Completing the Puzzle
‘Treviso is like a little Venice’ my cousin Francesco said to me as we drove from the train station through town, while my eyes hungrily took in the sites whirling passed me. It’s a strange thing to find yourself in a place that you’ve never seen before, but where you feel an immediate connection, like you’ve found another piece to a puzzle you thought you had already completed. Treviso, and specifically Nervesa della Battaglia, was another piece of my puzzle screaming to be uncovered.
I am second generation Australian, raised with Italian heritage. I am a hybrid brought up speaking English with the aroma of freshly brewed espresso hanging in the air and my grandfather shouting greetings of ‘buongiorno’ as he’d step from his backyard to mine through the adjoining back fence. Shockingly and ashamedly, I’ve never known the Italian language with any degree of fluency, but the food, the culture, the passion, that has all been deep-set in my bones since youth.
It’s a bizarre notion to live in Australia and not feel completely Australian and then to visit Italy and not feel completely Italian. However, with each time that I’ve visited this engaging country I’ve seen new places, and revisited others, and I’ve gladly immersed myself in the quasi-familiar culture unknowingly trying to find the place where I feel at home. With each visit I've located a new piece.
I’ve visited Italy four times in the last six years. The first trip was in my final year of high school with my Italian classmates; it lasted two weeks and covered the biggest cities of Italy and some smaller Tuscan towns in a fast paced, exhausting and thrilling delve into discovery. This was my first taste that left me hungry for more.
The second trip was entirely different and consisted of four weeks visiting my family living in the South of Italy on the stunning island of Lipari. In that place, despite the language barrier that persists due to my limited understanding of Italian and their native Sicilian dialect, I sensed the comfort and familiarity of my youth. I could finally view in full 360 degrees of vision the place where my grandfather had grown up, I could physically stand in the place where he stood in those old photographs. I met his family - my family – ate with them, laughed with them, communicated with them (Italian hand gestures are a godsend) and felt like I was finding part of myself, where I come from, where I’ll always belong.
On my third trip, one year later, which was part of an exhilarating three-month backpacking expedition through Europe and the US, again I made the voyage to the South of Italy, to my home away from home, in Lipari. This visit for me truly felt like coming home. Seeing my family, walking down those familiar cobble streets, buying a cannoli from the best place in town hidden down an obscure footpath barely distinguishable from the surrounding apartment blocks, I felt as though I’d found all of the missing puzzle pieces.
But the roots of my family tree run deep and wide and while I’d found a comfortable resting place down one direction I was yet to explore the other sides. There are four corners to this girls Italian heritage with each grandparent originating from a different region or town and that is something I had long since forgotten. Lipari was just one piece. It was in visiting Treviso and Nervesa della Battaglia, that I found another. The place when my father’s mother grew up.
I ate dinner that first night with some wonderful and welcoming relatives I’d never met before and slept in a house that had been in the family for many generations. I visited my grandmother’s sister in her home surrounded by fields of kiwi and grape vines, and in the small amount of time I spent there, I met cousin upon cousin who entered the home with broad smiles and welcoming greetings.
Some I had met before, over the years in their visits to Australia, and others not, but all knew who I was or knew of me and who my father is. I held in my hands a bottle of prosecco, a product of their own creation, of their own grapes. And on that white and aluminium label gleaming up at me I saw my own surname in the title.
It struck me that I’d neglected this part of my heritage for far too long. It was too rich and vibrant a history to have been left in the shadows but now that it had come to light it was shining down on me, absorbing deeply into my skin, warming my bones.
The next day I walked through the streets of Treviso with my cousin, wandering alongside the glistening canals reflecting the pastels of the buildings, blending perfectly with the greenery growing all around. It really is a stunning site. If one could imagine Venice sans the gondolas and countless tourists, with wider canals and footpaths but with that same enchanting feel, then that is Treviso.
I spent only a few short days in this place and exploring others nearby but in that time something took a hold of me. This town is a part of me, a part of my culture. Not only is it a place filled with relations that I was missing, but it’s also laced with a rich history that I had been entirely unaware of until now. My vision has been widened and I’m now vividly aware of how much bigger my puzzle really is. I know now that there is so much more to be learned and uncovered about my family history and where I come from and I’m determined to piece it together.