Cosenza in the Calabrian region–the homeland of my mother’s side of the family. Her grandfather left this beautiful little town to start a new life in America, passing through New York City before settling in Northen Minnesota to work in the iron mines. As the story goes, all he brought with him was two potatoes, one in each shoe, and one grape stem from the family vineyard hidden in his pant leg. He was alone and determined–working hard and saving up money so that he could send for his wife back home. Since then, our family has grown and spread all over the United States but a large number of us still reside back home in Calabria.
This journey so far has had a number of travel woes, usual tourist attractions, and delicious food–but the real magic starts wth the rediscovery of our family heritage and meeting, for the first time, our Italian relatives. We met a few of them already in Bologna, but in Cosenza we had the pleasure of meeting the patriarch of the family. Related by blood, he is the nephew of my great grandfather who left for America–my mother’s second cousin. He was a spunky and calm man who was nothing but smiles! I had never met my grandfather as he passed away before I was born, but I have seen pictures and heard recordings of his voice and his nephew is the spitting image. He only spoke in Italian, but we were able to learn a bit about his life.
He has traveled all over the world in his life, talking excitedly about the work he did in Nicaragua and Mexico, about how he visited New York and telephoned my great grandfather in Minnesota, and how he even participated in a war in Saudia Arabia–showing us a black and white picture of him as a young man reminiscent of Lawrence of Arabia. He was also a delightful little trouble-maker who kept stealing everyone’s wine glasses to refill with the family’s own homemade bottle of red and white as well as a brandy made from the family grapes!
We enjoyed a 7 course meal (pasta with meat sauce and Parmesan, salad, breaded veal, fried potatoe chips, broccolitini, fruit, and pastries paired with a long shot of coffee steeped in sugar!) and spent hours communicating with our extended family. With my great grandfather’s nephew at the head of the table, we also met his two daughters and their husbands as well as the father of one of his son-in-laws. There wasn’t much English to go around the table but we made do with Google Translate. Some of the highlights of our conversation included a detailed explanation about George Clooney and his Nespresso commercial–Italians have taken interest and were curious what his involvement was and what the catchphrase “What Else?” meant. They discussed Whiskey and what they knew of Jack Daniels and one of the husbands hilariously showed us a picture of The Duke’s of Hazard–I’m happy to say that America is clearly representing itself well abroad!
After dinner and conversation, they brought out the old photo albums and we were able to see how our entire family.
Next, we head to the country to discover where my great grandfather lived!