Wednesday, 13 February 2013

In the Footsteps of Lorenzo - Italy 2

 My Italian Adventure.

My plan for Italy is to spend 10 days traversing the country east to west beginning in my great Grandfathers home village (or my best guess of his home village). He's been a tricky bloke to nail down. There are multiple clues in death certificates and oral stories but no documents. No birth certificate, no baptism registration. There is a recent global family of origin family tree put together by Antonio Perin in which Lorenzo Perin appears under his original family name. This is evidence of his existence and confirms that he did live in the district where I will begin my journey.

In 1880, between February and April, Lorenzo and Catterina and two children made the journey from their kitchen to Marseilles overland. What transport they used I'm not sure, but it would have been an arduous trip for a family carrying their worldly possessions and little money. Over 300 Italians from their district made this journey around the same time, so perhaps they were travelling with company. Their ultimate destination was Barcelona, their embarkation point for paradise.

They may have travelled by horse and cart as would all journeys in the mid 19th Century but part of the journey may have been by rail. Between 1860 and 1880, after the unification of Italy, there was an explosion of rail networks across Northern Italy. It would, in fact, have been possible to undertake almost the entire journey by rail in 1880.

For a peasant family that would have been unheard of, unimaginable ten years earlier. Could they have afforded such travel? What would it have cost? How often did these services operate and did they connect? I don't have answers to these questions but I intend to gain some insight into the modern experience of this journey as I attempt to retrace their steps using the local rail network.
Italian Rail Network 1861

I will buy tickets at local stations for trains with no booking system using my halting "Italian for Travellers". I will plan each next step as I go, checking that my assumed itinerary is the one that locals confirm may have been the route of my ancestors.

At this stage I will begin near Conegliano in Veneto and follow a route which will take me via Treviso, Padua, Verona, Brescia, Bergamo, Milan, Novara, Torina, Cuneo, Ventimigia the cross the border to Nice and finally Marseilles, the second city of France. Interestingly Nice, France's third city, was most recently part of Piedmont, Italy until it was annexed by France in 1860.

Each stage is short and will give give me time to walk the streets of these mostly minor and middle sized towns at the end of each day before returning next morning to pick up my next train.I have allowed about seven days for this. You can get a fast train and complete the journey in one day but I imagine Lorenzo and his comrades may have spent close to a month on this leg of their trip. I want the local experience.

Italian Rail Network 1870
At this stage I am not planning to take the boat from Marseilles to Barcelona as they did. Nor am I planning to take the sea and ocean voyage across the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal and across the Indian Ocean.

I have a friend who did do a similar journey down the Rhine (he's of German descent) following the same route as a passenger on a container vessel.

My sea experience will come on my next adventure. I am planning to visit Papua New Guinea to stand on the beach where the 300 Italians were delivered to begin a disastrous six months in their imagined, but devastatingly disappointing, paradise in the Pacific.

In the footsteps of Lorenzo - Italy 1

I am writing a fictionalised account of the Lorenzo and Catterina Capelin family from the beginning of their involvement in the Nouvelle France scheme to the final disastrous outcome.

In writing a set of characters based on fact but created in fiction I have become deeply engaged in research, trying to understand a life as lived by a peasant family in Italy over 120 years ago.

I am being drawn into the world of the 19th century. Food, family, history, politics, geography, culture, religion - each page of my manuscript demands another layer of information.

I have googled myself to a standstill; I have bought cookbooks containing traditional recipes from the Veneto region; I have discovered R. L. Stevenson's first person story of 19th Century transatlantic travel in steerage class ("The Amateur Immigrant"); I have walked the streets of local villages via Google Earth; I have put myself in the shoes of an eight year old boy experiencing Christmas and Ephiphany celebrations in his home village in 1880 - no Santa Claus, no presents on Christmas morning; but fasting and religious observation followed a week later by huge bonfires and pagan rituals on a combined Winter Solstice and Ephiphany celebration (Jan 6), with presents delivered by an aged witch-like character, La Befana, who searches year after year for the location of baby Jesus. She is said to have rejected an offer from the Three Wise Men to accompany them on their journey. She was too busy! She now seeks out each household hoping to find the place where Jesus resides. She covers all possibilities by leaving offerings at every house with a child in case that might be the one.

This is my first work of fiction. At first I was frustrated by the distractions of the research process and was guided by the advice of my writing mentor "beware research which doesn't result in writing". But as I progress I am loving it. I never studied history at school or university and, as a late starter, I am revelling in this new venture into lives beyond mine.

I've always read and I've always, in travelling, chosen a book about the history of the country I am visiting to read while on my journey (Barcelona -Robert Hughes; How the Irish Saved Civilization - Thomas Cahill; Walking the Camino - Tony Kevin; Europe East & West - Norman Davies; and later this year when I visit Berlin, Stasiland - Anna Funder) but they only serve as introductions with limited insights into culture.

In the case of Lorenzo, I have followed this research for the past 18 months and expect a further 18 months immersed in this chase.

Research is great but its limitation is that it's paper based. I need to walk the streets of the villages where my characters lived and breathed. To that end I am planning two adventures in the next 18 month period. The first will be to Italy and the second to Papua New Guinea.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Laundromat Post punk

The Sunday Best do their Sunday best in the local laundrette in West End, Brisbane today.  Local boys Peter Stewart, singer/songwriter on keyboards and lead guitar. Peter Young on drums, and Trevor Jordan on base (unidentified on dryer).They did a great set of driving post punk original songs to an appreciative audience of about thirty or forty. The laundromat was open for business as usual and a couple of people turned up and went about their washing chores oblivious to the music. The audience was invited to put a gold coin oin the launndry machines to help offset the cost of lost revenue to the owner. Great idea. Great fun. Very loud inside. You're never too old to punk it up.