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Winners' Press Release: English | Italian
Second Round Finalist (English)
6 Finalist (English)

Maria Miscella
Special Prize Winner of
the Literary Contest:
"Words of Salt"

English Edition

Maria Miscella

Born in the United States on July 11, 1929
Lived in Italy from 1930 to 1951
Returned to the United States in 1951
Married with three children.

Istituto Magistrale - Lecce
(Italy Graduated as an elementary school teacher)
University of Naples
Hunter College - New York Received BA
City University of New York
Received MA in Italian Literature

Harrison High School - New York Teacher of Italian
St. Johnís University - New York Teacher of Italian
Lecturer on Italian Literature and History


It was 1945 and the last days of World War II were slowly approaching. Life was difficult for everyone; in San Cesario, the small town in Italy where I grew up, it was almost impossible to find food anywhere. Although we had ration cards which we could supposedly use to buy bread (only a very small portion per person), flour, other staples, shoes and clothing, the stores were empty and, thus, the ration cards were useless. My grandmother lived with us; everyday she would walk miles and miles, and go from farm to farm and try to buy any little thing for us to eat. Sometimes she was successful, other times she came back empty-handed. Many times she would go to the countryside and gather dandelions which she would cook and which I hated. But, even these were scarce because everyone was doing the same thing.

Salt was sold in “Salt and Tobacco” (Sale e Tabacchi) stores which, at that time, were monopolies of the government Individuals needed a special license to operate such a store. When the war began and things started to disappear from the market, salt was still plentiful. It was course salt (not like the one sold in the United States); it was sold loose and in big chunks and it was sold by kilogram, 1⁄2 a kilogram, 1⁄4 kilogram, etc.

My father had the intuition that if the war continued, eventually even salt would become a rare commodity. So, he started buying a kilogram at the time, and he stored it in anticipation of when even salt would be unavailable. Sure enough, it happened! Everyone wanted salt, but there wasn’t any. Owners of “Salt and Tobacco” stores explained to everyone that they had put in orders for salt, but that all their orders remained unfilled. People started going crazy. They wanted salt! Despite the fact that most people had very little food, they still wanted it to be tasty. This is when my father’s intuition became a life saver. He went around to mills, merchants, and farmers and bartered the salt which he had accumulated for flour, cheese, salami, fruit, legumes and whatever else they could give him. No one can imagine the joy we felt seeing our father arrive with pasta or flour or beans!

I remember that once he was able to get five kilograms of chestnut flour, but we had no idea what to do with it. We tried boiling it and making a mush out of it, but we didn’t like it at all. My grandmother tried other ways of cooking it, but to no avail; it was not even remotely tasty! After we had used (actually, wasted) about 2 kilograms of the flour, someone gave us a recipe to make sweet chestnut bread. We loved it and we ate chestnut bread every day until the flour was finished. Another time, he came home with 2 kilograms of wheat. We could not take it to the mill to be ground because it was against the law. We would have had to declare where it came from, how we got it, etc. So, my mother boiled it and, although it tasted awful, we ate it because we had nothing else.

Eventually my father ran out of extra salt to barter; he just had enough left for our family’s needs. We didn’t know what to do! At this point, my parents sold some property and jewels in order to be able to buy food at the black market. They were determined to feed and care for their four children, especially because there was nothing which they could do for their oldest child who was fighting in Africa (he was killed at the age of nineteen). Finally, luckily, the war ended and slowly, very slowly, things started to go back to normal.

Without salt, however, my family and I would have starved.

Maria Miscella

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