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.
The rough terrain around Montattico does not offer land that can be intensively cultivated. Although of course each family could carve a small vegetable garden on cliffs painstakingly terraced and made accessible, that was not enough to feed everybody, so how did they survive?
We found the answer thanks to Angelantonio Macari. Born in Montattico in 1948 to Marietto Macari and Maria Borza, a farming familyHe was the sixth of seven children, he and his younger sister Elvira following Luigi, Saverio, Rocco, Maria and Concetta.
Angelatonio tells us of names of places like small plains, little valleys and cliffs, whose distance from Montattico can be measured in hours, the hours it took to reach them on foot via dirt tracks: Obachelle, Valle Noce, Marra, Catenello etc. These places were framed among slopes and clefts which went from the Monte Cairo range to the majestic Melfa Gorges and they were heavily fertile oases, every single one of which was excellent for cultivating a different kind of produce. At Obachelle, which by Montattico could be reached on foot in 4 hours, they grew delicious potatoes; at Valle Noce, about one and a half hours walk away, there were luxuriant vines which offered abundant wine harvests etc. Among the oases of cropland, cattle, sheep and goats had pastures, albeit small and arduous to reach.
Finally, to reach the market where cheese and other products, inevitably carried on shoulders, could be sold, Angelantonio’s brother had to walk to Aquino and Roccasecca. From the cliffs and mountains in the Melfa Gorges they could reach Roccasecca and from there also the Liri Valley. They had to toil in the dust and work hard every day but compared to many other less fortunate families things in the Macari family were not too bad. From the grandfather to the young children, everybody looked after crops and pastures spread over a number of properties on the mountains. After school and at weekends they spent time digging, sowing, harvesting and milking. When he was 8 years old, in the morning and in the evening Angelantonio would walk the 5 km between Valle Noce and Montattico in a little over an hour. He remembers that in the mid-fifties there were around 80 children who attended the primary school in Montattico. Tommaso Quintiliani was his first teacher and Angelantonio later became the godfather of one of his children as well as a collaborator in the running of the municipality of Casalattico. He also remembers some other teachers of that time: Oreste Tofani from Alatri, Vittorio Paniccia from Veroli, Maria and Marisa from Rome. In later years, even Tommaso’s wife, Cecilia from Anagni, taught in Montattico. Being a teacher in those days almost meant being a pioneer, as if children could not go to school then the school would go to the children.
Unfortunately, there was tragedy in sight in Angelantonio’s life, as his mum Maria died giving birth to twins in 1956 when she was 43. She left a widower and her children, although the eldest was 19 and would soon move to France. Angelantonio makes a sweet and innocent connection to this event as it was the first time he had a cappuccino! While he was used to drinking milk, he had never tasted it with coffee and tried it for the first time when a relative went to pick him up in Valle Noce to take him to his mum’s death bed. That flavour, unknown until he was 8 years old, would remain impressed in his mind.
In 1958 his dad married Onoria Iannucci from Casalvieri, who lovingly took care of his children and had two children of her own with him, Luigi and Giovanna.
As mentioned earlier, considering the general conditions in Montattico, the Macari family did not have too hard a time. Angelantonio’s dad would grow vegetables, raise livestock and market their produce. He also opened a bar/café in Montattico at the end of the fifties, a place which would be the very first in the Valle di Comino to sell Peroni beer, something Angelantonio very proudly remembers. We can imagine how many people still lived in Montattico and the impact made by emigrants who came back for their holidays. The bar/café was also a little corner shop selling groceries and tobaccos and on 29th July 1960 it reached the peak of its success. On that day people celebrated Penitence day and the place was so crowded that the receipts came to 350.000 lira, an astonishing amount in those days, especially since the road that went up to Montattico was still a dirt one. Ironically, Penitence day was linked to the end of the pestilence back in 1837 http://visitvaldicomino.it/la-festa-della-penitenza-casalattico-ricorda-il-colera-del-1837
Angelantonio and his dad Marietto celebrating Penitence day in Montattico in 1994
The stream of emigration towards the Republic of Ireland would gather pace between 1956 and 1960. Before those years people would move to France or Venezuela, while the number of people from Casalattico and “Mortalesi” (i.e. the people of the quarter today called Monforte) who lived in England was already high as emigration towards the largest of the British Isles had started at the end of the 1800s.
Within a short period of time, that stream from Montattico and Casalattico towards Ireland became a deluge: there were 54 cousins in Angelantonio’s family, and in 1964, 2 of them were in Venezuela and the other 52 were in Ireland. There was nobody left in Italy.
In Angelantonio’s family Rocco had been the first pioneer as in 1956 when he was 16 he went to Ireland with one of his sisters. Three or four years later Rocco managed to open a small takeaway shop with Saverio and Concetta. In 1961 Saverio called for his brother and sister, Angelantonio, who was then 13, and Maria. Angelantonio’s idea wasn’t that of moving for work, in fact his brothers hoped he would study there. Their hopes remained just that as instead of school he chose the back yard and the rooms in the basement of the shop, the places used to peel and cut potatoes. He only knew a few words of English because he would spend most of his time working with relatives and fellow countrymen. It is with regard to this that Angelantonio explains the origin of the well-known “One and One” that clients would say physically showing the index finger to order one portion of fish and one portion of chips. A kind way to make it easy for the workers behind the deep fat fryers to understand. From the very beginning and ever after there was just work, but in exchange for that incomes quickly became substantial. In 1963, when he was only 15 years old, Angelantonio opened his first shop with his siblings Rocco and Concetta, and soon after the whirlwind of shops bought, sold and exchanged started, sometimes interrupted by the occasional unsuccessful deal. Angelantonio was still the boy who prepared the things and fried them, but not for long.
Those were thriving times for fish and chips businesses, in fact within three years the Macari brothers became owners of three shops, all fully paid for as Angelantonio likes to underline. He also remembers Christmas 1964, when he had to peel around 2 tons of potatoes by himself while his brother worked on the tons of fish with the fryers working non-stop.
Angelantonio says that at that time people only needed the will to work and they could soon make lots of money!
When they could take a few hours off from constant work, they would spend them visiting some relatives or a fellow countrymen’s shop where they would meet with friends and family. This sense of origins would be the foundation from which an original slang developed: words and sentences in the local dialect would be anglicised while some English words would be “dialectised” in “casalatticese”, actually “montatticese”, with peculiar sounds and linguistic compositions which were sometimes quite funny. There are several studies on the anglo-casalatticese slang and we shall work on it as well.
Integration was therefore rather superficial, but that sense of gratitude and appreciation towards Ireland was always strong and clear for those who emigrated to that island. The links with the village of origin were also still a priority and so like many others, Angelantonio, in the eighties, started alternating between long periods in Ireland looking after the businesses run by his family or leaseholders and long periods spent in Casalattico. In the meantime he had married Maria Annunziata Macari, who would give him three children, Marietto, Rita and Patrizia.
|Angelantonio and Maria Annunziata, 1969
Angelantonio’s first communion in 1958 with his dad Marietto and his sisters Maria and Elvira
In the centre of Montattico, thanks to a more than decent availability of funds, he restored and reorganized his house and started investing again in farming and breeding, as if he had been called back to his origins. Recently, his entrepreneurial spirit took free rein up in Campo del Popolo, a lovely little valley at the foot of mount Silara and along the paths toward Terelle where, despite some clashes with environmental protection, he built a rather large cottage and some bungalows, with a fenced area for horses. Angelantonio’s dynamism never rests: he creates events, designs investments and is always dreaming of doing a number of things. For example, that well-known event which is the Irish Fest in Casalattico each August was his and his friends’ idea.
Angelantonio with his wife Annunziata, dressed up in typical Ciociaro clothes for the Emigrants Fest in Casalattico, 2000
It is a very important regional event with hundreds of beer kegs, tons of fish and chips, artists from both Italy and Ireland, the sounds of passionate Irish dance rhythms in the air and many Irish tourists in attendance, all Angelantonio’s personal guests.
Another important field of interest for Angelantonio is local politics. For several decades he has been a municipal administrator and is now the vice-mayor, a role he performs diligently and generously.
He still visits Ireland, where his business is now run by his children and their families. Marietto married Stella Aprile and they have a child, Angelo, while Patrizia married Christian Rea from Sant’Amasio and they had three beautiful children, Alejandro, Cecilia and Marianna.
Family photo, from left Angelantonio, Mario, Cristian, Rita, Stella and Patrizia; his grandchildren Alejandro, Marianna, Cecilia and Angelo
His last visit to Ireland was just before the Italian lockdown due to Covid 19 began. While throughout Europe all kinds of different activities were being suspended, flights were the first to be stopped. There were therefore no flights between Ireland and Italy and we have no idea how he made it – he will have to tell us – but in the middle of the European flight ban, Angelantonio managed to come back to Italy. Not even Coronavirus could stop him!
These last two photos are the ones which show Angelantonio’s double soul, and that of many Italian-Irish, better than any words.
Translation by Simon North e Vanessa Ianni
With his siblings. From left: Giovanna, Luigi, Elvira, Angelantonio, Maria Annunziata, Concetta, Maria, Rocco and Saverio, 2004