In this story, we will call him.. Meelas. Meelas came back a fifth time to refill our airplane rigged Moscow Mules. This one was strong. He was the best flight attendant I had ever had.
“When you both are drunk, don’t mention my name. It hits you much more on an airplane.” He playfully said.
“It’s OK (I may have already been there) I live at 2,500 meters!”
“Well now we are at 40,000 feet.” He responded.
Corinne and I had just synced our small television screens to the same exact moment of the new Star Wars movie. Admittedly, the movie and television options were overwhelming, but we both agreed Star Wars always wins. I was exhausted - a full day of southern african traveling exhausted, but I hardly wanted to sleep with all these new movie options at the click of a button. Minutes later.. just before Ray and F1N took off in the Millennium Falcon I dosed off only to wake up an hour later to another really strong Moscow Mule. Meelas, you are the best..
Our Peace Corps class did not abandon us when we went to sleep under chairs in the Abu Dhabi Airport. During our slumber the world had woken up, the airport was crowded and moving and I was.. hungover. We wandered to the Duty Free store to find the most expensive perfume and took our ritual airport perfume sample shower. I was loving every second of our trip so far. The things I loved most - blending in (no one cares about our existence?! YES!) good coffee and baked goods, other worldly bathrooms with individual automatic soap, water and dryers at every sink, no one wanted to marry me and for the first time in a year I felt a sense of freedom..sweeeet freedom. Alicia, tap your new salmon khaki shoes together (I had just dumped my torn up running shoes in a box in Johannesburg), you are not in Lesotho anymore.
I had always planned to travel to Europe when I was rich. I assure you, I have not won the Lesotho lottery yet, nor is Peace Corps something I am doing to get rich. A part of me also felt like I had already been there from seeing countless pictures of my friends at the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum. Up to this point in my life travel was for pure adventure - the difficulty of being in a place where few people speak English, where transportation isn’t always easy, where cultures are extremely different from my own and you can do activities like climb a volcano, scuba dive, or ski. The lure of incredible cuisines, beautiful, bustling cities with long histories, family connections and very very cheap flights brought us back to the northern hemisphere and it was exactly what we needed.
Rather than detailing 24 days in a terribly long blog post here are some of my favorite memories from our trip accompanied by photos:
1. Italia, you truly had me at first sight. From the sky your landscape was a blend of farmlands, coast, snowy peaks, and vineyards as far as the eye could see. From the train I had my first encounter with the city of Rome - a mix of the historic Roman Empire and modern day and I have never been so happy to see graffiti.
2. After a day exploring the ancient roman city of Pompeii we were tired and only had one thing on our minds - pizza. Naples is more hectic and diverse than Rome and I loved getting lost in its grid-like streets. Corinne spotted it squinting from afar - L Antica Pizzeria. It was crowded and adorned with awards on its wall. Next to them were pictures of Julia Roberts. The best double mozzarella margarita pizza in the world. Look out for our new movie - Eat. Eat. Eat.
3. Seeing my mom and brother for the first time in a year. I remember it so clearly - running up to them in the middle of the Trastevere train station in Rome and hugging them more deeply than I have ever hugged someone. I miss my family and friends more than a hug or words could ever say.
4. The unmatched by no other human being amount of sass and Italian charisma of Chef Andrea. He taught us how to cook Roman foods and how to properly experience Italy - I am forever grateful! (I am no Yelp/Trip Advisor reviewer, but seriously if you are in Rome ever, take his class ( www.cookingclassesinrome.com) “Melons, in March..I should kill myself!” *Female lemons are more zesty and you can tell because they have bigger nipples*
5. Standing in the Colosseum I felt the spirit of the gladiator - the fighter - not only he would not back down, but he who lost the meaning of his own life and willingly gave up. I learned of the animals who were hunted but also who proudly displayed their strength and I took in the energy of those who cheered for such strength and determination. When you look at the Roman Colosseum I think you have to feel it to truly experience it otherwise it will just be a ruin that trip advisor reviews described as underwhelming.
6. Meeting my Great Uncle and an extended cousin, Antonio Cinquemanni (I am told by handsy cousin Pino that this last name is given to handsy families.. men who have five hands) in a small village in Sicily. More on this experience below!
7. Getting the feeling Mr. Bubble Man wanted people to as I watched the sunset over Florence from Piazza di Michelangelo. His large bubbles warped and reflected the colors in the sky as they floated past giving me a feeling of lighthearted happiness and peace. Thank you.
8. Arriving in Paris and immediately eating Thai Food and seeing a movie (when you are a Peace Corps Volunteer and you travel you are very easy to please). Then spending the sunset watching the light change over the Eiffel Tower.
9. Writing the initials of all the people I love on a lock and closing it on the "new" lock bridge in Paris, France.
10. Experiencing the taste of what some might call is like ice cream - draft guinness.
11. Experiencing that smooth slightly malted roasted barley taste over and over and over again for 6 days while listening to traditional Irish music in local pubs.
12. Staring out at the Cliffs of Moher (waving to America!) and feeling ready to return to Lesotho, although hesitant to face the many challenges it has presented me recently.
13. Getting back to Rondeval Weasley and smiling with thankfulness for the unforgettable memories.
Extended writings: #6
To me, this story is very special. It's about my great great grandmother, Francesca Cinquemanni. 112 years ago Francesca, 19 years old, left her small village in Sicily, Giuliana, with her husband, Guiseppe Marchisotta, and her one year old baby for America. In 1904 nearly 100,000 Sicilians left for the U.S. Curiosity led me to research - why?
In 1870 the unification of Italy ended La Miseria, an ongoing bloody civil war. Sicilians were confident Italy would prosper in this period of unity, but agricultural crisis, overpopulation, economic exploitation and heavy unfair taxation inhibited their opportunities. The feudal system allowed for hereditary land possession to determine ones political power and social status. At the time, poor Italians had almost no opportunity. Dominated by a northern government, Sicilian Peasants and Workers banned together to form the Mutual Aid Societies (Mutuo Soccoeso) - a more socialist directed movement. However, they were soon forced to disband and many fled to find their future somewhere else.
Her journey from Italy to America officially began at the Port of Naples where she took a transatlantic ship. I imagine her, and thousands of immigrants like her, traveling light... With all the money they owned in their pockets, only the clothes on their backs, and small personal treasures sandwiched between various belongings. I imagined they were hopeful, nervous, and anxious, but I could not imagine what it mean to leave everything you knew, with a small baby, to a unknown place where you didn't speak the language and had no money. Francesca was brave - in fact, I think she was the bravest woman in my whole family.
Giuliana sits prominently atop a hill. A location that originates from its medieval history with a castle at its forefront. The church's bell tower stands 100 ft taller than any other building. Blends of white, red, tans and orange... To me, it looks as though it must have in 1904 minus the large electricity cables and towers, paved roads, satellites,and newer buildings sprawled out from the town. It reminds me of my life in Lesotho. There are sheep, farms and pastures.
We carried our family tree with us.. well what my mom could find of it. And we showed it to a few people in the first shop we walked into. A generous man took us to the town hall area and he mentioned Antonio Cinquemanni. People spoke fast Italian, made calls, and spoke more.. Time passed and we thought of exploring; maybe it was too much to ask to actually find relatives. We climbed the castle and marveled at the view. Then, we met Antonio Cinquemanni. Could he be our fifth cousin? Another Cinquemanni came. Then a man who once lived in America to translate. Then a few others. We walked to town, enjoyed a cappuccino and continued to dig into the past. We shared Facebook pictures, stories and small talk in broken Italian. Soon Giovanni Cinquemanni arrived. He nodded at a picture on my mom's phone and we finally had a yes. He is our Great Uncle.
I have never felt a connection to a country like the one I have shared with Italy this past week. It was deepened even more by our experience and findings in Giuliana. At first glance, I wondered why someone would ever leave this incredible place - of delicious pizza, exquisite architecture, immense history and beautiful landscapes, but now I understand.
I don't think the migration to America should ever be interpreted as a rejection of Italy and Italian culture. Many Italians planned to return to their country. Although, great great grandma Francesca never returned to her village in Sicily, yesterday my mom, brother, and I were able to in her honor - 112 years later. My mom describes great grandma Francesca as authentic. The pinching-your-cheeks type, with only four words of English, "God Bless" and "So cute," and who was always smiling. Today and whatever is to come is for you, Francesca.