Archive for August, 2014

Poverty In Sicily – Part 5

“My little girl of five kept wanting to go somewhere.  ‘I couldn’t cry when Baby died, Mama – I had such a pain I thought I was going to die, too,’ she whimpered. ‘It hurts me – my tummy started to hurt me after I’d drunk some of his medicine -‘ As soon as she said that, my eldest son smashed the glass into which I’d poured a drop of the syrup into pieces, and I snatched up my little girl and ran to another chemist who had a shop near the fishmarket. ‘Please – she took some cough syrup and it’s made her ill – do something for her quick,’ I panted, and he looked at her and led me into a room at the back. I was sure she was dying. He examined her and felt her tummy and gave her some medicine. ‘Are you the mother of the little boy who was poisoned?’ he asked. ‘Poisoned?’ I said. I didn’t understand. It seemed that the man who’d made up the syrup for Baby was a beginner who didn’t know his job – he’d mixed into it some stuff that came out of a bottle of poison.

The chemist gave me a purge for my little girl to clear everything out of her tummy. ‘I’ll take it, Mama,’ she said to me, ‘then I’ll get better, won’t I? ‘Yes, darling,’ I said. I wouldn’t let her have anything to eat for the next few days, I kept her on milk.

At the end of the week, a man came to see my husband. ‘Friend, Peppino,’ he said, ‘I won’t waste words – I’ll only say that this is a dreadful business. But keep quiet about it: if you start speechifying – well, you’re poor and they’re rich, so what can you do? What could you gain, friend, by making a fuss? If you have your little one’s body dug up, you’ll have to pay for it – all the expense’ll fall on you. Don’t think you can show them up – they’re rich, I tell you, they’ll get the best of it. Take Mr advice, leave things alone….”

And there ends Nonna Nedda’s mind boggling interview. There’s so much in it, it’s hard to know where to start.

The beatings?
The stone licking?
The mother’s death?
The baby’s poisoning?
The fact that this all only happened 60 years ago? And in Europe?

Mind boggling.

Poverty In Sicily – Part 4

Interview with Nonna Nedda continued.

“I’ve had many sorrows in my life – five little ones, the Lord took from me. One of them was three when he died; I was still giving him the breast. My married son who lives here – I suckled him till he was past four – as long as I had milk, I thought it was right to feed him, and I didn’t want to wean him. But I was telling you about my three year old. One day, he was playing horses with another little one who had the whooping cough; he put the reins in his mouth and he caught the whooping cough too. He was such a pretty little fellow, so delicately made he was, and with a head of golden curls – he took after my husband’s side of the family, his sister was fair – my grandson Fiffidd has a look of him. Everyone who saw him said how lovely he was – his name was Carmeluzzu.

Well, he cough-cough-coughed, poor little chap – he wasn’t strong and I was frightened he might die. So I went to the chemist, and said: ‘My little boy of three’s got whooping cough – I want some syrup for him to bring up the phlegm.’ He made up a mixture and told me to give him a spoonful three times a day. I took Carmeluzzu into my arms. ‘Here’s something to take away that may cough, darling,’ I said, but he wouldn’t touch it. Then I pretended to drink it. ‘See, Mama’s drinking it – Baby have it,’ I said, and at lay I coaxed him into swallowing a spoonful. But not long after, he began to scream and cry and rub his poor little tummy. ‘What is out, darling?’ I said – I couldn’t think what was the matter with him. ‘Go  ‘way, go ‘way, bloody old pain!’ he sobbed – it hurt him so much he couldn’t help saying a bad word. ‘Great Big Four burning me up inside – go’way, go ‘way!’ he screamed. I thought maybe he was making a fuss add children do if they have to take medicine, but all day long, he never stopped twisting about and crying.

My little girl of five drank some of the syrup – it tasted sweet and little ones love anything sweet. She, too, began to cry and say her tummy was hurting her. By the evening Carmeluzzu was worn out. Every time he cried in the night, I have him the breast to try and soothe him. The next day, he was worse – he turned his little head away and wouldn’t stuck any more. When it was night, and I took him to bed with me, he closed his eyes, and I was so tired, I soon fell asleep. Early in the morning, the young signorina who paid me to walk with her to the Convent where she took lessons in sewing and cooking, knocked at the door. ‘Are you ready, Donna Nedda?’ she asked. ‘I can’t leave my little bit, Signorina,’ I said. ‘He’s dreadfully ill, I’m afraid he’s dying.’ She came in, crossed to the bed, looked at him and busy out crying. I went a short way with her, then I went back and took Carmeluzzu in my arms. I couldn’t make him take the nipple, so I put a drop of the syrup into a glass of water, poured out a spoonful, tilted back his head, and tried to get him to swallow it so that it would freshen his poor little mouth. But he couldn’t swallow it – he was dead. His little busy was still warm, but he was dead.”

Poverty In Sicily – Part 3

Interview with Nonna Nedda continued.

“If a man falls ill, his wife prays to Our Lady and implores her to cure him. She makes many vows to the Madonna. Sometimes, a wife will say: ‘Santa Maria, leave me my husband – take one of my sons in his place.’ Then she makes a solemn promise: ‘Blessed Lady,’ she says, ‘if you’ll make my husband well, I’ll go down on my knees and lick all the stones right from the church door to your altar.’

If Our Lady cures her husband, she carries out her vow on the following Sunday. She walks to church barefooted, and when she kneels down and begins to lick the stones, the people say: ‘Make room for her – she’s come to church to thank the Madonna,’ and they weep as they watch her.  My daughter-in-law licked the stones when Our Lady cured my son.

This is what you do. You kneel down outside the church, and start licking the stones which are covered with dust and mud and filth. When you’re inside the church, you crawl forward on your knees, licking each stone as you go. The church is always crowded – people move from place to place and spit, and the little ones do pi-pi.  When your mouth’s so sore that you have to stop for a bit, you raise your head and say, ‘Blessed Mother, I thank you’ and then you crawl on, licking and licking. Then, when you’re almost at the altar, you get up, hold out your hands to Our Lady and thank her with all your heart.  You raise your voice so that everyone will hear you, and you praise her for the grace she’s shown you. As you praise her, the tears stream down your face, and all the people, men as well as women, young and well as old, weep too. When you’ve finished thanking the Madonna, you wet your handkerchief, and wipe your tongue which is cracked and sore and bleeding and you dry your eyes.

It’s not only here that women lick the stones – they do it at Romitello and Tagliavia, too. We made other vows to the Madonna when I was young – this one didn’t become the custom till five years ago.”

Poverty In Sicily – Part 2

Interview with Nonna Nedda, continued on from Part 1.

“A wife who wants to keep her husband happy and contented must stay at home, keep everything neat and clean, cook his meals, wash and mend his clothes, never deny him his rights, and never so much as look at man. He’s the master of the house, and her master too. Everything belongs to him except the dowry linen. A husband has to be firm with his wife, he has to keep her on a tight rein; if he didn’t, she might end up badly. We women know what treatment to expect when we marry. How do husbands treat their wives in other countries? How do they treat their wives in America? How do they treat them in Russia? Russians – they’re the ones with dark red faces, aren’t they? I’ve heard, too, about some people called the French…

My mother died when I was a baby at the breast. My sisters tools me how she died. One day, her head was very bad – she’d been baking, and the heat had made it bad – so she put a cushion on a wooden settle, and lay down. My father came in a bit merry. ‘Stir yourself, Rosalia,’ he said, ‘I want my bed made up.’ ‘My head’s so bad I can’t move – ask one of the girls to make it up for you,’ said Mother. So Father told my sister Rosaria to fetch the mattress. ‘I won’t!’ she said, ‘you’ve drunk up all our money!’ She was cross because she was hungry and he hadn’t brought us back anything to eat. (It didn’t happen often though, he was a good father to us.)

Well, Father turned to Mother. ‘You’ll have to make up my bed as Rosaria won’t,’ he said. ‘I can’t,’ said Mother, ‘I can’t raise my head.’ Then Father lost his temper; he didn’t mean to hit her hats, but he was a blacksmith and didn’t know his own strength – he gave her such a clout on her poor head that her teeth became wedged together. He rushed and fetched my godfather who was a barber and doctored people and he tried to force her mouth open with a spoon, but it was too late – she was dead.”

Poverty In Sicily – Part 1

I’m reading this book called Poverty In Sicily by Danilo Dolci, a sociologist from Northern Italy. It was written in 1956. The following is an interview with Nonna Nedda. I’ll let it speak for itself.

“Well, of course, a husband’s got the right to beat his wife. If she’s given him cause to beat her, of course he has the right. Say she starts arguing with him, back-answering him – he won’t put up with it, and no wonder, so he beats her. Has a wife got the right to raise her hand against her husband? For sure, she hasn’t!”

Can I just add at this point that this is a woman speaking.

“If we hear of a woman doing such a thing, we’re disgusted – ‘Dragged up, that’s what she was,’ we say. But if a husband’s got reason to beat his wife, we take his side, not hers. ‘Don’t tell us he beat you for nothing!’ we say to her. ” We know a thing or two about you!’ and then she’s properly ashamed. The sort of woman who’s no better than she should be, is always raising her hand to her husband. ‘Nice goings-on!’ we say to her, ‘shows how you’ve been brought up!’ We’ve got a name for a woman like that who doesn’t tend to her home and runs about with other men – a mare, we call her, a mare that’s always got someone on her back! When her husband’s giving her a beating, she’ll screech: ‘Seems I only please you when you’re on top of me!’ and that’s why we call her a mare.

All wives get beaten from time to time, but it’s only the mares that go to the police and complain. I ask you: Is it right for a woman to speak badly of her husband just because he gives her a thrashing? A decent woman wouldn’t think of doing such a thing – she’d never say a word against her husband. Take my granddaughter, Sariddu, for instance; her husband had thrashed her so hard she couldn’t get up from the floor and her face was all bruised. ‘Whatever have you done? How did you get that black eye?’ I asked her.  ‘I fell down the stairs, Nonna,’ she said. ‘Oh dear, dear, dear, and you expecting!’ I said.  ‘It’s all right, Granny,’ she said, ‘the baby hasn’t come to any harm – I can feel it moving. ‘ A well-brought up girl like Sariddu wouldn’t tell her own mother her husband had hit her. Once, my husband gave me such a beating that he broke one of my ribs – it hurt so much that I had to go down on my knees to make the bed. When people asked me what was wrong with me, I said: ‘Nothing, my head aches, that’s all. ‘ I never told a soul what my husband had done to me.

When a woman spends all her time gossiping, we’ve no use for her, I can tell you.

‘She hasn’t got a good word for anybody – she’s always saying things behind people’s backs. It’s a good thing her husband beats her – pity he doesn’t do it oftener, though!'”