We had one last glorious breakfast at the monastery and then we were off to our next destination. Jonas had booked us a night at the Agriturismo Da Baffone – an inn, working farm and restaurant that happened to be 10 minutes down the road from where his great-grandmother was born! (He seriously had no idea when he booked the place.) We were excited to get to the farm, but really hoping we could stop at the Anagrafe office in Solofra first to see if we could take a look at Angiolina’s birth record.
I saw that the office was supposed to close at 12:30 and Google maps said we were scheduled to arrive just a couple minutes before then. It was Friday and we would only be in this area for one night, so it was worth a shot to stop in before they closed for the weekend. We arrived in Solofra at 12:29, so I hopped out of the car and ran to the town hall.
I told the first person I met that I was looking for the Anagrafe office and she explained that it was in another building. I hurried down the stairs, dashed down the street and entered a huge courtyard. I scanned the area, eventually asked a woman at the library for help and she directed me to the office.
Once inside, I had my Google Translate ready and I read out my request. The guy behind the counter immediately started looking for the birth record book from Angiolina’s year while a female clerk asked me where I was from and why I was looking for the birth record. I explained in broken Italian, “Just to see it.” She secured the book from her colleague, opened it in front of me and pointed out that Angiolina’s middle name was Francesca. I did not know that before.
Angiolina’s father was named Francesco so he must have chosen to pass that down to her. Just as I began studying the words in fancy script, Rocky and Rhône walked through the front door of the office. (I had texted Jonas telling him the location.) When the boys came in, everyone made a fuss over them, saying things like, “Che bello!” I showed them the birth record and they examined the page through the glass. The woman gestured at both boys and said, “Italiani.” I put my arms around them and said, “Sì.”
Before we left, she handed me a paper birth record that she had just filled out and stamped. I recognized her handwriting from the document we received by mail from this office years ago when we started our citizenship journey! The boys took it and we said, “Grazie mille.” (I love hearing our kids speak Italian.) We stepped outside into the courtyard, breathed in the fresh air, and soaked up our surroundings.
We then strolled around the town and marveled at how some of the buildings we were looking at were the same ones Angiolina knew and maybe entered when she was a little girl here in Solofra. She left at the age of 14, but I’ll share more about that later.
We snapped some photos and then it was time to head to the farm where we had a lunch reservation.
If you are ever in this area, I highly recommend staying at Da Baffone. The food was amazing, the room was pristine and comfy, and the kids absolutely loved playing on the farm and interacting with the animals.
There are a bunch of wonderful things to discover and do in Italy, but you know what else is fun? Seeing what’s on TV, because they’re always showing something amazing. On this particular day, it was “Charlie’s Angels” in Italian.
After a good night’s sleep and a nice breakfast at Da Baffone, we packed up again and headed for our next destination: the port town of Salerno. Salerno is known as the gateway to the Amalfi Coast. Although the weather wasn’t great the few days we were there, we were lucky enough to have one sunny day, and that was the day we decided to explore some coastal towns. We ended up having a fabulous Amalfi adventure with multiple ferry rides, which I’ll share about in my next post.
It rained the other days, but we found things to do like buy athletic socks for the boys (they’re not as easy to find as you’d think) and run on the treadmill in our Airbnb’s community rec room. One drizzly day we visited a water buffalo farm specializing in mozzarella. Needless to say, we ate well there and we enjoyed petting the water buffalo, who were very friendly. We made sure to take some buffalo milk chocolates home with us as well as some yogurts. Everything was delizioso!
Oh, we also stopped by a little place called Paestum to look at some 2500-year-old temples and the remains of an ancient city. No big deal.
The kids weren’t that interested in the history but they LOVED exploring and playing hide and seek amongst the ruins.
Our final destination in Southern Italy was Napoli. We returned our rental car and headed into town to spend a few hours before our train left for Rome. We had an excellent lunch at Pizzeria da Donato just a few minutes walk from the train station. I’m still dreaming about that pizza.
Afterwards, we met up with our third cousin, Gerardo, which turned out to be a major highlight of our trip. He was so kind and gracious. We met at the train station and when we got within a few feet of him, I knew the proper first-time-ever-meeting-in-person greeting would be a hug. He embraced us all warmly and then handed us some gifts he had brought along: wine, limoncello, and two curniciello keychains, which are good luck charms from Naples.
We headed upstairs to a café and spent time getting to know one another. He spoke mostly Italian and I was pleased that I understood so much. Even though I had to use a translation app to share my thoughts in Italian, it felt like a normal conversation without barriers. He showed us some family documents and I asked if he would send them to us afterwards so we could really study them.
Our train to Rome would be leaving soon, so we all migrated downstairs to look at the Departures board. The train was delayed by 10 minutes so that meant we’d have time to get some gelato! Gerardo went with me to the gelato place and insisted on buying mine and another two scoops for the boys. He then picked up some of our bags, walked us all the way to the train, and waited on the platform until we left the station. It was so touching. Jonas explained to the boys, “That’s what family does.”
After meeting up, Gerardo and I exchanged messages over the next few days. I was telling him how I had many questions about the family that I wish I could ask the ancestors. For example, according to the records I found, Angiolina left Solofra at age 14 (just shy of her 15th birthday), got on a boat to New York, and married Antonio Auriemma at Most Precious Blood Church in Little Italy just two days after arriving. In case you’re wondering, the marriage certificate states she was 18. What I’m wondering is: Did they know each other already? What was it like for them in New York?
Gerardo was able to give me some answers. He wrote,
Carissima, molti matrimoni in quegli anni venivano combinati, gli sposi non si conoscevano, o si conoscevano attraverso foto. A volte, l’età veniva cambiata per favorire il matrimonio e l’espatrio. Si emigrava per fame o per la ricerca di lavoro, quasi tutti gli Auriemma’s facevano i barbieri ma anche piccole attività di commercio, anche le donne lavoravano, mia nonna era sarta e lavorava a cottimo, più camicie o colletti di camicie produceva e più aumentava il salario. Lavoravano anche 19 ore al giorno. Il sabato, le varie comunità si incontravano in qualche locale o casa e bevendo e ballando, consumando prodotti tipici delle terre d’origine, cercavano di dimenticare le loro tristezze. Mia nonna viveva a casa Aulisio. Queste sono notizie che mia nonna mi raccontò quando era in vita.
Dearest, many marriages in those years were arranged. The spouses did not know each other, or they knew each other through photos. At times, the age was changed to favor marriage and expatriation. We emigrated out of hunger or in search of work. Almost all Auriemmas were barbers but also had small businesses. Even women worked. My grandmother was a seamstress and worked at a piece rate – the more shirts or shirt collars she produced, the higher the wage. They also worked 19 hours a day. On Saturday, the various communities met in some room or house and, drinking and dancing, consuming typical products of their lands of origin, they tried to forget their sadness. My grandmother lived at the Aulisio house [in New York]. These are things that my grandmother told me when she was alive.
Wow. In just a short time, Gerardo blessed us with so many gifts. He gave us physical gifts, and shared the gift of oral history, which connects us to our past and enriches the present. The biggest gift of all was the way he welcomed and embraced us as famiglia. We can’t wait to come back and meet the rest of the cugini next time!