Dreaming: Quaranta

Where my ghosts are.

In less than three months from now, I’m going to Sicily to celebrate my 40th birthday.

It’s a little wild – not just that I’m actually turning 40 – but how the idea for this trip finally came together. I’d gone back and forth and back and forth about what I wanted to do to celebrate my big OVER THE HILL: throw a huge party for everyone I’ve ever met, be alone with my husband, take a road trip with just a couple friends, do nothing…

And finally I settled on Sicily. Why, you ask?

I’ve already been there, true. But… well…

I love it! 😀

And, of all the friends I wanted to be with on my 40th birthday, one just happens to live (fairly) close to there…

The last time I saw Kim was in her now-hometown of Munich, and I guess I just can’t imagine “going over the hill” without her.

So the whole idea began as a “small trip to Europe wherein I will get closer to Kim and she’ll come meet me because HOW CAN SHE NOT IT’S MY FREAKIN’ 40TH BIRTHDAY”. Perhaps Croatia, perhaps Sardinia, perhaps Mallorca… All places I’ve always wanted to go, and where the Mediterranean weather is just divine in June.

But then I discovered cheap flights to Sicily.

And this house for rent:

I LOVE me a good vacation villa!

In the perfect seaside town, no more than 45 minutes from every place left on my Sicily “must-explore” list.

With breathtaking views of the ocean.

And a swimming pool.

And then before I knew it, it just happened…

I bought the cheap tickets, I booked and paid for the villa, and I issued invitations to a select group of special friends from different chapters of my life to join me there for a week.

Leave the gun and take the cannoli, because Lisa’s 40th Sicilian Extravaganza was on!

But then literally days later (like, maybe 2 days? 3?), something else happened…

My grandfather died.

Before I even got a chance to tell him what I had done.

For a second, my heart sank. I was so excited to tell him I was going to be spending my 40th birthday in Sicily; that I’d chosen to usher in the second half of my life paying homage to my roots; to ensure him at the end of his life that his blood was thick and his legacy would live on long, long after he was gone.

“Look at me, Grandpa! I’m in your beautiful, crumbling, homeland; it might look like it’s on its last legs and you may feel like you are, too, but none of this will ever, ever be gone!”

But now he’ll never know.

I was really heartbroken at first. But now that a little time has passed, I couldn’t be happier this trip is timed the way it is. Because there’s no better way for my family to heal from the loss of a figurehead so prominent as my grandfather than by knitting ourselves closer to where we came from. And I’m going to do that for us.

As a born historian and genealogist (okay, okay – NERD), I’ve always known roughly where in Sicily our closest relatives came from (we still have family that we visit, after all). But there are also many threads of our history I’ve only known from my grandparents’ recollections (or from those of other family members in their generation). And now that they’re all gone, Mom, Sarah, and I are gonna have to do all the work to nurture our family tree.

My sister, using her 23 and Me results, jumpstarted us this weekend. She contacted a genealogist who’s actually done extensive work mapping my grandfather’s family tree through his mother’s side, and he went so far as to connect us to an English-speaking cousin that I’m now hoping to meet with in June…

Family tree of my Grandpa Sam’s mother’s line (the Pazienzas); Melissa Mucaria (red) is who I’ll hopefully meet on my upcoming trip.

This all maps perfectly to notes my grandfather himself wrote down for my mom before he died…

Grandpa’s notes about his own history.

We lucked out on this branch of our family tree (sort of), because it so happens that my great grandmother (Margherita; my mom’s namesake) was born in a town called Poggioreale, which was famously destroyed in an earthquake in 1968. Hundreds of people were killed, and those that weren’t, moved the remains of their town farther down the mountain. Today, the residents and descendants of “Poggioreale Antica” are working very hard to piece their history back together and preserve it.

The ruins of Poggioreale today (photo courtesy Amici a cui piace Poggioreale Antica Facebook Group).

So, I’m gonna help with that! Starting by making a pilgrimage to the ruins to see what’s left of the church where my great-great grandfather Pietro Pazienza married my great-great grandmother Rosalia Erba which, according to the genealogist, was a far more intriguing union than I would have guessed…

“Pietro Pazienza and Rosalia Erba were married in Poggioreale in 1908.
That record indicates that Pietro was from Calatafimi, Sicily and Rosalia was from Gibellina.
It also indicates that Rosalia was of ‘unknown parentage’ which usually means
her parents were not married and did not wish to be identified as the parents.
This was not an uncommon occurrence throughout Sicily.”

According to our new pal Rob, Sicilians be gettin’ some extra-marital lovin’ one hundred years ago!!! *gasp*

Pietro Pazienza and Rosalia Erba with four of their five children, the oldest of whom (second from left) was my great grandmother, Margherita. She’s the one who passed us down our trademark gray eyes (a rarity in Sicily). This photo is framed over the piano in our house.

Pietro + Rosa produced Margie and when Margie met Andrea… my beloved grandfather was born.

That’s where the story moves to America. But to see (what’s left of) where it began will really be a special experience to have on my 40th birthday; especially given how adored “Grandma Rosa” was in our family; after Great Grandma Margie’s husband died when he was just 29 (and she was a newly-arrived immigrant in Detroit with two toddlers), her extended family immigrated and she and Grandma Rosa raised their children together, all under the same roof.

Aside from Poggioreale (which really is in the western interior mafialands; oy!), I have other new stops to make in Sicily now, as well. I have records and clues potentially leading to more relatives from both my grandfather’s father’s family (the Spadas) and my grandmother’s family (the Minaudos and the Maioranas) – all of whom hailed from Monte San Giuliano (known today as Erice; a fabulously beautiful mountain village) down to the coast, from Trapani to San Vito lo Capo. There are already some familiar faces in there; I’ll make as many stops as I can.

But it’s also a birthday party, so I need to make time for, um, wine. Duh. And the beach. And the pool. And barbecues with friends overlooking the sea.

And so, it seems…

This is just the first of quite a few trips to come in the next few years. Perhaps I need a Sicilian real estate agent?

Erice; birthplace of my grandmother’s family and my grandfather’s paternal line, and the next stop for my imagination…

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3 thoughts on “Dreaming: Quaranta

  1. Margaret Wisniewski says:

    Pretty awesome ancestry you have! You can thank me for that! A truly fitting way to celebrate 40 years. In an ancient land where your family line can be traced back thousands of years. Timeless and sacred and indelible. Not even an earthquake could wipe it out. As for Great Great Grandma Rosa, I think her father was an Italian nobleman who dallied with a commoner. For all we know, we could be royalty. Better check out Sarah’s responses on 23 and Me! It’s kind of like a treasure hunt. I can’t wait to see what the next clue will unearth about our family!!

  2. […] the best birthday celebration I could have possibly imagined. My friends were with me in a place meaningful to me on a deeply personal level. My old friends – true friends. It’s funny how at mid-life, I chose to be with the same […]

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