We visit Roccamonfina


The van climbed the winding road to the small mountain town of Roccamonfina in Campania, my grandfather’s birthplace. As we followed the snow-covered Apennines from Rome where we were staying for the week, I practiced

Diane and I with Vincenzo and Anna

 Italian with Luigi, our driver. For 350 Euros, the rental and the lessons were a bargain. “E’ lontano, Luigi?” “No, quasi cento kilometre.” “Bene. Stai attento, eh.” “Si.”

I had a vague idea of what to expect since my father had visited Roccamonfina in the 1970’s and when he returned said, with pride and enthusiasm, “There are chestnut trees everywhere. That’s what they do. They farm chestnuts. It’s the chestnut capital! My cousin gave me chestnuts to take home, but the customs agents took them! I’ll bet they ate them.”

I called when I arrived. “Pronto.” “Vincenzo Iannuccilli?’ “Si.” “Vincenzo, sono Eduardo Iannuccilli, figlio di Pietro.” My emotions and my Italian were shaky. “Si.” “A Roma…. adesso.” “Si.” Come sta?” “Bene.” “Possiamo visitarLei a Roccamonfina?” “Si.” Indecisive somewhat, but I thought I was doing OK. “E possibile mercoledi.” “No, no, perche il dottore viene mercloledi.” Now we were doing well. I understood him! His doctor was coming on Wednesday. “Cosi. Posso venire martedi?” “Si.” “Aha. Martedi. Si. Allora. Non parlo bene Vincenzo. Ha capito?” “Si, si. Ho capito. Hai parlato bene, molto bene. Ci vediamo martedi.” He understood? I spoke well? We will see each other on Tuesday? I hope so! I hung up and took a breath. “I got through that part,” I thought.

It was a beautiful, clear January day. Diane and I, and our friends were off, with Luigi at the wheel. The trip south along the autostrada, adjacent to the Apennines, was splendid; small hill towns painted into the landscape, beautiful valleys dressed with winter grays and browns, scattered cypress trees still holding their green, houses sketched on the mountainside, fields tilled to neat parallel mounds and ready for planting, undulating grape vines strung like strands wound together, waiting for the fruit. Perfect. “Bellisimo, eh, Luigi?” “Si.Si. Sono bellisimi.”

We approached the exit one hundred kilometers south of Rome. Luigi called Vincenzo. “Get off at Caianello. Then follow the road up. Sopra, sempre dritto.” I was eager and anxious. Who was waiting for me?

 The winding road was bordered by leafless chestnut trees, hundreds, perhaps thousands, neatly trimmed, with stacks of wood pruned from the resting bodies, arranged at each base. The gray trees blended with the land, their trunks in turn blended with the uneven hills. Homes mingled with the trees dotting the countryside, smoke rising from the chimneys. I pictured their families at lunch. Daydreaming that I had discovered these hills, I awoke to hear Luigi calling Vincenzo again, “Davanti la chiesa, in front of the church.” Of course, where else would we meet?

Our first stop was a lonely, small, unscrubbed church, some distance below the top. It was vacant. “Non e’ questa. C’e un altro, Luigi.” “Si.” “Sopra, sempre dritto.” We approached a small square, the town center, and the church. There he was, sitting in his car. “He looks just like my aunt,” I said. Vincenzo got out of the little Fiat. He was a shorter version of my family. He smiled with small teeth, walked with short quick steps, and wore heavy glasses that settled low on his nose. He had on a soft gray hat with a short brim. His small hands protruded from a bulky, gray winter coat. “He walks like my father!” I embraced him. Due baci, one on each cheek. “Vincenzo, piacere mio. Non posso credere! You look like Aunt Vera!” He smiled and said, “Venite.”

We returned to our van and followed him further up to a modest, two-story house in an unlandscaped yard that sat behind a fence-topped wall containing two dogs and some chickens. A small orange tiled roof that suggested an entrance to a temple hung over the gate. His chestnut trees surrounded the house to the rear and to the top of his hills. To the right the road wound further up. Sopra. To the left were more homes that followed the road to the town below. Sotto. “Viene, viene.” We were hesitant to enter, although not sure why. It was cold in the entry and stairway, but the welcome was warm. Their home was immaculate and adorned with tile and marble. There was a gas-fired flame heating simulated logs in the kitchen fireplace. Anna (my mother’s name) appeared. “Viene, viene, come in, give me your coats.”

Anna was shorter than Vincenzo. I felt huge. With pride, Anna took us on a tour of her home, and then, as it was early afternoon, invited us to join them for pranzo. Why for a moment had I thought we might go to a restaurant? Although I had grown up in an atmosphere of open homes and food and sharing, I thought the custom was dwindling. I was prepared to buy dinner. Foolish. But it had been so many years.

I became a little concerned when Anna murmured to herself, sotto voce, “I did not know how many there would be.” (There were five of us since we invited Luigi to join). Her concern was not of having enough food, but of where we were to sit. Two guests, the kitchen table, more than two, the dining room. We sat while Anna left for the kitchen and returned carrying dishes with generous portions of lasagna, each enough for a meal. “My goodness, look at this lasagna.” “Pace yourselves,” I said, “I am guessing there is more to come.”

It was a good guess because she served enough food to open a restaurant. The lasagna was delicious and the sauce was perfect. Vincenzo brought out his homemade wine. We drank, and soon thereafter, my Italian tongue loosened. I became a master of the language. “As you drink more wine, your Italian gets better and better,” an Italian friend once said. The meal was magnificent: after the lasagna, Anna served meatballs, short ribs, and home-made cured sausage. Mine nearly skipped off the plate when I tried to cut it. Following came roasted chicken from his yard, killed that morning, along with more wine, white and red, then pork and insalada from his garden. The food linked me to memories. In order, she served rabe and fungi, home-grown, pannetone, provolone, and chestnuts (his trees). Now three hours from the lasagna, it was late afternoon, and the meal was topped with caffe’… espresso…limoncello…. anisette. We talked. Dad’s grandfather and Vincenzo’s grandfather were brothers (i nonni sono stati fratelli). Dad and Vincenzo’s fathers were first cousins (sono stati cugini). Vincenzo and Dad were second cousins Vincenzo and I were third cousins (siamo cugini!). We drank more wine, and my tongue loosened even more. Then a funny thing happened.

Vincenzo started to speak English! He had lived in America over thirty years ago and began to remember. His wine was loosening his tongue! He returned to Roccmaonfina because of illness in 1972. “I no speek-a English for so manna years. Noboda here speek-a.” “Thissa the las time I make-a the wine. I getta too old.” As we spoke, I could not take my eyes from Vincenzo. His hands were like my Dad’s, his teeth like my aunt’s, his jaw like my uncle’s. They were our hands, our smile, and our teeth. We spoke and ate for hours. The more I understood his past, the more I learned about my family, and the more I was pleased.

Later in the day, when our meal was finished, I asked Anna if she cooked like this all the time. “No,” she replied, “No one is around anymore.” “No, no, I no canna eat-a like this evera day,” said Vincenzo. I looked around the dining room at the pictures on the walls. There was their wedding picture of forty-seven years, another of their family. She had frozen time with pictures of her children when they were young. There were pictures if their grandchildren. Although her daughter lived nearby, her children were gone. “My son is in Milan. He teaches English there. He was not able to come home for Christmas this year.” She seemed wistful. I had the feeling that Anna wanted to return to the past, to the usual Sunday dinner, to the same meal that we had. I sensed that she wanted it that way forever. I wondered if the Italian family Sunday dinner would disappear completely. I feared so, but hoped not. It had disappeared in mine. I sat and reflected. The conversation regarding our family continued. There was more to the story.

The day had passed so quickly and I was sorry that it ended. “Gracie, gracie, cugini. Vi ringraziamo.” “Niente, niente.” “I would love to return to see you.” “Si. Si. Anytime, anytime. You can stay in our son’s room.” It is an invitation that is hard to overlook. “One more thing,” I said. “Can you show me my grandfather’s house?”

“No, it’s not there anymore. It was knocked down and a new one built on the site. The owners are away on vacation and we cannot get in. You can see the outside if you wish. It is very nice.” “No, that’s OK.”

Our friends and traveling companions became part of our family that day; laughing, sharing, eating, enjoying with wonder and admiration, just as we did, just as I expected. They seemed overwhelmed, consumed while they consumed, surely by the food, but moreso by the hospitality; generosity from the heart. We could almost have been anyone, anywhere, anytime with Vincenzo and Anna. This day it was Roccamonfina, in Campania, Italy, south of Rome.

It was an unforgettable day. I did something I always wanted to do. I returned to my roots. There I found what I expected; an extended family, full of love, pride and satisfaction. They shared their home and their table with us. As we drove down the mountain, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to return and to spend two weeks here living with Anna and Vincenzo, harvesting the chestnuts with the men. I could speak Italian and eat like this every day!” Our photos did not give justice to the day. Of course, we would use them to share with others as much as possible, trying somehow to capture and hold the experience, but we knew it would only be a morsel. There was one more stop before we descended, the square in front of the church. Diane took my picture. I stood as tall as I could.

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32 Comments on “We visit Roccamonfina”

  1. Rita Nazareth Says:

    Great article…very interested as my husband’s Italian family were from Roccamonfina. Does the names Palmieri or Amore sound familiar in your family background?


    • Sorry for such a delay, but I have changed my site and I am not getting comments. The new site is
      http://www.italianamericanwriter.com

      The Palmieri (great bakery here in RI) is familiar as is Amore…another great bakery of years ago, but neither are related.
      What is your e-mail? I would love to chat more. Mine is
      eiannuccilli@cox.net.
      And I have written a book, “Growing up Italian; Grandfather’s Fig Tree and Other Stories,” that I would be happy to send to you.
      Auguri,
      Dr. Ed

  2. Tom D Says:

    I think this is my favorite piece thus far. Bravo!

  3. Nancy Cronin Says:

    What a beautiful story, and a magnificent telling of your experiences and feelings!

  4. Michele Monti Says:

    Bellissimo!! What a wonderful story. It surfaces memories of meeting my own family in Canicattini Bagni, Sicilia in 1999 and again in 2002. There are so many similarities, the height differences, the facial features of my grandfather seen in all of the cousins, the hospitality, such warmth. It transported me instantly!
    Grazie Dr. Ed.

  5. Anita Iannuccilli Says:

    Ed,
    Even though I heard this story before, I was filled with emotion because Peter and I are in Sicily right now. Today we toured Palazzolo. It was so wonderful- the archeological park, the museums and the lunch that we had in a fabulous restaurant. We drove by (on the bus) many isolated farm houses that looked like the one you described. We are thinking of eating at an agriturismo on Sunday.
    Ti voglio bene,
    Anita


    • Anita, Thank you. Vincenzo’s brother Fernando, who live nearby in Methuen Mass., has a grandaughter in school at Salve. How wonderfully coincidental.
      We are reliving Italy through you guys. You seem to be having a marvelous time and we are eager to hear the stories. Tell Peter to drink more wine.


  6. Nancy, thank you for your comments.
    Anita, yes it is an emotional experience, one I feel every time I read this story. What wonderfula and kind and generous people, and I was so proud of them that day. Enjoy your time. We are reliving that beautiful country through you. See you next week. Happt St. Joseph’s Day…a huge holiday for the Sicilains.
    Addio,
    Ed

  7. Mary Ann Coletti Says:

    Ciao Eduardo,

    I just read your experience of meeting your relatives for the first time and it brought back pleasant memories of when I met my relatives in Itri for the first time. I too have a cousin Vincenzo. I was traveling with my daughter and sister-in-law and we were welcomed with open arms. My mother had visited them over 50 years ago and they were so happy to take out the pictures of her visit and show them to me. My pranzo was more modest but prepared with just as much love. Pasta, salad, figs from the garden and of course homemade wine. I, like you, looked at my cousin Vincenzo and saw my grandfather, my aunt and even some of my own mannerisms. After lunch we went on a tour of the town. I met other cousins, Vincenzo’s children and with great pride he showed me his garden. When it was time to go they were sad and wanted us to stay the night with them. We had reservations in Positano and a long ride ahead so we had to be on our way. When we left they gave us a bag of beautiful fresh figs and a container of their own olives from their trees. It was truly a memorable experience.


    • Thank you for sharing this with us, Mary Ann. It is a story so familiar; love, hospitality and food. I believe that the world would be a much better place if we all rekindled the wonderful tradition of the Sunday family dinner.
      When we visit my wife’s family in Conca Casale, Isernia, the experience is the same. They would have us stay with them forever!
      Addio.

  8. Marcia Marcello Rogers Says:

    I loved reading your story about Roccamonfina. My Grandmother was from there. Her name was Anna Indeglia. I visited in 1998. I’d love to see more picture of Roccamonfina. I didn’t take enough.


    • Yes, Anna. We did not take enough pictures of the town. We got caught up in relatives. But reason enough to return. There are Many in RI from Roccamonfina. Do you live in RI?

      • Roberta DiNofrio Dana Says:

        My grandparents also came from Roccamonfina, Italy. They migrated to Providence RI in the early 1900’s. Their names were Antonio and Theresa (Gallo) DiNofrio. On the Ellis Island manifests the last name is spelled D’Onofrio. My father was their youngest child. Both of my grandparents, all my dad’s siblings and my dad have all passed away. I am planning my first trip to Italy this fall with a tour but hoping somehow to take a side trip to Roccomonfina from either Rome or Sorrento. Would love to hear from any of you.


      • Roberta, I am sorry I have not responded in a timely fashion, but I changed my site to
        http://www.italianamericanwriter.com
        I am pleased to hear your story. You must visit Roccamonfina, a most beautiful town and home of the chestnuts.

  9. Marie Marsella Says:

    Ed Just got home from Elaine’s party and had to log on to your “blog” Charlie and I read your story about Roccamonfina and loved it. Many memories came flashing back to us as we too had visited our relatives in Italy and had similar experiences with food and family. Looking forward to more!!!!.
    Love, Marie


  10. I pictured my father’s experiences as you described your visit to Roccamonfina. He spoke of traveling up and down the mountain with a donkey carrying chestnuts. He spoke of chickens in the yard. Thank you for your wonderful writings. Sincerely, Jean Ballirano

  11. christine montanaro Says:

    Dear Ed,
    I was very touched by your story. I will be traveling to the area in October. My maternal grandfather’s family is from Roccamonfina. His name is Loffredo. I am wondering if you know a good way to try to locate relatives. We have long since lost contact. Thank you for any assistance you can give me.
    Warm regards, Christine


    • Christine, you will love the town and the area. Go to Google and type Roccamonfina italy. You will be able to find a list of inhabitants with addresses and phone numbers. If you are lucky, you will find a Lofredo. Have you been on the Ellis Island site. You may get more inf there. Let me know how you do.
      Buona fortuna.
      Ed


  12. Hi – What a great story!! Thank you for sharing! My fathers family is also from Roccamonfina. They moved to America in 1954. If you have some pictures you can share I would love to see them. We have not been to visit yet, but it is on our list.
    Best,
    Nichole


  13. I may not have responded in a timely manner to some of you, and that is because of the change in my site to
    http://www.italianamericanwriter.com

    thank you all for your comments


  14. Ciao, senior Ed:

    My father is from Roccomofina, Italy. He is now deceased. My trip there was after his death.

    I visited the mountain top town several years ago and I discovered no De Stefano’s in the town although, it is a beautiful town.

    Later, I discovered that people who are from the smaller surrounding towns say they are from Roccomofina.

    Perhaps you can shed some light on my discovery-or lack of discovery?

    Is it possible for us to communicate by telephone?

    If you will provide me with your contact information I will call you. My telephone number is 727-784-8209. I am assuming you are in the US. If not, we can communicate by Skype if you prefer.

    Regards,

    Nick
    Nicholas R. De Stefano

  15. Carol Ann Landry Says:

    Dear Ed,

    Thank you SO MUCH for writing about Roccamonfina. A few years ago, I had the joy of visiting my grandfather’s village of Presenzano, not far from Roccamonfina. I’ve been dying to get back there again ever since. I’m even studying Italian, using the Rosetta Stone software, and I’m having a great time with it. I’m on Level 3 now, but I’m still unsure of myself when I speak Italian.

    Anyway, I was looking up sites about Presenzano, and then decided to check out sites on Roccamonfina, which was my grandmother’s village. My grandparents lived so close to each other in Italy, but didn’t meet until they had both come to America. While doing research, I came across your blog and had tears in my eyes. I still do. Thank you so much for writing about your experience. Now, more than ever, I want to see my grandmother’s village, which she had to leave when she was only eight years old.

    My eyes just about popped out of my head, when I saw that your last name is Iannuccilli. That was my grandmother’s maiden name. Her name was Maria, and her brothers were Ralph and Rico. Then, I read something in a reply you made to another person who e-mailed you, and it said that Vincenzo’s brother, Fernando, lives near Methuen. That’s where I lived for something like 26 years.

    My family settled in Methuen and Lawrence, Mass., and also in Providence, Rhode Island. Right now, I’m living in Florida, but my heart is in Roccamonfina, Presenzano, and Venice. I hope the rest of my body can soon follow it back to Italy.

    When I study Italian, I do so in front of a photo of my grandparents, and I always tell myself they’d be proud of me for finally learning to speak Italian, and for having gone back to their homeland. I’m the only one in our huge extended family who ever has.

    I wonder, Ed, if we’re not somehow related. That would be great. I’m going to call my bookstore to see if I can get a copy of your book. If not, I’ll try online. Actually, if you’d be so kind, I’d like to buy a copy from you. That would mean a lot to me.

    You’ve definitely reawakened my desire to return to Italy, and I’m going to work very hard to make that happen. When I visited Presenzano, even though the last DiTommaso had passed away about a year before I got there, the people I met treated me like their long-lost cousin, and I know the people of Roccamonfina would do the same. Italians are the BEST!

    Bye for now, Ed. I do hope to hear from you soon. I want to continue to read your blog, as well.

    Grazie.

    Tanti auguri, (I think that means best wishes.)

    Carol Ann Landry

  16. Anna Hewitt Says:

    Hi,

    I came across your blog whilst searching for information on Roccamonfina. It was a lovely recount of your visit and brought back many memories of my holidays there as a teenager many years ago!

    Roccamonfina is my mother’s birthplace and her family name is Sassi. She came over to England in the 1950s.

    I live in England and returned to Roccamonfina last month for a holiday and also to see family whom I had lost contact with. The last time I visited was back in 1975!

    It was was an emotional reunion with family members again after such a long time. I feel Roccamonfina is one of those places that once visited you never forget it, it is such a beautiful and unique place I am planning to go back next summer.

    regards
    Anna


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