Well, as it were, Tony’s friend ended up not being able to go with us this morning, so Tony drove us himself. It’s roughly an hour and a half drive from Chieti Scalo to Taranta Peligna, the small mountain town where Maria’s great grandmother, Maria DiNardo is originally from. The country is beautiful, and the route took us along sharply winding roads through the Maiella mountains, through Fara San Martino (where the best spaghetti in the world is produced- according to Tony- using water from a mountain spring) and Casoli.
Taranta Peligna (the name has something to do with tarantulas – fantastic, no?) is a small, small town (population c. 500), nestled into the side of the Maiella mountains in the Aventino River valley. We rolled into town in Tony’s cobalt blue Fiat around noon and, in true Italian form, immediately pulled over to talk to someone. It turns out, Tony spotted three aging gentleman and immediately began explaining to them the whole situation: we’re three American girls, studying in Rome, staying in Chieti Scalo at his B&B and that Maria is trying to find her roots, here, in this town. He asked about Maria DiNardo, Maria’s great grandmother, and the three gentlemen hopped into their respective cars and we wagon trained 1/4 mile down the road to a small house on the hill. One of the gentlemen introduced us to the family – two aging siblings (in their 80s), and their daughter, explaining that these are the DiNardo’s and that they must be Maria’s distant cousins. After trying to sort through names and relationships from c. 1920, we were invited in for cookies and juice, and met the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of the siblings who might be Maria DiNardo’s brother’s children. We spent an hour trying to sort the whole thing out, to little success but great excitement. It was amazing to just show up at someone’s home as a long lost relative and be well-received, even invited in for an afternoon snack.
We made our way down to City Hall to speak to another DiNardo and check the ledgers of all the people and families in Taranta Peligna who emigrated to America. Not much luck, but we were pointed in the direction of a local man – Enrico Rosato – who was just returning from Rome this very afternoon and whose hobby it is to catalogue the family histories of Taranta Peligna. We stopped in at a small bar and got ice cream (oh Magnum bars, how I will miss you!), before the amateur biographer arrived, at which point, Gina and I wandered off in search of adventure.
And did we find adventure… We found the medieval castle/church/fortress near the Aventino River, and behind it, a small abandoned house. Technically, there was no breaking, only entering, but we definitely had to duck under construction fencing… oh well. The house itself was small (four rooms between two storeys, maybe 200 square feet in all) and was obviously used, at some point, as a local after hours hang out spot for high school kids. We were poking around, looking at things when Gina found a Rolling Stones album and I found the box of an original Diana+ camera…from the 1970s. Upon further investigation, all of the magazines and newspapers still on the floor also seemed to hail from this period and it was a little disturbing, this cute little house in the shadow of a church would be abandoned for 40 years.
We wandered our way back to the bar/cafe, only to find a half-dozen people crowded around the table with Maria, Tony and the biographer. They had found Maria Vincenza DiNardo, born in the 1890s. After another few hours and much discussion (during which time Gina and I ended up falling asleep in the shade by the river…oops.) it seems as though we may have found the right family. Maria (and Gina and myself) were introduced to another pair of aging siblings (also in their mid-late 80s), a granddaughter, a grandson and a great-grandson (although he was only two or three) and were able to see the ruined foundations of the house in which they think Maria DiNardo was born, way back when. All in all, it was a fruitful day, and the hour and a half car ride home seemed much less anxious in the fading afternoon sun.
Tony’s wife and our gracious hostess, Amina, offered to make us dinner – much easier than trying to find another open and nearby restaurant, we were thrilled at the offer. She made whole roasted spigola, a type of white fish about the size of trout, but which tastes more like mahi mahi or tilapia, with roasted potatoes, a green salad with sliced heirloom tomatoes, a local cheese (with bread), imported walnuts and a fruit salad for dessert. It was lovely and, if you know my eating habits well, you’ll be shocked and amazed that I dealt with a whole fish (admittedly, headless) on my own and actually ate almost all of it.
Tomorrow we’re off to beautiful, coastal Vasto for a day at the beach!
Small masonry building just outside Taranta Peligna