Day 39: La Famiglia Part 1

One of the number one reasons that life in Italy has resonated so much with me is that my mother’s parents came from the Friuli region, which is one region east from where Drew and I currently live.  As our fruit and vegetable guy said after I explained this to him, I have Italian blood coursing through my veins.  This year marks the 10-year anniversary of when I first met my Italian relatives, so I thought I’d give everyone a play-by-play of how I happened to reach age 19 before meeting anyone from my Mom’s side of the family.

Both of PashbyMom’s parents immigrated to the United States from the Friuli region, but they did not meet each other until they settled in NYC.  PashbyMom is an only child; her father died before my sister and I were born.  Her mother, my nonna, died when I was 4 years old in a nursing home in Michigan.  Unfortunately, when you’re 4, visiting a nursing home on the weekends isn’t the idea of a good time, so I never cultivated a relationship with nonna, although I did name my stuffed cat after her.  With no siblings, the only living relatives that Mom had left were either in Toronto (her maternal cousins) or in Friuli (her paternal cousins).  Since nonna had some serious mental health issues and in general did not cultivate a great relationship with my Mom, staying in touch with the maternal side was not necessarily the most desirable choice.  Mom’s paternal side had written letters with her sporadically, at best.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2005… I was in Europe for 10 days on the Hope College Chapel Choir Tour, and then decided to finish my French minor in Paris for the rest of the summer.  Mom had never been to Europe and saw the time between my tour and study as an opportunity to finally go to Europe, and especially to meet the cousins.  As a mother-daughter pair, we most certainly struggled during the years leading up to college, so almost everyone was amazed when we announced that we were going to travel Europe for 2 weeks together.  Of course we had a marvelous time!  After meeting in Amsterdam and traveling by train through the Munich area, we made our first major stop in Venice and took the train to meet our relatives in Pordenone.  That experience was very powerful for me as nearly a dozen cousins were at a huge pranzo in Fanna with no limit on the food or wine.  I kept looking around at all of the people there, wondering how they were still so skinny!  I was assured that they only ate like this for special occasions, so let’s not redefine the Mediterranean Diet as an excuse to overeat!  It was simply amazing to look around and see people that I was actually related to, all of us meeting for the first time and dining together.

Mommy and Ali Europe Pictures 057
2005: Giacomino, Roberto, Chris (PashbyMom), Bruna. First cousins, meeting l’americana for the first time!
Mommy and Ali Europe Pictures 034
2005: Here I am with Michele and Elena. I have no idea if we’re 2nd or 3rd cousins. We’re related and that’s all I care about!

You may be wondering how I communicated with these relatives, since my Mom never spoke Italian with me.  Well, the answer is that I communicated with the 3 of them who speak French: Elena, her mother Maria and her father Giacomino (my Mom’s first cousin).  That was great practice for me.  Even then, I was yearning to learn Italian some day as I was itching to talk with everyone else who didn’t speak French (not many people spoke English at that time in Italy.) Watching mom burst back into her New York Italian style of communication was mesmerizing.

Fast-forward to (American) Labor Day 2011: PashbyMom had told me over the summer that Elena was getting married and she would like to go to the wedding, but couldn’t make it there because of work commitments.  I asked if I could go, since I was living in Kiev at the time, and there is a direct flight from Kiev to Venice.  Mom got back to me a few days later and said she thought it would be fine.  There I was at one of my top 10 cultural experiences ever: Elena and Andrea’s wedding.

2011: Here I am with the lovely Elena on her wedding day. She and her family were so gracious to accept me as a guest considering my deteriorating French skills and my utter lack of Italian skills.
2011: Giacomino escorts the radiant Elena to the church.
2011: Here I am right after Elena and Andrea said their vows.
2011: This is Elena’s Mom (Giacomino’s wife), Maria.

The entire wedding experience left me on a major emotional high.  It was the second time I was able to see family from my mother’s side, and they were geographically much closer then my American family.  Those of you who know PashbyMaul Adventures’ epic story know that Drew Maul enters the scene at this moment, but he and our story need their own dedicated post to do them justice. 🙂

Life passed for several years with me in Kiev and Drew in Toscana.  Finally, Drew and I were married after what seemed like a marathon year of dating between Kiev and Italy (first Toscana, then Veneto).  I moved to Vicenza to join him and we were delighted to have my parents as our very first houseguests for Christmas 2013 and New Years 2014.  Naturally, we made the pilgrimage to Fanna to introduce my Dad to Mom’s relatives for the first time.

December 2013: Here’s all that could make it from the family to meet us for a Christmas meal.
December 2013: Mom is a December baby and our relatives presented her and my Dad with this gift basket of items from Friuli.

Since moving to The Veneto, we’ve averaged seeing members of the family about once a year.  Our last meeting was extra-special because we got to meet Elena’s new baby, Alice, for the first time.  By now, my Italian has surpassed my French and I can’t even try to communicate in French with Maria, which is a shame but understandable. (French and Italian are very close together and if you study both, you can become confused if speaking them simultaneously!)

February 2015: Here are the family members that could make it for our “see you again someday” goodbye after we told them about our upcoming move to Uzbekistan.
February 2015: Drew and I meet baby Alice for the first time.

Being here has taught me to value my roots and my extended family.  It has been so precious to meet my relatives and see them from time to time during the last 10 years.  They are a warm, hospitable, generous, and fun group.  My life has been so enriched just being able to see part of where I’ve come from.  I will never take for granted our brief years here in Italy, even as I hope for more some day.  Until then, we’ve all wished each other in bocca del luppo.

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