31 May 2009

An Italian Moment

My dear friend of 22 years, Annee, has been visiting with a mutual friend, Richard, whom we met in Antigua. She wanted to find her grandmother's town, Santa Croce, in the next province of Molise to apply for her birth certificate. We're into having adventures so off we went with our map, Annee's newly acquired Italian language skills (from 3 weeks at school in Sienna) and our hope. With only one wrong turn, which ended us on a narrow dirt road where we met a nice young man who gave us directions, we came to a town close to her grandmother's and took a break to get caffé. In the town, 2 men argued about the best way to send us to Santa Croce di Magliano while we waited for our marching orders. Italians like a good argument and they were no exception! We followed the directions of the man who won and soon reached what turned out to be a good size town in this remote, rural province. Repairs are still being made on the damage made by an earthquake 7 years ago.
It's always a toss up whether or not places are going to be open after 12 so we hoped for the best as we located the Municipio at 1 pm. Well, it was open until 2 pm so Annee went in to meet Carlo to make application for the birth certificate. Carlo loved his work and took immediate interest in Annee's request since his mother had the same name as Annee's grandmother. "Hmmm, a curiosity" said he and went to work searching the large, hand written ledgers from the late 1800's. He not only found the right pertinent details but gave them to her then and there with his official seal. No application necessary- the real thing quickly and easily. She was walking on clouds as she came out with the precious document in hand and the memory of time with this helpful man. We had a picnic in her grandmother's town to celebrate and listen to the story.
John, in his sweetest and most generous self, suggested we go to Annee's grandfather's town 8 kilometers away since we were in the area. Anne was reluctant to ask this but was thrilled and off we went in search of another adventure.
When we got to Colletorto it was 3 pm and everything was closed up tight, including the Municipio. Scaffolding was everywhere from earthquake repairs in this town as well. Anne had resigned herself to just seeing his town as enough when we saw an open bar in the square. It had a gelato sign out front which caught my eye and I suggested we go there before our trip back (we've been doing serious gelato comparisons all over!). Anne tried out her language skills asking 2 local men about her cousin first and then her grandfather. She did great and they were talking animatedly in no time. After the mandatory argument between the 2 men, they told her not only was her grandfather's house still standing but that a distant cousin was living in it with his wife and it was a mere 300 meters from where we stood! "Go see it" they urged. Off we went and read the address labels on the mailboxes. Some were faded, however, and we couldn't find her grandfather's name which her cousin shared. We met a young man and asked him where the cousin lived. "I'll show you" and he pointed out #7. Annee rang the bell and a woman answered asking Anne who she was. When she heard about Annee's grandfather, her eyes filled with tears and she invited us all in.
Annee's Italian was put to the test as she told her story to Maria. Maria had been awakened from her mid-day nap and went to awaken her husband to tell him the amazing news of the visit of his distant cousin from America. Giovani is a retired teacher and was obviously thrilled at this rare event. We spent 2 hours sharing stories, history, language lessons, chocolates and making sweet memories not just for Annee and her cousins but for us as well. What a special thing to witness, be part of and get to treasure. Their gracious hospitality and warm, welcome was evident as just part of who they are. It ended in hugs and kisses and tears and thank yous all around. It was an Italian moment to be retold and savored for years to come.
It also made me realize the magic of being able to speak the language well and I signed up for intensive lessons myself!

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