Palmi, Calabria, deep in Italy’s south, where my Nanna Francesca was born. So many people warned me off going here, telling me it was too dangerous – including my own grandparents! But I’m eternally grateful Roger and I didn’t heed the warnings. For me, I think the pull of seeing the place of my Solano, Carrozza, Misale and Rizzitano ancestors was too great.
Like many parts of Italy’s south, there’s much unjust poverty yet there is such richness in the life, the cooking, the coffees, the music, art, the dancing and song stories. I love that in the space of a day in Palmi you can find yourself by the sea, in a gorgeous park, up the forested mountain stopped by sheep and a shepherd with a flowing white beard, or down in a cramped city street. Having lunch near umbrellas made of palm fronds next to the gentle swish of the sea or dinner where a tv surrounded by wine is blaring with a variety show on.
I still have the corno and chilli amulets from Palmi hanging in my Brisbane kitchen and I can still smell the salt and Vespa fumes, feel the sun’s blast and the coolness of the Tyrrhenian Sea of when I was in Calabria. And of course, I got to see where Nanna Francesca loved living with her Mum and her Nonna, the local baker. Sometimes it’s good not to listen to hearsay and judgments about a place and just find out for yourself.
Vale to my great-aunt, Nancy, Nanna Francesca’s sister. In Mezza Italiana, I wrote about when she was born in Stanthorpe in the 1930s and her parents named her Soccorsa, they hadn’t even left the hospital when the nurses, adamant Soccorsa was too hard to say, called her, ‘Nancy’, a name that was to stick for life.
‘But Mum and Dad always called me Soccorsa, or Corsa for short, at home,’ my great-aunt Nancy told me with a smile. ‘It is officially my name.’
When I went to Palmi in Calabria to see where Nanna Francesca and my bisnonni had lived, it was sad that the house was only rubble after the war, however I was thrilled to see the name of their street was Piazzetta del Soccorso. Bisnonna Cesca had named her daughter after her own mother, Soccorsa who was the baker for all those in their area and it’s lovely that the street bears the name. Sadly, Soccorsa never got to meet the granddaughter that was her namesake but there is something beautiful and poignant in keeping those links with ancestral history though on the other side of the world, especially knowing back then they wouldn’t be able to see each other again. Sending much love to those closest to Nancy, Soccorsa. Zoë xx
The pictures show (top left) the street they lived in with the park Villa Mazzini above and the church on the corner as it is now, (below) the street sign that I took a photo of when I was there and (right) Nancy, Soccorsa as a teenager in Stanthorpe, my favourite photo of her.
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
When I think back to first leaning on these railings more than two decades ago, the unexpected sense of belonging to a place that until then I’d only heard about, amazes me even now. Such a beautiful landscape in all it holds, its timelessness, change, ancestry, scars, history and splendour. xx
“Nonno Anni’s face creases in smiles when I join him. He leads me out to Piazza Belvedere and we lean on the railings taking in the magnificent view of the Aterno Valley. Nonno Anni straightens and takes a big breath. He slaps his chest, encouraging me to take some deep breaths of the pure mountain air with him.”
from Mezza Italiana