Tag Archives: Abruzzo history

Italian folk magic and amulets…

Raccavallala!’ Granny Maddalena cried out if someone stepped over a child lying on the floor – step back over it! – or you’d stunt the child’s growth. I’m currently researching Italian folklore and came across this very superstition and many others like… never put your wallet on the floor or you’ll have no money. If you accidentally put your clothes on inside out in the morning it’s good luck and you’ll receive good news. Wasting food or throwing it out brings misfortune. Remove cobwebs with your left hand for good luck.

On the cover of Mezza Italiana is Granny Maddalena’s actual corno amulet from Abruzzo that she wore on a delicate gold chain. Made of a gold likely from the 19th century when she was born, its chilli shape goes back to ancient times to ward off misfortune. Being born in Abruzzo in 1893, during her life Granny Maddalena had one foot in age-old, Pagan Italy and the other in the modern world, for she lived until the 1980s. And still in present time many Italians wear amulets and talismans for luck and protection from the malocchio – evil eye.

Beside Maddalena’s amulet are her gold earrings – given to young girls as gold was believed to protect against blindness and misfortune and interestingly because it symbolises the sun’s power and masculine energy. I have no idea how old these earrings are but Estella Canziani did paintings of similar earrings worn by peasants in Italy and France that she saw during her travels in the 1900s, including in the area of Abruzzo where Granny lived.

I hadn’t thought of it much, but since I was a little girl, I’ve had small, gold hoop earrings in my ears every day and sleep in them too, not realising until now, in my late forties, that this is such a tradition in warding off the malocchio and seeking the sun’s energy. This morning, I also accidentally put on a jacket inside out so perhaps today I’ll have good luck (though I’m still to find out if I’ll receive good news!) Hope you’re having a lovely day and remember, it’s bad luck to sweep your house after dark! xx

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Filed under inspiration + history, italy

From what seems impossible…

“La Spagnola” was what Great-Granny Maddalena called the Spanish influenza pandemic. When it reached Abruzzo, she was twenty-five and yet to marry, with a broken engagement behind her, and working in her parents’ butchery and grain mill in Poggio Picenze. She told my father that after the end of World War I, she remembers seeing young soldiers walking across the valley returning home to their mountain villages after years away fighting. (One of them, my Bisnonno Vitale, an Alpini soldier from Fossa, who hated war, she’d marry just a few years later.) Most of these young men were traumatised, many with missing limbs and no help from authorities for them to recover.

As they returned to their families and small villages, many unknowingly arrived carrying the Spanish flu with them, which tragically caused more loss after their homecomings. It’s no wonder Granny Maddalena didn’t want to talk about this time much. Her father, Emidio, died that same year in 1919 and I’m not certain if it was from la Spagnola, since many doctors put pneumonia or septicaemia on death certificates instead. However, as he was only 61 and his sister and brother aged 60 and 59 both died in 1918, it’s very possible they all succumbed to what was known as the Spanish flu. From 1918 to 1920, 500 million people across the world suffered from the pandemic with the death toll being at least 50 million, though some estimate it closer to 100 million.

There are stories across the world from this time of parents warning children to behave or “the Spanish lady will get you” and children’s rhymes that began, “I had a little bird, its name was Enza, I opened the window, and in-flu-enza…” Fortunately such fearsome ways are mostly relegated to history, however, in our present uncertain period, this Australian, 1919 drawing by May Gibbs to help children understand what was happening at the time shows perhaps a gentler way that is almost as relevant today.

In what is set to continue to be a challenging time in coming months, I wish you forbearance, a little humour when needed, gentleness and care. For me, if there’s perhaps one thing to hold onto, judging by how people have overcome brutal times in the past including some in my own family, it’s that even when confronted by that which may seem almost impossible to face, it is possible to face it and be stronger than you thought you could be.

Much love, Zoë xx


Filed under inspiration + history, italy

Fossa’s village windows…

Following the photographs of Fossa’s doors, it seems fitting to share some of Fossa’s windows too. So many beautiful and distinctive windows throughout the village (and to me, so much more character than most modern ones these days).

These photos were taken over the past 20 years or more so some are a bit grainy since I had an old Pentax camera with film back then. I could have perhaps photoshopped them but that didn’t seem being true to the era of even 15 or 20 years ago.

I didn’t realise just how many photographs I’d taken of Fossa during my visits, especially windows! (And no, I didn’t peek in any!) But I loved the resonances of village life you’d hear drifting down from them as I walked along the lanes – loud conversations in rapid Italian I mostly couldn’t understand, the aroma of a pasta sauce simmering on a stove, a tv set blaring, someone singing… all lovely. xx


Filed under art + photographs, italy

conca d’Abruzzo in Australia…

Received this lovely gift from a reader, Augusto (who doesn’t mind me sharing that he lives in Australia, was born in Fossa, Abruzzo and was pleased to discover the books). At 80, for the first time he’s learnt copper smithing and made me this little, copper conca and ladle, like those larger ones traditionally used in Abruzzo to collect water (women like my bisnonna Maddalena carried them on their heads).

Thank you to Augusto, such a beautiful kindness. I will treasure it always! And many thanks to all who’ve connected through messages and letters. It’s such a pleasure to hear from you. What most drives me to write is to preserve experiences of ‘everyday’ people and their often overlooked yet I believe significant parts of history. Thank you for your interest (and I’m working hard on the next book!!) xx



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Fossa’s village doors…

Walking around Fossa, along lanes that become so steep and narrow they merge into steps or descend into tunnels, I began to notice all the different doors I passed. Some with stylised, door furniture of lion heads or dragons and beautifully varnished wood, others crude, weathered timber, or painted mission brown.

Several were fastened with long, draw bolts that looked like from another era, stable doors with cobwebby corners, cat holes cut into the bottom by kind residents looking after the village cats. A few of Fossa’s resident animals managed to get into some of my photographs. I took these in the village four years before the earthquake. Perhaps one of the doors you may recognise as yours! xx


Filed under art + photographs, italy