Tag Archives: trieste

Port of No Return – A Book Review

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Historical fiction novels about Italy during World War II always seem to fascinate me – probably because the stories hit pretty close to home since my parents lived through this horrible time in Italy.  Neither one of my parents, though, remembers it as being really terrible – I guess they were the lucky ones.  But after reading several accounts of the atrocities that occurred in Italy, I am devastated to learn that so many innocent people lost their lives – and if they survived, they lived through some pretty horrible experiences.  My parents speak about the poverty, but their stories tend to be more human interest stories rather than accounts of despair and fear.  My mother tells a great story of her and her sister going to collect the rationed jam, of which each family was only allowed one jar per month. The two little girls, aged 8 & 7, were sent by their parents to go and pick it up.  On the way home, they decided to sample some. One spoonful for one, another spoonful for the other, and by the time they got home, the jam was all gone! My mom says that it tasted so good that they just couldn’t stop!

Michelle Saftich’s novel, Port of No Return, speaks of life in Fiume, a town now a part of Croatia.

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Back before the war, it was a part of Italy, and during the war, it was occupied by the Germans. Towards the end of the war and even afterwards, it became a hotbed of political tensions between the Yugoslav Communists (or Partisans) and those who worked for the Germans. Families were just trying to eek out a living to support themselves and therefore found work wherever there were jobs.  Many of those jobs involved working on German projects.Tensions became so high that the Partisans fought everyone they felt supported the Germans. Families had to split up and flee their homes, taking refuge in refugee camps.  This story tells the story of the Sartoro family – mother, father, nonna and 5 children.  Ettore, the father, had worked in the naval yards run by the Germans, even though his allegiances were always to Italy. Word got out that the Yugoslav’s were coming to even the score with the Germans, and everyone involved with working for them was fair game. Ettore ran for his life, leaving behind his entire family. Months passed and the family had to escape Fiume as well.  They had to leave everything they had ever known.

The story tells of the hardships that both Ettore and his family faced, and their struggle to find each other.Even after the war was over, life was still unbearable – they were living in horrendous conditions in refugee camps – but their spirit remained strong and their commitment to family was beautiful.

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They were determined to create a better life, and this meant leaving the world they knew and venture to unknown lands. The end of the book finds the family embarking on a voyage to Australia and to the new life awaiting them there.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and I hope that a sequel will follow that tells of their new life in Australia.

The Italian Holiday Celebrations Begin…

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The month of December, and continuing into the beginning of January, is filled with many Italian traditions that make up the Christmas holiday season in Italy.  The first of these holidays is the feast of St. Nicholas (San Nicola) on December 6th.

This feast is not celebrated in all parts of Italy, but where it is, great traditions take place.  Bari in Southern Italy is THE place to be if you want to celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas.

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This is his city as this is where his remains were put after they were heisted from Myra.  A huge basilica sits here in his honor.

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On December 6th, young girls wishing to get married, petition the saint to act on their behalf by placing a note and three coins in a special box in the basilica in hopes that their wish will be granted.  Children, on the other hand, have other desires.  They put a plate out (much like our children do with Santa Claus on Christmas Eve) with a note asking for sweet gifts if they promise to be good for the coming year.  They go to bed with the hopes that they will find some goodies the next morning.  San Nicola comes in the middle of the night and leaves piles and piles of chocolates, candies, cookies, and other sweet delights for all the good boys and girls.

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The feast of St. Nicholas is also celebrated up in Trieste in Northern Italy.  The traditions were brought here probably due to the strong trade relationships that this city had with Bari.  Here the grandfathers dress up like the saint and give presents of sugar to all the good children, while they give coal to all those that have been bad.  I wonder how much coal they actually give out!

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