25 September 2007
my great-grandmother's village:
isca sull'ionio, calabria, italy

Last week, my grandmother's first cousin, Domenica (but don't call her that--she goes by Marie) from America and her childhood friend, Laura, came to visit me. Both of their mothers, as well as my grandmother's mother Concetta, were born in Isca sull'Ionio, or Isca on the Ionian Sea, which is the village next to mine.

Meet Concetta via her 1941 US citizenship certificate:

Great-grandmother's US Citizenship Certificate
To explain a bit, my great-grandfather was from the village I now live in, and he married a woman from Isca, and that's where they had their children. So my roots, as well as those of my Marie are actually from both villages. Laura's family is all from Isca.

Isca sull'Ionio, Calabria, Italy
The connection between this tiny village on the Ionian coast and my area back home in Pennsylvania is extremely strong; indeed, most of the Italian (Calabrian) families in and around my hometown come from this village and share names like Varano, Scicchitano, Bressi, Feudale, Mirarchi, and Nestico (here, it's Nesticò, accent on the last syllable).

One of my most vivid memories of the first time I visited here was my jaw continually dropping at just how many last names I saw on signs and businesses that were so very familiar to me--even the geographical position of Isca is very much like our towns nestled into the Appalachian Mountains.

Isca sull'Ionio, Calabria, Italy
You can read more about Isca's history and links in the United States on this site, made by a friend of mine that I met via the Internet quite a few years ago. He ended up connecting me with a woman originally from Isca who now lives in South Philly (I also lived in Philly at the time); it turns out that she had also lived up in my area of Pennsylvania...and, as we discovered once we got talking, had even worked with my grandmother in a sewing factory in the 1960s or 70s.

Talk about a small world, huh?

Alida gave me one of the best quotes ever during an email exchange four years ago, and I hope she doesn't mind my sharing it here:
When I was a little girl, before I knew of the rotation of the earth, I really believed that those pretty mountains ate the sun and by a miracle God would send it back the following day.
Don't you just love Italians?

A few years ago, Alida, her family, my mom and I went to the San Marziale festival, organized by Iscatani, in South Philly together.

Festa di San Marziale, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Now back to our visit to Isca with my cousin. Through genealogical research, I was able to pinpoint the street, although not the exact house, of our family. It's called Via Borgo, and here's Marie in front of the entrance to the smallest "street" I've ever seen in my life:

Via Borgo, Isca sull'Ionio, Calabria, Italy
Here's a look down said street:

Via Borgo, Isca sull'Ionio, Calabria, Italy
As you can see, there's actually a bit of reconstruction going on, but Isca Superiore is still mostly emptied out, even more so than my village; in fact, every time we asked about someone who had formerly lived up there, we were directed to the Marina village. Isca was particularly hard hit by an earthquake in 1947, so that was the impetus for many to get off the hill.

We didn't have too much time to walk around Isca, but here are some old scanned photos of mine from a previous visit:

Piazza di Isca sull'Ionio, Calabria, Italy
Isca sull'Ionio, Calabria, Italy
Isca sull'Ionio, Calabria, Italy
Then we went back to P's parents' house in Badolato Marina and enjoyed a lovely lunch with them. Here are P's father Salvatore, P's mom Caterina, Marie (eyes closed, sorry--told her to leave on her sunglasses!), and Laura.

Badolato Marina, Calabria, Italy
Marie had a great time trying to teach P's dad some English words--much laughter ensued as "I looooooove you" repeatedly echoed throughout the Marina. And since I never tire of hearing old family stories, this provided yet another opportunity for Marie to share what she remembers of her grandparents--my great-great-grandparents--and others long gone.

P's mom must've been feeling a bit nostalgic too because she broke out her old photos; I had never seen a baby picture of P before, so that was extra special. What a cutie! You may or may not see said photos scanned here at some point. Good thing he doesn't read the blog, eh?

So after quite a day full of emotion, laughter, great food, and fun, Marie, Laura and I headed back up the mountain to Badolato. As they rested, I got to thinking, as I'm wont to do.

I have always thought of Isca as representing the feminine side of my Italian family, as my great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother were born there--who knows how far back that goes, but I'd sure like to find out. Even the town's name ends in "a" denoting the feminine. I've always had a stronger connection with the women in my family, and so I would've guessed that Isca was the place for me if I were going to settle in Calabria.

But there's so much more to me than that feminine side, and I'd say I'm pretty balanced in my traditionally masculine and feminine influences. I'm not a girly-girl by any means, and you couldn't tear me away from a football, baseball, or basketball game in America if you tried. I can also be awfully aggressive when I want/need to be (do you believe me?).

Interesting, then, that it's my great-great-grandfather who was born in Badolato (note that it ends in an "o" denoting masculine) and relocated to Isca for his wife; I, on the other hand, was first drawn to Isca (my family had never heard of Badolato until I found some citizenship records), but then the pull to Badolato was so strong that I ended up staying here, in the masculine village, if you will.

And here I found my P.

Now I struggle to balance those masculine and feminine influences once again--this time in a culture with fairly distinct gender roles. Southern Italy isn't what you'd call modernized in its ideas about what a woman and a man should do. Lucky for me that I've found a guy who loves that I work and that I actually *want* to go hunting for mushrooms in the mountains, etc., with the boys--and he also happens to be a great cook who occasionally surprises me with his housekeeping abilities.

It's not always easy, of course, but I'm loving the challenge.

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Anonymous Maria said...

Michelle that was an awesome story!!! I laughed and also had a moment of nostalgia while reading about the old villages. I am strongly tied to my parents village, Maida, and I have tons of family there still, so every time I go back I learn more and more about my family! Great job, I really enjoyed this one! :)

Blogger Karen said...

What a wonderful glimpse into what pulled you to your particular village - I've always wondered about the exact family connections. Isn't it funny, too, how things influence us when we don't even realize it and how that ends up having a profound affect on our lives?

Anonymous Enza said...

What a wonderful glimpse into your family history and wow i totally missed the picture of P back in July so it was great to check out the link and P too! What a handsome man! The pictures are awesome. I swear i have one of those hanging in my bedroom!

Blogger jennifer said...

Beautiful, evocative writing. And I'm glad you're loving the challenge, because I know it is.

Blogger Taffiny said...

Yeah I should comment on the rest of the post, but

I hadn't seen P before Oh la la. He is very attractive. So taken am I, that now I am left with no other thoughts.

(though I do wish I hadn't said oh la la la, because Teena Marie has started singing in my head and wont stop)

Blogger JerseyDave said...

Hi Michelle,
It was great to hear from you. Thanks, for your link to my website about your family's other Home Town, Isca Sullo Ionio. I loved your stories about Isca. Time flies, it seems like just yesterday, we met on the net and I introduced you to Alida and our Festival back in Philly. We hope to visit you next summer in Badolato. I saw your photo of the street Via Borgo, that is the street my Fatherinlaw still lives on today, that was my wifes grandfathers house. You posted a photo of Concetta, my wife said Concetta is related to her friend, that lives in Isca, so my wifes friend would be your 3rd cousin. Rosa will call her friend in Isca. Maybe she can tell us the exact address you are looking for on Via Borgo. Have you been to City Hall in Isca. Their Genealogical Records date back to about 1750, for birth, baptism, marriage and death records. They may also have the address. I love your site here. Great stories and posts from everyone. See you soon. Dave.

Blogger sognatrice said...

Maria, glad you enjoyed, and I do hope to meet up with you the next time you're down this way--Maida isn't *too* far away you know :)

Karen, glad you enjoyed it! Whenever I think about how I ended up here, it is truly amazing. So many things, tidbits from childhood on up, just wow, you know?

Enza, well then I'm glad I linked to the P post--but I hope you don't have a pic of *him* hanging in your bedroom--hah! I had to read that one twice ;)

Jennifer, thanks; much appreciated from someone that I know knows ;)

Taffiny, I hope you get that song out of your head, and then come over to mine and remove it.

Dave, I should've known you'd show up with some wonderful further information! I can't believe that's your wife's grandfather's house and that you've found my third cousin. Amazing! Alida's sister did some research for me a few years ago (found some birth and marriage certificates--yeah! Those are the ones that just listed "Via Borgo" no house number), but I really kind of dropped the whole genealogy thing once I got here. Not sure why as now everything is really quite accessible. I did go to the church here in Badolato last week and searched through some old baptismal records, but came up short :( I have to go back before Don Vincenzo gets bored with the whole thing ;)

I really do have to devote some more time to this again...so interesting and so fun when you find stuff!

Thanks so much for stopping by--can't wait to see you, Rosa, and the bambini :)

This post really did make me think about what a small world it is! It's really wonderful that after so many generations, you have gone back to live where your family came from. Italy has a strange way of doing that to people... I don't even have any Italian ancestry but still I felt drawn to the place!

Such a great post, Michelle! When I was in Italy many years ago, I never made it to the area where my family is from -- Lonate Pozzola (sp?). But, both sets of my dad's grandparents came over from there (surnames Arbini and Aliverti). Many of the Arbinis came to the U.S., while some Alivertis did, but more of them went to Argentina for some reason. At any rate, I can't wait until I can return some day and search out their hometown. I got as close as Milan, but not further out to their town. :-( That's so wonderful that you were able to bring some of your heritage full circle. :-)


Blogger Kerith Collins said...

Your village is fantastic looking...we can trace my hubby's grandfather coming over to Ellis Island when he was 5 and even see his mother and father's signatures on the registration book from 1921. It makes me wanna start a blog about germans (me) and swedes (him)...

Anonymous diana said...

I'm so glad I found your blog TOO. I love your stories, your writing style, all of it. And ok I lived in Philly too. I will keep reading now that I am hooked.... I'm linking your blog to mine tomorrow morning when I wake up and can focus again.

Blogger Vesper said...

What a lovely post, with superb pictures. Thank you for sharing this part of your family story with us. I also like the certificate of citizenship - you could imagine a whole story from it.
Mmmm... Very good looking, your P! Very Italian...

Anonymous Frances said...

When my grandmother passed away I could not find where she kept the addresses of her family in Sorrento. She and my grandfather were both from the Amalfi.
You've inspired me to scan some old photos of my family for my own blog.
I have grandma's US Citizenship certificate too.
Sending bloglove,

Blogger Madelyne said...

How fantastic to be able to trace back where your family all came from & lived, & that these places have a pull on you too.

Blogger Maryann said...

I enjoy reading your site. This post was neat. I liked the street that looks like an alley.

Anonymous Enza said...

UGH!!! Sorry! Sometimes my grammar sucks!! No i definitely don't have a picture of P hanging on my wall, although....nah only kidding. I was talking about the other photos u posted!

Blogger Jen said...

You are such a gem. Your talent for family history and photography and weaving it all together is truly special. I am so impressed by your creativity and ability to write.

Anonymous Waiting for Zufan! said...

Great photos, and I love your site! I need to add you to my little blogroll... Thanks for the visit and the great comments the other day!

I NEED to go to Italy someday!!

Thanks! I love your blog. It makes Italy seem so much closer. I spent a summer in Salerno and fell so much in love with the city that there isn't a day I don't miss it. Thanks for sharing yoru life with us.

Blogger Italiana Americana said...

thats funny i live 15 mins outside philly and often go to the italian market even if it isnt quite what it used to be...my mom grew up there but we are abruzzese :) small world

Anonymous grace said...

I love the way the houses are lined up like that...looks like crayola from far. Great story and awesome pics! I terribly need to visit Italy in the future!

Blogger sognatrice said...

Shelley, I've now gotten an email from someone who grew up in the same town, knows my grandmother, and worked with my mother. Small world is right :)

Christina, you'll get there! For me it was an amazing experiences, and I'm sure it will be for you too :)

Kerith, oh I love family histories--be sure to send me the link if you start that blog!

Diana, thanks! I look forward to getting to know you better :)

Vesper, oh, the citizenship certificate holds its own stories to be sure--and those are just the real ones. Imagine all the creative turns we could take with it! Thanks for the compliment on P, and the Michelle? That's my name. I started going by Sognatrice (dreamer in Italian) when I first started, but my real name came out pretty quickly...so whatever you feel comfortable with ;)

Frances, ooh, do scan! I need to scan many more photos, if only to keep them stored on CDs/the computer, but I do hope you'll share some on the blog. I love old photos and the stories that go with them!

Madelyne, thanks, and thanks for commenting!

Maryann, it's funny that the street in front of my current house isn't very much wider--but I'm on a corner, so it doesn't feel so confining ;)

Enza, no it wasn't your fault at all! I have a bad habit of reading too quickly and confusing myself. Anyway, it was a good laugh, so no need to apologize!

Jen, aw thanks...what a lovely comment :)

Waiting, I do hope you make it here someday, but you should warn the little one...I'm a squeezer ;)

Everyday Delights, why thank you--and thanks for sharing your tribute to Salerno. Wonderful!

Italiana, lucky you! Have a go at Fante's, DiBruno's, D'Angelo's, and of course Anthony's Coffee House for me please.

Grace, I love the Crayola comment! So true! Glad you enjoyed, and yes, come on over :)

Anonymous a far away friend said...

Michelle, your writing is so impressive. Sometimes, I feel like I'm reading a book; and I just finished a chapter, and can't wait to turn the page and start a new one. I
It's funny the way so much from Southern Italy is linked to PA. Thanks for mentioning my family name. I remembered when you told me about Alida, couldn't believe we were even "tied" together with knowing her.
Guess this big big world isn't so big after all.

Blogger sognatrice said...

Friend, aw thanks :) And if I had even a bit of a remaining doubt as to which far away friend you are, I'm now certain! Crazy world, isn't it?

Blogger Poppy Fields said...

I love stories about families. Your story has come "round a great circle!

Blogger sognatrice said...

Meredith, I love family stories too; thanks for reading mine :)

I LOVED that, and the photos are great. I especially love Maria's citizenship paper - THAT was so cool!!!

Ate up every bit of this from the first word to the last crumb...
Your writing is as good as your cooking looks.

Thanks for sharing!

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Blogger sognatrice said...

Scarlett, glad you enjoyed, and I hope you're enjoying other crumbs on this special day ;)

Blogger witnessing am i said...

I don't think I can explain why -- or perhaps I can -- but this is my favorite post of all time.

Every word, every image, beautiful.

Blogger sognatrice said...

David, wow. You've left me wordless (almost). All I can say is grazie mille for reading and taking the time to write such wonderful thoughts in the comments--where they become treasures.

Blogger Blame It on Paris said...

I love the connections. It's fascinating to think about the Italy to America to Italy story that you are carrying on.

Blogger sognatrice said...

Thanks Laura; it's definitely a unique opportunity :)

Anonymous nonfaciabruta said...

Loved the article on Isca. I will be there sometime this year (taking a discovery trip to Isca, the family's homeland with my cousin) We are both from Kulpmont, Pa. and the need to discover my roots has been pulling me for a few years now. I'm reading a book right now called "Dances with Luigi". I highly recommend it. It's about the same thing I'm going through right now. The need to understand the original family ties and the country. Keep up the good work on the blog. I'll tell your brother Bernie and Nancy I was talking to you when I see them.

Blogger sognatrice said...

*Nonfaciabruta, feel free to email me (address on sidebar) if you'd like to talk personally! Glad to hear that more and more of us from the Coal Region are coming back here--you're going to love it :)

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