I have put something off for far too long…and the thing is, I know it has been selfish of me. You see, I have not had it in my heart to write about an experience because it was so wonderful for me. I feel no words I write can do it justice or really convey to you what a special feeling of happiness I possessed from my time spent with the Di Crescenzo family. Yet I am going to embrace here the motto of “better late than never”, in my efforts to draw out this story from my heart.
This time last year, I was in Italy for the first time and visited this family in their home of the Abruzzo region. They introduced me to their way of life, their history and their homes. I got to spend three glorious days enjoying their present and their future with them. In the other parts of this post series, you can read more about the tours of a winery, castle, and restaurant that I experienced thanks to them: The Local Wine (Part I of IV), Castello di Semivicoli (Part II of IV), Eccentric Dining at Vineria di Salnitro (Part III of IV).
I could start with the fairy tale phrase of “long ago”, but thankfully, that is not the case in this story. It was in this lifetime, and only last spring, that I first met and stayed with the Di Crescenzo family in their hometown of Guardiagrele. It is so small that one of the nearest points of reference is the slightly bigger village named San Martino sulla Marrucina, both of which are found in the Italian province of Chieti. The way I came to visit them did involve some fun synchronicity and getting to be with them, certainly contained a feeling of splendid magic and ancient fantasy. Months before I left Denver for Italy, I met Daniele in Denver of all places, but learned he is from the Abruzzo region of Italy. I had never heard of Abruzzo and months later, he invited me to meet him and his fiancee to stay with his family in his hometown. I will never be able to thank Daniele and his fiancee enough for sharing their home and their family with me. Of course, I am happy to try to thank them by visiting again anytime and one day hosting them with my family in Spain…
I will never forget the first afternoon I arrived at the Di Crescenzo home. When I was led into the back dining room of the quaint two-story home, I was greeted with over a dozen faces who became silent in expectation of being introduced to the newcomer they had heard was coming. I later came to find out that what they already knew about me was easily summed up with words like “young woman”, “single”, and “American writer/journalist”…okay. That seems like all the important things to know. Perhaps that is also why the first question I was asked in front of everyone in the room, was if I had an Italian boyfriend yet…and would I like one…I can’t remember now if I managed to tell them that at the time I had two I was trying to choose between or if I simply stuttered till the subject was changed. I tried my best to learn and remember all their names as Daniele went around the table introducing me to each person and me to them. There were his mother and father, nono and nona (which is Italian for grandfather and grandmother), two sets of aunts of uncles, two brothers and one sister-in-law, and numerous cousins. I have to admit that the one I have stayed in contact with the most, even to this very day, is his cousin Brenda de Ritis. She is now studying at the Milan University of Design in Northern Italy. I like to still think that her and I have a special connection as fellow writers and poets.
The meals that afternoon and from there on, were the epitome of true homemade Italian cuisine. From savory slivers of prosciutto to juicy chunks of melon, we feasted each day. There were casserole dishes heavy with sauce-drenched steaming baked lasagna, slabs of home-raised meats such as steak, lamb, and pig, that was lightly seasoned and grilled to perfection on the handmade barbecue. And the cherries…it was cherry season when I was there, complete with even a local town festival that we all attended on that first evening I arrived. The table was never lacking of a bowl of vibrantly red, luscious cherries. Well, there was one occasion when I noticed that there was no bowl of cherries…then I quickly discovered to my delight that this was due to the cherry pie made from scratch.
This is where I truly experienced what I had heard of and seen in Italy as a traditional Italian dessert in many regions. That is the slice of melon with pieces of prosciutto. Even now, my mouth is watering and my stomach growling with high-end hunger, just thinking back on all the amazing food that we ate. Could there have been anything that would make it even more heavenly? In Italy and with this family…yes! You bet. The wine…I was introduced to the Masciarelli wine while with the Di Crescenzo’s and their families. One of Daniele’s uncles grows grapes that he sells to the Masciarelli winery. So the wine and even special liquors gave that perfect touch to the amazing homemade cuisine that I was spoiled with.
We toured the Masciarelli winery and their Castello di Semivicoli, visited nearby villages that have graced the land for thousands of years and have seen and witnessed countless lives and history. I came to know not only the entire family, but even their friends, like Angelo who owns La Vineria di Salnitro, a beautiful restaurant of fine wines, authentically delicious local food, and fantastically eccentric art and music.
What lingers with me still and are the fondest of my memories, are the times with the family. I remember waking in the morning to the beautiful view outside my window. The tall shutters opened to reveal an expanse of soft, rolling hills of varying shades of green and rows of grape vines spread out in fields further down from the house. Wandering downstairs and outside to the front patio, I would find nono and nona already awake and hard at work. The rest of the house would still be quiet with the rest of the family sleeping and I would sit at the picnic table on the patio with nono. Nona would not stay settled, insisting instead for me to sit while she brought me coffee and breakfast. I loved these times! I absolutely loved them so much that I can still feel the experience in me now.
Daniele, his fiance, and Brenda were the only ones in their family who speak English, so throughout my time there, speaking with the rest of the family was limited to what I could look up in my translator and what the English speakers could help with. For me, this made the time with the family even more wonderful, for there is nothing like getting to know each other by being quiet together and attempting to communicate with different languages. Talking with nono and nona was always my favorite times in those quiet, cool mornings. Our hand gestures would come alive and sometimes I would revert to Spanish words I know, which helped immensely and other times resulted in at least some good chuckles and giggles. At other times, nono would just look at me and his blue eyes would twinkle, while we sat in silence and gazed periodically at the view of the snow-covered mountains, grey in the distance beyond the potted colorful flowers on the patio edge. Nona would affectionately place her hand on my shoulder and smile so sweetly, her endearing warmth just spilling out over me. If she could reach my hands, she would grasp them in both of hers as she would look into my eyes. So much love….so much kindness.
While traveling Italy, I took a lot of walks. One of my favorites was with nono on my last day with them. Side by side, we strolled down the road and took another dirt road that looped around the house and along the bottom of the sloping hill that the house sat on. Along this dirt road grew black berries that nono picked for me to try. We both pointed out dark red poppies to each other and I understood that nono was showing me all the enchanting aspects of the land. He guided me back towards the house from the bottom of the hill. This took us through the small section of grapes that they grew and the gardens of leafy lettuce heads, carrots and tomatoes that I realized we had been eating from the past few days. Then closer to the house we greeted the animals…everyone from the goat to chickens and roosters. I was honored that nono wanted to show me his and his family’s work and livelihood. They’re families all live close to one another within the vicinity, except for Daniele and his fiancee who live in the Nederlands. One of Daniele’s uncles grows the grapes for wine, makes wine himself, and is an architect and builder. He remodeled the beautiful home that nono and nona live in now, where I stayed. The other uncle is a carpenter and has his workshop and business right next door. He doors remarkable and beautiful custom pieces for people throughout the area. I could tell that nono and nona work very hard and also enjoy their life and families a lot. There is a beautiful balance that I enjoyed while there with them.
There was no need for me to know their language to see and feel their loving hospitality. I understood then why I feel such a strong, endearing sense of love when I think of Italy. It’s culture and language has so many ways of expressing love, which is seen when one learns of all the different words and expressions their language has for love. After all, there are varying kinds of love, each according to the relationship and situation, the emotion and expression of oneself. I have been touched by many different kinds of Italian love and one of the most touching and lasting was best experienced through this family, the Di Crescenzo family.
My deepest gratitude and friendship, goes to the Di Crescenzo’s and their families. I hope with all my heart to visit all of you again. Vi ringrazio con tutto il cuore!
To enjoy more pictures that tell even more of this story, please visit my album: An Italian Gift – Visiting the Di Crescenzo Family