were hard-working, strong and vulnerable at the same time, courageous – and so much more; they created a new culture.
Thank you again Zoe from my heart.
~Carmen Russo xx
It is wonderful to receive your message – thank you! You have received the story in the exact spirit that I had hoped and intended for. Yes, it is my family’s story but it is also the story of so many of us whose families did indeed create a new culture – that of being ‘half and half’ in our Italian-Australian culture.
It would be very interesting to know if our relatives’ paths ever crossed on Queensland’s cane fields. There is a possibility since both my grandfathers, great grandfathers and a great uncle all cut cane at numerous different locations. I am sorry to hear that you father and grandfather were also interned during WW2.
It was my intention to honour the Italian men, women and children who made such sacrifices and worked so hard during the early years when they migrated to Australia. And I am very touched that you felt inclined to write to me after reading the book, Carmen, and that you also recognise their vulnerability as well as their strengths. Thank you!
Someone put me onto your website and I had to laugh as you described what was not acceptable in Australia “bottle tomatoes, have plastic on the hallway carpet or a glory box of Italian linens” – yes, that’s the way it was then – we were the immigrants . I am 62 and my father came out from Pescara at 19yrs – he was a very traditional italian and you know how that goes. However we were surrounded by all italian famlies where we lived so we still carried on with the italian ways and get togethers. As you can see we were from the Abruzzo region, actually not far from you – about 95klms. Dad also worked in the cane fileds of Tully/Ayr Queensland as a lot of italians did. I have been back to Italy and just feel so much at home and comfortable there – after a while of being there the long laid silent italian speech gradually comes back with practice – albeit mighty rusty! I will be ordering your books as they will bring back many happy memories I’m sure.
Lovely to hear from you. Yes, I am definitely familiar with Pescara. I actually have a couple who are from Pescara living nearby who possibly came out to Australia around a similar time to your father. From what you have told me I think there will perhaps be many things you will relate to in both my books, maybe even more so since you are a first generation Italian-Australian and I am a ‘second’. And you will possibly have a chuckle when you read about me trying to use my Italian in Italy, not just rusty but more like ‘frozen’! Thank you for your interest in my books. I really hope you enjoy reading them!
Tante belle cose,
I forgot to tell you – I tried le uova in purgatorio – DELICIOUS!! It seems that quite a few of us children of Italian immigrants grew up around the Tully/FNQ region. Would there be a chance of having some sort of get together? I am living in Italy right now (believe me we are different from modern day Italians – quite a different culture all together), but will be back in Australia from late November on. I’d love to help organise if people would be interested.
Best wishes to you and all on this wall.
Un abbraccio forte!
PS as an aside, I remember hearing that some Aboriginal men worked on my Dad’s sugar cane farm – and learned to speak some Sicilian dialect!!
That’s great to hear you enjoyed eating the ‘eggs in purgatory’! And I do know what you mean about the difference between migrants and those Italians who stayed in Italy (which I touched on in Mezza Italiana and discovered when I was staying at my family’s house in Italy). It is interesting how we are all very much shaped by the places and people around where we live at a point in time.
Un grande abbraccio a te!
I have just finished your “Joe’s fruit shop and milk bar” book and reserved straight away your other “Mezza italiana” book. As a recent Italian migrant (I arrived just 11 years ago) I found extremely interesting and fascinating reading all that my compatriots went through when they arrived in Australia a century ago… it’s a completely new scenario which I did not even imagine. I do believe that if Australia today is a welcoming country that values and celebrates peoples from various different backgrounds (Italians included!) is because of the hard work, resilience, good values and great examples of our predecessors. Thanks for sharing this beautiful story and for your hard research work made accessible to the big public via your beautiful book. Anna
Thank you for getting in touch with me – it is really interesting to learn your perspective in reading this story. Particularly, in discovering what Italian migrants experienced in Australia last century. I completely agree with you that many migrants from various different backgrounds, in persevering through challenge and keeping their spirits and values, have helped smooth the way for many others who continue to migrate to this country. Although, there are always some areas that need more compassion and understanding, it is wonderful that the majority of Australians believe in giving others a ‘fair go’ whatever their cultural background, and it’s great to hear you have experienced such a welcome. I think I heard recently that Australia is now the most multicultural country in the world – quite amazing! Scusate il mio italiano ma posso chiederle dove in Italia tu sei nata? (Per favore, non è necessario rispondere a questa se si preferisce non farlo, naturalmente!) Thank you again for your message and I hope you enjoy reading Mezza Italiana too!
Tante belle cose,
I saw the write-up about your book in the Sunday Mail a couple of months ago and recognized the name Boccabella ie your Dad, Remo, who was on the staff at Goondiwindi High when I taught there. I was in Home Ec. I have a staff photo, 1968, I think. Alf Garoni (Italian) was the Headmaster who loved to hop on the Fiat tractor after school and plough up the school field. So I was very keen to read your story.
Congratulations on the wonderful work you have done in writing your family’s story. I am Australian with no Italian connection and I had no idea of the difficulties migrants faced when they came to Australia. Thank you for sharing and giving me an understanding of just what life was like back then. As an Australian I feel ashamed of the way the Italians were treated during the war.
You have woven your family’s rich heritage together in a very readable and interesting way and you are rich indeed to have such wonderful family. I am pleased to know all their difficulties and hard work paid off. I’m sure you are very proud of them all.
I would be pleased if you would pass on my greetings to your Dad, Remo.
PS I am looking forward to reading Mezza Italiana
It is lovely to receive your message, thank you for getting in touch. I am so pleased you enjoyed reading, Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar, and it’s great to also hear of your connection through teaching at the same time as my Dad, Remo at Goondiwindi High. (I love the image of the Italian Headmaster ploughing the school field on a Fiat tractor by the way!) Very happy to pass on your greetings to my Dad. He has always spoken very fondly of his time in Goondiwindi.
Thank you for your observations about the book, they really do mean a lot to me as I wanted to write this story for a long time and to do my best to do it it justice so this little bit of history isn’t lost. I hope you enjoy reading Mezza Italiana too!
So many things I want to say to you but the most important one is how currently I look forward to going to bed and entering “nonno Anni’s ” world. I am restricting myself to two or three chapters a night so I don’t finish the book too quickly!!!! (By the way I have read Mezza Italiana 3 times now – so I learnt to slow down with Joe’s Fruit shop and bar!) My father was born in Calabria – by coincidence in Palmi in 1930 – so I am sure my father’s family may know your great grandmother’s family! But I digress, your writings have taught me so much more than I thought I already knew about the hardships the early migrants encountered. However your book(s) also validate the strength, motivation and loyalty that I dare say all migrants have that come to Australia for a “better life”. How lucky are we to have such ancestors to not only make us proud of what they did and are/were, but that have given us unconditional love, happiness and a real sense of purpose. I “love” your nonno Anni, he reminds me so much of my dear late father, that I miss so much, reading his story (nonno Anni) is helping me to keep my father “alive”. I sincerely thank you for that. By the way I too have a husband with no Italian background what so ever but who thinks he is a fully blown Italiano!!!! Keep writing about anything Italian please – we cannot let the generations to come not know the wonderful influences/contributions Italians have made to shaping Australia. Mille grazie, Diane
It is wonderful to receive your message! As a fellow bedtime reader, I love your analogy of going to bed and entering “Nonno Anni’s world” as I also love how it is possible to step into other worlds by opening the pages of a book at night. I am thrilled that you look forward to stepping into Anni’s world and I also feel honoured (and a little emotional) that he reminds you of your father. There is something so special about that generation and what they went through, isn’t there? It made them a certain type of person and I must admit I found that very comforting and steady to be around. It really touched me when you said reading Nonno Anni’s story was helping to keep your father alive in a way too. I must confess I cried when I finished writing the book as I felt like those dear to me had come alive again too during the writing and then I had to say goodbye to them once again. How incredible that your father was born in Palmi in Calabria too! And I was absolutely thrilled that you have read Mezza Italiana three times now – thank you!! I have a certain few books that I reread for special reasons so it really does resonate what this means and I am humbled that Mezza means this for you. Of course to also have a husband with no Italian background who considers himself Italiano puts us in a similar situation! I do understand what you say about the strength and motivation of migrants and I continue to be inspired by the way migrants of all different cultures face challenge and adversity and no doubt this will continue to influence what I write as I work on the next book now. Thank you again for your beautiful message, Diane. And I hope you enjoy the rest of Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar! Tante belle cose, Zoe xx
Ciao di nuovo Zoe!
I have sadly now finished “Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar”. I say “sadly” because I am already missing Nonno Anni – what a warm, intelligent, genuine and wise man he was.
Congratulazioni – you successfully made me laugh, cry and love just as I did with Mezza Italiana!
What a brilliant piece of “Australian-Italian history” you have written. The Boccabella and Solano family lines have been so respectfully, lovingly and beautifully brought to life on every page – I wish I had your story telling talent so I too could immortalise my family in such a way.
Please humour me with a little of your time as I feel the need to share a few thoughts and facts with you that came as I read…..I was not aware that many migrants simplified their surnames and I smiled when I read how you wanted to shorten your name to Bell at one stage (to fit in). My family surname “Belle” obviously pronounced Bell in the Anglo community, I feel definitely reduced (or eliminated) any prejudice that I may have received, helped also by the fact my mother had green eyes and red hair! However I always liked that my surname was a little different with the ‘”e” at the end. I have given both my daughters “Belle” as their middle name and I did not take my husbands name – all in tribute to my ancestry.
I am so glad that Nonno Anni explained to you the importance of your surname. Which you wisely took on board – brava!
A little funny on having Belle as a surname in Italy – my father told me when he was at school his nickname was Bruto!
My father was Giuseppe (Joe) Belle and he also had a fruit shop and milk bar in the 1960s that he and mum ran for just over 10 years in the Sydney suburb of Granville. I remember “milk shake and chocolate bar ” stories from my parents just as you have written about flavours and the regulars who purchased them. At the time a very young Paul Hogan (when he still worked on the Harbour Bridge) lived around the corner and frequented the milk bar for one of mum’s milkshakes! (dad focused on the fruit and vegies apparently)
The reason my father came to Australia (on his own) in 1948 aged 18 was twofold – firstly, for an adventure before he settled into family life back in Calabria after a few years away. However, more relevant to Nonno Anni, was the fact his mother broke his banjo as punishment for missing Mass most Sundays (because he would go off fishing with his father). He also had hinted regularly he was not going to become a Priest as she had wished for her eldest son. Often commenting to her that the church only looks out for themselves and he is not that selfish! (can you imagine how angry that would have made a strong willed Calabrese woman???)
In the 1930’s Mass was said on my father’s family veranda, there was no village church and his mother apparently “over played” the importance of their priest. On the Sunday my father returned from fishing to find his broken banjo he promised himself he would run away to the furthest part of the world to avoid the Church unjustly taking from him!
My father didn’t even know how your Zia’s house and your inheritance was “unjustly taken” by the church but I know he would be VERY happy that Nonno Anni did not shake Don Angelo’s hand on return to Fossa!
How strange is it though that without that “unjust side” of the church impacting on your grandfather or my father – you and I may very well not be Mezza Italiana!!!!
Zoe, thank you again for sharing your family through your books. Your family story has become “our” family story, complete with smiles, tears and PRIDE.
Keep writing please….. a few suggestions I would love to see from you…. Nonna’s cookbook, quirky Italian habits and sayings, Remo’s Journey…..
Un abbraccio forte for everything you have given me through your books,
Ciao di nuovo Diane,
Thank you for your lovely words once again! When I was writing these books, at different times I did laugh and cry too so it’s wonderful to feel a connection in that when reading the words, those feelings translated through to you too.
Yes, I can imagine your having a smile at my once wanting to shorten my surname to Bell when Belle is your surname. And it is great to hear how you also gave your daughters this name and kept it yourself as a tribute to your ancestry. (In fact, interestingly, as recently as last century it was common for most women to retain their birth surnames in Italy.) And yes, I am familiar with that Italian humour of changing a name like ‘Belle’ to ‘Brutto’ as a nickname, which your father experienced! In researching the origin of Italian surnames I discovered that often people were bestowed with a name opposite to how they looked – not sure what that means for us with surnames that mean ‘beautiful’ and ‘beautiful mouth’!!
Thank you for sharing with me some of your family stories – really lovely to read! I think you convey them very well and should definitely start writing them all down (though I should warn it can become quite a labour intensive process but rewarding at the same time!) It is interesting how many similarities our family stories share so I can understand why the books resonated with you. I do feel quite honoured that you feel these books become ‘our story’ as I had hoped that while sharing my family story, knowing how much it had it common with many migrant stories, I was preserving this little piece of history for many of us.
And yes, Diane, I will definitely keep writing and I thank you for your suggestions (some of which actually may already be in line for future works!) And while not every book I write may be of Italian stories, I can promise that I am not finished with writing more Italian books in the future even if the one I am currently writing may be a little different.
Un grande abbraccio indietro and thank you again for your lovely messages.
Warm wishes to you and your family!
Dear Zoe, I have just finished listening to the audio book: Joes Fruit Shop and Milk Bar, which was made available to me from my local library. It was one of the best true stories I have ever read, and I really enjoyed it so much. I hope you will soon also write a cook book as I’d love to try to make some of the delicious sounding recipes passed down to you by your Nonna. I’m not Italian, but I do remember the resentment some Australians had for the hard working immigrants. I really admire that your family started with nothing and built up their lives through sheer hard work. In comparison, the average Aussie is and was, pretty lazy. It was so inspiring to read how your Nono (not sure of spelling) Anni helped so many people. You are a gifted writer and I loved every word of your story.
Thank you for sharing with me how much you enjoyed reading Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar. That is really lovely to hear! (Daniela did such a beautiful job lending her voice to the audio version of the book.) A few people have now said they would like to see a cookbook from me one day. I must confess I am very much a ‘home cook’ and love cooking handed-down recipes and adapting or creating some others too so you never know. In the meantime, I do have a couple of recipes on this site and also there are recipes in my previous book, Mezza Italiana if you are interested. (And I haven’t ruled out including some more recipes in a future book but will have to see!) Zoe x
Zoe, I have just finished reading ‘Mezza Italiana’ and had to let you know how much I enjoyed it. I had already read ‘Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar’ and loved it too. I am of Scottish decent migrating to Australia when I was 17 yrs old, but like your Roger feel a greater affinity to Italy, one of my Italian language teachers said I must have been an Italian in a previous life. I have travelled extensively in Italy and spent time in Abruzzo though have not been in Fossa but if money and health allow (I am now in my 83rd year) will return there next year. This time to visit Fossa I want to see it for myself after reading about it. Best of luck to you and many thanks for giving us such enjoyable books.
Hello Josephine, thank you very much for your message. I’m really pleased to hear that you enjoyed reading both Mezza and Joe’s. I can imagine that your having previously visited Abruzzo and knowing some of the area must have added an extra element to reading about it too. Roger continues to have a great affinity to Italy, which you of course will understand – smiling. Sometimes I think he would live there permanently if he could! It is wonderful to hear that you also have this affinity with Italy too. If you are planning to visit Fossa I need to forewarn you that it presently remains a ghost town, although you are able to walk through the village and see many of the things I wrote about. And of course, the area remains beautiful, almost untouched, and worth a visit. I would recommend accommodation at the nearby convent (just up the road from Fossa) Santo Spirito which escaped any damage from the earthquake and has spectacular views over the entire valley. Thank you again for your warm wishes – much appreciated. And I would love to hear if you do end up travelling to Fossa! Kind regards, Zoe x
I read Joe’s milk bar when it first came out and just loved it – I have no Italian in my background, but certainly appreciate family history, and enjoyed reading all that you must have researched. I also grew up in Brisbane, and enjoyed finding out more about another family’s historical experience of Brisbane. On the strength of your memoir of Joe, I have now commenced reading Mezza Italiana, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it just as much. Could I just make one small suggeston? In both books I went looking for a map, and was so disappointed not to find a map in either book. If either book is ever revamped, or further similar writing is published, I hope appropriate maps will be included. Thanks again for providing great reading for us. Carina
Thank you for letting me know how much you enjoyed, Joe’s, really lovely to hear. Yes, there was a lot of research involved and it was interesting for me to delve into more of Brisbane’s history and how it unfolded alongside family history. Hopefully you will enjoy reading Mezza too. In many ways, it is quite a different book to Joe’s. And thank you for the feedback regarding maps, this is certainly something that has received some consideration. Again, thank you for your lovely comments about the books. I am currently continuing to delve even further back into Brisbane’s history, and that of SE Qld, for part of the next book, so it seems the area is not quite done with me yet – smiling.
Back again, Zoe, having now finished reading Mezza Italiana. Yes, it’s a different book from Joe’s, but I enjoyed reading it just as much! It made me want to visit the Abruzzo, when it’s ready after the earthquake, though it seems that will be a long time yet. I’m glad you were able to see it ‘unspoiled’.
Like you, I’m 2nd generation Australian, but my ancestors are from the north of England. I had a similar experience to yours when you first arrived in the Abruzzo, when I first visited England – I embarked on my first trip with no great expectation – after growing up in Brisbane, I don’t enjoy visiting Sydney, and imagined arriving in London would feel the same. To my surprise, I wasn’t even out of the terminal at Heathrow and I suddenly felt at home! For the next month travelling around England I felt so much at home that I couldn’t imagine leaving. Grandma had passed away many years earlier, after leaving England over 70 years earlier than that, and having no opportunity to return. But I credited her with passing on a great deal to me of what life in her home country was really like, enabling me to feel so much at home when I made my visit.
Another suggestion for we who know nothing of the Italian language: I would have found it very useful to have a glossary. I didn’t even know what ‘Mezza Italiana’ meant, until I got to page 50 or so when it was explained, but it sounded good and I was willing to take a chance!
I’m going to try Nanna Francesca’s angry lamb dish – thanks for including the recipes throughout.
Thanks again for your writing, and I’ll be looking forward to your next issue.
Really lovely to hear you enjoyed reading Mezza Italiana too! If you are interested in going to the Abruzzo one day, please don’t be put off by the earthquake. There are many areas of the region that were unaffected. And even those that were have much to offer visitors. While I was fortunate to have stayed there at times before the 2009 earthquake, it is a region that has experienced earthquakes at different times over the centuries but continues to retain its overall magic.
It is also wonderful to learn that you shared that experience of recognition and feeling at home when you visited your ancestral England for the first time. There must be special happenings at play within us that continue to bind us to both people and places no matter how far we may grow up from them. And that relationship with a grandparent is so special, it’s lovely that your Grandmother handed on that love of England to you.
Most of the recipes Nanna Francesca gave me were word of mouth so it was an interesting process for me to put ingredients and amounts into writing when I’m used to “a handful of this” or “a quick pour of that”. I do continue to love cooking her dishes though.
Best wishes, Zoe x
A delightful book, enjoyed every minute of it. Brought back some memories of my father who owned a watchmaking business in Westgarth, near Northcote in Melbourne. The area became very popular with the “New Australians” as he called them, with tomato plants in the front yard and lots of elderly Italian women dressed in sombre black visiting his shop. The fruiterer next door was Italian, with a toothpick as a constant appendage from his mouth. Who can forget the fruiterers putting your fruit in a paper bag then swinging it around to tighten the knot at the tops! We enjoyed the Italian community, a bit sad to see their small cottages being bought out/ demolished etc. Anyway, that’s progress I guess, but thank you for expanding my knowledge of the hardships these ‘New Australians’ had to endure in a country so far away from their homes.
Thank you, I’m so pleased to hear you enjoyed reading Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar and that it brought back some lovely memories too. I could immediately imagine the area and happenings you described around your father’s business and had to smile at the tomato plants in the front yard – yes! – thank you for sharing these memories with me, brought back some more of my own. Progress or not, I can’t help feeling sadness at the end of such an era in some respects. I love that your father had a watchmaking business. It reminds me of the sign I saw for a shop in Castlemaine – ‘Spectacle Maker’. Yes, progress marches on but there is something lost in not seeing some of these traditional businesses around as much anymore. Again, thank you for getting in touch. Very much appreciated! Zoe
This is the second time I have read your wonderful book Mezza Italiana.
My family tree goes back six generations in the not so far away New Zealand And before then England. Even so I can relate to your story in my own way. I am pulled between two places either side of the Tasman. Wishing I could live in my homeland but dwelling in Australia as an economic refugee of sorts.
You write so eloquently. Well done.
Hi Kelly, it is such a thrill for me to learn that you have read Mezza a second time – thank you for sharing this with me! I do understand how that pull between cultures must resonate with you. It is significant regardless of how much distance there may be between cultures or geographically. Thank you again for your lovely words, great to hear from you. Zoe x
Look forward to your book. I am mezzo abruzzese, my nonni both from Tocco da Casauria. Nonna “Stromei” somehow related to the poet domenico stromei.
There are a lot of unfinished family tales that end in Australia and I have tracked a few. i want to read your book and then correspond
pasadena ca usa
Thank you for your message. Based on your own connections there will perhaps be much you may relate to in both Mezza Italiana and Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar with regards to Abruzzo, Australia and being ‘mezzo e mezzo’ – smiling. I do hope you enjoy reading them!
Warm wishes, Zoe
Thank you so much for Joe’s beautiful book. It is so well crafted, makes the reader part of Joe’s world, is so interesting and is a special book to me.
I was born in Brisbane in 1936 and your book brought back so very many memories. I remember Joe’s shop but living at Camp Hill we mainly frequented the Queen Street milk bars. As an amateur historian I’ve written about Italian immigrants, one who came to Australia at 17 after World War 2 with two bob in his pocket and no English and now is the largest macadamia grower in the world. I’ve written of Italian internees who worked on farms in the Gympie district and have recently photographed what people would call a rough chook shed but where two internees lived for two years. Most Italians had a great work ethic, a strong sense of family and have become great Aussies.
I’m now looking for Mezza Italiana and will follow your literary career.
Keep writing and thrive on life.
Thank you for your message. I was very touched to discover what Joe’s means to you. It is a book I have wanted to write for most of my life so it is truly a pleasure to hear from someone like yourself who experienced this era and who has also written about Italian migrants. (It is interesting to learn that an Italian migrant is now the largest grower of the Australian macadamia nut – my favourite by the way!)
There are so many migrants who faced great challenge in establishing their ‘new lives’ and I am very conscious Joe’s is but one story among so very many of whom displayed much forbearance and goodwill. Such migrant stories continue to inspire me.
Thank you for seeking out Mezza (quite a different book to Joe’s – I hope you enjoy it too!) I am currently well into writing the next book and am aiming to have it completed next year.
Again, many thanks for you message.
Warm wishes and tante belle cose!
Zoe – I had the pleasure of a quick meeting at our dressmaker’s house recently. Since learning of your writing at this time, I read Joe’s Fruit Shop & Milk Bar which I absolutely loved. Couldn’t wait then to read Mezza Italiana. Thoroughly enjoyed both books. Wow – Zoe – you have a very special gift to be able to tell a story the way you do. So much detail – I can’t wait to visit Fossa one day – you have opened my eyes to the plight of early migrants and their struggles – things that I had never ever contemplated before your story. I was born in 1952 and I related to so much to details in Joe’s Fruit Shop & Milk Bar – my mother spent a lot of time on a farm in Stanthorpe when my Father was in the Army (WW2) and I remember my mother telling me stories of the wonderful Italian family she knew there. – so much of your story resonated with me. Just can’t wait to read your next book – I hope it is close to being finished. You are just so talented and God has certainly blessed you with a wonderful talent. Many thanks and keep writing!!! PS Roger sounds like a wonderful man. You must be a formidable couple.
Hi Jill, it is really lovely to hear that you have enjoyed reading both Mezza and Joe’s! I appreciate your getting in touch to let me know. Thank you for seeking out the books and for your kind words (about Roger too!) It is especially wonderful to hear how much the stories resonated with you, particularly with your mother’s link to Stanthorpe too. I am currently continuing writing the next book and it is coming along. I don’t like to put definite timeframes on writing but I do hope to have it completed within the year. When I can reveal more about it I will be sure to put something here on the website and also on my Facebook page. I am putting in many hours working on it at present and can say I have travelled to three Australian states as well as Germany to research this one! Again, thank you for your lovely message. It really means a lot to learn how you enjoyed the books. Warm wishes, Zoe x
I have LOVED reading Joe’s Fruit Shop & Milk Bar and sad that I have finished it as I didn’t want it to end. I think it will linger long in my mind. Your grandparents were wonderful people and were perfect examples of ‘New Australians’ working hard and being successful. Congratulations for writing so beautifully about them. It is a book which speaks ‘volumes’ to me as I was born in Brisbane in the mid 50s. Thank you for bringing back to life the various places and names so evocatively e.g. I often drank Tristrams lemonade with the wax paper straws! I can remember squashing them and tasting the wax!!
Brisbane had many milk bars and corner stores in the suburbs in the 60s, often run by Italian or Greek families. Thank you for bringing back the memories. In the 60s I remember going to an orchard near Stanthorpe that was owned by Italians, as my father was an accountant and had audited their books. Again, you describe the area so accurately – congratulations.
I also read with great interest about the Intern Camps. It is so important to record this history especially from your family’s perspective.
Once again, congratulations on such a heart felt, heart warming book. I will certainly recommend it.
Thank you for your lovely message about Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar. It is really wonderful to hear how the book resonated with you and that it brought back so many memories from Brisbane of the 1950s and 60s. (Although born slightly after this time, I too remember the wax paper straws and sometimes ‘sucking them shut’ as a kid, and for me it was the Tristram’s truck delivering crates of soft drinks to houses around the suburbs.)
It is especially such a thrill to learn that for you the book captured both the places and times of Brisbane then (and Stanthorpe too) as I was really concerned with doing both the stories and the era justice out of respect for all those who lived through this time and experienced its joys as well as its challenges.
Thanks again for letting me know how you felt about the book and for your lovely wishes including to recommend it. I really appreciate it!
I am not aware if my great grandmother was related to your Dad. My great-grandmothers maiden name was ‘Boccabella’,she was born in a village called Petogna,which is a frazione of Barisciano. The area is called ‘Picenze’ made up of San Martino,Villa di Mezzo and Petogna.
My great -grandmother was called Santa Boccabella. She married a Giuseppe Garzone. Her daughter,my grandmother,married Paoloantonio Speranza and lived in San Martino,now referred as ‘Picenze’l
All the family have migrated to different countries. My family is in Melbourne. We have relatives in NSW and Brisbane.
Hi Anna Maria,
I cannot say for sure regarding the connection however there is a definite possibility considering the relative close proximity of Petogna to Poggio Picenze and Fossa where my family comes from. (I do recall driving through Petogna the last time I was there.) Unfortunately, I cannot confirm the connection at this stage but it is certainly possible.
Best wishes, Zoe x
Thank you for answering my message.
You be interested to know that work has been started on my earthquake damaged house in Picenze. I believe work has also started in Fossa.
I had less points being a non permanent resident.I was 32 in line,so actual construction starts in September this year. Houses already done are very well reconstructed. Hopefully your house will be done soon.
Regards, Anna Maria
Hello Anna Maria, yes, it is heartening to know work is underway on repairing houses in many of the earthquake damaged villages of Abruzzo. There is no word of my family’s house in Fossa being repaired at this stage as it is situated right in the red zone. However it is really wonderful to hear of those villagers who have been waiting patiently for so long that work is commencing on some of their homes. Best wishes for the reconstruction on your place. Kind regards, Zoe
Just finished reading Joes fruit shop and milk bar, thank you for sharing the history of your family.
I became so immersed in reading that I just missed my bus.
a long while since I have read a book with such warmth . Thanks again
Hello Doug, thank you, that is so lovely to hear. I do feel sorry that you missed a bus but I have to say I am chuffed that it was because you were so immersed in reading Joe’s. I hope another bus came along soon after! – smiling. Zoe x
How far away is your next book Zoe??? Just love your writing style!
Hi Jill, thank you!! The next book is well progressed but I cannot give a timeframe just yet. I will definitely put something here on my website or on my facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/Zoe.Boccabella.Author/ – once I can say more. Zoe x
Ciao Zoe, Recently my daughters travelled to Italy with school on an Italian language tour. Part of their preparation for the upcoiming immersion of all things Italian was to listen to current songs charting on the Italian top 100. From this I was exposed to an artist, Francesco Gabanni who currently has two successful songs “Amen” that won him a division in the 2016 San Remo festival – great song – not religious at all given it’s title and another song titles Eternamente Ora. That song, with it’s corresponding video has prompted me to write to you. I immediately thought of Nonno Anni and his beautiful wife Francesca. If you get a chance google the official Vevo video clip of it….I hope the song and the video touch you as it did me. warm regards, Diane Belle
Ciao Diane, that sounds really wonderful that your daughters got to travel to Italy recently. (Such a difference to when I was at school and there was never any prospect of overseas travel!) I’m sure it must have had such a beneficial impact for them.
One of the things I love about travelling is discovering different artists in that country including in music. I had a look at the clip you suggested for Eternamente Ora. It is very kind of you to share with me that you were moved to think of Nonno Anni and Francesca when you saw it. And it is also touching to know that, further on from your previous lovely messages about Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar, the story and the people have stayed with you. Thank you. Warm wishes, Zoe xx
I loved your book Mezza Italiana and I am currently eagerly reading your second book.
I was shocked to read about the secret camp atWestern Creek. So I googled a fewthings and came up with the following site which has photos of remains of a camp and barracks at Western Creek. Itmay be nothing or it may be whatyou are looking for http://www.bonzle.com/c/a?a=p&p=57839&d=pics&c=1&op=1562&x=150.98651&y=-27.83582&w=145274&mpsec=0
Best regards from a fellow Brisbaneite.
Thank you for getting in touch. It’s really great to hear you enjoyed Mezza and I hope you enjoy reading the rest of Joe’s.
Yes, unfortunately the secret camp at Western Creek stuns many but I felt it was important to include it as while a small part of history, it is still a part (and significant for all those involved). I took a look at the link you included and did some more searching of that camp and I don’t believe it is the same one that I have written about. It seems the one you found pictures of is actually further north to the location of the internment camp and was most likely used by forestry workers. It is lovely that you felt compelled to go searching though – thank you!
Again, hope you enjoy the rest of Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar. I am getting very close to finishing the next book and hopefully, being from the Brisbane area too, it might interest you as well! Thanks again! Best wishes, Zoe x
I have been learning Italian for 3 years at our local U3A. Initially this was to assist us during our 3 month stay in Italy in 2013. We were based in Monte San Biagio, a small hill-top village between Roma and Napoli. But, I fell in love with the language (as i did the country) so have kept it up. Our Italian teacher one day showed us “Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar”, so I borrowed it form the library. I became totally absorbed in it so I then had to read “Mezza Italiana”. Again I became enthralled and found myself aligning the culture of Fossa with Monte San Biagio. Sigh! We want to go back!! Amazing how Italy and its culture gets under the skin. What is it, compared to other European countries?
I very much look forward to your next book … and maybe others after that!
Thank you for getting in touch with me. I’m thrilled that you enjoyed reading both Joe’s and Mezza – thank you! Yes, there’s definitely something about small Italian towns that gets under your skin. I imagine you must have had a fantastic three months in Monte San Biagio. And how wonderful that you have fallen in love with the language! I do hope you have the opportunity to have another extended stay in Italy to converse with the locals. Yes, I am currently working on the next book and it is coming along – with hopefully more to follow! I will definitely post something here and on my FB page once I know when the next book is coming out. Again, thank you for your kind words.
Tante belle cose, Zoe x
Zoe, I had contacted you some time ago after having read “Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar”. Well last week I was in Florence and went into one of the bookshops – and guess what I saw – your wonderful book!! Thought this news would please you.
All the best
Hi Carmen, thank you for letting me know. It’s such a thrill my books are starting to appear in bookshops in Italy. Just recently another lovely person told me they’d found Mezza in Milan and now you’ve spotted Joe’s in Florence! Have to pinch myself really. I appreciate your sharing this with me – grazie mille!
I have been meaning to write to you ever since I read and thoroughly enjoyed your book Mezza Italiana, earlier this year.
I am a member of a book club and this was the chosen book for that particular month. What I particularly liked was the ‘love of life’ which Italians seem to have….they really live life. Your grandparents were very strong people and I think your growing realization of their wonderful attributes and what they could teach you was something with which I can confer. I came to appreciate my grandparents and all that they had done for our family as I matured and grew into adulthood.
I think it is rather wonderful too that your husband Roger has come to love the Italian way of life so very much.
I loved reading about your journeys back to the area of Italy from where your grandparents came and how you came to know and love the people and the way of life there.
On Page 217 of this book you mentioned having visited La Spezia. That village is very memorable for me. In January 1974 I was on a school tour with the Shore School from Sydney and on the 5th of January we travelled from Nice to Lirici, which as my diary says ‘ is a small port just near La Spezia’. My diary goes on to say that Lirici ‘has a pretty beach front and is surrounded by mountains. When we arrived some of the group went for a swim ( not having seen the sea for some time) and created such a stir by swimming in the middle of winter that we even had two policemen watching on and
quite a crowd of local people’!!
Why I am writing to you now, however is that as soon as I heard about the devastating earthquake in central Italy and the name of L’Aquila, I immediately thought of you and your family. No doubt you are trying to find out about the fate of relations and friends living in this area. The images on television are frightening. I can just say that my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. My thoughts are also with the tireless rescue workers and maybe there will still be a few miracles, with the discovery of more survivors.
With kindest regards,
Lovely to receive your message – thank you. It’s great to hear that you enjoyed Mezza Italiana. Yes, there is something wonderful about how many Italians embrace life and are very strong and stoic about hardship, particularly those generations that lived through such a challenging era, including war. And it is also wonderful to hear how you felt a similar way about your own grandparents. I’m not sure if you are aware but I ended up also writing a follow up called, Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar, and I must admit as I delved further into the lives of my grandparents and great grandparents both in Italy and more so in Australia, I came to have an even greater appreciation of that ability to ‘get on with it’ and maintain that love of life in the face of challenge. I am currently writing and researching a story based on German ancestors on my mother’s side who came to Australia in the 19th century and this unveils another whole set of challenges that people overcame! I confess I am very much inspired by those who, when faced with challenge overcome it with such calm forbearance.
I had a smile at your experience at Lerici. It sounds just like Italy of that era based on stories my parents told me of their travels in the late 60s and early 70s. Also, I think the picturesque village you visited was perhaps a little different to where I stayed near the very busy port of La Spezia! – smiling. What a wonderful experience for you to have in travelling to Italy at school age!
Regarding the most recent earthquake in central Italy, as you mentioned – the area where it occurred is about 50km north of my family’s village so they definitely felt it and were frightened but are thankfully safe. I think the similarity of the 2009 earthquake occurring at 3.32am and the 2016 happening at 3.36am have traumatised people again at their most vulnerable in sleep. Having seen the devastation and the effect on people in Abruzzo weeks after the 2009 earthquake, my heart goes to those currently facing it and the long road ahead that they will endure in recovery. The images are as frightening as you mention and I found the reality so sobering and overwhelming when I saw it firsthand. My family’s village of Fossa remains a ghost town seven years on with the villagers still in temporary housing, including my relatives. The rebuilding is an extremely complex and wrought issue. My family’s house in Fossa that I wrote about remains damaged and uninhabitable as it was the day of the earthquake. It has been emotional to learn of this most recent earthquake in the area. Again, thank you for your kind thoughts.
Warm wishes, Zoe x
I was about three quarters way through reading Mezza Italiana when the devastating news came through about the earthquake.Such horrible images of small villages being extinguished by the power of nature. I do hope your relatives are safe and you were not visiting the area.
Thank you very much for your message. My family’s village is about 50km south of the most recent earthquake in central Italy so it was definitely felt there. I wasn’t in the area at the time however I admit it has brought back memories of visiting the Abruzzo just weeks after the 2009 earthquake. Having seen how that traumatised people, I keep thinking of and feel concern for those currently going through this tragedy. Without giving too much away, by the end of reading Mezza you will know more of my visit to Abruzzo after the last earthquake. Sadly, the villagers including my relatives are still in temporary housing seven years on and the village is all but a ghost town. A long road ahead for the most recent survivors.
Again, many thanks for your thoughts, they are much appreciated. Zoe x
of course when I finished reading your memoir I realized that Fossa was badly affected by the 2009 earthquake. What a shame that the village has not been re built. My heart goes out to all the survivors.
I also want to say how much I enjoyed “Mezza Italiana” and could identify and laugh about the Italian traditions bought by migrants to Australia.My husband was eight years old when he migrated from the Tyrol with his parents after the war and made their own wine in the suburbs of Sydney. When we got married Peter decided to carry on the tradition and we stored the bottles underneath the house at Cammeray. The neighborhood was often awakened by the blast of an exploding bottle and Peter would put on his racing helmet to cautiously retrieve a bottle for dinner.
I could also identify with Roger embracing all things Italian even though I am 4th generation Australian but unlike him I loved a strong espresso and a good red wine from the start.
Barbara Krefel x
It is lovely to hear how much you enjoyed reading Mezza Italiana and could identify with various aspects in it. Thank you! I had to laugh at your husband Peter’s experiences with the exploding bottles, this can certainly be the case with both wine and passata alike! I think my Mum may have been more like you in that she embraced many of the Italian traditions and foods from the start. Roger has certainly come a long way from that first trip to Italy twenty years ago. Just recently he’s been trimming the grapevines in the backyard in preparation for the growing season for next season’s wine grapes!
I do hope the village of Fossa is rebuilt one day especially for the residents who have remained in the area since the earthquake and hope to return to their beloved Fossa in the future. It seems once these stories disappear from the news headlines, it is assumed people may have returned to their towns while they in essence remain displaced.
Thank you again for sharing with me how you identified with Mezza Italiana. Much appreciated!
Best wishes, Zoe x
I thoroughly enjoyed your both of your books. It is so nice to read about your interest in the history of your family. My husband is Dutch, but I am from the United States and my 4 grandparents were born in Italy. They came to America in the early 20th century. One set came from Priverno and the other set lived in Sicily. We visited both towns and found the “castle” my grandmother lived in till she left for America at 14 years old. She thought the castle was hers because they lived there, but she didn’t realize that her family were the contadini! It is Palma di Montechiaro and was in the Giusseppi di Lampedusa family. Now, we spend a lot of time in the Abruzzo as well. We live in Barrea and Florida and visited L’Aquila after the earthquake. What a sight…
I so enjoy your description of life and people in Abruzzo…So true!! May you continue writing and have much success.Your books bring smiles to many faces, especially if their roots are from Italy…….
Wonderful to receive your message! I also have relatives in the Boccabella family who migrated to America. I’m thrilled that you have enjoyed both of my books – thank you very much for letting me know! I love the story of your grandmother living in a castle in Italy and thinking it was hers. (My family were contadini too as you will know from the books!) How incredible that it was the castle of the Lampedusa family. Il Gattopardo, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s book, I very much enjoyed reading and have also seen the 1963 film, The Leopard and the BBC program Carluccio and the Leopard.
Barrea is in a truly beautiful position on the lake. It must be fantastic to spend part of your time living there. L’Aquila after the earthquake was certainly a very distressing sight. These days the city’s horizon seems to be filled with cranes, a promising sight… Sadly, my own family’s village of Fossa currently remains much a ghost town since the earthquake in 2009 with most villagers still in the temporary housing. The repercussions of terremoto certainly lasts many years…
Again, thank you for your lovely message. I am currently working on the third book and hope to write many more, some with Italian stories and also others. I will put something about the next book here on my website and also on facebook @zoeboccabella.author once it gets closer to being completed.
Tante belle cose, Zoe x
Hello Zoe Picked up “Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar” from my local library not really knowing what to expect from your book. I must say it was a beautiful surprise to read, so informative in so many ways and so wonderful to read about your family. I felt so emotional reading this book, as though I had been part of the stories told. I cannot wait to read other books by you.
Hi Yvonne, thank you very much for letting me know how much you enjoyed reading “Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar”. It’s so lovely to hear how the book connected with you. I’m at my desk about half way through editing book three and to receive your message certainly gives me a boost to keep going! Again, thank you, I really appreciate your message. Warm wishes, Zoe x
Dear Zoe I am a 79 yo Aussie, and have just read your beutifully descriptive book – Joes’s friut shop and milk bar. Your book really brings alive the times, scents, and memories of growing up during the war years and afterwards when so many “new australians” of many different nationalities came to our country. Growing up in the town of Kingston SE, Sth Aust. we initially had a number of Polish and German families come to the area working on the railways, really hard working , good living family men who eventually had their own businesses and were well respected people in the community. I remember they were really good gardeners, and it was often my job to go and buy some fresh vegies from the as did so many other families. In the 1960″s when I was a pay clerk for the E & W S who were constructing major drainage works throughout the South East of our state, there were many different nationalities who were required to work for a certain time on govt. projects when first arriving in Australia. They were a varied lot with some real characters, and I can still hear one young Italian lad who would have been no more than 17/18 and whose English was very limited singing away at the top of his voice on his way home from work – in Italian of course, but happy to be here in this land. For many of these the story was likewise in that they were hard working family men determined to make the most of their opportunities, and the same again, many of them started their own businesses, and became valued citizens in their communities. I often used to think that if we Aussies had had to do the same in reverse and end up in places in Europe, foreign in so many ways and in a language that we didn’t understand, we would not have coped nearly as well
Once again thank you so much for the way you write, and I am looking forward. to getting ‘Mezza Italiana’ from our library shortly.
Yours sincerly with a love of your writing. Ross Threadgold
I was thrilled to receive your message and to learn how much you enjoyed reading Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar – thank you! It was a great pleasure for me to write about the era that you mentioned. I was very conscious of wanting to do it justice for those who lived through it so to find out that the book captured it for you is especially lovely to hear.
It is interesting what you wrote about South Australia (it is a place I plan to visit and do more research in future) and in particular, the German and Polish migrant families that you spoke of since my next book, which I am almost finished, has involved much research about a German migrant family coming to Australia.
Also, I loved the image you described of the young Italian fellow singing on his way home from work. I appreciate your sincere compassion and understanding that yes it was indeed challenging for many such migrants of various cultures to start anew in a different country and that they did so with hard work and open hearts.
I do hope you enjoy Mezza Italiana as well and once I have some news about the next book I will put something here on my website too. Thank you again for your lovely message, it was such a pleasure to receive it!
Hi Zoe,i recently read your book Joe’s fruit shop and milk bar and loved it so much my wife bought me Mezza Italiana which i am now reading.I went to a Catholic boarding school in Charters Towers from 1955 to 1961 and there were lots of Italian students attending and most of their families were in the sugar cane industry and we all got along just fine and i was shocked and saddened to learn of some of the abuse some people had to put up with.I worked in Brisbane with a chap i became very good friends with and he related some of the things his uncles were subjected to while working in the canefields and it made me very sad.I worked as a sales rep and one of my customers were the Borgo family who ran a small goods business and were always willing to help by purchasing something which i suspected they might not really need.In return i always got my Christmas ham from them.I am retired now and have moved so i am not sure if they are still running their business but my memories of Italians were good ones.You are a brilliant writer and i loved reading your books.Best wishes
Hi Terry, thank you very much for your message. It is wonderful to hear that you have enjoyed the books – much appreciated. I can tell you that the Borgo family are still running their salumi business and are into the third generation as far as I am aware (I’m guessing it must be the same family that you knew). While the era mentioned provided challenges especially to many migrants it was also a time it seems when there was much generosity in supporting each other also and it is great to learn how you experienced that in reciprocation with the Borgo family and those you went to school with who were from Italian cane families. For me, writing Joe’s in particular, and putting down many of those stories to paper, both the tough ones to write and the inspiring ones, felt like an honour in a way. Knowing that similar stories were experienced by many I hoped to convey them with much respect for what so many went through during that time. I did love writing about that era I have to say and no doubt will write more of this time. In the meantime, I continue to work on book three. Again, thanks for being in touch, it really is lovely to know that you enjoy the books. Warmest wishes, Zoe xx
Joes Fruit Shop and Milk Bar
Dear Zoe Boccabella
Thank you very much for your story right from your heart.
You have certainly pulled a few of my heart strings.
This is my story and I will tell it as simply as possible before I hit you with some of my questions.
Born in Stanthorpe August 1943, father Allen Russell, mother Dulcie Pierpoint, I was brought up by my Grandmother as my mother had TB and due to ill health was not able to have much contact with me. My mother passed away when I was very young and for the life of me I can not remember her.
In my early years I stayed with my Grandmother in Warwick, she with the help of some of my Aunties ran Russells Café in Warwick which was in King Street across the road from Kings Picture.
For some reason the Café was seconded by the Americans during the war and my Grand mother used to let out their kitchen in her house in Wantly St to another couple to make ends meet. She did all her domestic cooking in the Café.
I started school at Warwick Central had two stints there, between stints at Thulimbah School.
Our northern neighbours were Mr and Mrs Sam Laspina, and our southern neighbour was Don Watson.
I used to walk to school about three miles with Connie, Santa(deceased), Bruno(deceased) and Connie was the boss she would have been 12 or thirteen at the time.
Bill Savage was one of our permanent workmen and he married Elma Chapmen and they ran the Thulimbah Post Office, she was very familiar with a lot of the Italians in the district.
My Uncle Don McNevin worked at the Pachendale Forrestry, he served in Cypres,NewGunea, and Milmn Bay. I never realised at the time but he could speak fluent Italian. He worked in the following Forrestries, Leyburn, Pachendale, and lastly Jimna. As a child I would have spent small periods of time at each place.
My dad was one of the founding members of the Summit bowels club, and I can remember a lot of the farmers had a hand in laying the first bowling greens, all voluntary, with the aid of Massey Ferguson tractors.
Every one got the cane at school if you got a spelling mistake you got the cane, we just thought that was normal. One funny thing happened one day one of the horses got the cane, we would have had about 10 or so kids that used to ride to school. This particular horse had a habit of pinching school lunches but got stuck under the veranda, so was caught in the act.
One of the main reasons that I am writing is that I have always had a query about a camp that my dad and I found in the late forties, we had followed our cow into a thick patch of scrub, and came across an a banned camp, surrounded by a lot of set rabbit traps. The bike which was there belonged to one of the neibours , there were sheets of iron, and a lot of empty jam jars, all jam then was home made. The jam would have been taken taken from Reg Simmons house he owned the orchid before Dad.
We were always told that Italians were in a camp at Wallangarra, with you research some one might have told you about that story.
I can relate to how your parents felt in the seventy four flood, we were in Booval Ipswitch at the time, watching TV at seven by 10 pm our house was under. My wife went to go to the loo on our last trip and toilet was under water.
When we came back to clean up one never forgets the smell.
Once again thanks for your book, it brought a few tears but most of the memories were good.
Regards Alwyn Russell
Thank you very much for sharing your story with me. I’m thrilled to learn how Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar has resonated with you. Yes, you are right, I did write it from the heart having heard many of these stories over a number of decades and for a long time I hoped to put them altogether.
I’m sorry to hear that you lost your Mum at such a young age. I noticed her surname was Pierpoint and I’m guessing she was perhaps related to the Pierpoints who owned the shop and blacksmiths that my grandmother’s family often visited in Stanthorpe. From the memories you have shared it seems you had much interaction with different Italians in the area (and I love the story about the horse stealing the school lunches by the way!)
You mentioned a camp that you and your father came across in the late 1940s. Do you recall roughly where that was or which town in particular it was near? Of course it is possible there are other ‘unofficial’ WW2 internment camps in the area as well as the one I wrote about that was near Millmerran since the other officially listed camps were full. If only there were records kept of these.
That must have been quite a shock to have your house go under in the 1974 flood. And yes, one never forgets the smell – I do know exactly what you mean! The next book I’ve been working on is partly set in Ipswich and includes the time of the 1893 floods in Brisbane and Ipswich that were even bigger. These weather events are certainly very much a part of the history of this area.
Again, thank you very much for contacting me. It is a privilege for me to share such stories that evoke memories from over a lifetime. I wish you the very best.
Io sono Mezza Italiana. Recently , I celebrated my 75th birthday and received your book entitled Joes Fruit Shop and Milk Bar which I really enjoyed. In the meantime
II Ordered Mezza Italiana. You have a lovely way of telling a story, a true boccabella.
I was born in Canada. My father was born in Fiumme Veneto, Province of Pordenone and my grandparents on my mothers side were from Mondolfo Marotta on the Adriatic. Both families spoke to us in Italian and we answered in English.
My Nonna on my dad’s side was Redanta Bonnazza her name dates back to the 16th century her ancestors had a Sculpting School for over one hundred years in Padova.Giovanni and his sons adorned the churches and villas in the Veneto.
I have found 2 beautiful books on their work and life
You tell a story so well that I thought that you might like
to do their name justice by telling their story. They lived at the time of the great artist Tiepelo.
I have many more stories to tell of my life if you are interested. I would love to hear from you.
Grazie mille, Teresa. Buon compleanno e congralutazioni – 75 anni!! It is wonderful to hear how you enjoyed reading Joe’s Fruit Shop and Milk Bar. (And I see you realise the meaning of Boccabella! – smiling.) It always amazes me how so many of us of migrant background have grown up with those conversations in a mix of two languages, and no matter where that might be in the world.
I do understand your interest and pride in tracing back your family history and it must be a thrill to have discovered two books written already on the work and life of your ancestors. I’m currently working on completing book three and do already have commitments to books beyond that at this stage but you are most welcome to share some of your stories with me. Being a mezza italiana also, perhaps you’ll discover some aspects of that book that resonate with you. I hope you enjoy reading it. Thank you again for your lovely message.
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