Category Archives: Travel

My Dad and America!

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The story of how my family came to the USA is a bit convoluted – but which immigration saga isn’t? The twists and turns of how things turned out are what makes these stories so fascinating. The crazy, and sometimes funny adventures that occurred during the actual immigration, are truly gems in my eyes. They are treasures that I want to remember forever and to pass on to my children. So here goes my story:

It all started out with my paternal grandfather and his brother. These two young boys from the early 1900’s had dreams of coming to America! My uncle came first (around 1905) and somehow found his way to San Francisco. The story goes that he made the voyage in a crate, but who knows how much of that is really true! Perhaps he was a stowaway? Again, who knows! All we know is that he settled in San Francisco and ended up owning a very prosperous restaurant. This SF uncle would eventually become our connection to the USA. My grandfather, on the other hand, came a bit later to enlist in World War I as an American! He probably saw that as his ticket to residency. Here’s a picture of my grandfather in his uniform.

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Even though my grandfather enlisted in World War I in 1917, he never saw battle. At the end of the war, he went back to Italy and got married to my grandmother. It’s not clear if they were already sweethearts or not but that’s why, perhaps, he went back. They married in 1920 and had their first child, my aunt, in 1922. In July of 1926, my dad came along. When my dad was 4 months old, my grandfather decided to bring his family to the USA. They sailed from Genova aboard the Conte Rosso – my grandmother, my grandfather, my aunt and my dad. Here they are posing for their portrait!

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They settled in Milford, NH. My grandfather ran a granite yard there. They stayed for 4 years, during which time my uncle was born (automatically making him an American citizen – this will become important later in the story!). My grandmother tried to endure life in America for her husband’s sake, but she really didn’t like it here. To please her, my grandfather decided to return to Italy with his family in tow. Here they are on their return to Italy (this time there are 3 children):

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They settled in Ispra where my dad stayed until he immigrated in 1955. According to records I discovered on Ancestry, my grandfather returned one more time to the USA in 1930. No one knows why and I guess we never will. I don’t know how long he stayed, but he was back before my aunt was born in 1933! My grandfather died at the young age of 51 from meningitis, leaving behind his family during the height of World War II. Because he died during the War, during a time when everyone was concentrating on the pure act of survival, many of his stories died along with him. Even my dad, who was 15 at the time of his father’s death, didn’t know much of his father’s life. I’ve found, that sadly, the old folks didn’t talk much about their lives and the younger generation didn’t feel it was important to ask. Nowadays, these stories would be so precious to have and to be able to pass down to future generations.

When my dad’s younger brother (the one born in America) turned 18, he was asked to come back to the USA to serve his military duty. I think he did his military duty  up in Alaska, but unfortunately, I’m not really sure of the details. I believe this was during the Korean War. After his military stint, he decided to try his luck in San Francisco (remember, they had an uncle there who owned a restaurant). My dad’s brother met his future wife and settled in SF, never returning to Italy.

Now back to Italy and my dad! My dad was a successful soccer player but he was getting older, and knowing that he couldn’t play soccer forever, he was searching for a change in his life. Italy was still depressed and trying to recover from the devastations of war. There wasn’t much in the way of jobs, and things were not looking too prosperous. He was already engaged to my mom and asked her, if he were to go to America, would she follow? Being young and in love, my mom told him that she would follow him wherever he went! He presented her with an engagement ring and told her he would go to America to scope things out. He promised he’d come back to marry her. And if things were good, he’d bring her back with him to the USA. My mom made a promise to the Virgin Mary that if he truly came back for her, she would give her ring to the Madonna! But she also gave him a one year ultimatum – she wouldn’t wait longer than one year! Back then, men came to America and never went back! My dad decided that he wanted to go to San Francisco, since he had a brother and an uncle already there. My dad left Genoa aboard the Andrea Doria in March of 1955.  My mom, my father’s aunt, and two of his best friends went to see him off. One of his friends was so upset to see him go, that he ran after the ship as far as he could go.

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Upon boarding the ship, my dad felt great! He said the ship was so much fun – he played cards and ate and drank to his heart’s content. As soon as it exited the Straits of Gibralter, though, things took a turn for the worse. My dad ended up getting so sea sick that he wasn’t able to get out of his bunk for the entire 2 weeks of voyage to New York. During this time, he wrote letters to my mom telling her that he wished he could die.

Upon setting foot on shore in New York, he immediately felt better – and hungry! I’m sure he ate something right away, but he also shared a fellow passengers’ yummy Italian treats! I’m not sure how long he spent in New York, but he needed to take a cross-country train to Oakland/San Francisco. He was under the impression that the train he boarded in New York would take him all the way – whoops! No one told him that he would have to change trains in Chicago. When the train stopped in Chicago, he had to scramble to find out where he needed to go for his connection. Not speaking English, he was definitely quite confused. Luckily for him, a member of the Armed Services came to his aid and directed him to where he needed to go. He made the connection and continued his journey to Oakland/San Francisco, where he was united with his brother.

Upon arriving, he lived in a small basement apartment in the same building as his brother. He wrote at least three letters a week to my mom telling her how much he missed her and loved her. They would occasionally make dates for a phone call, a complicated and, often times, frustrating experience. There were very few telephones in their little home town in Italy, and whenever my mom knew that my dad would try to call her because he had made a date with her in his letters, she had to find herself at that location. The place that she chose was the new “supermarket” in town. The owners of this market were probably just as excited as she was whenever she went over to receive the call from America! They quickly became close to this young woman who’s boyfriend was so far away. The calls themselves were difficult because most of the time the connection was so poor that all they could really say to each other was how much they loved and missed each other. When my mom sees the communication nowadays, and sees how I chat to my cousins in Italy via Skype, Face Time, etc. she just shakes her head and says how nice it would have been if she would have been able to have that during those years that her and my dad were apart.

My father went to work as a dishwasher in his uncle’s restaurant and slowly learned the workings of the restaurant business. My dad went from the pampered life of an athlete to being a dishwasher! He never complained and took the blisters and sores as a badge of honor. He realized that the USA presented a lot of opportunities, and so he decided that he liked it and would bring his future wife here. Vowing never to set foot on a ship again, he saved fervently for a flight back home. Air travel was super expensive in those days and he had to work and save for months in order to afford the trip. But after only 3 months of being here, he sent word that he was coming home to marry his sweetheart. Plans were made and a wedding was planned for the day after Christmas 1955.

Surprises with Google Maps

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Ispra’s town square from Google Maps

If you’ve never tried it, looking at the street view on Google maps is loads of fun. I’ve used it, of course, to check out my own home but also to look at potential hotels and other places to visit. The fun thing about it is that sometimes you can see cars, people, and animals that are familiar to you – they just happened to be around when the google car drove by mapping out the street.

 

A few days ago, I decided to “Google walk” down the streets of my parents’ home town in Ispra, on Lago Maggiore. I know the town pretty well so it was fun seeing all the old places that are so familiar to me. While I was “walking” in front of my aunt’s home, I noticed a car with two women standing outside. One of those women was my aunt and it brought such a smile to my face. You see, my aunt passed away a couple of years ago, and seeing her once more was such a blessing. She was always a really fun loving woman, full of life. The expression on her face as the funny-looking google car was driving down her street taking pictures was absolutely priceless! Her and her friend were looking at it like it was “una bestia rara” – a rare beast! (I love that expression – it’s so fitting!).

Try it sometime, you’ll love it! Especially when you discover little gems like I did! What a special treat!

The Park of Monsters

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I subscribe to  Atlas Obscura’s facebook page, and just today this video popped up on my feed. The timing was perfect as the book I just reviewed, Michelangelo’s Ghost, takes place here in this park located a little outside of Rome. I had never heard of this place, and now, within a few days of each other, I heard about it twice! It sounds like it might be a very interesting place to visit – what do you think?

La Macedonia di Frutta

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Nothing reminds me more of the summers I spent in Italy as a young girl than La Macedonia! My aunt used to prepare for me a HUGE bowl of this delicious fruit salad, with all the freshest summer fruits she could find. She used to stare in awe as I finished off a whole bowl of it. “How can such a tiny thing eat so much Macedonia?”, she’d wonder.

Since those days, I’ve always been a big fan of summer fruit salads. I like to throw whatever fresh fruit I have and mix it up with just a little bit of lemon and orange juice, and a tiny pinch of sugar. When I had my first child, in August of 1986, summer was in full bloom and it seems like I survived on Macedonia di Frutta! I lost all my pregnancy weight, plus 4 pounds, within 2 weeks of having my baby! Was it the Macedonia di Frutta or just the fact that I was a first-time mom and was so nervous I forgot to eat!

Too Many Tourists in Italy?

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Summertime is probably the busiest time of the year to travel to Italy – not only are there lots of foreigners visiting but Italians themselves take their vacations in August. I’ve always thought that it was not a very good idea for almost the whole of Italy to shut down during the Ferragosto Holiday (the weeks around August 15th). It seemed to me that the poor Italians had to visit the beaches and the mountains (or wherever they want to spend their holiday) when they were at the peak of crowds! I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly like to sit on a beach among the hundreds of beach chairs all lined up in a row (and several rows deep!)….

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I like to be able to spread out and enjoy a tiny bit of paradise to myself. That is relaxing to me – not surrounded by hundreds of people. But that’s the way it is and maybe Italians are used to that!

But now, worse than ever, things are getting seriously crowded in many Italian tourist destinations that there is talk of limiting the number of tourists in these locations! Can you imagine planning a trip to the Cinque Terre or Venice and being turned away because they have reached their limit for the day? It’s as bad as visiting Disneyland or some other amusement park!

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According to the latest statistics, the amount of tourists in Venice and Florence has risen by 5%, in Capri 9%, and a staggering 20% in the Cinque Terre! This is putting a strain on lodging and on also on the life of those that live in these places. For example, there are only 5000 people who live in the Cinque Terre, but they get over 2 million visitors a year! Of course, this tourism brings lots of money into these areas, but it’s also becoming too much to handle.

It seems to me that there are logistical problems with trying to impose these limits – how do you close an entire city from more people coming in? It’s not like a paid attraction where you can limit visitors at the door. So I don’t think this will be successful but maybe other, less popular but just as beautiful locations, can be pumped up so that tourists are dispersed and not concentrated in just a few of these heavily populated vacation spots.

What are some of your favorite locations in Italy that may not be as crowded? Mine would be the Italian Lakes, even though I know they get their fair share of crowds during the summer months…

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The Floating Piers of Lago Iseo

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The beautiful northern Italian Lago Iseo, located between Milan and Venice, has become the canvas for the latest work of art by Christo and his late wife, Jean-Claude (their other works include Wrapped Fountain and Wrapped Medieval Tower in Spoleto; Wrapped Monuments in Milan; and The Wall – Wrapped Roman Wall in Rome).

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The Floating Piers was conceived in 1970 by the duo and finally brought to fruition. For 16 days this summer (from 6/18 to 7/3), visitors can walk on these piers which will create walkways into the lake and around the island of San Paolo.

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The docks, or piers, are created with modular cubes of high-density polyethylene and covered in a shimmering yellow fabric.

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The wind and the waves create a living art exhibit that offers a unique experience – no two people will experience the exact same thing! The piers undulate with the waves and the sensation will be like walking on water!

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The exhibit is free to all, and open at all times (as long as the weather cooperates!).

As much as I can appreciate the engineering involved and the experience that this “living art” exhibit offers, I can’t help but feel it’s an eyesore to the beauty of this magnificent lake. I’m probably not very popular with this thought, but if I was visiting this lake as a tourist to see its beauty (and not the exhibit), I would be disappointed that I couldn’t see it untouched by the orange piers. Thankfully it’s just temporary and soon the natural beauty of this beautiful lake, surrounded by mountains, will be restored.

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The photos are courtesy of Here & Now.

 

 

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Good from Tragedy…

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On September 29, 1994,  an American family (Reg and his wife Maggie, 7-year old Nicholas and 4-year old Eleanor) were vacationing in Italy when, late on a Thursday night between Salerno and Reggio Calabria on their way to Sicily, masked bandits opened fire on their car. “There was a small car following me from close behind,” Mr. Green told reporters later. The car came up alongside their car and the masked bandits began to shout something that he and his wife did not understand. The story goes that the bandits mistook their car for that of a jeweler whom they wished to rob. Reg Green accelerated while the bandits followed and opened fire at the rear of the car where the children were sleeping in the back seat. Mr. Green kept accelerating and the bandits kept following and shooting. It was only after the gunmen had abandoned their pursuit and the Greens pulled  over did they realize that Nicholas had been shot in the head. Sadly, Nicholas passed away in Messina a few days later.

Rather than seek vengeance and blame Italy for their tragedy, the Green’s selflessly decided to donate Nicholas’ organs to allow other Italians to live. “I would have liked him to live a long time,” Maggie Green said of her son. “Now I wish the same thing for his heart.”

“Perhaps they do not realize how rare that gesture is in our country,” said Gregorio Botta, a columnist in the newspaper La Repubblica. “Perhaps they do not realize that half the children with heart ailments in Italy do not make it and die while awaiting a transplant.” Italy was filled with an emotion they had never felt when the decision to donate his organs and corneas became known. Organ transplants had been very rare in Italy, but since this generous act shown by a foreign family to the citizens of a country where their personal tragedy occurred, organ donations has tripled. The “Nicholas Effect” was born out of this horrible event. This is the title of the motivational book written by Reg Green, but mostly, it’s the movement that sharply increased awareness of the multitude of deaths around the world cause by the shortage of donated organs. As stated in the book, “it sent an electric shock through the human spirit.”

The Italian populace, inspired by this generous act, donated bells to create an everlasting sign of gratitude to Nicholas Green’s family. A moving memorial was erected in their home town of Bodega Bay, California. My friend Susan recently visited and here is her story and pictures:

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A beautiful memorial for a 7 year old boy in Bodega Bay! Nicholas Green was on vacation in Italy his family, all from Bodega Bay, when road thieves shot him. His parents lovingly donated his organs to seven Italians who were awaiting donations. The Italian community were so touched by the gesture they collected bells and sent them to his family and the Bodega Bay community erected the tower for the bells. The large center bell at the top was forged by the Papal Foundry and was blessed by Pope John Paul II. It has ‘Nicholas’ at the top and the seven Italian’s names who received the organs below it.  

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Some bells donated had been in Italian families for generations, or had been donated by churches.  There  are sticks at the base that people use to reach up to bells to ring them if the wind is not blowing

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The bell tower memorial is at the end of a short path – in wide open field because Nicholas loved playing in wide open spaces! This bell is especially touching as it depicts his giving of himself to others…

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If you are in Bodega Bay, stop by for a visit and honor this little boy’s legacy, and the love his parents showed despite tragedy.

Two men were arrested in November 1994 for the shooting:  Francesco Mesiano and Michele Iannello. They were tried, but in January 1997 they were found not guilty because Reg Green could not positively identify them. However, a year later, with no new evidence, another court with a jury convicted the pair. This decision was upheld by Italy’s supreme court in 1999 and the two are still behind bars – hopefully to stay there forever!