*Fuzzy Photos & Unreliable Tasting Notes
Christmas Day 1978 and, after a huge setback, Carmela seeks solace in Molla, while Molla seeks solace in the camera. Part of me wishes I hadn't taken this photo but it so well exemplifies how alone my wife was feeling that day.
"Irretrievable breakdown, how convenient," uttered the contemptuous regter with a smug grimace and a flounce of his gown. I had to bite my lip at his condescension on that sad day in court in Durban early in 1979.
The law stated that one party needed to appear in court to formalise a divorce after submission of a joint affidavit between husband and wife declaring that a marriage was over. Carmela and I had already sat in front of a sympathetic solicitor who was a friend to both of our families. He liked us and we liked and trusted him. He was not a pushover and tested our reasoning strenuously before agreeing to submit the affidavit.
So the regter was out of order but had to get his snide word in before affixing the official stamp. He wasn't interested in our wellbeing one jot.
In the early days our relationship was pretty much under the watchful eye of her tightly knit Italian family, complete with maternal Grandfather, 'Daddy', who shared their spacious home in Durban's Morningside. The rest of the family consisted of Papa Ciro, Mama Aurora, sisters Elena and Luisa and brother Antonio. Actually, Daddy was an Austrian aristocrat who had ended up on the wrong side of history at the end of WW1 and emigrated to South Africa from Trieste, which had become part of Italy.
His full name was Eduardo Giovanni Bruno von Thomann de Montalmar and he was a constant presence at the Morningside home, always someone to come home to for the children if their parents were working. Ciro and Aurora had a delicatessen and older daughters Elena and Carmela spent much of their time working there, too.
My first 'date' with Carmela was to join her with her mother and father for a concert at a formal Durban venue. If it was part of a vetting process, I assume I passed muster. My one failure was being a skinny dude and Papa Ciro set about rectifying that with stupendous Italian feasts on Sundays. For the first time in my life I became a bit porky.
I could go on but I am just trying to give some idea of how integral the wider family can be to the life of a young Italian wife. What's not to love! To this day I remain friends with the surviving extended Toscano family, now including Carmela's daughters, Carla and Nikki. My daughter, Kate, has too been succoured by them while visiting Australia.
I removed Carmela from this comfort zone when I was seconded to London immediately after we were married in late 1974. I went straight into a job in Fleet Street and my lovely 19-year-old wife was relegated to a studio apartment in Ealing. She was such a trooper and I was so caught up in my dream career that I failed to pick up on how lonely she became. Ripped from the bosom of a family where she had been a protected and adored teenager into a world where her husband was expected to be wedded to a newspaper bureau with postings abroad and weird shifts around the clock. My young bride had only the TV for company. The occasional holiday was compensation but really couldn't make up for endless time spent fending for herself in what must have been an intimidating and unfamiliar environment.
Above: Our first year of marriage wasn't exactly a gentle introduction ... (top) just arrived and in Hyde Park corner; (row 2 l-r) pretty much Carmela's only environment when we first arrived in London, Elena came to visit; (row 3 l-r) St Tropez, photobombed in Naples; (bottom l-r) Summer flowers in the Swiss alps, the Acropolis.
Coming back to Earth
It wasn't that long after we returned to Durban from our year's stint in London that I became Motoring Editor at The Daily News. This involved a lot more gadding about on staying-away motoring jaunts, including a month in Germany and the UK. By that stage we had a flat but hadn't yet acquired television, which was new to South Africa and consisted of not much more than a test pattern for a while. Carmela's parents lived just down the road and had a TV and it was easy to avail herself of the warm environment of parents and siblings.
Then came bombshell #1
Aurora's brother Merino (Mike) von Thomann who lived in New South Wales in Australia, became concerned about his sister and her family living in South Africa in the aftermath of the Soweto Uprising. He was able to help them move to Australia, which was great for them but left Carmela (and probably Elena, too) with a huge void. All of which could potentially have been overcome had
As far as beetling off to London was concerned, Elena's husband, my friend Howie, had other plans for me and lured me into the IT world. By the time I'd got my feet under that table with suitable qualifications, it was the end of 1986. It was therefore long after Carmela and I had gone our separate ways before Shelley-ann and I left for the UK, as it turns out for good, in April 1987.
Actually, I'm not sure Carmela will believe me to this day but I always did want children but had hoped to hold back awhile until careers were established etc ... . However, I can see today why she might have been exasperated. I was a selfish git. Carmela had been a saint.
Above: Some pics from the late 70s; (top row) some motor-editing activities in SA and in Germany; (2nd row) Kayaking was a favourite activity; (3rd row) Carmela and Elena were constant support crew; (bottom row) some 70s glamour.
As it turns out we did agree in 1978 to start trying for a baby and it happened quite quickly. Actually I became quite excited myself. At first everything went pretty well and I was quietly crossing my fingers for a little girl. Then it wasn't so great. Carmela was confined to bed by our family GP (who I think was a little in love with Carmeeela [what he called her] himself). He visited frequently and after some scary moments things started to stabilise. Christmas was approaching and we had things to celebrate.
It was a Harrison family tradition that we alternated celebrations between our home and Dad's brother, Graham's. Carmela and I stopped at my parents' home en route to the other Harrisons' for a Christmas knees up. In days gone by, the Toscanos would have been invited, too, but they were now in Australia.
Carmela suddenly started feeling abdominal pains and my mum, Shirley, accompanied her to the toilet to see if she could help. Mum emerged to say our baby had been premature and stillborn. She told the rest of us to leave immediately for the Christmas lunch and that she'd follow on with Carmela in a while.
I have no idea why I acceded to Mum's request. That seemed to be the way in those days. Mum would never have been cruel but her own background had been one of stoicism brought about by absent parents and, I found out, at least one miscarriage of her own.
Mum and Carmela appeared after a while and the jollifications resumed. I cannot believe Famiglia Toscano would have played it with quite such emotional understatement. Carmela was magnificently stoical. She shouldn't have had to be. I can only now imagine what was going on under the surface. She kept to herself and sought solace by being close to Molla, whom she adored. Molla had her own problems. I'm not sure she was much help. Neither was I. I was privately devastated, particularly for my wife, but could only watch her with compassion and resentment at my relatives for thinking life could just go on and we could have a bumper Christmas.
Carmela was, and still is, a warm compassionate person and would not have allowed that to happen to anyone else.
Above: Some of the sparkle went out of my wife, to be replaced with a sadder, more contemplative demeanour.
We continued with our lives but increasingly doing things separately. Of course, I had my work and associated social activities. Carmela started working in banking and made a few friends there. I'm sure they were some support. But I had the career I wanted and my family in Durban. Europe still beckoned. Her job was not a career and her all-embracing family had decamped to Australia.
We tried to make things work, Neither of us wished to abandon the vows we'd made to each other in good faith four years earlier.
It was finally Carmela who had the guts to call time. She would move to join her family in Australia. This was not a decision a young woman of Italian Catholic background took lightly.
Paradoxically, the tension eased in the lead up to our divorce and we have remained friends ever since. Kate, at one stage having developed a great fondness for Carla while she was visiting us in Oxfordshire, asked quite seriously what familial relationship existed between the two of them.
One last question for Mr Smug Regter
How was this convenient? Life is not perfect. How would Carla, Nicola and Kate have emerged into this world as such fine young women had we clung to a dream that had evaporated?
Above: Daddy (a.k.a. Eduardo Giovanni Bruno von Thomann de Montalmar), seen in the livery of his prestigious Viennese school before the First World War, died shortly after our wedding. He rebuilt his life in Durban and saw out his final years supporting Carmela and her siblings. He always wanted us to travel back to Europe and it was sad that he wasn't around to enjoy these pictures of Carmela, taken on our grand 1975 European tour - the first in Spain and the other on the Amalfi Coast in Italy.
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