Calabria, Italy

Most people are happy to have a little family history. I am an exception. As a small child, I quizzed my grandparents, immigrants all; about where they came from. They patiently repeated the answers when I asked them again and again, and it occurred to me one day, when I was a teen, I had better write this stuff down. So I did. Then my grandparents died one by one, and with them, all their memories and knowledge, leaving me with regrets about what I did not ask.
So I set out to visit where each of them came from. My first visit to Italy took me to Calabria, to a little hill town overlooking the Ionian sea called Sersale. Everywhere I looked I saw people that looked like me, like my cousins. And I did find my cousins. We compared ears, eye color, chins and noses. I fit!
In Sersale found myself facing a door that was decorated with wrought iron that my own great grandfather built. If you look carefully, you can see the initials F and T in the center of the design. That stands for Francesco Torchia. This door no longer exists, it has been replaced with a new sturdy door that does not let in the cold. If I hadn’t taken a picture of the old door in 1987 when I first visited, it would cease to exist even in our memories. Instead it is now a piece of art on my wall.
Calabria is a land of olive trees, chestnut trees, grape vines and ancient ruins. Ruins from Romans, ruins from Greeks. And then of course, there’s the food. Calabria is a bit like California, in fact, that’s where so many of the “Spaghetti Westerns” were filmed. Arid hilly country… on the map it’s the toe of the “boot.”

Have you ever traveled to find your roots? I’d love to hear your story.


11 responses to “Calabria, Italy”

  1. This has been one of my favorite of your paintings and I’m glad it still hangs on our wall at home. One of the things I love about it it the fact that the door is open, even if just a little crack. The mystery of what lies behind the door is there with the dakness and the viewer is left wondering. Of course, when we visited again in 2001 the door was still there and I was able to see the work of your great grandfather and one of the highlights of our 3 weeks in Italy was getting to sleep in the house that Francesco Torchia built. Even though it wasn’t as modernized as the homes of some of your other cousins, even though the bathroom had “problems”, yet we slept there every night for the time we were in Sersale and I felt a great sense of history of the family as I lay down to sleep. It is one of my fondest memories and this painting, every time I gaze at it, takes me back to that time; a time of remarkable family history gathering as we visited each cousin for coffee, then visited them each for a meal and finally, when preparing to say farewell, made the rounds again to visit them for coffee. Hopefully, we can see them again in September…….

  2. I truly loved Sersale. Coming down a street in Sesale are these absolutely gorgeous views other roofs of the town — old crumbling and just lovely. The people there spoke the dialect almost exactly like the dialect my mother, my aunts uncles and almost every Italian born I knew. It was so fascinating and exhilarating !

    The door was there, and the People were there. They embraced Mimi — after all a relative — and embraced me, a stranger! I delighted in hearing most of the words my mother, my aunts etc. all spoke. I loved that when we visited relatives of my daughters in Rome (who we found difficult to translate) that we were told , “if you can’t understand us, wait until you get to Sersale.” but that was the accent I embraced.

    I remember that door and it’s a great painting. It evokes memories! I would love to return to Sersale and the Door absolutely evokes great memories! Your door paintings are sooooo great, Mimi!

  3. What an interesting story! Calabria sounds wonderful and I’m glad you kept a picture of the door your grandfather made , it looks lovely. I wish I could go back to Tunisia where I was born . My parents are from Canada though and no I’ve never been to where my parents grew up . That would be Vegreville Alberta and Meadow Lake Saskatchewan.

  4. I expected the “Oh, wow,” moment when I brought up your blog a few minutes ago–your paintings are wonderful, and it’s a natural response.

    But the portrait you painted with your words was just as lovely. Beautiful story, this. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    You know, I keep meaning to sit my grandfather down and put his memories on tape. I’m ashamed I’ve not done it yet. You’ve inspired me, Mimi. Thanks for that.

  5. yes, several times. Have located all the places of origin of my 4 grandparents there.

  6. That’s awesome that you got back to Italy and your roots. My family is from Ireland, and in college I got to study abroad there. It was amazing.
    Happy A-Z blogging!

  7. That is a beautiful painting! It is so nice when you can experience your family’s history firsthand. I have never traveled to learn more about my family’s history, but I would love to!

  8. Mimi, I’ve not traveled to find my roots(yet) but I just came back from hiking in Calabria last fall. Everything you said about the region is true. Though Sersale was not on our itinerary, it sure reminded me of other small towns we visited like Murana Calabro, Longo Buocco, and San Lorenzo Berlizzi. What strikes me as uniquely Calabrian besides its wonderful spicy food and the exceptionally delicious rosa marina, is the friendliness and sincerity of its people. Every person I’ve met and talked to was eager to share their foods, homes and life stories with me.They come from generations that have survived adverse conditions; from attacks by Greeks and Romans to surviving floods and devastating earthquakes. But they are still happy to welcome you into their homes through these doors. Brava,Mimi!

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