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


XLIX - My cousin the Baron

In my first year of university, attending with me there was an illegitimate son of a cousin of my father whose name was Salvatore, like me, and that everybody knew in Catania as the cavalier. I do not think it was really a cavalier, I think it was a faccendiere who had become a millionaire many times and in as many times failed.

His son took the surname of her mother and had a mania for nobility. He had even invented a noble family name of the Barons of Valasquo to which he claimed to belong and in his business cards and letterhead had this emblem with five balls.

I remember one day we went together to the post office, which was run by a distant relative of mine, Tano Di Bella. When he saw the five balls on the envelope said, “Wow, five balls!” And my cousin back, “and two seven. All at your disposal.” The poor Tano did not add anything.

In those times I used tp paint a lot and my cousin asked me to paint for him a coat of arms with a shield and a rampant lion as the emblem of the house of the barons of Valasquo. While we were doing this work, one day came the father of my cousin and said to his son:

“Instead of the shield and the lion there I would put a fuscella of ricotta and a dog herd. We shepherders are!”

This cousin of mine, used to attend all the nobility of Catania and had introduced me to many of them as the son of the biggest landowner of Bronte. He could tell bales with naturalness unheard of and could make people believe impossible things.

Although illegitimate was a true son of his father. I lost sight of him during the war. I do not know if he is still alive, but someone told me that during the war he had married in a small town in Tuscany, and returned to Catania, had married the widow of a baron of Catania, for which it seems has been convicted of bigamy.

I do not know if this is true or false. I was told that as a They say. I would not swear to the veracity of these facts.


L - My first pair of shorts

You could ask yourself: Can a man of ninety three years of age remember when he was three years old? Well, I do remember. And I remember very well. In those days male children, up to three or four years of age, were wearing small women’s dresses.

When I was three and a half years old my mother made me a pair of blue shorts with pockets - pants similar to those worn by men. I wore them and I was proud to be able to put my hands in my pockets.

I decided to go out to the street and let everyone see my new shorts. Outside there was a tinsmith who had lit some charcoal in a corner of the street, and was tinning a large copper cauldron. There a lot of people milling around and I went with my hands in my pockets, hoping that someone would notice me.

No one noticed anything - absolutely no one! I can still clearly remember the disillusionment and disappointment I felt at that age when I returned to the door of my house that I had left open. I was about to climb the stairs when I saw my sister Linda, two years younger than me, then just a toddler and only beginning to walk. Suddenly she came tumbling down the stairs.

I rested my elbows on a step and waited until she reached me, though by this time she was screaming like crazy. My mother thought that it was my fault as, when coming down that stairs, I had not closed the gate that prevented my sister from falling down them.

At the time, my sister was called Clorinda, and it was me who had given her the name of Linda when I was twelve or thirteen years old. I had learned that in Spanish Linda meant clean while Clorinda, the name of our aunt who had baptized her, was a name I did not like at all.


LI - English for children

As I think I may have mentioned earlier, I started to use the computer when I was sixty years old with an Apple II, and I quite quickly learned how to do some things with it.

When, in 1984, Apple invented the MacIntosh, that little magic box with which you could really do so many things, I think I was the first owner of that object in Sydney – well, at least that’s what the supplier from whom I had ordered the computer told me. He said that it had just been released in the United States.

I had even brought this Macintosh to Italy with me when I came here to stay, and I gave it to my grandnephew and godson. Though it’s an old relic, it still works.

With that device I did many extraordinary things. With the help of the program ToolBook I had even begun to put together a program called ‘English for Children’ which consisted of a long series of drawings, below which, I used to label each photo in Italian and English. Clicking on the name you could hear the English or Italian pronunciation of the object you had touched. It was a very simple thing but twenty-seven years ago it meant something.

I had given this program to my daughter Sandra who had installed it in her computer. I was told that my first grandchild Sarah, who was then two and a half or three years old, would use it when they sat down to breakfast. She used to go into her mother’s study, click on the picture of the horse and then go back into the kitchen saying, “Cavalo”.

Now, many years later, that same adorable granddaughter has a degree in environmental informatics, is married to a charming and very tall mining engineer and lives happily in a town near Sydney.


LII - At Anne’s wedding

I have a niece, my sister’s Rosa daughter, who, poor thing, was named Emerenziana Romeo. Now, Romeo as a surname is not too bad, but you have to be straight-out irresponsible to give a child a name like Emerenziana. Luckily we have always called her Zina and the problem has been somewhat resolved, but when she has to sign legal documents the problem arises again and they are bitter pills for her to swallow.

Having said all of that, Zina had two children for whom she chose brilliant names - Richard and Annamaria. Why I am telling you these things is because some thirteen years ago, Annamaria got married.

Miss Rosetta Costanzo, her nephew John, my niece Zina and I attended Annamaria’s wedding. For this we had to go to Australia on the opposite side of the world. The wedding was in Liverpool, a suburb of Sydney where my niece Zina (Emerenziana) lived with her brother Sandro, an excellent painter of beautiful flowers, and four dachshunds of a particularly glossy black. The house was big enough to accommodate all of us.

The plane ride was rather long, and John very much enjoyed listening to the jokes that I kept telling. On arrival, we met the boyfriend of Anna, a young Australian of, from memory, Germanic origin. He is very intelligent and has a very pleasant appearance.

John quickly made friends with Richard, Anna’s brother, who was about the same age. I must start by saying that when my sister Rosa and her husband Angelo were still alive, I would go, at least once a week, and stay and eat with them, so I had known Anna since she was a little girl and I watched her grow up and become a woman. She was a very intelligent and beautiful girl, who wrote really well. I had suggested to her that she choose a career in journalism. She undertook this course of study and enjoyed considerable success.

In fact, I remember that during the wedding ceremony, which was attended by many colleagues and some newspaper editors, they congratulated me for having suggested that Anna choose journalism as a career.

She now has two beautiful children that I saw on Facebook. I hope to see them soon on Skype just as soon as I can connect with my attractive great grandchild.

A few weeks after the wedding, Rosetta and John decided to return to Bronte for school commitments of the young John, and I and my niece, after spending some time with my daughters and participating with them in several unforgettable lunches and dinners at some of the best Sydney’s restaurants, went to stay for a couple of weeks, in a luxurious apartment of Main Beach in Queensland. If I remember correctly, we were guests of my daughter, Marilyn.

After that we decided to return to Italy, but we stopped for a day or two in Singapore, where I was able to show my niece some of the wonders of these areas of the world that are greatly surpassing the development of European countries.

This trip was definitely a pleasant one, though that was my last visit to the land that was for me, a true second homeland.


LIII - Professor De Cavicchi

When I was in high school attending Capizzi College , I had a professor of history and philosophy named De Cavicchi. He was tall and robust, serene, unruffled but with certain personal characteristics that made him unique and memorable. He had a manner of doing things that, sometimes, could appear to be strange and incomprehensible, however, he was very pleasant to all of us.

Every school day, he came into the classroom with the newspaper La Sicilia. After greeting us, he would sit in his chair and often called a student called Bruno Minissale saying, “Let’s hear what you have studied today!” As Bruno spoke, the Professor would read the newspaper.

Poor Bruno was not always prepared, thus he would often stand next to the chair without saying a single word. After about five or six minutes, the Professor used to say: “Louder, please! I can’t hear you!” Minissale shrugged but kept silent.

After several more minutes the Professor folded up the newspaper, sent the student to his place, without saying a word and began the lesson that, if I remember correctly, was always polished and very learned.

This happened every single day but we were used to it and no one was surprised. Another thing that he would often say, turning to me, was: “Now we’ll hear Di Bello!”

I clarified that my name was Di Bella and he asked me: “Are you female?”

One day in class I said, “Excuse me, Professor De Cavicco …”

He replied, “De Cavicchi, please!”

And I replied, “Are you two?”

The professor thought for a moment and then said, “Point taken”. From that day on he did not call me Di Bello ever again.


LIV - Carmelo Genovese

One day, back in the thirties, my father was at Randazzo buying some wine that he had no intention of drinking, but rather, he liked to keep at home to offer to any visitors and especially to the farmers who worked on his land.

The seller of wine presented him with a boy of ten or eleven. This boy was terribly frail and undernourished, and my father was told that his poor family was unable to keep him, and looking for someone to take care of him.

His name was Carmelo and he looked at my father with eyes that were so pathetic and pained that my father said, “This child is starving! If his parents agree, I’ll take him to Bronte and there he can play with my children who are the same age.”

The wine merchant immediately got in touch with the boy's parents and they did not know how to thank my father for his generosity.

Carmelo was my age and we quickly became friends. He ate everything given to him, and after a few weeks he had completely recovered and even got a little fatter.

By this time, he had also regained his good humor and in our house he was happy.

I have a million memories of Carmelo. He only spoke in the Randaz­zese dialect, and when he tried to say something in Italian, it was always tinged with his strong accent. I soon learned to talk like him and I could imitate the Randaz­zo accent almost to perfection.

At that time my father had a horse used only by my brother Joseph, who was in charge of our agricultural properties. He also had a donkey which was used to transport the meat to various butcher shops in the country.

After staying about a year in our house, Carmelo had literally taken over our ass with whom he had established a kind of symbiosis and gained a mutual respect.

He spoke to the donkey and was convinced that it understood him. And this was probably true as, when it was attached to the closed four-wheeled wagon for the transportation of the meat, Carmelo said to it: “Amunindi!” (Come on), and the donkey started moving. When he said, “Ferma!”(Stop), it stopped.

He had taught that ass a lot of tricks and it knew by heart where the various butchers shops were on the main course of Bronte.

A strange thing used to happen between the first and second butcher shop, both located in front of the College Capizzi.

The road there is slightly downhill so the ass spread his hind legs to stop and, when Carmelo told him to go ahead, it would then close its legs and, pushed by the wagon, sled up to the second store, where it stopped again by widening its rear legs.

A letter from the United States of America

Signore Di Bella,

Please forgive the tardiness of this message as it was almost im­pos­sible to do it while we were touring your beautiful country. We ha­ve been home a few days now, but of course we were inunda­ted with matters that had to be seen to immediately. However, I have been thinking of you and your interesting book. (…)

I have to tell you that I read your book that evening without inter­ruptions until very late. I was saddened that it came to an end and wished that the stories would go on and on. Hopefully you can continue to regale us with many more stories.
They are delightful and enlightening but the style that you used is so candid and com­fortable that one feels as if you were sitting next to us.

What an interesting life you have led! What harrowing adventures and almost near death experiences (the firing squad!!!).

You write about them simply and without bravado, a rare feat.


I will definitely have my children and grandchildren read the book, I think there are many lessons the younger generation can learn from your experiences, specially in the business field.
They will see that one doesn't get to the top without certain attri­butes, which from reading your experiences are necessary.
I would say native in­telligence, you were born with, also the capacity to work very hard (which unfortunately is not understood by many peo­ple now), and the courage to take chances and see opportu­nities that others miss altogether.

All these qualities come through loud and clear in your book, plus many more. (…)
We can understand what this precious island means to you.

Wish you and family good health and a happy summer,

Gloria Nachmanoff
Febbraio 2014

This was a sight that was dear to me, to my brother Zino, and to almost all of our classmates for whom that red painted wagon was an important element of our games.

Carmelo, with his strong Randazzo accent, was always the center of our games. He stayed with us until he left for military service in Liguria. From there he never came back to Sicily and during and after the war we never heard from him.


LV - Mr. Yong’s large restaurant

These days in Sydney there are many gigantic Chinese restaurants, but I built the first Chinese restaurant which occupied two floors and could seat more than four hundred people.

As mentioned earlier in my writing, the Di Bella Constructions Pty. Ltd’s office. employed a young man from Indo-China. He was majoring in construction sciences, and had many friends in the Chinese population of Sydney. Among them there was an important Chinese architect who had obtained a commission to design the renovation of a huge two-storey building in the city's commercial center.

This property, (originally used as a store of merino wool), was bought by a Chinese Mandarin, Mr. Kim Yong, to transform it into a Chinese restaurant similar to those found in Hong Kong and other Chinese cities.

My Indo-Chinese clerk introduced me to this young architect. Together we agreed on the restructuring and development of this great project to the complete satisfaction of my company and Mr. Yong (who later on also became a good friend of mine). For this work we had to import a lot of items from Hong Kong - including all the decorations. When completed, this restaurant was an absolute marvel.

The thing I remember most vividly was the grand staircase leading to the upper floor where the railing was made up of a long and valuable Chinese dragon carved in ebony. It was a true work of art.

On the day of the inauguration of the restaurant which was attended by many leading Australian personalities amongst others, there was also the N.S.W. Minister of Labour who gave a polished speech, praising and thanking Mr. Yong for donating this wonderful complex to Sydney.

In his speech he pointed out to everyone that in order to achieve his dream he did not use Chinese or Australian builders but, he added, an Italian builder.

I must add that for many years, in this restaurant you could enjoy truly extraordinary Chinese specialties, and this was the place where over the years, my family and I discovered many new and wonderful dishes and flavors with which we fell in love.


LVI - Carmelo and me

When we were about twelve years old, one day Carmelo and I were going to the country on the packsaddle of the donkey. I was in front and Carmelo was behind me. At one point, on the road there was a puddle in which probably a she-ass had urinated.

Our donkey, which in another life may have been an womanizer, stopped there to smell the mud and was going into ecstasy unaware of my jerking the bridle as I tried to remain astride him. He began to recede against a very low wall that served as a railing between the road and a square three or four meters below.

In that peculiar position, the donkey lost his balance and fell in the square below making a complete turnaround and landing on his feet. I threw myself into the void not to end up under the ass, while Carmelo had clung to the saddle of the donkey and landed on the back of it. I slammed my bottom on the cobblestones of the square, and when a gentleman who was working nearby came to lift me up, I had the feeling that half of my body had been left on the ground.

When we arrived back home, the doctor, who immediately came to visit me, said that there was nothing broken but that it would take a long time for me to get back in shape. Immediately my aunt, the nun, said that it was a miracle. According to her, the Madonna had picked me up in one of her veils and weakened my fall that could have been mortal.

The donkey died after a few days due possibly to internal bleeding; when it had fallen it had also slammed its belly very hard onto the ground. Carmelo walked for a few days with his legs spread out, complaining of severe pain in his groin.

I could not walk for more than a month and for about a year I could not run. Maybe this fall was partly responsible for my short stature. At ten years of age I was one of the tallest in my class at school and nearly the same as my brother Zino, who was two years older than me.

Many people used to describe me exclaiming: "This will be a new Don Alexander!" Instead, my brother grew up to be six feet tall, while I remained more or less at the same height as I was at age twelve.


LVII - Waiting for the summer

We are already well into March. In recent weeks my health seems to have somewhat deteriorated. Even my desire to write is gradually dissolving into the infinite sea of ailments that are making my life less pleasant. As I write these words, I think of the young Matteo Renzi – kicked into a sea of trouble! After a few weeks as Prime Minister, the man who was to be the youngest and most beloved Prime Minister of this unfortunate Italy, finds himself literally under attack from all sides.

Some honeymoon! The huge phalanx of journalists, trade unionists, gurus, comedians, commentators, philosophers, historians, television presenters, politicians, and so forth, unload on him the usual collection of: “He is good, but... He is very intelligent, however…”
Along his path he is accompanied by the usual nonsense of those who can not do anything but speak ill of those who really want to do something concrete to pull poor Italy out of the doldrums.

I want to talk about something else. My daughter Marilyn told me that she will come to visit me in May. I can not wait to embrace her again. We talked for a while on Skype. What a wonderful thing this new technology is. When I think of my family who is on the other side of the world and that I can talk to them and see them as if they were inside my computer, it's something so amazing as to be astounding.

And, personally, I think I was very lucky to live so long and to have had the opportunity to witness the many wonders arising from the brains of many scientists who are only now beginning to discover a microscopic amount of the infinite powers of nature of which we are an extremely small part.

Spring is almost here,. now only a few days away. A lovely young lady doctor friend is trying to reactivate the muscles of my legs, now partly atrophied. She assures me that this summer I will be able to walk better than before and, in the meantime she destroys me with absolutely grueling physical therapy exercises.

However, I am starting to walk better even now, (inside the house, of course). When the summer arrives, I might even try to run. Don’t ask me though to participate in marathons. I’m not even thinking of that possibility.

The desire to enjoy my 94th summer is still with me, meanwhile, and ghough who don’t believe it, I want to enjoy my daughter’s visit and that of my dear friend Diana and her learned companion Gaetano. And for today, we end up here.


LVIII - My brother Nunzio and not only...

Someone pointed out to me that I never talked of my brother Nunzio in my collection of memories. He was the first born of my parents and was twelve years older than me.

To tell you the truth, when I was nine or ten years old, a reproach from him troubled me more then one from my father.

When he saw me out in the street completely immersed in one of my many games, it was enough for him to ask me: "Have you done your homework?”
I would lower my head and go straight into the house without a word or a blink. I had him in such awe thatI almost revered him, but I loved him very much. I felt a deep mixture of affection and respect for him that I did not feel for my other brothers.

Growing up, I realized that we were like twins but born twelve years apart. He did not want to study but was endowed with a unique and eclectic and extraordinary intelligence. He knew how to do lots of things and had great and extraordinary entrepreneurial qualities.

At just eighteen years of age my father opened a carpenter’s workshop for him, that after a few years became a little furniture factory, equipped with all the machinery to build furnishings at almost industrial rather than craftman standard. He had a phenomenally inventive mind. When, I would sometimes propose some of my wacky ideas that went through my head, he would say: "No, this is impossible!"

But after two or three days he would say: "You know that idea you asked me about? Maybe it can be done”. And many times he turned it into reality. When I went to Australia my separation from him was worse than being separated from my parents.

Unfortunately he contracted a nasty disease which killed him at 56 years of age, leaving his wife and two sons Nicola, aged only fourteen and Sandro, just sixteen.
I was distraught and I almost felt the need to adopt his children. What I feel for Sandro and Nicola is not the love of an uncle but the love of a father, and their children are like my own grandchildren.

The extraordinarily beautiful daughters of Sandro and Graziella Federica and Andrea (In the photo to the left) would often call me grandfather, when they were little. I also feel like a great-grandfather to the children of Nunzio and Francesco and of the latest arrival, beautiful Tea, daughter of Elisa.

I have not spoken much of the other members of my family but I also retain vivid memories of my other brothers, Peppino and Vincent (called Zino). I must confess that I had a certain envy toward my brother Zino, the best looking of my family, perhaps because he had grown up to my father’s height while I remained about 15 cm shorter.

Of my sisters, Rosa and Linda, Rosa was a second mother to me. She died in Australia and I cherish very tender memories of her. Linda, on the other hand, recently widowed, still lives alone in our father's house and I regret that I am no longer able to visit her as I am not able to go up the stairs of her house any more.


Nunzio Di Bella with his two sons Nicola and Sandro.

The other two Sam's brothers, Joseph and Vincent (aka) Zino, and in the photo below the sisters Rose and Linda.

See also
Genealogy of the Di Bella Family

Greetings to my readers

This is the last piece of this collection. I'm pretty satisfied to have arrived at this point. At times I really believed not to be able to do it. I must apologize to many of you for not having the strength to continue.

The episodes of my long life, if efficiently reported, could fill several books but I, obviously, decided to write my memoirs rather late.

Maybe I should have thought to write them at least a dozen years ago, when I was still in possession of all my strength. However, I hope to have given you an idea, with these meager and disorganized ramblings, of the life I have lived and enjoyed in full on the two opposite parts of the world.

For better or for worse I am not only satisfied, but absolutely proud of my moderate successes and those of my daughters and their families and many of my nephews and relatives.

When the day of my departure arrives, I shall be ready, but there's no hurry. I think I can still put up with the annoying senile diseases that pose some problems. I'll go ahead undaunted. My loving niece Zina takes full care of me beyond belief. She has made me the reason for her existence.

And there are no goods in the world with which I could ever repay her for the care she takes of me.

I also wish to thank you all for having had the patience to read my words, sincerely hoping that my poor pages may have given you a few moments of pleasant reflection.

10 Aprile 2014

The End



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