When Monica Mariucci first moved to Trail she admits she felt a bit like a “pesce fuor d’acqua” which in English means a “fish out of water.”
The Italian-born newcomer, who hails from a small town near Perugia in the province of Umbria, married a man from this region, and they saw this city as the perfect place to one day plant their roots.
So after 18 months of living in Italy, the young couple moved back to Canada in 2006 and settled into a cozy Annable home with their two babies. Later, another three would follow.
Right from the start, Monica wove herself into the Trail community, visiting with neighbours and for the first few years, putting her little ones into a stroller and walking down to Star Grocery every day so she could have a conversation in her native tongue.
Along the way Monica has accomplished so much as she’s put her career in architecture on hold (she studied in Florence, home to many masterpieces of Renaissance art and architecture) to devote herself to raising five children who are now 14, 13, 11, 9, and 7.
She’s brought her children to the old country in the summer months to visit with relatives and absorb the culture, and she’s flown her mother in from Italy to visit in Trail for months at a time.
As her three sons and two daughters grew, the couple found a new home in Warfield, so she packed up and moved the family of seven into a larger house with a bigger garden to tend.
And in that time, Monica has gone from being a student in a new country to a teacher of the Italian language and ways right here in Trail.
She began as an ESL student (English lessons) at the downtown Selkirk College campus, and later became a continuing education instructor for beginner and advanced Italian language classes in that same school.
Aside from teaching and mothering, a few weeks ago Monica completed English 12, passing it with flying colours. She even achieved a 100 per cent grade on her final paper which most fittingly focused on “The Italian Culture in Trail.”
“Let your eyes wander up from the banks of the Columbia River to view the rock walls that flow along it,” she poetically wrote in her conclusion. “Then let your eyes wander across old fashioned vegetable gardens grown by Italian nonnas. This will get you thinking about food. Then you can go to the Italian supermarket or an Italian restaurant for some pasta and a glass of Chianti. This is the legacy that the Italian immigrants brought that you can still see in Trail today. And taste!”
Teacher Sarah-Kim Holma first met Monica in her English 11 class and the two have since become fast friends.
Holma herself went from teaching her student to learning so much about Trail from Monica’s final research paper, which was written from interviews she carried out in the city’s Italian community.
“I am so proud of her,” said Holma. “When she came to her research paper piece she said ‘I want to do something that matters to me.’ So I suggested an econography. It’s a different style of paper, but basically she interviewed people and asked them how much they retained of Italian culture,” Holma explained.
“And what Monica did was incredible. She created a thesis statement in her essay (that outlines) how you can see the tangible culture in three different ways: rock walls, community centers that continue to exist, and food.”
Through her journey from beginner English to passing the final grade, Monica says she discovered a lot about the city’s Italian heritage, some of it unexpected. Learning who built the rock walls and hearing firsthand stories from the Rossland Avenue heydays took her by surprise.
“With the interviews I was shocked to learn that in the 1950s the Gulch was like a little Italy,” she shared. “I feel like it’s kind of sad that it’s not like that now. But when people talked to me about it they sparkled, because they still remember what it was like before.”
With English 12 now behind her, Monica has started teaching a new course of Italian classes. Level 1 began Jan. 21 and runs until Feb. 11. The next level will begin Feb. 18 and level three, April 7.
While her lessons are geared toward the basics and meant to help those planning a trip to Italy, she also teaches privately if requested.
Her most memorable student was a young woman who wanted to learn the language so she could surprise her nonno with a conversation in Italian at the Christmas dinner table.
“It’s so nice to see that there are people who want to put in that effort,” Monica said. “And it makes me happy when the older Italians leave (tradition) for their children, because in an Italian home, this is the strong part of your life.”