If you’ve read my blurb on this blog’s About Us page, you know that I went to Italy on vacation in August 2007. It was one of the highlights of my life. I travelled with my Aunt. She was actually the one who had the idea in the first place. Through her genealogical research about the family of my Italian grandmother, she located distant relatives currently living in the small village from which my great grandfather emigrated. Through the exchange of a few letters and then emails with another family member, it was decided that we should go and visit our ancestral village, Piaggine, for the Festival of St. Philomena. This is a weeklong celebration during the vacation month of August, when many who have moved from the village come back to visit. This would give us the best opportunity to meet the most people, relatives or not. And surprisingly, I actually met 3 other people during that week who were also visiting from Pittsburgh. It seems that when one person emigrates, they send word back to others who then move to the same area.
This trip, as you might be able to tell, was not about the usual tourist destinations. We stayed with our family in their home. We lived their lifestyle and did the things they would have done during the festival, even if we weren’t there. We ate food prepared in their kitchen, went grocery shopping with them, picked figs from their trees. We had our large meal in the middle of the day and then rested until evening. We ate dinner at 9:30 pm and then stayed up until 1 am watching a local piano or dance recital on the stages set up in the piazzas. It was glorious. By the third day, my face hurt from smiling so much. The place and the people became part of my heart and I still miss Piaggine almost daily. I hope to go back in a few years and take my son with me. I know that he will appreciate the experience as much as I did.
Upon my return to reality and the United States, I needed to find a way to cope with my longing for a place where I could not be. So, I turned to books. I read everything I could find about people who have made the grand move to Italy, carving a life and home for themselves in a small village, and also about those searching for their Italian heritage. Here are a few of the books I read and others I hope to read soon.
The Hills of Tuscany by Ferenc Máté – Only in Italy do you know you’ve found the right house due to abundance of porcini mushrooms in the surrounding woods. Funghi, anyone?
A Thousand Days in Tuscany by Marlena DeBlasi – I especially loved the description of the vendemmiamo (the grape harvest), and the celebratory meal that followed.
Dances with Luigi by Paul Paolicelli – The story of a fellow Pittsburgher searching for his Italian roots.
La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind by Beppe Severgnini – I enjoyed this amusing look at the thoughts and actions of the Italian people. But I am kind of glad I did not read it before I went or I may have gone with some preconceived notions.
Piano, Piano, Pieno by Susan McKenna Grant – We ate one midday meal at a local agriturismo (think of a combined farm and B&B), so I can appreciate the spirit of this lovely cookbook by a former Canadian who now runs one of these charming establishments.
The Ancient Shore: Dispatches from Naples by Shirley Hazzard – We spent one day in Naples upon our arrival in Italy. It was lovely and slightly frightening at the same time. Plus, it is the birthplace of pizza. Need I say more?
The Reluctant Tuscan: How I Discovered My Inner Italian by Phil Doran – I, of course, can’t imagine why anyone would be reluctant to be in Italy and I highly recommend that everyone find their inner Italian!
Even if your heritage is not Italian, keep in mind there are stories and cookbooks like this for every country of the world. Ask a librarian, who will be happy to help you discover your passion for your heritage.