Guest Post: Rediscovering Italian family and history in Toronto

 My grandmother with her father and bridesmaids outside of St Francis
My grandmother with her father and bridesmaids outside of St Francis

In honour of Italian Heritage Month, we welcome guest writer Marianne Iannaci, a Ryerson University journalism student who comes from an Italian background and loves everything about her heritage. Having just moved to Toronto a few months ago, she’s rediscovered where her family settled and grew up when they first arrived in Canada and shares her experience with us.

I may not be the most Italian girl out there. I wasn’t born on Sicilian ground- heck, I’m not even Sicilian. My parents didn’t come to Canada as kids and my grandfather didn’t grow up under Mussolini’s rule. I swear in Italian and I call a drying a cloth a mopine, but I couldn’t say more than buongiorno to an Italian who wants to hold a conversation. As a kid, I would sit alongside the men in my family who would discuss the premise of The Godfather or The Sopranos over Sunday dinner and was always told that “when you are old enough, you can watch them.” My Italian heritage was prominent growing up, to the point that I understood the danger of a wooden spoon, but getting older I’ve gotten to know what it really means to be an Italian- Canadian in my family.

My grandmother, Sandra Iannaci, walking up to St. Francis church on her wedding day.

My grandmother, Sandra Iannaci, walking up to St. Francis church on her wedding day.

As a kid who’s only ever lived in the suburbs, I viewed the city of Toronto as an actual “Little (version of) Italy.” My grandparents, aunts and uncles all grew up in the city within two blocks of each other. My grandmother lived on Bellwoods Ave. and my papa, her boyfriend at the time, lived around the corner on Henderson. They would tell stories of how they used to buy roasted red peppers at San Francesco Foods just down the street, and by the age of eight I experienced for myself, the best tasting pizza from Bitondo’s, right across the road. I would hear about mornings at Café Diplomatico on College St. in the 1970’s and by the time the Azzurri won the World Cup in 2006, it was a known fact that it was the only place to watch the game. My papa’s small house on Henderson lived to see me bust through those doors every Easter Sunday more than 15 years ago. It used to hold my entire family and a dining room table full of antipasto. And it wasn’t until my great grandmother passed away that I got to experience the beauty of St. Francis Church; the same church that held my grandparents wedding more than 45 years prior.

Through my journey to become “old enough” I understood why you should “leave the gun and take the cannoli.” I grew up learning how to make grandma’s cannelloni and memorized the Italian national anthem so I could shout it before the Azzurri took the field. I began to love Louis Prima every time my dad would play his CD throughout the house on a Sunday, and just like all of my aunts and cousins, I ALWAYS WORE BLACK. There was never a time when the front closet wasn’t full of black coats when the family came over.

Just eight months ago, I moved to the city of Toronto. I am now 19 years old and living blocks away from where my family first grew up. The most unforgettable memory of my own in this area, came from the first day in my new place. I went to lunch with my father and his sister at Café Diplomatico now, for me, just down the street. Halfway through our meal an older man rose from his table with his companions and came to ours. Before he could say a word, my aunt’s face brightened. The man was a neighbour of my grandmothers’ and happened to know my dad and my aunt as kids. For more than an hour we all talked about the things that happened on that street. And from then on, I knew the bond and compassion that Italian families hold is unlike any other. I left that lunch after giving the man two kisses on the cheek- and I can safely say, I’ve never felt so close to home.

Christmas 1957 in Toronto, with my grandmother, great aunt and great uncle

Christmas 1957 in Toronto, with my grandmother, great aunt and great uncle

By |16/06/2015|Culture, Images|1 Comment

Images from a small Italian town

italy_1

My last trip to Italy was exactly 10 years ago now, a trip I took with my family including my grandfather who has since passed away. We’ve always travelled to Italy in August or September: August is when most Italians have their holidays and by September most of the tourists have returned home as well, leaving the beaches wide open. Hot days and cool nights, and the work of the fall harvest are all part of this time of year and I tried to capture this in memories and photos during our last trip. The photo above, of blazing red hot peppers set out to dry, was the very first photo I took on our trip. My grandfather, reminiscing with folks along our travels, can be seen in the photos as well.

If, like me, you sometimes find yourself dreaming of a trip to Italy – the small town quaintness, the abundance in the local markets, the tiny quiet streets and the history of the ageing buildings filling your mind – then you’ll enjoy these scenes from a small southern Italian town taken as part of my early photography work. They remind me that it’s time to stop my daydreaming about a trip and start my planning.

italy_2

 

italy_3

(more…)

By |21/08/2014|Images|4 Comments

Found: Vintage Italian Postcard – Palermo 1905

Vintage antique Italian postcard Palermo 1905

I seem to find pieces of Italy no matter where I go. This antique postcard from 1905 called to me at vintage paper show at first because I thought it was an image of some sort of cave for hanging prosciutto (see those sacks hanging from the ceiling?). But the description on the bottom and a little more digging found that it’s a photo of something much more special.

The text below the photo reads: Monte Pellegrino, L’Interno della grotto di S. Rosalia

Santa (Saint) Rosalia was a nun in the 12th century that opted for the life of a hermit, living in a cave on Monte Pellegrino in Palermo, Sicily for years before her death around the age of 30.  She lived her whole life praying and devoting herself to God. Admirable as that is, she came to fame centuries later. The story goes that people of Palermo used to have four saints they prayed to, all which failed them miserably during a bout of the plague in the 1600s. Rosalia, who soon became a saint, cured it when she appeared to a citizen of Palermo and requested her bones be found and given a proper Christian burial. Her bones were located high on the mountain in her cave, a formal procession was held and the plague finally lifted. Her grotto (cave) became a place of saintly worship.

Pilgrims now climb Monte Pellegrino to pray and ask for the curing of ailments. The entrance is a Baroque facade, but beyond the doors, you step right into Santa Rosalia’s grotto. Those crazy planks running across the ceiling are a guttering system, capturing the water that drips constantly into the cave and channeling it off and away from pilgrims. Visitors leave gifts of jewellery and precious things, even silver charms that are likenesses of body parts for which they need help.

Pictures of the grotto today are not much different that this postcard from 1905. Whether in a mountainside or here in Canada, the hidden gems of Italy always amaze!

By |21/01/2014|Images|0 Comments

Found: 1906 Vintage Italian Postcard (some things always stay the same…)

Antique vintage Italian postcard Venice Venezia 1906

Some things change and some things always stay the same. Right around when the holidays approach I think of how much has changed in my family over the years and yet how many things, like Italian traditions, stay the same no matter how we progress. From the Christmas Eve seafood feast to planning visits to relatives, the holidays are now in full swing. I’ve already started my Christmas baking with my favourite recipes from when I was young and this year, I have to try out a few of my mom’s tried and true (and difficult) Italian treats.

With food, as with heritage, I’m a fan of pieces of Italy found right here in Canada. Today, it’s this beautiful vintage Italian postcard from 1906, found at a paper show just north of Toronto, that I’m loving and sharing with you. A reproduction of a painting, the postcard depicts Rio Van Axel in Venice as seen in the late 1800s. Those greenish-blue colours are my favourite tones and I love the serenity of the image. How much as Venice changed since 1906? As much as the Italian focus on family, food and tradition has: very little.

Well, you  judge for yourself. Here’s a photo of modern-day Rio Van Axel…

Palazzo Sanudo Soranzo van Axel in Cannaregio on the Fondamenta Sanudo and Rio della Panada, built in 1473-79 (photo)

(look carefully though…might it be that the water is higher? Venice, get those floodgates working!)

By |19/11/2013|Images|0 Comments

Enter Aurora Importing’s contest for World Pasta Day! (I’m a juror!)

World Pasta Day Contest

It’s been a little quiet on the blog lately and I’ll tell you why – I’ve been travelling through Norway, Finland, Russia and a few other countries, getting some new experiences and trying out some new foods (like reindeer and bear!). I have to tell you though that there’s two things I really missed: working on this blog and a good bowl of pasta. Pasta was the first thing that was served up for dinner when we returned and now I’m back to work on the blog!

Now you all know how much I like to take pictures of my food, especially pasta.  (If you didn’t see my previous post on lasagna, check it out). Well now’s your chance to show your photography abilities with your own bowls of pasta and celebrate pasta through World Pasta Day!

I’m a juror for a great contest being run by Aurora Importing & Distributing. It’s super simple and the prize is a great pack of pasta products from Aurora (looks like a whole shopping cart full!). You just upload a photo of a pasta dish you have prepared on Facebook by October 22, get your friends to help vote your photo into the top 5 and us jurors pick the top 3 pics.

If I wasn’t a juror, I would be submitting a photo lickety-split! It doesn’t have to be fancy, just look really tasty – just remember to use your camera or phone to take a pic before you dig in (this is an error I make frequently. I usually remember to take a photo when my dish is almost empty – ooops!). Check out these cellphone pics below from my Instagram account as inspiration and let’s see your photos!

Hurry – contest entries need to be in by October 22 on Facebook!

#pastatuesday dinner – rotini with tomatoes, spinach and fish. Using what we have.

A photo posted by Laura D'Amelio (@italiancdnlife) on

(more…)

By |18/10/2013|Images|1 Comment

Found: Vintage Italian Postcard – Firenze 1916

Vintage antique Italian postcard Florence Firenze 1916

By |17/10/2013|Images|0 Comments

Photos: The topography of lasagna (words unnecessary)

lasagna_7

lasagna_6

lasagna_5

(more…)

By |14/10/2013|Images|1 Comment

Art is life: picking up some modern Italian art

474513_11594901_lz

No heavy reading in this blog post today – it’s all about pretty pictures and modern Italian art as we head into the weekend.

Short of having a picture of the Madonna and a large wooden spoon and fork in my kitchen, I’ve been considering ways to include more artwork and imagery of Italy and “Italianness” into my life and new home. Recently, I stumbled upon a new website that allows me to do just that – access new artwork and turn it into canvases, prints, pillows, iPhone cases, etc. all while giving the rights and proceeds to the artist. I fell in love with a few pieces, including the “Italian Grandmother” canvas above.

Society6, created by a network of artists, gives you access to current and upcoming artists from around the world. I’ve pulled some of my favourite Italian artwork from the site – either the subject matter is Italian or the artist is (or both). Click on the artwork to link to the artist’s page and info for purchasing (should you be so inclined!). You’ll support an upcoming Italian or Canadian artist in the process.

(more…)

By |24/05/2013|Images|2 Comments

Found: Vintage Italian Postcard – Venice 1945

Vintage antique Italian postcard Venice Venezia 1945It’s been a long and busy week. Sometimes the days fly by so quickly, I’m not sure what I’ve actually gotten done and what I’ve missed out on. Did I accomplish anything? It makes me think of this classic quote from an Italian poet:

“I know what I have given you. I do not know what you have received.”
Antonio Porchia, 1886-1968

So in an attempt to reflect on the week, I leave you with this image. This vintage Italian postcard from 1945 is one is a long series of “popolana veneziana”, that is images of the populous or commoners of Venice. I love the colour of the scarf and her uncontrollable hair.

 

By |08/03/2013|Images|4 Comments

Vintage Italian-Canadian photos – part 3!

Vintage Italian-Canadian photos from the SFU archives

Italian General Store

For my 100th post, a look at the past. From Simon Fraser University, a collection of vintage Italian-Canadian photos. These show life as an early Italian immigrant to Canada. If you missed the two previous posts with more of these photos, check out Part 1 and Part 2.

Vintage Italian-Canadian photos from the SFU archives

Lawn Bowling (Bocce) Club

(more…)

By |03/01/2013|Images|1 Comment