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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