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Friday, May 04, 2012

European Vacation Part III - La Famiglia in Italy

Visiting relatives in Gubbio, Italy was actually the first leg of our trip in June of 2010, before going on to Macedonia and Greece. Somehow I missed posting this particular segment until now. It's been so long, I'd nearly forgotten the details. So, without further ado, and nearly two years later, here's the rest of the European Vacation story, Part III ~TR

Our trip to my ancestral home of Gubbio and Mocaiana, Italy was everything we expected and more! We landed first in Rome, and spent a night and half a day just wandering the small streets around the Colosseum. This was our warmup for the meet-up with all the relatives in Gubbio. I was able to get used to the language, try out a few key phrases I had practiced at home, (dove l'hotel?) and get acclimated to the new surroundings. We then took the train, and a bus right to the main square in the Umbrian hill town of Gubbio, where we found our lodging for the next few days: the Hotel Tre Ceri.
The Hotel Tre Ceri in Gubbio

Exploring the streets of Gubbio
The Palazzo dei Consoli
(Consuls Palace)

View of lower Gubbio from the Palazzo


I shouldn't have worried about the language barrier, however. Even though I speak very little Italian, and Steve speaks none—he's a little better with Spanish, which became a humorous roundabout way for him to sneak in a few words here and there—we were immediately welcomed with open arms and hearts! We had such a wonderful time getting to know all the relatives in the countryside hamlet of Mocaiana, and touring the historical medieval town of Gubbio.

Cousin Liviana Bazurli Selvi and her family
picked us up in Gubbio for a visit to
Mocaiana, and to meet more of the
Bei and Bazurli families
Terry meets cousin Stefania for
the first time in 44 years!

Young cousins in front of their apartment
in the Bazurli family house.

Greeting the Bazurli family: (L-R) Norina,
Liviana, me, Lilo, and Alessandro
And we were able to communicate after all; cousins Stefania and Liviana spoke very good English. And there were times when I was able to pick up meanings because I had been around my Italian-born grandparents so much as a child.


As warned by my Aunt, we were taken around to all the relatives' homes in Mocaiana for a short visit and a taste of each families' homemade wine. That's a little more vino in one day than I'm used to! We even got to see my grandfather's youngest brother, Pasquale—laid up and largely unable to respond to our presence, but getting excellent, loving care at home. He has since passed away, but he looked so much like my grandfather it was uncanny! It was a bittersweet greeting, but at the same time, I'm so grateful we got to see him.

Oh mamma mia! Homemade pasta!!

Just a simple lunch with family!

Alessandro and Annalisa had just heard
that a new baby was on the way

Granddaughter and her Nona

Nona Norina with her grandchildren
Many of the cousins had messages to pass on to my Aunt Betty. Cousin Noemi wanted me to tell her that her back is now much better since the last visit when she was hunched in pain like an old woman. Now she’s healed and lively as ever. Steve loved her energy and smile! Indeed, I saw no evidence that she had ever looked like a hunched old woman. Haha!

After open-heart surgery, cousin Lilo was looking great too, greeting us outdoors and showing us their renovated house. The house is now longer in length than I remember, and has been divided into three separate but attached homes, housing he and his wife, and the families of his daughter and son. Each apartment has two to three stories, with the smallest one reserved for the older couple, who no longer needed so much room. Lilo was able to join us with his family at both dinner and lunch the next day.
Nadia Bei, Lidia & Enio Bei
with me, and Nena Bei
 Then, we drove down the road to our other cousins' houses; Adriano and Giuliana, Guerriero and Betta, Oliviero and Noemi, Claudio, Enio, Fabio,  … the names are so familiar to me because I met them when I was ten on a visit with my grandparents.
The Guerriero and Betta Barzurli family

Lorenzo goofs it up with his cousin
Liviana and father Marco

Liviana and Guerriero flank me in front of
Guerriero's priceless view of Gubbio

The Bei Cousins –
Oliviero, Noemi, Claudio

The Bei home


All the cousins made us PROMISE to come back in five years! We had already promised cousins Adamo and Enio we’d go to Italy to visit while they were in America for the wedding of our cousin Katie in 2007—a promise which we kept. So now we’ll have to keep this promise too. Adriano and Lilo cried when we said our goodbyes despite our promise to try to return. They said they’d probably be gone and would never see us again ... apparently this is a common theme in much of the Italian countryside. I've heard the same lament many times myself. Of course, they're still around upon return, none the worse for wear!
Bei Family Tree for the
Adriano Bei branch (Giolivio Bei,
my grandfather, is one of
13 apples below Pasquale!)

Also duly noted: these people love to bestow gifts! After Stefania heard us talking about Steve’s love of American Indian pottery and ceramics, she gifted us with a large replica vase made in the ancient Etruscan style called "bucchero," which had belonged to her mother. And when cousin Alberto found out Steve was a stamp collector, he sent a collection of stamped and posted Gubbio Tre Ceri post cards from years past. We were generously offered vino, grappa and other gifts to take home too, but we had to decline. We told them our bags were full of things we were taking to our eldest daughter in Macedonia. (And that was truth!)

Visiting Il Teatro, an ancient
Roman colosseum in Gubbio
Emperor Steve tries his
interpretation of the signal to
finish the fight

Il Teatro


We learned a lot more about my grandparents' hometown:  The town of Gubbio takes pride in it's Roman and Medieval roots. Cousin Stefania, who is living in her parent's home in the old part of town, was planning to renovate her house. We were quite surprised at the amount she was going to have to spend in order to comply with the strict regulations and standards for renovating medieval buildings. Steve was blown away when she told him the house was probably built in the 13th century. There are no structures that old in the USA except the cliff dwellings and ruins in the Southwest!! When we jokingly mentioned investing in the house’s rebirth, she estimated no less than $200,000 US dollars would do the job. That's quite an HOA she has to answer too!! I know that, now, much of the work has been started, and I can't wait to see the final results in another few years!
The Bazurli house, now divided
for three families

The homes of all the other cousins in Mocaiana are no less historic. Like Lilo's home, many have been renovated and added to many, many times. All have beautiful "bones"; structures build of local stone and marble, that have been expanded to house more than one branch of a family comfortably and with grand style. I loved seeing the past gifts of American relatives proudly and prominently displayed alongside of local family heirlooms. The ties that reach across the ocean are profoundly felt. We sometimes forget that though we live our daily lives in quiet ignorance of our own heritage, those who were left behind have never forgotten their long lost relatives.
The three patron saints of Gubbio:
San Giorgio, Sant'Ubaldo and
San Antonio


One of the most ironic mistakes we made in planning our trip was that we missed the town's biggest cultural event of the year by just a couple of days! La Festa Dei Ceri was being held that next weekend. If only we'd payed closer attention to local events—we had to meet our daughter in Macedonia on a specific date and couldn't change our plans. La Festa Dei Ceri is huge in Gubbio—some liken it to the Superbowl in America. In fact, some years the attendees number in the hundreds of thousands. It is an 800 year old festival held in celebration of the lives of three of Gubbio's Christian patron Saints, yet has roots in Umbrian/Etruscan culture dating back before the birth of Christ. It is so big, that descendants of Gubbio who emigrated to America in the early 1900's have their own version of La Festa Dei Ceri in Jessup, Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania WVIA public TV station has even made a very nice documentary about it—of course I ordered four copies!

Since Steve is naturally a team oriented kinda' guy, he got all excited about the friendly competition amongst Gubbians and their three patron Saints in preparation for the Festa. Colorful standards were hanging from all the windows of the homes announcing allegiance to that family's favorite Saint. Steve headed out to one of the little boutiques one morning and came back with a five-foot standard for San Giorgio, patron saint of crafts and tradesmen, and the family favorite of cousin Stefania.

When cousins Liviana and Guerriero heard about this, it was immediately suggested that we should change our allegiance! They of course, follow San Antonio, patron saint of farmers and students. But, Steve felt San Giorgio fit us better—he has built a few small dwellings in his time, and laid a brick border in our yard! We suggested that our daughter—who was planning a visit a few weeks later—could be a follower of San Antonio. She’ll be a student of something all her life! And she grew strawberries and tomatoes once, and has the greenest thumb amongst her roommates—this qualifies her as a farmer, no?
Sant'Ubaldo - patron saint of Gubbio


But of course, the main guy—the Saint who always gets to the finish line first—is Sant'Ubaldo. A saint in life and a saint in death, Bishop Ubaldo Baldassini's "miraculously" well preserved body sits in a glass coffin in the church on top of the hill of Gubbio. I saw him when I was a kid, and thought it was some sort of Disney-like trick. But it's not: Steve and I visited the church and saw him again in his glass case! I don't have a theory on why he's still there and not dust by now, but whatever the reason, the people of Gubbio get pretty worked up about him once a year! On May 15, they form into three groups of men and run with three 900 pound "candles" (ceri) on their shoulders around the town and up the hill. It takes many hundreds to do this in relay-like shifts, with the remaining onlookers cheering them on. The celebration is rich with tradition and meaning and the townsfolk are very passionate about the race up the hill. It's no wonder that other people in Italy looked at me funny when I told them I was headed to Gubbio! There's even a tradition that says if you run three times around a special fountain you will be certified crazy by the local consul, with a signed document to prove it upon your return back home.

The Festa dei Ceri pre-festival dinner for San Giorgio
Me with Alberto Panfili, his wife Maria,
and his daughter and grandson

A very fuzzy photo of me, Stefania
and Lina Panfili

More cousins - Alberto and
Fancesca Pinna with Viola and Fagio
We didn't skip out on the entire crazy event, though. One evening we gathered at cousin Stefania's house in Gubbio for a light snack including my two favorites, prosciutto and crescia (how did she know?). Then we were taken to a pre-festival gathering of many hundreds of people crammed into the small streets of the ancient town. Food was being served in little paper boats, and the mood was very upbeat! Being that it was May, the weather was cool and pleasant, and we didn't mind the crowds at all.

Adriano locks me in a choke-hold hug, with
Fabio, Daniella, Adamo and Giuliana Bei
Our stendardo di San Giorgio
will fly the entire month of May

In fact, both Steve and I felt an immediate affinity for these people, though we didn't understand everything that was said. We met lots of nice, welcoming folks everywhere we went; many were related but many more were not. In fact, that was the overriding theme for our entire stay in the countryside of Umbria—we received welcoming, warm embraces everywhere we went! It's hard to say no to these people, and, if the stars line up in our favor, I'll bet we'll be going back very soon!

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  • If you have the opportunity to come to Jessup, PA we would love to see you!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/08/2014 7:51 AM  

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