Mezza Italiana is a autobiography and travel book deliciously intertwined which crosses Australia and Italy’s Abruzzo namely to Fossa in the province of L’Aquila. It’s the journey of Zoe Boccabella, an Aussie of Italian descent whose family and food like any good Italian stock provide the strong base of the book.
The book whilst sentimental in parts also brings a grimace as you read the racism that Zoe encountered growing up, as well as that of her family decades before. As Italians they had migrated to Australia to make a new, different kind of life from that on offer in Abruzzo & Calabria which pre- & post-war struggled compared to its wealthier neighbours. I must admit to being surprised at the racism Zoe experienced in ‘modern’ Australia but then racism abounds everywhere, even here in Abruzzo with tirades and blame squared against the gypsies (despite the King of the Italian Gypsies living in Pescara!), Neapolitans and most recently directed at the Chinese. There’s also a familiar struggle which many people of my age undergo in attempting to understand a Grandparent’s political right wing or conservative leanings , in this case her Abruzzese grandfather’s admiration for Mussolini.
It’s always great to identify with a character in the story even though they are of the opposite sex. Zoe’s husband Roger’s love affair and adoption of Italy as a complete estranero with no links or roots made me think about myself studying as a teenager and then living in our little house in Abruzzo and how we must have appeared to our neighbours over the years. Roger was fortunate that he still holds a deep fascination with Abruzzo whilst none of the frustration with Italy’s long-winded bureaucratic systems seeping though to dent such admiration. Perhaps it was this loved up feeling that Zoe found to be trying just like our neighbours looks of bewilderment as we rave or naively mutter in surprise at our most recent encounter with systems in Abruzzo and Italy as a whole.
I personally really enjoyed reading someone else’s descriptions in English of the sagre and places I’d visited in Abruzzo which brought back lovely memories. For anyone planning to visit Abruzzo reading Mezza Italiana can help provide a great checklist of excursions, particularly in the L’Aquila region, to visit whilst in Abruzzo as well as Italy itself. I loved her description of Fossa, a town that we visited just a week before the earthquake broke its back so to speak. I wish that we’d visited the church there, but like so many Abruzzo churches it was locked; I hope that when the town is put back together again and the church restored it will have its door wide open to encourage everyone to visit and stay a while. Her depiction of her strong paternal-side great grandmother whose strength and “secret healing” reminded me of so many of my neighbours, though their tricks often work just via coffee and a chat.
Her epilogue on the earthquake I have to confess made me weep; perhaps it was being pregnant at the time but she managed to convey so well the ongoing fallout and sorry state of affairs that is still now visited upon so many of my neighbours who lost their houses, or my village as a whole as they mask their grief stoically at the damage their little church suffered.
Although this is the autobiography of an Italian descendent, it is also an insight into an era that anyone born before 1980 will probably be able to relate to, an age when ‘best’ crockery, linens and even furniture were tucked away or protected with any form of plastic to preserve for special occasions and as a result lasted generations… Rediscovering strong ties, loyalty respect and admiration in your nearest & dearest who aren’t quite as close as one hopes will feel familiar to anyone of an emigrant family or whose early spice of life is peppered from memories of their grandparents. For those that emigrate to Italy or adopt it as their new home with the trappings of famiglia and “mange!”, how Zoe learnt to feel comfortable in her own ‘skin’ back home may just make you think a little on ‘home’…it will definitely help keep you turning the pages.
Mezza Italiana is currently available worldwide on Kindle & Australasia in paperback