Friday, 5 August 2011

Italian Rooming House

When Barry and I first arrived in Alice Springs we stayed at a boarding house that was owned and operated by a Mrs. Brown. She was a nice person and a very loyal resident of Alice Springs. However, when we found where we could live somewhat more independently, we moved on.

Early in our friendship Barry told me how he disliked Italians ever since a girl from a neighboring town to Windsor, England was allegedly gang-raped by a group of young Italian men. Within a day or so of that revelation, he was hired by Johnny Donna who was a cement contractor and of Italian origin. A few of the men in that crew lived in a rooming house operated by Mr. and Mrs. Panazza. We visited the building, liked what we saw - and the young Italian men who were living there - so took the vacant room.

That is Barry Reynolds who is threatening to clobber me with the meat tenderizer.

Their house was on the East Side close to the ford which crossed the Todd River. At the back of their lot were two small buildings. The first one consisted of 4 bedrooms with two twin beds in each, a large 'common room' where the wood stove was located and an add-on which contained a table and chairs. One bedroom was immediately off of the dining area (that was where Barry and I slept) and the remaining three were off of the large Common Room. The other building contained two or three shower stalls as well as the toilets. The building backed onto the alley so the 'night soil' truck could come at night and empty the toilet cans.

Giovanni (Johnny) on the left - with Barry behind him working at the stove - me, Mario and Carlos who is kneeling in front. Sebastiano (Sammy) took the photo. I do have a photo of the lot of us together but it has become stuck in the album and tore when I tried to remove it.

Through this experience I learned how ethnically different were Italians - depending upon what part of Italy they came from. Luciano was from Treviso (north of Venice) and the Panazzas were from Milan. Because Luciano and the Panazzas were northern Italians they held themselves as superior to those from further south. The rest of our roommates came from the town of Vasto which is across the Appennines from Rome. The two cleaners out at the airport were Sicilians and, therefore, they were looked down upon by all of the others.

At some point one of our fellow boarders bought a carcass of a goat or a calf that was to be divided between each of them - and each would pay for his share accordingly. World War III broke out - until the dispute was resolved.

Our fellow roomers were Sebastiano ('Sammy'), Carlos, Giovanni (Johny), Mario, Antonio (Tony) and Luciano (Lucky). Mostly their personalities were quite different one from the other. This, coupled with their mercurial temperaments, led to some intriguing and explosive dynamics.

For instance, Sammy was somewhat simple while Carlos, his roommate, was the village STUD!! One night we were awakened by an argument next door (there was a louvered window between Barry and my room and theirs so sound traveled easily). Carlos had been out on the prowl and had returned with - presumably - a hooker. From what we heard later, Carlos had fallen asleep while the 'date' was ready for more. She made a pass at Sammy who loudly objected thereby waking Carlos who vocally defended his 'date'. Outside beside the entrance was a dart board. We could hear Sammy out there throwing darts until the 'guest' had left.

Mrs. Panazza, when she heard of the incident, was furious - she did not allow girls into the rooms unless there was one for each male occupant!

Carlos changed jobs and became a long distance trucker hauling freight up and down the Todd Highway from Alice Springs to Darwin and back. One Sunday afternoon I was sitting at the table writing letters when Carlos returned from up north. He went to his room, freshened up and then left. Within half an hour he returned - with a cashier from the supermarket in tow! I don't remember where Sammy was - if I ever knew - so the visit was fairly peaceful. After a while, however, Carlos emerged looking all rumpled and sweaty, went out to the shower rooms and then came back neat and clean.

In the meantime 'girlfriend' came out of the bedroom and sat across from me making me uncomfortable. She was trying to pick me up!

In the previous blog I talked about the two flights in Connellan Cessnas out over the Outback. When I came home to make myself some lunch, Mario - the 'clown' of the group - was there. I was so excited by the experience of that morning that I was babbling. Mario stopped me with the question, "Ernie - how many engines she have? One? What happens if engine (pronounced 'eenjine') quit"? He held out his arms and made the sound "eeeoooowwww" while pointing his arms at the ground. Then wagging his finger at me he exclaimed, "Me no fly!!!"

Barry left to journey with two nurses from the hospital in their car up to Darwin and then down the coast of Western Australia to Perth. The 1962 Empire Games were about to open in Perth so I decided to go there as well. One of the nurses from the hospital was going home as was Tony so the three of us agreed to catch a southbound train and then to drive in Tony's car across the Nullarbor Plain to Western Australia. We left The Alice on November 14.

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