The surprisingly powerful story behind a simple family photo.
A picture is worth a thousand words, says an old proverb.
This overused expression exists in many different languages and expresses the power of a single still image like the one below to convey complex, sometimes multiple ideas.
Here, for example, is this one.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking.
At first glance, this image may seem like an unfortunate example.
But in fact, this humble family snapshot from a bygone era hides a surprisingly large piece of Italian history.
The photo was taken between 1963 and 1964 and is in my family album. It shows my grandparents, my young father and my uncle in Sunday clothes posing with my grandfather’s new car, a Fiat 1100D.
This model (which enjoyed great success in India long after production ceased in Italy in ’66) was introduced in the fall of 1962. It may not look very attractive to a modern person, but Grandpa had every reason to be proud of his little Fiat sedan.
And that’s because my grandfather was born in a small Sicilian village in the mid-1920s. Despite the megalomania of the fascist regime of that era, Italy was far from a rich country in those days.
About 20% of the population remained illiterate, and living conditions in the southern regions had hardly improved since the reunification of Italy a few decades earlier. As my grandfather told me, even the thought of ever owning his own car was simply unfathomable to him in his youth.
The Big Boom.
Like many of their peers, my grandparents left Sicily after World War II in search of a better future in Northern Italy.
There was plenty of work to be done in the industrialized north as the entire country sought to rise from the ashes of a lost war, and it must be said that this collective effort (supported by the Marshall Plan) yielded some truly impressive results.
Between 1951 and 1963, Italy’s GDP grew at an average annual rate of 5.9% as the country transformed from a predominantly agrarian society to a modern industrialized economy.
It also meant that Italians could now afford cars – lots of cars.
Between 1954 and 1964, the number of cars on Italy’s roads rose from 700,000 to more than 5 million. In fact, people were buying cars faster than the government had time to mint license plates for them.
It’s telling that the photo was taken when Grandpa’s 1100D was brand new. That’s because he was wearing temporary plates, which allowed him to drive the car while waiting for the real plates, since it could take weeks to get them.
A proud accomplishment.
Knowing where my grandfather came from, this photo takes on a whole new meaning: it immortalizes a moment of pride, of achieving a level of personal well-being that could not even have been imagined a few years before.
Having grown up and having everything I wanted and more, I can’t imagine how good my grandfather felt that day.
I wish I could still ask him about it.