September 18, 2012

La Mia Famiglia

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This past summer, I had the excellent opportunity of sitting in the dingy, back room of a roadside bar in Corfinio, Italy while listening to my feisty, middle-aged cousin (the owner of the bar) jabber on in Italian about the degenerates that we call i nostri cugini (our relatives). She and the rest of la famiglia Corfinese do not speak more than ten words of English between themselves (a rough estimate) and I was excited to apply my Cornell-learned Italian skills. I was also excited because the last time that my dad and I had accompanied my mom on her pilgrimage to the small, mountainside town of her birth, we had been bystanders, unable to participate in the rapid conversation in a different language. Even though my dad was still a bystander in the dark room, with no knowledge of the hurried tones being spoken, I could understand what she was saying to some degree.

After successfully navigating the hour and a half of the Autostrada (the high-speed highway) by looking at maps solely in Italian — it was an exciting moment — we arrived in the small village. As soon as we arrived I got my first opportunity to speak with mia cugina in Italian. My mom told me I needed to figure out whether we could park our car street-side. I was able to finally get my point across by saying Eccola! and A qui? Finally, after we had parked in a sufficient spot, we went into the bar.

We arrived in the early afternoon when the bar was closed for a few hours for the daily pisolino (similar to the Spanish siesta) and, because of the August heat, all of the lights were off. Immediately, our cousin offered to make us an authentic Italian cappuccino (we accepted) and we sat down to find out what had transpired in the village in the four or five years since we had visited last.

It turns out, that other than an effort to clean up il centro storico (the historical center of the town) that had not been seriously rehabilitated since the shellacking that it received during World War II, not much had happened in the sleepy community nestled in the Abruzzi mountains. The two sons of the family were still unmarried in their 30’s (much to our cousin’s dismay) and one was running the bar while the other worked for the government in nearby Sulmona. Notably, both boys still lived Corfinio because of the importance that Italians, especially those living in relatively low-population areas like the small towns in le Abruzzi montagne place on the family.

Another important aspect of our conversation, as I have already mentioned, was gossiping about the rest of the family. This, at least, was something that both the Italian-speaking and English-speaking branches of mia famiglia have in common. In addition to seeing our Corfinio cousins, we had also tried to have dinner with our Roman cousin. She had been uncommunicative and had rescheduled our dinner to a point where it never actually happened. However, when she heard that we would be in Corfinio, she decided to try to stop by while we were visiting. We ended up seeing her for about dieci minuti (10 minutes) while she refueled the car on her way to the sea and was largely unresponsive to my feeble attempts to speak Italian (she mostly spoke to my mom).

After the Roman came, saw and left, we discussed her coming and going with our more modest Corfinese cousin. Apparently she had gotten worse and worse at responding to communication attempts after her father had passed away a few years ago. Apparently, he made sure that she kept her engagements and responded to family members. He was one of the forces that held our Italian relatives together and now they were slowly breaking apart.

And this specific example of the spreading out of la mia famiglia Italiana is not unique. With the advent of globalization, it has become increasingly difficult to keep a traditional conception of the family unit together. Our cousin bemoaned the fact that her extended family is starting to become more like an “American family” that does not see each other often or at all. In contemporary America, it is no longer easy to drive to ma and pop’s for Sunday night dinner and children do not often stay in their hometowns for their whole lives like the “good ole days.” Families are spreading out and losing touch, even in areas where family used to be a cultural force to be reckoned with.

My mother, her parents and her sister moved from Corfinio to Toronto, Canada when she was three years old. She cried for the whole week-long boat journey. Although they were leaving their hometown, they left with a portion of the village (mostly their family, but a few others) and stayed with them even when they moved to Leominster, Massachusetts (where my grandparents lived until they were well into their 80s). Now, mia nonna lives with my Aunt in Sacramento, California, my uncle lives in Atlanta, Georgia and we live in the Northeast. It’s a far cry from the whole family living in a small, Abruzzi mountain village located in the L’Acquila province of Italia.

David Fischer is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at dfischer@cornellsun.com. Fischy Business appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

Original Author: David Fischer

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