I finally decided to do it– after 25 years, ritorno in Italia ! That’s not bad, this going to Italy every 25 years. At this rate my next trip will occur when I’m 78 years old, and who knows? It may be in a box! (Just kidding; I plan on living past 100 because I want to see if the Democrats achieve a 100% majority in both the House and Senate.)
My friend Eugene and I were talking one time about the town of Cazzolungo, in Sicily. In the 1960s the town found itself, thanks to emigration, with a large cemetery that wasn’t being used. They decided to extend a hand to all the families of the Cazzolungans who’d left the town over the years and settled in America, offering to re-inter their deceased in a free burial plot in Il Cimitero della Vergine Piangente. (The Cemetery of the Weeping Virgin.) Well, being Italians and hearing the word “free,” hundreds of families responded to the offer; they had to rent a destroyer to ship all the expired thousands over to Cazzolungo. It was a momentous day when the ship arrived, its decks covered with coffins draped in Italian tri-colored flags. Today, the population of Cazzolungo is 17 living and 6,776 deceased.
I had an opportunity to go to Italy with my high school class back in the 1970s, but I didn’t even bother asking at home because I thought we were poor. When my grandmother found out, she yelled. “Why didn’t you tell me? I would have paid!” She used to go back and forth to Tuscany every few years, by boat. I remember all of us seeing her off on the Constitution, which my father referred to as the Constipation because of all the old people who were aboard. And even though was just one person from our family going to Italy– my grandmother– nine thousand people had to see her off, all ooohing and ahhhing at the amenities of her tiny stateroom. She brought me back a faux marble model of the leaning tower of Pisa, priced on the bottom 600 lire– a dollar ! I still have it of course; this house is like a museum.
I’ll be traveling to the north of Italy, to stay with our family in Marlia, a country town between Pisa and Florence. It’s close to the town of Lucca, which is one of those Italian jewels that tourists miss because they’re so busy running around in Pisa and Florence. Lucca is surrounded by very wide medieval walls, which are now covered with trees and parks where people walk and bicycle and relax. It’s also got these great churches filled with astounding works of art, which I saw on my last visit in 1984. My sister Gina didn’t get to see inside any churches in Lucca because she was wearing short shorts, a halter top, platform shoes, and a pocketbook slung over her shoulder. With each church we entered, an ancient priest would rush at us from the gloom: “Va via!” “Get out!” they yelled at Gina, thanks to the fact that she had decided to dress like a puttana while visiting these churches. So while I was inside marvelling at stained glass and marble altarpieces, Gina would wait outside on the churches’ steps, smoking cigarettes while the promenading Luccans stared.
I hope to also venture up into the high hills above Marlia, where my grandmother Giorgia was born. She came from a tiny group of villages called San Cassiano di Controne; she was from La Chiesa, the hamlet that centers around the church that was built in the 1200s. Postcards of La Chiesa show the house she was born in. Close by, in the hamlet of Cocolaio, her aunt had a house which we visited in 1984 as well. It was hundreds of years old, and we used to tell everyone that “our family has a villa in Tuscany.” We had lunch there, and Gina wore a dress and nice shoes, not realizing that we would be hiking in the quiet hills that afternoon. That’s my sister Gina– to visit the exquisite churches of Lucca, she dresses like Charo; to go hiking, she dresses like Princess Di.
I will be staying with my mother’s cousin Giuseppina, who shares the house with her son Massimo. Next door lives her son Adriano, with his wife Simona and their son Nicola, who is eighteen. (He is my second cousin once removed.) Giuseppina has a sister who lives nearby, and she has two children, and three grand-children. There are relatives galore to catch up with. I asked Nicola if the women still gathered in the kitchen every Sunday to make pasta by hand, and he said “nah. The people who knew how to do that are all dead.” I guess they buy Ronzoni at the local market. Maybe I will treat them all to hand-made pasta, but the measurements in Italy are metric so I’ll have to be careful.
When Roots was hot, I asked my grandmother’s sister-in-law Nella to tell me some things about the family up there in the hills. (She grew up in a town not far from San Cassiano.) “Don’t ask too many questions about who what where,” she replied. “Let me just say that you have more cousins than you think !!”
So I’m very excited about this trip. I’m sure I’ll have many interesting circumstances to report, probably starting with my first foray through customs. Imagine bringing only three ounces of shampoo for ten days in Italy? I’ll have to shop for some at the market in Marlia. And I guess I’ve got to remember to bring my electric plug adapters; I don’t need any exploding personal devices.
And here is the blog about the actual trip: here