Monday, November 30, 2009


***************'BAFFI' CAMPIONI ************************(Top)GINO 'BABI' CAMPIONI



IVANO SAYS: Gino has sent me some of his memories of "La Costa". Above I have included some of his family photos. Thanks Gino.

Il Gioco è Bello Quando è Corto (1.)

As I partook of my modest Thanksgiving dinner alone, memories came of happier times. Some of the better ones were the few times we all enjoyed a much nicer dinner than my current one.

This was in the old cookhouse on the Gulch Ranch. Valentina Comelli had prepared a sumptuous feast of turkey, ham, or pork roast, with the usual contorni. (2.) There were also various desserts and the ever present coffee with its alcoholic additives, taken with or without the coffee. The entire crew of the ranch was there, along with their families. The exceptions were the non Italian workers who had their own cookhouse.

The title of this piece suggests that things we expected to go on forever, only happened once or twice, at least for me. That makes the memories of them more precious than if they had been more commonplace.

There is, for instance, the time Ivano and I went “hunting” with our air rifles. It was a bright and chilly morning. The sun glittered on the newly formed dew drops on all the leaves of the carcioffi (3.) and sprout plants, forming tiny rainbows of color. Some of the carcioffi plants had been covered with burlap, thus preventing sunlight from reaching them as they grew. The resulting stalks were pure white, and were called, “cardoni”. When picked, they would be cut into lengths of about 3 inches, dipped in egg batter and fried, along with the normal artichokes, which were cut into quarter inch slices. Most delicious along with chicken, cooked in the same way.

As we marched around this scene of tranquility, looking for “game” to shoot, we could smell the odor of Brussells Sprouts, mingled with that of other farm substances. It was exhilarating to breathe in that odor of cleanness. As we passed sprout plants that looked inviting, we would snap off a sprout and eat it raw. This went on for several minutes, at which point our mouths started to suffer the effects of the natural chemical content of the sprouts. Four or five small sprouts was about the limit for us. For all our “hunting” and “stalking”, we never shot anything. Indeed, we never even saw something to shoot. This makes that memory even better for me.

As most young boys do, I was eager to be able to help my father with farm work. Finally, after much begging, I was allowed to accompany him one morning, and was taught how to pick sprouts. I only lasted a few minutes, before I was told to just get out of the way, as I was too slow. So much for my career in farming! Actually, I think my dad was trying to give me a more valuable lesson. He always felt that I should be able to do something more rewarding that farm work. He told me that if I ever went into farming, he would “break my legs.” Of course, I knew he did not mean that literally. He did not live long enough to find out that the Rodoni boys did much better with farming and their other pursuits, than I ever did in my entire career.

Another memorable moment came one morning when I was playing around the area of the barn. Dante Ramacciotti fired up the Caterpillar tractor, and started it moving toward an area in which he was going to plow. He stopped, and motioned for me to come to him. He helped me climb into the seat of the tractor, and started it moving forward. I was allowed to pull on the left turn lever a couple of times and keep the tractor in the proper direction. Though this was a very short ride, perhaps less that 50 yards, it still is unforgettable to me. Tractors were always things of great fascination for me. I still have a tiny hard rubber toy of an Auburn tractor, which was given to me when I was about 2 years old. It still carries a bit of Gulch Ranch dirt on its tiny wheels.

It was on the Gulch Ranch that I learned to drive a car. I was about 9 years old when Costantino Gemignani showed me how to drive the old Ford. I think it was about a 1938 model, and had been heavily used by a previous owner. Constantino (aka Augie) had painted it an ugly brown color, using a brush. My driving was limited to the area between the cookhouse, the barns, and the highway. I never got it past 2nd gear.

Other precious memories are of evenings à veglia (4.) with the Rodoni family. After supper, Dante would set up his movie projector and show home movies of his family.
There were even some shots of my people. I remember the short film of Mario and me, riding toward the camera in pedal operated sidewalk cars, while Andreina and my parents watched. One was a “Nash” painted green with white trim. The other was a “fire engine”, all white with red trim and a chrome bell on the hood.

Those wonderful evenings in which families visited each other were delightful. Unfortunately, the arrival of available television in 1954 put an end to those events. Though I finally decided on a career in TV repair, I soon realized that I was supporting something that was not good for families in general. I think it has done more harm to society that the little good it was able to do. By 1984 television was considered by some people to be no more than a “talking lamp”. With a few exceptions, I agree.

I am thankful for Ivano Comelli, not only for the fine book he has written, (5.) but for his continuing friendship.

Gino 'Babi' Campioni

1. The game is best when it is short.
2. Additional food items.
3. Artichokes.
4. Literally a “wake”,n this case meaning “time spent together”.
5. La Nostra Costa

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


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A couple of weeks ago, I attended a showing of the documentary film 'Pane Amaro' (Bitter Bread) at the Italian American Heritage Foundation in San Jose. There I was honored to have met Gianfranco Norelli and Suma Kurien the co-producers of the film. They did an extra-ordinary job in making this historical documentary. I congratulate them in this endeavor and also on their continuing effort to bring the true story of the Italian immigration to this country, to the English speaking audience. ('Pane Amaro' was originally done in Italian, however, this version was done in English.)
As described in the IAHF Newsletter, "The film is hard hitting" and takes an intense and ultimately inspiring look at the Italian immigrant experience from about the 1880' through the post WWII years. Covered too (is) the era known in US history as the "great migration" of
millions of Eastern and Southern Europeans to America's shore. "
Although the experiences described in the film were not unique to the Italian migration (the Irish, Germans, Poles, etc., had to endure similar difficulties), it set my mind to thinking as to what the first Thanksgiving in a Foreign Land must have been for these immigrants. Away from family and friends, not knowing the language and with little money in their pockets, and facing deep seated prejudices against them, these brave souls set out to establish a new life for themselves and their families. I wonder if they even celebrated their first Thanksgiving. As the film depicts, these new 'Americanos' had to eat many slices of 'Bitter Bread' before they could be thankful for the 'better' life that they eventually realized.
For us, the first, second, third, etc., generations of these immigrants, we give thanks today for their courage, tenacity, inspiration and love. It is because of them that we do not have to eat "Pane Amaro" this Thanksgiving.
Ivano Franco Comelli
"Major funding for PANE AMARO was provided by the National Italian American Foundation and the Foreign Ministry of Italy"

Monday, November 16, 2009


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I've included a 'new' revised text below. In addition I've attached three pictures I would apprecaite that you would post on the same blog two of my grandfather Herman and one of my geat grandfather Gustavo. Two of the pictures di mio caro Nonno, Herman the poiliceman and the navy master at arms chief along with the picture of 'il mio bisnonno' Gustavo Nanna and his brother taken in Italy.

Here is the Edited version below:

I just received your book 'La Nostra Costa (Our Coast) Wednesday (a paperback copy). Now I am looking forward to getting a hardback copy of this book. I'm still digesting much of what you say (and don't say). I will write a comprehensive sketch sometime in the future. I will say this….. your book speaks straight to my heart.

Please note that my wife Tania (of 20-years this April), and I left California over 10-years ago. The last time I visited the Santa Cruz area was in 1997, to see my maternal Grandmother, Ruby Violet Strong (only weeks before her death). She was born in San Francisco in 1906. Needless to say, I've been out of the area for quite a spell now. Your book, however, does bring back sweet memories.

A little about me, I was born at Santa Cruz Hospital in 1956. Of course this is the same hospital that you were born in (only 19-1/2 years apart). I am the grandson of Ermano Vincenzo Nanna (Herman Vincent Nanna Sr.) who was born in 1909 in (Comune di Fivizzanno, provincia di Massa e Carrara, Italia.) I am the second son of Herman Vincent Nanna Jr. who was born 1932 in Hollister California. My Grandfather was a Santa Cruz Police Officer. My Great-Grandfather, Gustavo Nanna worked at the Pacific Cement and Aggregates Inc. plant in Davenport and lived with his wife Maria off of Chestnut St., Santa Cruz in the 1930's to 60's.

Gusatvo was also from Fivizanno, however; (for some unknown reason) although an Italian citizen and not originally from the Fivizzanno area and I'm told possibly from another country? Of course, this is a matter of interest to me and I am still investigating, through Nanna family members living in Fivizzanno. A possibility is that Nanna was not his real surname, rather a Catholic name given to him or his father as a newly converted immigrant to Italy. Gustavo did later immigrate to the US.
Today, my wife and I live in Louisiana near the center of the State. My wife is from Brazil (Brasileira, della estado de Parana, a cidade de Curitiba) and speaks fluent Portuguese. I do enjoy the colloquial Italian expressions in your book -che bello- they are so much like Portuguese from the south of Brazil. By the way, it was a nice touch with the off-color Italian expressions. I think that you are making a statement here, sure wished I had grown up in a household that spoke Italian.


Michael E. Nanna

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

MEMORIAL DAY - La Costa E La Guerra - Marvin Del Chiaro

IVANO SAYS: In 'La Nostra Costa', I have a whole chapter on the Coast and WWII. In fact in an end note (p.54) I mention the all Black 54th Coastal Artillery Battalion that guarded the Coast during this time period. In a reminder letter regarding the special ceremony in Santa Cruz honoring the Battalion, Retired US Army Colonel, Marvin gives some special insights about the Unit. Thought you might like to read it.

To: Undisclosed recipients:

Hi everyone, and especially former members of the old 422nd MP Co., (PCS).

I'm sure most of you are well aware of the upcoming ceremonies, but just in case:

Do you remember our First Sgt. in the 1960's, at the 422nd, Russell Dawson? He's now 93, and will be honored, along with another former member of the 54th, down at the Santa Cruz Lighthouse on West Cliff Drive on this Wednesday, Veterans Day, at 1000 hrs. (see Ramona Turner's article in Monday's Santa Cruz Sentinel for more details). If you can't find the link, email me, and I'll send you further information on the article. It was on the front page of the Xtra section of the Sentinel.

If you can make it, come by, and then join us for a lite lunch and video presentation by Chuck Woodson, at the Veterans Hall down by the old Post Office in Santa Cruz. Sam Farr and Bill Monning and other local dignitaries plan to be there. It should be quite an impressive ceremony, especially for those of us who remember the air raid drills, the "blackouts", the maneuvers, and the sandbagged trenches and gun emplacements along West Cliff Dr. during WWII.

The unit has a special place in the hearts of my family members, as part of the unit had a bivouac site located on/adjacent to my grandfather's (Ferrari) cattle ranch in Davenport, and for years after the war, you could still see the old latrine building and other temporary camp structures on the right side of the "old road", north of the cement plant and New Town, and just a few yards south of our "cheese room" building, which is still standing today, I believe, the one with the cupola.

Many of these young men (unit members) established quite a wonderful and lasting friendship with my family, and came over and played cards at night, and exchanged food from their mess hall for fresh eggs, milk and cheese from my grandfather's ranch/dairy. Members of the unit affectionately called my grandparents "Papa" and "Mama", and returned to visit them after the war.


Friday, November 06, 2009




IVANO SAYS: It has been quite some time, but LaNorma has written another very special article for us to enjoy. Thanks Norma.

We on the Coast Road and the people in Davenport have so much history to share and we are all so interconnected in some way. My family lived in Newtown when I was born and lived there until I was about 3 years old.

The Coast Road was quite windy and had uphills, downhills and - - oh so many curves. If driving on one of those hills (especially Laguna and Gulch Ranch hills) you did not want to get behind one of those cement trucks. In those years,the cement was packed in bags and tied to the front and back trailers of the truck. When they went towards Santa Cruz they tried to get a run at some of the hills to make it up the other side, but even then they slowed way down and if you were behind them you just had to be very patient! And hope that none of those bags came undone!

When the “new highway” was finished around l955, it made it so much better. From where we lived, next to Beltrami’s (In Ivano’s book, he calls it Serafina’s.) which was just south of Laguna (where we had all those 'pickanickas'),it was a breeze to drive to Davenport. When I was l6, I felt so independent to be able to drive to Gregory’s (in Davenport) with relative ease and to get myself a quart of “hand packed" vanilla ice cream. Boy that was yummy and it was such fun being in town at good “ole Davenporto”.

Going back to the old road -- I so vividly remember having to get a ride on the Greyhound bus to go to Santa Cruz. There were three shifts at the Cement plant, thus three buses per shift ran up and down the Coast Road from Santa Cruz to get the workers to and from the plant. ( Note: Many of the workers who originally lived in Davenport now could afford to live in Santa Cruz, considered by many to be a more 'desirable' place to live.)

We would wait for the bus out in front of Beltrami’s either for the morning or afternoon shift changes. The first bus always honked twice meaning it was full and the second bus would pick us up. Sometimes the second bus would honk three times to tell us that it was full too and that the third bus would do the “honors” of picking us up. We could always hear the bus chugging up the hill on the Laguna curve and then start picking up speed on the downhill towards our house. Fortunately, the third bus always seemed to pick us up.

When I go up the old highway now, I am amazed at how narrow it is. To load and off-load passengers, the Greyhound and even the yellow school buses would have to stop right in middle of the roadway – no space to pull to the side. Other traffic on the road would simply have to wait until the loading and off-loading of passengers was completed. (Guess this was way before “road rage”.)

I also look at the highway and am marveled at all the history and things that happened on it. A vivid memory I have is of the 2 dairies that had to cross their cows from the west- side to the east-side (and vise versa) of the road. (As Ivano describes it in his book the Coast Road itself runs north and south to and from Santa Cruz, “Haffa Moom” Bay and - - “San Franceezco”.) One was at the Scaroni Dairy (now the RED, WHITE and BLUE Beach) The other was at the Annand and DalPorto ranch area (located a little north of where the Rodonis now sell their pumpkins). In the
1950’s, Frank Borges and his family had the dairy and sometimes Mr. Borges would get sick - - so his daughters Della, Vera and I would stop the cars and trucks to get the cows across the highway. Sometimes I wonder how that would go in today’s world?

Another interesting thing that happened in about the same area (not sure if it was late 40's or early 50’s.) A California Highway Patrolman named Danny O’Connell made a car stop. Apparently, seeing that Officer O’Connell was preoccupied with writing the ticket or examining the offending vehicle, the two male occupants of the car took advantage of the situation by running and jumping into the CHP patrol car. They actually “hijacked” it. Not to be 'out-done', Danny quickly commandeered a passing cement truck to be his “chase car”. Of course the cement trucks were much lighter and could go faster when they were going back up to Davenport to reload. Don’t know all the details, but it all ended well. I think the car was picked up on Bonny Doon Road. (This story reminds me of the “chase” as described by Ivano
in “La Nostra Costa”, with a “shotgun totting” Joe Gemignani, Dante Ramaciotti and Bronco Comelli giving chase in the “Old Carettone” up the Coast Road in an unsuccessful attempt to capture a couple of car thieves.)

I also remember my Dad and Mom talking with their friends (other “old timers”) about the times during WWII when you couldn't’t turn on your headlights because of the Blackout restrictions. Can you imagine being on the highway with no headlights (of course it wasn’t like today when we absolutely have to jump in a car and go somewhere, anytime.)

I do not remember as I was too young, but I do recall my Dad talking about how he would drive from the Grossi ranch where he was a partner, and go all the way to Newtown shinning a flashlight out the window of the car. (Remember how Ivano described his father almost being arrested for using a flashlight while feeding the rabbits. Although my father was a naturalized citizen, he wasn’t even supposed to have a flashlight when my Mom was in the car because she, like Ivano’s father, was an alien and not a citizen.) Can you imagine driving a stick shift car and holding a flashlight out the window to see where you were going. To make it that much more difficult the Grossi Ranch happened to be located just before Yellowbank. So there were several curves, ditches and hills before the road finally became a straight-a-way (near Bonny Doon Road) to Davenport. All I got to say is thank God for the white line in the middle of the road!