AN ITALIAN STORY
The New Book by Ernesto Granese
My name is Ernesto Granese, and I am now a semi-retired journalist, language teacher and translator.
In 1998, I founded, together with some friends in the Italian community in Brighton and the Friends of Italy also of Brighton, a charity called AIPS, Anglo-Italian Publishing Society.
Contrary to modern tendency — which sees biographies almost entirely dominated by the stifling and false world of celebrities, which ultimately deprives this noble literary genre of its original value— the aim of AIPS was to give ordinary British people who loved Italian life and culture, who had lived, worked or travelled in Italy, an opportunity to tell their story . . .
Likewise, the AIPS also aimed to offer members of the Italian community in the UK a chance to talk about themselves, their life here in the UK, the problems they had encountered, the joys and pains of living in the UK.
Amongst these, I once received a manuscript from one of our oldest members — Cosimo Arrichiello, a pensioner from Naples now living in London — containing his life story. He asked me to translate it into Italian— as he had written it in English—and to publish it.
His moving book told the story of his life, from his birth in the poor streets of Naples to his now lonely life in a suburb of London.
He had fought during the tragic days of the second world war and had lived abroad for the rest of his life. Now 90 years old, ill and alone in his small apartment in London, his book had become his only reason to live, his last mission before calling it a day.
He told me his greatest regret was to have believed in Mussolini’s dream of a new Italy. 1943, the year of the armistice and of the Nazi occupation of Italy, was the most horrific moment of his life.
After Mr Arrichiello’s manuscript I received many others: the autobiography of Cesare Marchini, a former member of the fascist RSI, who now lives in Peacehaven and fought along Mussolini in one of most tragic of Italian civil wars; the diaries of Leonardo Spani of Bournemouth, an Italian-British lawyer whose Italian family fled Rome just before the war; and the touching story of Gemma Ford, an Italian woman living in Brighton who had worked with the Wehrmacht in occupied Lombardy and after the war paid a high price for her treason.
After having read and translated Signor Arrichiello’s manuscript into Italian, I realised that I too would have liked one day to tell my story. But what could I possible tell my readers that would entice their curiosity and appetite? What is more trying in one’s life than to experience war, like those people I read about in those manuscripts had done ?
Confronted with all these questions, I realized that if I wanted to write a book about myself it would have to include compelling stories.
I have no literary ambitions. My writing skills and my knowledge of the English grammar are rather limited having studied English as a foreign language for just over a year. However, I am driven by the desire to tell the story of my family and of the events which unfolded over a period of over 40 years and of which little is known.
In order to make my story more interesting, my narrative occasionally turns fictional. But facts and events are generally true, including the gruesome ones mentioned in chapter 15.
What makes an autobiographical story worth writing is not so much whether it will be “liked” by friends or whether family members will be able to relate to it.
What is far more important is the kind of emotions that memories, facts, past events and people that were once significant in your life bring about in your present life. By far this is the best part of writing your own autobiography.
Even if nobody will read this book, it will still have been worth the effort ! You should try it, too! You’ve got nothing to lose and plenty to gain. What’s more, your children and family will be forever grateful to you.
I am no famous writer, nor will I ever be. I hold no literary ambition. But what I am about to write is unique, as all our lives are. I am certain that my family and those who will come after me will cherish my effort and perhaps, who knows, they might one day even be proud of me ! Whatever the case, I’m in a creative kind of mood, and nobody can stop me!
Have you ever looked at an old photograph of yourself and started wondering off, in a time-travel fashion, through the meanders of your childhood or adolescence? Alas, as I get older this happens to me more and more often.
Sometimes you feel joy at looking at an old photograph or recalling a face; overwhelmed by regret at the way an event turned out to be (the very common feeling “Oh, how I wish I had done things differently that day!”); at other times you can not help feeling resentful or angry, such as when I had £ 4000 stolen from somebody I trusted and admired; you may even feel pride and joy in what you have accomplished, and be generally pleased that, after all, contrary to your belief, life has so far not been that bad after all! Occasionally, you wish you had never started the whole damned thing!
Though English is not my mother tongue, this book has been written—and thought out—in English for obvious reasons: English is the language used by my closest relatives and friends, those whom this book is intended for. Had it been written in Italian the result would have been quite different. Don’t ask me why !
Many people write their autobiographies to find a new meaning in life. At a time when many of the things I was once passionate about (most and foremost politics and its power to bring about change and social justice) have somewhat lost their juvenile appeal, this is certainly true. Some write to fill a space they fill inside or to seek some form of recognition to compensate their loss.
Others write about themselves to relive moments of their past, before memories start fading away; or to explain why they did what they did.
Essentially, my autobiography aims to offer a personal contribution and experience in recounting historical facts and events of a topic about which little has been written in the English language: the history of the Italian community in the UK.
Although I am not a writer, nor do I pretend to be, in my story, though rare, you might even find a few examples of inspired writing.
You will not find great literature here. What I believe you will find in great abundance is, I hope, a series of well documented accounts of people who have lived before us, of whom little is known, and whose life stories turned out to be precious in reconstructing the history of my family and of the two great nations involved in my book, i.e. Italy and Great Britain.
Although Italian is my mother tongue this book is written in English because it is addressed primarily to friends and relatives who live in the UK, my home since 1977.
My aim here is not to sell my book —autobiographies rarely sell, including those of wretched celebrities which today abound in bookshops — but to share my thoughts and my stories with like-minded people.
I believe one of the greatest gifts we can give to our families and those who will follow us an intimate, direct account of our lives.
No life is insignificant; everyone’s story deserves to be told.
A REVIEW BY J. A. KENCH, Editor of BRITALIANS Magazine.
“ ... Ernesto Granese has spent the last 40 odd years of his life between Italy and the UK.
He and his family have witnessed the difficult after-war years of Italy, its rebirth, the years of terrorism, its subsequent political turmoil and economic decline.
Here in the UK he has been the first to launch a successful children’s magazine and to campaign for school democracy within English schools in the South East.
He has also started an active and successful Italian community group in Brighton.
He has worked for several Italian publications here in the UK between 1996 and 2006, and launched the first Italian language magazine in Brighton and in the South East of England.
His interests range from international politics, economics; journalism; education; music (he was amidst the first in the mid-'70s to promote blues in Italy as a DJ in a radio station in Milan); to history, chess and even table-football!
He devoted the entire book to his life in Britain, from his arrival in 1977 to date. In it, he also acutely expresses his views on a number of topics, ranging from the political and economic situation in Italy and in the UK, and Brexit in particular.
The result is a passionate and intense account of facts and events which make this a very interesting book to read.
Wholeheartedly recommended! ... ”
Ho da poco ultimato un libro, AN ITALIAN STORY, nel quale racconto la mia storia qui in Inghilterra dal 1977 a oggi, e che vorrei qui condividere con altri italiani che come me hanno fatto questa scelta.
Di fronte alle angoscianti incognite del futuro, specie per noi italiani nel Regno Unito, c’è chi come me preferisce rifugiarsi nel passato e riflettere sulle scelte fatte, alla ricerca di nuovi stimoli e idee per capire meglio il presente e affrontare con più fiducia le sfide del futuro.
La storia della mia famiglia, iniziata agli albori del secolo scorso, è piena di eventi straordinari, ed è l’oggetto del mio libro LIGHTS AND SHADOWS, un librone di oltre 900 pagine nel quale ripercorro la storia della mia famiglia dal 1890 a oggi, raccontata attraverso la viva voce dei suoi protagonisti: i miei nonni, mia madre, e i miei zii, in particolare.
Ma qui mi interessa soprattutto riflettere sui miei primi anni qui in UK, se non altro per dar modo a chi ha meno anni di me ed è da poco approdato su questi lidi di capire come si viveva allora, dei problemi che quelli della mia generazione dovettero affrontare, delle ansie, delle frustrazioni, delle aspirazioni dei giovani di allora che, non dimentichiamolo, qui giunsero zaino in spalla, senza sapere una parola d’inglese, senza né internet né Facebook, ma con tanto entusiasmo e tanti ideali.
In particolare, in questo mio lavoro mi sono soffermato sui problemi che dovetti affrontare quando approdai in Inghilterra appena 20enne, nel 1977; sui 15 anni trascorsi nel mondo della scuola; sul mio coinvolgimento nella vita della comunità degli italiani in UK; delle mie esperienze giornalistiche, dei miei traguardi (pochi) e dei miei fallimenti (tanti, ahimé).
Più che un esercizio autobiografico questo lavoro rappresenta per me un pretesto per riflettere sulle scelte fatte in passato, di come queste, nel bene o nel male, abbiano cambiato la mia vita, specie alla luce dei fatti di oggi, e di Brexit in particolare.
Vi è poi il capitolo che analizza il presente, i miei ideali, i miei valori, di come questi si siano modificati nel tempo. Dunque AN ITALIAN STORY vuole anche essere uno sforzo di riflessione sul futuro della nostra comunità.
Nel mio scritto non vi è alcun intento autocelebrativo. Tutt’altro: la mia esperienza in Gran Bretagna è infatti costellata anche di passi falsi e fallimenti.
Il mio scopo qui è raccontare come viveva un giovane italiano emigrato nel RU verso la fine degli anni ‘70, dei problemi, delle speranze e delle aspirazioni della comunità degli italiani del Surrey e del Sussex, le regioni in cui vissi in quel periodo.
Ognuna delle nostre vite è degna di essere raccontata.
Ogni tassello della nostra vita ci aiuta a riflettere sulla nostra condizione di emigrati italiani all’estero, e su come migliorare la qualità della nostra vita nel paese che abbiamo eletto a nostra nuova patria.
Inoltre, il nostro racconto è utile a ricostruire la storia della comunità degli italiani nel Regno Unito e, più in generale, quella degli anni turbolenti in cui viviamo, caratterizzati da grandi migrazioni, forti sconvolgimenti sociali e eventi di straordinaria portata storica e politica destinati a cambiare per sempre le nostre vite e il nostro futuro.
Dunque, condividete, commentate, partecipate raccontando la vostra esperienza.
Il libro è scritto in inglese perché rivolto essenzialmente a mia figlia e alla mia compagna, entrambe nate qui.
Ovviamente, è rivolto anche a quegli italiani che come me anni fa hanno fatto questa coraggiosa scelta di venire a vivere qui in Inghilterra.
Mi auguro che leggendo questo libro anche voi vi sentiate invogliati a raccontare la vostra storia.
Tutti i nostri racconti contribuiranno così a riscrivere il più grande libro della storia degli italiani in UK.
A quanto mi risulta, nessuno si è mai cimentato in questa impresa!
Segnalate eventuali errori, grazie!
From the hills of Cilento to the South Downs IN Sussex.
These notes were originally written in Italian for the ISA, Italians in Sussex Association, a charity for which I work, and published by an Italian online community magazine (www.britalians.co.uk), of which I am one of the curators.
After having read them, my daughter and partner thought it would be a good idea to expand them and turn them into a book!
I am no writer, nor will I ever be. I hold no literary ambition, but the story that I am about to tell you is unique, as all our lives are. I am certain that my family and descendants will cherish my efforts and perhaps, who knows, they might one day even take pride in my work!
Essentially, my autobiography aims to offer a personal contribution to historical facts and events of an era of which little has been written in the English language: the history of the Italian community in the UK.
When I started writing this book Gordon Brown had just succeeded Tony Blair; Obama was about to become the new president of the USA. More importantly, a number of events were about to unfold that would forever change the international perspective, the future of Europe and the UK, the country in which I have now been living for over 40 years.
To name a few events: the economic crisis of the Euro and of the EU; the mass migration from the Middle East and from Africa to Europe; the resurgence of Islamic terrorism; the election of Donald Trump; and, most important of all, especially for us Europeans living in the UK, Brexit.
As a result of these recent events, I have had to make many adjustments to this book whilst writing it. It would be impossible to write about my family, its future and that of the Italian community in Britain without taking on board some of the fundamental changes which have occurred over the last few years.
My story is by no means an unusual story. Many young Italians flee Italy today in the same way that I did 40 years ago.
What makes my story unique is the fact that it embodies three different historical periods; three or more different countries; and several characters -- or special people, as I would prefer to call them-- that have not only changed my life, but also greatly contributed to shaping the history of Italy.
In the years of human turmoil marked by thousands of people migrating to all corners of the developed world, my story too, inevitably, revolves around the same theme. Only this time the events that led to my voyage to the UK in the late 70s were rather peculiar.
They are more to do with a number of special people who populated my life at the turn of the 70s than a set of predictable circumstances, as it is often the case in the tales of many young migrants of today, who move from country to country with ease, aided by technology and the mysterious power of social networking.
Back in those days, there was no internet, no Facebook or Twitter, and migrants, including EU migrants, were often refused entry into the UK on economic grounds.
It is no surprise that the debate on immigration is still ripe today and, as I write, legislation concerning the rights of EU citizens and the relationship between UK and the EU are undergoing constant scrutiny and crucial change.
Nobody knows what will happen to us Italians living in the UK in the next few months as a result of Brexit. What is certain is that many things are likely to change: most and foremost, our perception of Europe, its social and cultural identity, as well as its crucial role in our lives, especially in the lives of those who like me have elected the UK as their second homeland.
Although this story is not predominantly about political issues, politics is ever present as a result of both my ancestors’ choices, as well as a set of historical and political circumstances which have greatly influenced my life and the general course of events.
Inevitably, as the political and social climate change, so do the lives of the people who are in it.
Some say that we are nothing but the product of our times and circumstances, rather than actors of our own destiny.
Yet, whichever way you look at it, I belong to the old post-positivist school of thought, and espouse the pragmatic view that, within limits, man is capable of shaping its own destiny. I certainly shaped mine, though not always the way I wanted.
Whatever our circumstances, whatever our choices, we all seem to run towards something or flee FROM something: all I did was to try and live my life to the full, without causing too much bother to those around me.
Those who know me well, especially my daughter and my partner, will judge whether this story was worth telling or is just another load of old cobblers like the many one often comes across when browsing the annuals of the history of Italian migrations.
My life has by no means been a success (quite the contrary!), but it is nevertheless full of events of some significance.
What you, the reader, should find in my work is, hopefully, a variety of stimulating facts that are profoundly rooted in the history of Italy and of the UK.
As such, this book could provide some form of entertainment to both the Italian and the British reader, as well as an understanding of Italian and British history at the turn of the century.
This is perhaps an over-ambitious plan bordering with plenty of wishful thinking.
Whatever your expectations, my story should provide plenty of curious facts and episodes taken from the life of an ordinary Italian migrant, seen from the eyes and the feelings of a now older man, attempting to recollect and analyse, with a certain amount of nostalgia - but also with a bit of humour ! - facts and events spanning over a period of approximately 50 years !
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