When a young Italian came to stay in Glen Alvie, it created a web of connections between Bass Coast and the famous city of Naples.
The Neapolitan connection
By Hilary Stuchbery
February 8, 2014
LATE last year I found myself leading a handsome young Italian to Mitchell House in Wonthaggi to learn to make pasta.
It all started one Saturday in September when I dropped in to see my friend Kerena McLaren. While we chatted, she fielded messages and phone calls from Gerardo and his friend Fabbio, who had come from Giuliano, a little town near Naples, looking for work and had stayed and worked with Kerena and Peter for a while. They had been working in South Australia but the work had dried up and Gerardo needed to return to Gippsland. Kerena looked at me imploringly and said, “You’re an Italian teacher. Can’t you be his friend now?”
In the end Gerardo stayed with us for a month and found work with local farmers nearby. In return for his board, he helped me just when I needed it as I was waiting for a hip replacement and was struggling to do my usual jobs. By the time he returned to Naples to spend Christmas with his family, I felt I had gained a surrogate son – with all the cheek and affection of a real son.
Before Gerardo returned to Italy, I asked him about his life in Italy and his impressions of Australia.
Gerardo said the situation in his home town of Giuliano was bad because Romanies (i Rom in Italian) are paid to burn the refuse and waste chemicals of the city. There is very little employment and hardly any government financial help for the unemployed.
“Where I live in Naples there is very chaos, the people, the cars. Here in Australia is very quiet. In Italy I like the Italian food. I like pizza, mozzarella. Here in Australia there isn’t this thing, but some food here is good.” He had even tried eating kangaroo.
He told me that when he came to Melbourne he met Dutch, Taiwanese, Japanese, Germans, and Australians. He got along with Japanese and Australians, especially, but had trouble with the Italians in Carlton, who he said expected to pay very low wages for long hours in the restaurants.
Since being in Australia, Gerardo has worked as a cleaner, farmhand at a beef farm, at a vineyard, and a dairy farm, a painter, and as dishwasher at a restaurant in Yarraville. He has added milking, tractor-driving, woodcutting, and driving on the right to his skills. At home his mother does all the cooking, so I introduced him to pasta making with a workshop at Mitchell House with Alison Vincent.
Gerardo has just returned to Australia for another try at life here – just in time to celebrate his 30th birthday. Bearing in mind I have introduced him to recycling, cooking his own dinner, washing his own clothes, and making a cup of tea, I think he is very brave to come back. We’ll try to turn him into a true independent Aussie male before he returns again to Mamma, but he’ll always look slim and elegant – a real Italian.
At the same time Gerardo was staying with us, the daughter of some old Cape Paterson friends was visiting from Naples, so I got a chance to compare her impressions.
Bonnie, a contemporary dancer with two young children, has lived in Naples for five years. She moved there because it was impossible to get her Neapolitan boyfriend, Giovanni, now her husband, to move to Australia. Like wine, Giovanni is Neapolitan DOC and the chaos of the city is like the blood through his veins – he can’t live without it.
Bonnie says the children are in school five days a week from the age of three. “My husband’s late working hours mean we sit down to dinner at 10 each night. Shops close between 2 and 4 each day for lunch and Sunday trading is a special event before Christmas.”
As for cultural riches, Bonnie says Melbourne remains her favourite city. “It’s brimming with interesting people doing interesting things. People are creating, and creativity is open to all.
“The cultural mix and diversity in Melbourne, and Australia generally, is something that impresses me ever more each time I return. Despite all their masterpieces, I don’t know that the possibility of creativity and cultural contribution exists for every person in an Italian city. There is quite a social divide.
“Returning home made me quite homesick.”
As the mother of Bonnie, mother-in-law of Giovanni and grandmother of their two children, Cape Paterson’s Lynda Paskas is a frequent visitor to Naples. She describes her impressions of this famous city.
A city of contradictions
By Lynda Paskas
February 8, 2014
IT TAKES considerable effort to navigate one’s way through the peculiarities of Neapolitan life. There is much to love about Napoli and much that can drive you to the point of distraction.
The city is blessed with natural beauty but the rubbish dumped in and around the bay and along the roads and freeways is a depressing eyesore. Walking down any footpath means tackling a minefield of dog droppings.
The traffic is dense and noisy. The sounds of car horns, Vespas and ambulance sirens are ever present, day and night. Little mind is paid to lanes, red lights and pedestrian crossings. Exploding fireworks fill the skies on any night of the year and New Year’s Eve has to be experienced to be believed.
Amid the chaos, a warm welcome awaits the visitor and a bounty of food and drink is proffered. Refusal is not accepted, it seems, until activated thrice.
Family is the basis of life in Napoli. Giovanni’s mother has seven siblings and his father five. There are therefore numerous cousins and children of cousins scattered from Firenze and Milano, all the way down to Calabria. There seems always to be a birthday, wedding, christening to attend and gift giving is on a grand scale.
Shops are kept spotlessly clean and much pride is taken in the elaborate and constantly changing window displays. Shops close from around 2-4 pm for the lunch break and most do not open on Sundays.
Supermarkets are small by Australian standards and people prefer to buy their bread from their local bakery, cheese from the local deli, fruit and veg from the local greengrocer. Each residential street seems to have a full complement of such shops and service is friendly.
Bureaucracy is labyrinthine. Bonnie has often had to make early morning train trips to Rome to join long queues before the relevant office closes for the lunch break or for the day.
Children begin school at three. The early years are similar to our kindergarten although students put in a full day and eat a hot lunch of several courses. At my granddaughter Iole’s school, a two-day camp was arranged for this age group! (Iole did not attend.)
After school, students engage in many extracurricular classes and activities. There are few open spaces where kids can play freely and of course a back yard is a rare commodity. Iole was thrilled to find so many beautifully maintained playgrounds and parks here in Melbourne and surrounds.
Living in Italy has made it easier for Bonnie to take on dance projects in the northern hemisphere. She has been able to take on projects in Germany, Denmark and Switzerland, among others, and has created and performed her own works in Italy. Coming back to work in Melbourne she is always struck by the creative freedom of artists here and the fresh nature of their work.