A Trip To the Past, Italian Style
by Foster Trecost
I don’t know if I was running away or running to; either way, I was running and I ran to Italy. Topping my list of things to do: find my relatives. I knew the name of their village and had some pictures--my grandfather made the same journey thirty years ago--but that was all I had.
I wanted to learn some Italian, so I enrolled in a language school. After four weeks, I told my teacher I wanted to find my relatives, told her where they were. Her response: laughter. Not just a chuckle, but rolling amusement. She said it would be impossible to find the village on my own. So I asked her to take me.
After a tense pause, she agreed.
We left Friday night and took the main highway south, passed Rome and Mount Vesuvius, but had much further to go. We reached Naples and I began to notice changes in everything. We stopped often for espresso and by three in the morning, I noticed changes in people, too. The world was transforming, language, landscape, vegetation. It seemed the further south we traveled, the further back in time we went.
At four, we left the main highway. “From here we go east.” East into the mountains. “We’ll be there in a few hours.”
Soon after, we realized we’d misjudged the gas needed to complete the journey; we were nearly empty and I panicked. Running out of gas in a prehistoric setting atop a mountain with someone I barely knew…panic was an understatement. “Relax,” she said. And just like that, I did. We pulled into the dark and deserted streets of a tiny mountain village. A single figure walked ahead and we stopped to ask for his help. They spoke a language steeped in dialect and I waited for a translation. “We’ve met an angel,” is all she said.
He walked a short ways and disappeared into an ancient building. Moments later he pulled next to us in a car of his own; we were to follow him. In Italy, gas pumps work much like vending machines. In this way, stations never close. We pulled in and I jumped out to thank him, to insert the money, pump the gas, but was surprised by the expression he gave me; I had offended him. “You are my guests,” he said. “It is my honor and privilege to serve you.” He took the bills, inserted them, and proceeded to pump the gas. I was in a strange land indeed.
We pulled into Pazzano just after sunrise. A bricked square surrounded by a few shops, not much more. Weary, yet driven by adrenalin, I went to the café, ordered an espresso and showed the barman my pictures. “Do you know these people? They are my relatives. I’ve come to meet them.”
He studied the pictures with a blank stare and I knew I’d failed. Then he smiled, put the pictures down, and said, “Yes, of course, I know these people.”
I felt light, and I’m sure I trembled.
We did as he said. Sleep came easy, but didn’t last long. We found a restaurant and ate lunch.
We returned to the café and the barman smiled, pointed to a section filled with anxious looking people, elderly and simple. One of them approached me. “I am Pasquale Treccosti,” he said. I told them my name, and, as if on cue, I was surrounded. I had found them, my family, they were standing all around me.
They led us home where a feast had been prepared. People visited throughout the evening to meet me, many weren’t even family. Wine flowed and food was served and the evening passed much more quickly than I would have liked. When they finally accepted we were staying in a hotel, Pasquale said, “You’ll come for breakfast, yes?” We of course did.
As they walked us to our car the next morning, I said, “You haven’t said much of my grandfather.”
Those who heard looked at each other, and Pasquale spoke. “He was very generous, yes. But we are simple people, quiet. I’ll never forget the day he came with automatic shift car, blowing the horn and giving away coins.”
We said our goodbyes and left. Much of the journey home was silent. I had been changed, and I was processing the changes. For so long, I wondered why my dad, reserved and quiet, wasn’t more like his dad. Now more than ever, I was thankful he wasn’t, and that it was him I had taken after.
Foster Trecost is from New Orleans, but lives in Germany. He writes stories that match his attention span: sometimes they're short and sometimes very short.
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