Decamot inspired by the following items: witch, red brick university, trawler, Nile, cardamom seeds, Boston, plectrum, monkey, drive through kiosk, twitcher
Cesira held her four year old daughter Rosetta close to her bosom as the bombs exploded a few metres from the entrance to the cave in which they were hiding. This was the final phase.
It was half way through the five month long battle of Monte Cassino; Allied forces were advancing deep into rural Ciociaria, central Italy, led by Moroccan Goumiers, a rogue element of the Free French Forces with a fearsome reputation for not playing by Geneva rules. Urged on by the mayor, the whole village of Esperia sought refuge, as opposing forces played out the last entrails of WWII.
Cesira’ s husband Claudio had been detained in England when war broke out, leaving Cesira to cope alone when Rosetta was born. They had been married in a simple ceremony only six months earlier.
She listened intently for sounds suggesting the danger had passed and whispered to Rosetta. “Stay here, stay quiet as a mouse and keep this safe” she said, handing her a well-worn hessian bag with a drawstring “If anything happens to me, give it to Papa when he returns after this is all over”
With that, she crept towards the cave opening. Seeing heavily armed forces wielding Jambiyas about to enter, she held up her arms in a gesture of surrender leaving Rosetta sobbing but safe where she was found by US troops two days later, severely traumatised, but still clinging to the hessian bag.
BOSTON UK 2020
Stephen Martinello pedalled like fury to get to his appointment. Manchester University was one of the UK’s leading red brick universities and he had already secured a place for 2021. It was in the bag, but he needed to earn some money during this, his gap year. As he padlocked his bike to the official handrail outside an imposing looking modern office block, he smiled as he remembered one of his grandfather’s oldest jokes.
Question: “What’s the first question you put to a science graduate from Manchester University when you come face to face?”
Answer: “Can I have double quarter pounder with cheese?”
Roger Nile’s office was on the first floor. He was McDonald’s Regional manager responsible for recruitment in the Boston area. Stephen judged him to be in his early thirties and on his way up the corporate ladder. Dressed in standard issue dark grey US style managerial suit, with clean white shirt and mauve tie with discreet McDonald big M motif woven into the fabric; he wasted little time in outlining his company’s unique MO.
“Any questions Steve?” he asked in a tone which suggested the reply should be in the negative Stephen risked everything with a gentle riposte
“It’s Stephen actually”
“Ah yes.” Replied Nile looking down at his notes “My apologies Stephen, Italian origins?”
“Yes that’s right” replied Stephen, wishing he hadn’t risked a light-hearted conversation,
“Great grandparents way back I believe – and you?”
“Me?” said Nile, momentarily caught off his corporate guard.
“Yes” said Stephen, hoping he was not talking himself out of a job. “Nile strikes me as slightly unusual as a surname”
“Never thought about it quite honestly” he replied, “My paternal grandfather earned his living as a trawler man but that was on the Tyne not the Nile to the best of my knowledge.”
“You can start on Monday Stephen, but, one small tip for you.” he cautioned, “You won’t have time for social chit chat operating our drive through kiosk. Do you know the first question you will get as a science graduate from Manchester University?”
“No sir” replied Stephen convincingly; at which point, Nile delivered Stephen’s Grandfather’s punch line almost word for word. Stephen stifled a yawn which he judged he got away with. It was 6.30 when he finally arrived back at the apartment he shared with his twin sister, who was putting together some ingredients for their evening meal including cardamom seeds.
“Ah!” said Stephen approvingly, sniffing the aroma of a home-made cardamom chicken curry in the making “I sense another spicy treat is brewing. Too late for me to treat you to a Grand Big Mac with Fries on the side I suppose?”
“I take it you got the job!” replied his sister laughing. Stephen knew full well Rosetta would never touch fast food of any kind, even if she was on the point of starvation.
“And you are wrong about chicken curry” she added with another chuckle. “As a celebration of your getting meaningful employment at the world’s most successful purveyor of unhealthy junk food, if only on a temporary basis, I thought I would treat us to Lamb shanks braised in a yoghurt sauce with basmati pilau with dill and cardamom”
“That doesn’t sound very Italian” replied Stephen, determined to retain the initiative, not to mention the moral high ground, from his often-smarter sibling.
“You’ve never shown any interest in Italian food before Stephen, but I’m happy to give it a run. But why Italian all of a sudden?” Over dinner, Stephen recounted his interview with Roger Nile and his reference to their surname.
Although they knew their great grandparents were from Italy, they had never really felt an urge to explore their family tree. Whenever they had felt so inclined, they were met with a reluctant indifference from their grandfather in particular who had married Chrissie, an English girl, their grandmother.
“We were all born here, including me.” He was wont to say when pushed.” We are all Brits through and through and proud of it!” he used to say. The only real genetic interest was the fact that twins appeared to run in the family. Stephen and Rosetta were twins and their father, Paul, had a twin sister called Rose Marie.
“About the only heirloom that we have which is Italian is that lucky charm which Mum gave you on your 5th birthday” said Stephen “Have you still got it?”
Rosetta gave him one of her famous Paddington stares.
“The only reason Mum gave it to me and not to you is because she knew you would lose it before the end of the day!”
“OK, smarty pants, so where is it?” said Stephen smiling.
Rosetta got up with a determined huff and disappeared in the direction of her bedroom. Two minutes later, she put a small box down on the table and carefully removed the tissue paper to reveal a small wooden object suspended on a decorative piece of thin leather. It was no more than six inches in length but looked like a simple shoe with a fold over at the toe end almost like a slipper made out of a banana skin. At the heel end there were two wooden eyelets through which the thin leather had been thread.
“Voila!” she said triumphantly
“That’s French not Italian!” said Stephen trying to recover the upper hand.
Ignoring her tiresome brother, Rosetta held the lucky charm in her hand and found herself thinking back to the day her mother had given it to her on her fifth birthday.
“Look Rosie – I know your dad and his dad, your granddad, don’t seem bothered one way or the other, I promised your Aunt Anna Marie, that I would pass this little charm down to you to keep it in the family. She thought It might bring us all some good fortune one day. Keep it safe for old times’ sake, sweetie”
“You look miles away Rosetta” said Stephen, changing his tone to conciliatory. “Shall I make us a cappuccino?”
NEW YORK 1948
A thin Italian man with auburn curly hair captured under a peaked cap, wearing a dark grey well-worn worsted suit, tied up at the waist with string, stood on the deck with hundreds of his fellow passengers as their converted liner passed by the imposing Statue of Liberty in New York harbour. The colossal neoclassical edifice overwhelmed him with the sheer magnitude of its welcome.
A few minutes later, the SS Westernland, a former Red Line vessel which had once transported Albert Einstein across the Atlantic, as well as serving as an Allied Troop ship during the war, dropped anchor off Ellis Island. Together with 1500 steerage passengers on board, the Italian picked up a battered suitcase containing all his worldly goods, ready to disembark by the piers. He knew he would have to undergo a rigorous inspection procedure which was mandatory for all third-class passengers arriving from Liverpool.
The DP’s, as the 850 bureaucrats awaiting their arrival referred to them, huddled together for moral support, queuing with a subdued dignity, having endured a seven-day crossing which had severely tested their resolve. The Italian had been well briefed by his UK friends about what to expect, but he was racked with guilt about his decision not to return to his homeland. His original plan to link up with his old Rome college chum, Charles Forte, had been thwarted when both were interned on the Isle of Man at the outbreak of WW11 for the crime of being Italian aliens.
Although both were from Frosinone in Italy originally, Forte could show he had active relatives in business in Weston Super Mare as well as a nascent Milk Bar in the Strand of his own, so he had been released after only three months scuppering any plans they had half hatched together.
The Italian now consoled himself with the thought that millions of his countrymen had passed through the gates of Ellis Island before him. As Displaced Persons, they knew that jobs were aplenty so long as they could pass a series of tests, which he had been bulling up on during the journey. As they boarded ferries which would take them to the main building, they were issued with labels showing their name and the name of the ship on which they arrived.
They entered the main building via the Baggage Room where they left their trunks, suitcases, and baskets which they were told they could reclaim after all the tests had been completed. The Italian felt a lump in his throat as he watched men in front of him being separated from the women and children. He struggled to hold his emotions in check as he recalled the great personal loss that this wretched war had forced upon him.
Once again he wondered if he had made the right decision not to return to the rural idyll of Esperia. He had been planning a life for himself and his family away from the suffocating influences, as he saw it, of Church and village rituals. But, he kept asking himself, what would be the point now?
No work. No prospects. Even more important, no family waiting for him.
The stairs leading up to the Great Hall and the cavernous Registry Room were very steep. The Italian watched in horror as he saw doctors looking for signs of a medical problem or disability and checking whether anyone was wheezing, out of breathe, coughing, scratching, shuffling, or limping. Occasionally they would put a chalk mark on an immigrant’s jacket as they looked out for signs of potential problems that might warrant further exploration during the medical examination. He saw children being talked to by officials simply to see if they were deaf or dumb. Those about whom there was some doubt had blue marks put on them.
The majority, including the Italian to his great relief, were herded into the Great Hall, and subjected to a verbal interrogation where inspectors used a list of 32 questions to determine if an immigrant should be admitted to America. These included their identity, place of origin, occupation, financial status, and their planned destination in the United States. Naturally, any immigrant with a criminal record would not succeed.
The Italian knew all this in advance. He knew full well that anyone who failed these exams would be sent right back to their ship and returned whence they came. But he was not prepared for the gut-wrenching experience of witnessing families who had to decide whether or not to be separated or stick together when one of their number failed. Once more he questioned his own decision to make the break and strike out in the New World, especially as he had had to be economical with the truth about his personal circumstances.
Retrieving his luggage from the Baggage Room, he made his way down the infamous “stairs of separation” at the bottom of which all immigrants went their separate ways; some to the island’s hospital, some to various detention rooms, others to meet relatives who were waiting for them but the majority, like the Italian, to purchase tickets for the onward journey as newly accepted citizens.
He took a ferry to New Jersey, where he finally boarded a train bound for Dobbs Ferry, Westchester County on the Hudson River, a distance of some 71 miles. Only when he sat down on the train did he look at his reflection in the window and recognise himself as Claudio Romano, a free man at last; whereupon he burst into floods of tears.
BOSTON UK 2020
Rosetta put her music stand in the centre of the living room and took out her classical guitar. She was keen to experiment with her new single finger plectrums. Her finals were approaching at the Royal Academy of Music where she was working for a Bachelor of Music (Honours) with a specialisation in composition, but Stephen’s late conversion to all things Italian had encouraged her to rekindle her interest in the baroque; hence she was about to play Ludovico Roncalli’s Sonata in C major which was proving quite a challenge.
She had downloaded the sheet music for it and wondered what the composer might have thought if he had had access to the internet in 1675, when this particular piece was said to have been composed. It was a sublime piece in six movements, the last of which was a tricky gavotte which Rosetta was determined to master. She could instantly see swirling dancers moving to its lively beat but not the way she kept stumbling through the last few bars.
She laughed at the thought of elegantly dressed ladies swirling around in their long crinoline dresses, tripping up and landing in a heap on the floor; all because she had failed to master the double beats correctly. This revived interest in Italian late medieval music was a direct result of Stephen’s sudden interest in the lucky charm family heirloom.
According to Google, the shoes it depicted turned out to be ‘Ciocie’, a type of peasant footwear worn in Ciorciara, a one-time province of central Italy. It even had its own dialect called ciociaro and a folk dance called saltarello with a distinctive double hop. Ciorciara had been one of the original Papal States, directly governed by the Pope from 754 through to 1870 when the Kingdom of Italy was created. There followed a limbo period until Mussolini signed the Lateran Treaty of 1929, creating Vatican City as the only state independently governed by the Pope. Ciorciara seems to have been absorbed into the modern-day province of Frosinone.
After half an hour of intense practice, Rosetta glanced at her watch and was surprised to see that her brother Stephen would be home in twenty minutes. She had promised him another classic Italian dish. She put her guitar down and moved into the kitchen and quickly put together the ingredients for spaghetti carbonara using traditional guanciale and pecorino cheese. On cue and on time there was the sound of Stephen crashing through the front door.
“Hi Rosetta babes!” he yelled” You will never guess what I saw today!”
“Don’t tell me, let me guess. Someone buying a McDonald’s product who wasn’t obese?” she shouted over her shoulder, as she put two steaming portions of carbonara down on the kitchen table.
Stephen came bursting in already opening a bottle of Pianeta Organico Pinot Grigio, which he had purchased from Tesco’s on the way home and which was still chilled.
“Very funny!” he said, “You never give up do you? But the mighty Mac is helping us get through this interim year so don’t knock it sis. And you genuinely won’t believe what I saw today!”
Suspecting this was going to be one of her brother’s long shaggy dog stories, she told him to sit down and concentrate for the next 15 minutes on her latest culinary achievement.
“I have been slaving over a hot stove all afternoon to bring you this Italian speciality little brother. Do me the honour of eating it before it goes cold, then I will be all ears. Is it a deal?”
“It’s certainly is” replied Stephen with a chuckle “But you really won’t believe my story, little sister!”
Over coffee, Stephen set about telling his sister the full unexpurgated version of the tale, which started with the arrival of a customer stopping at the ordering point driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk in glorious US metallic maroon.
“Is this level of detail absolutely pertinent to the story?” interrupted Rosetta in good humour.
“I think so” said Stephen “You don’t see many of these on the Sleaford Road that’s for sure”
“Welcome to McDonald’s” I said through the intercom “Can I take your order please?”
“Four double Big Macs, two Apple & Grape Fruit Bags and two Flake Chocolate McFlurrys please” said the customer in an instantly mimicable American drawl.
“And would sir care for some drinks to go with your wholesome food choices” said I, in my best received English.
By placing two fingers in her mouth, Rosetta made an appropriate gesture to indicate where she thought the order should end up but sat back to await the official punchline.
“Four diet cokes” came the reply.
“Thank you sir! Now please proceed to the pay point” I said whilst punching the order through to the kitchen before rushing to said pay point, where I would be visible to the driver for the first time. I looked out and asked whether he intended paying by cash or credt card, whereupon he automatically handed me his American Express Card, which I very nearly dropped when I saw what was hanging over his dashboard from his rear-view mirror”
“And what was that?” said Rosetta, by now genuinely hooked in to the story.
“Well, I was convinced it was an identical version of our ‘Ciocie’ lucky charm family heirloom!”
“Oh come off it Stephen, you are pulling my leg – this is just another of your made-up shaggy dog stories which are well told but complete fabrication.”
“I swear to you that I am telling you the truth – I didn’t think you would believe me!”
“So what did you do next?”
“Well” said Stephen “After I processed his card, I handed it back to him, and told him to drive round to the pick-up point where his order would be waiting for him. I just had time to scribble a note and put it in one of the bags. When he arrived at the pickup point I handed over his various orders and said that I had popped a note in with one of the big Macs relating to his lucky charm. At which point, he thanked me, smiled one of those ‘have a nice day’ smiles and drove away!”
Rosetta laughed nervously, not sure whether to believe Stephen or not. She was just about to throw a washing up cloth at him for having fooled her yet again with his story telling when Stephen’s mobile phone burst into life with its infuriating rendition of La Marseillaise ring tone.
Stephen picked it up quickly noticing that it was not a number he knew.
“Hello” he said “Stephen Martinello speaking”
“Hi Stephen! My name is Cyrus P. Webber. I believe you left a note in my McDonald’s bag this afternoon. How can I help?”
BOSTON WEST HOTEL, HUBBERT’S BRIDGE 2020
Stephen and Rosetta borrowed their mother’s car, a 10-year-old silver Daihatsu Sirion, for the 15-minute drive to the Boston West Hotel at Hubbert’s Bridge, which is where the Webbers were staying for a few days and where an affable Cyrus P Webber had invited them to meet him and his family. They would be leaving to catch a flight home to New York at the weekend, so Friday at 5.00 for tea or a beer had been suggested.
“Oh and don’t forget to bring your lucky charm with you so we can compare!” Cyrus had said before signing off.
Stephen and Rosetta had both decided not to say anything at all about any of this to their father who had developed an aversion to ancestor worship (as he saw it) but their mother had been really excited about the prospect of casting some light on the little shoe mascot (as she saw it), having dutifully passed it on to Rosetta all those years before.
“Take my car! I insist!” she had said.
Which is why they were now approaching the spacious car park of the Boston West Hotel in her Daihatsu Sirion. They parked next to the Webber’s Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. Rosetta immediately apologised for having doubted the veracity of her brother’s tale, although the lucky charm was no longer hanging from the rear-view mirror.
The Hotel sat in 150 acres of Lincolnshire countryside with a golf course and driving range attached and was being developed as a modern resort catering for weddings and corporate functions. It had recently added six modern luxury log cabins in the grounds, and it was to one of these that Cyrus P Webber took them after greeting them in the hotel’s reception area.
He was around 55, slightly overweight but immaculately dressed in expensive casual Golf clothes. His short straight brown hair was greying at the temples and he wore a pair of gold rimless spectacles.
“Hi Stephen, good to meet you again ….. and this must be your sister, Rosetta?” They shook hands and ten minutes later they were seated around a square outdoor table on a front balcony overlooking a large lake, Cyrus having introduced his wife.
“This is Cesira” he said “Kelvin and Carolyn, our kids, are in one of the other cabins and might join us later if they can tear themselves away from computer games”
“They are hardly kids” said Cesira laughing “Both are in their twenties!”
Cesira Webber was a stunner by any definition. Stephen immediately thought of Sophia Loren who was one of his granddad Paolo’s favourite actresses. He even had a picture of her on his office wall, much to the annoyance of Chrissie, his English wife and Stephen’s grandma. Elegant, well dressed, high cheek bones with light auburn hair, generous mouth, and lips …
“You must have been a child bride” offered Stephen clumsily, to the intense embarrassment of his sister. “It’s hard to imagine you having any children at all!”
Cyrus immediately rescued the situation with an offer they could not refuse.
“Shall I get four Budweisers and the lucky charm?” he said, well used to diffusing situations when seeing the reaction of strangers to meeting his undeniably vivacious wife.
Five minutes later, both family heirlooms were placed side by side on a tray in the middle of the table. The impact on all four was identical – utter astonishment!
Both charms were identical in every respect, with the possible exception of the Webbers’ leather strap chord which looked marginally more worn, which was hardly surprising given its extra usage, dangling from the rear view mirrors of Webber family automobiles over the years. Rosetta was first to speak:
“This is absolutely amazing” she said.” They are clearly not mass produced so they must have been made at the same time by the same person; the question is, by whom and when?”
Cyrus again stepped in with a sensible suggestion to which everyone was happy to accede, especially Cesira who, for all her obvious attributes, came over as a modest, even shy, personality who was more than happy for her husband to promote her, as though he was her agent.
“This is actually Cesira’ s property” Cyrus said “but it might be helpful if I give you our side of the story first, as I have only married in to a classic Italian success story; a Johnny come lately, if you will. I know that Cesira would be reluctant to do it full justice. OK?”
"We have a house on Clinton Avenue, Dobbs Ferry, New York, which I do not expect you to know so here is a little background to the neighbourhood, which I believe may be pertinent to the narrative.
"Dobbs Ferry was once a largely working-class village in southern Westchester. At one time it was considered by many the poor stepsister of its immediate neighbours, artsy Hastings-on-Hudson on its southern border and upscale Irvington to the North; but it has thrived over the last twenty years and is now a very attractive place to live and bring up a family with high quality education available. The turning point came in 1998, when the Dobbs Ferry Union Free School District became the first in Westchester to join the International Baccalaureate.
"Our two kids have benefited – Kelvin is a systems analyst for a data firm in Manhattan and Carolyn is about to start in real estate like her Daddy!
"Cesira is part of the Lorenzo family who came to the US from central Italy before the war. Like most immigrants, they tended to stick initially with their own kinsmen. Dobbs Ferry already had a small Italian community which was beginning to thrive.
"Cesira’ s grandfather, Mario Lorenzo, together with his two brothers, opened his own Italian Restaurant on Main Street in 1952. “Lorenzo’s” is still there today and continues to thrive. It has been extended over the years, but people still return after being away because of its unique atmosphere. Mario’s two brothers went on to open their own Lorenzo’s, one in Manhattan and another in the Bronx with equal success.
"From the start, they employed a busboy called Claudio Romano who became indispensable to them in so many ways. He was eager to learn, extremely hard working, diligent, and always willing to go the extra mile. He worked his way up until he became head chef. Then, in 1959, Mario Lorenzo died of a sudden heart attack brought on by sheer hard work.
"His two brothers had their own restaurants to manage, so Claudio Romano bought the original Lorenzo’s on Main Street from the family and kept it going. How he raised the money I will never know but he was that sort of person. You know, resourceful. He kept the name but expanded the menu and introduced monthly music nights. If truth be known, Claudio took Lorenzo’s up market by Dobbs Ferry standards of that time.
"Then, in 1961, Claudio Romano married one of Mario’s daughters, Sofia, to great rejoicing in the local community. Claudio was by this time 51 and Sofia barely 35 which raised the odd eyebrow but, if ever there was a marriage made in heaven, this was it. They were a dynamic partnership that put Lorenzo’s on the map in every way. It was and still is the go-to restaurant in Dobbs Ferry which attracts visitors from everywhere including many New York baseball stars.
"In 1965 Sofia gave birth to twin girls. I am thrilled and delighted to say that one of them is sitting here in front of you right now whilst her sister, Rosetta, has settled in Australia, with her husband Oliver, who is an airline pilot with Qantas, but who was originally from Surrey, right here in England.
"It was Claudio who gave me this little shoe when Cesira and I married in 1995. He told me it was part of his heritage and that I should take as much care of it as I would of Cesira herself. Sadly, he died six months later, surrounded by his beloved extended family. He was 86 but he had packed so much into his life and made so many people incredibly happy, especially me let me tell you." He reached out and put an affectionate hand on his wife’s arm as Cesira was close to tears.
"So, now you can see why I was so intrigued to read your Big Mac note.”
Rosetta and Stephen were completely gobsmacked by Cyrus’ calm rendition of the tale and moved beyond measure at coincidences that resonated with their own lives. They were bursting to ask questions but momentarily lost for words.
Once again, Cyrus P Webber came to all their rescue.
“Let me top up your beers whilst you collect your thoughts” he said “Then please feel free to ask me anything you like before telling me your side of the story”
Having embarrassed himself earlier, Stephen was more than happy for his sister to take the lead on behalf of the Martinello family. He sat back quietly sipping his extra Budweiser, absorbing the fascinating facts that emerged naturally from the conversation as Cesira became more and more animated, in true Italian style. His reverie at her sheer physical presence was matched only by Cyrus who occasionally nodded approval of dates or times.
Rosetta was able to ask Cesira about her recollections of growing up; her memories of her Dad and Mum building the business together. She was delighted to discover that the monthly music nights still included regular sessions with Italian friends dressed in traditional folk costumes and wearing leather peasant shoes, just like the lucky charms.
Apparently It was one of the innovations introduced by her father who had developed a friendship with a group of Italian families who were originally from the province of Frosinone. Some were third generation families whose forbears had arrived in the 1880s but had never shrugged off their Italian heritage.
Cesira now owned Lorenzo’s, her mother having passed away in 2000. It is run by a mixture of Lorenzo cousins but Cesira still appears there regularly and sings on music nights.
The only mystery that really remained, before Rosetta gave the Martinello version, was how Claudio Romano had managed to escape to the USA. He never ever referred to it himself except to say that his family was from Esperia, but they had all been wiped out by Allied forces as World War II came to its bloody end, which is why he had decided to emigrate.
“I am afraid that the Martinello family’s achievements are modest, by comparison.” Rosetta began tactfully “And I suspect that we will not be able to prove a definite link between these two heirlooms, even though there are some striking coincidences with the two families, if only in the choice of names and the incidence of multiple births! As you know, Stephen and I are twins like you, Cesira, and your sister, who shares my first name. Rosetta isn’t exactly a common name, well not in England any way, and we regard ourselves as 100% British, if you see what I mean.
"In confidence, Stephen and I have tried to engage our parents and our grandparents in a dialogue about our Italian ancestry, but we have always met with some resistance, especially from the male line, so to speak, which we haven’t wished to press, out of respect for their feelings.
"This lucky charm, for example, was given to me by my mother, who actually got it from my Aunt Rose Marie, Dad’s twin sister. It seems she was given it by her Aunt, Anna Marie, who was my grandfather’s twin sister! I suspect that she probably got it from her own mother, who really was authentic Italian born and bred and after whom I am actually named! That’s right, she was Rosetta the First! At least, that is about as much as Stephen and I have been able to deduce because the male line, which ought to lead directly to Italy seems unable or unwilling to help. The amusing thing is that our father is called Paul after his father, another Paul, whose own father, who was born in Italy as Paulo but dropped the last ‘O’ as a way of Anglicising it when they came to England around 1962.
"Oh dear, I hope I have not ended up confusing you. I will write up a family tree for you if you think it might help to throw some light on all this, even if it’s only for the benefit of our children, if we ever have any."
Almost as if they had been cued an apposite entrance, Kelvin and Carolyn Webber burst in with abject apologies for their tardy arrival. Cyrus P Webber took control as ever:
“Stephen and Rosetta Martinello, may I present the late Kelvin and Carolyn Webber!” to gales of laughter all round. Stephen could not believe his eyes. Carolyn Webber was the spitting image of her mother. He fell in love with her on the spot but kept his thoughts to himself, not wanting to commit a second faut pas of the day.
Antico Borgo is an eight-bedroom b’n’b situated in the heart of the ancient village of Fumone, close to the walls of Castello di Fumone, on top of an 800-metre high mountain, in the province of Frosinone. The castle’s historic importance derives from its strategic position dominating the Sacco valley and the main road that connected Rome and Naples, the Via Latina. The name Fumone comes from the ancient communication function carried out with smoke signals which announced the invasions of enemies coming from the south and heading to Rome.
In pre-Christian times, Fumone was thought to belong to the Hernici, an Italic tribe of ancient Italy who allied themselves with Rome, but records show that deals done with other tribes over many hundreds of years demonstrated a deft ability to switch allegiances in the interests of survival. From 754 onwards, Fumone became part of the Papal States and has a long history of involvement in Papal politics, including, arguably the most notorious; the imprisonment of Pope Celestino V in 1295, who was the last Pope to resign before he died, until Pope Benedict XVI in more recent times.
The hyper energetic owner of Antico Borgo is one Lisa Eagles, someone who dispensed with smoke signals as a means of communication some years before leaving her native Epsom in Surrey.
As she once told a friend, “40 years ago, I fell in love with an Italian, came to Italy, and I’m still here!” which is an understatement of monumental proportions for, not only did she stay, she learned the language, she threw herself into every aspect of Italian life, including running successfully for Mayor and gave birth to triplets, three sons, now in their thirties.
She and her husband Paulo, an HGV driver by trade but now driving a corporation bus in Rome, developed an enviable reputation in the area for hospitality. B’n’b guests cannot walk around Fumone with Lisa without citizens of all ages shouting affectionate greetings to her. Between them, through sheer hard work, Lisa and Paulo created a superb home for the Potenziani family, from a 19th century building perched on a sharp bend in the road, about 100 metres down from the entrance to the village itself. The garden is terraced with spectacular views over to Frosinone.
Lisa had “gone native” as her father liked to remind her as her Italian is far superior to her English, but she keeps in touch with a host of friends from her school days through Facebook and WhatsApp, many of whom end up visiting Antico Borgo for holidays. Facebook having replaced Fumes as a superior means of communication, Lisa Eagles is now a Master of Social Media, which is how she got chatting on line with one of her oldest school friends, Tessa Daniels, who still lives in Epsom.
LE: Hi Tessa – what’s the latest? Has that idiot PM of yours resigned yet?
TD: Not as far as I know, Lisa, although there are rumours he wants to be the next Pope
LE: Tell him there isn’t a vacancy – we’ve got one too many as it is!
TD: Actually Lisa, I do have a serious request for you from my brother Ollie
LE: Is he OK? Still living in Melbourne with the lovely Rosetta?
TD: Yes yes, they are both fine and send their love, but it is connected with Rosetta’s family back in New York.
LE: Fire away Tessa, I am all ears.
Tessa went on to give Lisa a potted version of the lucky charms story involving the meeting with the Martinello’s in Boston.
TD: I know you have been helping other expat Italians in the US trace their relatives back in their homeland. Ollie wondered if you could fit in Rosetta’s family, especially as her Dad came originally from Esperia, which can’t be a million miles from you can it?
LE: It’s about an hour’s drive south west of here but I know the mayor, Giuseppe Villani, quite well. He and I worked together as part of a deputation that lobbied parliament a couple of years ago
TD: What was the deputation all about?
LE: Buggered if I can remember, Tessa. As my dad likes to say, we’ve all passed a lot of water since then.
Tessa Daniels emailed Lisa all the relevant information she had, including a picture of the two lucky family heirlooms side by side. Lisa was already familiar with Ciocie shoes because the local taverna, owned by a cousin of Paolo’s, held similar music nights to those introduced to Lorenzo’s by Claudio Romano all those years ago, with locals performing in traditional folk costumes.
Visitors to Fumone can even buy ornamental wooden shoes as holiday souvenirs. They look a bit like the two family heirlooms in the picture but are larger and, by definition, mass produced, not individually hand made.
Lisa looked carefully at the picture several times, admiring the craftsmanship, and was fascinated by the tale. She couldn’t wait to get started and decided to call Giuseppe Villani for an initial steer. When he picked up the phone, she was treated to her usual effusive welcome
“Ciao Bella, my fellow Mayor! Long-time no speak, have I upset you?”
“Ciao Bello Giuseppe” she replied, “How could anyone upset a Frosinone fan in this season of all seasons!”
“I didn’t know you were interested in football Lisa!”
“I’m not” she said laughing “But I am looking for a favour”
“Name it and it will be done, if it is within my power!” he said, adding “You are a great loss to politics Lisa”
“I would like to trace the birth certificate of one Claudio Romano, who emigrated to the USA from Esperia before or shortly after World War II.”
There was an audible silence from the other end of the phone.
“Giuseppe?” prompted Lisa, “You still there?”
“Yes, yes. I’m sorry Lisa but that particular period is very painful for the people of Esperia. They are still trying to get the monkey off their back. It was truly awful. Nobody trusted anybody. That was when the horrible phrase ‘marocchinate’ slipped into the language. My predecessor at the time is on record as saying that 700 women out of 2,500 inhabitants were raped and that some had died as a result.”
“Oh dear, Giuseppe” Lisa said quietly “I hadn’t realised the hurt still persisted, my apologies”
“No need to apologise my friend. Life goes on and most people in Esperia have put it behind them, but it might be helpful if you let me do some initial research for you. It was administrative chaos at that time. Not all relevant records are kept in one place, some may even have been destroyed. Give me a few days and I will report back.”
Continued in Placatus Part 2