Saturday, 29 June 2013

Torino - Two sides to every city

These two scenes were not more than 200 metres apart.

Ventimiglia II - Il Bar

a drinking game that baffled me
There is Ventimiglia old and new. The new is full of vacationers who laze by the Mediterranean and drink at fancy bars and caffes.

They stay in hideous five story block-houses built on the flats facing the sea. No, I have gone too dfar. There is a charm to this place. Only a stones throw away from the French Riviera, Canne.and Monaco it is really a haven. from that madness. It just feels very busy after my quiet village experiences of the last week. Even Torino was low key - small numbers of tourists spread over a large area. Here they are concentrated.   

On the hill only 400 metres away is the old walled Ventimiglia, A bustling enclave of locals. It lives its days laregely oblivious to the tourists. There's nothing glitz and glam here and no nic nacs that diminish the authenticity of any place. I had the lanes and alleyways to myself. I got drenched in a late aftewrnoon thunderstorm and found myself in a litttle bar on the main cobbled street.

No carbon price here.
I ordered a vino rosso and hung around watching. There were a lot of men inside, and a lot of noise and chat, both good signs. The only women were behind the bar. There were 14 of them sitting around a group of tables. They had a deck of cards and were playing some sort of drinking game. They ranged in age from their thirties to their seventies.

I had no idea how the game worrked it seemed like a dare and win or bluff game. Drinks were lined up; cards were laid out (not dealt around the table). There was a lot of noisy shouting and banter and reference to the fall of the cards and eventually one of two seemed to be declared the winners and these two first drank (no skulling) followed by some but not everybody else. The champion was pointed out to me.

At one point things became a little heated. I couldn't tell if it was merely Italian exuberance or genuine discord. It looked and sounded pretty serious to me as more and more of the group joined in the fracas and eventuallyy one of the main protagonists got up and left.It seemed to be about the 'spirit of the game', how the round had been played.

Outside the barman was stoking up a charcoal fired grill which was smoking the place out. I wiould have stayed for a goat kebab but I knew it would be another hour before the food was produced. So I reluctantly took my leave.                                                                                                                    
If there's a theme emerging from this trip it is about the insiders and outsiders; the locals and the visitors; the haves and the have nots. In Ventimiglia this was about the culture of local life contrasted with the tourist culture of the visitors, myself included.



Friday, 28 June 2013


Turin (Torino) was the first capital of the new united Italy in 1860 (Florence and finally Rome followed as capitals). It has a musty air of grandeur. a sense that it's best days are in the past. The streets are grand, reminiscent of Paris and Lisbon, the piazzas and gardens impressive but it feels a little bit tired.
 There is wealth and there is the life of the ordinary people (more of that in another post). There are tourists but it's not crawling with them. My accommodation in a small apartment with Federica and her menagerie of pets is one block from the main Piazza and has behind it the immigrant precinct. It's a pretty interesting area.
Italy celebrated its 150th anniversary as a nation in 2011 - not that much older than Australia in formal nationhood terms but dramatically different in every other way. This art work sits outside the Gallery of Modern Art and is one artist's reflection on 150 years as a nation.

Who is Allesandro del Piero

Indeed. apparently he is a GOD in Italy. Something about the world cup. He was born in Cornegliano in the Veneto where some of my ancestors had connections. We are almost related. The young girls on the information desk at Treviso (the provincial capital) couldn't believe I'd never heard of him. especially now he lives and plays football in Sydney.

I hope he's not going to follow in George Best and Diego Maradona's footsteps.

Allesandro del Piero.
Born in Conegliano, Veneto, Del Piero is the son of Gino, an electrician, and Bruna, a housekeeper.[16] He regularly played football in the backyard with two friends, Nelso and Pierpaolo, as a child. All three dreamed of becoming footballers, but only Del Piero would eventually manage to do so.[17] Alessandro's older brother, Stefano, briefly played professional football for Sampdoria before an injury curtailed his career. The family lived in the hamlet of Saccon, a rural home in San Vendemiano. While growing up, Del Piero's family did not have much money for travelling abroad, so he considered being a lorry driver in order to see the world.

'While playing for the local youth team of San Vendemiano,[18] Del Piero used to feature as a goalkeeper because he could play a lot more football that way. His mother thought it would be better for him if he played as a goalkeeper since he would not sweat and the possibility of him getting injured was less likely. His brother Stefano commented to their mother that Alessandro looked better playing in an attacking position and Del Piero switched.[19]'

Thursday, 27 June 2013


Front door of Marco's B&B
I'm pretty confident that if Lorenzo and company came via Bergamo they wouldn't have climbed the hill to the old town. They would have stayed close by the station. Pity, because this what they would have found. This is the front door to the apartment I'm in for the night. Its been owned by Marco and his family for two hundred years. He's an educated man but yet another who has never heard of New Guinea.

This is the viw from my room. It's five flights with no lift but it's worth the climb.

View across the roof tops

Two hundred years to collect some nice furniture and Marco and his family have done a pretty good job.

Another street view from above. Bergamo is a hill town in that its on a hill. It's popular with the Milano set who head here for the weekend to cool off in the summer heat.
It's gentle; its quiet. Its a lovely break in the middle of a busy week. Tomorrow and the next will be big days. Torino (Turin) via Milan in the morning and the next day Torino to Ventimiglia - the longest leg of them all.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Verona - The Roman Arena

 From Orsago, quiet assured village of 5000, to Treviso, charming and prosperous town of 80,000 living in the shadow of its nearby cousin, Venice, and now Verona, wealthy, bold and teeming with tourists by day and night. On this night there are also thousands of locals and visitors on a pilgrimage to this ancient roman town with roots beyond 200 years.
They are thronging around the ancient Arena which dominates this end of the old walled city adjacent  Piazza Bra. The Arena is huge, equal to the size of many modern sports stadiums. It’s a four story high oval of Roman brick and stone. It’s beautiful arches glow soft and warm cream and orange in the evening light.
I come upon it unexpectedly even though I am intending to find it before I leave for the evening. My pathway towards where I think it should be has taken me in a series of zig zags but eventually they have meandered me to the right place. I sense it before I see it. There are voices and some singing. Suddenly I am on the edge of a large crowd with the arena towering above me. There is a concert here tonight apparently.
In summer a series of operas is staged her but this is not an opera crowd. There are no fur stoles, no black dresses. This is a T-shirt concert and the audience is young. I look for signage but see none. I step closer and gain a vantage point overlooking the crowd who are gathered in crushing queues waiting for the gates to open. There is a young girl leading the crowd in song to fill the time.
“Michelle…..” and then “Love love me do ….”. she’s leading a medley of songs from the 60s. The young girl is in her twenties but she produces song after song.

‘Who’s performing?’ I ask a middle aged man standing next to me. ‘For the first time in 27 years’ he informs me ‘Paul McCartney has returned.’ In this country of Catholics the Pope (El Papa) could not hope for a more adoring crowd. I suggest to my new friend that these young people were born well after the Beatles era, well after John Lennon was killed, after Linda McCartney died. The crowd has now begun to sing the soundtrack to A Hard Days Night.
‘Yes’, he agrees. ‘It’s great. ‘His concert attracts all generations, young people and parents alongside each other.’ ‘And grandparents’ I suggest.
They’re a well behaved crowd. No soccer hooligans, no tanked up young people heading out for a night in the clubs on the booze. They are content to wait patiently, in their rain ponchos - there are storm clouds hovering and the Romans neglected to roof the Arena.
They sing their silly love songs, while I, a little envious, sit and eat my pizza romana with anchovies and lashings of mozzarella cheese and enjoy a glass of vino rosso from the sidelines.

Day 3Orsago. At the Post Office

‘Can you help me Marina? I need to post two large books back to Australia.’

 I have knocked on the door of the Orsago Municipio before opening hours.                                                                                              

‘Oooh. Do you have another plan? The postage in Italy is very expensive.’ she says.

I can’t leave them behind. They are the Perin family history - in Italian and English and Spanish. Lorenzo and Maria grace their pages. They are beautiful books.  I am on a special mission. Antonio Perin has devoted twenty years of his life compiling these and he has donated a copy to the Capelin/Perin display at the New Italy Museum. They weigh a ton. I can’t possibly carry them across Europe.

This family double name thing is still pretty fresh for me. I still resist being a Perin though the evidence is incontrovertible. As I tell people the story they invariable say ‘Yes, Perin is definitely from around here. It’s a typical Veneto name.’ And then add, ‘This is the first I have heard of Capelin’
What gives? Were we the last of a dying breed? Did every last one of us flee the country in 1880?

Marina has dropped everything and is running around trying to find boxes, cardboard, paper. She rushes from room to room despairing and then finally returns with two A4 paper boxes. She’s planning to put them both, and another book I don’t want to carry, into one parco, one package.
‘But first, let’s go to the post office and get some information’. Marina is a mind reader. I actually knocked on her door in the Municipio hoping to ask her to simply help get me through the Italian language challenge in the post office. But she’s taken on the project totally. Thank god.

In the Post Office she and the clerk discuss the problem. ‘We talk in local dialect to each other’ she tells me as If she expected I was confused by the subtle change in her communication. Hell, I only understand that this might be harder than I expected.  There is a second clerk at the adjacent window. ‘Ooooh, Australia is very expensive’ he says helpfully.

Marina’s plan to send them as a parcel is about to be tested. We pass the books through a security system  –  a compartment which can only open one side at a time. We open the doors, put the books in, close the doors; the clerk opens the doors on the other side and takes them out. They must get some really aggressive customers in here. That or the glass cabinet acts as some sort of protection from anthrax or letter bombs.
The original clerk puts the three books on the scales and I watch her entering some figures into her computer  along with some sighs and comments to Marina which don’t seem to auger well. Marina looks at me; I look at the screen and nearly fall over. It will cost 125Euro to send them regular parcel post to Australia. That’s nearly two hundred dollars. I didn’t ask for an adult guardian travel with them.

More dialect and Marina and the clerk have a new plan. ‘If we split them into two parcels we can send them by regular mail as if they were letters’ she says. This will halve the cost. I look puzzled. She shrugs her shoulders and we head back to the wrapping room. It will still be two books (I’ve decided to carry the smaller third one) and they will still look very much like parcels. Now two parcels. Two parcels are cheaper than one. Is that an old Italian saying? I should point out at this time that these are no ordinary books. They are coffee table size and printed on glossy art quality paper.

If we can keep the weight of each parcel less than two kilos we’ll get the cheap rate. We figure we have some margin for error. Now Marina really takes control. She and her colleague, who has joined the quest, gather boxes, heavy brown paper, scissors, packing tape. I watch her skillfully cut up the boxes and reconfigure them to the size we need. I apologize for distracting her from her work. ‘I love this’ she says. She’s usually processing migrant papers and compiling records so perhaps this feels like a fresh new project where she can really use her problem solving skills. Or maybe there’s a sense of really making a difference here.

The cardboard fitted. We secure it with packing tape. Then a layer of industrial strength brown paper and further tape. Each looks pretty schmick - all addressed and ready to go. My details are in large print and Marina has added hers as a return address in case something goes wrong.

Back at the Post office the magic cabinet accepts the two new letters/parcels and the clerk puts the first on the scales. She is a well-trained Italian bureaucrat who knows the rules and, thus, there is no pity only matter of factness when she tells us the weight is 50 gm over the allowable two kilo limit. Marina looks at the clerk. I look at Marina. I’m waiting for the “lets just turn a blind eye” to this minor infringement but it doesn’t come. We collect the two packages through the infuriating double lock security device and head back to the Municipio Office.

Luckily Orsago is a small village where every service fronts the main square. The Municipio sits beside the Post Office, itself a former Municipio building which in turns sits beside the hotel in which I am staying , another former Municipio, and opposite them is the church, the historic monument, a coffee shop, a corner store (Italian style)and a trattoria/coffee shop. Each trip between any two of these is only a fifty metre walk.
With scissors in hand Marina shreds the wrapping paper, cuts the masking tape and unwraps the books from their handcrafted boxes. She then calls her mother for advice and miraculously two large padded envelopes appear from nowhere. I don’t understand the connection between the phone call and the appearance of the envelopes, but there is one. Perhaps Marina’s mother spends her days hiding in the back room waiting to be asked for advice and harboring an array of useful items?

Two books, two envelopes, two protective book covers courtesy of the author. It all fits. I’m not sure that we’ve lost our 50 gm but Marina is supremely confident. One last adjustment before we head back to the Post office. The A3 envelopes will be too big. Though they are letters, they are oversize letters and will not be accepted for the regular letter price. Luckily the books are less than A3 in size so Marina folds up the excess and tapes the truncated letter to a less than A3 size. They do bear a resemblance to letters, albeit largish and bulky but …

We head back to the Post Office. We repeat all the steps.  The parcels arrive on the clerk’s side without mishap. She puts them on the scales one at a time. We hold our breath. She types some more information into her computer and smiles. What a bargain. I will now only be paying thirty-four Euro for each book (about $50). Perhaps I should have bought them through Amazon. Their freight doesn’t seem to be as expensive as this,. But this is Italy.

The final twist is I have to pay cash. I can buy a postage stamp with my credit/debit/EFPTOS card but can’t use it for this much larger transaction. It goes into another account or some such.
It’s taken an hour and a half. I’d been planning that I’d be leaving early for Treviso this morning. I’d allowed about 40 minutes for this and thought I’d have the full afternoon to explore the town. I have learnt another travel lesson which will come in handy during this next week. Allow plenty of time for unexpected things to happen because they probably will.

The pay-off has been the opportunity to have a laugh with Marina which feels good after a gap of twenty five years. My bond with Orsago is renewed. It’s the crazy moments that are memorable.

Treviso - Inside Outside

 Treviso is a charming city of 80,000. They like to think og themselves as a little Venice. Luckily the real Venice is just down the highway so Treviso misses out on the mass tourist trade and is still authentic. Still there are two Trevisos. The rail line delineates the divide. I was staying on the wrong side of the tracks
 Everyone on the Veneto Plains rides pushbikes.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Perin - The Capelin Empire

We are Generators - I always knew that.
So for those who don't know, the Perin name is the official name of the family. Lorenzo hid this from us for 125 years - a minor matter. There are lots of us, particularly in this area. And in Brazil!

Day 2 The Dolomites and Vittorio Veneto

 The Italians are obsessed with cars. They must be. Why would you build this magnificent monstrosity otherwise. All the real people who wanted to enjoy the view were on the old road. Hundreds of bikes - everything from Harleys to Vespas.
 Vittorio is a heritage town in the foothills of the Dolomites. It was here that there was a signing of papers at the end of WWI> correct me if I'm wrong. All the hordes of invaders who have swept down from the hills to take a bite out of Italy over the centuries - most notably the Austrians - must have sorted out some pretty sophisticated transport systems to get them across these ranges. That or had lots of expendable troops.
Vittorio Veneto
Vittorio Veneto
Vittorio veneto is only about a half hour drive from Orsago. I was surprised..

Day 2 Codogne, Cimetta

 Codogne gets multiple mentions in the Veneto story so I had to go. It was a little strange. I found it but couldn't find a centre. This church was once the centre I presume and then fell into disrepair or the devil took it over. It's been restored but meanwhile the locals have built a new modest and modern church which could have been built at Chermside in Brisbane. And there i found a centre. A village without a spire at its centre just didn't make sense.
Inside the Codogna church

Perhaps a barn which may have housed Lorenzo's family
 Cimetta on the other hand has neither church nor steeple. It's a name on the map but is really part of Codogne. I'm sure they call themselves Cimetta as do we call ourselves Hill End and not West End in Brisbane.
A sign and 400 metres of road
There was, however, a roadside caffe which was packed with men on a Sunday morning at 8:15 so I stopped and had a coffee and toasted my bis-nonna (great g'mother) Maria Lucon who I believe was born here.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Day 1 Brugnera

 Brugnera is probably the most likely place of birth of Lorenzo and his first two children Maria and Domenico. It's charming and follows the shape of the stream besides which it sits. The street life was sedate3 but villages are often only separated by a few kilometres and often only by a signpost telling you you have left one and are entering another. The five or six villages i am visiting (Codogna and Cimetta to come on day two) are probably a days walk between the most distant two points at most. They are simple but I like them a lot. They are authentic. No tourists. Almost no English. and strong on local connections. Summer is definitely a good time to visit. everything is growing, its warm and people are out and about. It could be miserable in winter.

I haven't forgotten Catterina Cescon and Maria Lucon (bisnonno number 1 and 2 - Lorenzo married twice) . Cimetta tomorrow.

day 1. Ghirano and Gaiarine

 This is a game of pick the difference.
The story goes that my great grnadfather's (bisnonno) death certificate (1915) said place of birth: Girran. No such place but there is a Ghirano and a Gaiarine. The respondant on the death certicicate was John, born in australia and an English speaker. He reported it as he had heard it. I had always plumped for Gaiarine until I started my Italian lessons. Pronunciation subtleties have made me change my mind. gaiarine is the more charming and lively. hirano is surrounded by levee banks and feels like a lost village.

These are typical views from the ourskirts of any of these villages (and sometimes from within 100 metres of the village centre). These are farming communities with flourishing back yard vegetable plots and every inch of available land under crop.

Day 1. Orsago

 This sounds strange, but in a weird way Orsago feels like an adopted home for my version of the Capelin/Perin story. Lorenzo was sid to have left from here in 1880 but there's no evidence. He was born elsewhere and married elsewhere and had kids elsewhere but somehow folklore had him and Catterina in Orsago. I have grown fond of it for a couple of reasons. Firstly the fact that 25 years ago Andrea and i were given such a warm welcome by a very young Marina Batistuzzi who still works at the Municipio 25 years later and is just as welcoming
La Loggia bar is a busy little joint on a Friday night. Roberto and Guilia staff the bar and do a brisk trade in cocktails, beer and wine. The clients are mostly under forties in the evening with a steady flow of older ones during the day. They’re still rolling in at 10:30pm. People and their children and their dogs are still cycling at 10pm. a lot of the young people are smoking. Feels like a flashback to my youth. I

There’s a beautiful full moon behind the Orsago obelisk mimicking the clusters of street lamps.
Marina Batistuzzi
Orsago has three Muicipios. One is now the post office, the second is Hotel La Loggia and the third is a modern but less charming version built between the two.

Day 1 Cordignano

The bus to Treviso is empty. There are four of us on board including the driver. It seats thirty or forty. Everyone is heading in the other direction. Venice is the siren. Tourists crowd on to buses heading to the   world famous city. There’s a bus every five minutes. I wonder if it had the same pull for the peasants of 19th century Veneto or if it was merely a distant seat of power and represented  unattainable wealth. Treviso is a mere one hour north and the villages of the expeditioners only another 40 minutes beyond – short distances today but perhaps a challenge then. How then did these peasant farmers decide to begin a cross country journey of weeks to Marseille and from there a three month ocean voyage to a barely known destination. 


Reputedly the birthplace of the Cappellin line of the Perin clan.

Cordignano has the feel of a thriving village with many shops and plenty of street life even on a day where the temperature reached the mid thirties. The village is dissected by a stream flowing from the mountains. The water has the same colour as the snow melt of the rivers of NZ. A grey green colour with a milky appearance,. It must carry heavy percentage of lime or other chemical gathered as it rolls through miles of sedimentary rock of the Dolomites. The centre of both Orsago and Cordidgano are marked with impressive civic structures. Both have an impressive tower and imposing church. Cordidgano in particular has a charming set of buildings apparently in a state of some decay as shown by the photos of crumbling internal masonry and damaged frescoes displayed outside. 

Met a Perin at the local nursery – Allesandro Perin.

Da1. Marco Polo Aeroporto to Orsago

In Veneto with a sense of isolation.

I tried my Italian out on the taxi driver and the clerk at the hotel and again this morning buying a bus ticket to Treviso. I’d like to have said Vorrai  un bigleterre a Treviso per favore  but instead said Autobus a Treviso? And the girl at the desk filled in the rest. They keep speaking to me in English. I insist on using my halting Italian which must really piss them off. At least they speak back to me without looking completely confused. They seem to understand my simple phrases. It takes a lot of mental preparation and then gets confusing when they do reply in Italian. I’m doubling their work. They have to say everything twice and just to add to the dance I repeat everything in both languages too.

Paid 10E for a 3 minute ride from the hotel  to the airport and then bought a ticket to take me to Treviso by bus, an hour away for 7E. Note to self- use local transport.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Destination Veneto

Destination Veneto. Emirates. 11:30pm departure from Brisbane. A freezing night and I’ve packed for a Mediterranean summer. I compromise by slinging a wool scarf around my neck in the hope that it will get me to the airport in comfort. I get a bit paranoid when I fly. It’s because it’s not a bus. There is always another bus. I will need to be focused this next 10 days without Andrea to check in with. Where are we? What time is It? Have we got everything? I’m excited and a little apprehensive. It’s been 25 years since I travelled overseas alone. London 1988 for a three month theatre training program. I loved it that time.

This time I’ll be in Italy in some remote villages with very little English spoken. Ironic that I should be apprehensive since I’ll actually be in my great grandfather’s home territory. He was a native. I will be an outsider.

Before I go through customs I’ve already broken my commitment to remain alert. I try to fill in my customs declaration form as I progress in the line to check in and only when I reach the head of the queue do I realize that I haven’t got my second bag. My carry-on back-pack. It sits abandoned 30 metres behind me where I put it down. No one has tapped me on the shoulder to ask if its mine or to take me off to the bomb disposal centre. It’s a reminder that I’m very much on my own.

Brisbane airport is so familiar to me. I head down the escalators which transport you to a cave like space where passengers mill and fill out forms before entering the customs area. There’s usually a gathering of friends lining the railings above the cavern which we enter calling, waving, crying. Tonight it’s strangely quiet. My wife has put me on the Airport train. She’s so sensible. Besides farewells are not what they used to be. I recall lining the wharf at Hamilton with streamers tying those of us on the land to the passengers aboard the departing passenger liner . There was an air of excitement. Of course, travel overseas has become such an everyday event these days. No longer is it the case that the special moment when the paper ribbons uniting us broke meant we might never see our loved ones again. It had gravitas.


I’m early. So, like a proper tourist, I fill in my time shopping. For what? I conjure up a need to buy something special for Marina whom I will see for the first time in 25 years in Orsago. The girl at the souvenir shop suggests a pendant. I say it’s not a romance so I’d rather stick to something less personal. I buy a jewellery box purportedly painted by a central desert Aboriginal woman. It’s laquer ware so is not really an Australian product.


If your memory of flying is one of romance and the exotic forget it. Airlines have fallen on hard times. Emirates serves up four meals in fifteen hours and all are appalling. The one thing they do right is serve the worst one first (a doughy shredded chicken and salad bread roll) so that we might be fooled that later meals are something a little more edible. Who prepares this rubbish. And why feed us bad food frequently. Feed us one bad meal and then cut your losses – stop there. If your budgets are that tight we can help you. Feed us less or send the food to the needy. But even they would have standards.

I usually don’t mind flying but this seems interminable. I can’t get comfortable. My bony bum aches. The two teenage brothers beside me have a four hour fight over who should have the arm rest they share. The younger one wins. Their parents and Greek grandmother sit in the row in front and are happy to let them fight it out. Their father is one of those people who has the capacity to make everything interesting sound boring. He knows too much and insists on sharing his knowledge.

He’s taking his family to Greece for a week and then he will then join a group of thirty obsessives who will ride the Tour de France three hours ahead of the race proper. I hope his wife and his Yaya have got some shopping planned.


I’m reading a book ahead of touchdown in Italy to get me in the mood. Italian Ways by Tim Parks documents his experience of Italian rail travel pretty much along the route I will travel. It’s a story of convoluted Italian ticketing systems where every step seems designed to thwart the basic purpose of getting from A to B efficiently. It sounds like madness. It’s funny, but a little daunting. Thanks Tim.


Stop in Singapore where the parents of Harry and Charlie (very Greek) move the younger into their row and put YaYa with Harry and me. It’s quiet again, though I see where dad gets his obsession with detail from. YaYa is intent on helping Harry understand the ways of the world on her computer map and goes into a lot of detail.

Touchdown in Dubai is in full daylight. I can’t imagine why people would want to stop here. All I can see is sand and houses made of materials much the colour of sand. They’re very neatly arranged around cul de sacs. The desert stretches to the horizon. There are sparse patches of cultivated fields around small villages outside the city. They look very poor. The meager fields look like a community garden. Enough to support the extended family. They are certainly not the food bowl for Dubai. And yet there are swimming pools in almost every residential complex only a matter of kilometres away on the fringe of the new city suburbs. Water but no oasis. I can’t see any palm trees. I can’t see any trees at all.

Dubai Terminal is huge. It’s an immense and expensively fitted out Nissan Hut, curved roof and sides creating a cylinder. We’re in a giant hot dog. It mimics the shape of the plane we’ve just suffered in for 15 hours. Do they not understand our need to escape. Our need for relief from the aluminium sardine tube.

My five hours in transit in Dubai is spent watching escalators make their never ending journey to nowhere, observing the other tourists trapped here and, well, window shopping.

On a positive note I do like the Emirates steward’s uniforms. Sand coloured dresses with a slash of red in a pleated section at the bottom. The same red then as a headpiece and a flowing white scarf which curls from one side of the hat to the other, under their chins, like a never-ending waterfall. If only their chefs could take a lead from their design team.

The Dubai to Venice leg is punctuated with one acceptable meal unfortunately accompanied by another which is awful. Biryani lamb with rice is quite edible but the shrimp cocktail is appalling. It was billed as an appetizer. What a misnomer.

“Marinated baby shrimps in a classic cocktail sauce served on a thinly sliced cabbage salad.” If honesty in menus were de riguer then it might better have been described thus: “ Two barely recognizable week old albino shrimp hiding in a corner surrounded by shredded limp salad.”

Michelin rating: inedible.

I had hoped for a nice Mediterranean gentleman or lady as my travelling companion. Someone I could practice my Italian with. Instead I was paired with a perfectly lovely boy from Calcutta on his way to Trieste for business. He turned out to have awful sinus problems. Perhaps during his stopover in Dubai he’d got caught in a sand storm or disappeared into the dense smog hanging low over the plains. He was a snorter. He cleared his nose at least eight times ai. That’s over two thousand over five hours. I counted them.

His nasal technique had a sound similar to when you check the pressure in your tyres and you let off a shot of air to test the system. Maybe he worked in a garage.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Doubled winged Turkey Weather Vane

A variation on the theme. A wooden spoon and lengths of western red cedar timber slats - old blinds found on the street as part of the Councils kerbside cleanup.

The next version will have a wooden fork as a head. My local op shop is a treasure trove - though I seem to have bought their full stock of wooden stirring implements..

Friday, 14 June 2013

Tall Man Short Man

I recently read 'Tall Man" by Chloe Hooper, a great account of the madness which engulfed Palm Island a few years ago. Seargant Hurley, the local policeman at the centre of the incident, is the centre of this book which is well worth a read. It doesn't pick sides but gives an engaging account of the facts as far as can be ascertained.

The Palm Island situation was quintessential Qld but happening so far away on Palm Island in far north Queensland. A lifetime away from life in Brisbane. But, its true, happenings in the deep north do carry an added weight for we who live here. I recently learnt that one of the main Indigenous figures associated with South Brisbane (my home) was born on Palm Island. Pastor Don Brady.

Pastor Brady became a leader in the local Brisbane community and the first indigenous minister to be ordained into the Uniting Church. He ministered with his hands in various forms, having spent some of his early years as a boxer in a touring tent show. He dealt with recalcitrant drunks in a direct and probably unacceptable way by todays standards, but his ways were always informed by compassion and care.

He was defrocked later in his ministering career when he became too "active" in the community for the Church to deal with. When he died he was hailed as a Martin Luther King figure.

Here's an excerpt from his biography. Follow the link for the full text.

"Brady died on 27 January 1984 in South Brisbane and was buried with Uniting Church forms at Mount Gravatt Cemetery. More than 500 people gathered at Musgrave Park to mourn his passing. Praising his leadership, Rev Charles Harris described him as 'The Martin Luthor King of the Aboriginal race.' His peers hailed him as a civil rights advocate who gave Aboriginal people a sense of pride and taught them to fight for their rights."

Thursday, 13 June 2013

My Missing Life - My missing great grandfather

One hundred and thirty years after Lorenzo Capelin disembarked in Sydney under a name different to the family name he carried for the rest of his life and which he passed to hundreds of descendants; and ten years of research into this mystery I might have cracked it (see below). There may very well be documentation pertaining to my great grandfather as Lorenzo Perin. I had almost given up hope. I'm checking whether this is a yes or a no. It looks like a positive even though the translation seems to say differently.

Needless to say I have replied with further questions and, as I will be in Brugnera in exactly one week, I hope I can get a clearer picture on the spot.
I'll keep you posted.
My request (thanks to Google translate)
'1 maggio 2013
Commune di Prata di Pordenone, Italia

Spettabile Direzione,
Per una ricerca sulla mia familigia desidero ottenere il certifico di nascita.
Nome: Lorenzo Perin (Supre nome Cappellin)
Data di nascita: 1837
Luogo di : Ghirano
Nome del padre: Giacomo Perin
Nome della madre: Teresa Cattai

Sono in Italia in giugno 2013 per ricerca.
Rimanendo in attesa di Suocortese riscontro, porgo distinti saluti.'

Literal translation (no thanks to Google translate):

'May 1, 2013
Commune Prata di Pordenone, Italy

Dear Management,
For a search on my familigia want to get certify the birth.
Name: Lorenzo Perin (Suprenome Cappellin)
Date of birth: 1837
Place: Ghirano
Father's name: Jacomo Perin
Mother's Name: Teresa Cattai

I'm in Italy in June 2013 for research.
Listening for your reply, Best regards,'

 The reply today:

'In riferimento a Vs. richiesta e-mail del 01.05.2013, si comunica che non
> è possibile trasmettere il certificato di nascita del Suo avo PERIN
> Lorenzo, poichè, come risulta dall'esame dei registri angrafici qui
> conservati, è nato nel Comune di Brugnera il 27.10.1837.
> A disposizione per eventuali chiarimenti, si porgono distinti saluti.
> L'Ufficiale d'Anagrafe deleg.
> Giovanna Romano'

 Translates as:

'In reference to your request e-mail address of 01.05.2013, notice is hereby
given that you can not transmit the birth certificate of his grandfather
Lorenzo, since, as is apparent from an examination of records angrafici here
preserved, was born in the municipality of Brugnera on 10/27/1837.
At your disposal for any clarification, you
Best regards.
The Journal of Registry deleg.
Giovanna Romano' 

I think this means I should approach Commune di Brugnera for the next step.

The Promised Land

In six more sleeps I board a flight to Venice to begin my ten days following my great grandfather's footsteps.
I've had some great outcomes already both locally and in Italy.

You may remember that my two dreams were to stand on the land of my forebears in Italy and to do the same in New Guinea where the boatload of 350 Italians were dumped in 1880.

Last week, thanks to my friend Julian Pepperell and his fishing networks, I had lunch with a young couple from New Britain (PNG). Oliver and his PNG wife live in Kopoko and often travel across the strait between New Britain and new Ireland on fishing ventures chasing big game fish. Oliver was fascinated with the Italian story. He had heard little of it in PNG and is keen to help. Planning for a visit to this most remote of coastlines suddenly took a giant leap forward.

In Italy I have made contact with the man who has spent the greater part of 20 years researching the family name (Perin) from which I am descended. He has offered to give me a copy of his beautifully researched and produced book as a centre piece to the Capelin/Perin family display I am helping put together for the New Italy Museum. I will meet his daughter. I will also meet for the second time in 25 years the young woman (now 48) whom I first met in the Orsago municipio in 1988. Remarkably she still has the thank-you post card that I sent her that many years ago.

Finally I have made contact with a gentleman in Marseille who will escort me around the port and talk to me about Marseille in the late 19th Century. Marseille was the departure point for the 350 Italians when they left their homes in Veneto headed overland to board a boat for Barcelona and the beginning of their ill-fataed voyage.

Fingers crossed I don't catch the flu which is currently festering in my household. I have taken to sleeping in another bedroom from my wife! Is that selfish?

Thursday, 6 June 2013

New Italy Old Italy

Paddy and his sister in law
From Woodburn it's a straight run to our destination, a pit stop half way to nowhere along the Pacific Highway. Not 'Nuova Italia' as it would originally have been named, but simply New Italy. It's a collection of mud brick buildings housing a cafe, bookshop and the fading remnants of the Italian Pavilion from Brisbane's Expo '88. There's also a large barn structure with open beams and natural ventilation which houses memorabilia from the original 1885 settlement. By 1920 the last of the Italians had given up on this place, a site distressingly similar to the poor land of Veneto from which they had escaped. While not the utopian dream which had driven their journey, it did offer opportunity rather than the inevitability of poverty.

The descendants have moved to better land or moved away. My grandfather and his brother set up a thriving fruit and vegetable business in Leichhardt in Sydney; a branch of the Spinaze family had moved into sugar in the Pomona area north of Noosa Heads a good 400 kilometres north. Through hard work many purchased dairy farms and sugar holdings along the Richmond River.

One hundred years after the original descendants arrived, a group of descendants, none of whom spoke Italian, few of whom had immediate recollections of the original settlement, nevertheless felt driven to create a museum on the site. In the twenty first century the 'New Italy Carnivale' brings together a curious mix of descendants and locals to share stories and keep alive a memory.

Add caption
I'm travelling with my Uncle Paddy Powell, a name as Irish as the name of the closest regional town, Ballina. That's not uncommon. His mother was a Bazzo. My grandmother was a Kilcoyne. It went both ways. We arrive in time for Mass, the first event on each of these days.About 80 seriously Catholic people sit in a large unpretentious room. Curious life-size plaster cast Venetian peasants and aristocrats stare down at us from a mock balcony above the makeshift altar.

Paddy scans the seats for familiar faces. He's looking for his friend Maureen who has supported him through the hard years of caring for his wife Rita, my aunt. I only recognise two faces in the congregation, both of whom are relatives whom I have only met recently. As my eyes wander among the pews I'm conscious of looking for faces like mine. Angular faces with large noses and pale skin, blue eyed northerners.

There are plenty of ruddy complexions and pale skins but mostly broad Australian farmers faces - the Irish. Among the other there are dark eyes, dark haired, dark skinned southerners - more recent migrant arrivals. I can't see me anywhere.

My search is broken by the priest. He's welcoming us in Italian He's clearly not Italian but he is fluent. a Lismore priest with no Italian would be estranged from half his parishioners. Italian prayers, Italian hyms, Italian responses. Most of us don't have a clue. Two ladies in front of me sing with gusto and depart from the script with their own responses. They are real Italians. I concentrate on picking up a phrase here and there in preparation for my imminent trip to the villages of my descendants in Veneto. Paddy drifts off and causes a mild disruption when he attempts to rescue a skink who has become disoriented and finds itself in the no-mans land of the aisle space. Paddy knows it's about to fill with the feet of the fervent lining up for communion. The ladies in front react with shock as Paddy ushers his new friend from the aisle towards safety under their chairs.

Outside the numbers have begun to swell. Paddy is a bit overwhelmed. It's his first visit without Rita. "I think I'll just have a little wander around and see if I can find some familiar faces" he says. "Will you be okay Paddy?" I have a sense that I am Paddy's guardian for the day. And away he went, wobbling through the crowd on his twenty year old metal knees.I'd noticed that Paddy had a tendency to sway when stationary. I figured it was like the steering on an old car. There was a fair bit of play in the joints and he was forced to constantly rebalance himself.

I take the opportunity to reconnoitre the displays in the museum. I've taken on the task of organising a family  cabinet in which we'll tell our story. It's a great idea. With challenges. One hundred and thirty years after their arrival and with our original family being a blend of three families  - two mothers, two fathers, only one of each surviving and finally ending up as the family of Lorenzo with ten surviving children and carrying two family names means we have some serious gaps.

An hour later I find Paddy in animated conversation with fellow Richmond Valley locals. He's seated at a heavy wooden table alongside my new found second cousins, one of whom I've never met. In the background a slightly overweight Italian singer in his late forties is channelling Dean Martin and charming the ladies with his versions of 'Volare' and 'O Sol a Mio'. He's dressed in a cobalt blue jacket which, at one point, he casts aside, exposing his broad chest and his luxuriant growth of Sicilian hair - all part of his seduction of the audience. Having exhausted his Italian repertoire he launches into a set of Elvis numbers.

Paddy's in his late 80s and he's been on his feet for five hours now and he's beginning to fade. He's had his obligatory plate of  spaghetti bolognese and a glass of rough red. He's ready to go. As we prepare to exit, my second cousin is in animated conversion with his brother. He's convinced that the photo I've given him of his grandmother is definitely not her. I offer him as much information as I can and then decide to leave him to it. "You'd better take that up with Linda (another cousin in his line who has supplied the photo)" I say as I back away. "Let me know what you all decide."

I'd hoped to complete the family cabinet by the end of the year but with ten descendant lines these small details will become the sticking points.