I am witness to my culture

Hooked to a place I aspire to experience

A revelation

An expression

Of the human spirit

An interpretation

That connects and

Informs of the beauty

That was once another time

Influencing where I am

Now

 

I am working on an idea that is linked to my cultural heritage.

The idea is about identity, from where one evolves, to where one unfolds.

 

I am often known as the I-talian, to which I reply,

I have never been to Italy

Horror!

How could that be possible?

I am Australian born of 1950s Calabrese parents. Their notion of modern Italy witnessed in television documentaries, stories from visiting relatives and their wine tainted memories. Through their eyes I am witness to a paradiso – yet they have not, nor long to return.

An Australian born friend who lived there told me that in Italy there are so many people who look like you. Sometimes I feel like a misfit.

I am not fluent in the Italian language.

I do not eat pasta or pizza,

I could learn to dance the tarantella and I would not have a clue how to mix concrete.

Italian woman – “made in Australia” seeks knowledge of:

What it means to be Italian?

To be an Italian in Australia?

To be an Italian and travelling in Australia?

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In 2016 I joined an Italian women’s choir, at the time I also met Francesco Bufarini, an Italian musician who played with us and was travelling in Australia. A unique character trait is the wool herringbone flat cap, like the hats old Italian men wore, made fashionable framing a younger face.

Born in the 1980s Francesco grew up in capital of Marche, Ancona a Greek word that means elbow. It is located on the east coast of Italy, a private village, secretly bordering both city and country. It is close to the beach with a large port, and according to Francesco people love their privacy. Considered a small city, with a population of 20,000, Ancona possesses a long proud history of 2300 years.

A middle child of three, punctuated by six years on either side, Francesco was influenced by the desire to play music and learnt the piano at the age of six, but quit at the age of 12.

At the age of 17 he rediscovered music, learning to play the guitar by ear, influenced by the folk music, of Fabrizio De Andre`, Francesco De Gregori and Francesco De Guccini. Like the style of Bob Dylan, a storyteller/musician, Francesco was inspired by Italian folk songs that had originated from the pizzica a tarantella from the Puglia region. This music was famous in the 1990s and continued its popularity as it was cycled and recycled with the coming of age of the next generation.

In 2014 Francesco purchased a one-way ticket to Australia invited to Brisbane by a travelling businessman he had met while performing in an Italian restaurant. Francesco stayed for two weeks and then started to look for work on local farms, a condition of his work visa status.

Francesco came to Melbourne in 2016 where he joined friends and the Santa Tarranta Italian folk band. A Spanish speaking family in Reservoir sponsored him. After 6 months, however, he moved into a shared house with Australians to practice his English. He had learnt Spanish whilst on a European scholarship to Seville in the science and biology field, another talent to his bow, he researched crustaceous that had inhabited the salty waters of the national park.

The biological study was about the impact of an introduced crustaceous called Artemia, that was impacting on the degradation of the local habitat, like the impacts of colonisation and the imbalance of an eco-system. The need to classify these bugs was like the need to preserve culture so that others may experience, understand and appreciate their own unique evolution. Like these misplaced bugs, it is as if the second generation of Italian Australians are crawling around seeking meaning and balanced lives, in a new country, through connection to people, place and time.

In Southern Spain, Francesco witnessed songs that were heavily influenced by strong Christian themes and his interest in folk music flourished. He also observed that the cultural movement of folk music had survived in small villages and city fringes, untainted by popular culture.

I ask him “what does it mean to be an Italian in Australia?”

“It is interesting to spend your life in a different country, because it is like a mirror- you see yourself better in another place. As I spend time with Australians, I really understand how the Italian food culture in Italy is over the top. It is very difficult to find diverse cuisines in Italy.

 In Australia I find that there is so much variety. I enjoy having food that I do not know how to make like Japanese, Thai and Chinese. In Italy these cuisines are considered strange, unhealthy, bad taste and poor quality.

It’s a kind of ignorance.

 In Italy it is such a dominant quality, like a regime, it’s like you do not know anything different and so you do not question it- when you talk about Italy it’s all about the food. It’s the first thing you see.”

While he may be found in an Italian restaurant, it is to perform as well as observe and appreciate what it means to be an Italian in Australia with fresh eyes, not for the food or feeling homesick. He finds it entertaining to hear the Italo/Australian tongue of mixed English words with Italian sounds, a unique evolution of the la lingua, Australiana, for example the Italian words for “cementing our ideas” is not about laying concrete. To also be witness to Italian senior couples chatting in English seems entertaining to Francesco as he has become accustomed to elders engaging in a familiar Italian banter in his home town.

“You can recognise an Italian in Australia by his face, the way he moves, asks for a coffee, what he eats- but in Italy they are all Italians, they all have the same face. It’s hard to keep an authentic culture here, what I see is that Australian Italians want to keep the idea of Italy. I can see from their house, their garden, what they have on their walls. It’s like they are remembering an Italy that no longer exists. There is a memory of Italy 50 or 60 years ago.  

Australians think that Italians in Italy make salami, sauce and wine at home, because that’s what they see them doing here, but those rituals are less. There are more Italians making salami here in Australia than there are in my village.

My generation comes from the boom economy of the 60s, when the folk culture was deleted. At that time you could find supermarkets and television, you can buy the food you used to make because there is plenty and people could afford it. The Italians who live in Australia are the last generation of food artisans.”

As I reflect on this sentiment I feel that the traditions we call Italian, are uniquely Australian, and the sense of pride in homemade strengthened by the sustainability movement, more than it is about Italian cultural tradition. That home made is better for the environment, better for you, tastes delicious and enables connection, while maintaining family ties and sharing memories. This says more about the Australian culture than what it says about being Italian, that we value cultural concepts and connection to heritage.

It is becoming more difficult to maintain culture in modern times, he says.

 Francesco tells me that folk music in Italy had originated from one song, as each family adapted it to their needs. It uses an oral methodology of creating and passing one story to another. The words, meaning and sound of the song changed over time as it travelled from family to family and village to village. What was created as a result was a diverse array of songs about relationships, love, life, struggle and stories of cultural evolution.

Francesco, a citizen of Italian folk culture travels and collects songs, dances and stories of connection. What he captures and records is not fully realised as it has become diminished, extinct and unclassified in a sense, like the bugs. His work then becomes even more important.

“I want to make music my main job. Australia is a nice country where I am meeting good people, I’m not sure about staying here my whole life, but for now I can do what I like doing- my work has great value to those who are here and those who live in Italy.”

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3 thoughts on “Witness to my culture

  1. Dear Maria,
    Thank you, that is a fascinating insight into the Italian diaspora in Australia and how things change over generations and across continents.
    Viv x

    Like

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