October 7 – 12, 2018
Our next destination in Italy was for a special purpose; similar to getting together with my mom’s cousin Renate in her native Germany, we would attempt to meet family members on my dad’s side in Isola del Liri, a town in the central, mountainous Lazio region in the province of Frosinone. We found a fantastic hotel in nearby Arpino (thanks to all of the helpful ratings and comments on Booking.com), and rented a car so we could be flexible during the week.
We took 2 trains to get from Rome to Isola del Liri. The girls and I read/waited as Wayne walked/ran the 5km from the train station to go pick up the car – needing assistance from Google Translator and from a couple of British women in the shop who, ironically, had just recently visited his hometown in England.
Meeting my family was the goal for this stopover, but a really neat by-product of our stay was getting to spend some time in Arpino, the birthplace of Cicero and an amazing old hill town with enough interesting history and architecture to justify a visit all on its own.
Thinking back to our time in Italy, this was one of my favorite places, a lot of that due to the wonderful Hotel II Cavalier D’Arpino, a former wool mill converted into a beautiful hotel run by a warm group of people. Without their help we wouldn’t have connected with local mountain man Enzo Abbate for a day of horseback riding – an experience the girls blog about here. Now back to the family….
My paternal grandmother’s parents left Isola del Liri to emigrate to America in the early 1900’s. The photo below shows them with all nine of their children – my grandmother Nancy was the oldest, and is seated next to her mother (Nini) on the far right, bottom row.
However, many Morsillis (my dad’s grandmother – Nini) and Romanos (his grandfather) remain in the beautiful Ciociara area, as this region of ancient hill towns is called. I was able to make contact with a few of them, given that a big group of Boston family members -including my parents and 3 of my great aunts who were in their 80’s at the time – visited Isola del Liri over 10 years ago for a week-long family reunion (HUGE thanks to my dad, and cousins Lauren and Katherine for email addresses, FB links and messaging help, as well as cousins Domenico and Marco for receiving and replying to my messages!). So for a couple of months leading up to our stay in Arpino I had been texting back and forth with cousin Stella (everyone’s a cousin, really), both of us using translator apps to communicate, working on arranging a visit. [A note – I’d never met or talked to Stella before, and wasn’t even sure how we were related. When a random distant cousin emails and says, “Hey guess what?! I’m related to you and I’m coming to visit with my family. Oh, and sorry for my lack of Italian. Ciao!” and someone actually replies and then makes it happen, there is huge thanks to give for this leap of faith and kindness. So grateful to you Stella!]
We managed to pick an afternoon where we would meet Stella in the center of Isola del Liri, near the famous town waterfall. With her were her toddler daughter, her mom Anna Rita who is married to my cousin Mossimo, and Anna, a niece of my great grandmother Angelina (aka Nini, pictured above with her husband and children. Anna’s father Alessandro was Nini’s brother). After intro hugs and kisses, it was heartwarming to hear Stella translate Anna’s initial words, “She looks like our family.”
We sat at a cafe and talked through Google translator, awkwardly working to learn more about each other and our lives. They invited us back to the family home for dinner, but before following them in the car I got a good dose of goosebumps as we stopped in the neighborhood church Nini was baptized and married in.
When we arrived I recognized Nini’s old house – where the family still lives- from photos and descriptions my parents relayed after their visit in 2007. Inside, the smell struck me as so familiar to that of Nini’s family building we would regularly visit in the North End when I was a kid. We met cousin Mossimo, his sister Domenica, Anna Rita’s parents from Abruzzo, and cousin Talida, Stella’s sister. We continued to use Translator for conversation as I mapped out the family connections of everyone we were meeting on a piece of scrap paper.
While dinner was being prepared, Anna Rita and Stella took us to an old church and monastery – L’abbazia di Casamari e l’antica Cereatae Marianae- and we compared with A&A how simple it was versus most of the over-the-top ornate churches we had seen in France, Germany and Italy.
After an apertif at a local bar with Stella and Talida and their husbands, we went back to the house for dinner – first an amazing bowl of homemade Gnocchi carrati (that Wayne promptly inhaled (plus Annabelle’s) as he assumed it would be the only thing for dinner!), followed by delicious beef and spinach and salad and bread, then Nutella cake (the girls’ favorite) and more treats. We tried to explain our year of travel through Translator; incredulous looks mimicked some of the responses we had gotten at home from relatives. More family members stopped by during dinner – cousin Erminia and her husband- and everyone passed along their love and good wishes to the family they had met in 2007. It was crazy, loud and busy – with more food being offered every other minute and seemingly more family coming and going between courses- everything wonderful that I remember about family reunions and North End visits.
So much love…such a special day. Huge thanks again to everyone who helped us connect online, to Google Translator, and most especially to all of the family in Isola del Liri, especially Stella, Talida, Anna Rita and Anna, who made us all feel so welcome, and well, like family 🙂