The Italian connection

Towards the end of our Italian period, the shadows were longer, the sun lower in the sky and the colours on fire. Everywhere were berries, toadstools, rosehips and the stark red of dogwood stems. I went on a last walk with my camera, snapping cobwebs caught between sloe berry branches and distant views of ruined houses. I was suffering from melancholy at the thought of leaving our beautiful area for six months. Maybe if I captured the scenes on camera, I could hold them to me for a while longer.DSCN3928DSCN3922 As I passed one meadow edged with a thick coppice of holm oaks, I heard somebody chopping branches. I thought I knew who it was and I prepared my Italian farewell. But it was a stranger. One of the African immigrants from our small town. They are called “clandestini” in Italian, because many of them destroy their documents so they cannot be easily identified and repatriated. They are not supposed to work either and the young man turned away to hide his face, so I hurried by. I thought back to our stay ten days earlier on the island of Lampedusa, besieged by boatloads of immigrants arriving from North Africa in precarious vessels. Quite a few boats lay on their sides on shore, like hideous tombstones for the thousands who have drowned at sea.
In our little town of Badia Tedalda (500 inhabitants), there are at least 50 immigrants and, although Italians have generous hearts, there is a growing feeling of resentment over the strain they are putting on their health system, schools and funds to support their numbers, continuing to pour into Italy. Eighty miles separate Tunisia from the tiny island of Lampedusa, where a stone monument entitled “The Gateway to Europe” stands on the cliffs, so it is an obvious destination. Local fishermen with whom we talked, told of the impossibility of ignoring people drowning before their eyes but earlier in the year they had been told by the authorities not to rescue any more arrivals.
I don’t believe the rest of Europe help enough. Italy bears a huge burden.DSCN3731
On our road trip back to the UK we diverted from our normal route to revisit childhood haunts in the Italian Tyrol. Going back doesn’t always work but we were enchanted by this area of Italy that seems so un-Italian. This area has a certain amount of autonomy and German is the first language. The mountain views were spectacular and we intend to return for a long weekend.IMG_2539 The next stage of our journey took us via Austria, then the congested Rhine valley and an overnight stop in Worms. Incredibly, our satnav didn’t recognise Austria or Germany, so we resorted to old fashioned methods. We had a basic map, we used the sun as a compass and I dug up my school girl German to ask the way. Lost in Worms, (howzat for a book title?), I phoned the hotel proprietor who spoke no English and we communicated – sort of. We were in the centre of town. I described what I could see. “You are not far from me,” he said. I climbed out of the car to get better reception and almost immediately bumped into a man speaking into his mobile phone. It was like a scene from a film, because it was the chap I was talking to. Half an hour later, we established that he wasn’t German at all, but Italian. Another migrant of a sort. He could see no future for his family in Abruzzo, southern Italy and had moved to Germany for a better future. “But my wife is back in our house in Italy, gathering our olives and maybe, one day, I shall return.” The next morning we gave him some of our tomatoes and peppers from our Tuscan orto and he presented us with a bottle of wine, apologising it was not Italian. I hope he gets back to the land he loves, but momentarily resents.
In my second novel “Now and Then in Tuscany”, I describe the way the peasants travelled down to the coast for work. A young boy, Giuseppe, hides himself on a cart to escape with the caravan. “I remembered Nonno telling me that for the long months away between September and May, shepherds became like snails – carrying their homes on their backs. It felt as if all of the homes had landed up on my particular cart. There was a huge pile of umbrellas, for autumn always brought rain and mist and it was better to travel dry. I wriggled free of the sharp spokes only to find myself face to face with a caged broody hen which set up such a squawking, I was certain of being discovered. But I needn’t have worried: the cacophony of clanking buckets, copper pots, colanders and ladles banging against an iron cooking stove drowned the bird’s indignation. It was an uncomfortable, bumpy ride…”
There was just enough room in our VW for us on our drive back on our own transumanza. We were laden with wine, home-grown vegetables and fourteen panettoni for Christmas… (Don’t ask). But we have been back in our little cottage safely for two days now and our winter phase starts here. My mind, however, is still full of migrants. IMG_2537


About Angela Petch

Bit of a story dreamer, written two novels - a third in progress. I love my little family and in no particular order afterwards: Italian culture, food, wine, walking everywhere I can and especially in the Apennines, East Africa, tennis when I can, reading, reading and more reading. So much to discover still before I die.
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8 Responses to The Italian connection

  1. PoetSpeak says:

    I love the description “sloe berry branches”


    • Angela Petch says:

      Good morning, Anne, and thank you so much. The colours were so intense – I would love a dramatic cloak of that midnight-blue, purple tinge to swirl around in. Thank you for reading my blog. I will pop over to yours now. Best wishes.


  2. Kate Thurlow says:

    Loved the return words Angela….there must always be a period of adjustment , or blending of the edges, between your two homes…..but not 2 lives, one life ,full of love, lived in 2 places . Xx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. jessiecahalin says:

    I can tell you write with a heavy heart. I feel for the immigrants and can’t imagine the desperation – my ancestors once travelled to England from Ireland.

    The panettoni is a symbol of the Christmas celebrations ahead. – it seems your family yearn for the taste of Italy.

    Best of luck with the release of your two wonderful novels.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Angela Petch says:

      Grazie, Jessie. My family are Irish too – on my mother’s side. I’ve never been – it’s on my bucket list. We love panettone – but these were for my daughter’s Christmas Bazaar at her local church! The smell in the car was divine! Thank you for all your wonderful support.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Angela Petch says:

    I am married to a wonderful man who is half Italian and I have strong connections with Italy, having lived in Rome as a child, so Italy is in our blood, so to speak. He also retired early, due to health reasons, so we need to top up our pension with the (little) income we earn from our holiday rental ( I find it quite hard to lead this chameleon life, but that sounds quite spoilt. There’s an expression in Italian which you will know…my Italian mother-in-law uses it: non sono nè pesce nè carne…or something similar. I’m neither fish nor fowl. But we are very lucky and I do enjoy coming back to our family here. It’s just that the two lives are so vastly different. It takes me a while to adapt to each location.


  5. Dear Angela, i can’t imagine oing what ou do – 6 months here and 6 months there. did this arrangement begin for a specific reason or simply to ‘have the best of both worlds’? Do you experience anything similar when you leave Sussex?


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