MY GRANDMOTHER wasborn in Görz, at the most south-westerly corner of theAustro-Hungarian empire, not far from the Empire's main seaport,Trieste, and close to the border with the kingdom of Italy. Herfather, Antonio, was born in 1868, son of Giuseppe Madriz and MariaFornasaric'. Her mother, also Caterina, was born in 1874, like herhusband in Görz, daughter of Matteo Pintar and Maria Buzik.Although citizens of the empire, they spoke Italian, or the Italiandialect of their town. But their names betray Slav origins too, thepeoples of what is now Slovenia. The Madriz family, though, claimedto have come from Austria proper. Was their name a variant of theAustrian name Madritsch? To my mother, the family was Italian, andsuggestions of being Austrian or Slovenian do not make sense: it wasnot part of their identity. But her grandfather served in theAustrian army during the Great War, and an uncle surnamed Risdorferstudied dentistry in Vienna. Recently I discovered that the name onlyoccurs in Gorizia (with a branch on the Genoese coast) with a coupleof families in Spain, and many Spanish-speaking members of the familyin the United States of South American origin. It is possible thatthe Madriz family went to Gorizia from Spain with the Hapsburgs.There is one Madriz in Austria.

 Aneighteenth-century view of Gorizia

There is adescription of the home town of my grandmother's ancestors in an oldGent family geography book dated 1780:

"Gortz, or Goritz,is an ancient town on the river Lizono [Isonzo], in Goritia,a small country in Friuli, subject to the House of Austria, 20 milesnorth of Aquileia, and 58 north-east of Venice. It is a large town inthe middle of a wood… The Old, or Upper Town, was taken in 1507by the Venetians, who fortified it, but regained by the emperorMaximilian I two years later; and in 1616 they again attempted tosurprise it, but were forced to retreat.

 The castleat Gorizia

The Sclavoniantongue, which is spoken in these provinces [i.e. the IllyrianProvinces of Austria] reaches no farther west than this town,where the common people speak a corrupt Latin, which is more likeFrench than Italian; but in the courts of judicature they speak HighDutch [German], as do also the gentry. It is tolerablystrong, and is the residence of the governor, and others of quality.The inhabitants pretend [claim] it is a distinct province,and that their ancestors were a colony of Germans brought hither fromSwabia… It is 35 miles long, and 15 broad, and has finevineyards."

The castle atGorizia

The castle atGorizia

The town is nolonger encircled by woodland, but it is dramatically framed by themountains of the Julian alps to the north. Her ancestors appear tohave been settled there some time, but I have no idea of theiroccupations and families. Antonio married Caterina in 1896. They hada daughter, whom I knew as Zia Maria, married to Zio Nin, whom I metin 1964, the parents of my mother's cousin Ada, who stills lives inwhat is now Gorizia. Maria was the eldest. Her sister Caterina, mygrandmother, was born on November 11th, 1904. There was one survivingbrother, Angelo, the youngest. My grandmother would have been nineyears old when the Great War broke out; the assassination of theArchduke Ferdinand took place not too far away in Sarajevo, also thenin the Empire. Görz, though, was a town on the border betweenAustria-Hungary, allied with the Kaiser and Germany, and the kingdomof Italy, one of the allies of Britain and France. I did not reallyunderstand the reality of this until I read Ernest Hemingway's novelA Farewell to Arms, which is set in that place at that time, or whenI visited the vast war memorial at Redipuglia. Caporetto is alsonearby, scene of a serious defeat. Görz was subject to heavybombardment throughout the war, and civilians suffered in a wayunknown in Britain at that time. My great grandmother was in a cellarhiding from such an attack when she was seriously injured in theabdomen by shrapnel which came through a window, as my motherrecounts later. She was carrying her infant son Angelo at the time,who escaped unharmed. She was taken to hospital in Laibach, nowLjubljana in Slovenia, where she lingered for some months until herdeath. I presume she is buried there. My grandmother at this time,and still only an adolescent, had been displaced from her home townand was living in a concentration camp. This did not have the evilconnotations it acquired in the Second World War, it was whererefugees from the warfront were concentrated to receive aid, thoughmy mother says the civilians were very much treated as prisoners. Mygrandmother recalled the mutton stew that was brought to them inwinter through the snow and icy cold, the fat chilled and thicklycongealed on the surface. It gave her a lifelong loathing for lamb,which she was unable to eat for the associations it carried. It washere that she dreamed of her mother calling her name, to discovermonths later that her mother in fact died at that time. In 1918 or1919 she returned to her home town with her father, sister andbrother. It was no longer part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Theemperor had abdicated, the empire was dissected, and the kingdom ofItaly received what is now western Slovenia, and including Görz,renamed Gorizia, as its reward for fighting with the victors. Mygrandmother's sister Maria cared for her young brother, bringing himup and also caring for her father. I cannot but feel that mygrandmother's experiences of the war hurt her terribly, and took herjoyfulness away. Who can blame her? When I look at photographs of herthere is a gentleness and sensitivity together with the pain. It isimpossible to look without seeing the suffering.

The PiazzaGrande, Gorizia, in the style of MittelEuropa

My grandmother wasworking in a stationers in Gorizia after the war when she met mygrandfather, who used to buy his newspaper in the shop. He was doinghis military service in Gorizia, based in barracks in Via Trieste inthis garrison border town, when she served him. She began to visithim at the barracks. He remembered in old age exactly what she worethat first time: a lovely pale blue coat with yellow stockings andshoes. She had by now reclaimed some of her happiness, and was a veryactive sportswoman, and keen cyclist.

My grandmother(just right of centre) in the women's cycling team

My grandmother(second left, back row) in another sporting snap

My grandmother asa beautiful young woman