>> Friday, October 23, 2009
Vacations were invented for a reason: to unwind, relax, and reconnect. With your loved ones, and perhaps even with yourself. Our head of strategic planning, Johanna Skilling, recently found that vacations can also reconnect you with your own history.
And an idea for dessert: cut dried figs (preferably white) almost in half; don’t separate the halves completely. Put a toasted almond in the hollow of the fig; close up the two halves, enclosing the almond. Eat (as if I needed to add that). Heavenly.
I know these things because my significant other, who henceforth is to be known as “il mio compagno,” and I recently dropped in on relatives – whom we’d never met – in San Nicola a Mare, a town the size of a pindot in a part of Italy called the Cilento… tucked between Campagna and Calabria along the western coast, facing the Tyrrhenian Sea.
A century ago, two brothers lived there. The younger brother, Bernardino, like so many other young men from his region, went to America as a teenager in search of opportunity. Who knows if he ever meant to go back one day? He settled in Paterson, NJ, married a girl from the old country, and had five children. I, if you hadn’t guessed by now, was on the road with one of Bernardino’s grandchildren.
The older brother, Vincenzo, stayed in Italy, also raising five children in the town he and his parents had been born in. So on the last day of our Italian vacation, we were driving down to see the town where it all began. We were visiting one of Vincenzo’s grandsons, Tonino, and his wife Antonella.
Now there was a wrinkle. Despite the fact that il mil compagno had grown up with his Italian-speaking grandparents, and despite the fact that I’ve studied Italian on and off since college, neither of us speaks the language. OK, I speak about 7 words. Tonino speaks about the same amount of English, Antonella none at all. We had been communicating via email through their son, Dino, who lives in Milan.
We thought we’d been pretty clear that we were arriving Friday afternoon. But Dino had told his parents it might be Thursday, it might be Friday. So when I called Antonella from the road, she said something like (loosely translated), you’re coming NOW?
And yet… it was magical. They offered a life lesson in the art of generosity, welcome and hospitality. The figs and the chestnuts were part of an instantly conjured feast of homemade ravioli (Antonella was rolling out the dough when we arrived); freshly caught fish – as in the previous evening -- marinated in lemon and olive oil, sausage from the local macelleria, hunks of Parmesan, homemade biscotti and wine made by a son-in-law in his kitchen. We pored over family pictures and a hastily drawn family tree to share stories. The afternoon ended on their rooftop patio, dancing for the video cameras, in sight of the sea.
Funny thing. We didn’t speak much of each other’s language, but we understood each other perfectly.
Here’s hoping you’re looking forward to your next adventure.