I woke with a sinus headache, and when I joined dad and Janice for breakfast, Janice said she wasn’t feeling good either. While my father went to pick up the rental car, Janice and I decided to visit the local Farmacia. Every shelf was lit a lot like high-end cosmetic counters are, but they were illuminating everyday items like toothpaste. Since my Italian studies haven’t provided me with the vocabulary to talk about illnesses, we were going to have to be creative. Two ladies and a man stood behind the counter. They looked more official and professional than the people who normally work at drugstores. Janice approached the counter and began acting out her symptoms. One of the ladies gave the man some instructions. He came back with a bottle of liquid medicine and told her to take a spoonful three times a day. Now it was my turn to act out my symptoms, and I was given a box of tablets to take twice a day. I must say mine worked miraculously!
Dad returned with the rental car with his own story about the difficulties of getting the car and then driving it back to the hotel.
Today’s the day I finally visited one of my ancestral homes, Pacentro. It’s about one and half
hours east of Rome in the mountains. The highways are their own version of crazy. I tried not to look where we were going and what others were doing, because it felt like we were avoiding close calls every few minutes. Thank goodness my father was there to drive. He’s has experience driving in several other counties with similar conditions.
About thirty minutes outside Pacentro, my dad pointed to a distant clusters of buildings set into the side of a mountain and introduced me to Pacentro. It was difficult to see because of the distance and the smoke from the nearby forest fires. I could feel my heartbeat in my chest.
The roads approaching the town are steep and narrow. The town overlooks a rural valley filled with olive trees, vineyards, and other agricultural land with mountains on all sides. It’s difficult to describe how the buildings are situated. Narrow cobblestone roads lined with door after door wind through two and three story buildings. Almost no two doors are the same, each portraying its own unique personality. There could be a modern, rectangular one with green glass set in iron and its neighbor might appear to be a hundred years old and belongs on a barn. I’m compiling photos of many of them.
Pacentro streets are not organized on a grid system. It’s a winding maze flanked by stone and plaster faced buildings, all a yellowish white color, speckled with colorful potted gardens draped over balconies and climbing the stairs. Many of the buildings have been added onto over the years, so the bottom levels are made of stone while the upper levels are covered in plaster. Thin veins of stairs and alleys cut through and around the structures leading to other streets, more apartments, or breathtaking views.
If you continue to climb the streets upward, they’ll lead you to a small castle, Castello Caldora. The castle is believed to have been there since the 11th century. It was added onto in the 14th and 15th century and has undergone extensive restorations in modern times.
There are shops and restaurants tucked inside Pacentro along with two villa squares and churches. With no signs or display windows, most are unknowingly passed. They look like just another home. The residents are simple and polite. I feel them watching us wondering why we’re in little old Pacentro. It’s obvious they take pride in their town and the long-standing family surnames who call it home.
It’s easy to imagine the life my great grandfather and his parents may have lived. Most likely supported by employment in agriculture, they lived simply. I assume scraping together what they could to send their son to America before the war affected their area. They had an older daughter also, and she too immigrated to America with her husband.
We’ve had many conversations with the locals. With my beginning Italian, their various levels of English and lots of miming, we’ve spoken to them about our relatives who came from here and how my father is participating in the race. When we mention the Pulcini family, they shake their head and say, “Pulcini not from Pacentro”. I explain that we have at least three generations who lived here, but the family left Pacentro when my great great grandparents died. All the maiden names of the female relatives from the two later generations are still prominent surnames in Pacentro. When we explain that my father will be participating in the race, we receive some version of, “Does he know it’s dangerous?” or “Is he crazy?”.
Yes, he knows it’s dangerous. He’s a little crazy.
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