The very first thing I did on my first morning in Melfi was to open the door and take in what would be my view for the next 11 days. I took a deep breath of air, listened to the new bird sounds and noticed the fog being burned away by the morning sun. It wasn’t warm yet but it was comfortable. I stood there in awe that I had done what I had set out to do. My feet were firmly planted on Melfi soil and the sense of accomplishment filled my chest and my head. I did it.
After a nice hot shower and some clean clothes Filomena came by to pick me up. Before we jumped right in to meet family we stopped at the old Fountain which still works. I’d seen video of this area in an old (1953) 16mm film my Uncle Alex had taken when he and his wife were in Melfi to visit. The 16 mm had been given to me and I had it converted to DVD. I’ve seen this place in black and white, broken and choppy film but now I get to see it in person! Still in perfect condition and with the water still flowing as if women will be showing up any minute to wash the laundry or collect for drinking.
Off to the side of this fountain is a place for the animals
This area is now surrounded by much busier streets and it was next to impossible for me to get it all in one photo. It was to be the first of many exciting moments, actually seeing in person places and things I’d only seen in old photos or heard about from the few here willing to share what little they knew.
As we headed on to our first destination, Filomena tells me that she found out that both my grandfather and his brother Alessandro, sent money to each sibling regularly. Enough money so that each could (and did) buy their own homes. She tells me that each of those homes ( 8 in all ) are still family owned. Passed down to following generations. This is new information that she recently learned while waiting for my arrival. Filomena shares my thirst for family history/knowledge and she did a fair amount of homework while waiting for me! Filomena managed to find two people related to my grandmother. Angelo and Vincenza Montantarella, my grandmother’s nephew and niece. That is our first stop after a visit to Castello di Frederico II. The Castle visit was short as it was closed that day but we managed to snag a man she knew in the office who gave me a sneak peek. Plus I got to touch and hold the chains that once opened and closed the big door/bridge things that go over the moat.
On to the first of many visits. Around the base of the Castle lies the original “Old Melfi” town. That is where we find Angelo and Vincenza. Just back from picking some kind of beans they are surprised and thrilled to see us. Filomena speaks to them for a minute or two and I hear my grandmothers name and see their faces light up when she tells them who I am. My heart raced and felt like it would explode. They couldn’t talk fast enough, the three of them all chatting and me just standing there smiling. They relayed a story of my grandmothers last visit in 1952. She walked in to the kitchen and saw they had live chickens in the corner and pitched a fit. Insisting that they get those chickens out of the house! After that I couldn’t get much more. I did not see Angelo again during my visit but I did have the great joy of seeing Vincenza twice more. It was love at first sight with her and I will tell more about my second visit in a later post. I’ve posted this picture once already but here it is again.
It was so amazing to me to actually touch and hug possibly the only two people in the world directly related to my grandmother. A large photo hung on the wall, I pointed to it and asked “who is”? The answer; her sorella – my grandmothers sister, their mother. Using my camera I made an effort to get a copy of that photo. I left that visit not knowing whether to laugh or cry.
There is such a remarkable beauty about this old woman, the woman who was my great aunt. It was a powerful visit that is still deep in my heart. The magnitude of those very short minutes has come to me in dreams since I’ve been back home. An air of both peace and of restlessness within. The questions I didn’t ask are now haunting me and I hope that I still have time to ask, that there will be answers.
In many ways this trip was not complete, it feels like I’ve opened myself up to a thirst I fear may not quenched. Standing outside of Vincenza’s home is like standing in a time machine. Everything is as it has been for decade after decade.
A short walk up the strada from Vincenza’s home. You can see the past in the structures and pathways, the recent modern upgrades like the lamp posts and metal handrails but somehow they meld together with grace and permanence. Just like Vincenza, the perfect balance.
This was the first day. When I mentioned earlier that my visit was Epic, I wasn’t exaggerating. More to come….