Indiana University Overseas Study


My nonna, eighty-eight years old, hunches over a piece of paper filled with trembling scribbles, careful notes and edits on a poem she has been working on.

Nonna's brother, 90, stops by for a chat

Nonna’s brother, 90, stops by for a chat

She has hundreds of poems and memories that she will leave behind. Whilst they lived in the same period, the experiences of Europeans versus that of the Americans during the age of the world wars is starkly different. Here remain the elderly with memories of German occupation, of campaigns in Alps, of destroyed homes. Perhaps Americans felt the death of friends and family, suffered the same economic struggles, but they never saw the breadth of annihilation, the oppression of occupancy. For Europeans, the war was in their home.

“Voglio che i miei figli conoscano queste cose non attraverso un testo di storia, ma attraverso la realta’,” she explains to me, after telling me she wants to show me some of her poems and tell me some stories.

My grandparents together at my Nonna's 44th birthday

My grandparents together at my Nonna’s 44th birthday

“I want my children to know these things not from a history text, but from reality.”

My grandparents have left pieces of themselves behind. My nonno, already deceased, left a few books of poems and a large text on the Albanian campaign, which he wrote as his wife made edits by his side. His wartime experiences left him reliant on alcohol, which eventually induced Alzheimer’s disease, which ate at the mind of a great creative.

Others are less willing to talk—anxiety has left them mute. Their stories, feelings, and impressions will go unrecorded- to quote Blade Runner, “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”

Unable to go outside, most of Nonna's time is spent in her chair reading or writing.

Unable to go outside, most of Nonna’s time is spent in her chair reading or writing.

Italians were both the defeated and the victors of WWII; defeated in their role within the Axis Powers, victors in the downfall of Mussolini’s fascist state. It is a country of contradiction, filled with family and neighbors alternating between fascists and antifascists, nazis and antinazis, mafia and antimafia. It is heavy with memories held by people trying to forget. Only after WWII did it see woman’s suffrage, the erasure of the peasant class, and worker rights. It is a catalogue of extremes between destruction and advancement and is wont to be remembered.

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