Risking it all: Leaving Italy to live in Africa in the 1950s. I was born Maria Martore in 1934. But I have been renamed Iucci by my husband, Eugenio Piergiovanni. He is thirteen years my senior and is fluent in three languages. We have left Italy and the only family I have ever known, to go to Africa, seeking adventures and fortune. Is my husband's dream of selling Italian Haute Couture to expatriates ridiculous? Ciao! WE’RE IN AFRICA recounts the story of Marisa Parker’s Italian parents, who in 1955, emigrate to Salisbury in Rhodesia and Nyasaland, Africa. They open a fashion shop selling exquisite imported Italian clothes. However, it is Eugenio’s charm and astute business sense, and Iucci’s good looks and sincerity, that draws them into the community’s inner circles.
Why Not? Are you up for it? Go on; do it! We will all have been dared to do something at one time or another. Sometimes, it’s in jest and all good fun. Other times, it can be peer pressure that can result in dreadful consequences. Peer pressure plays with our emotions and can leave us questioning why we did or didn’t do something … as long as it doesn’t hurt someone, I personally feel it can be a bit of a lark. But pushing someone to do something when they are uncomfortable is more about getting one’s own way rather than seeing a joke play out. My father—being a cocky Italian man—was always up for a dare. But, he also knew when to stand firm even if the challenge seemed inconsequential at the time.
A passing of someone close is always difficult. Family struggle to cope with a whole new way life and maybe missed goodbyes, if they hadn’t seen that person recently. Friends sometimes are closer than some family members and so, for all, commences the reminiscing and loss of good times. Despite this sadness, it is now an occasion to also celebrate a life well-lived, and acknowledge how that person made us laugh, or the traits that meant we enjoyed their company. And, when we feel able, and it should be sooner rather than later, we need to keep living … move on to a new way of life without them; for, they would not want us to be held back in the time warp of their passing. However, saying hello to what will be can, of course, be the most difficult. When my mum flew back from Italy after the sad and unexpected passing of those closest to her, she was caught up in that stillness; those moments of recognition of an unmoveable fact that turned into days of sorrow; but, that had to be faced and eventually, left behind, so as to go forward.
I'm not talking about our biological makeup or the act here but rather, how our past has shaped us and how we have evolved over time, to become who we are today. Just like a ship being buffeted by wind (gently or tempestuously) or, becalmed in a dazzling hot sea, we have journeyed; now, we are products of what we have been through in our life ... Physically but mostly, on an emotional level. I was born in Rhodesia, Africa. My family and I left in 2000 during the struggles there and we have lived in New Zealand (six years) and finally, have found our port of solace in Australia. My Italian parents, migrants in 1955 to Southern Africa, traversed the continents too. One might think it odd, yet, it was my father's taste of Africa in a Prisoner-of-War camp that drew him back. Despite all that happened ... something about Africa sung to him.
The saying, How Do You Do? is not often heard these days. More likely, it's one of the abbreviated versions and even, at one time, became a single, Wazzup? No wonder then, that the English language and, all the variations or dialects, can cause migrants to be confused. For my mum, an immigrant to Southern Rhodesia in 1955 from Torino, Italy, it was a source of frustration. Perseverance is key for, after all, communication is power and also, a necessity.
Compassion doesn’t make for news headlines. Yet, I feel that a strong man showing compassion is pretty sexy. Such a pity that this trait is sometimes seen as a weakness. Imagine if George Floyd had been treated with compassion … wouldn’t the world be in a better state of affairs at present? Diversity is another word that should be celebrated not only by others but when we think of ourselves and how unique our differences make us. How boring the world would be if everything was the same. Thankfully, my parents brought us (three girls) up to be both strong and compassionate and when they arrived, as Italian immigrants, in Southern Africa in the 1950s, they added perseverance into the mix. For being compassionate and rejoicing in diversity certainly has its challenges and we have to remain steadfast. This can start out with just small steps and should be an approach towards others whether human or animal. It wasn’t long after they arrived in Rhodesia that my mum came across an emaciated puppy that she could have walked past with her nose in the air but, she didn’t … couldn’t … and their lives turned to be all the richer for this.
Life is full of goodbyes and hellos; sometimes, in reverse order. I've heard a few times of late that, 'It'll be good to get back to normal.' I know the sentiment but I honestly hope that we've learnt from this (coronavirus) experience and we focus on looking forward and re-invent ourselves rather than trying to recapture what has past … or we will easily fall back into not such good habits. Now, is the time to act on those opportunities. When my Italian parents left everything familiar in the 1950s and journeyed to Southern Africa, it was a rocky road. But, when you are standing at that fork in the road—and, of course, there is an option to turn around—sometimes one is being steered down a path that may turn out for the best even if it is unknown. May we all find the courage and determination to carry us confidently onward during those times.
I love books. Always have and always will; especially, a tangible tome in my hands. In these times, hopefully, we’ve converted those that don’t normally read to escape into ‘another world’. All the same, it means that I have become more judgmental ... I allow two chapters at the most (20-30 pages) before I set a book aside, if it hasn’t grabbed me in some way; and, I also notice every grammatical -punctuation error. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t lost ‘my love’, it’s just that very rarely do I get so involved that all those other things go away. There are certainly many books worth reading and, there are certainly many things in life worth doing – as long as they are done to the best of our ability. But in all of this reading, living and loving of life, it is important to have laughter especially if things go slightly awry. My mum and dad were perfectionists when at work in their Italian fashion boutique. Even they could not have foreseen what would happen when an exquisite pair of emerald green imported leather shoes arrived for delivery to the Mayoress of Salisbury, Rhodesia.
It can be hard to laugh these days, in a world that has dramatically changed, and, as many rules are imposed, at present. But thankfully, there are those out there that can make us giggle, or, at least, smile. Growing up, I don’t really remember too many jokes in our household but we did have fun, as my dad liked to be the centre of attention; and, if charm didn’t work, he’d make fun of himself to get people laughing. In the book extract, the thick reinforced glass-plastic walkway - “passarella” - that has been built at my Italian parents’ fashion boutique has been completed. It’s the day before the shop’s opening night and a practice run has been scheduled. The models though, are looking at this unusual pathway with trepidation … my dad comes to the rescue.
Each of us has a story to tell. My two books share my Italian family's history. As my father passed on some 28 years ago, the narrative is strongly influenced by my mother's perspective of that period. Except, of course, for the extraordinary insights provided by my father's diaries written in the POW camps (1941-46). Currently, and especially during these challenging times, our take on and experiences through the COVID-19 pandemic will flavour our memories in years to come. What will they look like when we ponder on them in the future? The extract I refer to from my second book, touches on my mother's return to Italy, by herself in 1956; it was an unexpected trip, sad and emotional. One can never really predict what is going to happen.
We are not in a world war where we are fighting each other with guns and bombs—thank heavens—but, as the global numbers of COVID-19 infections increase, we are arming ourselves. Arming ourselves against an insidious force that, at times, we cannot even see but that has put barriers in place regardless of whether you are rich or poor; and, that can kill without any concern of that social demarcation. It’s time to be creative in our thinking. Rallying together to be strong, be sensible, to enjoy the simple things in life and also, most importantly, not to forget kindness to others and ourselves. We must continue to be creative and inspired and find a way around obstacles whether literal, physical or mental. My dad was a consummate problem-solver. His solutions weren’t always of the status quo and of course, there was more latitude ‘back in the day’. But, thinking laterally is sometimes all it takes … even when you have forgotten to book accommodation and all the hotels are full, as happened to my father, when he and my mum took a group of friends to visit the magnificent Victoria Falls in the 50s.
In a world of interconnectedness, we can undertake our own research like never before. Sadly, despite what I think about Donald Trump (!) I have to agree there is also ‘fake’ or sensationalist news which stands side by side with the truth. How can we be sure that what we are reading, or hearing, is valid and current? Well, we must do our own due diligence (research) and use a lot of common sense. I have two part-time jobs that complement each other well. With one of them, I encounter many of the public who, in some cases, have reacted almost violently to the coronavirus news. Statements such as, “a million people are infected”; or, “you won’t be seeing me for at least a few months, as I’m staying at home from now on”, are just two of the reactive assertions. Granted they were made by two elderly people and they are far more at risk; but, in times of high emotion, fear and access to information, please let’s all try and be sensible whilst still being cautious. Sometimes, it’s just a case of diffusing a situation with some calming words so we can investigate further.
It’s happened to all of us. We wake up and we just don’t feel right and we have a big day ahead. Do we give in and just go, ‘It’s no use; I’d rather be 100% than face what is ahead of me today’, or is it, ‘Suck it up and soldier on!’? Of course, the situation has to be analysed; and, if you are truly not well enough for the task then, it is just as important to realise that and have a health day at home than being a martyr. Sadly, sometimes though, we have colleagues who push the boundaries making us buy into their apparent moments of distress. It wouldn’t be ‘PC’ these days but in the 50s, some decisive action was needed to stop such histrionics …
It seems to be that we have to go that extra mile for most things these days. It’s a competitive world, isn’t it? For any author, the responsibility does not stop once your book is published. It’s been four years since my first one and I still have to identify and make the most of opportunities to share my family’s story. I don’t mean pushing it like a car salesman (!) … it’s more about honing my pitch which produces—if I’ve done it right—that tilt of the head and a spark of interest as someone says, ‘What’s your book about?’ Emerging authors should consider it as a voyage of opportunity; as pioneers for our book’s journey which we are guiding. We don’t have to do this every day if we don’t want to. Yet, each new person we meet doesn’t know about our book or our writing background and that 30-second pitch may identify an opening. My mum and dad were explorers in a distant land back in the 50s … and they too kept searching for ways to attract the public’s interest.
Mamma and Papa had to be of one (focused) mind when they arrived in Rhodesia in 1955; determined to make a success of their new haute couture fashion boutique. Despite this excitement, there were challenges and they welcomed the familiarity that the connection with other Italian migrants gave them. That sense of belonging and confidence emanates a joyful feeling and so it is the same when I was writing my family’s story. If we are clever, we tune into our sensations and experiences and use those to direct the content flow for a manuscript. How much richer those words are when we have either experienced or intensely researched the information. Like a bubbling brook those phrases dance merrily on the page … we then must ensure they make sense and flow into a cohesive structure to connect with our readers!
When we migrated to New Zealand from Africa, we initially thought to move close to my husband’s sister. But windy Wellington was not for us. A chance encounter with someone we had worked with years before in Africa meant an introduction to our future boss! Yes; both my husband and I secured jobs in one small company for the next six years in Auckland, before we then moved onto Australia. What relief and joy we felt at that time, as we had left Africa with two young children in tow; along with four suitcases and just enough money to buy a car, food and pay rent on a house for six months … a gamble when travelling to a country you’ve never been to before! Who knew my husband and I would be going through similar concerns 45 years after my mum and dad left Italy for Africa? They also struggled to find their place (niche) when first arriving in their new country. It’s such a stressful situation and no matter how prepared you think you are, luck, karma or whatever you want to call it probably plays a hand …
Having a goal gives us purpose and direction. Once we act on that, then the adrenalin kicks in and a feeling of importance starts to grow. At least, that’s what it feels like for me when I set that task and then start on that road towards achievement. It can also mean—as the time gets closer to the deadline date—that our heart pumps; our moods swing; and, likely, we affect people around us. Tempers can get stretched as that excitement starts to fizz. So, it was for my mum and dad as they got closer to the opening night of their fashion boutique in Salisbury, Rhodesia just before Christmas in 1955. They’d attracted media attention heightening expectation and adding fervor to the last-minute garment changes for the fashion show that was planned. Thank heavens my mum was there to be the sensible one …
Last year just before Christmas for my husband’s 60th birthday, we travelled to Europe. Part of the celebration involved getting a tattoo; my first one! Our two grown up daughters and future son-in-law were there too and involved in the ‘ink’ agenda; choosing the tattoo parlour was up to them. Needing to confirm the appointment, my husband and I went early with one of our daughters. A doorway off a Prague back street revealed a serious-faced, scruffy-haired chap who opened the door to let our daughter in. He then shut the door in our faces once she had entered. Imagine our befuddlement and then growing horror wondering if we would ever see her again … and how we would explain this to her fiancée?! Luckily, she returned and as we walked away, identified that we had better go elsewhere; which we did. Being able to make choices and have our freedom is essential but sadly, not available to everyone. Growing up, my father didn’t speak much about his time in a South African POW camp during WW2. It was all second-hand information from my mother …
The English language is wonderful and can be completely frustrating … especially if English is not your first language. Even if it is, sometimes, certain words just seem to catch us out. My downfall is the word, research. I always want to add an extra ‘e’: ‘reseaerch’. It doesn’t make sense and yet, my fingers do the walking and I always have to double-check! My Italian-born mum struggled valiantly upon arrival in Rhodesia in 1955 with this language. But she conquered her shyness and through sheer determination was speaking a second language fluently in a few years. Despite that she still tripped up every now and then causing some laughter and rather un-politically correct jokes to be made.
Sometimes the scariest thing can be when one makes a quick or sudden decision. Then, it could be a case of second-guessing oneself … or at least for those not so adventurous, that is! When my mum and dad were desperate to gain residency status in Southern Africa, a chance encounter with an Italian barber—of all people—meant that instead of setting up in South Africa, their future lives were to be in a much smaller country called Rhodesia. In 1955, it was much easier to gain entry into a foreign country; but it would have been no less challenging or overwhelming to actually create a new life and in effect, a new identity. Being ‘captains of our own ship’ is just as important today as it was then. Let’s do something that makes our breath hitch; our heart race; and we can literally say, ‘al diavolo’ – let the devil take it! #Fear #Challenge
Leaving to go and live in a country on the other side of the world separates families and friends. Yet, it's happened since time immemorial as (wo)men seek better or different lives. No matter how exciting or successful that new life is, reuniting after a year or even ten years with someone from your past—with whom you were close—is emotional. It stirs up both physical and mental reactions and reaches to our very core. My mum, at the age of 21, left Italy, and her mum and Nonna, when emigrating with her new husband to Africa, in 1955. Sadly, just one year later, her return was not the reunion she envisaged; both of them had passed on within just three months of each other. It's hard to go back knowing you won't get to feel their arms around you or hear their voices again ...
Innovator, Inventor, Forerunner: these are ‘pioneer’ synonyms which I’d associate with both my parents and the themes in my books. My father attracted people to him—the honey to buzzing bees—despite his modest 5.5 height. During his WW2 years in the POW camp, he had his dark moments, but he also pushed boundaries. When he was discharged, he had become the official translator for management having learnt two languages and, he was also equipped with skills in running the POW camp supply store and stock taking. And my mother? Well, despite not speaking a word of English and not having previously owned a passport, she determinedly accompanied the man of her dreams as they set out from Italy bound for Southern Africa in 1955. Was she scared? She was terrified! Did she enjoy every moment of the next five years whilst creating a successful fashion business and starting a family? No … but during all challenging situations whether you are an innovator, inventor or forerunner, there is that sense of purpose and an overwhelming sense of achievement in each victory. Don’t sit back; create and take control of your future!
My father loved challenging the status quo. If he was alive today, he’d be one of the first to have the new Apple iPhone 11 Pro in his reverent hands. Space travel? Sign him up. I think you get the picture … for him, he never let a ‘What if?’ opportunity pass him by. Yet, for all his constant (global) travel and search for new things—the first one to try/buy—his heart lay in Rhodesia, Africa. I think that when something happens in our formative (teenage) years, it can drive several decisions later on in life. His connection with Africa—where he was incarcerated and saw his 21st birthday—through a South African POW camp from 1942-46 was profound. So much so, that despite many dark days during that time, something bound him to that primal continent. In the face of many naysayers, including his own mother, a few years after WWII concluded, he turned the ‘What if?’ question on its head and said, ‘I'm going!’ He returned to Africa in 1955 and that became his forever home.
Nowadays, we have systems in place to respond to Mother Nature’s force when her fury descends; we watch in morbid fascination as events unfold. Back in 1958 though—with no social media—the loss of lives through floods was not common news. Yet, it made headlines when, in Southern Rhodesia, Africa, part of the Kariba Dam wall that was mid-construction, was hit by tumultuous water in a heavy rainy season; it crumbled like a sandcastle in the tide. Black and white laborers including Italian migrants didn’t stand a chance. To the local BaTonga natives who had been displaced by the ‘white man’s’ development, Nyaminyami, the river spirit had its revenge. For a short time though—regardless of race, religion or social standing—all were united in horror with news of a grisly outcome: bodies that had not been swept away but instead, had fallen downwards and become trapped in the wet concrete trench of the coffer wall, were to be left there … entombed for eternity. My father and mother had firsthand information during this tragic period, as a close friend was working for the Italian Consortium Impresit, that had won the tender to build the dam.
Seasonal changes can cause varying reactions whether literal or to our state of mind. How magnificent is Mother Nature as she transforms the landscapes and the weather in response to the Earth’s changing tilt towards or away from the sun. My mum, having lived all her life in Italy, until leaving for Africa in 1955, took a while to become accustomed to many changes not least of which were the ‘different’ hot and cold temperatures that are at odds in the different hemispheres. It was a diverse way of life in every sense including having to learn English. No wonder she questioned her understanding of the language when the term ‘suicide month’ was bandied about … it is still relevant today and every year at that time, as the country and people swelter in anticipation of the annual rains.
I wasn’t one to be part of a team; follow rules; or easily understand set curricula. I am a visual person. I need to write down what is in my brain to ‘see’ the story. Teachers just telling me what to do or read, rarely worked. They had to show me too … and that was not what happened at high school in the eighties. School wasn’t my thing. Maths and I, especially, had a love-hate relationship. It’s extraordinary that the latter half of my career has seen me project manage millions of government funds for educational purposes—successfully, I might add—acquitted to the last cent. It was more about the planning and reaching a goal that intrigued me. And so, it was for my mum; the strong woman behind her husband, the visionary. She did the planning; drew up the budget; and, ran things to order. So, when my father identified a new and brilliant idea to build an underlit catwalk for the models to show off the Italian clothes … he had some sweet talking to do.
When we left Zimbabwe in 2000, our two girls were ten and seven-years old. I still recall our youngest, with her short, red hair, cut tomboy-style complaining about her backpack being too heavy; and, that she was hot under the two jackets she was wearing. She toppled over at one stage— during our trip across continents—backwards onto her derrière! That image is still fresh in my mind, 19 years later; as is the resultant semi-hysterical laughter. I’m certain it was symbolic of stress; all our belongings were in four suitcases with extra clothes bundled into our backpacks or onto the bodies of two adults and two trusting innocents. Then, it was scary. Now, I think of us as pioneers. This quartet has gone on to do amazing things. I think back to my mum and dad when they left Italy to go and live in Africa in 1955. She couldn’t even speak a word of English; and she was leaving her mamma and her nonna behind. In the end, my mum didn’t regret her decision yet, it was hard won as her only relatives were both dead by the following year. Her biggest regret was not returning for Nonna’s funeral.
My sense of drama and flamboyancy must have come from my dad. Who else would have planned ‘a mock fall’ for one of the male models at a fashion show that they organised? Being ‘saved’ by female models was also intentional and, as imparted through this week’s book excerpt, my father enjoyed the planning as much as the event. BTW, the result was a sensation! When I’m not conforming to office wear, my husband states that I have a quirky dress sense. Huh! ‘One must have a touch of colour’ - a line from one of my favourite movies, ‘The Bird Cage’. I also tend to mix up my similes especially when excited … adding to the drama and laughter of an occasion. Good thing I don’t take myself too seriously. And every now and then, when there’s some great music playing on the TV, I’ll get up and do an impromptu dance, by myself. This normally happens with ‘eighties music’; what an amazingly melodic decade that was!
When writing my first book, I really had no concept about what would happen when the book was published; after the first rush of sales, shall we say. Then there is a lull that, unless as an author, we commit to keep on at it—keep up the marketing and taking opportunities to promote our book—could mean our book(s) becomes one of those dusty tomes at the back of a bookshelf. It’s alarming for an introvert (like me) to have to keep finding ways of putting myself out there to promote what I believe is an extraordinary family story…yet, keep on at it, I must! My father was the same—except, he wasn’t an introvert, so it was easy for him—looking out for opportunities without coming across as an ‘in your face’ salesperson. Yet, it’s more than that: it’s about planning; that pitch; that hook, that uniqueness, so as to draw people in. By 1957, the family’s fashion business had already made a name for itself in Rhodesia. My father didn’t stop there; he wanted to expand and so began the planning and strategy to exhibit at a trade fair in South Africa.
I didn’t think I’d write two books about my Italian Family’s history yet, a wise, fellow author reminded me that I had to respect my readers, as well as my family, in the re-telling of a period in their lives. That is, to respect the fullness of the life that my parents had led and allow it to reveal itself in all its richness without overwhelming readers. The two books embrace the drama, love, sadness and living of life (lives) that was too much to be relayed in just one tome. Whether you regard your family in a positive or negative light—or you may kid yourself and say, you are neutral—the passing of family members stirs up a whole lot of emotion. And so it was, for my mum when she returned to Italy with anguished feelings, after the sudden deaths of both her mamma and nonna, as retold in the second book.
In my neck of the woods, we're going into the depth of winter (I'm in the Southern Hemisphere). The shortest day is just around the corner. Luckily, winters aren't too severe here. On certain days, I can still find a sheltered warm spot in the sun, to sit outside with my laptop. With two loyal dogs at my feet, and birds chirping in the trees above, I am truly inspired and can get my writing on! A love of the outdoors is something I inherited from my parents. Having moved from Italy to Africa in 1955, they relished the thought of exploring the countryside especially after a busy work week inside their fashion boutique. In this excerpt, my dad is embracing the African hunting role; my mother, is ambivalent, yet also succumbs to the sense of adventure.
Back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon to just all come together and head out for a weekend—a group of friends exploring, making no plans—and before the kids came along. My Italian dad and mum loved that aspect of Africa. It’s freedom, the sense of adventure, as a group of Italian migrants gathered together to explore their new country; and, make new memories. This excerpt is taken from halfway through the book, after my dad has somehow managed to convince the receptionist at the swanky Victoria Falls hotel, to allow the tired travellers to sleep in the smoking room, as they had not booked any accommodation. The hotel was full yet, as it was late, my father’s Italian charm has found them a boudoir for the night. He forgets to mention that they also have a puppy dog with them that they slip in through the side door.
If you’ve ever moved to another country, it is exciting but also scary. Imagine what it is like if you don’t speak the language; have a different culture or look foreign. And even worse, you are leaving behind your mum and grandmother, the only family you’ve ever known, to follow your husband of two weeks, as he pursues his dream (crazy idea?) of selling Italian Haute Couture to expatriates in developing Africa. Times have changed since my mum and dad left Italy in 1955; it was a much more daring and risky expedition in those days; it was almost as far-fetched as landing on the moon! Added to that, my mum only spoke Italian at the time…She was plagued with doubt and terrified. Yet, she loved her husband—he was her knight in shining armour—and he sold the idea of an adventure so charmingly. Thankfully, he was also an astute businessman (or had been up until then), and he was fluent in three languages, of which English was one.
Both of my award-winning books are about my Italian family’s story (non-fiction). When I wrote the first book, it was with trepidation. I believed my mum and dad’s story was interesting but, was I capable of sharing this in a way that others would want to read it? Once I started writing about their WW2 experiences, the words literally poured from me. Two years later, I had followed a writing (style) checklist of do’s and don’ts. With the second book published, feedback from readers, is that my mother’s journey (1955-1969) from naïve bride to a pioneering businesswoman, is a joy to behold. Sometimes, this comment is also followed by … how your writing has matured too! I’m delighted that my promise to my readers of writing the best book I can, one that contains interesting historical facts, that depicts characters that develop and resonate with my readers has come true, including a few that have said they cried when (spoiler alert) – the family pet died. The first paragraph in my book was rewritten at least five times. I think I got it right though! I’d love to know your thoughts via a message on Goodreads or my website page. #authorpromise
The ‘Rule of Three’ is not just a fundamental framework for creative writing. Online articles by Brian Clark and Dave Linehan provide interesting insight into how following this will make your writing more engaging and contain the hooks that are needed. In fact, the Rule of Three is relevant in all aspects of life. The most acclaimed speeches use this technique–as far back as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address–and for today’s classic joke structure of set-up, anticipation, and punchline. An academic once told me that if you delete the three sentences at the beginning of each chapter (from your manuscript’s final draft), you will arrive at the sentence that should be the first one. It’s about removing the fluffy stuff and hooking in your reader. What do you think of the beginning of my book, “Ciao! WE’RE IN AFRICA”?
#ReaderLove - Love comes in all forms and sizes and, Oh! The Things We Do for Love (or because of love) … to quote the song by British band, 10cc. In 1957, it had been three years since my Italian parents migrated to Salisbury, Rhodesia. My mother gives in to my father’s manoeuvrings when he organises for a sixteen-year-old boy Paolo, the son of Esther, a close friend and employee in their business, to drive my mother to Johannesburg, South Africa (over 1,100km away). I’d met Paolo and his family many years ago, but we had lost touch. With this book advertised on Amazon, Paolo made contact through my website. How extraordinary to find out that we both live in Eastern Australia. For Paolo, reading my family’s story has brought back many memories. For me, a precious gift of some unseen photographs during that time. An amazing experience and especially emotional for my 85-year-old mum!
Readers of this second book seem to come away with one of two experiences. Either they lived in Rhodesia, Africa between 1950-1980, and the book stirs up fond memories. Or, the reader is a woman, and this story resonates with her, as she empathises with my mother, who has left behind all that is familiar, to forge a new life with her partner, so transitioning from a naïve girl to an assured woman. When I hear either of these reviews, it is most welcome, as I had hoped this account of my parents’ lives would appeal to different audiences. The excerpt I have chosen is from Chapter 3. My parents, Eugenio and Maria (Iucci) are visiting with an Italian couple on their recently purchased tobacco farm in Umtali, North Rhodesia in 1955. The trip proves to be an eventful one.
A timid girl. A young soldier. A love story. GOODBYE TO Italia is an award-winning non-fiction romantic story of Italian drama, courage and humour. It is set in Italy and Africa during World War 2. So as to stay true to the retelling by my mamma and pappa, and to capture the essence of living through those times, the chapters in the first half of the book interchange between the two diverse characters, Mariolina and Eugenio (13 years older than her), as they come of age.
No matter whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, rich or poor, black or white, we’re going through tough times with this COVID-19 palaver. I’m a bit of a loner; I like my space, but this social distancing thing even has me second-guessing. Having to constantly think of that 1.5m is draining … and then, when some idiot (!) comes into that ‘measurement’, boy, does it make my blood boil! But, we’re all learning to adapt, aren’t we? Just like my dad had to when in a Prisoner of War camp in WW2. Stuck there for a number of years during the war, the mental drain wasn’t just about the incarceration and being told what to do but, it chipped away at their own sense of self-worth and having nothing purposeful to do. #ToughTimes
When times seem bleak or our spirits flag, we need to think outside of our situation and imagine how others may be faring. Growing up, my Italian parents were always quick to say, “… think of the poor starving children in Ethiopia.” They never talked about their suffering through WW2; the fact that they survived and went on to making an extraordinary life for themselves was, and always has been, their way of getting over ‘their times of trouble’. We certainly are blessed these days with the opportunities we have. It’s up to each one of us to take responsibility for our lives and move forward; and hopefully, at the same time, we encourage others to do so too!
When words fail us, our actions matter. Like words, actions do not have to be significant: few and targeted can be the start of what others can build upon. A movement of caring and compassion is needed in these troubled times; movement is defined as something slight, something stirring. Let us all stir and have a voice—no matter how small—if we see that diversity is being cast in a bad light instead of the understanding and openness that is required. If a rainbow did not have many colours, how could we appreciate its splendour? If we did not have different foods to taste, would we not become bored? As stated by Tolstoy, “… all the beauty of life is made up of light and shade”. At the end of World War 2, it was a time to start again; to look at what had gone wrong and not only promise to do better but imbue our everyday lives with this intent and to teach our children the error of our ways.
If you’re working from home #WFH, it’s likely that you, like me, have been ‘Caught Out in COVID’, that is to say, I’m at work but I don’t have my make-up on; my hair is still in it’s slanted up hairstyle from sleeping on my side; and probably, I’m still in my PJs, for the first part of the morning. I get organised a couple of hours later, when I have my mid-morning cup of tea … but it’s happened on a few occasions when I’ve been contacted by my boss on Messenger/Skype and I’m not quick enough to switch off the video (their video call). Some diversion tactics include placing the phone to my ear or a groovy close-up shot just from my nose up … ladies have to do what they can to preserve their dignity! There can, of course, be nice surprises though. My mum was taken by complete surprise one day, in the office, when my dad proposed to her in the storeroom. Not the most romantic of settings but as she recounted the event to me whilst writing this book, her eyes still misted up. Aww!
Creativity is a magic (mojo) that can be hard to find if we're being constrained in a situation or environment like we are now. Life itself can be full of challenges such as, writer's block for an author. When a blank page is staring up at me, I use that time to undertake some research. Relevant 'stuff' on the internet intrigues me and seems to jumpstart my ideas ... Growing up, education was a bind for me; but now, I find that my thirst for knowledge —and what an incredible world it is out there—makes me marvel and feel inspired. My dad believed education to be the nectar of the gods, a tool to be used to 'grow' oneself. During WW2, he was confined within the strangling boundaries of a POW camp. It really was extraordinary that he happened to be in one that was overseen by a forward-thinking South African commandant.
For some of us, our life has been changed irrevocably by these strict orders to isolate. For others, it’s a chance to get on with the ‘doing’ of things and not be fettered by interaction with others. ‘Fettered,' I hear you ask? Well, for introverts, who are happy in their own company, contact with others can trigger a whole lot of things … but, let’s not go there. Rather, what has resulted in these changed times and appears to be the answer from many when they are asked, ‘How are things?’ is that they give a shrug or a sigh, saying, ‘Pretty much the same, same … you know?’ And that unchanged situation and enforced ennui, unless we are determined to overcome that emotion, can chip away at positive energy. For my father, in a South African POW camp for most of WW2, it was the same. A feeling of missing out; of being stuck in a place you don’t want to be; of unbidden and unwanted thoughts taking you down a road that could become shadowed if you let it …
In this ‘new’ quietness Our feelings and senses are noisy Ushered in by a malevolent force that we cannot see All are affected. Let’s practice more self-love and forgiveness or Reach out to others through kind words … Even a simple, ''How are you?'' It's time for the uncomplicated things A more transparent way of life Just like the startling cerulean skies and Crystal-clear oceans and rivers that are re-emerging As the world's pollution dissipates due to our forced inactivity. Just like post WW2 Let’s treasure each precious moment Just to 'be' … such as enjoying nature or Expressing feelings for one another. #Quietness
I have two part-time jobs, one which means I get to enjoy ‘wfh’. Globally, people are thus being directed. Procrastination is king when you are at home and yet, working. I learnt a while back to self-discipline. Set aside tasks in manageable amounts, i.e., 1.5hr work then, a break whether it’s a cup of tea and a sneaky walk around the garden (no more than 10min); then, 1.5hr work, etc. Of course, if you love your job, you may get so involved that you forget to take those breaks … this can be just as harmful, and tiring, so that by the afternoon you are washed out. However, what was the norm is no longer so. One must find a routine that suits and stick to it. It may evolve as you find your new norm. Hopefully, we will pay back tenfold the trust our bosses are putting in us to be honorable so that we can all get through this time together. Change for anyone is challenging and so it was for my dad in the South African POW camp in WW2. After five years in POW camps, sanity was sorely tested. Mind games were the order of the day.
It’s what we do in times of adversity that can make the difference. We’ve all heard the glass half full/ half empty speech. With stock markets plummeting and fears escalating, even I felt a jolt this morning after listening to the news. I switched it off after receiving the pertinent facts … anymore, and I might be rushing out to buy another pack of toilet rolls, to add to the pile that will already last my husband and I a month. Logic and common sense have to be drivers now whilst still being aware and cautious, even if Tom Hanks and his wife have been admitted to a Gold Coast hospital with the coronavirus! In a South African POW camp in WW2—far from his beloved Italy and all that was familiar—my father always tried to be positive and prompted others to do the same. As James Allen (1903) stated, “A man is literally what he thinks …”, and it is easy to give in to panic at these times. So, let’s not … despite the growing noise from those babbling monkey voices in our head that always seem get louder in times of adversity.
Writing my first book, I remember at times wondering if I could possibly do justice to my Italian mum and dad’s incredible WW2 survival story. Sometimes, even when the words flowed, I’d re-read those outpourings out loud—a great tip to make sense of what you’ve written—and wonder what I had been trying to convey. The process, thereafter, of editing and re-structuring was time consuming and even annoying; it also played up my self-doubts. For writing comes from our creative side; it is unfettered, and just like a child, we must push behind us our negativity and start afresh with each attempt. In a nutshell, we must find an eagerness to just keep living, writing, being! After my mum—a 9-year-old at the time—and her nonna had survived a bizarre shooting in their apartment block by Italian partisans looking for traitors, both reacted very differently. Nonna was overcome by the experience and no doubt, her mind was focusing on how everything could have gone so wrong. Little Mariolina however, is ready to move on; she is living in, and for the moment. We each need to encourage that simplistic (not simple) approach so relishing each achievement and continuously moving forward.
If I’d tried to create a character in a story like my Italian father, some of things he did and said would have been thought of as exaggerated. That was my father though, larger than life. Even when I was writing the first book of my family’s history, my father’s character kept pushing aside my mum’s experiences as they lived through and survived World War 2. It’s not to say that’s a bad thing; it’s just that he always seemed to be such a force and his charismatic ways soon won people around. Even as a Prisoner of War, he could not contain himself. Such as when he came up with an idea to play on visiting soldiers; he knows the consequences should he and a few compatriots get caught but life is to be lived … right? And after all, it was more about raising the morale of those around him so, he really was just doing a good thing in the end!
Well everything really. But when it comes down to it, when it’s those dark hours before dawn and suddenly, bouncing around in your head like popcorn in a pot, life’s busy thoughts come tumbling in and you cannot get back to sleep … what really matters? Only positive energy can counter those worrisome gnats. Deep breathing and mindfulness of what we must be grateful for: a close companion (partner, family member or friend) who has our back even if they can get snippy sometimes; a furry friend who depends on us and welcomes us home; or even just that stranger who showed some respect instead of, the all too often, aloof or expectant stare as we mingle with the population. During World War II, the return to normality was sought for and more importantly, finding even just fresh food was welcome. My mother always stressed the essentials in life as we were growing up: and no wonder, with all the hardships she had to go through in Northern Italy during those devastating times.
Winter wonderlands, especially at Christmas time, evoke a romantic charm that even a cynic might be trapped into … even if just momentarily. Even a barren wasteland with a dusting of pure, bluey-white snow takes on a surreal richness and innocence that is breathtaking. However, it also of course brings with it the cold and numbness that, if one is poor or homeless, can be a seemingly unending agony. During World War II, those winter months in Northern Italy would have been another burden to bear. Children were sent out to scrabble for any bits of wood to use for a warming fire, if you had matches or some form of lighter to start them, to heat up water for a cup of tea and a quick bodily clean!
A beautiful sentiment surrounds tradition; and, it seems to me that some cultures celebrate these with more importance than others. I like the old-fashioned ones—although growing up in a strict and Italian Catholic family I bumped up against those rules—as they actually celebrate a sense of community and honouring the past. When my father finally declared his love for my mother in 1952, he was 31 years old and she was 18. This came about, as he asked her to go with him to Sunday Mass at Il Duomo, a beautiful old church, in the Torino city centre, in Northern Italy. This was a declaration indicating the seriousness of his intent and this would have caused much fluttering … not only in a young girl’s heart but those of her mamma and nonna!
As friends over in America are celebrating Thanksgiving, it comes to mind that practising gratitude is so important: we need to say thank you to others and to be grateful for what we have. It is easy to become mired down by negativity. So, let’s be positive this weekend! I want to say ‘grazie’ to everyone out there who is in my life whether in person or digitally … When my father was finally released from the POW camp in early 1946, his return to Italy was after six long years. I cannot imagine what thoughts were going through his mind but, as he stood outside the entrance to his home, I imagine he would have been thanking God and his lucky stars. How serendipitous that the first person he saw just happened to be the pretty girl that he would marry six years later; my mum.
I work with authors to help them realise their publishing dream. Just this week, one author—a single mum—was in tears. She keeps postponing her manuscript deadline due to work and her pre-teen son’s needs. Time out for her writing comes in third. My advice? Schedule three hours a week just for writing: include it in the week’s timetable and adhere to it just like other tasks. Because, this is about creative expression and setting and achieving goals. Our mental health is involved here; and, we must take steps to protect that before a tipping point is reached. This was what my father tried to do when he was in the POW camps in WW2; having a purpose and acting on it gives us a goal, a reason for being.
Lightness and darkness are states that are at constant play in our lives. Whether it is Mother Nature at work or human-engineered. The latter, i.e. human-engineered, can also refer to our psyche that can be affected by someone’s comment or action or, our own minds that can self-sabotage. My father’s last two years (out of six) in a South African POW camp during World War 2 had seen him make a friend in the most unlikely of places (the light); but, his mind was at war with self-doubt and depression (the dark).
Love it or hate it, technology means we can do so much more; and conversely, that means, we also do less. Yes, it can be less personable and means that we, as humans become less active and even anti-social. But, let’s be real … all those advances in the medical field, the corporate world and, how cool is it to have all that information at your fingertips? As humans, we seek knowledge. We want to resonate with something that is outside of us, bigger than us – good or bad; hopefully, more of the former. In World War 2, an incarceration of six years in prisoner of war camps in Africa, almost did my Italian father’s head in. But, he fought that mental enemy, by teaching himself to speak French and English and a smattering of Afrikaans. This ultimately led to him being a translator not just for his compatriots but also for the 'head honchos' in the camps.
Along with our eldest daughter and her partner (of a few years), my husband and I visited the city of Torino. One day, as my husband and I were waiting outside the church entrance where my parents had married in 1955, the heavy wooden door opened, and my daughter’s tearful face with a lopsided but joyful smile appeared. My heart dropped and then soared, as she announced, “We’re engaged!” As Mrs Bennett pronounces in ‘Pride and Prejudice’, my statement of, “I thought it would never happen”, was met with rolling eyes but excited laughter. For both my husband and I, this unexpected news—we had been told not to hold our breath—was gleeful and produced many positive emotions. Our visit to my ancestors’ hometown in Northern Italy was an absolute delight. It’s a surprisingly ‘happening’ place and modern city. Yet, during WW2, it had been heavily bombed and suffered greatly. The stately bridge over the River Po was of special interest as, my mum—a pretty child at the time—was out collecting firewood by the bridge in icy weather during the war when turning around, she discovered a German soldier watching her; it would have been terrifying!
When I read 'Seabiscuit' by Laura Hillenbrand, I was entranced. She wove the true story of a down and out little horse that captured the American nation's heart during the Great Depression. What a tale of hope and achievement for, as stated by the racehorse owner, Charles Howard, in the movie rendition: 'Our horse is too small; our jockey's too big; our trainer's too old; and, I'm too dumb to know the difference!' Laura's masterful writing technique inspired me to write my Italian family's story; and I wanted to couple their personal experiences with global events. 'GOODBYE TO Italia' is the result. I'm happy about how it turned out. My father's WW2 POW diaries are, of course, a major part of the success. His charismatic character shines through—messages from the grave (?!)—and his personality was likely influenced by the story of A.J. Raffles, a gentleman thief (written by Hornung), given to him just after his 21st birthday whilst in the camp.
Wrong! Because you should care what readers think. Yes, writing and reading is about escaping into a secret world; and, if we’re lucky, as writers, our stories well up and pour out in words that we assemble into some meaningful semblance. But if it is just so jumbled that readers cannot follow where you are trying to lead them, guess what, they won’t continue on that journey. And that amazing conclusion that you carefully structured … it lies undiscovered; languishing due to a poorly lit and challenging pathway that only a few may stumble down. Now, I’m all for unique writing techniques. Sometimes, I’m almost jealous about another author’s mesmerizing and enthralling writing style. Yet, in the end, we just want a good story. We want to have that information communicated to us and gain more knowledge. As a POW in WW2, my father and fellow inmates were given letters from their families—normally months after they had been sent. But they didn’t care; all they wanted was that human connection … even if sometimes it made things seem much too real.
Mental health is a huge issue. It causes wars (no-peace) within us and with others. It can have tragic outcomes whether on lives, finances, or other (personal and global). It’s a human issue? But I’ve seen animals fighting over food even when well-fed. So, I’d say it is based on a state of mind. As humans, we all have an obligation to manage this for our own sense of wellbeing and due to the dreadful outcomes, that can result. Yet, it can be one of the hardest things to do—to be peaceful or at peace (mindfulness); it is far easier to self-sabotage. This was the case for my father in the South African Prisoner of War camp, when the end of WW2 was declared. He warred with his mind and decided not to sign a Declaration of Cooperation. He thought it was a trick; and that, it would be an admission of guilt that would see him punished when returned home. Instead, it meant he had to stay longer in the camp whilst others gleefully departed.
I recently asked readers (in my monthly eNewsletter) to send a photo of their favourite paperbacks, or of books that they use often. Check it out on the Facebook page -@MarisaParkerAuthorHome – I’d love to receive more, so if you’re keen, post as a response to that message with the information of your location in the world. And, add a sentence about one of the books in your photo … It’ll be interesting to find out about your literary passions! Imagine though not being able to know what is going on around you or being able to find out more; not knowing anything about the outside world, or your family, or friends. Indeed, if questions are asked, repercussions are swift. As a 20-year-old man desperate to find out anything, my father foolishly forgot this constraint in a moment of desperation, when in a POW concentration camp (1941).
I’ve always loved how just one word can be so evocative: Each of the names of the four seasons said out loud bring pictures to my mind. Or what about food words preceded by a descriptor…fresh bread; mulled wine; cheesy pizza…yum! Whenever we talk or read—the use of specific words and how they are placed in a sentence—can reveal much of ourselves to others. I find true joy in listening to an articulate and knowledgeable (not arrogant) person and/or reading a well-written book. I can even forgive grammatical errors, if a story has been cleverly crafted, so that it pulls me in and along, as if I’m a part of that world, and not just as an observer. Different languages have different sounds. And, so it was, for my father and his Italian compatriots when they were in a South Africa POW camp in World War 2. Trust the Italians to find some amusement when discussing the Afrikaans language.
I was lucky to find an assisted independent (indie) publisher who supported me through my creative journey for both my books. I say lucky, although, I did my research and looked at reviews about the company—that is my first tip about and comment on the changed publishing landscape; and, I have been converted to indie publishing and this new way forward—second tip and comment—that writers need to embrace this model. It is empowering, and you actually get more bang for buck in the long run. My conversion is so strong that I now have the privilege of working with the Ocean Reeve Publishing team that brought my second book to life. The excerpt is taken from when my dad is in an Egyptian POW camp in 1941. My love of writing obviously came from him. His voice transcends the life-death barrier, as I used passages from his (secret) diaries for sections in my first (award-winning) book.
When asked questions about my Italian father’s few years in the World War 2, Prisoner of War (POW) camp in Zonderwater, South Africa*, I become emotional; understandably. As things go, it wasn’t on the horrific scales, as identified in Hillenbrand’s book (Jolie’s movie), ‘Unbreakable’. But it was a POW camp, nevertheless. “Well, wasn’t he lucky not to have faced all the gunfire; ...been in amongst the thick of things; ...been injured?” Such statements are part of what prompted me to write an alternate perspective, insight from someone close, who was on ‘the other side’. I’ve toned down some of the scribblings from my father’s diaries: he may not have suffered extreme physical debasement, nevertheless, he would rather have been on the front line, fighting for his family, his country and his dignity. Suffering comes in a myriad of forms and each person has their limit; don’t you think? The extract is from when the Italian army have been captured in North Africa and after days of walking, they arrive at a site where prisoners will be sorted and sent onto camps. *The biggest Southern Hemisphere POW camp of the Commonwealth forces: https://www.marisaparkerauthor.com/single-post/Walking-in-my-Fathers-Footsteps
My family and I were in Europe over Christmas. Whist in Torino, Northern Italy, where my Italian parents grew up, I followed in their footsteps. We visited, La Chiesa della Santissima Annunziata - the Church of the Most Holy Annunciation, where my mum and dad were married in 1955. As the wedding service concluded, my mum took a small moment to say a prayer at the foot of the statue of Mary (Maria), the mother of Jesus. The extract from my book depicts this. When my family and I visited, I was only given five minutes to explore this exquisite Church and then, my husband hustled me outside. I was cross with him for doing so, but instantly forgave him, upon seeing our daughter’s delighted, albeit tear-stained face, when she exited the Church, with a new sparkling diamond ring on her finger. Her beaming fiancé followed her out and we all exchanged heartfelt hugs and well wishes. How romantic it was of him, to propose in the Church where the bride’s grandparents were married! Surely, this sings to the heart of all romantics?! I wrote a four-part blog series about following in my parents’ footsteps through Italy; it’s available on my website: www.marisaparkerauthor.com/blog
Recently, I was at a bookshop promoting my books. I approached a woman who was flicking through one of them. I introduced myself and after giving my 30-second pitch, I was surprised when she asked whom had published it and how much it cost. Pinned under her direct stare, I answered. Immediately, she told me I had spent too much, and I wouldn’t get my money back. I retorted that sales were promising. She walked off. Sadly, I had foolishly reacted because of her confrontational nature. I later found out that she was a fellow author. In light of this week’s Book Bubble theme, I’ve chosen to look at this in the sense of being prepared and having a good ‘comeback’ when challenged by someone. A wise friend—fellow author and publisher—Ocean Reeve, recommends staying silent for ten seconds to realise that the negative person is expressing their own dissatisfaction. Don’t be drawn in. Respond with, ‘Thanks for your comment’, and walk away. My dad had a most effective comeback when, as a teenager, his mother discovered that he’d carried a motorbike into his bedroom to repair it. She doesn’t hesitate to express her displeasure. The book excerpt is his response.
I dabbled in writing in my teenage years. I loved immersing myself in fictional Enid Blyton stories and then, the J.R.R.Tolkien trilogy. I never considered during my young adult years of undertaking a writing marathon. It was over a cup of tea, however that fate took control. As my mum reminisced about ‘her Italian childhood days’, I suddenly grabbed a pen and a notepad, and started scribbling. Then, faced with all these wonderful accounts, I realized the enormity of the task ahead of me. I had just completed my master’s degree, as a mature-age university student. So, my family demonstrated amazing generosity when I announced my intent to write about my Italian family’s story. What commenced as a romantic quest to create a legacy turned into a burning ambition to research, capture and recreate the lives of my Italian parents during World War 2 in Italy and Africa. With a thirteen-year age gap between them, and the discovery of my father’s diaries that he secretly wrote in Zonderwater, a South African, Prisoner of War Camp, I had ample content to feed my passion. The support of my family through this was extraordinary. Now, with two award-winning books to my name, I have an incredible sense of achievement. #writeyourstory #whatisyourhistory
It is easy to fall prone to thoughts of disappointment and discontent. How much nicer the day is when we smile at a stranger in the street and receive a grin, even if it is gap-toothed! Appreciating the small pleasures in life and taking moments to breathe and just ‘be’, are important reminders for me, so as to celebrate achievements and plan what small step I can put in place to lead me forwards. Both my parents had this ability to grab at opportunities and turn ‘lemons into lemonade’! In 1943, my father turned twenty-one in a Prisoner of War camp in South Africa. His birthday was unremarkable, and he worried that he was beginning to lose his mind. But he rallied and determinedly nudged those voices aside looking for things to do, and how to help others, in a crowded concentration camp of 63,000 inmates.
I cannot imagine what it was like for my mum as a six-year-old in Turin, North Italy in 1940. During World War 2, bombings, a lack of food and intensely cold winters killed a great deal of people almost as bad as if they were fighting on the front line. In ‘GOODBYE TO Italia’, my mum and dad’s experiences interchange during the first half of the book, as they were so diverse. What courage and perseverance were demonstrated by those women and children! How fortunate we and our children are today; we must never forget. #ReaderLove
It was an emotional moment when my mum handed me my father’s bedraggled diaries that he had written whilst incarcerated in the Zonderwater (South Africa), Prisoner of War camp during WW2. I’d been badgering my mum to provide more information about pappa, as the story I was writing about my Italian parents in Italy and Africa, was very one-sided. Needless to say, the diary discovery blew me away. It also meant that it took far longer to complete the manuscript. I had to work through my father’s ineligible scrawls. Not only was colloquial Italian used but different shades of ink or stubby pencil scratching made it hard to interpret. I chose to write GOODBYE TO Italia in alternating chapters: my mother as a young child, and her war experiences and my father, a young army officer. The excerpt I have chosen from the book, is from when my father was captured in 1941.
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