Ferragosto fun in the Sila

The western end of Lago Arvo.

The western end of Lago Arvo.

Six months ago I hoped to have most of my adventures from last August posted here–but that hasn’t happened. So today I am revisiting one of my favorite days in Calabria. The weekend after Ferragosto we drove up to the Sila, the mountains above Scigliano, to Lake Arvo. As we drove higher, the lowland tree cover gradually gave way to evergreens. We passed through a small town with some kind of dirt bike motocross gathering, and beside the road a stand was set up to sell local mushrooms. Sila motocross (1280x960)When we reached the lake, the town of Lorica had a street fair in progress. Sila bar (1280x935)After refreshments at a local bar, we wandered along the lake and through the stalls selling clothing, souvenirs, toys, and leather goods. What a crowd! Families were out for the holiday weekends, and kids took turns getting pony rides.Sila pony (1280x1066)

We decided to continue to the far end of the lake, and find a place to have some lunch. As the road wound through thick pines, traffic clogged to a crawl, with cars parked Italian style all along the road, wherever they would (almost) fit. It was easy to see the cause of the backup–a roadside grill sent smoke and a mouthwatering aroma into the air. We drove a bit further, and then turned back to try lunch at the grill.

The line at the grill caught our attention.

The line at the grill caught our attention.

We each had a grilled sausage on a bun with various toppings–sauteed greens, mushrooms, sauces–and beer was the ideal drink in the summer heat. The few tables were crowded, but we were able to join a couple at a larger table, and visited with them in my feeble Italian. They were enjoying their annual tradition of a summer day trip to the lake. The crowd was definitely Italian–we didn’t recognize any other foreign visitors. Our entertainment was the team manning the grill, with one guy warming the bread on a side grill, while two others grilled sausages as fast as they could, taking them from long ropes of sausage hung up above the smoking stove.

The grill team cranked out a lot of sandwiches!

The grill team cranked out a lot of sandwiches!

We returned to our rental in Malito with great memories of our day in the Sila.

I certainly enjoyed mine!

I certainly enjoyed mine!


Calabria from a bicycle

Today I’m sharing a video I found on YouTube, the bicycle tour of a British guy named Pete, through Calabria. I encourage you to take a look for more of his videos–a nice combination of video footage, his own commentary, and some stills edited in. If you’ve considered cycling through Calabria, Pete’s experience may help you prepare. And if you celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday, you may be inspired to bicycle your way through some of those calories!

Where are you from?

Italians have a long and strong memory of place. My family’s ancestral village is Scigliano, but my great-grandmother left there about 115 years ago. Only a handful of her hundreds of descendants have ever been there, and to my knowledge she never returned.

Malito, with the Sila rising in the background.

Malito, with the Sila rising in the background.

When we visited in August 2013, we found a vacation rental house in another small town about 30 minutes away, the town of Malito, across the Savuto valley, and across the A3 motorway. In Malito we wandered around the town, shopped in the local market, and had some beers in the bar to cool off.

The people were very friendly, always wondering why strangers have chosen to stay in their town, and we told them our ancestors came from Scigliano. Since we couldn’t find a place to stay in Scigliano, we stayed in Malito, and we would go to Scigliano to see our distant cousins there.

Several times, after explaining this, I heard the same comments among them in Italian: “Oh, they aren’t from Malito. They are from Scigliano.” Still friendly, but I could almost see their interest wane as they nodded knowingly to one another. They’re strangers, not our own people.

I translated for my husband and brother, and we thought it was funny that they considered us to be “from” Scigliano–a description I would apply to someone who had at some time actually lived there, but not someone three generations removed from that experience.

John, a native born man from Malito who moved to Canada with his family at 14, heard us speaking English as we walked around Malito and invited us in for a drink. John spends a few months every year, now that he’s retired, in a house inherited from his parents. His wife doesn’t come with him. She’s from Marzi, he explained. She doesn’t like to come and stay in Malito. Marzi is another small town across the motorway–about 25 minutes by car from Malito.

On our visits to Scigliano, when we explain our local heritage, we have been welcomed warmly by pretty much everyone, whether related to us or not. They also think of us as being “from” Scigliano. Their bright-eyed curiosity kindles, and they have more questions. It’s a very warm and embracing experience, the kind I wish for every visitor to an ancestral place.

Where Francesco’s life began: Palinudo

Bianchi-Palinudo (960x1280)In family history, every answer, every discovery, prompts a new question or search.

My great-grandfather, Francesco Aruri, was born in Serra di Piro, and “frazione” or hamlet near Bianchi, Calabria, in 1846. Here is a summary of the recorded information about his birth:  The birth of Francesco Arcuri was filed on 1 August 1846 in Bianchi by his father, Pasquale Arcuri, age 47, a peasant farmer residing in Bianchi. His infant son was born at home in the Serra di Piro District, on this day to his wife, Maria Innocenza Perri, age 35, and was given the name Francesco. Francesco Arcuri was baptized on 1 August by the parish priest of the Church of San Giacomo, in Bianchi.

The Serra di Piro district near Bianchi.

The Serra di Piro district near Bianchi.

I found the Serra di Piro area on Google maps. It is just north of Bianchi a mile or two, and very close to Palinudo, where Pasquale Arcuri was born. The records say: The marriage of Pasquale Arcuri and Maria Innocenza Perri was filed on 31 August 1830, in Bianchi. The groom was 26 years old, a peasant farmer born and residing in Palinudo. He was the son of Giacomo Arcuri, a peasant farmer residing in Palinudo, and Saveria Mancuso, residing here. The bride was 28 years old, born and residing in Bianchi in the Serra di Piro District. She was the daughter of the late Francesco Perri, a peasant farmer, and the living Concetta Cosco. The couple was wed on 3 October in the parish of San Giacomo, in Bianchi.

San Giacomo church, where Francesco Arcuri was baptized, and where his parents were married.

San Giacomo church, where Francesco Arcuri was baptized, and where his parents were married.

So Francesco’s father, and both his grandfathers, were peasant farmers in little hamlets in the foothills of the Sila. What does “peasant farmer” suggest? I headed to Palinudo with that question in mind–would we find a group of huts along a dirt track? Scattered houses among hillside vegetable terraces? Both of Francesco’s grandmothers were cotton spinners. What kind of textile industry supported their work? Who paid them? How far away were the weavers who used their cotton, and what did they make from it? Was the cotton also grown nearby?

A simple home in Palinudo.

A simple home in Palinudo.

Of course, more than 150 years has passed since those descriptions were written in Bianchi’s town records. And whatever Palinudo was in the 1840’s, it is now a small but thriving ‘suburb’ of the town of Bianchi. In the half-hour or so we spent there, I saw a Mercedes, a BMW, even a Jag. The roads were paved (not fancy, but paved). There is a small, but rather desolate, church in the hamlet. I wonder if it was desolate even in 1846–is that why Francesco was baptized in Bianchi? What were the options and factors that went into the decision about where to baptize a child?

One of Palinudo's nicer homes.

One of Palinudo’s nicer homes.

All too soon after Francesco’s birth, this death was recorded: The death of Pasquale Arcuri was filed on 2 October 1846, in Bianchi by Emiliano Arcuri, brother of the deceased, age 22, a peasant farmer, and Carmine Mancuso, brother-in-law of the deceased, age 28, a peasant farmer, resident of the Serra di Piro District of Bianchi. Pasquale Arcuri, a peasant farmer, died at home in the Fiume Corace District on 1 October, at the age of 40. He was born in the Palinudo District, the son of Giacomo Arcuri, a peasant farmer, and Saveria Mancuso, both deceased, and was a resident of Serra di Piro. Pasquale was married to Maria Innocenza Perri.

At two months old, Francesco was left fatherless, and all his grandparents were already deceased. What did an widowed mother of an infant do to support herself? Various other family members are named. Maria Innocenza Perri had a brother who was living when their mother died in 1831. Was he still alive? Did her late husband’s family help her? Did she remarry?

The Sila foothills around Bianchi.

The Sila foothills around Bianchi.

Some of these questions can be answered with more research, but I’m sure many of my questions will never be answered. I recently read an article by Ian Mortimer, an academic historian who also writes historical fiction under the name of James Forrester. In describing some of the different challenges between writing history, and writing fiction, he observed: “You suddenly find that your evidence-orientated knowledge of the period is just not enough; it does not equip you to describe in detail how a man or woman passes one whole day, let alone a number of different men and women across the period of several weeks.”

Even the most detailed historical study won’t likely help me fully understand the lives of these ancestors. I may have to resort to fiction to make their stories come alive.

August vacation in Italy

I can’t say I wasn’t warned. I’ve heard lots of advice about avoiding the August heat and August holiday, Ferragosto, celebrated on August 15, was established by the Roman emperor, Augustus, in 18 BC (according to Wikipedia). The date also marks the Roman Catholic celebration of the Assumption of Mary, widely marked with religious processions in Italy.

The August heat is just too much for me, reason enough to find a cooler month to visit. But why avoid the holiday celebrations? Here are a few visual aids:

DSCN0595 (1024x768) DSCN0592 (1024x768) DSCN0593 (1024x768) DSCN0594 (768x1024) DSCN0596 (1024x768) DSCN0597 (1024x768)

Yes–many businesses are closed for the full week, and often longer, even up to a month. All these signs were along one street in Caserta, where we stopped on our way to Calabria.

In August, families gather, those who have moved away come back to visit in their hometowns. Big family dinners are held, and even those who don’t celebrate the religious holiday take pretty seriously the Latin origin of Ferragosto, a phrase that mean’s “Augustus’ rest”. It’s the Italians’ time to take a break.

So what did five Americans do in Calabria for Ferragosto? We joined a lot of Italians at the beach at Squillace Lido for the day, rented a couple of umbrellas and five chairs for a few hours. By three in the afternoon we were in Soverato having lunch at a seafood place near the beach. They served a special Ferragosto menu, four courses at a set price of 18 Euros per person. Salad of octopus with potatoes, tomatoes, parsley, lots of olive oil. Then mixed seafood lasagna. Then a big swordfish steak (again, heavy on the olive oil). And for dessert, watermelon slices.

By 6PM we were in our ancestral village to see the religious procession with our distant cousin. This was very interesting, and far outside my own Christian tradition. Following a service in the church, the statue of Mary, with a couple of cherubs hanging on, was carried on a circuit through town and back to the church. We visited afterwards with my cousin’s family.

Outside the church, as we waited for the statue to be carried out, my cousin greeted nearly everyone who came by–people she has known most of her life, even though she grew up in Rome and lives in Denmark most of the time now. Scigliano is her home town, and she returns every August, reconnecting with aunts and uncles, cousins and schoolmates, and reconnecting with the church and the meaning it brings to her life.

There are plenty of tourists in Italy in August, non-Italians playing at the beaches, lakes, and in the mountains. But it is clearly an essential Italian family time. As we watched the Virgin carried aloft through the streets, I wondered if my great-grandmother Giusseppina watched the same thing when she was a girl, 125 year ago. I wonder how she felt on the first August she spent in America, far from her village and if she felt keenly the cutting of those family ties–the ties I am trying to rediscover with my cousins in Italy.

Nugenzie: A genealogical mystery solved!

Symbol of the town of Bianchi, my great-grandfather's birthplace.

Symbol of the town of Bianchi, my great-grandfather’s birthplace.

When my sister and I began looking into our roots years ago, we were given information by various family members. Someone–perhaps it was our grandmother or one of her brothers–gave us the name of our great great grandparents: Pasquale Arcuri and his wife, “Nugenzie”.

I had not yet studied the Italian language or visited Italy, but Nugenzie seemed a strange and unlikely name for an Italian great-great-grandmother. However nothing more came to light on that branch of the family, and we turned our attention to other roots and branches.

Recently, because I’ll be in Calabria this year, I hired Roots in the Boot to research my Italian ancestors. In the course of that research, the names of these same great-great grandparents were found: Pasquale Arcuri and Maria Innocenza Perri.


You know how pronunciation and spelling become scrambled between languages? I’m betting that ‘Innocenza’ morphed as the double “N” caused the “I” to be all but dropped, and that “C”–pronounced like “Ch” because it is followed by an ‘e’–also sounded to someone’s ear like a soft “G”, so that’s what was written down. However when my sister and I read it, we thought it was a hard “G” and couldn’t make any sense of Nugenzie. Innocenza.

I wish I had a photograph of her. Her son was born in 1846, and she died before he married in 1900.

Now I have hired Roots in the Boot to follow up with more research on the Arcuri family line, and perhaps I’ll discover distant cousins still in Italy who can tell me more about Maria Innocenza Perri. There are several Perri names listed in the current Italian White Pages in Bianchi, where her son was born.

Stay tuned!

Readers, have you found mixed up Italian names in your family research?

Calabrian caviar, anyone?

Sardella, photo by RennyDJ found in Wikimedia Commons.

Sardella, photo by RennyDJ found in Wikimedia Commons.

I’m always learning about Italian foods. Here’s one, featured today in Italian Notebook. “Caviar” that is really baby sardines, spiced up with peperoncini. It’s eaten spread on bread–the same way I’ve seen Russian kids eat caviar. I’ll be on the lookout for it soon in Calabria.

Readers, have you tried it? What do you think?

The long lost (or hidden) Jewish community of Calabria

Today I learned about Rabbi Barbara, and her work in reconnecting Calabrian Jews with their Jewish heritage. I found her website very interesting, and especially this information on the B’nei Anousim movement in Calabria, dedicated to Jews who were forced to repudiate their faith–or be exiled–during the Inquisition. How naive I have been, never considering that this happened in southern Italy, just as it did in other places where the practice was better known to me.

The Baroness will see you now: Family history

Just looking at this Italian birth record should convince you to hire a professional for Italian genealogy! Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Just looking at this Italian birth record should convince you to hire a professional for Italian genealogy! Image from Wikimedia Commons.

I’m getting revved up for my trip to Italy in a few months, and one of my preparations this time will be to have some genealogical research done for me before I get there. My Italian language skills aren’t adequate to do it myself, and my knowledge of the systems of records in Italy is even worse. Some relatives are pooling resources with me to hire the help, and I’ll share the results when I get home.

I was preparing for an earlier trip to Italy when Anna Maria responded to a post I made online, seeking my Italian relatives. She is one!

The last time I saw cousin Anna Maria (right) was 2009. I'm looking forward to seeing her again this summer!

The last time I saw cousin Anna Maria (right) was 2009. I’m looking forward to seeing her again this summer!

We met in person in Italy, and she came to my home a few years later, but I have not been able to document our family relationship. For now, we are just “cugini”, cousins. One of my goals is to discover the family lines that connect us. This year, I’m looking forward to spending Ferragosto, that ancient Italian holiday, with Anna Maria and other family members in our ancestral village.

We have learned a few things about our Italian roots as my sister and I have researched over the years. Some are in the category of family legends.

1.  Josephine Gualtieri was an old maid at 21 when she determined she would marry any man who asked her. The man who asked was Francesco Arcuri,

Josephine and Francesco, about 1910 in New York

Josephine and Francesco, about 1910 in New York

a man already 50 years old, and three years older than Josephine’s father. We learned that Josephine’s mother had died and her father remarried. Did she not get along with her stepmother? What other factors shaped her life?

2.  There is a Palazzo Gualtieri in Josephine’s home town, which (we were told) was gambled away by an ancestor. While “Palace” is somewhat of an overstatement in describing the derelict building, I’d be interested to learn more of that story!

My mom, Win Perman, at the door to the Palazzo Gualtieri in Scigliano.

My mom, Win Perman, at the door to the Palazzo Gualtieri in Scigliano.

3.  Raffaele of the B&B Calabria in Scigliano gave me a book about the history of Scigliano–in Italian, of course! However, I have been able to determine that at one time there was a “Baron Gualtieri” in Scigliano. I’d really love to know who he was and how he might be connected to my family line. And can I now start calling myself a Baroness? Please??