Last week, my grandmother’s first cousin, Domenica (but don’t call her that–she goes by Marie) from America and her childhood friend, Laura, came to visit me. Both of their mothers, as well as my grandmother’s mother Concetta, were born in Isca sull’Ionio, or Isca on the Ionian Sea, which is the village next to mine.
Meet Concetta via her 1941 US citizenship certificate:
To explain a bit, my great-great-grandfather (Concetta’s father) was born in the village I now live in, and he married a woman from Isca, and that’s where they had their children. So my roots, as well as those of my Marie are actually from both villages. Laura’s family is all from Isca.
The connection between this tiny village on the Ionian coast and my area back home in Pennsylvania is extremely strong; indeed, most of the Italian (Calabrian) families in and around my hometown come from this village and share names like Varano, Scicchitano, Bressi, Feudale, Mirarchi, and Nestico (here, it’s Nesticò, accent on the last syllable).
One of my most vivid memories of the first time I visited here was my jaw continually dropping at just how many last names I saw on signs and businesses that were so very familiar to me–even the geographical position of Isca is very much like our towns nestled into the Appalachian Mountains.
You can read more about Isca’s history and links in the United States at IscaCalabria.com, made by a friend of mine that I met via the Internet quite a few years ago. He ended up connecting me with a woman originally from Isca who now lives in South Philly (I also lived in Philly at the time); it turns out that she had also lived up in my area of Pennsylvania…and, as we discovered once we got talking, had even worked with my grandmother in a sewing factory in the 1960s or 70s.
Talk about a small world, huh?
Alida gave me one of the best quotes ever during an email exchange four years ago, and I hope she doesn’t mind my sharing it here:
When I was a little girl, before I knew of the rotation of the earth, I really believed that those pretty mountains ate the sun and by a miracle God would send it back the following day.
Don’t you just love Italians?
A few years ago, Alida, her family, my mom and I went to the San Marziale festival, organized by Iscatani, in South Philly together.
Now back to our visit to Isca with my cousin. Through genealogical research, I was able to pinpoint the street, although not the exact house, of our family. It’s called Via Borgo, and here’s Marie in front of the entrance to the smallest “street” I’ve ever seen in my life:
Here’s a look down said street:
As you can see, there’s actually a bit of reconstruction going on, but Isca Superiore is still mostly emptied out, even more so than my village; in fact, every time we asked about someone who had formerly lived up there, we were directed to the Marina village. Isca was particularly hard hit by an earthquake in 1947, so that was the impetus for many to get off the hill.
We didn’t have too much time to walk around Isca, but here are some old scanned photos of mine from a previous visit:
Then we went back to P’s parents’ house in Badolato Marina and enjoyed a lovely lunch with them. Here are P’s father Salvatore, P’s mom Caterina, Marie (eyes closed, sorry–told her to leave on her sunglasses!), and Laura.
Marie had a great time trying to teach P’s dad some English words–much laughter ensued as “I looooooove you” repeatedly echoed throughout the Marina. And since I never tire of hearing old family stories, this provided yet another opportunity for Marie to share what she remembers of her grandparents–my great-great-grandparents–and others long gone.
P’s mom must’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic too because she broke out her old photos; I had never seen a baby picture of P before, so that was extra special. What a cutie! You may or may not see said photos scanned here at some point. Good thing he doesn’t read the blog, eh?
So after quite a day full of emotion, laughter, great food, and fun, Marie, Laura and I headed back up the mountain to Badolato. As they rested, I got to thinking, as I’m wont to do.
I have always thought of Isca as representing the feminine side of my Italian family, as my great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother were born there–who knows how far back that goes, but I’d sure like to find out. Even the town’s name ends in “a” denoting the feminine. I’ve always had a stronger connection with the women in my family, and so I would’ve guessed that Isca was the place for me if I were going to settle in Calabria.
But there’s so much more to me than that feminine side, and I’d say I’m pretty balanced in my traditionally masculine and feminine influences. I’m not a girly-girl by any means, and you couldn’t tear me away from a football, baseball, or basketball game in America if you tried. I can also be awfully aggressive when I want/need to be.
Interesting, then, that it’s my great-great-grandfather who was born in Badolato (note that it ends in an “o” denoting masculine) and relocated to Isca for his wife; I, on the other hand, was first drawn to Isca (my family had never heard of Badolato until I found citizenship records), but then the pull to Badolato was so strong that I ended up staying here, in the masculine village, if you will.
And here I found my P.
Now I struggle to balance those masculine and feminine influences once again–this time in a culture with fairly distinct gender roles. Southern Italy isn’t what you’d call modernized in its ideas about what a woman and a man should do. Lucky for me that I’ve found a guy who loves that I work and that I actually *want* to go hunting for mushrooms in the mountains, etc., with the boys–and he also happens to be a great cook who occasionally surprises me with his housekeeping abilities.
It’s not always easy, of course, but I’m loving the challenge.