I am putting the finishing touches on my memoir manuscript and getting a cover designed. Hoping that publication will actually be sometime next month.
I am posting the chapter in the book entitled “Italy”. Alan and I have made two trips to Italy since we reunited in 2009. It is our desire to spend a good deal more time there and perhaps even live in Italy (in the south, of course) at some point. Hope you like it.
Italy and our Italian heritage have come to play a major part in our lives, giving us an antidote to the more negative aspects, opening up new vistas, and providing us with another monumental and exciting milestone. Because of our Italian heritage and direct line from our grandfathers, we have become Italian citizens!
I had been to Italy several times over the years, but Alan had never travelled there. In fact, one of his first thoughts after his wife passed away and he was free to do what he wanted, was to take a trip to Italy and visit the town of his grandfather’s birth, Venafro. He had applied for his first passport and was thinking about taking that trip just before we reunited. In our initial discussions and emails, we talked about Italy and the hometowns of our grandparents. We discovered that Alan’s grandfather and my grandparents were both from the Molize region and had left the towns of Venafro and Montelongo, respectively (a forty minute drive apart—a mind-boggling thought considering the size of the country—destiny!), to emigrate to America in the early 1900’s. We jokingly have said that it is probably a good thing that we didn’t marry and have children together when we were young because we may be related! When Alan’s grandfather left Venafro, he went first to Glasgow, Scotland and married Mary Gillespie before bringing his new wife to Yonkers, NY. My grandparents, on the other hand, went to Mount Vernon, NY and that is where my parents were born.
Alan and I began talking a great deal about Italy and knew from the beginning of our new relationship that we would be traveling there as soon as we could.
We started reading about Italy and Alan was introduced to several books about living in Italy to set the stage for what we/he might expect. I had already been convinced that I wanted to spend some extended time in the country of my ancestors, but I needed to have Alan understand that as well. We also began to communicate more with my Italian cousin Piera who lives in Torino, Italy. Alan had the opportunity to speak with her on the phone several times and he soon learned what fun she is. She is an amazing individual and I couldn’t wait until Alan met her. At the same time my daughter, Leigh, began to seriously consider what it would take to live and work in Italy: something she had discussed with my father before he passed away, and after she and I had taken a trip together to Italy in 2002.
Leigh had been to Italy several times—the first time with me when she was 13 years old. (When our children were young my first husband and I usually did things a little out of the norm. Special trips became a sort of ‘rite of passage’ for our non-Jewish children who found all of their friends having bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs. His father took David to Africa and I took Leigh to Italy. In retrospect, I guess Italy was a good idea for Leigh and it had a major impact on her. Little did I know that then, though). She went to Italy a few times on her own which were work-related trips, and the story I have included in the ‘Afterward’ of this book will show how the visit we made together to the town where my grandmother was born laid the foundation for our dream that living in Italy could become reality for all of us. Leigh is the real writer in the family and I am very proud of her accomplishments. She wrote the Montelongo story after our trip taken in March of 2002. She never published it thinking that it “wasn’t her best work”; but I have continued to share it with many people because I think it is so good. I have her permission to share it here. I feel it tells a lot about our family, our interest in Italy, her love for her grandfather, and about the very special bond she and I have with one another.
That trip to Italy with Leigh in 2002 was my fifth trip to that country. My first experience in Italy was in 1967 when I first met my mother’s relatives in Torino. I was able to bring greetings from my grandfather to his sister whom he hadn’t seen in fifty years. It was a very moving experience for all of us. My parents had also taken two trips to Italy during the 80’s and had visited those relatives as well as other relatives of my mother’s in Naples. Cousin Piera came to the U.S. and my sister and nephews met all of them on different occasions in Italy. Leigh has spent considerable time with Piera in Italy as well. We consider Piera a very important part of our very close extended family.
In preparation for an extended time in Italy on a WOOF program (Willing Workers on Organic Farms), Leigh decided to try to find out more about where her grandfather’s forbears derived from. We didn’t know much about that history and Leigh started digging around. By searching on the internet she found Marco Micone (Micone was my grandmother’s maiden name) who was originally from Montelongo, Italy, the town we knew to be where my grandmother was born. Marco lives in Canada and is a playwright and translator. Leigh contacted him and they determined that we indeed are related. He invited Leigh to stay at the family homestead, which he still maintained in Montelongo. At the same time I was planning a trip to England for an antique shopping spree. I became intrigued with it all and decided to meet Leigh in Italy and accompany her to Montelongo. Leigh’s story in the Afterward will give you the rest of the details of that trip.
Sharing all of this with Alan made the desire to go to his grandfather’s birthplace even stronger for him, and that’s when he began reading books about Italy and consuming all he could get his hands on about the Italian way of life. Leigh had been living in Marblehead, Massachusetts and working in public relations in the food and restaurant industry. But she was seriously thinking about taking the huge leap of leaving the U.S. and living in Italy for a time. She knew she needed to give it a go. She had been studying Italian for a few years; taking courses as well as individual lessons with an Italian tutor. She also started researching the process of applying for dual citizenship and she connected with Peter Farina of ItalyMondo, a company in the business of helping Americans secure their Italian passports and dual citizenship. The three of us then decided to contract with Peter and really get the ball rolling to become official citizens of Italia.
After Alan and I connected with the process too (a process that became much more involved as time wore on), we made the decision to take a trip ourselves—our honeymoon. Leigh was ready in November and so were we. We flew together to Rome and we lived in an apartment together in Termoli, Italy, where we established residency, a necessary step to expedite the dual citizenship process. Leigh had then planned to take up residence in Florence and we spent some time there too. We spent a little more than a month in Italy and terminated the trip in Milan so that we could spend some time with Piera in Torino. We were also able to see Piera’s brother, Tony, and mother, Yolanda, too. Sadly, both of them passed away the following year in 2011. We left Leigh living in Florence where she remained until she secured employment in the south of Italy, Puglia; the heel of the boot, which is ironic because although she expected to make a life for herself in Florence, she wound up back in the south, the area where we started our trip. Leigh then began working for a company called Southern Visions Travel as a marketing consultant. In the spring of 2011 the SV team opened La Cucina at Gelso Bianco, a villa and cooking school, which, of course, fit in with Leigh’s culinary background. Leigh then moved from Monopoli to Ostuni. It was all very exciting. It is the region of Italy to which we would ultimately like to move, because we loved it so when we spent only a few days there on our first trip. Just prior to our second visit, Leigh was contacted by House Hunters International, and they filmed an episode about her and her life in Ostuni, which ultimately aired on HGTV in the states. Embarking on a new venture; i.e. Leigh Vincola, Wellnes Coaching and Personal Cartography, she now spends part of the year in the states and part in Italy conducting retreats for her clients.
We love the south of Italy, particularly the region of Puglia. While we were in Italy the first time, we visited a few towns in Puglia, but didn’t spend as much time there as we would have liked. Then when Leigh lived and worked in Ostuni and the surrounding area of the south, and we were able to more fully appreciate life in Puglia, we became convinced that spending part of our lives there, too, would be our ultimate desire. If we are able to sell real estate in the U.S., we feel that we could then either rent or buy property in Italy. We have thoughts of perhaps doing a home exchange at first and spending about six months in Puglia to determine if we would really like it. I have been trying to learn Italian and have finally become serious about that challenge. I have taken a few courses and I am using Rosetta Stone. I realize how very difficult it is to learn another language at this age, but I am approaching it with new vigor. Alan, on the other hand, has no patience for it. He believes that when he gets to Italy and immerses himself in life there, he will learn eventually. You should see him conversing with Italians in his made-up Italiano. It is pure Alan. Somehow they know what he is saying all the time with his abundant gestures and many hugs and kisses.
What we both do know, however, is that the Italian way of life is totally compatible with our way of thinking. We love the style, the slower pace of life, and the FOOD! We believe that we can be happy there and that we can meld into Italian life. And, of course, with my daughter spending time there as well, it makes it all the more compelling.
Our papers finally came through and we officially became Italian citizens. After a trip to Miami to the Italian Consulate, we then had our Italian passports in hand. We embarked on our second trip to Italy in July of 2012. We stayed with Leigh in her Ostuni apartment and had an absolutely fabulous time reaffirming our desire to spend more time there.
Both of our trips were incredible experiences. We loved every second. We drove over 3600 kilometers through the regions we visited on the first trip and felt very at home wherever we were. Since we had rented an apartment, we lived as Italians and not as tourists. I still would like Alan to see other parts of Italy and see some of the major sights of the country, but he doesn’t feel so inclined. He feels very comfortable with what he has already experienced and we both essentially feel at home in the region of our ancestors. We love our heritage and we are certain that our parents and grandparents appreciate that it all has become an important aspect of our life together.
The opportunity to wax more eloquently about Italy and our relationship to it will be the subject of another book.