Reflections from San Giovanni in Galdo

San Giovanni in Galdo è un piccolo comune italiano situato a circa 7km da Campobasso, nella regione Molise. Da quì, a causa della povertà e della mancanza di opportunità, molte famiglie emigrarono negli Stati Uniti all’inizio del 1900 all’inseguimento del sogno di un futuro più prospero. L’accoglienza speciale riservata ai visitatori americani discendenti di chi dovette abbandonare la propria terra, è testimonianza di un legame che mai si è interrotto.  

Although we were invited to visit my grandmother’s home village of San Giovanni in Galdo, Molise, Italia this past fall, my wife, Bethany, and I still had somewhat of a nervous feeling. We had plenty of positive conversations with the village before we went but this whole situation was so new. We landed in Rome on Thursday, October 26, 2017 and spent the remainder of the day hustling to some points of interest while preparing for our train ride to Campobasso the next day. Early Friday morning, we departed for the almost three-hour train ride to Campobasso. It was breathtaking to see the Italian countryside as we made our way southeast. 

When we arrived at the train terminal in Campobasso, we were greeted by the mayor of San Giovanni in Galdo and other dignitaries of the area. Our greeting was so warm and right away we knew we would be taken care of. We loaded our luggage into their vehicle and made our way to my grandmother’s village.

As the vehicle approached the village, I was overcome with emotion. I couldn’t believe that I was physically witnessing the very village that I only saw in pictures. My wife and I were taken to our home for the next 4 days and then we met up with community members at one of their local bars. We got to sit down with them and exchange pictures of my grandmother and other pieces of information. Words could not express the feelings we were all having as we looked at the ship manifest, birth records, death certificates, and pictures.

After this stop, my wife and I were led to a local restaurant in the village that was one of the most amazing places I have ever eaten a meal. Tratorria: U Vettare du Merrutte, ran by Lucia Sassani, was an old cave that used to house wine. We sat down to a meal of fresh olives, wedding soup, cavatelli and pork, fried baccala, lamb, rosemary potatoes, various meats and cheeses, and many other foods and liquors that were representative of the village and region. Again, I was overcome with emotion because some of this cuisine was what I grew up on and still to this day share with my family.

Bethany and I engaged in all kinds of conversations about our family and the village. We were welcomed with open arms. That evening we all congregated at a couple village bars and ate and drank and laughed, cried and hugged. We even met some people who have family in the Cleveland area…most notably the Fiorelli and Zavarella families.

The following day, we got a tour of a local winery outside the village, Colle Sereno Wines, took in the Molise country side and visited a church local to the village of San Giovanni in Galdo. We then got to experience one of the greatest moments of my life. The village was able to identify the street my grandmother lived on, Vico Del Fiori, and also narrow down her living quarters to 2 places. I felt an unbelievable presence that my grandmother was there. I cannot put into words the thoughts that were and still are going through my head. I envisioned her as a little girl running out the door to the field that once stood by her home as she used to explain to me. 

That evening, the village had an event planned for us. The announcements were plastered all over the village. Bethany and I met in Mayor Puinno’s office and we discussed the importance of this new-found relationship. Afterwards, we walked out to a conference area and many of the village residents were there. The mayor than began to speak about my background, our business and how we are connected to the village. Before I knew it, we became honorary citizens of the village and I was presented the key to the village. Afterwards, I gave a speech of thanks and was, again, overcome with emotion. I was humbled. Then, the village presented us with a gift basket full of local items, literature specific to the village and two dances performed by their cultural dance group Zig Zaghini. Down the stairs were food and more music from Zig Zaghini was being played. Local artisans from the village were also present sharing their goods with everyone.

Later that evening, Bethany and I were invited to go up into Il Campanile, the bell tower that is a historical landmark of the village and a focal point of the labels on our jars of sauce. Although I am afraid of heights, I mustered up enough guts to go up and I’m glad I did. They had me toll the bell and after they informed me this was the same sound my grandmother would have heard when she was a child in the village. When I looked on the inscription on the bell, it was dedicated in 1902 to the village from immigrants that came to America.
The next morning, Bethany and I got up early and walked the village and reviewed everything that happened the previous day. We still couldn’t believe it. As we walked, we got to speak to some villagers and enjoy the beautiful scenery and the crisp Autumn morning.

The highlight of our last day in the village will always be implanted in my memory. We were invited to dinner at the home of Ernesto Vico and his wife. We were joined by our regular crew of Giovanni, Lucia, Marco, Stefano, Mario, Vivianna, and Domenico. To my surprise, the first course was rigatoni with our sauce! De Massimo’s Authentic Arrabbiata Sauce! I was a little nervous but then quickly remembered that this is the sauce of my grandmother and of the village, so to speak. I couldn’t believe my eyes…everyone was enjoying the rigatoni and talking positively about the sauce. There was not one rigatoni left! The first course was followed by one of the most amazing meals I’ve ever had; homemade sausages, pork slow cooked over the fire and too many other dishes to list. What was even better, we gave toasts, presented gifts, drank the wine of Molise, and simply enjoyed each other’s company.

The next day we visited Campobasso and caught our train to Rome. The goodbyes were tough since we met our new family and didn’t want to leave after such a short stay. Besides my immediate family, there was a synergy between us that I’ve never experienced with anyone else. That synergy will be experienced again as we return in August to live in the village for a couple weeks—with my mother, father, 2 sisters, and my wife and children. We intend to visit my father’s family as well!