We are Cape Town centric, but that is purely where we start our journeys … and of course we are from a little mostly unknown town on the other side of South Africa, Umkomaas, Made In Italy.
A couple of thousand Italians arrived there after WW2 and the parents of our non-immigrant peers are probably still recovering from the culture shock …
Italy may have lost WW2 but the English surrendered in Umkomaas: if you cannot beat them join them or try to be a little like them …!
The anecdotes are rich and they have hardly begun to be told!
Here is one below:
Nonna planted whatever grew!
That is what you would do, plant that which is edible and can be consumed.
Roses were for the rich to look at, fruit trees and herbs and vegetables for the real world.
Especially, if you were in a new real world, oceans across from your old real world …
The ships that brought them down here were called the Africa and the Europa, they would steam away slowly from their harbours, broken hearts on board, and waving goodbye from the wharves.
For many, it became more Africa and no longer Europa, never to return, or if they did, not in time to say goodbye.
Boccelli’s famous song, “Time To Say Goodbye” is about this, the fantasy of those in longing for their loved ones, for when it is too late only the fantasy can then be …
Time to say goodbye paesi che non ho mai
Veduto e vissuto con te adesso si li vivro
Con te partiro su navi per mari che, io lo so
No, no, non esistono piu, it’s time to say goodbye
which as a verbatim translation reads as:
Time to say goodbye places that I have never
Seen and lived with you, now I will live them with you
With you I will leave on ships sailing on seas that I know
No longer exist, no, no, it’s time to say goodbye
Can anything be sadder?
Those telegrams would arrive and the Nonni crying silently in their bedroom, trying hard to not alarm us, explained more than any words could the pain of migration …
So growing your vegetable garden, planting herbs, fruit trees … and even coffee trees, where coffee trees had never been planted before, was a distraction in this strange sub tropical land where the winters are pretend-only, and the summers hot and humid …
As I said before the wild bananas sprawl wherever they wish, and you could almost plant a lifeless stick and have it grow!
Paw paws and mangoes and avocadoes … these grew quickly.
Eat an avocado and the next day in the compost heap its core would start growing.
The compost heap was essential, more a pit rather, the way they did it back home in the old real world.
So this avocado tree grew in the pit, and swiftly earned its right to be replanted out of the pit down at the bottom of the garden, coincidentally in the middle of the property.
It grew and grew and grew and so did its fruit – eventually one would have to look up if walking by, in case an avocado fell on your head.
Lemon and sugar would be added to the avocado salad, and I still do not know if it was just her improvisation: Nonna could cook, still can when she feels up to it, and miracles would appear on the kitchen table, panettone that rose up into the sky like an Everest, melanzane to die for, polpette that at school would make the non-immigrant school kids drool at their mouths!
The avocado tree just kept on growing, delivering, knowing we were there waiting in appreciation.
It became a friend, but then all trees are friends, it is just a matter of opening up your hearts and minds to them.
Would you cut a friend down – no, of course not, so the same with trees!
We just let them grow, doing their work, delivering their fruits, and Nonna was their conductor, the vegetables played their violins, the herbs their harps, the sun its cello, the moon its viola, the rain the percussion, the birds and the wind were the choir … and we were the audience …
There are two types of people in this world: those who cut down trees, and those who do not cut down trees.
There is a third type though, a sub type: those who would like to cut down trees but could not do so in the past and might do so in the future.
In a way, the first group, those who cut down trees are open about their intent. You cannot fault them on their sincerity, albeit a sincerity that seems mostly misguided.
Would you remove the smile from the Mona Lisa? No, of course not, so … ?
It is the sub group that is the problem – you do not know them until it is too late.
As time passed, Zio who had been staying with us in the old extended family tradition, went back to the old real world.
It was not the old one he knew, but a new old real world, another story altogether …
So the property that we owned together was subdivided and his part sold.
The first new owner, another from the old real world, was okay, he lived on the cottage in the other half, and all carried on as usual.
Nonna kept on growing vegetables there as well, the coffee trees she had planted delivered the aroma of their bean, and the avocado tree at the bottom of the garden, plumb on the boundary line, dropped its delicious fruit.
One day the new owner sold up and moved on, replaced by yet another new owner, also from the old real world.
There was something about the leaves that fell from the avocado tree that became the inconvenience, plumb as it was on the boundary, shedding equally on either side.
One day we came home and the avocado tree had been cut down, its freshly dead trunk pieces piled on our side.
We knew that it was plumb on the new boundary, the irony of only being half ours, and a silent dignity seemed to be the only logical response to mourning the tragic death of our dear, loyal friend.
Some time passed by and one day the neighbour saw Nonno at the bottom of the garden.
Silvano, he said, my lawyer did say to me that the tree was also half yours, and not only mine.
Nonno nodded, said ‘si, va bene’ (okay …) and accepted the apology: as Pope Francis said, who is he to judge?
After all …
there is a message in the trees
the words of their leaves fall about us
even as they blow away
Copyright © 2015 G. Rigotti