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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Thank You Elsa for Your Trieste Story

Note: With the anniversary of VE Day approaching, remember those who fought in WW II.

Several years ago I took my dad to an army reunion in St. Louis. Attending were the men serving Trieste (Italy) following WW II. With the September passing of my father, I discovered this yet-to-be-posted essay.

For those that don’t know, Trieste was part of Italy during WW II. Before that, it was Austria-Hungary’s only port. Besides, as a pivotal port city at the northern tip of the Adriatic Sea, Trieste’s history is filled with conflict.

After Mussolini’s regime fell, Nazi Germany quickly moved in.  As the war was winding down, Tito’s Communistic Yugoslavian forces were engaging the Nazis in their pursuit of Trieste. With all this in mind, Trieste contained partisans Fascists, Nazis, Communists, and many native Italians who inconspicuously worked above ground for one of the sides, yet were ready for a return to normalcy.

Eventually, the Allies pushed into Trieste. Winston Churchill stated in a March 1946 speech,

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.”

Trieste was again at a pivot point in history: the start of the Cold War.

WW II ends with Trieste as a free territory divided into zones patrolled by the Allies and the Yugoslavs. This time period is where my life begins. My dad had re-enlisted into the Army and was assigned to Trieste. During this time he met my mother, they eventually married and I was born.

In 1954, the land is divided between Italy and Yugoslavia. I last visited Trieste in 1964 as part of a family vacation.

During that weekend in St. Louis I met many of the soldiers protecting Trieste. Remarkably, many of them also married Triestine women – some knew my mother (who died in 1987).

This is where I met Elsa Spencer: a gracious woman full of both American and Italian pride. When first introduced, she was signing a copy of her book to a friend. Given the title – Good-Bye Trieste – it caught my eye. Dad bought a copy, thus I spent time reading with anticipation.

Good-Bye Trieste is her story about life. It starts with a young Triestine school girl consumed by Fascism, which served as the focal point for her family history.  As the war continues, she experiences bombings, being shot at, public hangings, executions, family trauma, and eventually discovering (on her own) Fascism’s deceit.

The war ended, but her roller-coaster life continued. Eventually, she married an American soldier, and then came to the U.S. and started a new life. As I was reading, I suddenly realized not only was she telling her story, but also the story for the similar Italian women who met and married American soldiers. Oh my God – she’s also telling Mom’s story.

There’s much I didn’t know (or possibly understood) about my mother. Suddenly, 21 years after her passing, I was drawn and touched to her life through Elsa because I could relate too many of her stories. Other women in attendance confirmed the thoughts.

Good-Bye Trieste is an easy and enchanting read. It’s also an important read for anyone who grew up as I did with an Italian mother who came to America during the 1950s as a military wife. But I can’t stop there because anyone who lived in a multicultural home can relate to Elsa’s story.

So to Elsa I want to say “Thank you.” Thank you for your gracious personality. Thank you for sharing your story to help me understand Mom’s story. Thank you for giving me a better understanding of my birthplace. Thank you for renewing my tie to the region and my birthplace.

My last visit was long ago for a variety of reasons. So Elsa, because of you, I can now say, Hello Trieste – I look forward to visiting again; hopefully sooner than later. Meanwhile, I can enjoy these videos and the distant memories.

Photo courtesy of Monocle

On A, I, and O

My paternal grandparents arrived in America on December 6, 1920. After living in different Midwestern cities, they would surprisingly settle in rural southeastern Ohio. Given that area is considered as Appalachian, it is surprising how the letters A, I, and O played a prominent role in my youth. While the closest association most people have is through pizza, spaghetti, and jello (which isn’t Italian) – mine is a bit different.

A – Adrianna, Angela, Elisa, Gemma, Gilda, Gina, Nella, Olga, and Zita.

I – Angelleti, Barsotti, Bastiani, Casci, DiPiero, Girolami, Lippi, Marchi, Marzetti, Menchini, Periotti, and Rocci.

O – Basilio, Bruno, Franco, Gino, Guido, Livio, Remo, and Renzo. Of course, others had already morphed into society as Bob, Leroy, Ned, Oscar, and Paul.

My family tree follows a similar pattern.

A – Guiletta, Maria, Neva, Nina, Rosa, Rosanna, Rosetta, Verdiana, Vidia, Vivianna, and Vivitta.

I – Andreucci, Barsi, Cecchi, Giacchini, Landi, Lucchesi, Mariani, and Pini.

O– Alvaro, Domenico, Ersilio, Enno, Francisco, Mario, Olvido, Rafaello, Rigolleto, and Turiddo.

Meanwhile, my most of my cousins and I have American names ending in consonants, and married non-Italians with consonant-ending names. Meanwhile, A, I, and O continue to live on through my maternal first cousins still living on the Mediterranean boot.