Looking for Alibrandi, Italians and poetry

Mt Etna – Sicily

These days, I have so much happening that blogging and my timeline fail to connect. This particular post is a good example. This is the twentieth time I have sat down to write it (not kidding). Each time I get so far and then read it and don’t understand a thing I have said. I finally figured out the topic is so important to me I can’t put it into words. Not good for a writer. It all began when I read an article about one of my favourite books – Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta. Originally set in the 1960s as a novel, the book is now a play brought into line with current times by altering the setting to the 1990’s. This was done to allow for more of the current focus on diversity to be highlighted.

I get that but the book focuses on a particular period in Australian history and what I don’t get is why things have to be changed. The principle is the same. Differences and reactions to differences are problems that have plagued us for centuries. Books, plays, and films, fiction or non-fiction tell a story. Stories are how we learn. I am an Italian migrant child, born in Sydney and like Josie, the main character, in the book, I attended a select high school in the 6os. In some ways the school sheltered me from the outside world. I lived two lives much as Josie does, but I managed to keep mine separate. At school I spoke English and though I was aware I was part of a minority group, along with Greek, Maltese, and Jewish girls, the school’s focus on academic achievement was all consuming. The making of the tomato sauce (an integral part of the novel) was part of my Italian life and one where the spoken language was Italian, Sicilian to be exact.

Jams have been bottled or jarred for years yet the bottling of tomatoes somehow appeared foreign? I can only speak for my family. With us, it began with the fact that my father went around the neighbourhood collecting empty beer bottles normally set aside as part of the  weekly garbage collection. As if the multitude of tomatoes delivered to our house wasn’t enough the collection of bottles sent the people around us into a frenzy. What was he doing with the bottles? Was it legal? He did make a killer version of grappa and we did make our own wine. However, the tomato sauce held the greater fascination and made us stand out as foreigners? A yearly occurrence, the sauce involved every Italian in the area, a lot of noise, laughter and jabbering away in a foreign tongue.

The sauce making itself was innocuous – to us. But to those looking in on the process, perhaps it might have appeared, shall we say, different? Today, Australia is one of the most multicultural countries in the world. We offer a smorgasbord of restaurants and the cultures that come with it. Food is a universal leveller because it involves sharing and time together. The problem is that as each difference is understood and accepted (something we fervently hope) others arise to take their place.

In Looking for Alibrandi, the sauce, the wine and the language shout their differences, a different class structure, a different nationality, a whole way of living. Differences can breed fear. On both sides. One is overwhelmed by the strangeness of the new, the other is overwhelmed by a world different to the one left behind. My father had a fruit and vegetable store. Both he and my mother worked in the store so from necessity I sat in a pram in the middle of that store. Patrons would check me out from head to toe, muttering between themselves about my cleanliness. My mother sadly understood enough English to be hurt by words. In her mind keeping a baby clean was normal behaviour so why were assumptions made?

Thankfully, this generation has learned a lot and is much more knowledgeable and accepting in general. Is it perfect? Will it ever be? I don’t know. What I do know is that Marchetta’s book  gave Italians a voice and that same voice can be translated to the problems of today. It is simple – all cultures have their very own idiosyncrasies. In a multicultural environment we hope to blend without giving up those differences but sometimes it is difficult.

In Alibrandi, the sauce is a symbol of that difference. Ironic, given the popularity of the Italian cuisine. Of course, there is more to the story, but the point made is that differences garner reactions, pleasant and unpleasant. For me, I see no reason to make changes. I prefer the book as is because we need to teach our children critical thinking, and this involves their ability to make the transference to today by themselves (with appropriate guidance). The book as it stands lends as much insight into ignorance today as yesterday. Names and places may be different, but circumstances are not. The worst thing about differences is that they override commonality. We are humans; this fact unites us. What we eat, how we look or the language we use are superficial differences that make us interesting.

Language. It separates us from animals. It facilitates communication of complex and abstract thought. From a recent post, this quote made me pause. Technology makes communication possible even under the most difficult situations. Yet these days, all we ever seem to do is focus on differences instead of the similarities which in the book is exactly what Jacob and Josie discover.

Choices. We need to remember we all have a choice in our thoughts and actions. When I originally read the book, it made me determined to value not only my culture but all the cultures around me. I see difference as points of interest. We are people first and personally, books like this one inspire me to write down my feelings and consequently I have done so. I love my heritage both the one I was born to and the one given to me by the country I was born in.

 Outsider is about the initial reactions to differences, how it separates us from each other. Italo-Australian was the shift in the new world when we choose to work together. I like to think the emotions are universal no matter the title. Both come from my Emotions in Evolution poetry book or my The Emotions Anthology Box Set (link below).

Outsider

I am tired of the world in between

The place I live but am never seen.

I refer to it as the existence,

the desperate desire of persistence

that has me survive every new day

and kiss goodbye the old known way.

The more knowledge we acquire

the more the burn of vicious fire.

Testing, pushing, pricking skin

stretching until it becomes too thin.

And poor protection, from outside foes

determines a definite rise in all our woes.

I am a watcher,

and a pain catcher.

I am a truth seeker

and a soul keeper.

I belong on the inside

and I tire of being denied.

An Italo-Australian

I heard the word.

What does it mean?

Not commonly heard or seen.

Memories made and lives merged.

Battles fought and distances purged.

Working hard in the when and where,

Grateful for the then and there.

 There was no forgetting though,

the antiquity, the artistic flow.

It was heritage, an ingrained past,

a gentle blend to ensure it would last.

You request.

You respect.

You give.

You integrate.

A migrant is a citizen in waiting,

not a question for debating.

Another land is a new history.

Unknown, it is a fresh mystery.

The joining of worlds, the united segments

are an unexpected privilege.

And loyalty leaps forward

And becomes an Italo-Australian.

Links to my books below (reminds me I really am an author) and ciao until next time because I do love to blog. Hope I hear from you,

Barb

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2 Comments

  1. I am Italian, I was born and raised in Sicily and the tradition of tomato sauce was very important and many people still make this sauce cooked and then put in glass bottles. The sauce had an excellent taste and when we ate pasta all together it was a feast and a delight. I grew up with this red color of salsa that made me happy. Now I don’t make salsa because it’s too tiring and it’s too hot in the summer but I still have the memory of when I was a child and I saw my grandparents and my parents filling hundreds of bottles and we children all played together.

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