You need to have read the blog before this where I set the scene of the Italian community in South Wales. I am now going to recount the role they have played in shaping my life. Due to my own Irish ethnic heritage I went to the local Catholic school with many of the children of these Italian families and for some strange reason, that I really don’t understand to this day, many of my best school friends were from the Italian community. Another friend of mine, who was also a contemporary, @FarSouthProject has suggested that they brought a touch of Mediterranean colour to an otherwise monochrome valley’s life in the drab 1970s. Not too sure about that myself and I don’t think it was something I consciously thought about much. The Italians were sort of cool in school in as much as they all smoked and also, particularly as I hit my teens the dusky attractiveness of the Italian women did not escape my notice but they were part of the everyday landscape and I had grown up with them so in many ways I didn’t see them in anyway as "foreign", they were just my mates Fausto, Luigi or Mario.
Looking back on our lives sometimes I think we impose an order to try and make sense of it as some sort of coherent story when in fact the reality is a much more cluttered mess of serendipity and happenchance. While reflecting on my own history I identify one particular pivotal moment when I was about 16 which I don’t know if it is a construction of my own need to make this order but is central to this narrative I have constructed of my life. I can remember the event as clearly as if it were yesterday when one of my Italian friends said to me in the playground of our school” What are you doing over the summer holidays?” I was on the verge of leaving school and replied I didn’t have any particular plans just probably bum about. He suggested that we make our way across Europe and go and work on his grandmother’s farm in Italy. I had never been abroad before or much out of South Wales and I could just as easily have said no but I said yes and embarked on this journey to Italy with two of my Italian friends.
As recounted in my previous blog the place that I traveled to was Bardi high up in the mountains of the Italian hinterland and many an adventure was had along the way but that may be in another blog.That trip was an education to me, I had never really drank wine or even coffee before and by the time I returned I was prodigious consumer of both. More than that I did fall in love with Italy on that trip, not just the countryside or the people but the culture, the way of life, a different way of doing things and perspective that very much appealed to me and also it showed me that my friends were in fact “foreign” as they had access to this other world.
To bring this story to some sort of conclusion, (although I hope I have a few more years left in me yet) I continued to visit Italy with my Italian friends in following years and unsurprisingly I was eventually lucky enough to marry a girl from one of these Italian families as well and we had our honeymoon in Bardi. I continue my love affair with Italy and I can’t see it ending anytime soon. My children have Italian names and I have ravioli and pannettone rather than turkey and pudding for my Christmas dinner.
The French social theorist Pierre Bourdieu uses the concept of bricolage, which is the French word for DIY, to explain how he feels people don’t only just have culture thrust on them but rather construct it themselves from what they have around them. I think that is what I have done with my relationship with Italy and Italians, OK I'm not Italian by birth but I have happily taken on aspects of those Welsh Italians that I grew up with and made it my own and long may it continue.