They say you can never go home.
I suppose that depends on how you define ‘home.’
My first home was Asmara, Eritrea. My mother and we four kids, aged 12. 10, 8 and 6 were forced to leave, escaping in a canvas-covered truck bed, barely ahead of the native rebels who were killing all the whites they could. Especially Italians. And the Brits nominally in control of the area were doing nothing to protect us.
Bribing our way through checkpoints, we ended up in the port of Massaua where we were welcomed by friendly Americans and put aboard a Red Cross ship leaving for Naples and crammed with hundred of refugees from the terrors of the nightly raids on what had once been their homes.
We landed in Naples, boarded a train and travelled across Italy to Cerreto d’Esi, a small medieval town where my mother’s family lived and still does.
So if Asmara was my first home, Cerreto d’Esi became my second. I might still be living there but for the chapter of events that took us to the USA and, eventually to California where Linda and I live aboard our boat MV Poseidon, in Ventura harbor. Our current home and the heart of Poseidon Cooks!
Recently, Linda and I decided to make an extended trip to Italy, to see my sister, Lia, and her family, who live in Rome; and to visit Le Marche, to track down the many cousins who live there, family that I hadn’t seen for over 60 years. My daughter, Sarah, her husband, Jeff, and our grandson Marco went with us.
We’re unashamed Americans but there’s some Italian heart in us and we wanted to reconnect; to introduce Marco to a world he knew nothing about.
From Rome, we collected various family members and caravanned in several cars to the small medieval town of Monteprandone, just six miles from the Adriatic Sea with its white sandy beaches, wineries, restaurants, olive groves, vineyards and castles. Because there were twelve of us, not to mention several pets, we rented a beautiful villa converted from a farmhouse originally built in the 1700s. The stables below, the walls and coffered ceilings were beautifully constructed from native stone.
Interestingly, the villa is owned by an Italian with an Austrian wife. They live in the villa in the off-season and rent it to guests during the high season. Rinaldo Talamonti has been awarded an Italian Knighthood for extraordinary service to his country and proudly holds the honorific of “Cavaliere”. A few glasses of wine with this remarkable couple and some great conversation in their broken English and our partial Italian brought out his story. The Cavaliere is retired from the film industry in Italy and Germany. He starred in many movies and was somewhat of a “heartthrob” in both those countries.
The house featured a huge country kitchen with all the appliances and accouterments for preparing great meals, and, as you can imagine, this became our center of operations. Everyone in our family cooks. We all love good food and believe that cooking and eating together powerfully bonds family and friends. That is one of the underlying themes of Poseidon Cooks! too. We took turns being in charge of the kitchen and together prepared some memorable “al fresco” meals served on the large terrace adjoining the main house.
Hardly surprising then that our five days in this gorgeous setting were filled with eating, drinking the local wines, visiting the castles, towns, seashore and the local restaurants and wineries and of course enjoying our special family.
I doubt Marco will forget this experience. He and Luca, a year older, the cousin he had never met, became fast friends. Neither spoke the other’s language but they seemed to understand each other perfectly from the start, loving the pool, the games, the villa’s grounds and reveling in the extended family that had gathered here.
This was a paradise for gourmets and oenophiles. Not far from the villa was a winery specializing in regional wines. I thought that their best wine was an unheralded green-hued Verdicchio. Jeff and I were truly impressed with this wine and we made it the villa’s house wine. It perfectly fulfilled our rule that a wine must be delicious, well-made and pleasurable, but it must also “drink above its price”. This Verdicchio was less than three bucks a bottle – but you could also buy five bottles in a re-fillable jug, jug for about ten bucks. It’s almost enough to persuade you to emigrate and settle there – and this was only one of several excellent wines vented only in Le Marche.
Rested and refueled, we made the journey to Cerreto and our long separated family. The drive is astonishing. Many small towns, castles, forests and mountains. A scenic drive on very well maintained toll roads, then winding roads to the old town itself, with a stop at the summer home of one of our lost cousins. Maria Grazia, who is more or less the same age as I, was overjoyed to see us.
“Giancarlo!” she called out. “Sei Ritornato” You’ve come home. Giant kisses and hugs and me explaining that it’s only temporary.
Next stop, the village in Cerreto, inside the twelfth century walls and moat to the very house we first stayed in all those years ago. Grandpa and Grandma’s house. We had a makeshift room on the roof.
Directly next door is a small restaurant which is owned and operated by a distant cousin. What a great surprise to find that the Italian cousins had assembled there to welcome us home.
Thirty or so of us had a great lunch prepared in our honor, with the cousins, their spouses, children and some of their grandchildren. The local Verdicchio wines flowed, some of the wines related in vines to a few that were planted by my grandfather.
After dinner, one of my cousins insisted that I speak to the group, a request that given my lack of shyness I accepted with the provision that I speak in English. Unfortunately that was rejected. They wanted my rusty Italian and I agreed with the support of my sister in the event I struggled a bit. I started, and surprisingly I found I could express myself quite well. I attempted a few jokes and stories that were beyond my capacity and looked to Lia for help. Much use she was – either entranced in the moment or laughing so hard that she forgot to interpret.
One of my fondest memories of my first days in Italy, 60-odd years ago, was being asked to sing – we African Cousins entertaining the adults. In Africa, our nightly entertainment was music. We all sang, I played the accordion, Mama the mandolin, my sister the piano and my dad the clarinet. We had brought certain songs with us, taught them to the Italian Cousins who would join the chorus. At this reunion, I led the group in one of these songs. Astonishingly, we all remembered all the words! What a joy.
That afternoon spent with the family, the shining memories of our first home in Italy, the great love shown to us – this was one of the most touching and emotional times of my life.
Later, in the rain, I asked my cousin Paolo to take us up to the Roccolo property about which I wrote in my previous Le Marche post, and we went for a long rainy walk to spend time in the place I remembered so vividly even after sixty years away. True, it seemed smaller now than it did then. It was actually a bird-hunting lodge with shooting spaces above and even cages with live birds to attract the prey. But it had been home.
And whatever they say, you can go home. Mille Grazie, Paolo.