by Sam Di Bella

Bronte's City, together, in the Web

You are in: Home–› Bronte's people anywhere–› Brontesi (Sam Di Bella) (3/6)

The strange diary of Sam

of Salvatore (Sam) Di Bella

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



XIV – September 8, the armstice

In July 1943 Mussolini had been arrested and on September 8 was declared an armistice. The little king Vittorio Emanuele, along with General Badoglio, the new head of government, fled to the south of Italy, already occupied by the Americans, leaving the army and Italy in disarray. Meanwhile, Mussolini, freed by the Germans, had founded the Italian Social Republic with capital Salo’.

I then found myself in Tuscany, in a small town called Fornacette, and belonged to the second company of cadets, where we had gone to complete the course. In fact, in Fornacette I stood for my last exams to become a lieutenant, exactly on the 7th of September, the day before the armistice. I remember the rather ridiculous episode that happened on the ninth of September.

The commander of our company was a Lieutenant called Santangelo. I would not know how to define him... a Neapolitan, particularly silly. Our task was to disarm the Germans, our new enemies. Our commander took us to an area of an old, desecrated church, which had been turned into a stable. Above the manger of the ass there was still a fresco of the Madonna with Child. All the cadets were lying on the grass outside, with bullets in the chamber of muskets and, ready for a hypothetical battle.

I, being the only vedette, was hiding behind the wall while the lieutenant was inside the stable. At one point, on the road, appeared a car from which a German soldier came out and walked straight to the church. He saw me and asked: “Where is your commander?”

I called the lieutenant and told him that there was a German who wanted to say something. The German told him to immediately deposit the weapons. Our brave lieutenant told him that we were only cadets in drills and immediately offered him his gun. The German took all our rifles and broke the butt of each one knocking it down firmly on a big rock that was in that garden. All the guns had a cartridge in the chamber, so we expected that, at any moment, a shot would kill the soldier, who grabbed the guns by the barrel before tossing them on the stone. Instead nothing happened.

One soldier brought our entire company on the road as prisoners. The other German soldier never came out of the car. However, most of us fled into the surrounding woods and ended up at the huge pine forest of Livorno, at the center of which there were many fig trees. For days we could only eat the skins of the figs left by the birds who had eaten the fruit.

In a farmhouse, on the edge of the pine forest, a Tuscan farmer, in exchange for my uniform, had given me a pair of terribly ragged pants, a ripped shirt and some boiled potatoes. With these, I had made up his mind to reach Sassuolo, where I was renting a room and had decent civilian clothes. The trip was a nightmare. At every stop there were Germans who raked, from the train, all soldiers in uniform.

When we arrived in Modena, I saw many Germans on the sidewalk of the station. I walked towards the end of the long train and, after getting off, I walked in a lane, on the outskirts of Modena. . At the end of it I saw a German soldier, so I rang the door closest to me. A young lady opened and asked me what I wanted.

I explained my situation and begged her to help me. She made me enter and prepared for me a cup of milk with magnificent Emilia bread of which I will never forget the taste. While I was eating that divine food, she mended my pants. More than a lady, to me she looked like an angel.

After having fed me, she showed me how to get to the railroad for Sassuolo, where I arrived a few hours later and, after a wonderful refreshing shower, put on my civilian clothes that I had in the room since the beginning of the course.


XV - Mr Talamo

After the armistice, thousands and thousands of former southern military were disbanded in northern Italy and unable to reach their families for lack of means of transport. No trains or buses. Nothing worked anymore.

In the Milazzotto’s apartment there were living the four of us and it was incredibly cold. I do not remember having felt such cold, as then, in my entire life.
With me and Milazzotto there were also two other shoemakers from Bronte, also military remained in northern Italy. One was Salvatore Trischitta and the other Nunzio prestianni. I do not know, but I doubt that they could still alive. We had a small space heater to coal or wood.

We have burnt into it many things. All superfluous chairs, baseboards and frames of doors and windows of all the rooms, and some little coal that the mother of my girl, Lina, could help us to buy. In the evening, before going to bed, we used to wear balaclavas and everything we had and, also, we used to put, between the covers, lots of crimpled paper of newspapers that we could get, with the help of my little Lina.

Often came to visit us a Mr. Talamo. He had been living in Milan for a long time and was the  brother of a dear friend of mine, Gennaro Talamo from Bronte (photo on the right, n.d.r.). He was a representative, I do not know exactly of what, but he helped me a lot by bringing me first some leaves of tobacco that I would wet, roll with patience and with the help of a tool, made by me, which contained a razor blade, I sliced those rolls to make pipe tobacco that he sold, thus making me earn a few bucks.

I was also taught by him to make models of women’s shoes. Wuth the help of cardboard cutouts that he had given me, I could design various styles and add many decorations. I made lots of them, of all types and for all seasons. Mr. Talamo could sell them and he was giving to me most of the money he could get.


XVI - The Liberation

I lived with Milazzotto from the winter of ‘43 until May of ‘45. Then I had a fake id and my name was Joseph Cataldo, from the province of Trapani and born in 1911. The moter of my girlfriend Lina, who had all the right contacts in the undergrowth of Milan, had procured it for me. I belonged to the brigade Garibaldi in Milan, where I met some important members of the Italian Communist Party.

On the 25th of April 1945, the day of liberation, a revolution broke out in Milan. The partisans had come down in the city and the Germans were surrendering everywhere. Even from the building where I lived a small group of young people left in a van.

We had no real weapons. I had a emptied hand grenade that belonged to a neighbor. A relic from the great war. Another had a small real gun. The others had some shotguns or fake pistols.

With those weapons, partly false, we attacked a big truck of Germans who immediately raised their hands and gave us the vehicle that was loaded with all sorts of good things. We went immediately to deliver all at a collection center, close to Piazzale Loreto. Instead, we later learned that many of the so-called honest partisans took possession of everything confiscated from the Germans on the run.

The disorder in Milan was total. A few days later we heard the news that Mussolini had been captured, killed and hung, by his feet, in a service station in Piazzale Loreto. Nunzio Prestianni and I went to see ... An infernal scene. The body of the leader hung on to the remains of a roof of a demolished service station still wearing a German coat. Next to him was also the body of his mistress Clara Petacci, she was hung by her feet and her skirt was stopped by a hook a little above the knees. The crowd around was going absolutely crazy.

I remember an elderly woman who took a gun from a partisan and fired three shots to the body of Mussolini shouting the names of his three sons who had died in the war. I remember the pick-up on which Achille Starace was brought, wearing a suit of gymnastics. His eyes were bulging. He was terrified.

They knocked him off the car, and, on the ground, he was trying to attach himself to the legs of a huge partisan, who pushed him away with a kick and discharged on him his machine gun. It was creepy ... they tied his feet with wire and hung him next to his beloved leader while his body was still moving in the process of death.

For several days I had these things in front of my eyes and I found it hard to eat without the wish to overthrow.


XVII - To export democracy

The situation in Syria is becoming extremely hot. With the use, more or less proved, of chemical weapons, Obama wants to start an armed intervention to punish Assad, the king of Syria, who, for years has been fighting a revolutionary movement assisted by Al Caida.

America, with these unwise interventions in Europe, Vietnam, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Tunisia etc.. tryes to export his beloved demo­cracy in countries that often, with this political system, become absolutely ungovernable. I hope that the U.S. Congress would reject these despicable Obama’s cravings, as did the British parliament.

Our Pope Francis is absolutely against the initiative of Obama that could lead to a world war. I agree with him. To democracy, if this really exists, we should arrive with the maturity of the people, not by coercion or war.


XVIII - Malthus theories

Finally, this month of August is gone. We still have nine days to the fateful date on which the revocation or less of the  Berlusconi’s political freedom will be voted.  Whatever happens, I do not think that the Letta government will fall after a possible negative outcome of this vote in the Senate.

Berlusconi contradicts himself. He says that if the Democrats will vote its decline, the government will fall, but it also wants to continue to do the reforms that Italy urgently needs. I really do not understand what is going on.

Strangely, I’m thinking about the theories of Malthus of a couple of centuries ago. I think the Malthusian catastrophe, wrong because it believed impossible to produce enough food for a growing population, now returns valid because it is becoming increasingly difficult to find work for the immense and ever-increasing number of unemployed people worldwide.

When I was about forty years old in Australia, I wrote a letter to an Australian parliamentary asking him to suggest to whom is respon­sible, the Onu, to distribute to all the poor girls from age twelve, in Africa and other poor regions of the world, a few dollars a month, until the day of their first pregnancy. The gentleman, perhaps outraged, never responded.

However I still think that if something like that had been done fifty years ago, many problems of today’s world would be more easily solved.

In Italy it is naive to think that, even if a strong recovery in industrial and economic activities would happen, would be possible to occupy the hordes of unemployed, especially the young and the many migrants who flock to our shores.

There is no unemployment benefits that takes. The future of any government of broad agreements or not, is uncertain and very difficult. The problems are huge and it does not seem that there are plausible solutions.


XIX - Floor tiles

While working in the factory I met, in the block of flats where I lived, a Maltese chap who spoke a little Italian. Enough to establish a conversation. He was an applicator of linoleum tiles in homes, especially in kitchens, and I had gone a couple of times, during my free Saturdays, to help him in his work. So I had learned , where to buy tiles, glue, masonite, to be fixed on the wooden floors, and on which to hang the tiles .

Now, in Sydney, most of the fruit and vegetable shops were run by Italians . Every Saturday morning I went into one of these stores and began to praise the owner for the exposure of its fruit, asserting that it was a wonder to me, absolutely superior to the exposure of fruit in Italy, however, I used to point out  that the wooden floor was terrible in comparison and I showed a few tiles of linoleum that I had in a bag.

The reaction was usually the same: “Yes, but who knows how much this would cost!”

“I’ll tell you right now!” I replied , and after measuring the area of the shop, I presented the cost , always among thirty, and never over forty pounds.

“That would be fine”, they usually said, “but we are open every day”.

“No problem”, I repeated, “if you give me the shop at the end of Saturday night you can re-open at nine or, at most, ten o’clock the following Sunday”.

Closed the deal, I proposed, to one of the guys who worked in the same store, to give him five pounds for a night of work with me to cover the floor. Normally they accepted and I, except the cost of the material, which was between nine and twelve pounds, plus five for the help, I could earn at least fifteen pounds for one night of very hard work.

Consider that in the factory I was earning only seven pounds a week.


XX - The chess player

I have always been an avid chess player. I started playing when I was about eighteen. A classmate of mine in elementary school, who had been studying in a religious school, wanted to teach me to play chess. He was not very good at it, but loved this game immensely. When he was teaching me the moves of all the pieces, usually he played with me without the queen.

After a few weeks I was winning him even at equal pieces. Then the Bronte's Circle of Culture had shifted in a building in front of the Capizzi college and was called Public Employment.

There were then many members who luved to play chess. I remember the brothers Guastella, the Santangelo, Professor Lupo, Dr. Ponzo and many others. Until our departure for Australia Nunzio Ponzo I and were the best players.

When I decided to return to Italy to stay, I thought I could find here a lot of people to play with, but at the Cultural Circle of Bronte they play only cards. When they elected me President of the Club, I tried to revive the desire to engage in this game that is definitely much more intelligent of trump or broom cards. For this I even purchased five new large chessboards and chess sets.

But it did not work. Most of the members of this club don’t like to play chess even if they know the game, as it requires too much concentration.

Only two of the members, the bar manager Nino and the current president, architect, play chess with me. Especially the Nino, who has played with me for many years now, and has reached a level almost similar to mine. And the president, who plays a lot with him, and has reached, more or less, the same level.


XXI - Pendle Hill

After about two years of residence in Sydney I began to understand what people were saying and I could express myself in a just understandable English. My mother used to write to me often: “If you have'nt enough money for a ticket to return home we shall pay it from here.” But for me it was not a question of money, as I had already earned a lot. My English was still inadequate and I was determined to really learn it.

Among my Italian friends that I used to see, there was a certain Peter G., a builder who was not successful in his trade for his many vices. He had a contract to do renovations to a convent of Italian Franciscan monks in Pendly Hill, a suburb quite far from the center of Sydney. He suggested to me to go there as supervisor of his workers, offering me a wage adequate to the service. In the convent, the superior was a young monk, few years older than me. We soon became good friends and, in my free time, I painted for him some pictures of sacred images.

I also informed him that I was a non-believer but this did not affect our friendship at all, in fact he told me to have had many doubts himself before accepting the priesthood. However, he had managed to keep the faith through prayer.

The work went very slowly due to lack of materials. The manager used to send me masons without the bricks. A huge disorganization.

In Sydney I had met a beautiful girl to whom I proposed to get engaged with a phone call from Pendle Hill, and in the end it was just my friend Franciscan monk to marry us a few months later.


XXII - The “Di Bella Constructions Pty. Ltd.”

Now I'll tell you how I became a builder of houses and apartments in Australia. Towards the end of the year, 1954, that is, when I was already married, with all the various trades that I had done up to that time, I had accumulated enough money to buy a house, in one of the better suburbs, that was in very poor condition. I knew two Italian guys, one from Messina that could do a bit of everything in construction work, and a Tuscan, who specialized in all types of plaster.

With the two of them, and my help as designer and laborer, we managed to make of this house a comfortable and very attractive home. At that time I was producing and selling fluorescent lamps and acrylic neon signs, but these two guys asked me to form a partnership specialized in renovations of existing building that required to be modernized.

My job was to get the jobs and provide all the necessary equipment and materials, while they would carry out the work. It worked well for a while and we renewed many homes and buildings mostly belonging to Italians. One day, as we were giving the final touches to a very nice house, in a suburb called Mascot, out of a huge Mercedes Benz comes a distinct Australian gentleman. He was very tall. I arrived just above his navel. He asks, “Who is the boss here?”

I walked a bit intimidated and said: “You can talk to me if you want, what can I do for you?”

- “You have done a great job of this house. Who was the architect?”

- “Actually, for this house we did not hire an architect. We did everything by ourselves”.

- “Congratulations!” - he said - “I knew in what a terrible state this building was. Congratulations indeed. I would like to show you a house that I'm thinking of buying. Could yo spend half hour with me and give me your opinion?”

- “Of course”, I replied, and he made me enter on his big car and headed toward Vaucluse, the most elegant and exclusive suburb of Sydney.

The house of which he had spoken to me was, in fact, a sumptuous villa in the middle of a large garden with wonderful views over the bay of Sydney. The building was noble but in very poor condition. He told me that the asking price for it was 25,000 sterlings. I, not having the slightest idea of the value of the property, advised him to offer them 22,000 and gave him my address and my phone number.

After a few days, he, very excited and happy, told me that the offer had been accepted and that he wanted me to undertake the renewal of the villa. I did not know which way to turn. I did not believe to be able to complete a job as challenging as that. I told him that there was still need an architect. He replied that he had total confidence in me and I could do whatever I thought necessary.

Since my partners did not speak or understand English, I had to use an Italian carpenter, for many years in Australia, who could also serve as foreman. My partners did not like this situation, and after a week they told me that they preferred to work only for Italian customers. Thus, I had to liquidate the partnership with them, and founded, with my wife and my first child already born, a new company called: Di Bella Constructions Pty. Ltd.


XXIII - Fred Fitzpatrick

The gentleman to whom I had renovated the villa in Vaucluse was called Fred Fitzpatrick. Not only was he very happy with the result of our work, but had also become one of my best friends and, for the most part, the purveyorr of countless other jobs that I obtained through its recommendations.

On the cost of the renewal of his villa I, in agreement with him, was adding 10% for my company, as well as the salary for my personal contribution to the work. I remember that when the work was completed, there remained a balance of 300 sterlings he owed me. He asked me if he could give me that amount in cash, I said yes and he began to count the money with ten pounds notes and while he counted, was going from one hundred and eighty to one hundred and ten, and so on.

When he had put on the table five hundred sterlings instead of three hundred I said, “Fred , you’re making a mistake, these are five instead of three hundred sterlings”.

He began to laugh and said, “No, I am not making any mistakes”. “I'm very happy for the great work you have done and I want you, with these two hundred sterlings , to have a party for your employees”.

Without any doubt, my encounter with this gentleman was at the root of my success in the construction industry. After the renewal of his villa in Vaucluse, followed renovations to some of his men's fashion stores, spread out over many suburbs of Sydney and the construction of my first block of six apartments.


XXIV – The decline of cav

Tomorrow the junta of the Senate is expected to vote the probable decline of Berlusconi's political activities. The risk of the fall of the government Letta, as a result of this vote, is real but I do not think this will happen.

The consequences would be disastrous. Without any doubt, the hardest part of the PD wants to get rid of Senator Berlusconi, as soon as possible, but I believe that many senators of the Democratic Party, those not antiberlusconians par excellence, will think twice before voting on his decline that could have deadly consequences in the interest of Italy.

Right now, while you begin to see some tentative signs of recovery, our beloved Italy could fall into the chaos and uncertainty of a few weeks ago. All for the sake of revenge. Some members of the left refuse to accept a peace between the two major parties, which could really solve the problems facing Italy since many years.

 Surely Berlusconi is not a saint, as the majority of Italians. The full-blown virtue of the working or collar class not to evade taxes depends solely on the fact that it is impossible for them to do so, not because they would not have the desire.

The cav. Berlusconi is a man of exceptional ability. But it is also a man who, perhaps unwittingly arouses in people who listen to him great support, up to an inexplicable adoration and equally large dislikes that can generate a hate absolutely gutted and without any reason. So many people want him even dead, but if you ask them why they hate him so much, they cannot give a valid and convincing reason. The same applies to those who worship him without any plausible answers.

At the head of the government I prefer a guy like Enrico Letta. He is a moderate. Has competence without the complications of the charismatic leaders who often create deep sympathies or antipathies, responsible for most hateful divisions of people.


(it follows)  


HOME PAGEPowered by Associazione Bronte Insieme Onlus - Reproduction not permitted even if partial