On Mom’s Town

The key reason I went to Italy this year as to visit my mother’s last surviving sister who I hadn’t seen in 48+ years. The idea for this post came to me the day before Mother’s Day.

Mom in the main square (1964)

Mom in the main square for Saturday’s market (1964)

Besides sharing my emotional walk down the street where the family lived, I’ve included pictures of her hometown within themes as corridors, arches, and others – so the focus of this post is to spotlight on her town – the small, Tuscan city of Pescia – but with unused pictures (well, except one).

Pescia, population around 20,000, is located between Florence and Lucca, but much closer to Lucca.

A picturesque location in a flat basin where the mountains end

The rain was leaving on this day

The rain was leaving on this day

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A stream rushing out of the mountains divides the city

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The cathedral dominates the skyline
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Walking the narrow streets of the old city provided many intriguing photo ops
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Benito Mussolini stood on this balcony on his visit during the sixth year of his reign (See the inscription above the balcony)
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Villages dot the hillsides, such as the birthplace of my grandmother
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The main square remains quite active, but it rained on market day.
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Which is your favorite image?

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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On a Bridge Walk

Regulars may recall this past post (when I returned from Italy) opening with a picture of my mother standing on a small bridge in her hometown. I eagerly anticipated walking across that bridge toward the apartment and strolling through the city center, but my cousins kept us busy – besides, I started each morning by visiting my aunt.

It was day 8 and my time was running out, so I declared the morning as mine, and solely mine. I was out of the house by 9 AM for my journey, and after a short walk, the bridge stood before me. I quickly saw the sign for one-way traffic, and noticed drivers using is as a shortcut. Knowing the aggressive nature of many Italian drivers, I carefully watched and waited for a few minutes and recognized that alertness would be paramount after crossing the street.

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Suddenly, there I was – standing on the bridge looking around at the fast-flowing stream, the surrounding hills, the valley, the small town of my grandmother above, and the walk ahead – all with tears rolling down my face.

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I walked down the street toward the old apartment building. Besides asphalt replacing gravel, it was just as I remembered – greenhouses were still there, as were some houses, and a large old factory behind the apartment. Some carnation fields were still present, but olive trees now occupied some of their space.

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In a short time, I arrived at the apartment. Today, the U-shaped structure is vacant and the courtyard entrance is blocked – but the blockade did not hinder my view of the third-floor windows (not the top) where I had images of my handicapped uncle spent much of his day – or where my grandmother lowered a basket to receive something from below.

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I climbed a small wall to see the courtyard where I played and the stone opening that led to the walk upstairs. As tempted as I was, I didn’t go further.

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The house across the street still stands, but the small lot of carnations is now a grove of olive trees.

The emotions of this walk along were many as I thought much about my family. I looked at the small village on the hill knowing that my grandmother, an aunt and uncle were smiling from the cemetery I earlier visited – as were the family members from the city cemetery across town.

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On this day, I came, I saw, and left feeling content. Because I had my peace, it was time to continue my walk away from the apartment toward city center. Ciao!

On Why

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Mom, her sister that recently died, and my cousin

A recent post focused on where I went during my blogging break, but this post one is about why. Sometime this past September, my sister forwarded me an email that one of my mother’s two remaining sisters had died. Shortly thereafter, I realized that all four grandparents, Mom and Dad, and all my aunts and uncles had died – well, all but one – and one that I hadn’t seen in since 1964.

The thought of having only one person left on the family tree before me weighed on my mind for many weeks. I finally talked to my wife about what I had been thinking – the need to return to Italy, especially to see my aunt.

She asked questions, but to give her time to think, I didn’t bring it up again for about 3 weeks. Later, we agreed I would go during the time she was on a winter getaway with her sister.

Although I planned to go by myself, my wife asked if I would ask my sister to go along. I know that would be the right thing to do, but being that we are opposites, I knew 10 days was well beyond my 36-hour tolerance limit I eventually asked her because it was the right thing to do – Mama Mia, she said yes!

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I’m proud of this pic in Florence

The trip was successful. All four first cousins not only greeted us upon arrival, but were active hosts treating us with wonderful meals, wine, and trips to classic Tuscan places as Pisa, Florence, Lucca, Cinque Terra, and San Gimignano. In my opinion, we were too active because travel and sightseeing wasn’t my goal. Then again, these are great sights and doing these things for us was important to my cousins!

One evening I went dancing with my oldest cousin and her husband. The same cousin also took me to the small village high on the mountain where my paternal grandparents lived. Heck, both of these experiences could be posts!

I saw my aunt every day. Even though I struggled with my words, I’m confident that she knew what I wanted to say – so in that sense, mission accomplished. I did get a chance to walk the city by myself, but not as much as I wanted.

As for my sister, no – we didn’t grow closer as my wife hoped … and once again, I will do the right thing by not saying much.

On a Visit to San Cassiano di Controne

San Cassiano di Controne, small village high on a mountain above Bagni di Lucca in Tuscany, is where my paternal grandparents grew up. I haven’t been there since 1964, so Debra’s blog has helped take me back. Enjoy! For anyone who loves Italy, see other posts here and/or her Bagni di Lucca and Beyond blog in her sidebar …. and thank you Debra! Ciao.

Bella Bagni di Lucca

The hamlets that make up San Cassiano were once quite highly populated, but like many of the villages of Bagni di Lucca, it is now a quiet place. We parked the car at the bottom of the village and walked up towards the church and the main square. Along the way we met Arnoldo and his son Fabio who had been collecting fig cuttings to plant.

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Arnoldo speaks good English as a result of living in America for 15 years. He came back to his home in San Cassiano in 1971 and has lived here ever since. You can’t blame him, the village is lovely. It sits high on the hill with sunshine all day and spectacular views all around.

He told us that there were 7 parts to San Cassiano. The village will obviously require several visits.

We walked past the War Memorial with the lists of the town’s…

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