Thursday, October 22, 2009

Finding My Blood in Curinga

The day I went to the rest home with Mr. Orlando and Eleonora, I had just about 15 minutes to absorb the news that I had a second cousin in Curinga before we came face to face in the visiting area of the "casa di riposo". Despite the fact that Eleonora told me in the car about my relationship to Maria Orlando, I still couldn't believe what I was hearing. I wanted to believe her, but part of me was still holding onto my own beliefs that I had constructed based on vital records from the town hall: Maria's mother had no children because she had never gotten married.

I was tremendously emotional despite my lingering doubts. I sat in the visiting area and tears were streaming down my face. A box of tissues was no where to be found.

I waited in suspense as Maria walked slowly from her room to the visiting area. Mr. Orlando greeted her in the doorway and said,

"Maria. You have a visitor from America. She is here to see you now."

Maria responded, "Isn't that strange. I dreamt two nights ago that someone was coming to see me from America."

My eyes opened wide and Mr. Orlando said, "Look! She dreamt you were coming. What a coincidence."

Once Maria was seated before me, I was at a loss for words. I had to ask Eleonora to help me because I couldn't get the words out of my mouth.

Word by word, question by question, Eleonora and Mr. Orlando introduced us and asked Maria questions to make sure we were really related. It was an emotional conversation as Maria was reminded of her mother, Rosa Orlando, and Rosa's brother, Carmelo, my grandfather.

"I remember when Carmelo died. The news destroyed my mother. After his death, she became ill and she never really was the same again."

Imagining my great aunt Rosa grieve her brother's death allowed me to experience my grandfather's existence in a very different way. There is something about hearing memories and seeing tears that is much more powerful than reading a death certificate from the town hall. It didn't matter how many times I read my grandfather's death certificate. I couldn't feel his death with a piece of paper. Until I could talk to someone who remembered his passing, it seemed as if he didn't really exist. Before this moment, I had only a handful of stories about him and no pictures to create an image in my mind. My mother shared very little with me about him because he died when she was nine years old. She was never able to tell me much about him, except that he was Calabrese and he would carry her around on his back when she was very little.

It occured to me at that moment while I sat with my second cousin that we shared a commonality. Neither Maria nor I had ever met Carmelo. We had only heard about him through our mothers and we understood the impact his death had on both of our families. With his passing, Rosa lost her hope for her younger brother's future in "America." With his passing, my mother would experience her childhood without a father and her siblings would leave middle school to become the bread winners of the family. Just by hearing Maria speak about this event, I was able to feel myself in the year 1937. I was able to feel some of the grief my family experienced when Carmelo Orlando died.

Two years of my family research culminated on that day in the casa di reposo where I met my second cousin, Maria Orlando. I had worked for 2 years trying to uncover the origins of my grandfather's family. I didn't know who or what I was searching for, but I knew that something wonderful and unexpected was waiting for me in Italy. I had never imagined it would be Maria. Afterall, I had convinced myself that her mother had never given birth to a child since she was listed as single on her death certificate.

The day following my visit to the rest home, I pulled out my digital camera and I looked at a picture of Maria. I felt a surge of energy and assurance run through my body, and it was as if everything fell into place at that moment. I looked more closely at the picture and suddenly I could see my mother's eyes and my uncle's mouth. At that very moment, I had absolutely no doubts that Maria Orlando was my cousin.

I had found my own blood in Curinga.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

What Vital Records Don't Tell You

After all my research on the internet and in the town hall here in Curinga, there was still a missing piece in the puzzle. That piece is Maria Orlando. I never knew she existed. Her mother, Rosa, had been listed as a single woman on all her vital records, so I assumed she never had children.

I expected that I would come to Curinga to hear stories and read vital records about my grandfather's family, but I didn't imagine I would find Maria. In fact, the afternoon that we realized that Maria could be related to me, I don't think I even understood who she was during all the excitement. I wish I could turn back the clock one week to replay that moment when Eleonora and her father, Guiseppe, discovered that I had a living relative in Curinga.

We were talking to Eleonora's grandmother on my first Saturday in Curinga, and Eleonora was certain that "la nonna" would be able to get us closer to finding a relative. I listened closely, but I got lostat times in the Curinghese dialect. For me, at this point, I had pretty much accepted the fact that there would be no living relatives who were so closely related to my grandfather.

At some point in the conversation with Eleonora's grandmother, Eleonora and her father Pino stood up suddenly and said, "Andiamo!" (Let's go!) I followed them without knowing where we were going or why they seemed so excited. It felt a bit like we were detectives, about to run off to solve the case thanks to a clue her grandmother had given us. The problem was, I didn't understand the clue.

In the car, I asked them where we were going in such a rush. They told me we would visit Maria Orlando at the rest home.

I asked, "Who is Maria?"

"Maria is the daughter of Rosa Orlando, Rosa was your grandfather's sister."

I let this information sink in for a moment. "But, Rosa Orlandonever married. It says "single" on her death certificate."

Eleonora responded, "Rosa had a daughter, Maria, but she didn't have a husband. She was single."

In 1924? A single mom?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Finding Grandpa's Neighborhood in Curinga

Today I went to the town hall of Curinga to continue my research on my grandfather's lineage. I have now confirmed that he was born in Curinga and I have a copy of his birth certificate for mycitizenship application.

The Orlando family and I are trying to figure out the connection that exists between our two families. If it exists at all.

Eleonora and her father, Guiseppe, had done some research for me before I arrived, but they were not able to figure out how we were related. Today, I believe I might have found the connection. Granted,there are still a few other documents we would like to find to confirm my belief,but it looks as though my great grandfather, Bruno Orlando,was the brother of his great grandfather, Guiseppe. On Monday, we will continue the research and look for the marriage certificate of Guiseppe and his wife, Concetta. This document will include the name of the father of Guiseppe, which might be Santo Orlando, my great, great grandfather. This would confirm our connection.

I jumped around a lot with my research this morning and I only had 1.5 hours to do my work. I also looked at the death certificate for my great aunt, Maria Rosa Orlando. She was my grandfather's sister. She died in 1951. On her death certificate, I discovered the number of the street where she lived. It was 376 Garibaldi Street. I was thrilled with this discovery because I figured it would mean thatI had found the house of my grandfather. Maria Rosa never married, so chances are she always lived in the house of her parents.

Well, I discovered afterwards that every ten years, the numbers of the house get changed. This means that it's not so simple to find 376 Garibaldi. In fact, we went there, but we couldn't find a 376 Garibaldi. We could only find numbers close to it. 335, 337, but not the number I was hoping we would find. This was a big disappointment. Not only that, the area where we think my grandfather lived, it is completely abandoned. It looks as though no one had lived there since about the time of Maria Rosa's death in 1951.

Perhaps I had hoped to find someone living there who could tell me more. Seeing the houses abandoned as they are, it leaves me feeling sad about Maria Rosa's death. I had hoped to see life in their neighborhood, something that would tell me that there is still life in the house of my grandfather, Carmelo Orlando.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Curinga, Medicine for My Soul

Curinga at sunset, with a view of the Eolie islands and Stromboli (Volcano)
Tonight I wrote to a dear friend of mine who lives in Spain. I tried to describe this trip and what it is doing for my general wellbeing. I know that many people will ask me when I return, what did I see? Where did I go? When I tell them I went to Curinga and I spent 10 days in a town without seeing other cities or areas of Calabria, they will wonder what I could have done in the same place for 12 days.

It's very possible that I will see some other towns in the area, but frankly, I don't know if I need to see more during this trip. Vacation is about rest. It's about rejuvenation and reflection. To achieve what I am looking for, I don't need to go very far. I have found it right here in Curinga.

Curinga is medicine for my soul.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Jennifer's Arrival to Italy

I have arrived to Rome. All has gone pretty smoothly for me except for my check-in at Blu-Express. They got me good for having gone over their weight limit. The limit is 17 kilos for the checked luggage, and 5 kilos for the carry-on.

It was a joke of sorts, watching the people before me rearrange their suitcase content moving it from one bag to another. I stood in the line wondering if I would soon be the next fool opening up my suitcases for everyone to see inside. Sure enough, it happened to me too. I was told my carry-on was too heavy. So, what do you think I did? I transferred all I could to the larger suitcase only to have the man at the desk tell me, "Now your other suitcase is too heavy." First, my carry-on was too heavy, now the carry on is practically empty and the other suitcase goes over the 17 kilo limit.

So, yes, I had to pay extra. But only with Blu-Express! The sad part is, I really tried to travel lightly. At the last minute, I was taking out items from my suitcase in my house, leaving them behind for fear that this would happen. And it did. I even left behind my Italian grammar book which must weigh at least 2 pounds!

Now I am sitting here waiting for my flight, wondering what other surprises Blue-Express will have for me. I am hoping there won't be any others.

Aside from the unpleasant experience at Blue-Express, everything has gone pretty smoothly. I was pleasantly surprised by Alitalia when they told me they had a gluten-free meal option. Well, actually, they didn't tell me, I overheard the steward confirming with a passenger behind me that he was having a gluten-free dinner. This I had not expected. So, when I had a chance, I signaled the steward over to me and I asked him if a meal was being served on the plane. When I purchased my ticket online, it said, "no meal". I explained this to him in my simple Italian, and he chuckled! No, it wasn't my Italian, it was the idea that a plane full of Italians and tourists visiting Italy could actually survive an 8 hour flight without a meal.

Blue Express had one more surprise for me on my flight to Lamezia Terme. This time it was a surprise at boarding time. I got off the shuttle with all the other passengers and I made my way towards the plane. A stewardess wearing a hat and fitted suit stood at attention at the staircase. She looked like she was in the Navy. I noticed that several people were walking at a quick pace and a few men actually cut me off while going up the stairs. What is all the rush? I no sooner got on the plane and the man behind me saw me looking for my seat, JG35. He informed me, "There are no assigned seats. You can sit where you want." Ahh, I get it! That's whythat herd of horses just ran me over so they could get their favorite seat for a 50 minute flight. It's amazing how easily people can forget to be courteous when it's a first come first serve kind of situation.

How will my flight back to Rome work out? Will I pay extra?

I have already started strategizing about this one. I am using up and tossing out all toiletries before the 19th of September. It occurs to me that I may also put things in the multiple pockets I have in both my hip hop pants and my rain coat! I will be the heavy one, not my suitcase. Blue Express doesn't have a\rule about the weight of its passengers now, does it? Just you wait and see Blu Express, I will take several lbs out of the suitcase!

If any other ideas occur to you all, please do share!

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Accordion

Photo taken by iMarco89

One of my goals for my trip to Italy is to hear live Calabrian tarantella. I have watch videos countless times on YouTube, but I would love to hear and see the musicians performing in person. I wouldn’t mind dancing a tarantella myself, to tell you the truth.

I recently learned that my grandfather owned an accordion. I was touched to learn this fact as I have always tried to put together a picture of his personality. Knowing he was musically inclined explains a lot about my family. My uncle Bruno, my mother, they were both very musically inclined. It explains a lot about me too. I have always been drawn to music, musicians, and the arts. I guess you could say I am a “frustrated artist” who talents have been underused. It’s never too late to start, I suppose!

I like to imagine my grandfather playing the accordion. This image of him playing “tarantella” conjures up positive feelings. I get the sense that even though he had a very difficult life here in this country, he was a happy person.

So, that’s one of my goals for this trip to Calabria. Do you think I will be able to find live Tarantella music?

Circolo Calabrese