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The extraordinary life of Salvatore Di Bella, characterized by a positive approach to the difficulties, betting oneself and never giving up

Sam Di Bella, 94 years of wisdom

The Brontese who made his fortune in Australia before returning to the slopes of Etna

From the war to the refusal of the Republic of Salò and Piazzale Loreto, from the emigration that made him rich to the commitment made today with the inseparable PC and Skype

Sam Di Bella (La Sicilia, lunedì 8.12.2014)The American philosopher Henry David Thoreau, a leading figure of Transcendentalism, reaching the end of his days, «feared greatly to discover that he had never lived.»

Certainly does not run this risk Salvatore Di Bella, a grandfather of Bronte that today turnes 94 and that everyone calls "Sam".

His life, in fact, seems a repetition of stories and exciting adventures that could give inspiration to the script for many films, besides being a great lesson for the younger generation, because extraordinarily timely.

And this is not only because Sam was young when he decided to emigrate to Australia, where, thanks to his great talent and quality, has become a millionaire. And not because he has seen with his own eyes the atrocities of the Second World War, risking being shot and being in Piazzale Loreto, where the bodies of Mussolini and Claretta Petacci were exposed.

His life is extraordinary because it describes a positive approach to the difficulties, a want at all costs to reach the goal, one betting oneself always never giving up, dominating events.

This is Sam, always pervaded by an inner fire that even today, despite no longer a young man, still warms.

Do you think that in 94 years, when it could rest while enjoying the well-deserved retirement, he teaches English to students and adults who ask for help: «I have my own way - he explains -. I put in three columns the same phrase in Italian, then in English and the phonetic pronunciation. It gets easier.»

And also he decided to dust off the art of the writer, to enclose in a diary, to be published for charity, many episodes of his life. Yes, the «"Diary of Sam», which he calls "strange". Why? Because as the author writes, «his brain is a volcano in constant, unstoppable eruption with unfathomable consequences».

We decided to take a chance and went to find him at his home in Bronte to know and discover the essence of his diary.

We found him in his study, next to his inseparable Mac Apple computer. Sam, in fact, as a proficient programmer, is one of the founders of the website "Bronteinsieme", valuable evidence of the history and the current image of Bronte. A site that is a treasure chest of characters and events of Bronte, a formidable digital glue between the past and the present.

«With the computer - he explains - I connect myself via Skype with all my friends around the world».

In his room stand out the photos of her two daughters Sandra and Marilyn and the grandchildren that he also shows to us in some more recent photos stored in its latest generation of smartphones that handles like a digital native.

In the room there is a huge TV with which he follows and comments the political chronicles: «Today we are no longer in a democracy - he says – what we have is a “chattercrasy".»

There is also a set of chess that represent a precious icon of his philosophy of life.

«I love - he says - Sicily, its culture and its traditions. Etna is a magnet for me. I cried during my first trip back from Australia, and I left my wife because she did not want to come back here with me every summer. But to the trump - I repeat - I prefer chess. Trump is a game based mostly on luck, in chess instead, move after move, you measure yourself with your opponent».

We ask him why his nickname is Sam that with Salvatore has very little to do.

«Sam – he says – was given to me by my wife Maria. In Australia the name Salvatore does not exist. However, there is Sally. To call me Sal would have been ridiculous according to her. So she decided to call me Sam».

Then we speak of "The Strange Diary of Sam", where paragraph after paragraph the author tells to himself his adventures in real life, his loves, the tragedies of war, life in Australia, and his political views.

«When I arrived in Australia - he explains – I could not speak a single word of English. I thought my friends were masters of the language. Later I realized how bad was their pronunciation. I, however, learned English going to movies, where I was trying to understand the words. The greatest satisfaction for me was, after 10 years, when an Australian told me that he thought I was born there».

His diary is a series of emotions, which become stronger when it speaks of the war:

«Yes - he says -, I was in Modena. They tried to convince me to join the new army of Mussolini, who had established the Republic of Salò. I refused saying that I did not want to deny my original oath. Wirhout realising that I was accusing of betrayal the colonel in front of me. He became livid with rage, and said that I would be shot.
I was brought in the large courtyard of the barracks next to a wall. I was terribly confused. A large number of soldiers lined up, but after half an hour they brought me back into the cell and I began to laugh without being able to stop. It was a hysterical laughter, almost painful: I thought I was going crazy.»

But the tragedies of war did emerge humanity and generosity like that of the great Beppe Milazzotto.

«I had escaped from a collecting of former soldiers in Tuscany and even my aunt had not welcomed me, fearing the shooting of her husband. I was desperate. And in Milan Beppe, the center of reception of all Brontesi, told me: "You stay here with me, we will divide the bread that I have.»

He then found himself in Piazzale Loreto on the occasion of one of the most famous moments of history: «I was still living with Milazzotto. I learned the news that Mussolini had been captured, killed and hanged upside down in a gas station in Piazzale Loreto. I went to see.
The scene was hellish. The body of Mussolini was hung to the remains of a roof of a demolished petrol station still wearing a German greatcoat. Next to him there was also the body of his mistress Clara Petacci, also hanging by her feet and, with her dresss stopped by a hook a bit 'above the knees.
The crowd around seemed crazy. I remember an old woman, who took a gun drom a partisan, and fired three shots to the body of Mussolini shouting the names of her three sons who had died in the war.
I remember the truck which brought Achille Starace. He was wearing a track suit, his eyes were bulging. He was terrified. They knocked him off the car and, while on the ground he was trying to latch on to the legs of a huge partisan who pushed him with a kick and dumped on him his machine gun. For several days I had these visions before my eyes and I found it difficult to even eat.»

Sam Di Bella con la nipote Zina e le sue figlie Sandra e Marilyn

Great feast today
at the Di Bella’s house

Salvatore Di Bella, called Sam by everyo­ne, our little grandfather who made his for­tune in Australia and who, at 94 years of age, wrote the autobiographical book "The strange diary of Sam", was delited by the visit of his two Australian daughters Sandra and Marilyn.

They come to Bronte every year to embra­ce their father.

«Our father - they say - from childhood moade us always have lots of fun. We still remember his jokes. When we are in Austra­lia we miss him a lot, but we respect and un­derstand the reasons for his choice to return to his homeland. For us, his book was an inte­resting surprise. Now that we are here resurface the memories of many adventures as when, for a whole year, we toured Italy and Europe.»

Then a thought to her cousin Zina who takes care of Sam: «She 's great - they say say - we consider her as a sister».

And now Sam is in a local restaurant cele­bra­ting: «I never thought I would have seen them again - he concludes - I am 94 years old but their presence is extremely refreshing for me».

(From La Sicilia of 17 May 2015)

The memories of Sam are shiny and his expressions extraordinarily serene.

Only the ugliest memories sadden him a bit', without ever let him lose that sweetness that welcomed us from the start. Smiling a little, he explains to us why, after the war, with a degree on his shoulders, he decided to leave for Australia.
«Not even then a degree in Political Science was worth much - he said -. But I went to Australia also to please my mother. She thought, in fact, that if I learned English well, I would have been able to teach it in the Capizzi College. But I was never enticed towards a permanent job, and I left in search of adventure. I embarked with my friend Nunzio in Messina on the ship Surriento.

We had booked our beads in a cabin for 6 people, but we were never able to sleep in there as the other four occupants, perhaps Calabrians, had in their uitcases who knows what and the smell of feet and cheese in fermentation, in that cabin, was unbearable. The journey lasted about a month and it was tremendous. The food was inedible, and made you want to fast for ever.»

The ways may be different, but even today our brains, like Sam’s, are again forced to flee Italy. And given the current Italian debate on immigration, we wonder what kind of reception then received our Sicilians seeking their fortune.

«I actually - he replies - was very well received by australians. Surely someone was looking at us as the invaders and were afraid we'd taken everything.
In Australia I did all the possible trades: the painter, the clerk in a shop selling fruit and vegetables, the factory worker, I built tin boxes for tobacco, kneaded the clay, I realized and sold illuminated signs and fluorescent lamps. With the money earned I bought a home disaster. I ristrucured it with the help of two talented Italians that, given the excellent results, proposed a society with me.»

«I accepted and was the beginning. We ristrucured many Italian homes until I met Fred Fitzpatrick, tall, rich and distinguished Australian gentleman who asked me advice on the purchase of a sumptuous villa. I did not know what to tell him, but without any real knowledge I advised him to pull on the asking price.

The deal went through and I ristrucured his villa. It was for me the best propaganda, he gave me many other jobs. It was a success after another, until another Australian again changed my life. It was the bank manager of the "Anz Bank" of Bondi beach. He opened my eyes: "You are atisfied with the crumbs", he said.
I thought I was earning a lot, but he replied: "It is not repairing houses that you earn, but building them. And where do I find the money to buy the land? And we bankers for what we serve?".

I lunged. It was a new challenge. Even this worked. I built villas and palaces everywhere, even in the neighborhood of Sydney called Bronte. How many surprises are in store for you life.»

With his work, Sam has earned a lot. In the meantime he had married and had two daughters.

But there was a secret voice within him calling him. It was the call of his homeland. Australia was his second home. The first had been Sicily:
«I decided to stop working. I had earned enough. I wanted to come back to Bronte - he says - maybe spend six months here and the other in Australia. I wanted to tease seasons, avoiding the winter. My wife did not like this idea and she did not follow me.
Today I live in Bronte, in my country town with my niece Zina. My children come to see me every year and often even my Australians grandchildren. I know they are all good. Etna has bewitched me. It decided that I had to come back.»

And it also happens that in Bronte many people know and appreciate him.

His diary is read in one breath. His stories are like cherries: one attracts the other. They are a reservoir of memories and experiences that would be nice if it would be read by the younger generation, who may well know important events of the past and draw valuable lessons of life.

The words of the book convey wisdom and inner peace. The same that you feel listening to the voice of Sam, living reminder of an ancient history, but at times incredibly present and great teaching for all.

Gaetano Guidotto

(Article published in La Sicilia "of 8 December 2014)

Translated by Sam

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