NOTE TO READERS: The Rome 2014 trip begins with post #30. Posts #10—29 were Rome 2013. Posts 1–9 were Florence 2011. If you'd like to be notified of new postings by email, let me know at

Friday, April 5, 2013

#27.3—The Road to Maierato

Under the black hood in the black coat was a friendly looking woman, about my age, but grandmotherly with sandy hair. She spoke no English. Okay, I thought, here I go and began running on in Italian. She listened intently and kindly to my story. "Vuota," I could hear myself repeat in reference to la stazione...empty, empty. I could then hear my Italian getting worse and my voice becoming shriller as I explained that I had no ticket back to Lamezia. "Non preoccupare, non preoccupare," she said, touching my arm gently. Don't worry...I could buy my ticket on the train.

Why was I here in Pizzo, she asked.

I explained that I had wanted to meet my Italian family, but that everything seemed to be going wrong. The woman introduced herself as Carmelina and put her arm around me in a gesture saying I should go with her.

I went. We were soon knocking at a door, just down the road from the train station. The door opened. A young woman answered, a small boy at her side. Carmelina explained my situation, except that she kept focusing on the part of the story that had to do with transportation. It wasn't until the story of my search for family surfaced that the lady of the house opened the door and invited me in. It was a modest and well-kept home. We stood in a large entryway with doors and steps off to the right. To the left was a kitchen, small with a table and chairs taking up most of the middle of room and also a sitting area with an L-shaped sofa facing a TV and a large box overflowing with toys and children's art supplies.

This lady of the house knew a few words of English, which helped speed up removal of the boulders of incomprehension from the pathway of communication.

The story of my pilgrimage and the story of their family began taking shape simultaneously as Antonio, Carmelina's son and the man of the house arrived home. May I add here that in my mental state, it took a while for me to get the names so that I kept wondering why Carmelina and Tony kept referring to Mother Teresa. Was this some kind of Italian way of imploring help for my safety. I finally realized Tony's wife was Mariateresa.

Meanwhile, the three of them would leave me in my minimalist Italian world and begin that thing Italians do...talking fast and loud and all at once, appearing at times to be assessing the stupidity of the others in the conversation...out of which generally comes a conclusion that can be boiled down into a simple sentence...occasionally but rarely with an subordinate clause or phrase.

Anyway, it was proposed to me that a friend with a car might drive me to Maierato for a price. Great. Phone calls were made. However, the friend with the car was working. More rapid fire discussion ensued. Another solution emerged. But this one turned out to be a compound-complex sentence solution:
Tony had to go to work. However, he could drop me off in Maierato and pick me up three hours later. Now I'd just met these people. And nice and caring as they seemed, I was haunted by what a friend of my father's had told me at Dad's funeral: "Do not go to Calabria alone. The people there will take advantage of you. You will be in great danger."

I said that since my relative did not seem to be available and that the rain was now falling heavily and that there was no transportation in or out of Maierato, I did not feel safe being left there alone.

In Italian, you don't say I'm afraid, you say I have fear. For the first time, I was not afraid. I had fear. Having it, I needed to manage it. The negotiations began. Finally, it was decided that Tony would go late to work. He would drive me and bring me back for what seemed like a reasonable price, given the several hours it would require.

I felt a bit unsettled driving off with a stranger and so to my delight and relief, Carmelina went out to the car with us. This was great! And so off we went. I imagined an awkward silent drive with the non English speakers. But suddenly...what was it...perhaps the thought that after all these years, I was going to see Maierato and had pretty much arranged it all in Italian, what the heck: I wasn't afraid of making mistakes. I had fear. If you aren't something but merely have it, you can set it aside. And so I did.

I could hear myself making mistakes as we jabbered away, but I did not have fear. Without this fear, I could also hear that I was making fewer mistakes as we wound through the towns and countryside and began an ascent up a mountain into fog...nebbia. The fog was such an issued that we exchanged words for it, and repeated the words to be sure we had them.

The road was narrow. I am sure of this because for a while, the road was all I could see. We were talking about olive groves and how people make olive oil in their kitchens. Just at the moment I was learning the word for this, a car came careening through the fog toward us so that after it passed, Tony crossed himself. As a result, I forgot the word for making olive oil in one's kitchen. In a few moments, the fog lifted so that I could see I was now in the wild world of Calabria: A windswept rugged world where ruins and houses coexist and where it's sometimes difficult to tell one from the other. The fog cleared to a haziness. White letters on a sky-blue background of a rectangular road sign said MAIERATO. gotta say all the syllables: mahyee-ehr-AH-toh, with the tongue against the front teeth for that t sound.

It was really happening. I was going there. But the fog closed in again as we continued to follow the road curving upward. The sea was out there to our right. That's all I knew for sure. Trees began to make themselves known. Rain was falling harder now. Even the natives were shocked at this turn of weather in sunny southern Italy.

And then, we came out of the fog into the rain, the wipers swiping back and forth. And there it was: The Maierato cemetery. Had it be a lovely day with time for me to spare, who knows what I might have discovered there. Undoubtedly Rocco Serrao and his family, minus my grandmother.

Around the bend was the town. I appeared to have far less spirit in than the cemetery. I was filled with a mixture of excitement and sadness.

Even the church looked sad, standing there in the square all alone surrounded by a dispirited town with no way in or out except for those with their own means of transportation.

I'd described to Tony and Carmelina the pictured I'd seen of Polma's house on Google. Across the street were stone steps leading up from a sweet sidewalk cafe. I had imagined myself going up those step, discovering what mystery lay behind the trees at the top.

The sign on the building to the left in the second picture above turned out to be the sign for Polma's street. The rain had fallen off to a drizzle. We would stop so I could climb those steps. We were all eager to know....

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