In our quest for Italian citizenship, Nick and I learned a lot about our Italian immigrant ancestors. Thanks to the wonders of the internet and Ancestry.com, we were able to get their birth, death and marriage certificates as well as the ships’ manifests for their journeys to America. US census documents helped us to track their early lives in America. It was amazing how much we could piece together from a handful of documents and remembered family history.
One of the main reasons that we came to this particular area of Calabria was to visit Cardinale, NIck’s ancestral home. NIck’s great-Grandfather, Fortunato, immigrated to America in 1893, leaving behind a very pregnant wife. Fortunato returned to Cardinale in 1902 and stayed for five years before taking his 14 year old son Dominick back to America in 1907. Sadly, Fortunato died in 1910 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Hudson Falls, New York. Dominick stayed in America and served in the Army during World War I. Years later, he returned to Cardinale to visit his mother and married Maria Caterina Posca. They travelled together to New York and raised their family in Watervliet, New York.
Once we settled into our beach house, Nick was anxious to go to Cardinale. Cardinale is only about 25 minutes away from our house, but it’s on the top of a rather large mountain. Google maps showed us two ways to get there, a main road or a narrow, curvy goat path. Of course, the GPS in our car selected the goat path for our journey up the mountain.
When we arrived in Cardinale, I felt a bit sad. I wasn’t expecting it to be a big town, but it seemed a bit emptier and shabbier than I expected. We parked the car to explore on foot. It didn’t take long to find the main piazza and the church where Dominick Denardo and Maria Catherine Posca had exchanged their wedding vows in 1927. The church doors were locked, so we couldn’t go in. As we sat on the steps outside the church door, I could see and feel the flood of emotions that Nick was experiencing.
We wandered through the back streets and greeted an older women who was going in the opposite direction. In his best Italian, Nick told her that his family had come from Cardinale many years ago. She told us that all of the young people were gone from the village, that only the elderly remained.
Our self-guided tour continued as we headed up to the highest point in the village. Many of the houses there had long since been torn down, including Nick’s ancestral home. As we started to head back down to the piazza, we were unexpectedly greeted in English. An Australian man had spotted Bella and figured that since we had an Australian Cattle Dog, we must be Australian, too!
Columbo was visiting Cardinale with his Mother, Lisa and his son. Lisa Marra told us that she had left Cardinale when she was six years old, and she made the 20 hour journey to Italy every few years to visit family. As we walked down from the upper ruins, she told us that it used to be so full of life and good people.
She pointed out a building where the tailor shop used to be. As we peaked inside the windows, we could see the sewing machine, table and chair all set up and ready for business. Lisa pointed out a tiny closet in front of another house where she said the neighbor kept their pig. Lisa’s tour of this old section of Cardinale brought it to life.
Colombo said that he and his son were returning to Australia, but that his Mom would remain until after New Year’s. Lisa is staying with her father, just outside of town. Colombo showed us a picture of his grandfather holding a huge rabbit by the ears and explained that he raises them for meat. This one weighed 40 pounds!
We thanked Lisa for sharing her memories with us and walked back to the piazza. The coffee from the local bar beckoned us in. Looking around at Cardinale, the shabbiness had fallen away. Instead of a sad, run-down place, I saw a charming village where the people are all either friends or family. We made a plan to come back on a Sunday to attend church.
Sunday morning we got up and out early. We didn’t know what time church started, but we didn’t want to miss it. Bella would not be joining us on this excursion and she howled when she realized we were leaving her home.
This time, we took the main road into Cardinale, wider and easier, but still a mountain road. When we arrived we saw the church doors were open. As we entered the church we were stunned by the ornate beauty of the space. The sign inside the church indicated that the mass would be held at 11:00. We had plenty of time to wander.
But first, a stop at the bar for coffee. I couldn’t help but notice that there were plenty of men enjoying their Sunday morning coffee at the bar, but no women! Ah, to be an old man in Italy, now that’s the life! Everywhere we go we see “the old man’s club”, usually at a bar or in a park. The men gather to talk and play cards every day for hours on end. It’s a lovely tradition.
The church bells rang, signaling everyone to get inside. We watched as people greeted each other and took their seats. The mass was about how our desire for more material things will not bring us happiness. That happiness is found in helping the poor and the needy. Happiness is found in the service of others. Once again, I sensed that Nick was feeling all kinds of emotions attending this mass in the church where his grandparents had been married so many years ago.
After church, we ate lunch at the nicest restaurant in town, A Rugo. Nick ordered a selection of Calabrian antipasti. The owner of the restaurant, Albert, insisted that we must try to Pasta al Funghi (pasta with mushrooms). We ordered a half liter of local red wine to go with our lunch.
What a feast! The antipasti arrived on 5 different plates with a basket of bread. We took our time and savored each flavor. After those plates were cleared, the pasta arrived. The sauce was deliciously simple and light, just mushrooms, olive oil and garlic. We were happy that Albert had convinced us to get it.
Nick was so happy to be back home in a place that he’d never been before. He said all of the faces looked familiar, even though he had never met the people they belonged to. I couldn’t help but feel content and comfortable in Cardinale, too. We’ll be living in this area for another week or so, but we look forward to spending more time in Cardinale before we go.
Ci Vediamo! (We’ll see you!)
Lynne, Nick and Bella