Finding Home in Italy

4 Posted by - September 3, 2014 - Bike Tour, Italy, People, Sights, Travel
Last year I typed “Abruzzo” into Google for the first time after calling my grandmom to get her recipe for scrippelle soup. In 0.24 seconds, I was overwhelmed with 16 million results for the region my father's family hailed from. Still, in my mind, Abruzzo existed in the same way the North Pole and the moon exists. You see pictures, you hear people talk about it, but you never actually go there. Or so I thought. Lo and behold, our last week in Italy found us in the “forte e gentile” region, meeting its strong and gentle inhabitants. I was walking on the moon. DSC_0808 We pedaled up to Rocca Calascio, the highest fortress in the Apennines at 4,790 feet. DSC_0830 Construction on the fortress, which was built for military purposes only, began in the 10th century. DSC_0816 In the 13th century, additional towers were added. DSC_0820 DSC_0821Fun fact: you can spot this fortress in the movies, Ladyhawke, The Name of the Rose and The American. DSC_0812 Built in the 17th century, Santa Maria della Pietà is an octagon-shaped church just below the fortress. DSC_0806 From Rocca Calascio, we made our way up, up, up (and sometimes down) Gran Sasso National Park. Each switchback offered stunning views of the surrounding mountainous terrain and even Gran Sasso, itself at 9,554 feet. 20140816-DSC_0782 20140817-DSC_0935 After a tough day of pedaling, it was nearing twilight and our heads were craning left and right searching for a home for the night amidst the trees when we ran into Mike, a teacher from Germany who was spending a few weeks of his vacation exploring the Apennines by bike. DSC_0883 He told us about "a great campsite" he had passed 11 kilometers ago where people seemed to be camping for free. But it was approaching nightfall, the temperature was dropping and heavy fog was rolling over the mountains. Eleven kilometers felt impossibly far. We thanked him for the info and decided we’d ride that far only if we didn’t pass a flat spot to pitch our tent before then. We didn’t. Thank goodness. Because we never would have met these guys. IMG_0471 As if crossing the finish line at a mountain bike race, they hollered, clapped and handed us cups of beer as we rolled into the camping area, exhausted beyond measure, bundled in almost all layers of clothing, eyes wide from a recent encounter with sheep dogs, and delirious from pedaling through kilometers of fog so thick it resembled a white wall when lit up by our headlamps. We were warmly welcomed into this lively group of Italian motorbike tourists and gladly accepted an invitation to set up camp next to theirs. DSC_0887 DSC_0894 After scarfing down soup straight from the pot, we walked for a few kilometers (in our bike shoes, which is always fun) to get “coffee” with our new friends. I seem to remember shots of limoncello, genziana (a bittersweet Abruzzo liquor), whiskey and a bottle of wine. But my memory is a bit foggy. We communicated throughout the night in broken Italian, English, French and Spanish. Who needs language, anyway? DSC_0915 This friendly ball of fluff didn’t! She found our campfire that night and hung out like she was one of the gang. She even came back the next morning to say goodbye. We nicknamed her Gigi and spoke to her in belly rubs. DSC_0909 The following day, we pedaled out of Gran Sasso (with heavy heads from the night before), and pointed our bikes towards Giulianova, the town my paternal family is from, and the very last place we’d visit before leaving Italy. Thanks to my cousin Alex, who will henceforth be known as Puliti Family Historian Extraordinaire, I was able to pedal on the same streets my ancestors walked and pray in the very church my great-grandfather belonged to.

20140818-DSC_1057(San Flaviano, my great-grandfather's church, is located in old town Giulianova.)

20140818-DSC_1022(This monument pays tribute to Italian Navy War dead.) 

20140818-DSC_1024(Cesare Puliti is my grandfather's cousin. Why haven't we passed down this awesome name?!)

A few days prior, our host in Pratola Peligna was kind enough to call Mario, my grandfather’s cousin who lives in Giulianova, and arrange a time for Justin and me to meet him at his home. Nervous doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt leading up to our meeting. I mean, what would we possibly do if we couldn’t so much as talk to each other? I scoured my family's Facebook photos and made an impromptu slideshow, writing down key words in Italian, like dad (papa), brother (fratello), grandpop (nonno), uncle (zio), cousin (cugino), great-granddaughter (pronipote), etc. When at last our wheels turned onto his street, anxiety got the best of me and I could think of every excuse to keep riding--away from the house, away from the social awkwardness. Thank goodness for my always calm and collected husband. “This is it!” Justin slowed to a stop. "Are you sure?" I hesitated. "Look!" he pointed. 20140818-DSC_1007 Seeing my family name on the mailbox and hearing Mario's wife call—or rather yell—for her husband in the same way my grandmom yells for my grandpop was all it took. I was no longer at a stranger’s house in a foreign country. I was at a family get-together. 20140818-DSC_1006 I was home. 20140818-DSC_1005

***

"Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open." - Albus Dumbledore

8 Comments

  • Linda Riley September 4, 2014 - 8:03 pm Reply

    Beth, it is so lovely to read about your biking trip, and especially about meeting your family! And your photos are gorgeous. I feel truly fortunate that our paths crossed through that long-ago internship, and that I can follow your adventures in this way! Wishing you travels that continue to be illuminating, exciting, and, of course, safe.

    • b_puliti September 8, 2014 - 8:49 pm Reply

      Linda, thank you so much for your kind words! I’m so happy you are enjoying following our journey. I, too, am glad our paths crossed at Valley Forge! Hope all is going well with you and your family!

  • Anonymous September 6, 2014 - 11:35 am Reply

    Beth just saw your photos of Giuilanova and you guys with Mario and his family. How cool was that to see our family name and my fathers name. By the way we did pass Cesare name on ,we had two dogs name Cesare 1 and Cesare 2 . Travel Well! Uncle Al.

    • b_puliti September 9, 2014 - 10:35 pm Reply

      Yes! That was definitely one of my favorite days so far. I totally forgot you guys had those dogs. Too funny!

  • Margo Levin September 19, 2014 - 12:02 am Reply

    OMG! Beth, this one actually brought tears to my eyes. Amazing!! And so happy for you! You go, Girl, how many people talk about doing something like this but never really DO it! Kudos for you! Enjoy! Enjoy! Enjoy!

    • b_puliti September 19, 2014 - 8:01 am Reply

      You are so sweet! This was my favorite part of our whole month in Italy. I think I may still be daydreaming on my couch if heart surgery hadn’t given me a much-needed push to make “some day” today! 😉

  • E Bunny December 15, 2014 - 1:11 pm Reply

    I don’t think you could write poorly of any of your experiences but this is my favorite post yet! I look forward to the story & photos of you riding atop a Thai Elephant 🙂

    • b_puliti January 2, 2015 - 3:07 am Reply

      Thanks for making my day, E! We’re on the lookout for the elusive elephant. So far all we’ve come across is questionable dung. 😉

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