Over the Next Hill
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by Nadir Martello
Description: I am well aware that what is written in this book is not everybody's cup of tea. This doesn't worry me. My first concern is to tell my children who their Dad is. This means telling them the facts of life, my life, in the way I see it and live it--life with its ups and downs--since 1966 especially, seen and understood for what it is under the light of the Gospel. Is it a failure? It is not up to me, nor anybody else, to judge. God is the ultimate Judge. I am not writing for money, or glory, or to try to justify myself. I am writing in order to leave a legacy with this message: " I am what I am--for what it's worth--not because of me, but because of Jesus Christ to whom I committed myself, totally and unconditionally, and whom I love above everything else, even my own life
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net/ebooksonthe.net, 2006 ebook
eBookwise Release Date: December 2007
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Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [379 KB]
Reading time: 260-364 min.
I am well aware that what is written in this book is not everybody's cup of tea. This doesn't worry me.
My first concern is to tell my children who their Dad is. This means telling them the facts of life, my life, in the way I see it and live it--life with its ups and downs--since 1966 especially, seen and understood for what it is under the light of the Gospel.
Is it a failure? It is not up to me, nor anybody else, to judge. God is the ultimate Judge. I am not writing for money, or glory, or to try to justify myself.
I am writing in order to leave a legacy with this message: "I am what I am--for what it's worth--not because of me, but because of Jesus Christ to whom I committed myself, totally and unconditionally, and whom I love above everything else, even my own life." * * * *
My Sweet Adria
The region I came from in the northeast of Italy is called Veneto. The town where I was born, Adria, had in those days, (1940--1950), a population of approximately 28,000 people. Adria is a very ancient city--older than Roma itself, I was told. But I'm not quite sure of that, since there's no reliable documentation about the foundation date of either the former or the latter. I know for sure, however, that underneath the town of Adria are the remains of 3 earlier towns.
Actually, if you ever go to the Cathedral in Adria, you will see for yourself. At the Baptismal-font Chapel, to the West side of the Cathedral, there on the floor is a sort of trapdoor open all the time through which you can descend. The steps are very old and unkempt. From there at times you could see the water below. I read somewhere that Hadrian, the Roman Emperor, gave the name to the city and the Adriatic Sea, in which case it must have had a previous name.
Nevertheless, in other books it is written that Adria had been founded by the Etruscans in the VI--IV Century BC and had been a very active seaport for centuries.
In our days the Adriatic Sea is about thirty kilometers from Adria. The thirty kilometers of land, which before was sea, is the product of debris carried by the Po River over the centuries. Adria is part of what is called 'Val Padana', named after the Po River. This valley is very flat and for kilometers you can see no mountains or hills around Adria.
People here grow mainly beet root, wheat, maize corn, tobacco, grapes and several other fruit trees.
The city of Adria has a main street called 'Via del Popolo', which is the shopping centre of the town, but people, specifically the youth, used to stroll in the late afternoon--under the indulgent eye of the adults--gazing at each other. The same thing happened along the 'Viale della Stazione'--but only in summer.
Adria is not a big town really; as a matter of fact it takes you little more than half an hour to cross it on foot from 'Canal Bianco' bridge to the train station.
The buildings were--when I left it in 1955--pretty old; the newest would have been between 20 and 60 years old. All the others were well over one hundred years old, and more, much more. The buildings were not very high, like you would see in a big city, but only an average of two stories.
Our home, my mother's father's house, was a three-storey house at Via Terranova 26. It was located between the Canal Bianco and 'Caserma dei Carabinieri' (the carabinieri barracks.)
The Canal Bianco crosses through the town from west to east. I used to see many fishing and cargo boats on the waters of Canal Bianco in my childhood. I recall when I was little; I used to stop at the bridge, or along the railings near the water, to watch people working. They unloaded their cargo from their boats, while other people, here and there, spent their time fishing leisurely in the canal. In summer, there were always a group or two of boys diving and swimming. I can't say that the water was always clean--on the contrary, it was rather dirty.
My Family--The Dalla Deas
My mother's family had been living in via Terranova since the beginning of the century. My great grandfather had something to do with horses in those days; I think he was a shoemaker by trade. My grandfather, Giuseppe Dalla Dea, people used to call 'Bepe', as is the way to abbreviate the name in Italy. He started a new business on his own as pastry cook when he was still quite young. His brother, Sante, and his family, ran another patisserie a few doors from my grandfather's pastry shop.
Nonno Giuseppe and Zio Sante had been in competition all their life, without ever saying hello to one other.
The patisserie sold a variety of goods like toys, dolls, lollies, chocolates, confetti for weddings, licorice, biscuits and, of course, cookies and cakes. The shop was at the front of the ground floor of the house. The workshop was in another building at the rear of the house. A yard divided the shop from the workshop. Working there were three or four employees, including my Uncle Nino.
My uncle had done a lot of the work there ever since he was little more than a child. I say this because my grandfather Bepe stopped working early in his life. He was in his forties when he gave up manual work. At home he did nothing but count money. My grandfather's great occupation consisted of collecting money from the cash register, taking it into the dining room, putting it on the table and counting it every morning. He used to sort out all the money--the paper notes from the coins: the two kinds went into two different suitcases. The coins were piled in groups of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 lire, then divided into groups of ten coins each, and wrapped up one by one with paper very tightly. When all this was finished, Grandfather took the paper money and put it in the safe, upstairs in his bedroom. The safe itself was inside the closet.
It has always intrigued me--that safe--and I wondered what it contained. I tried a few times to open it, though without success. The coins wrapped up in rolls in the other suitcase he took to the bank to be changed into notes to be brought home again.
Sometimes, in the late afternoon, Grandfather used to go to the inn, not far from home. He didn't stay there very long, though sometimes long enough to get drunk. When that happened it was bad, because the drink made him a violent person. More than once my grandmother had to suffer physically from that sort of behavior. Once sober, however, my grandfather was not too bad. He was a taciturn man and rarely smiled at anybody.
He didn't show much feeling, but expressed anger and resentment when things didn't go his way. He wasn't a religious person at all. He hated the priests and the church--he and Nonna didn't get married in church, but in a civil ceremony.
He didn't have many friends. I recall only one--'Belanda' (which means nice-gait or nice-step). Belanda used to come to visit Grandfather occasionally. Grandfather Bepe was an honest, upright man and he owed nothing to anyone. What I've said about Nonno Bepe is not enough to do him justice, for his personality played a big part in my childhood.
He was quite fond of me when I was a child and he used to take me in bed with him often. It was nice sleeping with him in that huge bed of his. I had a struggle to climb into that bed because it was too high for my short legs. It was an iron bed with a double mattress.
Nonno Bepe used to tell me stories in bed, usually in winter time. One of those stories was about 'Pierino'--though I can't remember now what it was about--except for "...beans all over the place", as the story went. Sometimes it happened that I wet the bed, and of course Nonno Bepe became furious. Nevertheless, he loved me, wet or not...
In summer, I recall, we used to have a rest in the afternoon, and Nonno Bepe gave me money to buy a beer for the two of us. It was delicious drinking beer in bed with him while outside, sometimes, the temperature reached 40--45 degrees C.
Nonno Bepe was an utterly old fashioned person, more nineteenth century than twentieth. He always dressed in suits of beige or brown with a waistcoat, with a pocket watch hung there all the time from a little chain attached to the vest hole. He wore boots--of the same color--high to his ankles. It was rare to see him without a beige or brown cap which he wore even inside the house. In winter he wore a sash and a big woolen cloak.
My first newspaper I got from him, called 'Il Corriere dei Piccoli'--'The Children's Messenger'. This magazine was full of pictures and I liked it very much.
Getting back to Nonno Bepe's love for money and possessions; just before the war he took all the best of our belongings upstairs into one small room. They were mostly blankets, sheets, clothes and things of certain value. Then he called in a bricklayer and made him seal the windows and the door. Because the Germans were on their way to Adria--in 1944--he feared very much that his belongings were going to be taken away from him. Then, to complete the job, he took all of his money, and buried it in the courtyard. However, most of his money was made up of coins that were of little value after the war.
Nonna Maria too was a taciturn type of woman, but a hard and conscientious worker. She did almost all the housework, such as cooking, laundry and shopkeeping by herself, while my mother made the beds and swept the upstairs rooms. Both Nonno and Nonna used to awake early. Both in summer and winter, they were already up at dawn, to attend their respective daily tasks.
My Uncle Nino, my mother's only brother, was two years younger than her. He too was a taciturn man. He didn't say much, but spent his time doing work, work, work all his life, till he retired at 72.
My mother, Caterina, was the firstborn of Giuseppe and Maria Dalla Dea in via Terranova, Adria, in 1912, but she was always called Rina.
I was going to say that my mother too was a taciturn person, but I thought better of it. Although she wasn't a talkative woman she had the strange habit of talking loudly to herself, often.
This might sound odd, but it was not because she was a 'little mad'; it was merely a way to express herself, her feelings, and her emotional state of mind.
Mamma grew up under stern discipline at home: an umbrella of specific duties and a strict morality that has been the only support and cover for her since she was a child. She never knew any sort of social life in her youth and the poor education she got at home didn't help either. She never went as far as the Canal Bianco Bridge till she was married to my father. Both mamma and her brother had little education.
They left school after only three or four years of schooling. In those days it was more important, in our family anyway, to fulfil your duties at home, rather than to get a good education outside, among more educated people.
"Once you know how to write your name and to count, that is quite enough.' they used to say.
Mother married my father at twenty-four, in 1936. Two years later my sister, Mirella, was born. August fifth, 1940--at the beginning of the Second World War--I was born. I was told that my father came home from Albania for my birth.
He wasn't very happy to be the father of a boy ... nevertheless, he gave me the name Nadir for the sake a friend who had a son by the same name. He liked it, though I doubt he knew the meaning. In the astrological sense, Nadir means midnight, while its opposite is zenith.
I was baptized at the Cathedral in Adria. The parish priest--Don Palanca (Sir Money)--refused to baptize me by under the chosen name, saying it wasn't Christian. And when, thirty nine years later, I went to get my baptism certificate in order to get married, I found not my own name but two new ones: Giuseppe Paolo. The name Nadir had been obliterated. I was furious then, and later I started to think that if somebody tried to find me he would have to look hard and go anywhere but the Church.
My Godfather was my father's Zia Carolina's husband, whom I never got to know. His surname was Gambatto.
The war lasted five years; and I remember only a few random things, like flashes or snapshots in that period of time. I remember vaguely--I was maybe three or four--I was ill in a place called 'Riviera'. St. Remo was the town, I think. Zio Antenore was with us. A blurred picture comes to my memory and I see myself playing with Zio Antenore in the street ... I faint and fall on the pavement...
Again, during the war, I recall when German soldiers came into our home in Adria; they took over the place and ran the workshop, not for business but in order to feed their Army. They were still strong in the North of Italy.
Zio Nino didn't go to the front line when the hostilities began in 1940, because of his flat feet. But then in 1943, if I recall correctly, the fascists came to the house, took him away with them and sent him to a concentration camp in Germany. I never forgot that day, because Nonna, seeing her only son carried away in that fashion, became hysterical.
Such was her distress that I thought she would die on the spot. On another occasion, I saw my Nonna in the same state of mind, when the fascists came to the house again and threatened to take our wireless.
There in Germany Zio Nino worked every day in miserable conditions with little, and sometimes, nothing to eat. When he came back home in 1945, I didn't recognize him since his appearance was so terrible and so different from what I remembered of him. The skin of his face was green and he looked like a corpse standing in front of me. It took him many months to recover, but to me, he has never been the same.
Another flash of memory is one morning, when I was four years old, I went into the dining room where German officers were gathered around the table. Without saying anything I went over and turned the radio on. It was a mistake. The captain, or whatever rank he was, turned himself to face me and slapped my face, shouting at me in German. Of course I didn't understand a word. However, that was enough for me to flee. Once out, I thought, I had just escaped from a cage of beasts. Oh, God! I was so upset.
Almost every night we could see, not just hear, English aeroplanes coming and going over our house with their terrible roar, looking for some German target to strike. It was then that Nonna used to take us, my sister and I, to a corner of the dining room and shield us both with her big body--Nonna had been always a fat woman, well over a hundred kilograms.
Always, during the war, I recall picking up from the ground, cigarette butts dropped by German soldiers.
Several months after Zio Nino came back home, Father came home too. Mother used to talk to me about my father, but I always wondered what it would be like to see his face for myself one day. If it weren't for a photograph of him standing on the wardrobe in our bedroom, I would have had no idea of what my father looked like, since he left us after my birth.
One night--about eight o'clock, I think--I heard the front door bell ring. I went to the door and opened it. There he was, standing in front of me. I looked at him, but I didn't know what to say or what to do. Then Mamma came to the front door. In the meantime, Father, with his beautiful smile, lifted me and embraced me. It was like the sun had entered into the house for the first time in my life. I was so happy I couldn't say anything. I thought he looked fine and beautiful. Father spent many days in bed after that night. He was sick but I never understood what sort of sickness it was that affected him. Once well again, he stayed with us only for a short time. Father spent a lot of time looking for work near and far from home. Work was very hard to get after the war. The whole country was in a mess in those days and if it wasn't for American aid, Italy would be still on her knees.
Maybe once or twice a month, Father would come home, but he never stayed long enough for us to enjoy him or get to know him. I recall that I mistakenly called him Zio because I was more used to Zio Nino than to him!
My father's family lived in Rovigo, 21 kilometers from Adria. Unlike Adria, Rovigo is a provincial city. That means all the red tape and political decisions were taken there. On the other hand, Adria had the Bishopric, yet the Bishop himself was never there, except for Christmas, Easter and special occasions. The Bishopric seemed a 'sede vacante' (vacant chair) to me as a child. Big rivalry existed between Adria and Rovigo, although that didn't bother me much, for of course, my love was for Adria.