Last week this paper published a beautiful travel piece by Mike Davis about his journey home to Gildone, Italy, which his wife's maternal family had left to emigrate in 1880 to America, and then on to Cleveland, Ohio.
First, his descriptions of my beloved Roma took me back to all the time I have spent in that city. They say Rome is a lifetime project, and after having lived in the city the equivalent of a year and a half over the past eight years, I know that I have just barely scraped the surface of that unfathomable place.
Mike refers to the vibrancy of the city and the Italians' "love of all that life has to offer." All of that is true, and their exuberance is an infectious and wonderful "disease" to be stricken with and surrounded by on a daily basis. But I digress. His story is about going home, and he and his wife did drive the roads of Italy, finally finding the tiny town high above the surrounding landscape.
If your paper has been recycled to the bottom of the budgie cage, the whole article is online at www.queenannenews.com. I do not want to tell you the details of their search, but his conclusions are exactly the same as mine after I went back to the farmhouse in Denmark that my grandfather had left at the age of 17.
It was a profound experience, starting in Copenhagen, watching the Danish people and how they interacted with strangers. Then finding my way to the countryside, and finally to the farmhouse that I had seen in a few pictures. The two ancient "aunties," with no English, conducted a tour of the house, pointing with such pride to objects and saying "from America," with the phrase and the silence and the sense of awe drawn out for what felt like a lifetime.
Leaving the farmhouse, I went to his local church. It was a real gem, so tiny, with the requisite sailing ship model hanging midway between the altar and the entrance, eight or nine pew rows, and of course the cemetery surrounding the church. The cemetery grounds had recently been redone, but in the corner were the mandatory three birches. In the many cemeteries I visited in Scandinavia, the trio of birches is a common element, and is also found in their home landscapes. On my street, where I grew up in America, our house was the only one with a "grove" of three birches. Now I suddenly understood!
My life was changed after this "going home" journey. I now had such clarity on all the influences in my childhood. The Danish people, whether in Copenhagen or small towns, or tiny villages, just assume that you understand life, and any sort of inquisitiveness is just a bit too much. It is understood that you "know," and then get on with making a life for yourself and your family. They are a proud people, and they want social and economic justice for all people. It is expected.
Since that revelatory journey, I have tried to encourage all Americans who have not been to the country or countries of their origins to make the journey. Even if there is not a specific farmhouse or village connected directly to the family, the contact with the culture and food will be illuminating in such a profound way. Mike Davis speaks eloquently about that experience.