Ever since I can remember, I have been fascinated with all things Italian. My Grandfather comes from Sicily and even though he left his home to live in Australia when he was only a boy, I have always felt a strong connection with Italy. The language, the food, the people…if there was a book, I would read it, a movie, I would see it…I won’t admit to the number of times I have seen Under the Tuscan Sun! When we travelled to Italy in 2009, we were determined to find our family. We had a name and an address given to us by Aunty Lena…though she couldn’t be sure if these people were still alive! With hope and optimism we began our search and the experience that followed, I will remember forever.
Sitting in Mr. Aliberti’s apartment in Ortigia, Sicily, we decided we must do something about contacting our relatives. We couldn’t come this far and not give it a go. It might be our only opportunity…who knew when we might be back in Italy again? With only a name and address, it was a long shot, but we decided to send a post card on which we wrote, in very bad Italian…
“Buon Giorno…we are your relatives from Australia. We are in Sicily. Would you like to meet us for a coffee?”
We were laughing as we sent it…if you have ever experienced the Italian Mail System, you would know anyone receiving anything is a minor miracle. Surely, we wouldn’t hear anything but what could we do? We lit a candle, said a prayer to the Madonna and then went off to the Piazza for a glass of wine, all but forgetting about the chance to meet our family.
Mr. Aliberti's Apartmento...
And so you can imagine our surprise when only two days later, we received a phone call from our cousin (and I use that term loosely) Mattia! They had received our card and were so excited that we were in Sicily. We must come to meet the family and stay with them in Ragusa, at the insistence of Mamma! We were up for an adventure so we agreed and made all the arrangements for the five of us (my husband and I, my mum and our kids) to travel there by bus the following week.
We had no idea what we were getting ourselves in for. We had read so many stories of these kinds of reunions…we didn’t know these people and we didn’t really even know how we were related to them or even if we were related to them!. My mum was getting cold feet imagining herself in an apartment with goodness knows how many noisy Sicilians…I had a good feeling about it so off we went with an open mind …and lucky we did as it turned out to be one of the best nights of our trip, if not our lives!
After a lengthy bus ride made so by the drivers insistence of stopping at almost every bar we passed for an espresso and a cigarette, we arrived in Ragusa and were met with kisses and hugs by Mattia and his Mamma, Ermina. Apparently it was obvious that we were the Australiani. They had reconsidered our accommodation and to ensure our comfort, took us to a beautiful boutique hotel overlooking Ragusa Ibla, the old town. We were to be ready at 8pm. Mattia would pick us up and take us to the family home for dinner. Mamma had been cooking all day…this was looking promising.
Beautiful Ragusa...where my Grandfather was born...
And so, as promised, we were collected at 8pm. It was getting late…the girls who were only 3 and 5 were normally in bed by that time and we hadn’t even eaten…We drove around, Mattia pointing out the cities attractions until we got the call from Mamma…the dinner was ready, we could come home. We arrived at the family home which was lovely and not unlike our own home in Australia. Everyone was there…at Mamma’s insistence. All the introductions were made and we were welcomed with open arms to Angelo’s home, Angelo being my Grandfather’s cousin, we think. And so with fifteen of us around the table, dinner was served…thank goodness, because with Mattia being the only one to speak English and our Italian being really, really bad…the conversation was slightly awkward.
We began with anti pasta, then lasagne which we all devoured not realising how many more courses were to come. Mangiare, mangiare…and so we did. My husband ate so much lasagne he almost burst but had to continue on with wine, roast porcetta and vegetables, salad, cheese, cannoli, torte and finally, grappa. It was exactly like I always dreamed an Italian family meal would be. Delicious, warm, fun and very noisy!
By midnight, we were exhausted and almost bursting. Mattia delivered us home to our hotel and promised to collect us the following morning for more sight seeing. We were overwhelmed with the warmth and hospitality our family had showered us with. Family is everything in Italy…even the family you never even knew existed!
The streets my Grandfather might have walked as a young boy...
Meeting our Italian family was such a special part of our trip and we still talk about it all the time…we marvel over actually finding them…what were the chances? We reminisce about that magical dinner and how we would love the opportunity to return the favour. I still chat to Mattia on facebook – I’m supposed to be practising my Italian but I cheat and use google translate – and I quiz him on everything his Mamma has made him for lunch and dinner that day begging for the recipes. It’s a connection, a chapter in our family story…a story that hopefully, we can add more laughter, fun and memories to in the years to come.