Jerry Buccilli joins us for his fourth guest post with An Italian-Canadian Life. We love his writing, memories and recipes and this is another great addition. Thanks Jerry!
My Dad will be celebrating his 80th birthday this May. He’s had a good, long and colorful life. Sometimes there were dark periods (as when mom passed away) but for the most part no regrets. Since his children began having children of their own we all began calling him “nonno”….even his own children. He’s proud of this reference and often says that his best accomplishment in life was to raise his family.
As with most Italian men of his generation he’s also incredibly proud of his garden. As far back as my memory takes me I remember my father working in the garden during the long summer months. He’d work there so much that we often had lunch outside so he could quickly return to his “work.” There’d always be something to do: a tomato plant to tie so it wouldn’t fall over; zucchini to pick; herbs to cut, trim and hang up; watering, shoveling, cleaning, etc….There was always something.
Sometimes, when the garden was in full bloom and it was having a good year he would whistle or even sing. My mom would be sitting a few feet away near the patio and she’d ask him to sing to her. At first he would hesitate but then he’d begin to belt out some old tune and mom would smile.
Life was good. He was always the happiest in his garden with his wife by his side.
Often I would sit with him in the middle of the garden and we would talk. My father would tell me stories from his youth. Or his days in Venezuela when he and his father and brother travelled across the Atlantic to find work when WWII left Italy in economic upheaval and work were scarce.
A few weeks ago, the sun was bright in the sky and the clouds were moving swiftly past. Walking through a festival, I saw fingers in the crowd pointing upward and I had to squint to see what the commotion was. There, at the top of a very tall pole, a prosciutto was swaying in the breeze. It’s one of the stranger things I’ve seen, but for Guelph, Ontario, it’s a yearly occurrence.
Naturally for Italians, food is often a central part of celebrations. The annual Italian Festival in Guelph takes on two age-old Italian festa traditions featuring food: the Grease Pole Climb and Cheese Rolling. (I would also suggest it has a third – eat as much good food as you can!) Guelph is a perfect place to take in these events. Many Italians settled in this city and it’s said that even the name is a form of the Italian word “Guelfo.” Guelph is also a “sister city” with Provincia di Treviso, Italy.
My mother remembers the grease pole competitions in Italy as a child, happening when there was festas around a Saint’s Day or religious holiday. As the name suggests, competitors attempt to reach the top of a greased pole to win a prize. In Italy, a pole was erected in the town piazza and prizes of various foods were hung from the top. My mom recalls that the pole was not as greasy as the one here in Guelph and the wheel at the top holding the prizes also turned. So, once a competitor got to the top, grabbing a hold of the hanging meat or cheese was difficult.
Everyone needs a little music in their week, so today I have a music video to share! Nothing is better for experiencing Italian culture in Canada than attending the various picnics, festivals and events that happen all summer. Recently, I attended the Ajax-Pickering Italian Social Club picnic which, besides being a gathering of the community, hosted Coro Italia – a local Italian folk singing group. The idle picnic chatter and raucous bocci games were punctuated by this large group of dedicated singers and musicians that sang familiar and traditional songs to om-pah beats and the whine of not one, but two accordions. I admire most the great passion Coro Italia has for keeping these songs alive.
For one special song, a few of the singers became dancers performing traditionally with water jugs on their heads. It’s not a sight that is seen often, and is a great reminder of Italian traditions and culture which followed so many Italians to North America. I talk a lot about food and culture here and song is a big part of Italian life too. Enjoy the sights and sounds of Coro Italia:
A few more pictures from the picnic after the jump…
Today we welcome a guest writer, Cassandra D’Amico-Mazza, who, in honour of Italian Heritage Month, brings us the great story of her family’s celebration of 50 years in Canada. Cassandra D’Amico-Mazza was born and raised in Montreal and is currently a film studies student at Concordia University. An aspiring writer, you can follow her on twitter @CassDM.
As I was perusing twitter late at night, as I often do when sleep evades me, I came across the fact that June is the start of Italian Heritage Month in Ontario. Being from Montreal and a proud hyphenated Canadian-Italian, I immediately grew nostalgic and then envious, as Montreal doesn’t have such a month but a week in August, Semaine Italienne de Montréal, instead. As great and as much fun as the week is, I can only imagine how much fun an entire month must be.
While I was reading up on different events taking place in Ontario (and becoming increasingly jealous!) I realized that I had my own special Italian heritage event that took place in June. This past Sunday, June 2nd, 2013, my father’s side of the family celebrated 50 years in Canada, while my mother’s side is close to celebrating 43 years in Canada. My mother and her immediate family immigrated to Montreal in 1970 from Silvi Marina in Pescara, Abruzzo, while my father, and subsequently his whole family and a good chunk of his village of Cattolica Eraclea in Agrigento Sicily, immigrated to Canada in 1963.
In the past fifty years my family has come to adopt Canada as our own home and native land while maintaining a strong connection to our heritage, roots, and culture. So, as per my Nonno’s wish, a celebration was in order for this milestone.
Happy Italian Heritage Month! (I just love that photo above from the Windsor Star from last year’s celebrations!)
In 2010, the Province of Ontario declared June Italian Heritage Month. Why? Well, Ontario is home to more than 1,350,000 Italian Canadians. Since the 1880s, the Italian Canadian community has made and continues to make significant contributions to the growth and prosperity of the province. Since that declaration, a festa (party) has ensued for all of June across Ontario, but also across the country.
You can visit italianheritagecanada.ca for a listing of events, though there may be even more going on. There are multiple heritage day celebrations and Italian flag raising in cities across Ontario and even out in Vancouver. My favourite month-long event is the “Books and Biscotti” literary reading series. After the jump, I’ve made a list of my top celebrations to head out to in June. If you’re not in Ontario, or not in Canada, celebrate with us here at An Italian-Canadian Life. Try a recipe, share a photo, comment on a blog posting and discuss the many things there is to love about Italians and being Italian.
Today I’m serving up a story about focaccia. One day back in 1992 I was jammed into the back of a tiny car, travelling through Italy, from Amantea in Calabria to Monteleone in Puglia. The trip started off scalding hot, the sun beaming down on the beaches and hills of Amantea. When we emerged on the other side in Monteleone I had to pile on every sweater and pair of pants I owned to keep out the chill. While it hadn’t appeared that we had climbed high, we were in the “hills” and the cold weather had already moved in during our trip.
My lovely relatives in Monteleone, who I was meeting for the first time, offered me two plates of food that I will never forget. They were filling, heart warming, and spectacularly simple but luscious. First was a bowl of pasta rapini (my love for it will never die!) and the second was warm focaccia (I called it pizza) from a local bakery. The crispy on the outside, doughy on the inside, dotted with roasted cherry tomatoes creation was heavenly. Something about it was love at first sight.