Notes from My Trip to Torricella Peligna January 1999
Al Porreca (chis di Scipp)
The following are notes (slightly edited, and with some photos thrown in) written real time during my visit (visit? It was a great adventure!) to Torricella Peligna in January 1999. The language is a bit stilted but that's just a reflection of the shortcut grammar that "notes" take on. First some background.
My paternal grandparents, deceased, are Camillo Porreca and Camilla Teti. On October 29 1998, I first learned the name of their home town in Chieti from my newly found cousin, Eddie Porreca. I knew no one there, but by the end of December I have planned a trip to Torricella Peligna. I tacked it on to the end of a business trip I would be making to Germany in mid-January. I am grateful for the support of my wife Lee and the help of Piera, my cousins Camille and Adrienne, a family friend Connie who lives just outside of Roma, and my cugina Evelina. Pre-trip planning included:
- Buy a road map of Italy at Rand McNally, and figure out a route.
- Reserve a car at Avis in Rome.
- Buy Italian-English dictionary.
- Listen every chance I get to "Learn in Your Car Italian."
- Make reservations at a hotel in Torricella Peligna. Piera finds there are three hotels there, and one is owned by a Camillo Porreca (my grandfather's name!). Guess where I'm gonna stay?
Here we go!
Friday January 22, 1999:
- Business leg is over. Very successful. Taxi to Frankfurt Bahnhof. Hi-tech train to Basel, Switzerland (250KM/hr!). Sleeper to Rome. Cute little room. Old. Can't get bathroom door open. Later find out it's not a bathroom; I've been trying to get into the people's compartment next door!
- I stay awake most of the trip through the Alps. Beautiful...snow falling most of the way. Feeling of adventure, a little nervous... geeez, I don't even speak the language and I don't know anyone there!
Saturday January 23:
- 7am - 9:45 am: Pass Firenze, Orte, Nomentana. Italian countryside is beautiful rolling land of farms. Many towns high up on hills (look like fortresses, often with steep stone faced cliffs)
- 10 am: Arrive Roma Termini Station. Cambio rate 1610.67 lira per $US.
- Tried to call Connie. No luck. Obviously I need telephone lessons. Lost 2 200 Lira coins.
- No trouble at the Avis counter. They speak english.
- Whew! Took an hour to find the rental car. In Italy, say "L'Avis", not Avis, if you want the Romans to help. Gypsies tried to scam me, but I grabbed my keys back, they followed me for about 200 yards, yelling and raising fists. I don't believe I made a big hit with them.
- L'Avis upgraded me free to Opel Vectra 4 door.
- Noon: Found the Autostrade with only a minor extra excursion.
- Entering the GRA, I couldn't get into right lane for Pescara/L'Aquila exit, and so I took another excursion, this time a complete round Roma tour of the GRA. Worth the extra time.
- Found A24, to A25, to A14. Ride was beautiful! Fantastic scenery. Deep valleys, huge snow capped mountains. Many towns in the foothills and some glued to the steep mountainsides. Left A14 at Val DiSangro, and got on 652 (not marked, it was just a guess based on what the map looked like). Left 652 at Roccoscalegna exit, and drove about 20-30 kms through very mountainous small road. From sea level to about 3000 feet. Scary, no guardrails! But signage is good.
- 4 PM: Drove into Colle Zingaro, and could see Torricella Peligna in the distance. Looks just like Evelina told me: "an eagle nestled in the mountain." This is what I have been dreaming about for the last two months. What a beautiful sight! What a great feeling! This was where my grandparents had lived -- Probably walked along this very road!
- Now to find Hotel Ristorante Sant Agata. It's actually in Colle Zingaro, a district of Torricella Peligna. Asked a neighbor "Dove Sant Agata?" She points across the street. (Who says men don't ask for directions?)
- Camillo Porreca was waiting for me. Greeted me warmly. He carried my bags to my room, put my car in his personal garage. Introduced Lucianna, his wife. We spent about two hours conversing over some vino, with much help from my dictionary. Despite the name, we could find no relationship. He called his friend, Marziale who came over. Marziale lived in Canada for 11 years and spoke pretty good English. Camillo was 22 years on Princess Cruise ships.
- Went through my family history, pictures, etc that I brought with me. Marziale says all census records were destroyed during the war, it would be difficult to find information except in the church. I told him I would go to mass in the morning and hoped to find the priest afterward.
- An hour after Marziale left, his wife Giovanna called and said they would help me. They had already arranged for us to meet with Don Roberto Miccoli, the priest, at 4:30m tomorrow. What a lucky break!
- 8PM: Had great pasta dinner at Sant Agata, with lamb second course, plus salad, fruit, espresso. "E stat un pasto delizioso"
Sunday (Domenica) January 24:
Up at 8am. Lucianna prepared a delicious breakfast for me
including home made pastry. Drove to the center of Torricella Peligna and walked around a bit. Main street is Corso Umberto,
then everything else is like small back streets and alleys.
- Drove thru town toward Gessopalena. Found Torricella Peligna's cemetery. Beautiful, well kept, nearly every grave and crypt has flowers! Spent an hour.
I could feel the presence of my ancestors. Familiar names all around me: Porreca, Teti, DiMarino, Piccone, Testa, Ficca, DiLoreto, Piccirelli, D'Amico, Aspromonte, Rossi, Piccone, Piccoli, Persichetti, D'Ulisse, DiLuzio, Matera, Fante,
D'Annunzio, Verna, Giangiordano. Even a Rebecca Porreca! (yes! and I took a photo)
- Drove back to TP. Took more pictures including old and new neighborhoods, and Farmacia Porreca. The townspeople are friendly, everyone says Buon Giorno.
Went to mass at 11. Awesome feeling. Grandmom and Grandpop were baptized and married here! Church is pretty big. Stone. Built in 1000 AD. I can't believe I didn't take a photo inside the church. Lots of socializing even during mass. I can feel everyone wondering who I am.
After mass, the altar boys caught up to me, very excited, hello, who am I, where am I staying, what's my name, etc. Got their picture before they ran off to tell all the men who I am.
- Spent the next few hours driving through some of the surrounding towns: Gessopalena, Montenerodomo. Pretty towns. Headed toward Casoli and found sign for Chiesa Madonna Della Rosa. Now it's a sanctuary in honor of the many killed there during the war.
- 11PM Sunday: Just had an Incredible evening! ...here goes:
- Marziale and Giovanna picked me up at 3:45 to go look at the church records. They did not have high hopes because of lack of dates; all I knew was that my grandparents arrived in the US in 1903, and had their first child the same year.
With Padre Miccoli, and a BIG magnifying class, we looked at old registers for an hour trying to find a marriage record for Camillo/Camilla about 1902-03.
- Almost gave up but found it in 1901! Yahoo! Records are hard to read. Latin, italian script, a bit faded, etc. Over the next 2-3 hours, playing off the marriage date, we found much more including great great grandparents on both the Porreca and Teti sides. But everyone is now tired. I thanked Don Roberto Miccoli for his hospitality and arranged for him to say Mass Oct 22 1999 for Camillo & Camilla, my parents Albert & Antoinetta, and all the parents of my cugini. (I'm elated, it's now a successful trip!)
- Went to Marziale's condo. He spends the next hour calling people in Torricella, in Lanciano, and in Roma trying to find a living relative for me. Then they called daughter Manuela at Univ of Milan. I spoke to her and we exchanged email addresses.
- Left there for dinner at Sant Agata's.
Marziale dropped Giovanna and I off while he went to his cousin's to close the chicken pen. After Giovanna and I sat down, I left for a few minutes to drop papers to my room. While I was gone, one of the diners asked Giovanna who I was. "A friend from the US." "...and now you're with him instead of Marziale?" Later we all had a good laugh about that. The other diners came over and introduced themselves. Camillo treats us good: Pasta, clams, salmon, large "smelt-like" fish, flounder, wine, Lemoncello (a lemon liquor), fruit, etc. Delizioso!
Monday, January 25:
- 9am: Camillo took me on a grand tour about 4 hours:
- Lago Di Bomba
- Fossacesia (right on the Adriatic), visit San Giovani Venere, crypt.
- Lanciano Toured the park and Cathedral
- Other towns we passed through
- Piano di Archi
- Roccoscalegna (castle is being re-constructed)
Miscellaneous info notes:
- Many olive groves, pruning season, they burn the cuttings
- Large industrial zone between Bomba and Lanciano (Val DiSangro); they make cars Honda et al
- Beautiful paese (villages). Narrow streets, tight turns.
- Torricella has several Frazione (districts) including Colle Zingaro, and Fallascoso.
- Appenines = mountain range, Maiella and Gran Sasso are two of its sub groups. TP is in the Maiella.
- Per Marziale, in Italy all families have nicknames (eg: his family is known as
"Iaiò." Says it would help if I knew mine.
- 3PM: Marziale is back on the phone looking for a relative for me. Also he told me he looked through some records at City hall today but found nothing. The man is tireless.
- We called Connie. She is very concerned for me; she thinks I am crazy for going to the mountains in January. Few would argue with her, although as "luck" would have it the weather was almost springlike while I was there.
- Time to think about the return trip. I will visit Piera and Leonardo in L'Aquila before going to Roma. Called Piera, who will make reservations in L'Aquila for Tuesday and Wednesday nights. I'll leave for the airport at 5:30 am Thursday to avoid Roma traffic. Leave car at airport.
- Dinner at Marziale's; homemade everything: vegetable/pasta soup, wine, prosciutto, lamb, olives, peach preserves....
- Piera called back. Reservation is at Hotel Duomo in L'Aquila. Piera and Leonardo will meet me at the park just past Porta Napoli arch entering L'Aquila. Marziale talked me into taking the shortcut through the mountains since the weather is so good (sunny, 48F. everyday!) He maps out route.
- Camillo calls to tell us Lee called, my family is worried. We call Lee. Great to hear her voice after more than a week, but hard to lose this goofy accent that I think is helping them understand me.
- Lee spoke with both Marziale and Giovanna, invites them to visit with us. In turn, they want us to bring everyone to TP (next year?) and have a big party like Joe Porreca did.
Miscellaneous Info Notes:
- Marziale's father runs a 55 acre farm, w/help from Marziale and brothers. Grow almost all their food. Pigs, chickens, rabbits, olives, peaches, tomatoes, corn(?)...
- Marziale and I agreed we are cousins; if not by blood nor by marriage, then by friendship.
Tuesday, January 26:
- Wrote a thank you note to Camillo (thank God I have a dictionary):
- Devo andare a casa.
- Questa hotel e' molto buono, e vorrei ritornare.
- Io recordo sempre questo posto.
- Io recordo sempre tuo hospitalita.
- Con affetto a tu e Lucianna.
- Tanti auguri!
- (I hope it says what I mean, they were wonderful hosts.)
- (He didn't charge me enough, I hope my add on was adequate)
- On my way out of TP, I stopped in town and bought 6 liters of D'Amico olive oil (made in TP) to take home.
- The mountain route is, fortunately, fine. I stop to take photos, and unexpectedly meet a big sheep dog when I get out of the car. To my surprise, he does not kill me.
- In Popoli, crossed bridge over the Aterno and Pescara rivers.
- Pass Navelli, and Bazzano.
Found the arch Porta Napoli, and met Piera and Leonardo who treated me like an old friend. I checked in to Hotel Duomo, Via Dragonetti. Anna, Piera's friend, came by and gave me a quick tour and history of the market place (Piazza Mercato Duomo) and S.Maria DiCollemaggio.
- Piera and Leonardo come by and take me to dinner at their house. Leonardo cooked a delicious meal, especially the Genovese style rigatoni, veal, and fruit. Their place is large, with much art on the walls, and a beautiful handmade coat of mail in the foyer.
- There are three lovely and energetic children: Alice, Bruno, and Caterina.
Wednesday, January 27:
- Raining gently. First bad weather of entire trip.
- 10 AM we visited Fort di L'Aquila, built during Spanish domination (1528). The fort stands on a hill above the town so it could bombard the town in event of an uprising! Now it's an art museum, mostly Abruzzo art and artifacts. Paintings, sculptures, carved stones, stained glass, ancient tools, earthenware, photographic art, even pre-historic elephus bones-complete except for one tooth! -- one could spend a week in here.
- We meet Piera's english language students who are on a class trip there.
We shop at the Piazza Mercato Duomo (wares like 9th Street in South Phila.), then to Piera's for lunch. Bowtie pasta, delicious cheeses, prosciutto, and cake. MMmmm!
- We shop at the Piazza Mercato Duomo, then to Piera's for lunch. Lunch at Piera/Leonardo's. Delicious meats and cheeses. What a nice family! I am grateful to them for all their assistance over the last several months and with materials and arrangements for my trip, and for their wonderful hospitality these two days.
Miscellaneous Info Notes:
- "Peligni" = people who inhabited the Val di Peligna before the Romans.
- It's 4 hour walk to the top of Gran Sasso. From there on a clear day you can see Rome, Yugoslavia, and the seas on each side of the italian peninsula!
- Spain dominated the south of Italy until 1860, when the Italian states united. At that time the south was made poor by the industrial north. This caused major emigration to begin in 1880.
- Piera reviewed all the documents from the church in TP. She enhanced our interpretations, as she is an expert.
- Piera says Grandpop must have been in mandatory military service and so his records would be in Chieti. Will try to obtain them for me! I saw a sample: shows height, weight, hair, eyes, complexion, branch of service etc.
- Sent email to Lee! Miss her.
- We went out for dinner: real pizza!
- Leonardo gave me meats and cheeses to bring home. He must have seen me salivating at the market. Piera gave me books, calendar, graphic materials, etc. Also, a backpack to carry everything (including those 6 liters of olive oil).
Thursday, January 28:
- Woke up at 4:30 am, on my way home by 5.
- Difficulty getting past a car in the narrow street. Knocked off my mirror.
- Autostrade was empty, until near Roma at 6:30.
- Dropped car at L'Avis; they didn't notice broken mirror. I forgot to mention it. Right!
- Picked up a newspaper. What do you know? I'm in Roma. The Pope's in America. Go figure.
- Left Roma at 11:15. Landed in Phila about 4PM. 11 hour flight.
- Lee met me as I got off the plane, she was holding a sign like a limo driver: "Albert Porreca."
- I got the campotosto past US Customs.
- Good to be home. But still need to find a living relative in Torricella. I'll be back.
*** HO FINITO ***
Epilogue January 31, 1999: