Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #183: Memorable Events

For us to go to Italy and to penetrate into Italy is like a most fascinating act of self-discovery back, back down the old ways of time. Strange and wonderful chords awake in us after many hundreds of years of complete forgetfulness.

D.H. Lawrence

When I messaged the host of a Facebook group from the village of Volturara Irpina, it was a long shot. I was hoping to find someone who knew about my grandfather who had lived there about a century ago before immigrating to America. We were visiting Italy in a few weeks, and I thought a local connection would be helpful in driving to and touring his village in a remote and mountainous part of Italy.

To my surprise, I got a quick reply from the host, Edmondo Marra, the town historian, who was also a doctor and the former mayor. I gave Edmondo the facts–the names of my great grandparents, my grandfather’s birthdate and the approximate year they left Italy. He looked up the family records and confirmed that my branch of the Nardiello family had lived in Volturara for hundreds of years. He also offered to be our tour guide when we visited and most surprising of all, he told me that we were in fact cousins.

The trip to Volturara took us through Naples and further inland, deep into the mountainous province of Avellino.

It’s one of the poorest regions of Italy, decimated by successive waves of migration in the 19th and 20th centuries. During this time, over 1,000 people left my grandfather’s tiny village.

The paesani (the locals) say this part of Italy is unique, filled with legends and mysteries.

My new cousins Edmondo, his wife Elena, and daughter Maria Stella, gave us a warm welcome.

As we toured of the village, they introduced us to other relatives who invited us to their home for cake and coffee. The families are gracious and charming.

I’ll end this post with a moment from our visit when Elena took us on a hike to the highest point in town to see the ruins of a Lombard castle (San Michele) and the sweeping view of the valley (Piana del Dragone–the Plain of Dragons). Here, thousands of cows and sheep graze on the lush, green grass.

But where were the animals? We didn’t see any.

Then, we heard music and asked Elena where it was coming from. She laughed. “It’s the cow bells,” she said. “The cows roam free here.” One mystery solved.

I will always treasure our visit to these wonderful people in this remote and enchanting town. I am happy that we completed the immigration circle by connecting to the part of the family “left behind” in Italy. It gives me a greater appreciation of the sacrifices my ancestors made when they crossed the Atlantic, never to return home again. It’s my task to understand their world, their culture, their language, awakening, as D.H. Lawrence says, “strange and wonderful chords…after many hundreds of years of complete forgetfulness.”

My special thanks to Ann-Christine for giving us a wonderfully inspiring theme this week. You don’t want to miss her stunning images of the Sahara Desert. Last week, you delighted us with dozens of interesting objects! What a treat. I loved the variety, beauty, creativity, uniqueness, and quirkiness of your choices. Next week, it will be Amy’s turn to lead the challenge, so be sure to stop by The World is a Book next Saturday at noon to get the details.

In the meantime, I hope you have a safe and inspiring week!

62 replies »

  1. What a fabulous story Patti and a perfect fit for the memorable event challenge! There are times when the internet can be a wonderful tool when used well. How fun that your contact turned out to be your cousin! What are the chances??!! He must have been just as excited to meet you as you were him. It looks to be a lovely little village with immense charm.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Tina. Oh, it was an incredible day. I loved everything about it! And yes, unbelievably a new cousin. We keep in touch by email from time to time, but I must write to him again. He wrote about book about the major families in town. I downloaded the one on my branch of the family, that starts with an ancestor in the 1600’s. He’s done all the hard work for me! ๐Ÿ˜€. Have a warm and sunny week–hopefully!

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    • Hi, Nes. Truthfully, I had some of these images “buried” in an archive. I’m relieved some of them were decent…back from the days before I got more serious about photography. ๐Ÿ˜€. Thanks for your wonderful comments.

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  2. What an amazing story Patti! Not only did you connect with your ancestors by visiting their home land, you also found new relatives! And captured the moments in wonderful images. Now that is a memorable event!

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    • Hi, Anne. This visit was magical. ๐Ÿ˜€. I am happy to have a few images from that day to remind me of that visit. Edmondo wrote a book on my ancestors and I’ve just started to read it. I discovered it this weekend. Another wonderful find! ๐Ÿ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Margaret. It takes time, I think to make these connections. You were an au pair in Italy! I would have loved to do that when I was a teenager. Where were you living? Did you learn Italian?

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s wonderful, Margaret! I hope you have the opportunity to use your Italian again at some point. I’m struggling with the grammar, but I’m determined to master it!

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  3. Extraordinary that you should be related to the town historian, Patti. Talk about serendipity! It must have been the most wonderful visit. I can imagine the hospitality from my own family visits to Poland. Do you speak Italian at all?

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    • Hi, Jo. I know! It is amazing that Edmondo is the historian. He wrote several books on the main families in town. I just discovered this weekend that he wrote one about my family tree, so I’ve started to read it. I do speak Italian. I’m not fluent, but that’s my goal. How are you doing with Portuguese? The pronunciation is so different from other Romance languages.

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  4. What a wonderful memory! I see a lot of people in the US rue the lack of a deep history, but if like you they trace their families back they have the happy circumstance of discovering new family members. That’s such a wonderful thing that only the descendants of immigrants can find.

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    • Hi, IJ. Yes, I agree. I think it’s a mistake to think our family history started in America. Our ancestors left behind a very rich culture and valuable traditions. They made sacrifices to stay in America and had to make very difficult choices to leave their homes and families. Their stories are uplifting, but heartbreaking. Is your family history all in India or another country?

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    • Hi, Frank. So you have Italian roots, too! Where is your family from? It’s so true that Italy has many gems and small towns that are fascinating and wonderful to visit. I totally agree. The time we’ve spent in smaller cities has always been fascinating and enriching. Each town has its own “personality.” I love that!

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      • Both sides of my family are in northern Tuscany near Lucca – but I don’t go back many. About 5 years I ago we met friends from Cincinnati in Lucca. As we sat outdoor having a drink, one of them asked me how close we were to my relatives. I told him my paternal side was 20 miles to the north, and my maternal side 20 miles to the east. My mother had a green card and I still have 4 first cousins and an aunt there. My dad is first generation born in the US. Toss in the fact that I was born in Trieste. I hope to apply for Italian citizenship (dual) this summer.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s a great idea–to apply for citizenship. I did that through my mother’s side of the family, which is Irish. It takes a while to get all the documents together. It will be easier for you, since you and your parents were born there!

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      • Good. It took less time for me to get my grandmother’s marriage certificate from Ireland than it took for me to get a marriage certificate from New York City!! I think you’ll be more successful in Missouri.

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  5. What a wonderful story, Patti! New relatives to be found and a story beyond belief. You must have felt so overwhelmed, so happy and so uplifted with everything there. I hope you will keep in contact, and that you of course shared your story with the relatives in the US. How strange that the man you contacted was your own cousin…I keep thinking about that. How small a world and how serendipity works.
    In Sweden we have a program on TV called “Everything for Sweden”, where Americans get the chance to come over here to find their roots. They get to know each other in two groups, and through games and fun, there will finally be one winner – who gets to meet all his relatives in Sweden. On their way though, every participant is handed written facts about their family and life hundreds of years ago. I love that program, everybody is so happy to be here – and I cry so much over the destiny for many people who struggled so long ago.
    Thank you for a wonderful memory!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love that idea, AC. “Everything for Sweden” must be such a happy show to watch! Is your family exclusively from Sweden or other countries, too? Edmondo wrote several books about the main families in town. I just discovered he wrote one on my branch of the family tree, so I downloaded it this weekend. Now, I’m reading it. He’s been a wonderful source of information. He’s a wonderful man, too. I’m so grateful to him!

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      • Unfortunately there is much to search for…no real family tree done – yet – but maybe I will try it. I know there is a French lady not too far back, maybe 150 years.But, every time I hear ofa story like yours, I feel the vibes…I should try to trace our family back some hundred years at least.

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      • We have a relative who started the search and others continued it–on my husband’s side. In my case, I was lucky to meet Edmondo who did the work for me! Maybe you can get someone to help you??

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      • Thank you, Patti, I had my cousin’s husband starting it once, but everything written on a diskette – which was lost long ago as they divorced. I will try – someday.

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      • Isnโ€™t it amazing when you connect with a relative. This past week I reconnected with a first cousin living in Israel. We met in 1966 in Tel Aviv just one time. I thought I would never see him again. Ancestry.com and the Internet made the reunion possible.

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  6. This is a wonderful experience to share! I love Italy (my favourite European country), especially these small mountain towns. How great that you were able to connect with your cousin like this! My husband’s great grandfather moved to England from a similar small town and we’ve since visited a couple of times. He has relatives there, as you do, but we haven’t kept in touch unfortunately. Maybe we’ll track them down next time as you have done ๐Ÿ™‚

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