Italian magazine, Abruzzo Economia, recently interviewed me for their Lifestyle section and it was lovely to speak to Raffaella Quieti Cartledge about Abruzzo and writing Mezza Italiana, including some questions I’ve never been asked before about the area. The article in Italian may be read here…
or you may read an English version below…
An Australian writer who is half-Abruzzese…
by Raffaella Quieti Cartledge
Australian and author of the autobiographical book, Mezza Italiana, Zoë Boccabella describes her discovery of Abruzzo, her familial origins in Fossa (AQ), and her subsequent trips to the region and the rest of Italy. The memories of her grandfather’s stories come to life in the family home while Abruzzo reveals a part of itself that will transform her forever.
What inspired you to write the book?
The first time I arrived in Abruzzo where my family came from, I had a feeling of coming home, even though I had never been there before. I stayed in the house in Fossa that had belonged to my ancestors for centuries and my grandfather, Annibale, who was born in Abruzzo, told me stories of when he grew up there, the history of the area where he lived and how he left part of his heart behind when his father sent for him to join him in Australia in 1939. The experience had such a profound effect on me. Walking around the villages, hillsides, forests and deserted castles, I felt at once that Abruzzo was a very special place. Each time I returned and explored the area more, I wrote down family folklore, village stories and began to think more about my experiences growing up as an Italian-Australian, how I felt ‘half and half’, not like I fully belonged to either culture.
Who is your main audience and please tell us about them.
I began writing what was to become Mezza Italiana at the kitchen table in the house in Fossa, not thinking it might become a published book one day. Over time, I added more research and stories as I discovered them. Then the 2009 earthquake occurred in Abruzzo where my family’s village was and it was important to include this too. Especially when I saw how the Abruzzese handled the tragedy with such grace, strength and forbearance.
I wrote what I saw and felt, rather than thinking about who might read it one day. And because I grew up as a descendant of Italian migrants in 1970s and early 80s Australia when it wasn’t as accepted to have a Mediterranean background like it is now and migrants weren’t always treated well by everyone, I did come to hope that by sharing my story perhaps just one person who read it, who was a migrant descendant and feeling confused or ‘half and half’, might not spend decades surrendering part of themselves as I did.
Are you going to have the book translated in Italian and how many copies have you sold so far?
It has been such an unexpected and lovely surprise that Mezza Italiana has become a bestselling book in Australia and the best part of that has been hearing from so many different readers who shared similar experiences to mine. It has recently also become available in Italy, the rest of Europe, the UK and US as well.
What is it of Abruzzo that strikes you as different from other regional characters?
Secluded by the magnificent Apennines, in many ways Abruzzo remains untamed, natural, beautiful, but still accessible, with wonderful, down-to-earth people, talented artisans in centuries-old crafts and culinary traditions, and medieval architecture unchanged. When writing both my books, I travelled throughout Italy from the north to the south and in between and whenever Italians in other regions asked where my family came from and I mentioned Abruzzo, their responses were very positive with much respect for Abruzzese, who are well known to be forte e gentile – strong and kind.
What do you think is Abruzzo’s main resource (in every way, geography, people) and what do you think Abruzzese should do to stimulate its economy – attract niche tourism?
Because I live in Australia I can only answer from the perspective of a visitor to Abruzzo, even if that includes staying with family there. For me, the charm of Abruzzo is its many untouched landscapes and traditional ways. I understand it is important to be economically strong in the best interest of the Abruzzese people while protecting its valuable assets of the natural beauty and historical art and architecture of the region, so there is a fine line. To me, Abruzzo’s great strength is having more green space than almost any other region of Italy, as well as its fauna. This is a great tourist enticement.
A popular, growing part of tourism is photography tours where serious photographers are led by tour guides to photograph wildlife, flora and scenery. I believe Abruzzo’s renowned national parks, lakes, mountains and forests, brown bears, chamois, eagles and wolves among other wildlife are a superb attraction.
Abruzzo has a very rich art history and again this would suit tailored tours as well as culinary tours that could include local feste, not so well-known and waiting to be discovered.
In the past, due to its untouched areas and medieval buildings, areas of Abruzzo have also been used as locations for films, including Hollywood’s ‘spaghetti westerns’ and films such as, In the Name of the Rose, Ladyhawke, The American and The Fox and the Child and the region could continue to be a place that hosts international and local film locations.
Should the region establish better contacts with the descendants of Abruzzese ’emigrati’ abroad through their associations and bring them over to visit the land their grandparents came from?
This is an interesting question. Visiting the region did strengthen my ties to the area and prompted me to encourage more people to discover it too. For descendants of migrants, it can be such an enriching, valuable experience to see where their parents or grandparents came from. Some in Abruzzo may not be aware that many migrants in Australia continue to carry on traditional Abruzzese and Italian ways to this day – bottling their own passata, making pasta alla chitarra, sausage making, and celebrating traditional festive days – all to respect and keep alive their heritage.
How did the discovery of your grandfather’s region change you?
The first time I went to Italy I was unaware Abruzzo was about to have its way with me. As I journeyed up into the Apennine Mountains to L’Aquila and then Fossa, it was as though the Italian blood in me suddenly surged with recognition and I couldn’t resist the magnetic pull the place had on me. Abruzzo completely exceeded my expectations in its special beauty and gave me a sense of ‘coming home’ and belonging. Family history and ancestral links have an instinctive pull and over the next two decades I felt compelled to return to the house that had belonged to my family for centuries and for longer periods of time.
Curiously, as much as Australia is my home, going to Italy felt like going home too and each time I returned with my heart more open. It made me feel proud of my Italian heritage when I was back in Australia and of course to write about that and to share it with others. When I first stepped onto Italian soil, I was hopping off a train and a bird dropping landed on my shoulder. This is meant to be ‘a positive sign’ according to Italian folklore and I guess for me it truly was!