Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Importance of Friend

Lately I've been going through some shit. Everyone does I know. Getting upset over stupid stuff, things I have no control of and re-evaluating my life and choices. Hard realizations for anyone, even harder when you live in a foreign country without the support system of nearby friends and family.

We live our lives, and day to day bullshit sometimes gets in the way of being in touch with the people that mean the most to us. We're all guilty of it at some level. I miss my girlfriends, most of whom I don't speak with enough, time differences, my travel schedule etc....

Today May 3rd, and on May 3rd of the past few years I am reminded of the importance of our truest friends, the ones that you know no matter how much time has passed or how long you haven't spoken will always be there for you and you for them. This reminder comes in the way of a letter. A letter written by a very special person Mary Marbach who I knew years ago in college thru a mutual friend who has since passed.

Our mutual friend Jennifer was at a time a very close friend of mine but soon after graduating we lost touch and it was about 4 years ago through Facebook that Mary found me and broke the heartbreaking news of her passing.

As a tribute to THEIR friendship, Mary & Jennifer's ( which we can all learn from ) each year on May 3rd, Jen's Birthday Mary posts a letter that she wrote for her friend. It is a very special letter that should remind us all to take the time even if for just a day to let our truest friends know what they mean to us.

Thanks Mary for letting me post your letter and reminding me of what is really important and where the heart belongs. For anyone that reads this , do as Mary asks and share it with the friends who mean the most.

A Super SPECIAL tribute from one friend to another :))

My best friend, Jennifer, was born on May 3, 1967. She would have been 45 today.

Jennifer was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in 1997. She promised me, way back then, that she wouldn't die, and I made her put it in writing. It is the only promise to me she couldn't keep.

While she was fighting cancer, we spent a lot of time together. A serious illness changes a friendship in ways you cannot ...
imagine. You stop taking each other for granted. You start to appreciate the importance of your friendship. We told each other “I love you” every time we hung up the phone. We talked about how much we meant to each other. Jennifer took to signing her cards to me "Your friendship means the world to me." I told her, over and over, how lucky I was that she was my best friend. I still feel that way... that I was lucky beyond measure to have had a best friend like her.

When she died, I was thankful that I’d taken the time to tell her how very much I loved her, and that I could not imagine my world without her. And I was also thankful that I’d heard her say all those things to me. I never had a moment where I thought “I wish she knew…” because she did. She knew.

I still think of her every single day. I would give almost anything to have another conversation with her.

I tell people all the time that "love" is an action verb. One of the hardest things about loving someone who's gone is trying to make that love into an action verb.

Every year on her birthday, to honor her memory, I ask everyone I know, please, call your best friend to tell them you love them, and that you are grateful to have them in your life. Say that I asked you to do this, as a way of keeping the memory of my Jennifer alive. I haven’t stopped loving her. I may not be able to talk to her or see her or hug her, but I can and I do continue to love her. Thank you for helping me make that love an action verb.
I love you, Jennifer. I miss you. Always have. Always will. Happy Birthday, Girlfriend.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Embarrassment at the Farmacia

What's " too much information" to write about? Probably this, definitely this, BUT, I'm gonna anyway. I've been holding back, I have to admit. Trying to keep some sort of decorum on this blog , this blog that I'm not the best at up keeping.

I've passed on writing about the fact that Italian toilets have a VERY low water level which affects the plop of the poop, I've passed on writing about a trip to the GYN , AND, I've passed on writing about how vafaculo is not a proper substitute for the word fuck ( which after this I may attempt). Anyone offended should probably stop reading now.

Writing about the food, the art, the scenery, easy.This not so much. Not to belittle those things, all lovely and I love reading about it all. That said, I wrote a while back that life is the same no matter where you live and therefore you deal with the same crap, it just somehow seems funnier to me dealing with normal life occurrences in a foreign country and in a foreign language. In this case more embarrassing. So I'm going to be a fearless writer and go for it.

I woke up yesterday morning with an itch, an unmistakable itch, an itch I haven't had in maybe 15 years. Some women are more prone to these things, I never have been, but I am female so I have experienced it a few times in the past as every woman has. It's a fact of life as a woman. Even so,  I thought to myself, Noooooo! Can't be! There's no reason for this! Especially no FUN reason! I ignored it, but as the day went on it was clear, YEAST INFECTION!

Omg, I can't believe I just typed that! 

I couldn't decide what was more unsettling to me, the discomfort or the discomfort of having to go to the farmacia for this. I couldn't remember the name of the creme in the US so I googled it. Monistat 7, yeah, now I remember. I wondered if they had that here. Was it on a shelf ? OR worse, was I going to have to ask the pharmacist! In Italian!  The horror!

I emailed both my friends Laura and Arlene and asked what's the stuff for such a situation called here. Laura, who I then remembered is gigging with her cello somewhere never got back, Arlene, who is a lot more adult than I am when it comes to bodily functions wrote this:

"tell them you have an infezione vaginale and they'll hook you up"

I yelled back at the computer screen "it's not a VAGINAL infection!!!! Ew! It's your run of the mill yeast infection." NO way, No freakin way! CANNOT! I cannot walk into my farmacia where I have gone before for a cold sore only to have them say aloud HERPES, with me in English saying, NO! No herpes!! Cold sore, from the cold weather!!, and ask per qualcosa per infezione vaginale! I'd rather eat 5 gallons of yogurt ( which I hate).

Here's the thing, Italians are very matter of fact about all things body, no matter how embarrassing it may be to this American 14 year old stuck in a woman's body. I tried to keep that in mind as I walked the 2 blocks to my farmacia. You would think I was going to a job interview or taking a driving test for the first time my heart was beating so fast. I was sooo nervous and hoping there wasn't any other people in there. No such luck, the place was packed and I could feel my face turn purple.

Now at this farmacia there is an old woman who speaks no English and her husband who speaks pretty good English. So it's the man I now have to ask for something for my vagina. It's all so poetic.

It's my turn , I approach the counter, but the guy is busy so the old woman with the 8" high bun on the top of her head held in place by no less than 158 bobby pins, that stands about 4' tall ( probably the reason for the bun) asks if she can help me. I ask in Italian for a pen, I say I don't know how to say it in Italian. I write one word and one number, MONISTAT 7. I hand her the paper and ask do you have this? She looks at the paper, has no idea what it is, I knew she wouldn't but thought I'd take a shot, and then asks," What's it for?" OH NO! That's the question I was dreading.

UM, what's it for? What's it for? There was no way the words infezione vaginale were going to come out of my mouth. I tried, my mouth wouldn't say it. Immature? YES! ABSOLUTELY, in this case. Just couldn't do it. I just shook my head and as I did she handed the paper to her husband who promptly got on the computer to find out what Monistat 7 was. He found it, I could tell. Then he lifted his head and asked aloud for all the patrons to hear per infezione vaginale? There ya go! No escape, HORRIFIED!

He explained they didn't have that but something else. The woman says AHHH, ok! They look in the drawers where they keep the meds and shows me a box. He says it is not a creme but a pill. I'm thinking great! No muss , no fuss, pop a pill a few times, done. EXCEPT, when I ask how many times a day do I take it he says," NO, not for the mouth". Not for the mouth? For the ????? OHHHHHH!! NOOOOO! Why Why Why? This is what I am thinking as the 70 year old Italian man is making the charades motion of sticking the pill up one's va-jay-jay.

Yes, This is how I spent my morning. In fact ,they have a creme, they were out of it ( so I guess I'm not alone) but could have it at 4:00 pm. The worst part is, now, I have to go back. At least this afternoon I can quietly hand him the piece of paper that says something in Latin that I can't read and hope he just quietly hands me the package back and that no one reading this is at the farmacia :)

Sunday, February 19, 2012


So I wrote a post a while back called "Only Me" and I would have used it again but didn't want to be repetitious. Thing is, weird shit is always happening to me, and this day was no different.

I was in Milan for the day, second time in 2 weeks for a meeting in re: to my business. The meeting was going very well lasted about 6 hours. Half way through they ordered in lunch. We had a quick lunch relative to Italian standards and afterward the guy who I was meeting with had to make a quick call. I took that opportunity to run across the street to the small shop to get some Gola ( throat lozenges). I had been sick the week before and all the talking was making me scratchy.

When I returned to the office building there were 4 people waiting for the elevator, of which there were two. These elevators are the tiny tiny kind you find in Europe. They hold 2 normal size people OR 1 person and a luggage. No joke about 2 ft. square. Well these 4 Italians piled into that one like tightly packed sardines, with not an inch to spare, I had no choice but to wait for the other.

The other elevator arrived, I stepped in, pressed 3 ( which is really 4) and the doors shut. Nothing. Hmmm is it really slow or is it not moving? I press 3 again, wait, nothing. I press 0, the ground floor I entered on, nothing. I thought, still calm at this point, is it stuck? Noooo, can't be. Who gets stuck in elevators? Certainly not me. Again I press 0 and nothing. Then it hits me, OMG I'M STUCK IN A FREAKIN TINY ELEVATOR!!!!!! Panic sets in as I am sooooo claustrophobic that I have been know to have full blown panic attacks in a packed subway.

this is not me but this IS the size of the elevator

I start to hyperventilate, frozen afraid to move. I start pressing the alarm non stop, I can hear it ringing, but that's all I hear. I decide to try and open the door from the inside, so with both hands grab it and pull it open .Looking back at me are the interior cogs and pulleys of the elevators outside door, filled with dust and spider webs and I see I am stuck between floors about 4 ft. from the ground floor. THIS did not help calm me. I stand there in the center of the little box, still, very still.

Maybe 5 minutes have now passed and I hear voices. People, there are people out there!  Half crying and screaming Aiutami!!! Aiutami!!!! Sono Americana and I'm stuck in the elevator!!!!! I don't know why I felt necessary to say I was American, could have actually worked against me, I didn't know how to say stuck in elevator in Italian, maybe I thought the voices would know to speak English to me then ( if they could) and they did.

"How many are you?", a woman called. I said," just me, I'm alone and very claustrophobic. PLEASE, PLEASE help me", hysterical now. She said they have already alerted the building and someone was coming. I asked how long and she said soon. I asked was that ITALIAN soon or regular soon. Because subito can mean 3 hrs in some cases!

She said she did not know, I could see a small sliver of light between the closed exterior door and the shaft, the same sliver from which I heard her voice. She said she would stay there and talk to me til they came. I kept reiterating the claustrophobia fact and began deep breathing to calm myself. What I really needed was a xanax!!!  After about 15 minutes she says," they have called the technician again but it may now be a while." WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY will it be a while??? He was coming from somewhere else.

At the 25 minute mark she tells me the doorman is there, he has found a key for the exterior door. I ask if he can open it and she says maybe BUT maybe it's best to wait for the technician. "Why? What happens if he uses the key?"  AND THEN a thought , I gasp WAIT! STOP!I say, " If he opens the door will the elevator fall??"  I'm now thinking OMG, is the way I go? In some freak elevator accident in Milan, during a meeting? THAT WOULD SUCK!!!

I repeat," will the elevator fall? "The woman answers, "we don't think so." I said, " You don't think so? Are you not sure?"  She says, " No, we are not sure, but we think maybe not, it will not fall." Before I could say stop again I hear the doorman fiddling with the key, my heart is racing and then the door opens. Staring back at me from 4 ft. down are 2 Italian women and the doorman .And then the door closes agains.

They quickly  pull it open again, one woman is very tall,like 6',  I'm 5'2". She tells the other woman to hold the door open and then extends her arms for me to jump from the elevator 4ft. up into her open arms like a toddler would do at the swimming pool with their parent. I am trying not to laugh at this point, it's all so ridiculous. I jump, she catches me and all is right in the world.

Now the funniest part is who the woman was, but if I tell that now it'll give away why I was in Milan
and I am trying to keep that for the most part on the QT for a while longer. So I will update the identity in a few months :))

I took the stairs back up to the meeting :)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ricerca di Antenati Terza Parte

part 1 link:

part 2 link:

So after the frame shop guy wrapped up his directions and said his goodbyes and we said our thank you, Sebastian looked at Joe and I and said, " Andiamo!!"

We didn't even think twice about getting in the car and going with these guys. The four of us in the small maroon car headed away from main street. Joe and Gregorio were in the back seat and I was sitting up front with Sebastian. Not a few minutes into the ride and the car stops as Sebastian his honking his horn which made a toot toot kind of sound. At first I thought it was because a car was making a three point turn in front of us but as the car pulled away and as he continued to honk it became clear he was trying to get the attention of a woman in the corner shop. She came out but never approached the car. Instead he told me to roll down the window and as he leaned across me ( all the while I have my head turned making an OMG can you believe this craziness face at Joe)  he shouted out to her about where was the street to find Luccheses. She shouted back that it was in that direction in the abandoned part of town and pointed but she was unsure and then she said but there is someone who will know and she shouted the address.

As we drove along Sebastian pointed out different things and made small talk. The bread that Gregorio had bought which had previously occupied my seat was now sitting on the dashboard. He drives up the hill and takes a left onto a small side street and begins to honk that toot toot horn again, this time rapidly as he stops in front of a door to a small palazzo. Without moving from his seat he stretches half his body out the window while looking up as to call to someone in a window upstairs in the home. He yells ( and I mean yells) " HEY, LUCCHESE!!!! I couldn't see out my window as we were very close to the building but heard a man's voice reply something like what do you want? Sebastian yelled back for him to come down to the car. He did.

This is what I saw from where I sat. Sebastian had gotten out of the car to talk to the mysterious man in the light blue shirt , I only ever saw his stomach. He and Sebastian and Gregorio from the back seat and another mystery man in a window had a 5 minute chat about where we would find Luccheses because this guy was emphatic that he was not one. Sebastian gets back in car and we continue to drive deeper into the "abandoned" part of town. It was basically very run down, lots or rusticos and very few families still lived there. Those families we were told were Luccheses.

We finally get to the entry of a street called Via Gustavo Modena. There is nothing around but dilapidated buildings, very cool looking though. The two men get out of the car and Joe and I quickly follow. Not twenty steps I realize I left my bag with ipad, passport and wallet in the car which the men had left just in the middle of some abandoned street with doors open. The NY er in me ran back to get it and so I was now a few steps behind the guys.

As we follow the men along the small alley way type streets Sebastian every few seconds while looking up and around is yelling LUCCHESE! LUCCHESE! CI SONO LUCCHESE QUI!!!! ( are there any Lucchese here). It was comical and surreal and completely wacky! Guess what , it worked because from a small palazzo a family emerged and they were in fact Luccheses.

They had been just about to sit down for lunch but we interrupted that. Sebastian proceeded to introduce himself and Gregorio and then tell the family which consisted of a woman about 40, her husband and mother and father, about Joe and his grandfather and that he was from America and looking for relatives that still lived in Aragona.

We were there a good 20 minutes or so, maybe longer. While they were all talking I just snapped away taking photos. Joe was showing photos on his Ipad and the copy of the birth record and these people were truly interested. I would jump in and translate for Joe every now and then. Why did this American speak Italian, was she one too. No, I am the American friend that lives in Firenze, always followed by " Firenze? Che bella citta'!!!" Sometime during this Joe's backpack ended up on Sebastians shoulder.I don't know why that was so funny to me, but it was. I thought, casting agents must come to these places and just hang out because I swear I felt like we were dropped into a frame of some Sicilian film with characters right out of central casting.

Somewhere toward the end of this scene Sebastian ( and I could not believe the chutzpah in this guy) says to the woman," What, you aren't going to invite us for lunch, something to eat? This guy is family! He is a Lucchese! " She was taken aback, almost embarrassed as she told him she wasn't epecting 4 extra people, she didn't make enough. I said, "Sebastian!!!" and I apologized to the woman saying it was ok, we weren't hungry, just thankful for their time. Turns out the father ( and I cannot remember his name ) was probably a cousin of Joe's, but then again I think anyone from Aragona with the same last name was related somehow.

In his best Scorsese impersonation, Sebastian directed Joe to stand with the man for a photo and then directed the man to give Joe a kiss on the cheek (un bacio). It was very sweet, heartwarming, it was nutty, it was Sicilian and it wasn't over.


All the way back to the car we thanked the guys, but they weren't finished. The Family had told them of a man called Angelo Lucchese and where he lived and so that's where we headed next except now Gregorio sat in the front with Sebastian and I was demoted to the back seat.

Before we got into the car Gregorio's phone rang, it was his wife. From what I can tell from eavesdropping and guessing what she was saying the conversation went something like this:

Wife: Where the hell are you? You left 2 hours ago to get bread!!!

Gregorio: It's not my fault! I ran into Sebastian , he told me of Americans looking for family in Aragona, I came with him and them to help find them

Wife: Well, we've been waiting for you for lunch!!!!

Gregorio: Eat without me I'll be home soon

Not a few minutes away we arrive at another street and stop in the front of an archway that led to a courtyard accompanied of course by the toot toot of the horn. We all get out and as we enter the courtyard Sebastian starts yelling, " ANGELO LUCCHESE! DOVE SEI?" ( where are you?) A woman peeps her head from a second floor window and tells him to SSHHH! Her husband is sleeping! Sebastian asks if her husband is Angelo and she says yes so he says " Wake him up!!!" Joe looks back at me as to say can you believe this!

We were hysterical, the nerve of this guy! It was GREAT!!! And so she did and down the stairs from the upper floor apt. walks a sleepy eyed old man , Angelo Lucchese. The entire scene from the previous stop replays like Groundhog Day ( I took video, Joe still hasn't sent it, it's hysterical!) The 4 guys talking, the woman watching and occasionally piping in from the upstairs window. She eventually came down and did invite us for coffee, I politely declined as we were getting short on time. It was decided that Angelo was definitely a cousin and he thought that when Joe's grandma had come 30 years before he was the one who had shown her around Aragona.

Just like before Sebastian instructed for Joe and Angelo to pose for a picture.

Well it was getting late and we still had to return to Agrigento to get our bags that we left at the hotel and catch a bus for the almost 3 hour ride back to Palermo as we had a 7 am flight the next day. Had we permitted this would have gone on all day probably ending in dinner at either Gregorio or Sebastian's home with one pissed off wife that they had brought strangers for dinner without notice. We kind of wished we had more time, but we didn't, so I told the guys we had to get back and they drove us to the garage where the little blue bus that had broken down had been repaired. We had 20 minutes til it would leave back to Agrigento.

We gave them our email addresses and I took a few pix with the men and we hugged and thanked them over and over for being so awesome!!

Looking back and thinking about that day and the players it occurs to me it wasn't just Joe's experience or mine, but the others too.The vendor at the fruit stand would surely repeat the story of the 2 Americans and the litto. The family on Via Gustavo would surely tell their story of the American Lucchese as would sleeping Angelo. AND, both Sebastian and Gregorio surely would tell the story at their respective dinner tables that night of how they drove around Aragona with a couple of Americans looking for relatives.

Now I can't tell you exactly how Joe felt about this day only what he told me. He said it exceeded every expectation, over the top, were his words and thanked me way more than he needed to. I told him I thought the way it all unfolded was almost otherworldly and I really believe that, as corny or weird as that sounds. I told him I thought his dad ( who has passed ) aligned everything for him. From running into me in NY where he does not live, to the old guy on the bus, to Sebastian being at the fruit stand, it was all too easy to happen naturally. It's my feeling it was of an angel's assistance in the way of his father.

For me, it was a a day that showed the best in people, the kindness of strangers, the warmth of the Sicilians, the fabric of family, the essence of Italy. The reason why I felt that no thanks to me was necessary was because it was really one of the best experiences I have had while living in Italy. They say you haven't been to Italy til you've been to Sicily, I'd agree with that :)

Monday, December 19, 2011


I'm just going to come right out and say it.

My name is Andrea and I LOVE Facebook. There. I'm not embarrassed to admit it.

There are people that feel Facebook is invasive to their private life. There are people that think they are too sophisticated for Facebook ( these are usually the same people that insist they DO NOT watch TV, but have one hidden in a back room). Then there are those who say it is narcissistic. Well, that one I would agree with but so is twitter, instagram, and personal blogs and biographies. I get all these opinions,it's just not mine.

There are times when I am on Facebook more than others. When I'm traveling, I pop by for a quick update where I am and to check messages and then there are days when I'm on it more than I should be. I've been thinking about Facebook alot with all the format changes and all and why I love it so much and why I'm, well, kind of attached to it. Here's my thoughts about Facebook.

I joined just over 3 years ago, a few months before I moved abroad. I knew people that had been on it and really didn't see the appeal. I have been converted in a BIG way. These are all just MY opinions :)

When you live abroad as I do, when you travel as much as I do ( primarily for work) Facebook is the best way to keep my family and closest friends in the loop all in one place and to stay in their loop. It's the best way for me to stay in touch with both old friends, new friends and re founded friends( ok not sure that is a real word, but you get the idea so I'm stickin with it)

About 2 months after I moved to Italy I was on Facebook one night and received a message from a woman named Arlene. She wrote that she came across my profile because she was searching mosaics and my profile pic at the time was of a mosaic I had done ( my previous occupation). She wrote that she too had gone to Syracuse University and was also a mosic artist AND also lived in Italy ( although 3 hours north). She asked if I'd be interested in meeting half way one day for a cafe and to shoot the shit about mosaics. I wrote back, sure and added her as a friend ( which I don't normally do with people I don't know). Something told me to add her, just a feeling. She accepted the friend request. When I went to her page to check it out and saw a photo of her I almost fell off my chair!

I wrote her a new message, that said:

Hey Arlene,

Xxxxxxx is your married name right? Are you originally from Sri Lanka?

she wrote back:

October 4, 2008
And I'm not from Sri Lanka, but my parents lived there! :-):-)
Did you work with me in Chasers?
Yes, I knew an Andrea Brody once
and I wrote:
Yeah, and that would be me! SHUT THE FUCK UP!!!!!! How crazy is that! ARLENE! OMG! As soon as I saw your picture, you have not changed!

How weird we both ended up mosaic artists and living in Italy! Well now we must meet for coffee and talk mosaics and catch up! Facebook is wild isn't it!

I had met Arlene during my first senior year at S.U. ( I stayed for 5 years) We waitressed together at a 50's bar/ restaurant where we had to wear cheer leading outfits and do the hand-jive. We had been pretty close friends in college and the lost touch soon afterwards. Twenty years later we found each other on a fluke via FB. She is now one of my closest friends and am so thankful to have her back in my life. 

Gone are the days for me of setting up an online photo account or sending photos through email and cc-ing 10 people in. I just post it to Facebook. My parents, who live in Vegas are on Facebook. They are 70 years old and my dad has 235 friends, half of which he went to high school with. The other half friends of mine and my siblings. How cool is that! He planned his 50 year H.S. reunion with the help of Facebook. My 84 yr. old aunt is on Facbook, she has no children but can follow her nieces and nephews and grands nieces and nephews and she loves it.

I know there are people that say it makes people interact less personally with each other, I think it's just the opposite. I have come to know people from a travel site that I often wrote on not only by their screen names but now know what they look like, know about their lives and because of that have met quite a few and formed new friendships. No, of course they are not the deep rooted friendships of your closest friends but they are friendships of a different level and they enrich my life. They are people who I share the common interest of travel and art with.

There are the people I have met doing trunk shows on cruise ships. The staff that work in the shops, the passengers on board. I spend weeks at a time with these people, come to know them and Facebook allows me to keep in touch, make plans to meet up again some I have become quite close with.

There are friends from camp and high school and even grammar school that I am back in contact with. My very dear friend Helayne who I had lost contact with just because I moved so much and life gets in the way, I found again through FB. When I'm going to be in NY, I post it, then I can make plans to see anyone who is around and Helayne is usually one of them. My friend OB fought FB for like EVER! Guess what she's posting pix of her kids in ballet class now and I love that! I love that I can see that. I love that I can see every ones holiday cards ( cause the post sucks here).

Sure there are people on my friend list that I am not close with and don't have much interaction with. There are those who preach religion, politics, air their dirty laundry, to each his own, I try not to judge. With all the new settings you don't have to defriend someone and hurt their feelings, you can just tweak how much interaction you want. and how much info you want to share.

For me I try to keep light. I post my photos ( incessantly) with no apologies, those who don't want to see them don't have to look. I post my status updates which I try to keep lighthearted. I for one try not to post anything too personal or negative. Yes, when Bear passed away 18 months ago I posted that . Last night while stalking my self for the past three years with the new timeline feature I came across the post about Bears passing and had a good long cry. The outpouring of love and support was truly amazing. So many people knew of him from previous writings or from meeting him and I recalled how all that support really helped me during that time.

I launched my jewelry business on Facebook, I launched my blog on Facebook. Would I have wanted FB around for my 20 year old self, probably not. BUT, used responsibly I think FB is the greatest way of connecting and reconnecting people.

For all the nay sayers, stay where you are, don't join or deactivate. I'm more than happy to say I'm a fan! I love that I can see new baby pix, and hear about engagements and what university my friend's kid has been accepted to. I love that I get to see my nieces and nephew in their Halloween costumes and video of school plays. I love that I can chat with friends 5,000 miles away. I love that in one place I can get the news, and sports scores and travel advice. I love that on any given day someone has posted at least one thing that makes me laugh aloud. On top of all that the thing I love most of all about Facebook is no matter where I am in the world it makes me feel like I'm never that far away.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Alla Ricerca Di Antenati Italiani ( Searching for Italian Ancestors)

A perfect story for Christy's La Dolce Vita series and the kindness of strangers.

Life is funny and I think the experiences you have sometimes are all about timing and how peoples paths cross, or at least it is for this story.

When I ran into an old friend who I had not seen or spoken to in about 12 years I never expected that a conversation we had about me living in Italy and him wanting to go to Sicily would end up less than 3 months later in a search for his ancestors.  It's not my story to tell , it's his, but I was given the ok, so from my perspective/memory  and to tell it right, in installments" Searching for La Famiglia Lucchese"

I met Joe about 20 years ago ( damn I feel old) through an ex, he was his friend and by proxy at the time was mine. It's weird because looking back I never knew much about him.  Yes, one look at him and you know this guy is Italian but just how strongly tied he felt to his Sicilian roots was something I just discovered on this trip. Thinking about it now, it's not that surprising.

The U. S is the largest recipient of Italian immigrants in the world,according to wiki about 4 million of them arriving in the late 1800's early 1900's. It is said 80% came from southern Italy/Sicily. A walk through Little Italy in NY, the near west side of Chicago, Hoboken or Boston's North End will tell you that, where Italian tradition is alive and well. Well Joe's paternal Grand Dad came during that first wave, and from what he has told me Italian traditions ran strong in his family. From Sunday dinners and his Nonna's cooking to stories about the old country, his heritage was instilled in him.

He told me of how his grand dad loved the U.S., was proud to be an American citizen and really had no desire to return to the  Sicilian town of Aragona from which he hailed. How his dad, sadly now passed, was born in the U.S. and never made it to Sicily and how Joe himself wanted to attain Italian citizenship.

He had been thinking of this trip for many years , a bump into me and my offer to be his guide I guess helped to make it a reality. So he arrived in Italy with his Ipad full of info intent on, at the very least, getting a copy of  his grandfather's birth certificate. What he found , I think, was a whole lot more.

Smack in the middle of a 9 day trip that included 6 cities we found ourselves in Agrigento, Sicily. From Florence we took the ES down to Rome. The day before Thanksgiving we hopped on a flight to Palermo, caught a hour and half bus ride from the airport into town and boarded an almost 3 hr. train from Palermo to Agrigento where we arrived almost 10 hours after leaving Rome. The plan for Thanksgiving day was to scope out the Valley of the Temples first thing ( really not to be missed) and then to make our way to the small town of Aragona located just about 20 minutes away.

So we did just that. After a super rainy morning drudging through the mud and taking in some of the most beautiful scenery we caught a noon time mini bus to Aragona. It was funny because all the other buses at the open air station in downtown Agrigento were normal size buses, but there among them sat a small blue mini-bus , it was on this bus we would meet the little old man that would make the hard task of getting the grand dad's birth certificate a whole lot easier.

Maybe 20 seats on this bus, all but 5 were occupied by teenagers returning home after a morning at school is my guess. Then there was Joe and I , a woman from Aragona and 2 older men. All of them took an interest in us, after all we were Americani and I'm guessing from the response ( a pattern that continued through the day) there aren't a whole lot of Americans passing through. From the guy sitting on a bench at the bus terminal saying how Joe looked Sicilian, everyone was interested in why we were there, and why we were going to Aragona. And so we told all of them.

Now I'm probably not the best choice for translator as my Italian skills are less than stellar especially with the dialect differences down south but I was all he had so my crappy Italian would have to wade us through. The standard line was," Lui, e' da Boston, ma il nonno e' originario di Aragona" ( He is from Boston, but his grandfather is originally from Aragona) which EVERY SINGLE TIME, from the guy in the shop to the guy on the bench to the bus driver and the little old man on the bus was met with the phrase," Qual e' suo cognome?" ( What is his last name)

Well when we said Lucchese, there wasn't a person that didn't respond that they knew that name, and they knew Luccheses in Aragona. The warmth and welcoming of the Sicilians was really amazing, it wasn't even my family we were looking for and I got all goose bumply.

It was about 5 minutes into the 20 minute bus ride when we felt a thump. Something was definitely wrong, the little blue bus felt as if it was limping. A flat tire? What had happened? The driver pulled over and and out he went with the little old guy in tow. I somehow felt responsible because anyone who knows me and of my travels this was typical, a magnet for this sort of shit. Never one  to miss a photo -op I got off the bus too, it was a broken axle, we would wait about 15 minutes for a bigger better bus to arrive during which time I snapped some photos and was apparently laughed at by the teen-agers on the bus.

driver and little old guy

While outside the bus I spoke with the little old guy ( whose name we never did get) and told him we were going to the Commune ( kind of a town hall) to try and find the birth record of Joe's grand dad.
Once on the replacement bus the old man made his way back to where we sat and asked if we knew where the Commune was. I told him no and he said to get off the bus with him and that he would take us to see someone there. Sure enough somewhere in the mid of main street Aragona when the bus stopped we followed the little old guy across the street and into the more modern than we would have thought municipal building.

a second unit re-shoot

Now I was skeptical as to how smoothly this would go. Afterall , I live in Italy and dealing with these sorts of things is usually a pain in the ass as other ex-pats and locals alike will attest. I was proven very wrong this time.

We hurriedly followed the man past the receptionist to a back office ( as if he was smuggling us in). A large room with cabinets on the walls, each containing rows and rows of metal bound books that contained the birth, death and marriage records of that town. In the office sat a man and a woman. The old man told the man that we were Americans looking for the records of Joe's grand dad, born in Aragona. The office man was not having it. He told the old man that you can't just be bringing Americans in here in the middle of the day for us to help them, without an appointment, we are busy now. But the old man did not waiver. He told this guy in pretty strong terms, hey, they are here for only a few hours, it's important to get the papers, this guy wants to get his Italian citizenship!! ( I'm paraphrasing the translation of what I heard) I am quite sure had it not been for the old guy we'de still be sitting there.

Begrudgingly ,is putting it lightly, the man said o.k and with a quick grazie and arrivaderci the little old man was gone and we found ourselves alone with the man and the woman in the offce. The woman's name was Rita. She spoke minimal broken English, it was enough. Joe pulled out the Ipad and showed her a photo of the names of his paternal ancestors from Aragona. Next to the names were written birth years. He did not know, his family never did, the actual day of birth for his grandfather. Rita jotted it all down quickly and disappeared ,leaving us with the grumpy guy who only left to get me the restroom key. I was chomping to photograph those books but when Joe said," don't, you'll piss them off, not until I have the birth certificate!"  I didn't.

When Rita returned, about 15 minutes later ( and really she was a god-send) she did so with a list of names, drawn in a tree diagram. She explained how the great grandfathers were named Vincenzo, the paternal great grandfather was a worker in the slate quarry, she spoke of the wife Chiara but most importantly she held a copy of the birth record for Michaelangelo Lucchese, born on September 24, 1906 @ 3:00 am and Joey finally knew his granfathers's birthday.

That was  enough to complete a Thanksgiving day, little did we know it was just getting started. Next, enter Gregorio and Sebastian, the Matthau & Lemmon of Aragona. To be continued in the next post........

It was important to Rita to get a shot of her kicks ( so please note the shoes) :)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ricerca Di Antenati- Seconda Parte

Parte II

Well that was easier than I thought it would be. I couldn't get over the fact in less than 1/2 hour we were out of that Commune with a copy of the birth record in hand. Really unheard of in Italy, and the craziest part is they never asked Joe for any I.D !

We really had no plan after that except to just wander around Aragona, maybe catch lunch and maybe try to locate the vista where a photo was taken of Joe's grandmother 30 years before. So we decided to just walk, walk through the little town from where his family came.

Aragona at first glance was kind of nondescript. Looked like any other town, no real landmarks to distinguish it. The streets fanned out up and down from the main artery along which most shops were closed. I'm not sure if the closures were due to siesta or just lack of business. You could catch an occasionally glimpse of the surrounding countryside peeping through the somewhat run down buildings that lined the streets.

As we walked we could feel the eyes of the people we passed watching, they knew we were not from there, this was a town where I'm sure everyone knew everyone and stranieri (strangers) were a quick spot. But it wasn't an unwelcoming feeling , you could tell that it was just curiosity. The town is completely "old school" down to the obtits posted at nearly every other corner.

We came upon a fruit and vegetable shop, one of the few places that was open. It was run by an older man who was settling up a woman's purchases. Joe made note of what I thought was a tomato, he said they sell them in the North End of Boston. I said , "yeah, it's a tomato" he said," NO, it's NOT a tomato ( it looked like a tomato)  When the man appeared again from inside the shop I asked him ," Che cos'e'?" ( what is that) and he said a litto.

We had a small audience by now, the woman hung around to see what "the Americani " fruit inquiry was about and another man who was picking up some leafy greens. By the look on our faces I think the vendor could sense we were confused by what it was and so he grabbed one and with the edge of his shirt sleeve, like only an Italian fruit stand guy could, he polished off one of those "litto", split it in half handing a piece each to both Joe and I.

It was sweet and delicious, but the best part was the intense interest of how we would like that fruit, the fruit from HIS fruit stand. I told Joe to give the guy a Euro and with that the man filled a bag with that fruit. We said it was too much, give him some more money. Joe handed him another 2 Euro which prompted a bag of kumquats, I think,  but we politely declined.

I tried googling litto to no avail and finally asked a friend ( a former chef :) and she said they are persimmons!! I guess I having been living under the fruit rock, I'm sure I have seen them before, but never had one.

will he like it???? so funny!! note the guy in the middle

As we walked away thanking the man we couldn't believe how nice everyone was. It wasn't the sometimes unauthentic surface nicety you get in the north, it was different, from the core, it's just who they are. The reason I love that picture so above is the expression on both the men's faces. You can't fake that sort of interest.

We continued along the main street kind of at a loss for which direction to head. I said down, Joe said up, we couldn't agree and so found ourselves to the side of a small church where there was a small wall over which you could see the countryside. It seemed as if we were the only ones there but then we spotted 2 older men chatting, actually it was more like catch up gossip. I did not realize until days later but Joe realized right away that one of the men was the guy with the leafy greens at the fruit stand. Joe said he was telling his friend the story of us, the 2 Americans and we how tried the fruit and why we were there.

I told Joe to pull up that picture of his grandmother on the Ipad, that maybe these guys knew where it was taken. As he tried to get the photo up ( and we all know how Ipads can stick sometimes) they started walking away. "Hurry, they are walking away!!" I said. He said he was." O.k, they stopped!! Hurry, Now!" He was, " I'm trying!!!" They would take a few steps, then they would stop, then a few more steps, then they would stop during which I would report, they are walking, they are stopping, they are walking, they are stopping. Actually, I'm  surprised Joey didn't throw me over the wall at that point . It was almost as if they knew we were looking for something. FINALLY! he gets the photo up and we approach the two men. 

Me: Buongiorno Senore, ho una domanda. Sapete dove questo posto e' in Aragona?
(good day, I have a question, do you know where this place is in Aragona?)

Joe pipes in as he shows the photo on the Ipad ( isn't technology freaken AWESOME!!)

Joe: this is my grandmother, here in Aragona the picture was taken about 30 years ago, my grandfather is from here and I'm looking to find this place where the photo was taken.

All in English, rapid fire speed, Boston accent . So, when he finished the men both just turned their heads to me as to say ," WTF did he just say??

After translation and the two men talking amongst themselves they agreed they had no clue BUT they knew someone who might. So the shorter guy from the fruit stand  who I will now call by his name Sebastian yells across the street to a guy in a frame shop. He yells for the guy to come to us to look at a photo, and so he does.

This frame shop guy ( whose name escapes me) is the "go to guy"  for all things Aragona and Agrigento. Been there for ever, like 80 yrs old, knows everyone and everything. Sebastian tells me if anyone will know it's this guy. So the 3 men and Joe huddle around the Ipad for a 15 minute pow wow on that photo, all the while I was taking photos myself.

After much discussion amongst the 3 men, frame shop guy says yes! in fact, he knows where this place is, it's on the outskirts from center and that he knows where the Luccheses can be found. That in fact there are Luccheses still in Aragona, they live in a specific area, but which houses he is not sure. He begins to tell Sebastian about the area and the name of the street and tells him it is too far to walk. He begins to give him directions.

Sebastian then turned to the other taller man and began talking to him, his name is Gregory or Gregorio. They went back and forth and I was laughing while listening. Now , because this conversation is going on in Italian, Joe really hadn't a clue what they are discussing but I did. I couldn't help but smile , that I heard the frame shop guy tell Sebastian to take us with his car, that I heard Sebastian tell Gregorio he was coming with, that I heard Gregorio say basically no way and Sebastian tell him yes way ( I'm paraphrasing again) . And while Sebastian and Gregorio were discussing I leaned over and whispered to Joe that they were taking us there. That they were taking us to find Luccheses. "No! really? That's crazy!!"  he said. Yep, it WAS crazy but it was true. If that day hadn't already been surreal it was about to get a whole lot more so. So after the frame shop guy wrapped up his directions and said his goodbyes and we said our thank you, Sebastian looked at Joe and I and said, " Andiamo!!"

Looks like a three parter as I actually have stuff to do 

Part 3 " The meeting of Luccheses" on Monday for Christy's La Dolce Vita series ( and be sure to check out her blog)

Hopefully with video if Joey gets off his slacker ass and emails it to me  :)

Joe and Gregorio in the back seat