An Australian Perspective of Calabria
by Roy Fazzalari
A set of observations of a Calabrese-Australian about the state of Calabria today.
I have visited Calabria many times, am fortunate to speak the dialect and still have many relatives there. As a result of my travels I have shared much discussion with the people about the problems in the South.
What have I learnt from my visits?
That from the moment I arrived I immediately felt at home and that I should have made my first visit years sooner.
That I was moved to walk the same streets where my parents grew up. To see the very houses where they were born was even more moving.
That I was fascinated by the fact that everybody in this village, so far from where I was born, spoke the same dialect as me!! Incredible!!!
That speaking the village dialect is a great asset. How fascinated they were to find someone from afar speak their dialect. Many old and unused words at that.
That the old villages are full of beauty and charm. The landscape is rugged and beautiful. The history of the region is fascinating: Pythagoras, Milo, Hannibal, Magna Graecia, etc.
That the further inland the villages are, the more traditional the people are.
That my parent’s new village on the coast is disappointingly less traditional than we are in Australia today - of old Calabrian values. In fact they often comment that we Australians are old fashioned. For mine, I think that they have far too readily abandoned many basic values in their attempt to appear to be modern.
That more women than men in the village smoke is not a sign of being modern but merely indicates their inability to handle their relatively recently found affluence.
That many of the archaeological sites (castles / churches) are in disrepair. Either due to neglect or due to the many earthquakes over time. Often also due to misappropriated government funds granted for restoration.
That the world is made up of more than just Australia.... We can be so insular and provincial.
That unless you are accompanied by a relative, the people can be a little guarded at first. And how welcoming they became when they realise that they know your family.
That Calabria is as safe as any other place I have visited. Much safer than Naples! My friend who had his Rolex watch stolen in Naples will vouch for that!
That one should keep a low profile. Do not attract unnecessary attention. Not too loud.... Not too flashy...No bragging...And you will come to no harm.
That success stories of Italians back home can be very off-putting to them.
That they are definitely not fools...Far from it.
That many of them are very frugal out of sheer necessity.
That they are opportunists. Many of them will "catch as catch can."
That with some of the younger ones there appears to be an underlying attitude that our parents were in someway, traitors to the family and the village for having left the motherland when times were tough. “And now you come back and flaunt your riches, whilst we must continue our struggle.”
That there is a great social injustice in the South of Italy and it appears to be deliberate.
That it suits the North to maintain the status quo and there are many vested interests resisting change.
That the government is fair game. All the time..."Everybody else does it. Why shouldn't I"
That most secure paid jobs are in the public service, where nothing is produced.
That too many people get up in the morning and have no job to go to. There are no factories. Little is produced. What little workable rural land there is, is not worked because it is just not worth the effort. The land is too rugged, too rocky. And often it is up and down the side of a mountain. It is difficult to work land if it is on a 45-degree angle!
That if one is fortunate enough to find work in the private sector, it is not uncommon for the payment of wages to be weeks in arrears. This “employer” behaviour is directly related to the weak and fragile economy of the South. Often the employer, who is not very strong financially, will take advantage of the weak.
That in the absence of reasonable opportunity to find gainful employment, the only way to survive is to "manipulate the system."
That most Calabrians know how to work the welfare system and that those who administer the system have a splendid life maintaining it. Well paid jobs for life...In the Public Service!!
That I cannot understand how or why the people continue to tolerate second-rate services from government departments or from any service provider for that matter and why they must continue to tolerate the lack of adequate basic infrastructure.
That many towns along the Ionian (Jasmine) coast continue to tolerate the inadequate state highway-SS106, which winds it’s way through the narrow main street of many towns and has one of Italy’s highest road accident fatality rates. Many times I have witnessed people literally having to step back into their homes to allow large vehicles to pass. Construction on a new highway, that will bypass town-centres along the Jasmine Coast ceased just north of Rocella Ionica many years ago. Why? No one seems to know. When will the work recommence? No one seems to know.
That the infamous A3 Auto Strada del Sol on the West Coast is a joke… For years under constant repair, most always, one lane is closed somewhere along the way, causing frustrating delays. Often it would be quicker to traverse the peninsular and travel the dreaded SS106. Why should they tolerate this constant inconvenience? They just wouldn’t in the North. And it is experiences like the A3 for a Northerner, which perpetuates a third world reputation. Yet, is not the Auto Strada the responsibility of the Central Government?
That most families know that the only hope for a good future is in education. Which means that for those seeking an education, they have no choice but to leave home. And I have witnessed in Calabria, the trauma which separation creates for parents and children. For the Calabresi, a daughter leaving home is a distressing and difficult dilemma. Furthermore, the parents fear that the child will probably be gone forever because, upon graduation, there are just not enough jobs in the South. How proud many families are initially to have a doctor in the family. Then the reality is, many years without a job and eventually if there is one, it will be far from home.
That my cousin’s daughter, who flew from Reggio to Florence via Rome to enrol in the University, was turned away because she arrived fifteen minutes after the cut off time. She was late because the flight from Rome was delayed. No excuse. Come back next year! No compassion in the North. No understanding.
That most people have very little respect for the clergy. Often for good reason. And yet religion is very much part of village life.
That, if well managed, tourism has a promising future in Calabria.
All these problems and much more. Yet most Calabrians are reasonably content with their lot. As they say…Tir’ e Campà
Today, in spite of all the difficulties, most have decent houses, with all the modern conveniences, ie TV, Computers etc.
And yes, contrary to the overly stereotypical and grossly inaccurate portrayal of Calabria that many would have the world believe, most homes do have electricity and running water.