Albanians Adjust, in Unlikeliest of Places Oct 5, 2008 10:29:40 GMT -5
Post by Bozur on Oct 5, 2008 10:29:40 GMT -5
Albanians Adjust to Italy, in Unlikeliest of Places
Kathryn Cook for The New York Times
Kimete Murrizi, an Albanian immigrant, picks grapes in Chiusi, Italy, for a winery. A Muslim, she does not drink. Amid turmoil over immigrants in Italy, Albanians from places like Durres and Kavaje have found ways to integrate in communities in Tuscany.
By RACHEL DONADIO
Published: October 2, 2008
CHIUSI, Italy — On a crisp fall morning just after Ramadan, Hysen and Kimete Murrizi stood side by side in a Tuscan vineyard, snipping fat bunches of grapes into red plastic buckets.
Kathryn Cook for The New York Times
An extended Albanian family, from left, Lindita Hoxha and Kadife, Alessia and Azem Mema, observing Ramadan’s end.
They worked their way quickly down a sloping hillside, picking grapes for Chianti, after having spent days selecting smaller grapes for more refined wines. On the nearby highway, passing truckers honked in a harvest greeting.
The Murrizis are among tens of thousands of Albanians who arrived in Italy in the 1990s after the collapse of their country’s Communist dictatorship and economy. That they should become skilled vineyard workers is somewhat incongruous because Mrs. Murrizi is an observant Muslim who fasted for Ramadan and does not drink alcohol.
She acknowledged the culture clash. “Yes,” Mrs. Murrizi said with a warm smile in fluent Italian. “But that’s the way it is. Unfortunately I have to work. Life is like that.”
Mrs. Murrizi, 46, has wavy light brown hair and green eyes. She left factory work to join her husband in Italy in 1998. Mr. Murrizi, 52, a former truck driver with a tanned face and close-cropped gray hair, left Durres, Albania, for Tuscany in 1993.
Mr. Murrizi is not so observant as his wife, and over the years he has become a wine fan. “Especially the ‘vino nobile,’ ” he said, as a smile lit up his face. “But also the Chianti.”
Mrs. Murrizi said: “I tried it once because Hysen said, ‘Come on, you’ve worked here for so long, try it.’ I liked it.” But for religious reasons, she said, she did not plan to make it a habit.
In the Italian popular imagination, Albanian immigrants are more often depicted as scofflaws than as upstanding members of society. Anti-immigrant sentiment runs high, and many Italians blame foreigners for what they say is a rise in crime. In recent months, there have been several highly publicized cases of violence against other immigrant groups.
But amid the turmoil, families like the Murrizis are quietly integrating into middle-class life in ways that Italy is only beginning to acknowledge. Like new shoots grafted onto an old vine, they are fast becoming an essential part of the country’s most valued traditions, including winemaking.
The Murrizis work full time for the Salcheto winery, based in nearby Montepulciano, planting in spring, pruning in summer, picking in fall and preparing the vines in winter.
They are the new face of Italy, and Italy is slowly recognizing them.
“At first we didn’t realize they have different needs,” said Salcheto’s owner, Michele Manelli, 33, who has gone out of his way to help the Murrizis navigate the Italian bureaucracy. “When we’d have dinner at the end of the harvest, we’d have a normal menu. But little by little we understood: no pig, no wild boar.”
The night before, the Murrizis had gathered with friends and family to mark the end of Ramadan, which they celebrated in a public apartment near the Montepulciano fire station, eating homemade baklava and drinking Turkish coffee.
“In Albania we would have had a bigger party,” Mr. Murrizi said that evening. “But here, we have to work; it’s the ‘vendemmia,’ ” or grape harvest.
Their host was Azem Mema, a contractor originally from Kavaje, Albania, who shares the apartment with his wife, Arta; their school-age daughters, Francesca and Alessia; and his mother, Kadife, a stocky woman with a white kerchief on her head and a dark shawl draped over her shoulders.
“I have eight children,” the elder Mrs. Mema said proudly in rudimentary Italian. “Five boys and three girls.” Seven live in or near Montepulciano, she said, and one daughter is still in Albania.
“Sooner or later she’ll come here, too,” Mr. Murrizi said.
A flat-panel television was tuned to an Albanian music channel, showing women in long skirts twirling to a Balkan backbeat. A bare bulb hung from one white wall. “We still have a lot of work to do,” Mr. Mema said apologetically in fluent Italian.
Every so often the buzzer rang and another branch of the family arrived. Mr. Mema’s sister, Lindita Hoxha, also a vineyard worker, came in with her bubbly 11-year-old son, Matteo. He said he liked studying history. “We’ve done the Romans, the Egyptians, the golden age of Africa,” he said. But not Napoleon. “You don’t get to him until the second year of middle school.”
Several years ago, the Murrizis bought a house in Sinalunga, a nearby town. Their three grown children all work nearby: one is an electrician, one is a blacksmith and the third has a career in the hotel industry. Legal residents, the couple have applied for Italian citizenship and expect to hear back soon.
“At first we thought we’d return” to Albania, Mrs. Murrizi said with a quiet smile. But that seems increasingly unlikely.
Mr. Mema said, “The older the kids get, the harder it becomes.” At Francesca’s middle school, the other children do not know she speaks Albanian at home, he added.
Arta Mema, hugging Alessia, her younger daughter, said: “They’re used to it here. They were born here and have grown up here.”
In Montepulciano, integration is still a work in progress, said the city’s mayor, Massimo Della Giovampaola. “As with all new things, there’s some diffidence,” he conceded. “But it’s a matter of time. The kids in school now, when they get older they’ll be totally integrated because they grew up together.”