Spending time with my Nonno over the last week has given me a few stories to share. This one is located in Venice directly after the capitulation of Italy to the Allied forces.
My grandfather, once a sailor for the Italian navy, now found himself without any direction, money or resources in a land not his own. Knocking about with some of his mates from the navy they did no know what they would eat from one day to the next; were starving in the City of Water and Light.
Every morning they would wake up early and roam the streets doing odd jobs for food or from anyone who would give them charity. Backwards and forwards through the twisting and turning lanes walking over bridges barely two metres wide they criss-crossed the city. St Mark’s square was a favourite as they would often meet up there and sing to the visitor, nearly all allied soldiers that they were enemies to only a few months before. A group of young scruffy Italian men, they made a fitting choir.
Forty minutes walk north through those winding streets, in a small piazza only as large as a small house, a bakery had been taken over by the allied forces to provide bread to soldiers in camps nearby. An American-born Calabrezzi ran the bakery and had heard the boys sing as they made their way through that part of the town.
‘Come and sing for us every morning and we’ll feed you bread.’ He said in his rough Italian through the almost unintelligible American accent.
And so they did. Every morning, before dawn they would march to the piazza and sing folk songs, opera and hymns for their breakfast. They even had a marching song they made up:
“The bakery is open, we’re going to eat bread…” (it sounds great in Italian)
They started getting a following among the G.I.s in Venice and often they would have a small crowd waiting for them. My grandfather was amazed how the American would come and dance to nothing but men’s voices in the tiny piazza very far from home.
Life did not give these young men any handouts, they had to work for everything they gained but my grandfather learnt from those times that no matter what hardship, if there is hope then the good will be found.
“Those who lose heart, who lose hope are either in jail or dead.”