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My Buddy Mario – A True World Traveller and Conoisseur of Intercultural Experiences
In the 16 years that I have known my friend Mario, I have heard many different stories of his world travels and he is one of those people who has lived, worked and hitchhiked through several exotic countries. Mario is a high school teacher in Toronto and teaches French and world issues. He lived and worked in places like Thailand, Indonesia, Mexico and Quebec and came face-to-face with often very different cultures.
Mario is also an immigrant in two different countries, Australia where he moved as a small child in the 1950s, and Canada, where he came as a teenager. Here is his story, the story of an immigrant, traveler and global adventurer.
1. Tell us a little about your background. Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in San Vita al Tagliamento in northeastern Italy in the province of Friuli. But my parents are of Calabrese origin from Southern Italy. After his military service in the north of Italy, my father decided to stay there because of his fondness for the Friulian culture. In 1953 my father moved our family to Australia where he worked with a French contracting company and we settled in Brisbane, Queensland when I was 2.5 years old. It was there that I had my first memories of immigrant reality, which was a very simple house made of wood. The roof was leaking in our house and we had plants growing through the floor in the kitchen. The conditions were very basic, but this would set the stage for 11 years of a very challenging cultural adjustment period, after which my father moved us to Canada in 1964.
At that time, Italians faced a lot of discrimination, even harassment or sometimes violence in various forms, physical and psychological. My family was actually the target of a number of different forms of attack because we were immigrants. It made for a rather paranoid existence, constantly having to look over one’s shoulder.
Remember, this was the 1950s and Australia was still governed under the “White Australia Policy”, a form of institutionalized apartheid. I witnessed several acts of brutality against Australian aborigines who I was often mistaken for, given the darkness of my skin. The proximity of the sea, however, made me appreciate the beauty of Australia in its purest form. During this time I developed a strong sense of self-confidence and I learned the importance of defending myself.
In the mid-1970s I returned to Australia and I noticed that the work of many of those former immigrants had borne fruit in the form of comfortable lifestyles and rich middle-class experiences. Italians had finally become mainstream and accepted. This also coincided with Australia’s new multicultural policy. Australia began to open up to different nationalities, which made for a more tolerant society.
2. You are a gifted multilingual individual. How many languages do you speak and what are they?
English and Italian are my first two languages. I also speak French, Spanish and Portuguese at a fairly high level. In addition, I also speak Indonesian and I speak basic German and some sentences in Russian. The sound of different foreign languages fascinates me and I also appreciate that speaking the language is the key to these foreign cultures. Except for the first period in high school when I was first exposed to English, French and German, the rest of my languages have been acquired by living in the culture.
3. What was it like when you first came to Canada?
I remember it was very cold since we arrived in Canada on February 16, 1964. My first observation was a very abrupt introduction to the Canadian climate. For many years I found it very difficult to adapt to the climate. On the other hand, as far as the culture was concerned, I was finally able to tap into my Italianness. It was actually in Toronto that the whole idea of being Italian took on a new meaning for me because I felt accepted. I felt embraced here and felt that I could express my Italian heritage that led to me perfecting my Italian, considering I had suppressed Italian speaking in Australia. When we came to Toronto, I felt a desire to go further in the language.
High school in Canada was an appreciation of many other languages. We were offered French, German, Latin and Spanish courses at the high school level. The school I went to reflected the transitional character of Toronto at the time, which had been very WASP (white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant) until the 1960s and had since started to change into a more cosmopolitan environment. There were people from different backgrounds who made you feel comfortable expressing yourself. By the time I went to university, I was quite comfortable with my own intercultural identity.
My appreciation for Portuguese began on a construction job in Tecumseh, Ontario, where 2 gangs of construction workers, one Italian, one Portuguese, were confined to a very small house provided by the construction company and forced to live and interact with each other. to go. . I began to appreciate the similarities and differences with Portuguese culture, which I found absolutely fascinating. This was my initiation into Portuguese.
4. What were your earliest travel experiences?
Aside from the immigrant boat trips, my first travel memories were hitchhiking to Niagara Falls and Barrie, a medium-sized city 90 minutes north of Toronto, when I was 15 years old. This gave me a sense of independence and the ability to design my own path on each trip. I felt in control and decided where I wanted to go. We didn’t realize we needed a passport to cross the United States, so we learned the lesson of having your documents in order when traveling to foreign countries.
The next big trip was at age 17, crossing Canada with a fellow student in a VW Beetle. We went to Vancouver for one month, picked strawberries, worked on farms to survive. The second leg of that trip was to Mexico via California. This was the Height-Ashbury period, the summer of ’68, and we really experienced Flower Power in San Francisco. This left a lasting impression on me because of the freedom and camaraderie among the youth. Everyone would open their home to you and you feel a bond with many young people.
The paradox of this period was that it was during the Vietnam War. So just as you had young people banding together, believing that peace was the answer to the world’s dilemmas, people were being killed on the other side of the world. The administration in Washington believed that war was the answer and these young people had in effect opted out of the system.
Mexico in itself was an eye-opener. It was my initiation into Latino culture and dilapidated third world conditions of the masses. This was my politicization when I realized the fate of the majority of humanity and it made me even more curious to go back and get in touch with these people.
When I came back from Mexico, it was very difficult to adapt to everyday middle-class values, just to fit into my place in my system. So I dropped out of 2nd year university and continued traveling without a fixed itinerary.
I went to Europe first, starting with London, working in a hospital, then spent 2 months traveling Europe on a Eurail pass. After Spain I visited Morocco, where I met a man named Giovanni Pozzi who turned me on to images and illusions of Afghanistan, a place he had been to before. This created a great desire in me to discover that part of the world as well.
After Morocco, I intended to meet Giovanni and travel with him from Brindisi, Italy, overland to Afghanistan. In September of 1971, I visited him in Milan after returning to discover my Italian heritage, and then connected with him in Brindisi, from where we took a ferry to Greece and began our overland journey in the direction of Afghanistan.
We came to the Turkish-Iranian border after a terrible incident on a Turkish train that derailed. Unfortunately, I had not learned the lesson of my teenage years and had not checked the visa requirements for Canadians. Iran required a visa for Canadians, so I had to go back to an Iranian consulate on the Black Sea where I got my Iranian travel visa. Somehow Giovanni and I got separated and this was the beginning of truly independent travel. I never learned depending on the information of others, always checking everything myself.
3. Please tell us about your experiences and impressions during your first trip to Asia.
After spending about a week in Iran, which was during the repressive regime of the Shah, I hitched a ride with 2 Pakistani truck drivers from Tehran to Mashad, the site of the Blue Mosque, one of the most beautiful mosques in the islamic world. From there we went to Herat, Kandahar and Kabul in Afghanistan, where I was introduced to some of the most fantastic images of Afghan culture. I saw riders in bright green silk breeches, in clothes more suited to the Middle Ages than the 1970s. Afghanis seemed to be a very proud people, dignified and fiercely independent.
After a short stay in Kabul I went through the Khyber Pass to Peshawar in Pakistan. This was also a great view of the gun culture of this region. Each man had a gun 4.5 feet long and it was truly an overwhelming sight to see so many weapons. Unfortunately, this was to continue because at this time a war would break out between Pakistan and India, and after leaving Pakistan I traveled through India during a time of war.
I traveled on trains with a mobilized army, a people in frenetic movement who did not know what to do. The whole country was in a state of tension. Foreigners were asked to leave the country, so after a month in New Delhi I had to change my plans to visit Ceylon (today’s Sri Lanka) and take the next flight from Calcutta in the direction of Bangkok. The plane ticket at that time cost US$80 one way in 1971. Calcutta was also the site of millions of refugees who poured in from what would eventually become Bangladesh. They have literally overtaken Calcutta. I was about to sleep outside when I was accosted by a couple of Anglo-Bengalis who insisted that it was absolutely indecent for a European to sleep on the ground like that. They then insisted that I stay with them for a few nights. Her only favor in return was to send her a Levi jacket when I was going back to Australia.
4. You moved to Thailand from India. Please tell us about your experience in Southeast Asia.
In Bangkok in 1971 I would stay in the Atlantic Hotel for $1 a night, Bangkok was still a relatively small capital then. I left Bangkok and went to the south, lifting where I was brutally initiated with Thai culture. I was sitting in the back of a pick-up truck and dangled my feet out, the pick-up truck was passed by another car whose occupants got out and threatened me, pointing at my feet. Luckily, a young Canadian from Saskatoon, Murray Wright, was in the front of my pickup and explained that it was a big mistake to see the soles of your feet. This is a great insult in Thai culture. I then realized that while traveling it is very important to understand non-verbal communication as well. This was an important lesson for me.
This meeting with Murray was accidental. He had had an accident building a Japanese sugar factory and asked me if I would take over his job as a carpenter. This led to working with Thais for one month and understanding Thai culture to a certain extent. It was also my first experience of amoebic dysentery, a tropical disease, which almost killed me. This is how I was introduced to food conditions in the developing world.
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