Flash Fiction at Accenti Festival Considers Italy in the World – Part II

Accenti Magazine International Festival of the Arts (UNICAL 2023) ©Accenti Photo Archive

The inaugural Accenti Magazine International Festival of the Arts, held at the University of Calabria in June/July 2023, asked participants to answer a question: What does being Italian mean in the world today? For my short talk at the festival, I explained how these three things – customs, values and family – make for very nice prompts to generate flash fiction, a form I’ve published in over the years. As you’re about to read, the Accenti festival prompted writers to think about our Italian values (inventing new uses for old things); our customs (churchgoing that cements social ties); and, of course, our families (sleeping with the covers over your head isn’t so inexplicable after all).

Click here to read Part I


© Accenti Photo Archive

Tutto fa brodo
by Anna Romano Milne

Sea creatures are dying because of plastic straws in our oceans. Fossil fuels are contributing to global warming. Food waste is a major problem in affluent countries like Canada and the United States. Air pollution from recent forest fires has prompted many to once again pull out their COVID-19 face masks.

I can’t help but think that these environmental evils could have been avoided if the world had adopted the Italian-Canadian version of the “reduce, reuse and recycle” mantra. The Italian expression tutto fa brodo, “everything makes soup,” reminds us that in addition to recycling, we can easily reduce and reuse.

In her book, Troubling Love, Elena Ferrante captures this approach in her description of the fictional character Amalia: “My mother belonged to a fading culture that could not conceive of waste. She wouldn’t throw away stale bread; she used the rind of cheese, putting it in the soup to flavour it. At the butcher’s she asked for scrap bones to make brodo, and then sucked on them as if they contained a miraculous substance.”

My own mother continues to have an incredible ability to be creative with whatever ingredients are on hand to make a healthy meal. This philosophy extends far beyond the kitchen for many Italians. How many times have we seen old hockey sticks re-purposed as stakes for tomato plants in the garden? Have some old pipes or rebar lying around? Let’s make a pergola to support the grape vines in the backyard. Who needs to use a plastic straw when a pasta zitoni is perfectly biodegradable?

Poor working conditions and slave labour in foreign factories are making clothes for retail chains? Not an issue when most of my clothes growing up were made at my mother’s Singer sewing machine. Dryer using too much electricity? What dryer? Everything is meticulously hung on the clothesline outside. I can still smell the fresh scent of my crispy cotton sheets. And during winter months, my mother used the clothesline installed in our basement.

My nonna and nonno arrived in Canada in their mid-50s and never learned to drive. They walked or took the bus to get to where they needed to go. I am not sure what they would have thought of the current demand for electric cars to reduce our carbon footprint. They certainly would have been horrified at today’s gasoline prices!

I also remember my dear friend Angela showing up at school with her lunch in the same bag that the bread came in – now enhanced with a few olive oil stains from her delicious panino. Many environmentalists extol the benefits of the “zero kilometre” approach to sourcing your food. For most Italians, this is not a problem. They only need to step out into their yard (front, side or back) to find gardens pregnant with tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, eggplants, and peppers.

And what cannot be found in the garden could potentially be found on route to visiting a paesano for a coffee. I recall as a child sitting in the back of my parents’ Buick and asking: “Are we there yet? Why are we stopping?” If it was summertime, the answer was often: “Your father spied some cicoria by the side of the road – he’ll only be a minute.” What some consider weeds, my father considered a salad.

One might argue that it was not climate change, sustainability or social justice that motivated the Italian immigrant, but the impact of this new life on their hard-earned dollar. What was good for the wallet was good for the brodo and the environment too.

Anna Romano Milne is a regular contributor to italocanadese.org and is on the editorial board of the Association of Italian Canadian Writers. She lives in Ottawa.


© Accenti Photo Archive

Sunday Mornings
by Caterina Amoruso

I eagerly woke up. The aroma of sweet cooking seeped beneath my bedroom door. I knew the kitchen was already in full swing. My Sunday dress was hanging on the chair to avoid any wrinkling. It was a beautiful baby blue with dark embroidered blue flowers and a big ribbon bow along its waistline.

Every Sunday morning, I would become a beautiful princess, twirling in my short swing dress with its two layers of underskirts. My hair was ready to be brushed and pinned up in a small donut bun. I looked at myself in the mirror, rolling out the curlers and impatiently awaiting my beautiful hairdo. My older sister was almost ready. She had on her yellow flowery dress with her matching short gloves and small white purse. She looked wonderful and I couldn’t wait any longer, rushing her to help me, so I could be quickly dressed.

We would all be wearing our finest clothes; we girls in our dresses, Mom in her best dress and matching hat and pumps. I would always stand in front of her, watching her apply final touches. She would slowly glide pink lipstick on her thin lips, tracing them until they were fully coloured. She would finish off by smacking her lips a few times until the lipstick set in perfectly. I cherished that moment, knowing that soon, I as a woman would also do the same.

Dad came into the bedroom. He looked handsome in his grey suit and matching blue-grey eyes. He glanced at his watch; it was time to go. Sunday mass started at 10 a.m. and for no reason could we be late.

It was our Sunday ritual, going to mass at St Joseph’s Church. Here we would meet up with all the other Italian families, everyone dressed in their best. The priest, Don Angelo, awaited his parishioners, and courteously greeted everyone. The children sat in the front rows.

The after-mass was a joyful time: chattering, gossiping, children playing, close relatives talking, and new loves blossoming in fleeting encounters. But most of all, it was a re-establishing of strong bonds within the Italian-Canadian community. Those bonds were strongest when we said goodbye; when hugs and kisses expressed good wishes for a good week, and meeting again next time.

Caterina Amoruso was born in Canada and moved to Italy, where she is an elementary school teacher specialized in arts, humanities and special needs education. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Modern Languages and Cultures, and is working towards Master’s degree in the same field. 


©Accenti Photo Archive

Lunch in Rome
by Lucia De Luca

After landing in Rome from Montreal, I have time to grab lunch before catching a bus and a train to Francavilla al Mare, the town where my maternal grandmother grew up.

Google Maps directs me to Bonario, a restaurant I researched in advance. It’s one of few places within a 30-minute walk from the bus station offering vegetarian food and options that shouldn’t trigger my chronic illness. Even with many food restrictions like glutine and caffè and only eating fromaggio and verdura fresca in small quantities, food is a way I feel fluent in my cultural background. In the kitchen in my apartment, Italian comes to me most naturally while I make sugo or polenta.

At Bonario, it is language, not food, that acts as a boundary between me and my country of origin. Despite a carry-on in my right hand and a floral backpack on my shoulders, the cook who also works the counter starts speaking to me in Italian. All four of my grandparents are Italian immigrants so it makes sense that I look the part. But it’s confusing to Italians that I can’t speak the way I look.

I’m out of practice in my mother tongue. I understand what the cook is saying but only have the words to respond in English. She calls for a waiter who speaks my second but most fluent language. Once I’m seated, he hands me a menu. It’s entirely in Italian and I can read it almost completely, except for a couple of words I google on my phone, happy to have splurged on a European data plan. The menu is my cue card, and I order in an Italian accent that surprises the waiter: “Oh, you can pronounce Italian nicely,” he says. When the words are provided, I know how to use them as well as I did when I was three.

My Italian side thinks it is having a one-sided conversation with me – doesn’t understand me when I respond in English; is excited by the brief moments where it can interact with me again. Once my insalata of potatoes, green beans, and a boiled egg is served, its flavours of olive oil and garlic are unsurprisingly familiar. I take my time. So much time that the cook comes to check on me and says, “Sei piene?” And I reply hesitantly, “Non ancora.”

“Piano, piano,” the cook says, and her smile reminds me both of my nonnas and my mother.

My Italian words are in my grandparents’ towns: Francavilla al Mare, Montenerodomo, and Panni. They are in nooks of my brain that have been built over by fortresses of English and French. Piano, piano. With time, they will be excavated, re-examined, re-remembered.

Lucia De Luca is an English teacher, poet, and the recipient of the 2022 QWF Spoken Word Prize. 

The Letter
by Rosetta Rosati

Like every morning, the alarm clock rang at seven. A bright beam of sunshine penetrated the wooden persiane. Franco put into action his slow-motion exercises, first one foot down, then the other, then up, stretching his back, bending down to look for his slippers and grasp his glasses from the night table. As he tiptoed out of the room, a noise stopped him right in front of the bathroom. He made a U-turn and looked in through the open door of the bedroom on the left side. The children were still sleeping. For sure the girl was dreaming princesses and the boy, soccer heroes.

Hurry now, the morning schedule had just started. His wife, Angela, was up after him. He longed for the aroma of espresso that soon would come up the stairs. A shower, then back into the bedroom, to dress: white shirt, regimental tie. Finally, his light grey jacket, with the letter received the day before tucked in the inside pocket.

He greeted his wife: “Buongiorno amore, double coffee for me. I am going to have a long day at work.”

The children were awake. Caterina, holding her tiny Princess Elsa doll, ran towards her father, hugging his legs. Giacomo reminded his father that at his return from work they had to go to the soccer game at nearby Palazzetto dello Sport.

Eight thirty: He picked up his cell phone and laptop bag and waved goodbye to his dear ones. He turned his car’s ignition on and headed toward the traffic circle that would lead him to the highway and the city. He made a sudden stop when his left hand touched lightly his left pocket.

Where would he go? He was among 50 redundant employees. He had a letter of dismissal, received yesterday. Economic crisis!

Rosetta Rosati is president of Università della Terza Età (UNITRE) in Pavia. Her first book, Maples & Chestnuts, and the Italian version, Aceri & Castagni, are a sequence of creative nonfiction stories of her family immigration history to Canada. She is currently working on a new collection of short stories.

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