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.
The initials of my great-grandmother, bisnonna Francesca Carrozza, hand-stitched onto this linen pillow cover in 1920s Calabria for her glory box that was to end up in 1930s Australia. I didn’t fully appreciate these linens when I was young but they have since become precious to me.
Costa Viola…the Violet Coast of west Calabria (when I took this the violet colour of melding sea and sky seemed even more vibrant in reality).
This view of the Tyrrhenian Sea is what my Italian grandmother, Nanna Francesca, saw from the balcony of her childhood home – her grandmother’s house – where she and her mother lived after her father went to Australia in 1927.
The house is now gone but I took this from the street where it stood. Those hills across the sea in the distance are in Sicily. Closer are some of the palm trees that give the small, coastal town that was my grandmother’s birthplace its name – Palmi. Though hard to spot, the tall-masted boats on the sea are sword-fishing boats.