In January 2004, Fabulous Cousin and I rented a car in Rome and drove to the east coast through the Apennines. They were breathtaking, with snowy caps and tiny mountainside villages and long tunnels and vertigo cliffs. We arrived in Pescara and drove north along the coast for a while. At one point we got out of the car and walked across the beach to the edge of an angry, stormy Adriatic. I love winter beaches.
We ambled our way blindly up to Città S. Angelo, where our great-grandfather was born. Two dogs followed us through the city walls to a town sitting precariously on the top of a hill. Down every side street there are sweeping views of the Adriatic on one side and mountains on the other.
It was after lunch and everyone seemed to be taking a nap, leaving a place that existed just for us to discover. We snuck down alleys and broke into courtyards and looked on doorbells for our family name. We went into an 8th-century church and saw S. Felicita’s final resting place. We found a fresco in a residential garage. We got as lost as one can in a tiny town perched on a hill.
Then the shops reopened and we strolled along the main avenue. I told the owner of a jewelry store we stopped in that our great-grandfather was born there; when I told him our surname, he recognized it immediately and said there were still some of us left, and many years ago there had been more of us.
I have never more proud to speak my great-grandfather’s language than in his hometown, and with someone who knew my family. I watched him see us differently – like we belonged there. He gave Fab Cuz a calendar of old pictures of the town before hugging us goodbye.
No matter where Italians live, they always say they are from where they were born – it’s part of what’s called campanilismo, which roughly translates to “of the church bell tower.” The way that man treated us makes me believe in it.
Grandpop Giovanni: We love you and thought of you so much on that day. I know you were watching over us as we discovered the one place in this world that runs through our veins like no other.