by Sam Di Bella

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The strange diary of Sam

of Salvatore (Sam) Di Bella

Memories, curiosity, reflections,.. by a young …nonagenarian from Bronte


VI - The Pinuccia

On my second year of university in Catania, I had met a Venetian guy whose name escapes me. He was six feet tall and was attending my same course at university. He had a girl, very pretty, to whom he had introduced us. She was also a student and was called Pinuccia. This young man, often, believing himself to be very witty, used to make smart comments about my short stature. I was a good 6 inches shorter than him. So one day I said to him: “Look, I can be as short as you like, but, if I want, I can steal your girl”.

He laughed in disbelief, but after a few weeks he had to go to Calabria for a month, where his father, a wood entrepreneur, was cutting a forest. I began to go round with Pinuccia to the point of getting her to invite me to her house. She, the daughter of a mediocre lawyer, had a music teacher who was teaching her to play the piano. I was then able to play anything on piano but only with the right hand, while she or her teacher used to play the accompaniment.

I composed for her, music and words, a song, my only musical composition, called Sweet Fable. The teacher orchestrated it and we used to sing it together. I don’t think it would ever win any competition but had completely won over the girl. In fact, after 2 or 3 weeks she wrote a letter to her boyfriend, telling him that it was all over between them, as she was in love with Toto. The young Venetian soon returned to Catania and would have surely beaten me up if not for the help of the friends of our group. After a few months he left the University of Catania and moved, I think, to Padua.

I continued to see Pinuccia and, as then we were reading novels by some Hungarian authors who preached free love and the abolition of marriage, one day she said to me: “Since we may never get married why we don’t make love now, instead of making out?”

So we began to make love, and being naive, as we were, we did not take the proper precautions. Pinuccia, in her spare time, worked, as assistant, at the pharmacy of a relative in via Umberto I. One day she noticed that her period was late and tried to prepare appropriate medications to eliminate a possible pregnancy. The pharmacist noticed it and, while she said that she was preparing those things for one of her friend, he hastened to inform her family.

It was the holiday season and I was in Bronte when I was delivered a letter from the lawyer Albanese of Catania, in which I was required to go to him, as soon as possible, for urgent communications. Struck by panic, I told the whole story to a lawyer friend of mine. He advised me to go immediately to Catania, get in touch with the girl and get her, in some way, to write me a letter in which there was the sentence: My relatives think that I could be pregnant and that I have made love with you. I know that this is not true as you never touched me ... etc... etc...

I went to Catania and, through a neighbor, I contacted Pinuccia and told her that I was waiting for her at central post office in Catania. She came after about an hour and you could tell that she had confessed everything to her family. However, I told her: Look Pinuccia, you know how much I love you. But my mother is an old-fashioned woman. She would never let me marry a girl through blackmail or anything like that. Now, if you write me a letter showing that you are really in love with me and are a stranger to any form of coercion against me, she has no objection to our marriage. So I began to dictate the letter that she wrote on the counter of the post.

After that we kissed affectionately, she went home and I went directly to meet the lawyer Albanese. As I entered, he said: “I know your father. He is a true gentleman, you should be like him”

“Lawyer, what are we talking about?”

“About what ?” he says “.. the Pinuccia ....”

“Look, lawyer,” I say “about my relationship with Pinuccia. I am engaged to her. But now I am hearng all these stories and I'm changing my mind ... She wrote me a letter that I shall read to you ....”

And I read that letter with the famous phrase that my friend had suggested to me. The lawyer exploded: “This is impossible ... diabolical... The girl confessed to me that she has had sex with you ...”

“Lawyer, do what you like, these are the facts and I'm leaving”.

As I went out the door of his study, the lawyer was stunned. Not satisfied with this, I went to Pinuccia’s house to greet them, before returning to Bronte, without realizing that the lawyer could have called to warn them. I realized immediately that Pinuccia was pretty cold and immediately she asked me, “Where is the letter I wrote to you?”

“I don’t have it”

“Show me your wallet!” She said almost shoutlng.

I started to go down the stairs while she was screaming: “Coward! Coward! ...”

After a few months I was called to military service but that cry: Coward! Coward! has haunted me for almost my entire life. This was the most abominable act of cowardice I've made in my life. Moreover, while for years during the war, I had no news of my family, and promised myself that if, at the end of the war, I would have found all my family safe and sound, I was going to look for and marry Pinuccia, even if in meantime, she had become a slut.

Instead, back home and having found everything in place, I never went to look for her or to find out what had happenedto her. As for cowardice I consider myself a professional well above average.


VII - I love Summer

This month is nearly over. Days and weeks, for me, are becoming increasingly shorter. I realize this is just my personal impression.

The passage of time, in fact, is always the same. However, the perception of it has changed for me. Exactly the opposite of when when I was a child. Then, one year seemed like an eternity. Now I seem to go from one season to another in an instant. Although, in recent years, it seems that the seasons have become just two. Summer and winter. Spring and autumn have almost disappeared from the calendar.

I love summer especially for the quantity and variety of fruit that you can find everywhere. What I wanted to do, twenty five years ago, with my wife, was to come to Italy in April and stay until September.

In October we would return to Australia to stay there until next April. To skip all the winters for me would have been like living in an artificial paradise ...

My wife did not share my desires .. that’s why we broke up and I came to live in Italy. I thought I could come here to spend the last couple of years of my life and instead, I have been here for twenty five years ...

Fortunately for me, my daughters and my grandchildren come to visit me almost every year. And, here in Italy, I have had an extraordinary niece that, especially in my last and fragile years, has given me all the possible cares that go beyond any love of a daughter.

How much time do I have left to live? I don’t think a lot. Meanwhile, I continue to write whatever comes to mind. And continue also to play chess whenever I can.

The upcoming month my grandson Thomas, the son of my daughter Sandra, is coming here to visit. He’s a little unconventional but he has many features that I had when I was his age. He likes to paint, play and sing, but has not decided where his talents will take him.. I believe that, eventually, he will find his way and become a man of success in any area he will want to engage...


VIII - The small Lina

Another strange situation happened to me in Milan in the year 1944. On another complex of the same building, where I lived with Milazzotto and other friends, there was a perticular family, to which belonged my little Lina.

She was seventeen or eighteen years old. Very small. Maybe, not unlike my mother. Passionate. Extremely jealous, but full of so much effervescent intelligence and “joie de vivre”. I never understood why she had found in me her prince charming.

Every day she brought me a loaf of bread prepared with butter and jam that I, often, shared with Milazzotto. The bread, in Milan then, was a product of great value and was very difficult to obtain it at any price, but the mother of Lina, a real expert in smuggling, had all the contacts to get anything she needed.

I could not look at another girl in the building. Lina would immediately start whining for entire evenings, telling me that I did not love her enough.

We used to make love several times during the evenings, but she was insatiable. Sometimes leading to violence. When people asked her mother, “Where is Lina?” She replied: “She will be somewhere making love with Totò”.

The small Lina saved my life twice in Milan simply through her intuition. Often the Germans were raking around in the buildings where there were many military deserters. Twice she dragged me into the cellar of the right building other than where I wanted to go.

When the war ended I went home and to my studies. She used to write me a letter almost every day. She wrote so well ...

My mother, one day, found in my desk a number of her letters. After reading them all, she said to me: “If you don’t marry this girl, the Lord will punish you.”

But I already had a new lover in Catania and I never tried to find out what happened to the little Lina.

I have to admit it. Sometimes I have been a real bastard.


IX - The joke

Some memories make me sad others do not. A recent memory is that of my 90th birthday. We celebrated at the restaurant Casolare delle balze of Maniace. There were many of my friends and family and there was also a talented entertainer who sang and made great music for dancing and to listen to.

There was also my grandson Thomas Fitztsimons, who had come to visit me from Australia. He made a little speech in English, very much applauded, and there was also the lawyer Mimmo Azzia of Sicilia Mondo who made a long speech about my alleged cultural and entrepreneurial ability, a panegyric of compliments absolutely undeserved.

Finally we arrived to cut the cake which had been prepared by my nephew Nunzia Gulino, the main “fillettiera” of Bronte. In one of the cakes was a picture of a beautiful girl half naked asking me if this was not the time to know each other better. Maybe, I said, but now it’s too late.

A woman whispers in my ear that it is never too late. Now there is the viagra, she said. Meanwhile, some voices were shouting: “Speech! Speech!” So I told a dated joke I heard recently.

It was abpout a old man, of eighty or eighty-five years of age, who had gone to a chemist shop and asked the pharmacist: “Give me four viagra pills divided into four”.

The pharmacist replied, “My dear sir, with a quarter of a pill you can not get an erection. Excuse me ...”

The old man replies, “and who want an erection? I am eighty five years old. I just want to come out a little bit not to pee on my shoes!”. Everyone laughed except my grandson Thomas who, not knowing Italian, wondered why people were laughing so much ...


X -The first voyage

When my friend Nunzio Ponzo and I decided to emigrate to Australia, our friends were asking us: “What the hell are going to do in Australia? Only farmers and craftsmen go there. Are you completely insane?”

These were the words that Bruno Minissale and Aldo Mauro repeated continuously. Bruno had been my classmate from kindergarten to university, Aldo and Nunzio were related to us from a relationship that went beyond a normal friendship. All other students of the Capizzi College used to call us: the "quadrunvirato". We were always together...

I was communist, Bruno fascist, Aldo liberal and Nunzio Democrat. Despite our ideological differences, which pushed us to endless discussions, we liked each other so much and we were always ready to do anything to defend our small group.

When the day of our departure arrived, Nunzio and I went to embark in Messina, on the ship Surriento. We had booked our places in a cabin for six people, but could never been able to sleep in it, as the other four occupants, coming maybe from Calabria, God knows what had in their suitcases. The smell of feet and cheese in fermentation, in that cabin, was absolutely unbearable.

The trip lasted about a month and it was awful. The food was so bad you would want to fast for ever. Absolutely inedible, sometimes disgusting. After a few days of travel so many of us young people rebelled and the chap, in charge of the food on the ship, decided to feed us cheese and pickles sandwiches instead of cooked food.

That is what, for nearly a month, Nunzio, I, and many other young people could eat. However, on that ship, I met one of the best friends of my life. His name is Fred Lax, a Polish engineer, a year older than me, who still lives in Sydney with his wife Alberta from Rome. Fred, graduated in Italy and spoke an almost perfect Italian. But he also spoke Russian, Polish and enough English to become my personal interpreter during my first months in Australia.


XI - Aiuattist?

My first job in Sydney, or to be more precise, my second job, as I had worked for a few weeks in an Italian shop of fruit and vegetables, was in a large factory that produced many metal products. I was assigned to the section that made tin boxes for pipe tobacco.

In that group, except me, they were all Australians. At noon we stopped an hour for lunch and I, after eating my sandwich in the first five minutes, not being able to talk to anyone, used to open a notebook and I try to draw something or facial caricatures. There was a middle-aged woman who was continually asking me something that sounded like: “aiuattist?” And I kept saying, “No understand!” It was all the English I knew then.

After a few days I met a Calabrian fellow who worked in another department of the same factory. He spoke English and I asked him to come and see what this woman wanted from me. During the subsequent lunch he came to our department and after talking with the woman he said, “She wanted to know if you’re an artist and if you know how to shape things with clay, because her brother in law has a mannequin factory, and is looking for someone who can do this work”.

As a boy, I had played a little with clay. I had modelled, in bas-relief the head of Mussolini, some flowers and stuff like that, so I told her that I was able to do these things. She gave me the address of the factory and the following Saturday, my friend Fred and I, went to see the man who made the mannequins. It was a small factory which employed about ten people and one of them spoke a comprehensible Italian.

The owner showed me a woman’s hand made of plastic and asked me if I was able to model a hand like that with different finger positions. At my affirmation, he gave me that hand as a model and a package of clay. The appointment was for the next weekend.
I could  not tell you how hard I worked that week, but every afternoon, returning from work, I found almost all the fingers loose from the hand or otherwise deformed by the damp cloth that I used to over it.
Finally I rolled all the snall bits in a sheet of newspaper and the next Saturdays, always accompanied by my friend Fred, went to bring everything back to the mannequin factory.

As Fred explained to the owner that I was not able to model a hand like the one I had reported, he was watching carefully, in those butts fingers, as I had copied the nails and the back of the fingers and began to laugh. He took a piece of wire and began to make a skeleton of the hand and told Fred to tell me, to try again with that.

After becoming aware of my naivety and inexperience, I tried again and was able to make a copy, almost perfect, of the hand that he had given me.

I realize that this story is getting too long and boring. I just want to add that the owner of the factory told Fred that he would give me four guineas (four pounds and four shillings) for each pair of hands that I would model for him. Now, considering that, in my work, I was earning only seven pounds a week, that seemed a fabulous offer, as, to model a pair of hands, took me no more than four or five hours.

It was so that, resigning from my job in the factory of boxes for tobacco, I became a modeler of mannequins. In fact, after the hands, I also modeled heads of children, women, youth and even small animals, rabbits and koala that were sold in the stalls of the fairs.


XII - The sentence

The situation in Italy is getting too complicated. In the court of Cassation they condemned Berlusconi, not only to four years in prison but also barring him from his candidacy. It seems clear that the judiciary sentenced him for tax offenses committed or less from his companies, but above all, to permanently eliminate him from the political scene.

This is very serious because Silvio Berlusconi is still the leader of the party that is ruling Italy along with the Democratic Party. It is not clear how you can get out of this impasse. In October we don’t know what to expect. Meanwhile Grillo wants to save Italy just saying bad words.

The Letta government is doing pretty well, but in small steps, sometimes almost imperceptible. It should take more courage to correct the many vices of the Italians. The rot is not only in politics, the judiciary and the public service.
The rot is everywhere. We need to reform the mentality of the Italians. They have to relearn to become industrious, productive, competitive and less talkative. Let’s stop feeling brilliant and superior to others. If we really are so smart, let us prove it inventing our own jobs. let us ban political recommendations.

I am very old now and fortunately my children and grandchildren live in a totally different country from Italy. But, I love Italy. I love it to the point of leaving my family in Australia to come and live here my last years.

Only a real pacification between the two major parties in government can save Italy from the disaster that is living. Maybe this is the time in which can be realized, even in Italy, a real alternation to the government of the country to solve the many problems that afflict it.


XIII - The fruit shop

I am unsure what to write today. In my mind there are too many things in field. I would even get out and take it seriously with both the ruling parties, which, instead of making those draconian laws that can put poor Italy back on track, continue to make a lot of mess about the fate of a senator, even if his name is Berlusconi.

I’m tired of the constant chatter on television of so-called journalists and political hacks who talk ... talk ... talk, often contradicting themselves, always attacking someone or something, not realizing that Italy needs facts and serious reforms, not small talk.

However, none of my business. At my age I don’t give a damn about politics.
In fact, now I’m remembering what I was doing during the first months of my arrival in Australia. My first job was in a store of fruits and vegetables in the commercial center of Sydney. That was one of the most famous fruit shops in the city. It belonged to a Mr. Donato, considered then, perhaps wrongly, the richest Italian in Sydney.

This shop was particularly famous for the excellent fruit salad produced and put on sale at noon for the many employees who worked in nearby buildings during lunch.

So at that time the store became very crowded, especially with girls who came to eat the fruit salad that I had helped to prepare. During that hour I was behind the counter washing dishes because, not knowing English, I could not serve.
A boy from Messina, who worked there, used to say, in English, to the girls: “You see that young man who washes the dishes? He is a doctor!”

Some girls came to ask me something. And I, not knowing how to respond, said: “No understand.”

After a few weeks I left that job to find one where no one spoke Italian. I thought that would be the only way for me to learn English. But I started to learn English by going to the cinema. I used to listen carefully to the words, without following the stories. And after a while, I began to distinguish the meaning of some words and, later on, when I started to express myself in English, many people used to ask me if I had been in America before coming to Australia. Evidently, through the many American films that I had seen, had learned many words and a little of the accent.

One of my great satisfaction after ten years of residence in Australia was when, one day, while playing bowls and talking with an Australian fellow, he tells me: “Sam, I know you are italian, but you were born here, right?”.

Not bad, considering that I had started to learn English when I was thirty years old.


(it follows)  


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