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?

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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??

Planning for (not just dreaming of) a visit to Italy. Please help!

DFRINLPLUAEUKpassportstampsI’m one of those travelers who likes to imagine traveling footloose, but really wants the security of reservations and an itinerary. Hubby is happy to let me make the plans without too much of his opinion, and fortunately our likes are alike enough for that. But I’m a bit overwhelmed with planning this trip–we have a lot going on the home front, soooo…

My readers, can you help me? We will be spending two weeks in Italy this August, with the first six days committed to Venice and surroundings. We will then fly to Rome or Naples, and rent a car. Any suggestions about car rental? We are hoping my brother will join us about this point, so need a car that will suit three adults with light to moderate luggage. And I’m not familiar with the European car types being offered for rent. Lancia? Fiat? Would it be easy to find diesel if we rented a Mercedes?

We will drive to Caserta to spend that night, and plan to visit the palace the next morning. Any recommendations for hotel or palace visit?Calabria-Gonfalone

After seeing the palace (is three hours enough time to allow?) we will drive to Cosenza for a night or two. The next morning we’ll look around Cosenza and the area. Is there a good hotel with car parking? And what sightseeing do you recommend in the area? Maybe we should just go to the beach! (But more of that later.)

We’re planning to spend August 13-16 in my ancestral village, Scigliano, so will celebrate Ferragosto there–hopefully with my Italian cugini. What kind of celebration might we expect for Ferragosto?

Map_of_region_of_Calabria,_Italy,_with_provinces-it.svgFor the next three days we will be “touring the toe”. If you had three days there, how would you spend it? I’d love to hear about your favorite beach, favorite museum, favorite castle–and not just tourist experiences. Is there a great place to hear  Calabrian music? Farm visits? Hiking? I doubt we will stay in a beachfront hotel–but who knows? We’d like to have a look at both coasts of the toe.

On August 19 we’ll turn in our car and fly out of Lamezia Terme to London, so will want to spend the night of the 18th close to there. Recommendations?

I am so looking forward to your suggestions. And hope you are looking forward to coming along via the blog later in the year.

*All images on this post are from Wikimedia Commons.

BOOK REVIEW: Stolen Figs

Have you ever wanted to visit the ‘old country’, wherever that may be for you–the land where your parents, or grandparents, or great-grandparents, spent their childhood?

So did author Mark Rotella. After years of listening to his family’s stories of life in Calabria, he convinced his reluctant father to accompany him to the village of Gimigliano, for just a day. When they unexpectedly connect with distant relatives, Rotella becomes immersed in the life he previously only heard about, returning to Calabria again and again.

A memoir and travel story combined, Stolen Figs lets us share Rotella’s discoveries in clear, inviting language. He shares the flavor of his experiences–the aroma of homemade soprasetta, the taste of fresh artichokes on pizza, the tingling fear of driving unfamiliar backroads that seem hostile.

Rotella had the advantage of speaking Italian as he ventured through Calabria, but still ran into communication issues with the Calabrian dialect. He also describes a visit to a Greek-speaking village, an area mentioned in last week’s post.

I enjoyed his adventures, and recommend his book–a mini-escape to Calabra.

Katoitaliotika, Italy’s Greek dialect

Greeks began to settle the Italian south almost 3,000 years ago, and were the prominant culture there for almost 2,000 years. I tend to think of the culture of the “Magna Graecia” as something buried deep in history, like the Riace bronzes I posted about last week.

But now I find out about the Griko–a surviving culture speaking a Greek dialect, which Greek speakers call Katoitaliotika, or Southern Italian!

This very interesting video (thanks to Agora Productions) provides a lot of history and many great photos reflecting the Greek history of the Italian south.