LIGHTS AND SHADOWS
A family history and other compelling Italian stories
ERNESTO GRANESE *
*** A SHORT INTRODUCTION IN ITALIAN ***
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 inizia agli albori del secolo scorso ed è piena di eventi straordinari, molti dei quali raccontati dalla viva voce dei suoi protagonisti, dei miei nonni, di mia madre e dei mie 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 sui 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, sulle mie esperienze positive, e sui miei fallimenti : su questi ultimi un po' meno!
Per me si tratta di 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.
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.
*** STRUTTURA ***
Il mio libro è suddiviso in 4 parti:
la prima ha una forte accentuazione storica e si concentra sulla vicende della mia famiglia dal 1890 alla fine del ‘900, le migrazioni, l’infanzia di mia madre, il fascismo, gli anni del dopoguerra a Battipaglia, le lotte agrarie e la mia nuova vita a Busto Arsizio, Varese.
La seconda parte descrive la mia formazione, gli anni della scuola, del liceo a Varese, le mie prime esperienze musicali e di politica militante, e il mio coinvolgimento con i movimenti giovanili.
La terza tratta dei miei viaggi e delle mie esperienze di vita all’estero.
La 4a parte racconta della mia vita qui in UK, dal mio primo approdo nel 1977 ai giorni nostri; dei 15 anni trascorsi nel mondo della scuola, del mio coinvolgimento nella vita della comunità degli italiani in UK, delle mie esperienze giornalistiche, dei miei traguardi (pochi) e dei miei fallimenti (tanti, ahimé).
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!
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WORK IN PROGRESS !
More titles ...
1. Every life is a story worth telling—From the hills of Cilento to the South Downs of Sussex…
2. Lights and shadows of 1957
3. Nonno Raffaele and the bloody assault upon the St. Bartholomew prisons
4. Italy fights back
5. Life in the caves
6. The tragic death of cousin Giuseppe—British troops enter Olevano
7. The aftermath of the war. Bycicle thieves
8. Battipaglia 1950-1962—How I was rescued by my father
9. 1962– The road to the North- My family moves to Northern Italy
10. 1963-68 - The boys from the South
11. Father Mirko and Father Giuseppe
12. 1960-70: The Italian Miracolo—The years of economic recovery
13. 1968—Chagrin d'amour... Love hurts!
14. Amarcord—growing up in the 70’s – The way we were
15. Christmas now and then
16. 1969—Bullying in Battipaglia
17. 1971-The student uprise and the beginning of terrorism
18. Our school—schools in the 70’s in Italy—Mario Gallazzi
19.. What the 1968 protest movement did for us
20. Ultimo della classe - A bad student
21. Professor Ferrini.
22. Obscured by Clouds - Scent of a woman
23. Renouncing Christianity
24. 1973—I join the PCI, the Italian Communist Party—I believed
25. Radio Varese—Those were the years !
26. Hippy days!
27. The best years of my life: a profile of the 70s
I have completed the first part of my book LIGHTS AND SHADOWS, about the history of my family, my youth, my travels, my involvement with the Italian community in the UK, my values and beliefs, and my life here in the UK, where I have been living since 1977.
I would like to share this with you and anyone who might have a similar project in mind. I would be grateful if you would tell me what you think of it.
Also, if you have time, I would be happy to hear any suggestions on how to improve my work. Should you find any spelling or syntax errors in the text, I would appreciate it if you would notify me.
Even the editing of just one chapter would be greatly appreciated! But don’t worry if you can’t ... or don’t feel like it. Enjoy it!
*** 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 ("The Italian").
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 first part of this book to the history of his Italian family and of the Italian Resistance in the North, where he grew up, and in the Salerno area, where he was born, bringing to life a number of previously unknown historical events.
His autobiography is therefore not merely a collection of personal memories but rather a detailed and passionate investigation into the history of Italy, as witnessed by some of his family members.
It is also an extraordinary, vivid analysis of political terrorism in Italy in the 70s and 80s, which caused the death of some of his closest friends.
I have found this part of his book particularly interesting, especially Ernesto’s early involvement with the Italian Communist party, of which little is known in British history books.
In the second part, he explores his life in Britain, its achievements and failures. Here, he 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! ... ”
*** LIGHTS AND SHADOWS - The history of my family and other compelling Italian stories. ***
This book is about myself and the history of my family. It explores the early Italian migration years (1910-1913); my mother's childhood; the war years; my early life in Italy; my involvement with politics and the Italian Communist Party; my travels; finally, my life in Britain, the country where I have been living since 1977.
The first part of this book is devoted to the history of my family, from 1910 to date, with a special section dedicated to my mother.
The second part is about my early life in Battipaglia, in the South of Italy, and in Busto Arsizio, Northern Italy.
The final part explores my life in Britain; my involvement with the Italian community in the UK, my values and ideas.
In this book you will also find many stories and events of which little has been written in English, making it invaluable for anyone with an interest in Italian and British history.
I am no believer. Yet, it seems I owe my life to none less than the Virgin Mary! The story goes that, after having lost two children in the early weeks after their birth, my Italian great grandmother, who had migrated to America a few years earlier in 1898, decided to take her newborn child back to Italy, in the hope that he would survive.
She therefore made a vow to the Virgin Mary that she would never return to America should her son Joseph—my grandfather—live, which he did. This is one of many interesting and quirky stories included in this book.
Most of them really happened; a few are entirely fictional. Some are historically significant; some are just meant to amuse the reader; others were suggested by friends and family. However, the vast majority of these stories are unique, in that they have never been published in English. I believe they offer both the historian and the traveller a stimulating insight into the life of an Italian family, spanning from 1910 to modern days.
All great stories have a beginning and an end. But mine — at least that is what I would like to believe—is a never ending story! The characters in this book enrich it every day with new exciting stories; the kind you’d want to tell your children, and your children theirs.
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.
Just days before its completion, after having consulted with my close friends and relatives, I decided to change the title of this book from the over eccentric “I AM AN EAGLE” to “LIGHTS AND SHADOWS - A family history and other compelling Italian Stories”.
One of my favourite singers of all times, Joni Mitchell, once said: “Every picture has its shadows and lights”. Likewise, life has its ups and downs. Hence, the title of my book.
You might argue that the latter title is just as bad as the previous ! You will agree with me that it’s not easy to find an enticing title that pleases everyone!
The original title did not convey the strong connection that this story has with Italy and did not fully explain or even hint at what this book is about.
You can now find the original introduction to ‘Lights and Shadows’ at the very end, on page 485, that is if you manage to get to the end of this book without getting bored!
* * *
My name is Ernesto Granese, and I am now a semi-retired journalist, language teacher and translator.
Two years ago I lost my mother. She was an extraordinary woman from Italy who survived a war, poverty, migration and even persecution during the fascist regime. A few months before she passed away I set about finding out a little more about her life and our family history. She was excited at the idea, and that’s how I became inspired to write this book.
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.
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 post 1968 years, Italian terrorism, and 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.
However, this book is primarily about the history of my family and my life. It is also about Italy, its past and present, seen from the perspective of an Italian who has now lived abroad for nearly 40 years.
The circumstances that led me to move to the UK are by no means unusual. Many young Italians flee Italy today, just as 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.
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 hopefully find within this book, are a variety of stimulating facts that are profoundly rooted in both Italian and British history.
As well as being informative, this book could provide some form of entertainment to both Italian and British readers.
Whatever your expectations, my story aims to offer plenty of curious facts and instances taken from the life of an ordinary Italian migrant, seen from the perspective of a now older man.
This is also my attempt to recollect and analyse, with a certain amount of nostalgia - but also with a bit of humour - the history of my family spanning over a period of approximately 100 years!
INTRODUCTION (Extended version)
From the hills of Cilento to the South Downs of Sussex. Every life is a story worth telling. (14th June 2016)
My name is Ernesto Granese, and I am a journalist, language teacher and translator.
Two years ago I lost my mother. She was an extraordinary woman from Italy who survived a war, poverty, migration and even persecution during the fascist times. A few months before she passed away I set about finding out a little more about her life and our family history. She was excited at the idea, and that’s how it all started.
I believe one of the greatest gifts we can give to our families, and bequeath to those who will follow us, is an intimate direct account of our lives, and no life is insignificant.
It is an act of love for those around us, those who have preceded us and those who will follow our steps.
These notes were originally written in Italian for the ISA, Italians in Sussex Association, a charity of which I am responsible for, and published by an Italian 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!
Although this has never been my ambition or intention, I thought I would give it a go. After all, life is but the sum of our experiences, and all our stories help us understand who we are and, as such, are all worth telling: they are all part of a “whole”, which is our human collective consciousness or, to put it more simply, they are an important part of the busy and complex business of living, and of its ups and downs.
In 1911 the philosopher Bertrand Russell said: “... All biographies have something of a post mortem coldness ... It is the natural resort of liars and braggarts .. Only men with the habit of regarding themselves with a kind of admiration do best in autobiography... “, and yet a few decades later he wrote one himself !
Whether your autobiography will be seen as a narcissistic attempt to assert your worth or a sincere attempt to reassess your life’s state of affairs, it is up to the readers to decide.
What I am about to write, and the unfolding of events that took place from the beginning of last century to date, is by no means logical or consequential. The element of surprise, the sudden changes of direction, the reshaping, the ups and downs are a constant feature of my life and are, I believe, what makes this book worth reading.
Music and politics also played an important part in my life, especially in the first decade (1970-1980). Indeed, in those days music went hand in hand with politics; you really could not talk about the music scene without evoking the political events of those years. Inevitably, there were excesses. But we never lacked passion or enthusiasm in any of our endeavours.
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 voice to 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 the latter, 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 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 Piedmont 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.
Inevitably, I had to look further and beyond my petty life events of today and dig out some old stories, the almost forgotten stories of my family going back to last century and beyond that my parents, uncles and grand-parents used to tell me and my brother by the fire in winter nights in the late ‘60. This I did more out of gratitude to them, for wanting to share their memories with me, than for vanity.
This story starts in 1910 in the tiny village of Piaggine in Southern Italy and unfolds through the towns of Eboli; Battipaglia; Busto Arsizio; Varese; Perugia, in Italy; Brighton and Lewes in the UK, where I have now been living for the last 20 years.
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. Yet I am driven by the desire to tell the story of my family and of the events which unfolded over a period of over 100 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 it, 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.
Curiously, most of the stories in this book take place around four major rivers. The Calore, the Sele, the Tusciano, all in Campania; the Ticino in Northern Italy; and the river Ouse, in the South East of England, the latter been infamously associated with the death of Virginia Wolf, one if my favourite writers of all time and herself a keen autobiographer.
Like Virginia Wolfe, many great writers have built their success writing their own biography and did it wonderfully. Some random examples : Natalia Ginzburg, Franz Kafka, George Byron, Charles Dickens, Cesare Pavese, Francesco Petrarca, Marcel Proust, Simone de Beauvoir, Pablo Neruda, Goethe, Leo Tolstoy, Oscar Wilde, Victor Hugo, Henry James, Maxim Gorky, Mark Twain, Giacomo Leopardi, Dante Alighieri, and many others. They wrote many extraordinary works taking inspiration from their own lives.
* * *
Since many great writers have started their career by writing about their childhood, and did it wonderfully, I told myself: I’m going to give it try!
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!
Most first novels are disguised autobiographies. This autobiography is a disguised novel. Name and attributes of real people have been changed and shuffled so as to render identification almost impossible.
Sick of being a prisoner of my childhood, I now want to put it behind me. To do that, I have to remember what it was like.
The great Italian writer Natalia Ginzburg once said that the secret of who we are is hidden in our childhood. How right she was!
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 where 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 an era about which little has been written in the English language: the post 1968 years, Italian terrorism, and 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.
Somehow, my creative effort reaches its peak when combining a particularly moving, emotionally involving story with a few glasses of limoncello, the liqueur which best symbolises the land where I was born, and to which I confess an addiction which goes back a long time!
If life is to triumph over death, an autobiography is the perfect means to achieve that.
* * *
This book is also about Italy, its past and present, seen from the perspective of an Italian who has lived abroad now for nearly 40 years.
Many books have been written about Italy in the last few years than in several centuries. Most of them are dictated more by affection and even admiration than by real knowledge. Few foreigners stay long enough to know the country well.
"... The Italians themselves never write or think about their own habits, as if they thought such studies weren’t useful or important"... These words were written in 1824 by the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi in an essay (the only such in Italian literature) dedicated to “The Present state of the manners of the Italian People".
Things have increasingly gone in the same direction ever since, and the Italians still generally refuse to write about themselves and, when they do, they write allusively and with circumspection. I am no exception.
My story is by no means an unusual story. Hundreds of young Italians flee Italy today in the same way that I did.
What makes it unique, I’d like to believe, 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 not only changed my life but 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, from the Fascist era to date, 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 it 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 100 years ! Enjoy.
SYNOPSIS (discarded version)
What does it mean today, in the light of Brexit, to be an Italian living in the UK? What about second generation Italian? Looking at the life history of my family helps illuminate how Italians in the UK live and lived. Although they share many cultural norms with other ethnic minorities, they have their own unique history based on their place of origin in Italy and their new homeland.
The second generation -- individuals like my daughter born in the UK whose parents, one or both, were born in Italy -- are caught between the two cultures; they are never clearly full-fledged Italians or British.
From the early 1880s through the 1930s, several thousand Italian immigrants, mainly from the southern provinces of Italy, travelled to Europe and America, to find a more prosperous way of life. In England, the immigrants and their offspring were successful in a variety of economic ventures and earned respect as civil servants and business people. In fact, the Clerkenwell today is still known as "Little Italy" because of the many residents and store owners of Italian descent.
Despite a strong ethnic pride and an ever increasing number of descendants, very little has been written about the Italians in the UK. The Italians were able to adapt rapidly to life in Britain, while at the same time maintaining a strong sense of their cultural heritage and preserving some of its values and traditions.
Although most of the first generation of Italian descent have died, they leave behind them a manifold of second, third and fourth generation Italians. With every generation, the process of acculturation has changed or eliminated many of the traditions and values that those early immigrants held as important to their identity, while a few traits are purposely maintained.
The stories of my great grandfather, his cousin, my uncle, my mother are representative of a specific time and place in history. They shed light on what it was like to be an Italian during the first half of the twentieth century.
In this opening chapters 1-4, I placed the study of the Galluzzi/Pepe family within a broader historical perspective of the history of Italian migration.
Chapters five through ten are dedicated to the story of the Granese family. Instead of a linear approach, I am using a thematic approach in which their stories will be heard around specific key issues which make up the fabric of their lives. Family relationships are explored in chapters 10.
Chapter seven explores my mother’s upbringing at home, church and school.
Chapters 1 through 13 are retelling of stories I heard while visiting Battipaglia, Campania, Italy.
The concluding chapter will identify what it means to be an Italian living in the UK.
Mainly, the text will be autobiographical with a short narrative at the beginning of each chapter to introduce the different thematic concerns. Each family member tells his or her piece of the story.
I compiled the life histories of the Granese-Galluzzi family through a series of lengthy audio recorded individual interviews of all seven siblings.
I have spent a considerable amount of time with certain members of the Granese&Galluzzi family over the last five years. During the hours spent cooking with my aunts or gardening with my uncle, they have passed on to me many cultural traditions that their parents had given to them. Through natural curiosity, I began to ask them questions concerning their childhoods in the hope that I could gain a greater understanding of my heritage. Without realizing it at the time, these hours spent with my family have become the building blocks for this book.
I AM AN EAGLE (discarded title)
This book was originally called “I am an Eagle”. It had the beautiful picture of an eagle alongside its title and featured a short introduction as to how I came up with this title. More importantly, it contained a fairly accurate, and never hitherto attempted description of myself, a self portrait that aptly highlights the ideas and the positive feelings that pervaded this project right from the start, as well as the enthusiasm with which I embarked on this venture. Therefore, I thought it would be worth to include it in the final draft of this book.
“In a recent survey, I have found out that the animal that best represents my personality is the eagle, hence the (silly) title of this book.
The eagle is commonly seen as the symbol of leadership and strength, and that is perhaps why the Americans, rather presumptuously, have adopted it as their emblem.
‘Aquila della Notte’ (Eagle of the Night) is also the name of one of my favourite hero—also known as Tex Willer—taken from a famous cowboy story comic strip, which played a big part for many years of my childhood.
Eagle-people like to generate new ideas and new ways to do things. Due to their good ideas and their determination, they make things happen.
They enjoy action and variety; they can be imaginative, and creative problem solvers; they don’t like to follow orders or lead, and tend to see things from an unusual angle. That is why they enjoy exploring areas where nobody dares to tread.
They also enjoy verbal arguments and swimming against the tide, as long as this satisfies their insatiable curiosity: they think this will help them keep their mind young and active.
However, they can become rebellious and restless when bored. This is perhaps why my life, from an early age, has not been an easy one and has always been a struggle to assert myself.
We eagle-people are often thought of by some as presumptuous and arrogant, but we aren’t : we like to stick up for what we believe in.
This book is exactly that : a collection of facts, ideas, and beliefs that have guided me throughout my life.
Rather than a predator or a bird of prey, I like to see myself as a proud, independent, brave individual, who, like many of my generation, has put freedom of thought and striving for justice at the centre of his life.
Of course, most of the ideals and aspirations that have guided my life have failed to materialize and have shown to be mostly just wishful thinking! But ideals, principles, and values are also the staff of which proud and noble people are made.
With a little presumption, sometimes I’d like to think I am one of them; but only on alternative days! Hard work has never been one of my strong points!”
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ANCESTORS AND FAMILY HISTORY
The proliferation of such websites as ancestry.co.uk, myheritage.com and familysearch.org is evidence of our apparently insatiable interest in our ancestors.
The main incentive is nostalgia. We look back longingly to the world in which our great-grandparents lived. There may have been poverty and hardship, we tell ourselves, but there was more sense of community. People tended to get and stay married, to maintain close relationships with their extended families and to stay in the same place. They seem more rooted than we can ever be.
This obsession finds particular focus in the Second World War, not least because nearly all of us are related to someone who fought in it. That generation has passed into history, but the centenary next year of the outbreak of war will see more and more people wanting to find out where their family members fought, and in many cases died.
Researches I had done into my long-dead paternal grandfather’s war proved useful when I discovered that he and my girlfriend’s grand father Josef Reim may have fought on opposite sides during 2nd WW while in Italy. Although by an extraordinary coincidence both were wounded and taken prisoner on the same day in the same battle. Josef was interned at Padula, Salerno, whilst my grandfather ended up in Nocera’s hospital, also in the province of Salerno. Joseph was consequently transferred to Newhaven, East Sussex, UK, where he met his future wife Peggy who was a nurse in the POW camp there.
It is one thing researching and writing the lives of writers whose papers are carefully preserved and catalogued in libraries, quite another dealing with “ordinary” people who leave little behind.
Increasingly we look to families’ histories to find our place in the world and how we got there. The internet may give us access to all kinds of records, but because we move house more than we used to, photographs and papers that once lay in attics for years get lost or thrown away.
It was as a child in the attic of my family home that I first encountered my forebears, sifting through the discarded possessions of departed generations, fascinated by people I felt close to but had never met.
One particular photograph struck me: it showed my grandfather’s fellow soldier and friend killed under a German tank. It was my grand father’s only memory of him. Suddenly I became aware of the brutality of war.
Years later, when I set out to write this book I find myself in distant libraries going through other families’ papers, I remember – and sometimes blame – that photograph back in the attic.
When it came to finding out more about my own ancestry, I was lucky enough to be able to build on research already carried out by other family members. My mother’s side has – so far – been traced back to 1890. This may be as far as anyone can get because at some point the family changed its surname and no one seems to know the original.
Among the pleasures of exploring one’s family history are the surprises it can throw up. In our case, strong connections with Spain go back to the mid-17th century, where the Granese seem to have originated.
On my father’s side, a cousin of mine created a family archive that includes diaries, books, photographs, newspaper clippings and my and my great uncle Joseph’s hat.
Like most people, I am more interested in less-distant generations, about whom I have heard (or overheard) stories, whose letters and diaries I have read, and whose faces I recognise in photographs.
Using internet tools, it is now comparatively easy to construct a family tree, but this is not the same thing as a family history. We can consult all the census returns, parish records, registrations of births, marriages and deaths we like, but names, dates and places do not make a story – and it is family stories we crave.
Whether writing for ourselves, our family and friends, or complete strangers, it all comes down to how well we tell our stories.
I have tried, in my own small way, to tell mine the best I could.
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This book is primarily a personal story about my life and the history of my family.
However, it is also a book about Italy and how seasons, food, family, architecture, nature, traditions, and weather all come together to create the lifestyle of Italians much more so than their economic well being, and why it looks like La Dolce Vita to most of our visitors.
It also debunks some myths of La Dolce Vita and shows the not so attractive side of being Italian that tourists don’t get to see.
Italy is a place of extreme contrasts. The Italian political system, its universities, banks, and industries are in disarray. Italy has always seemed to be on the verge of crumbling according to many economic indicators.
And yet somehow life continues on a daily basis in much the same way it has for hundreds of years. The breathtaking countryside, stunning islands and beaches, non- stop blue skies, excellent food and wine, art collections, fashion, family, tightly knit neighbourhoods, rituals and traditions, and the beauty of the cities make it hard to be gloomy or to reconcile the failure of so many of its institutions. It is easier to have an excellent coffee, stop and chat a while with your neighbour.
The book is divided into five sections – The Migration years; the War years; the college years; travels; life in the UK.
It describes the differences between an Anglo-Saxon culture based on economic rationalism and one which is dictated by the weather/natural environment and by human relationships. And it is a difference that has far reaching effects in all aspects of Italian society, economics and attitude.
The book also highlights several key relationships I have with other Italians and Italian ex-pats and talks about life in the UK from their point of view.
It includes chapters about important Italian facts such as the role of British armed forces in the Liberation of Italy from the Nazi’s, as told by writer Norman Lewis and Colonel Wingham.
If you have ever wondered what it would be like to live in a country in the absence of economic rationalism, then you will enjoy this book.
This book is about what it is like to be so different from all those around you while identifying and appreciating things that were always missing in your own life. It is a book about living an never ending and continuously surprising adventure, about following your heart, and living amongst people who continuously use theirs.
“If life is to triumph over death, an autobiography is the perfect means to achieve that...”
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This book is dedicated to my mother, an exceptional woman, small in stature, but tenacious and combative in the face of the great obstacles she encountered in her life.
These are just some of the themes you will find in my book ...
What I believe in : My values and beliefs
My kind of socialism; The Communitarian Philosophy : towards a new community ethos; Solidarity; Rights; Justice; Freedom; Democracy; As to government; As to Church and Religion; As to Marriage and Love; On Capitalism, Profit and Free Market; Speculators; On Europe.