Una Visita a Salle, Abruzzo Italia

Dateline: Salle, Italia- November 2000

A few years ago, my wife and I went to Italy along with my mother.  For my mother, it was her second time there.  It was a bit special since it was 80 years between visits.

We arrived in Milano in a terrible rainstorm.  On the way tothe hotel, my mother got up her nerve and conversed with the taxi driver who was surprised to hear her speak the language although they had some difficulty.  We would later find out why.  On our train ride to Roma, my mother was disappointed that she wasn’t able to eavesdrop to hear what others were saying.  We later found out that in the Italian language, there are over 1,000 dialects including the one my mother spoke.  It is only fairly recently, probably due to television, that a one, official unified language was spoken and taught in school.  The older you are, the more this might become a problem.  Imagine being in a situation where you are not able to understand what is being said on your own TV?  That is what older Italians in more isolated villages sometimes face.  Incredible.

After our glorious visit to Roma, we surprised Mom with the news that we would visit the town where she was born.  Ever since I arrived in Italy and especially seeing the traffic in Roma, I was becoming increasingly nervous about the car trip.  I was feeling intimidated by the out of control drivers.  The next morning, we had a setback as the rent car company and I got our wires crossed and we spent a few hours determining where our car was to be delivered.  The result was that we lost a few precious hours.  But we were on our way making the 120 mile journey to Salle.

(A few words on Salle.  It was a village I heard about all my life.  It had a mythical quality to us.  We were not really sure it existed but of course it did.  Although it had only a few hundred inhabitants, its descendants in the USA numbered in the thousands.  Although small, it had 2 interesting claims to fame. 

Italy has mastered the philosophy to find something you are good at and perfect it like now where else.  Become a specialist, not a generalist.  Work hard at it and keep on focusing on what you do better than anyone else in the world.  That explains things like Venetian glass, or balsamic vinegar from Moderna or San Marzano tomatoes or leather goods from Firenze. parmigiano reggiano from Parma etc..  Add your own favorites to this list.  For Salle they originally became one of the finest saddle makers in all of Italy.  As the legend goes, one day while they werewaiting for the sheep innards (used for stitching in the saddle) to dry on fence posts, theyheard an incredible sound.  This evolved into producing strings for classical instruments.  Eventually, Stradivari heard of their gift and used them in his violins.  They are still produced today under the D’orazio (www.doraziostrings.it) and D’addario (www.daddario.com) names.  Try a Google search for details.

Salle also has Santo Roberto (Saint Robert).  Not really a saint in the eyes of the Church but a step below.  They have been petitioning the Church for years to have him elevated to sainthood.  His works have been document in a book that gets passed on from generation to generation.  Many family members are named Robert in his honor.  But here is what I think is incredible.  Santo Roberto was born in 1341.  1341!  And, although that is over 600 years ago, those in Salle still continue to remember and honor him including an annual celebration each July.  Pretty remarkable I’d say.)

We finally exited the freeway and saw for the first time a sign pointed us to Salle, 20 kilometers.  Can’t tell you what a thrill that was to be so close.  As we headed down the road, we came to a crossroad with no sign to guide us.  We saw a 20-something guy walking and I rolled down the window as I asked “Scusi, dove Salle?”  (“Where is Salle, pronouncing  Salle-“Saall”).  He look at me with the most contorted face as if he had just taken a huge bite out of a spoiled lemon.  He said “Saall? Sall-ey” as he spoke the name in proper Italian. 

(We had been mispronouncing the name of this town for years!  I later learned that vowels were always pronounced the same way (a, e, i, o, u are pronounced “ah, ay, ee, oh, ooow”) and are always pronounced).

We took his direction and soon became lost again.  Eventually we wound up in the middle of a town square where we saw uniformed men, probably police, standing around.  I thought I’d try again and ask for direction.  Same question, same reaction.  I didn’t learn the proper pronunciation.  I was butchering his language again!  (che bella lingua). He said a few words and pointed over.  The only word I heard was “scuolabus” or school bus.  Turns out he wasn’t a cop but the driver.  Theywere getting ready to go up the mountain to take the kids back home.  As we waited, word had gotten out of they had visitors and the kids placed a hand written sign “Salle” in the back window so we won’t get lost.  We proceeded up the mountain where we made frequent stops as older Italians would depart.  I guessed the school bus also serves as public transportation.  After 20 minutes or so we arrived.

We watched as 2 students got out and quickly disappeared into their houses.  We could hear the bus pull out, go through its gears and the sound of the motor quickly fade.  Then there was complete silence.  We were in the heart of the town.  A playground was before us.  On one end was a building which I guessed was a community center of some sort.  On the other end was the church.  No one was in sight although the town had a few hundred citizens.  Having their own church in town even with such few inhabitants was apparently not that unusual.  The church had a modest interior that probably could accommodate less than 100 people.  The relic of Santo Roberto was there.  On the walls we noticed a plaque thanking the descendant now in America for help in funding the repair of the church.  I saw my godfather’s name and the familiar surname of many others.  We then left and decided to visit Salle vecchia or Old Salle where my mother was born.  That part of the village was destroyed by an earthquake in the late 1920’s.  We look around to see if we could find her actual house.  A difficult task so we designated the remains of one house as the “one” and took many pictures.  I picked up some limestone rocks for souvenirs and remembrance.  We also visited a castle, which is now a museum that is open only in the summer.  We decided to go back to the town.

We had accomplished one goal of visiting her birthplace but she had also wanted to visit her cousin whom she last saw over 80 years prior.  It was hard thing to do since it was a ghost town.  Finally we saw a lone figure stride up the street.  It was a women whom I looked to be in her early 60’s.  My mother spoke first.  She made a connection.  Since my grandmother had died some 40 year before, she rarely spoke the language except on occasion with her sisters.  But now she going a mile a minute.  Mom described who she was.  The women said she knew who Mom was when she mentioned she was one of 5 sisters all of whose name began with an “A”.  She even knew the unflattering nickname of my grandfather.  As I watched them converse, it finally hit me as I went into a trance.

I am an American.  I only speak English.  I am in a foreign country.  I do not speak the language.  I am in an unfamiliar place that I never had seen before.  But I felt at home with a strange sense of calm.  It felt very familiar and right.  It felt like a very special place.  Unbelievable!

I soon was snapped back to reality when my wife asked where was Mom.  She had disappeared.  I looked down the block and there she was, arm in arm with the “stranger” we had just met.  Luckily we were able to see the house she entered or else we would have been in trouble.  We entered and went to the back where we saw 3 generations of women.  The grandmother, the cousin my mother had wanted to seewas there.  The granddaughter, named Roberta (surprise!) started to speak to me.  I only understood one word she said,”Alzheimer’s”.  The mother was all in black.  She lost her husband the prior January and it now being November, she would continue the tradition of wearing black for a full year.  We sat around the table where they spoke non-stop with Mom translating every one in a while.  They invited us to stay for dinner but I felt like we need to get back as it was getting late and I dreaded facing the Roma traffic.  I regretted the late start we got more than ever.We said our goodbyes to them.  Caio Salle!

It took a bit to negotiate the traffic.  In the States, we merge using the “you-then-me-then-you-then-me etc.  In Roma, it is “you-then-you-then-you” if you let them.  So merging became a game of chicken.  I soon realized that the way to go was to play chicken with a more expensive car than the one you were driving.  So as I identified my target, I was able to succeed including the daunting task of going over 4 lanes to reach the hotel parking lot.

As I reflect back on that day, it was one of the most unique ones of my life.  It is not everyday that you get a glimpse of your heritage and where you came from.  It was good to have my Mom that to share that experience.  I hope to return some day to spent more time and recapture that feeling.

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8 Responses to “Una Visita a Salle, Abruzzo Italia”

  1. Pages tagged "people of the book" Says:

    […] bookmarks tagged people of the book Una Visita a Salle saved by 5 others     hakabish03 bookmarked on 02/21/09 | […]

  2. Mario Monti Says:

    It was fun to read.
    Tom, we were in Salle a few years ago, too.
    I remenber the fountain at the edge of town.
    We think we saw the actual D’Orazio house, but not sure.
    We even visited the strings factorty!
    Keep the BLOGS coming!!!
    Mario the Dinerguy

  3. Lucille Monti Says:

    Tom-Thanks for that posting. Enjoyed it much. Liked that interjection of somehow feeling like you were “home’ in Salle. In a way you were!–Cuz Lucille

  4. Van Buren Boys Hockey Says:

    More eventful than our road trip to ‘Candalino’

  5. Stacy Candalino Says:

    Uncle Tom that was great! I really enjoyed reading and I look forward to seeing it all for myself!

  6. John candalino Says:

    enjoyed the story

  7. Andrea Genovese-Candela Says:

    Wow, great story…I really want to visit Italy, especially Salle. When are you publishing your first novel?

  8. Joan Candalino Strode Says:

    Thanks for sharing your visit “home”. What a blessing you were able to go while your mother could. Wasn’t Grandma Grace DiBartolomeo also from Salle? Were you able to make any connection to her roots there?

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