Brigida Manco has lived on Ischia for most of her life and has seen the island transform from an agricultural market place with few roads to a tourist destination for people from all over the world. We talked inside the house she was born in and she would constantly point out landmarks from her window. She even gave me a bottle of her family wine.
Brigida Manco: So I remember the island as it was before I went to the states. I lived in Connecticut and I went to junior high school up till 9th grade. You are lucky because you went to university, I was supposed to go to university too but I came back to Italy. Life goes on like that, and you know, my life went differently.
BM: What I want to say, is that in those 4 years, when I was in the states, everything (on the island) changed. When I went to the states in 1956, most houses didn't have bathrooms. I will show you later, the bathroom is (outside). How do you say in English latrine?
Greg Kamradt: Bathroom toilet?
BM: No no no! Not a toilet.
GK: Just a hole in the ground?
BM: Yes, yes just a hole in the ground. A lot of people shared this.
GK: Who cleaned it or emptied it?
BM: Ahhh no no one cleaned it. We say it went into the land. Often the way it was before the heat would just...destroy it. And even the kitchen was outside. We had no gas on the island, so you had to light wood or coal. It made a lot of smoke.
GK: Can you talk a little more about the transformation in the 60s?
BM: Yes, the real change happened in the 60s. I told you, when I came back from the states. I found everything changed. When I went to the states, just one family had television over here. One. An she lived over there. When there was some program that people liked, everyone went over to her house. So so many people were curious to see television. When I came back I found that everyone had television. I mean in four years, a big difference. Because the island opened to tourists. For example, they cut the new road that went to Maronti. Maybe 1958 or 1959. They started to build the first hotels on the island. In the 1960s is when Rizzoli started to build his hotels. I mean, the island changed completely. People didn't need to immigrate out anymore, many came back.
GK: Because there were a lot more jobs right?
BM: Yes yes because there was more work. Italy changed, and the island changed. Some people would still immigrate out, but not forever. More of a seasonal immigration. The young people usually worked in the hotel mostly in spring and summer. Then in the winter, they would go to Switzerland. And then they come back. But the immigration was important. Because those people who went to the states, they used to send money over here. They could fix the houses, they could buy land.
GK: So a lot of money came back to the island from the states?
BM: Yes, in Australia too. The immigration was important for the economy. Not only because they could find a better life and earn more money. But they sent part of the money over to Ischia. But if you want to know something, please please ask.
GK: Of course, so when you were a kid on the island what did you do for fun?
BM: Well it wasn't so easy to get around on the island, because there wasn't a bus. One bus. When I came back from America there was, I told you everything changed. And so we had a carriage with horses. There were two people who had the carriages, and when we had to go to Ischia Porto, we took the carriage in the morning. It was nice for us kids. Now you can still see them around the island. Sometimes the still bring tourists.
GK: What did your parents do?
BM: My mother, she knew how to sew, they taught me how to sew. But she, like every person of Ischia, worked the land. She was in agriculture too. Underneath each house there was a cantina. It was a place where people made wine.
GK: So a lot of families would make wine?
BM: If you were lucky enough to have land, then you made wine. My mother, she sold a little bit of wine. But mostly it was just for the family. And my father was a musician, he not only played the piano but he was a director.
BM: Yes, and he taught many kids through the conservatory. Many people now who are musicians because they have a degree in music, they studied with my father.
GK: What was your favorite thing that your mom would make when you were a child?
BM: Pasta, I loved pasta, and bread. But mostly now, I love the bread that is cooked with a fire oven.
GK: Would she make rabbit?
BM: Many people had rabbits. Rabbit was a very important industry for the island. It was not difficult to grow, it is very prolific. You had to have land to raise them. They used to have big holes in the ground and the would place the rabbits in the holes and feed them and let them grow. They would give them a lot of grass. I don't grow rabbits, because for me it is difficult to kill them. I love to cook them though. Some families would raise rabbits in a pen near the kitchen outside. It was a way for people to have animal meat and protein. So everyone, more or less tried to raise rabbits.
GK: So you started teaching when you were 22?
BM: Yes I was 22 and in university and started teaching. Sometimes I would also teach to adults after work. I taught junior high, elementary school and to grown up people in the evening. When I was in university I taught elementary school, and when I left I taught junior high school.
GK: Which did you like better?
BM: With elementary school, its very very hard because you have to teach in a language that the children will understand. Elementary school is difficult because you have to choose the same language that they do, I tried to do it, and I did it but its not so easy. We used a lot of pictures, a lot of songs, a lot of movies. If I have to say, junior high.
GK: How long did you teach for?
BM: If you put everything together for the kids and for the adults, 43 years. I don't want to retire, they told me I had to go ha.
GK: Do you still keep in contact with your old students?
BM: My students! Ha I still see them around the island all the time. If I go out I see many of them. Sometimes they will send their son or their daughter over here for English. Yes and my mother is still alive.
GK: Oh wow really where does she live?
BM: She is 99 and lives on the ancient road. The one I used to take. She is going to be 100 on the 10th of December. She is a strong person. Its nice to see her and go there.
GK: (As her husband walks by) When did you meet your husband?
BM: We met when we were young, and then we didn't see each other for a long time. Then a couple years later we met again and decided to get married. But its nice, my daughter, she decided to come back to Ischia to work. She does engineering. We say that the people of Ischia are like the muscles on a rock by the sea, we always come back and stick to the island.