On a Heritage Walk

My desire to visit the small village of my paternal grandparent was different from visiting my maternal aunt and cousins. Besides, they didn’t fully understand my desire to go, plus they were unfamiliar with the winding road up the mountain – after all, there could be snow at 552 m (1716 ft).

My oldest cousin stepped forward, so the two of us headed into the valley toward the point of ascent. She is more than a bit high-strung, but with just the two of us, we had a wonderful day – and her personality did come in handy. We had lunch of wonderful tortelli at Ristorante da Vinicio in the beautiful setting of Bagni di Lucca. (This town is awesome!)

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During lunch, my hyper-cousin couldn’t resist mentioning my last name and that of my grandmother to the very nice man at the restaurant. (Debra, you may know him.) Interestingly, he quickly responded by saying those names are in San Cassiano, the place we were going.

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San Cassiano from a distance in 1964, but this time we drove there from the other direction

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After lunch, up the mountain we went. As we reached the main road’s peak, I exited the car and asked my cousin to drive ahead to meet me at the church – thus I would walk my own journey back in time.

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I started my downhill walk from here

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I recognized the first house as it served as the background for when my dad accidentally met a former classmate and long-time friend from Missouri. Interestingly, they didn’t know the other was vacationing in Italy. In this day, the owner was outside, so I started a conversation with him – which was very enjoyable, but I received only a few useful snippets of family information.

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Dad and his long-time friend from Missouri (1964)

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As I walked toward the church, my eyes wandered as my brain kept retrieving memories from long ago. Meanwhile, (and unknowing to me) my cousin’s personality was working the people at the bar, so she set the stage for when I arrived.

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San Cassiano is the highest village on this side of the mountain

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The woman behind the bar introduced me to Alvaro, a retired man probably in his late 60’s-early 70s. He was a true pleasure, and he eventually directed us to a house of one of my grandfather’s brothers, which two of my dad’s first cousins (who live in Scandinavia) still own and visit in the summer.

From the bar, it was down the street to the main church and an important town monument across from the church.

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The church ahead is dated 772 C.E.

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Unfortunately, the church was locked, but I discovered the sign that dates the church back to 772 – that’s a long time ago!

I had to see the monument across the street from – the monument for the fallen WW I soldiers from this town. I knew the majority of the last names, including

  • My family name
  • My dad’s uncle after whom he is named
  • My grandmother’s maiden name and the maiden name of her mother
  • Family names of those who lived in my home area of rural southern Ohio
  • The family name of my dad’s friend from Missouri
  • The family name of a man I didn’t know, but will soon meet
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There are more names not captured in this photo

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From the church, down the path I went searching for the house of my grandfather’s brother. Again, my cousin came through by asking a person who also just arrived in the parking lot. He led us to a British couple, who led us to the house, which was only two houses away.

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Path beside the church leading to the lower neighborhood

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While talking to the nice British gentleman, a slow-walking elderly man came along – the one whose family name is on the monument. Interestingly, he happens to hold the keys to the house for my Scandinavian cousins. He not only mentioned by grandfather’s name (who died in 1976), but also recalls meeting my dad. What are the odds!

I don’t know how to describe the moral of this story. Perhaps this small town is a magical place – after all, how else would two friends separated by two states on a different continent meet on a street across an ocean and up a hill to a small village meet in 1964? How else would I have so much luck on this short journey? What kind of luck would I have had if I had a family tree with me?

Thanks to the magic of San Cassiano di Controne, this day was extra special for me.

Enjoy the view cross the valley from the town of my paternal heritage. Ciao!

Note: For more pictures, visit this past post by Debra.

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66 thoughts on “On a Heritage Walk

  1. Thank you for those wonderful images. I needed those right about now. It’s a little dreary in Ohio as you know (although maybe the sun shines more where you’re at). Nice words behind the pictures as well.

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  2. Frank
    Your story reminds me of when I went to the Czech Republic and Poland to do my family background. Some amazing people I met who helped me find the church my grandmother was baptized in the Czech Republic. I miss my travels to Europe. Last time in 2007. I say it is never by chance you meet someone…it is meant to be….

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  3. The man at Vinicio was Marco, and I know him well. If you had looked over your shoulder as you walked in the door you would have seen my house. Pity you didn’t cross the bridge and ring the bell.
    In my next post on Bella Bagni di Lucca I will be talking about a book that may interest you.

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    • Debra,
      The man we met had problems with I believe his left eye. Very personable! The next time you see him, she if he recalls the American and his Italian cousin from several weeks ago who were going to San Cassiano.

      Wow … I was that close to you! I had no idea where we were going to eat. I actually thought it would be before Bagni. My cousin parked the car and I could tell she was looking for something in particular.

      I imagine returning in the next 3-4 years with my wife …. so hopefully, health and circumstances will allow us to meet.

      Thanks for the heads up about your upcoming post. Next week I could have one about a particular bridge near you. 😉

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  4. Magical indeed Frank. My first family (biological) on my paternal side are Rom, mainly from Croatia. I have always wanted to go there, dig around see what if anything I can find of my roots, I suspect little.

    This was such a wonderful trip. I feel fortunate you have shared it with all of us.

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    • Val,
      We’ve been to two Croatian cities along the coast — both were wonderful. I’ve also talked to people who have spent time in Croatia, and they have nothing but good words to say!!! Who knows … maybe someday you will be able to do your digging.

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  5. Sometimes magic just happens when you need it the most and expect it the least. A wonderful trip, beautiful pictures and great memories of then and now.

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  6. I really enjoy to read and to watch your Italy days… Beautiful photographs and again so emotional touches for me, I can almost feel myself one of them in this story. Thank you dear Frank, Blessing and happiness, love, nia

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    • Nia,
      As you know, Italy offers so much that it’s easy to take a good picture. Meanwhile, I’m glad you could detect my emotions on this day as it was quite the interesting day! …. and this was only several hours of it! Thanks for the kind words!!!

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  7. Absolutely delightful, Frank! Thank You so much for sharing with us, the images and lovely descriptions. I feel honoured, really, to be ‘taken along’. It’s been a life-long dream to visit the land where all my Grandparents are from. One day….
    I think it’s one of the reasons why I have such a strong affinity for my mountains. 🙂

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    • Victoria,
      As one who appreciates the mountains, I think you would like this area of Tuscany. Interesting, not to far to the south the land becomes flat to rolling. For me, I like this area better. In the post about my mother’s hometown, the town is where the flat & rolling meeting the upward climbs … thus a unique blend. Where is the land of your grandparents?

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      • My maternal grandfather from Abruzzi, grandmother from Rome. My paternal grandparents, from Palermo, Sicily. These really are things I should be documenting, for my children, before I forget. There is precious little paper artifacts, such as marriage/birth/death certificates. This year, my youngest and I will be studying the Italian language . I’d like for she and I to at least be able to speak it. If only as tourists. 😀 Thanks far asking, Frank. And thanks again, so much, for sharing. It’s had me tearing-up, a few times.

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        • Victoria,
          Ah ha … we’re linked more than we think. 🙂 … My cousin’s girlfriend is from Abruzzi! It’s great that you and your youngest are planning to study the language. New languages are never easy, but that will be a good link for you to your past. BTW, extra practice can probably be found in your public library! If not, they probably have access to other libraries. As for your Sicilian side, do you realize that the further south in Italy one goes, more dialects come into play … sometimes it’s an entirely different language.

          Thanks for sharing some of your heritage and I’m glad these posts helped sparked an interest in your own background. 😀

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  8. Frank, that’s so great that you’re so in touch with your roots, and you even know the paths and homes of your ancestors. That’s pretty much lost when it comes to my family. My father, who turns 86 next week, is the last link, but I can’t even get him to tell me where he grew up in Chicago, it’s all such distant past to him and essentially lost to us. I suppose I could dig up the Chicago records, but our past in Italy, that would be much harder to figure out. I think it’s terrific that you don’t take your ancestry for granted. I love the story and the images.

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    • Lame,
      It’s actually easy for me to be in touch with my roots. My mother had a green card with the rest of her family in Italy … and my dad was first generation born in the US – plus my paternal grandparents were neighbors … let alone the other Italian families in my area (strange for rural Ohio). Nonetheless, glad you enjoyed the story and the walk.

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    • Tom,
      The 1964 encounter of my dad and his friend has stayed with me … interesting that I immediately recalled the house. Unexpected encounters would be an interesting blog post … oh … I know have an idea. Thanks Tom.

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    • Paradise,
      I still recall the day that picture was taken as they were surprised to find each of there … and that was the house where I talked to the owner who happened to be outside! (I was going off of memory when I was there) … All in all, a good day in a beautiful part of the world.

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  9. That is a remarkable story. I have one relative on each side of the family who has kept great track of my family’s genealogy, but I think it’s a fascinating thing to study. I may have to make a similar pilgrimage one of these days.

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    • Dave,
      Many thanks. Actually, I’m not into genealogy, but I’m aware. I can’t imagine what this day would have been like if I had a family tree with me. Much of this trip though was for me renewing my memories.

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  10. Frank, these pictures are just gorgeous. And of course you had to go. What a wonderful experience. It was a gift; I’d do anything to be able to trace my family roots. When you think of our time on Earth as part of eternity (as I know you do), someday you’ll be able to see those relatives and their familiarity of place will mean something more to you than you can ever guess on this side of the veil. Thank you for sharing!

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    • E-Tom,
      Many thanks and well said. Glad you saw this one because I know it is one you would like. So are the others to precede it. (Not too many).

      I’m currently on overload, thus my visits elsewhere are limited, plus I’m only posting 2-3 times per week. Hopefully time will ease up in 2-3 weeks. Thanks for checking in on me.

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    • Guapo,
      Many thanks. Interesting walking in a place I haven’t seen in so long, and it seemed like no changes … then again, I wouldn’t expect any. One thing for sure, it would be a relaxing place to live.

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  11. Your story just continues to unfold in the most amazing way! It’s delightful to hear how your cousin could ask a question or two and then people just step forward to step in with directions or added memories to help you out on your discovery! I think this was a once in a lifetime experience. It’s great to see your photos and to hear about your family, Frank.

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  12. what a great story – it does sound like a magical place – with the world turning and moving so fast, perhaps we are surprised when we find places that move at their own pace – 50 years in Perth is like a total fast forward futuristic time warp, 50 years in rural Italy is nothing compared to the time that has already passed there..

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  13. Pingback: Flashbacks: About Me | A Frank Angle

  14. Pingback: On an Autobiography: Blog Style | A Frank Angle

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