Half Irish and half Italian.
My mother’s family is 100% Italian: my grandmother from Naples and my grandfather from Sicily.
“Italy, and the spring and first love all together should suffice to make the gloomiest person happy.” –Bertrand Russell
My father’s family is 100% Irish: my grandmother from Galway City and my grandfather from Mayo.
“The Irish: be they kings, or poets, or farmers, they’re a people of great worth. They keep company with the angels, and bring a bit of heaven here to earth.” — Anonymous
I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled to both countries. It’s really an amazing thing to visit the places that your family comes from. Of course as I’ve gotten older, I appreciate it even more. When I was younger I always had a hard time putting it in perspective. I would talk to my parents about our lineage but really how well can a young child grasp it all?
Dad: Did you know that your great-grandfather changed the spelling of our last name when he was running a speakeasy during the prohibition and was trying to hide from the FBI?
Me: Pro-ah-what? Dad, can we stop for ice cream on the way home?
Ireland. I didn’t know a place could be so green and grey at the same time. It was rainy and gloomy there but the feelings certainly were not. Had I been at home, a rainy day would leave me craving sleep but being in the land of shamrocks and Guinness, I found myself wide-eyed and awake. It was fall and the air was crisp and salty. The water was the bluest blue and the land was the greenest green. If it’s possible for a country to be relaxing, this would be it. It was overwhelmingly calm and it resonated throughout the miles and miles we drove in the countryside. Our only acquaintances were the rolling hills and the cows that occupied them.
We visited the small house where my grandmother grew up. I stood in the rose garden and imagined what my grandmother saw. Were there cars driving by? Were there kids playing in the street? Was she a young girl, a hopeless romantic like myself just dreaming of the day that she would meet my grandfather? That story, by the way, used to be one of my favorite stories to hear my grandfather tell. How he met the love of his life….
“I was in medical school in Galway . One afternoon I walked by a bookstore. And there was this woman working there on a ladder. And her legs. Those legs! I had to find out who she was. When she came down from the ladder and I saw her, I knew that she was the girl I was going to marry….”
Only one problem. He was already engaged to a woman named Rose who was back in the United States. Needless to say, that was broken off and my grandparents lived happily ever after. It’s a story that I would listen to over and over again. It was the way my grandfather talked about it and the shimmer in his eyes when he thought back to that day so long ago and so far away. I definitely wasn’t interrupting to ask for ice-cream during that story. It’s the kind of story that leaves me believing in love.
Italy. This country left me full of intrigue and infatuation as it was bursting with romance and beauty. I experienced something here that I’ve never felt before and I’m sure words won’t do it justice – a subtle yet intense pull to unite with the country. I wanted to soak it all in – the smells of homemade pasta and olive trees; the sound of Italian women shouting with passion and pots banging in the kitchen; the laundry hanging high from crowded apartments. Even the most simple of things exuded beauty and warmth.
Italy is like a photomontage in my head playing along to the sounds of an Italian mandolin — each part of the country offering different vibrancy and energy; each part offering different smells and invigorating my senses all over again.
The history in Rome is almost paralyzing. How on earth does one even begin to understand the depth to that story? It was hot outside while we were there, but standing in the middle of the ancient ruins gave me the chills that were hard to kick.
Tuscany radiated romance. The sun, the vineyards, the flowers. The villas, the food, the wine, the air. It was like I was in a movie, except somehow this time it was real life. Did I have to keep pinching myself or was the Italian sun enough to bring me back to reality? I remember thinking, “this must be what it feels like to be madly and deeply in love, head over heels and completely smitten. Don’t make me go home…”
Sicily was special to me as it was a moving experience to walk the streets that my ancestors had. While I may not have actually been on the same streets as them, I imagined I was. I wondered how much different the city looked then as it did now. We basked in the Sicilian sun as my mother and I instantly bronzed while my sister and father instantly reddened (I have the Italian skin!). Each time I walked by an older man with dark wrinkles and soft eyes, I pictured my grandfather with his thick hair that he used to let us put pink curlers in. We stopped for pizza and ordered “The Norma” in honor of my grandmothers first name. We looked for artwork and ceramic door stoppers. We bought the best gelato – and I mean the best – that I had ever had. Pistachio. Caramel. Cinnamon. Need I go on? We drank wine and stopped at farmers stands. We explored the Ancient theatre of Taormina. We spent the day truly living in Sicily. Smelling, tasting, hearing, loving Sicily. When is it time for me to go back?
Both countries left me feeling proud and inspired by my heritage. I wanted to hear every story my parents had to tell. I may have interrupted them this time, but at least it was for gelato…