It is such an unheard of place, so small such a spec in the world that even Wikipedia cannot establish a full page for it.
I know it is that small. Because I walked all of it fewer than twenty minutes. Again. And again. And again. My stay was four full days, one of which was a family wedding. This is what history Wikipedia gives:
“Mongrassano already existed in the 12th century as a hamlet of San Marco named Mons Crasanus, Mocrasani, Montegrassano or Magrosani. It was originally divided in two hamlets: Serra di Leo and Mongrassano. Like many other Albanian-origin settlements the urban structure was based on the gijtonia, in other words, circular streets. Either in 1459 or early in the 16th century, another group of Albanian political refugees came and settled in Mongrassano.
On 20 July 1459 the Prince of Bisignano gave the civil jurisdiction of the city to the Bishop of San Marco. In 1642 the Gaetani acquired the territory; in 1688 they sold the property to the Marquesses of Fuscaldo, who held it until the end of the feudal system in 1806. In 1807 Mongrassano became state owned and in 1811 it joined with Serra di Leo. In 1816 it was elevated to the level of a comune, with Serra di Leo as its frazione.”
My siblings and I had never been but a cousin of ours was getting married and it is something Nonno always wanted, all of us there together, in the town which he and his immediate family grew up, and most of whom, still reside. My parents had been there before but received the same tearful and joyful greetings we did as if it were their first time as well.
My first cousins, luckily were patient translators of Calabrian dialect for brother, my sister, and me who cannot even speak a word of the standard Italian language.
But sometimes my cousins were not present and there were moments when one of us would be left alone in a room with at least one of three great aunts who did not speak one word of English.
One is a retired nun, who, it is apparent has taken such a career seriously as she chooses to wear her retired “uniform” to this day, the same habit, every day.
Another would ramble on and on in Italian to us, who’ve repeatedly pleaded “no capisce” but still received a monologue of God-knows-what.
The third would make her appearance in a cat-like fashion, coming out of the woodwork every few hours. She had given us a tour of her place, which was reportedly haunted by “friendly” spirits.
Once separated from family, I scoured the town myself on my own.
This tranquil environment had views of mountainous Southern Italy, villages sporadically placed there like rest stops on a highway.
I was looking for a fountain at the top of the mountain in which Nonno’s “palace” was. I never found it. But I enjoyed hearing the shuffling of my own feet and not a sound to be heard but winds and crickets midday, something I will never get to hear in New York City.
Most memorable moments?
-The wedding. This did not take place in Mongrassano and is an epic tale in itself. This will have to be saved for another blog entry.
-The cemetery. Don’t recall the name, but resides at a higher altitude then where we were, and a view that could give back life to those who rest there. The winds blew the umbrella pines so hard that a couple of pinecones fired into us when cousin Italo was explaining stories of when he was a child. One of the stories included him and friends excavating the above ground tombs and taking out the skeletons to play with, then placing them back. No wonder Aunt Gina’s house is haunted.
There were photos of the deceased on their tombs. Aunt Gina pointed out her own ready-made crypt with her photo already embedded in the concrete. She dusted it, watered the plants around it, and cleaned away whatever weeds were creeping into her to-be final resting place. It was rather morbid. But her explanation was, she did not want to burden her sons with the expense. So when she passes, everything is ready for her.
-I saw shooting stars.
“I see them all the time,” cousin Ernesto shrugged his shoulders. This goat town in the “sticks” of Italy, literally a goat town because you can hear them bray, roosters cock, along with the automatic on-the-hour toll of the town bell, rendering the nights sleepless.
Sleepless, unless I took one of my prescription sleeping pills.
It was a town, unlike Wikipedia included in its brief explanation that was built as a stopover when the Romans tried to invade other lands. The buildings go back as early as the 1400s.
I myself might as well have traveled back to such times visiting there.
Advantages to going back in time:
1) everything’s cheaper
2) fresh water flows from the mountains, all drinkable
3) all food is FRESHLY plucked from the earth, and the taste proves it.
4) Intermittent cell phone data and Wi-Fi reception, which means…FORCED cutoff from the rest of the world. Which can be therapeutic and exactly what one who needs to figure things out (in case you were wondering…. me) could use.
5) No air conditioning. Perhaps I perspired all the pasta I ate and Limoncello I drank?
6) Cappuccino. Every morning. Fresh. And authentic.
1) Cleanliness. My dear sweet Mother of God. Plumbing hasn’t been updated since the 70s, in altre parole, I soaked in my beautiful, water pumping, bath tub, for almost two hours when I arrived home.
2) I’d mentioned the lack of technology….I couldn’t check my voice messages until the landing in JFK.
3) No air conditioning. Uncomfortable. Sweat. (I need to add to advantages with this one)
4) Convenience. If you don’t wake up early enough they run out of pastries. And if they run out of pastries, you’re not eating breakfast unless you go to the next town over. Even though the town is small, the next is a car ride over.
All in all, it was a privilege to explore my roots. And Mongrassano, although not a place tourists would come flocking to, that is the exact reason for its charm.