Saturday, July 16, 2011

Rome and Around

I was reluctant to leave the comfort, quiet, and good food of the Tuscan farm, but it was time to keep heading south. Although I would rather be in the countryside than a huge city, I was excited for all the history in Rome. I saw the highlights, such as...

the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel (such a long wait to get inside! the Sistine Chapel is surprisingly small but astoundingly intricate and beautiful),
the Pantheon,
Trevi fountain,
the Roman Forum,
and the Colosseum.
Rome is crazy because so much is, well, Roman. Everything is like 2,000 years old. That's just normal. I could have easily spent more time there, as there is so much to see, but for now I'm satisfied. I saw the main sights, ate plenty of gelato, made friends, and still had time to spend the weekend with Italian family. What, I didn't mention visiting Italian family??!! That's the main reason I've always wanted to go to Italy!

I knew I had Italian family still in the motherland on my dad's dad's side of the family. I got some random names and addresses from a great-aunt on my dad's side, and contacted them via snail mail. I wrote in English, saying how we were related, and mentioned I didn't speak Italian but I spoke Spanish. Shortly after, I received and email in Spanish from a cousin, saying they were happy to get my letter and I should come visit when I was in the area!

My great-grandfather Giuseppe was from a city called Ferentino, about 45 minutes south of Rome by train. I headed down and was met at the train station by my cousin Ugo. He was a middle-aged single man who was really nice, and luckily spoke great Spanish. He had studied the language on his own for years, then lived in the Dominican Republic for a year working for a non-profit.
He took me to his house where he lived with his father, a widower in his 80's with bright eyes and a quick smile. We were able to greet each other, but then he continued speaking in rapid Italian, and I shrugged and shook my head. "Capito?" he asked me. "No!" I replied, and we both laughed. He shrugged back, smiling, and I asked him to show me the garden. This old farmhouse was just outside Ferentino on a fairly large property, and there were a bunch of olive trees and grape vines. I found out that they grew all their own olives for a year's supply of olive oil, and made their own wine. There were a few other fruit trees, such as apricot and fig. They also had a huge veggie garden with tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, pole beans, lettuce, zucchini, cucumber, and herbs. Needless to say, I was in old-world local food heaven.

Besides hanging out at the house, Ugo was a great tour guide who showed me around the area. This part of the state of Lazio is fairly hilly, with various walled cities perched defensively on the hilltops. These cities, like Ferentino, pre-date the Romans, and there are pretty views from the top. He also took me to an 800 year-old monastery nestled dramatically on a hillside.

I met more cousins- Ugo's sister Maria Teresa and her teenage kids, who live in Ferentino. We would eat every lunch and dinner with them, either going to their house, or them coming to the farmhouse. Maria Teresa would usually bring her mother-in-law, and sometimes other relatives of her husbands. It was standard that meals were large, yet informal family affairs every time. They made me feel welcome, but didn't fuss over me or seem that surprised by a random American relative at the table, and my presence would get comfortably swallowed up in the familial atmosphere. I literally could not have been any happier or more grateful and finding these relatives and being embraced so easily as family.

No comments: