We have always asked ourselves, especially in the light of today’s opportunities and needs, how and with what means those who inhabited places like Montattico lived in the past. Up to the end of the fifties, that is when cars started reaching the quarter, there were no means of communication by which to reach the centre of Casalattico other than 5 km of dirt roads which could only be covered on foot or on a mule’s back.

by Onorio Colucci 

You’ll see, said my friend Sandro. You are going to regret it! Lucky you, said his sister Patrizia. You are going to be so happy!

traduzione di Davide Iacobelli

Serafina is a middle-aged woman. Her smile elicits congeniality, along with a  posititive  and apparently  placid personality, because she has a unique  inquisitive character and a special energy and vivaciousness.

When we were young

In the alleys of Fontitudine

Currently, she alternates between Scotland, where she emigrated as a child, and Villalatina. As her last name shows her family originated in Picinisco, in Fontitune, but she was born in San Vittore nel Lazio, where her father Raffaele used to lead his flock of sheep in a kind of quick internal “transumanza”. Now Serafina is enjoying her retirement and has discovered the pleasure of writing and telling stories. Recently, due to her inquisitive character and vivaciousness, she published a book entitled “The wee Italian girl”, “La piccola ragazza italiana” due to  the curiosity of her granddaughter Erika to whom Serafina used to tell stories, in a fairytale kind of way, about her life in the hills and fields of Picinisco, paying special attention to the old traditions and habits of her adolescence. “Educators and pedagogs would be enthusiastical about this grandma who tells her little granddaughter the stories of her life: she is keeping alive a culture, transmitting locations, ways of life, hopes and dreams of a disappeared world, in other words she is nurturing the need to remember, to discover and to move forward. If parents and grandparents would start again to tell stories, maybe adolescents would achieve a more stable  psychological serenity and acknoweledgement of their own identity."

Serafina actually has decided to write a book with all the stories she told her granddaughter, in a plain and simple way, without literary pretenses, yet in such a way that the  book would be a testimonial of the old ways  along with containing   an appreciable  anthropological value. The cover notes are explicit:  THE STORY OF A MIGRANT, BUT ALSO THE STORY OF A SIMPLER LIFE. ONCE DENIED AND PUT ASIDE, BUT NOWDAYS SOUGHT AFTER AND ADMIRED. AN OLD LIFESTYLE. TO LIVE WITH NATURE AND  THE SEASONS. GOING FROM THE MOUNTAINS TO THE PLAINS. CLEANER AIR AND WATER, PURER FOOD AND WINE. ALL THINGS CONSIDERED “THE WEE ITALIAN GIRL” IS A DOCUMENT FOR MANY SCOTS OF ITALIAN ORIGIN WHO, ALONG WITH LEARNING ABOUT PICTURESQUE VILLAGES AND MAJESTIC MOUNTAINS, WANT TO DISCOVER  FROM WHERE AND FROM WHOM THEY ORIGINATED.

The english text has been recently translated into Italian by Dr. Giulia Scognamiglio from Atina and will be published and available  this coming Spring. In the meantime Serafina has been “bitten by the writing bug” and is preparing another book.

Serafina

So, Serafina was born in a family  of sheperds: heavy work and ongoing sacrifices.  In the Fifties of the last century,  the life outlook for such a family wasn’t the brightest. It would take many years for the situation to change and give this activity dignity and new prospects, through new projects and developments that led to the recognition of the Dop status of the Pecorino cheese from Picinisco. This lack of development prospectives was the main reason for “papa’ Raffaele”  to listen to the advice coming from one of his sisters already living in Scotland who suggested that the whole family move there where the situation was more promising.  So in 1958 “papa’ Raffaele” sells all his belongings and moves to Scotland. Once there he is helped by his sister and after a few months he is joined by his three children Fortunato, Serafina and Vincenzo. The whole experience  is very similar to that of many other Piciniscani and inhabitants of the Valle di Comino who emigrated to the British Isles: first a period of work (according to the local law)  in order to get the required  work permit, followed by the opening of a Fish and Chips shop. In 1963 the family comes back home  for the first time and here Serafina meets Bruno who will follow her to Scotland where they will be married a few years later. In 1968 “papa’ Raffaele” who’s activity  in the meantime  has grown to the point of owning  three shops, gives one of them to the newly wed couple. In 1969 Maria Cristina (Erika’s mother) is born followed in 1971 by Remo. In the meantime family life flows happy and smooth. Serafina dedicates some of her time to a society dedicated to maintaining alive the culture and customs of the Homeland, along with taking care of social and assistance  activities.  Regrettably Serafina states that the original associative spirit and mutual collaboration that were so strong in those years have lost their appeal now  that  the third generation of immigrants has integrated in the Scottish society and  feels the original culture as something very far and removed from their everyday life, due in part to their studies and work that are so different from those of the first generation. Even Remo, Serafina’s own son, has not continued  in his parents activity, but has dedicated himself to many different activities ranging from music to fashion, from journalism to design and to real estate and has travelled all over the world.

My father Raffaele

My husband Bruno

My whole family

My daughter whit her husband

My son Remo

Fish and Chips Festa in Villalatina

In 2002 Serafina’s committment moves from the private to the public and social. Together with a few friends  she starts a public initiative, the now famous summer festival “IL FISH AND CHIPS” in Villalatina, a day dedicated to cooking and offering this typical dish of the British Isles. A delicious and well-received meal especially if the food is of good quality and is prepared according to high standards. And it is well recognized that both fish and potatoes  available  at the “festa” are of the best quality. The whole thing is not just a “festa”, but  it happens to be an intelligent cultural happening. Emigration is an occasion of blending, of reciprocal exchange of customs  and habits and in everyday life eating habits are very important. We are sure, and this is proven,  that our eating is healtier and tastier, but this does not mean that  the rest of the world does not have to offer  a tasty and appetizing gastronomy. Discovering dishes from other areas  of the world is a sign of open mindedness and  humility. Going back to Serafina’s initiative, she is adamant in stating that the main sponsor of this happening is an English gentleman from Newcastle, Bill Colbeck, a catering wholesaler who caters to many of the shops owened in Scotland by our fellow Italians. As soon as he was told about this he agreed to supply the “festa” with the freshest and best food items coming from Scotland. Not only, but Mr. Colbeck every year comes to Villalatina in order to be present and give his best adivice. Mr Colbeck is the perfect gentleman and as  such , notwithstanding all the private ivitations he receives, he prefers to stay in a hotel in Picinisco for three days. Serafina tells the true story that once during the “festa” she could not   spot him in the crowd because he was in line waiting to order his fish and chips…He firmly protested when  Serafina wanted that he be given priority  and stayed in line until his time came to be served. Maybe the local institutions should give Mr Colbeck an award !!

But this is not all: more needs to be said in regards to this “festa”: the managing of the income. Whatever is made from the work of the voluntary staff and from Mr. Colbeck’s supplies,  is given away to benefit families in need,  to the association “Save the children”, to purchase  materials for the “Casa di Tom” in Atina, to the fund to fix the Church of Santa Lucia and to buy what’s needed for the childrens playground. Serafina also likes to stress that this year the Organizing Commitee bought two electric fryers and two more will be purchased next year so that the kitchens operate ccording to the law. The Final portion of Serafina’s story will be dedicated to mention all those who dedicate their time and energy to this project, first of all Maria Pia and Antonella Valente even though the number of voluntaries is too large to be mentioned and so they are recognized together with Mayor Luigi Rossi. Last but not least let’s not forget all the “fryers” who are managed by the son-in-law Franco Cardella: a team that comes from Scotland to work with all the  “fuming pans” necessary to prepare the fries and the delicious fish. The lesson we all can learn from Serafina’s story is this: keep strong connections with one’s own origins, looking both to the present and the future, never forgetting the less fortunate and  the place where one comes from.

At work in Fish and Chips

Lunch with the fish and chips volunteers

With the guys from Tom's house

An excerpt from the book

SITTING NEXT TO THE FIREPLACE DAYDREAMING

The girl sat next to the fireplace and kept looking at the flames. She was trying to look into the future. How was her life in a far away place going to be? Why did they have to leave? She liked where she was, she loved  to go to school summer and winter.

She rememberd that last year, her first year of winter school, all the children looked at her as if she were a stranger, the daughter of a sheperd. Soon she got familiar with them, they spoke the same language. They had different lifestyles, nevertheless they also were country children. They worked the land, always stayed in the same place, they didn’t move like the girl’s family.

She remembered that last year, for Easter, the children gave the teacher eggs , five or ten of them tied in a towel, as a gift. She did not want to be different from the others.

The girl was sad when her mother gave her only two eggs in a napkin, because that’s all she she could spare. Maybe going to Scotland would  be like going to the valley: new people, doing things differently, be considered as a stranger by everyone, but the girl and her family already were used to this.

Her mother and father did their best to show everyone  that they were honest people. They always asked if their sheep could feed on abandoned fields and they always paid for the fields they would rent. When anyone would treat them kindly they would give them fresh cheese and ricotta. At Easter the dad would give a lamb to the owner of the field their sheep fed upon. Dad would always tell his children never to touch what didn’t belong to them. He used to say: “When you are living with strangers you always have to show that you are honest and tireless workers. Always be proud of yourselves. If you do this you can come back year after year and everyone will respect you.”        

Scotland and its landscapes always in my heart

A message from the protagonist

HELLO! MY NAME IS SERAFINA CROLLA AND I AM THE AUTHOR OF “THE WEE ITALIAN GIRL”

I live in Villa Latina although my parents were from Picinisco.  At this late stage of my life I am now retired and to pass the time I put pen to paper to see what I could come up with and sometimes we can even surprise ourselves.  I have written poetry, tried to keep a diary and even written letters when it is completely out of fashion.

I wrote “The Wee Italian Girl”  for my granddaughter Erika.  Well it basically started with short stories for her and then halfway through it went a little deeper into other topics.  By the end I thought, well this is quite good.  My son Remo was the first to read it. My daughter Maria Cristina suggested that I publish it, which I did.

Remo opened a website to sell the book and we were delighted when orders arrived from as far as Australia, Canada, the USA, France, Italy and of course all over the UK.

At my age it was pure joy for me to see the success of the book.  When we retire we need some kind of hobby to keep our brain active, so this is mine.

I have written another book which will soon be out in English and Italian.  My children think that it is even better than the first.  But as far as I’m concerned “The Wee Italian Girl” will always be my baby.

“The Wee Italian Girl” is available in English from Cesidio Di Ciacca Winery in Picinisco and soon will also be available there in Italian.  It’s a great place with delicious wine and extra virgin olive oil. Try it!

  

 

 

Susan Bianchi Lewis, a U.S. resident, was emotional when, upon meeting her, Major Valente welcomed her in his name and in the name of the people of Atina. Susan was not amongst strangers, but was hugged by the City where her father was born more than a century ago: a City she had not had the opportunity to know until that moment.

Susan con il Sindaco Valente, l'Assessora Cardile e il cugino Luciano

A “Bentornata” diploma was the focal point of an occasion full of symbolic meaning: the value of “accoglienza”. The simple ceremony prepared and managed by Assessore Cardile is part of a project that’s gaining more and more momentum within a growing number of local Majors and administrations: underline the “accoglienza” of the Val di Comino especially towards people whose roots belong to this community and who come visit for the first time the places where their long-lost relatives came from. This with the hope that their first visit will be the first of a series of visits, while at the same time hopefully motivating and involving their relatives.

Orazio Bianchi da giovane

GENIUS   LOCI…..VALCOMINO is the logo of this initiative that each local administration will utilize in its own specific manner, while at the same time following the  “filo comune” of the logo itself and its scope. 

In Susan’s case, who came with her husband Wayne, the “accoglienza” was made even sweeter by one of her cousins, Luciano Bianchi, unknown to her until then, he himself not new to traveling the World.

Il padre Orazio Bianchi e la madre Anna Rita Dowd 

Susan was born, along with five siblings in Boston, Mass. Her father, Orazio Bianchi, taught industrial arts (woodworking) in Newton, Mass, before moving to Attleboro, Mass where Susan grew up.

Her mother, Anna Rita Dowd, an Irish woman, was a homemaker and when the kids were in school, had other jobs such as jewelry maker, cashier in clothing stores and teachers  aid in schools for children with special needs. Her older brother, Robert, unfortunately passed away at age 27 from a brain aneurism. Her other brother Steven was a Biology teacher in East Providence,RI. Her sister Gery was an accountant. Christine, on the other hand, passed away at age 9 due to Leukemia. Carla, the younger sister, is a nurse. Susan always worked as a receptionist/secretary in various businesses.

In 1983 her first husband Robert died in a motor vehicle accident when their two children Michelle and Michael were respectively 11 and 9 years old. In 1987 Susan met Wayne and they got married the following year. This year Susan and Wayne have celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary.

Wayne has two daughters from a previous marriage and so now they have four children, thirteen grandchildren and one great-grand child.

Susan remembers that her grandparents used to live in Allston, near Boston. They loved their grandchildren and were hard workers. They would get together for Christmas and Easter and would enjoy special Italian food  prepared for the occasion by her grandma who had a kitchen in the basement of her house: a very comfortable arrangement, since she could cook in a cool environment even when the temperatures were high during the hot  summer months.

Susan was very happy to visit Atina and meeting  her long-lost cousin Luciano for the first time has been an unexpected and very special pleasure and surprise. It has been with his help that she’s been able to crown her dream to visit the places where her dad was born. Once back in the States she has been very excited to tell all her family about her visit and she is sure she has been able to convince them to visit Atina and the Val di Comino in the near future.

Susan e il marito Wayne

La famiglia di Susan

Debora, figlia di Wayne, con la sua famiglia

La nipote Amanda con il marito Mike e il piccolo Ryder

I fratelli Rob e Tucker

La figlia Michelle e i marito Daniel

Il fratello Steve 

Il figlio Michael con la moglie Meegan

Luciano e Susan i cugini ritrovati