After being away from home for four months travelling around Europe you truly learn the importance that family has in your life and the value it holds. Coming into Italy I couldn't go past the opportunity to delve deep into my Italian heritage and roots. This is how we found ourselves right down the bottom of Italy in the far South in a small town called Roccella Jonica, a town where both my Nonna and Nonno grew up (Grandma and Grandpa). Most of my Nonno's family had emigrated to Australia over the years , so this left only my Nonna's family to visit who were spread out over Italy and other parts of Europe. We were invited to stay with my Nonna's older brother Vincenzo Linarello. A very funny and kind natured man that looked after us both so well. Although we were faced with a massive language barrier and spent most of our time playing charades and guessing games in the end it never really seemed to matter as long as we said si (yes) every time he said mangiare (eat) everything was smooth sailing.
Our timing could not have been anymore perfect. Also holidaying in Calabria that week were my two cousins from France Guiseppe and Mirella with there family and my cousin Patrizia from Switzerland with her partner and son. Meeting them for the very first time we were welcomed with open arms and invited for a quite night of gelati to meet some of the rest of the family. We headed to a cafe that coincidentally was called Il Ritrovo which means The Reunion, a Reunion it sure was. As more and more relatives piled into the cafe waiters began to drag more and more tables and chairs joining them into a large snake motion in an attempt to squeeze us all in. Great Aunties, Second Cousins, Third Cousins they were all there right down to the "My Papa is friends with your Nonna" which in Calabria means we are immediate family! As all 27 of us conversed joyous words in Italian, French and English over the finest Italian Gelato it couldn't have been a more perfect setting.
One of the most important quests for me was to have a greater understanding as to how my family grew up and lived before they migrated to Australia. I was so blessed that both Vincenzo and Guiseppe took the time to take me to the farm house where my Nonna grew up with her Mother, Father and six other siblings. Up on the very top of a hill looking out over Roccella and the ocean stood a tiny old stone house. It was completely awe-inspiring to see where they slept, cooked, worked and played. The foundation where they learnt the many life skills that brang them to Australia, where they successfully created a great life for both themselves and of course their family.
On the weekend we arrived in Roccella, the town was hosting its St Vittorio Festa a very important religious celebration that honoured Roccella Jonica's protecting Saint. This meant the entire town was in full swing with market filled streets, kiddy rides and many amusements. Leading to the all important mass service were all the town congregated in the small church where people spilled out onto footpaths all around and down the street. As the mass ended a float, marching band and parade marched its way around Roccella with a flock of its towns people following behind. As the congregation made full circle, fire works were released as the entire town watched in awe. It was enriching to be apart of something so traditional and of something so special to the town where my family originated from.
Being our first stop in Italy we were prepared for a food overload. From Vincenzo's pasta and eggplants to the towns finest pizza we just couldn't get enough. We sampled every gelati flavour the town had to offer and indulged ourselves in freshly made sweet ricotta filled canollis that would melt in your mouth. On our last night Vincenzo took us out to dinner. Instead of a restaurant we were bought to a Gelataria where we stuffed ourselves with an indulging desert of Brioche Con Gelati, a plain savoury bread roll stuffed with an overload of gelati. With every bite I took I could feel the carbs and sugar bypass my stomach and go straight to my hips and thighs. Although it was way to delicious to even consider for a moment about stopping. I felt like a little naughty kid again as we all happily indulged in our desert dinner.
I was so fortunate to be able to go back to my roots and experience such a traditional Italian town and be as close to an authentic Italian life style as I possibly could. I felt at home in Roccella Jonica and I am so grateful for everything my fantastic family did for us to make our stay extremely special, I am honestly beyond thankful. It was such a strange feeling having to say our goodbyes as we were waved off at the train station, something we hadn't experienced since our very first flight many months ago. It was a heart warming feeling as we rode off into the distance. Surprisingly sadness was the last thing on my mind as I knew we would all be reunited once again in another place and time somewhere else in this beautiful world.
The Wanderers Daughter xx