The sliding glass doors opened with a whoosh and the four of us found ourselves thrust out, dragging our suitcases and hand luggage, into a hot and steamy midday outside the airport terminal in Rome. There were cars and people swirling past at a frenetic pace. One of the first things I noticed was the loud chatter of Italian voices mixed in with the smells of hot tarmac, aviation fuel and the noise of plane engines. We tentatively moved forwards. Would he be there waiting for us? Would he recognise us? Would he be happy to see us?
We’d traveled the long haul from Australia to London eleven days earlier. We spent time in London and Bath before travelling, by Eurostar, to Paris then on to Italy. We had not traveled overseas before as a family and it was our first time in Europe. The airport meeting in Rome was a reunion that had been forty years in the making but it was only seconds before the three questions we had pondered during our flight from Paris to Rome, were answered. John had been worried that his uncle wouldn’t recognise him, so wrote our surname on an Air France napkin to hold up as a ‘sign’ should there be crowds of people and difficulty in spotting each other.
It was as though there were suddenly only two people amidst the crowds of people swirling around outside the airport. There was no introduction needed and the worry over recognition seemed silly and forgotten. John and his uncle locked eyes across the crowds of people and rushed to embrace like the long-lost kin that they are. It felt like John’s dad, who had passed away ten years earlier, was standing there before us. The similarities between the two brothers were eerily and achingly familiar. Time stood still as the two men hugged and the rest of us watched through tears as this beautiful and life affirming moment unfolded.
The fact that we were now in Italy seemed dwarfed by the magic of the moment.
There was an instant connection and unmistakable bond between these two men, who’d not seen each other since Carmine returned home to Italy from Hobart when John was only a toddler.
Zio Carmine was so much like John’s Dad and over the next few days, we found this to be increasingly so…
Arrival at Rome Airport, first meeting with Zio Carmine and cousin Rocco. Photo by Esther Colavecchio
We were about to discover that the Italian prowess for food and wine would surpass anything we had found in Paris, England or at home in Australia, because it was combined with the sort of hospitality and family ease that surprised and thrilled us despite the barrier of language. The fact that Carmine had driven from one side of the country to the other to pick us up from the airport was an early indication of the welcome that was to be ours. We arrived in the gorgeous coastal town of Termoli to an emotional meet and greet with aunts, uncles and cousins. I was glad to have had some high school Italian lessons so I had some glimpses into what was happening among the flurry of hugs and introductions. I was also glad that at least one of John’s aunts could speak English as the boys and I were sometimes baffled with what was being said among all the smiles, tears and laughter.
Carmine took us on a quick tour around the town while our two boys stayed back at the house with the rest of the family. We were delighted to discover that the experience of walking around town with a local provided the best tour guide we could have imagined. It was an authentic first-hand look into the life and culture of Termoli, since Zio Carmine stopped to chat with many of the locals on our way around the streets. He seemed to know everyone and everyone knew him. Cliché’s converged as little, old Italian men sporting cigarettes and brill creamed hair lounged around in quaint little shop doorways, happy for a chat and a look at the new faces in town. We visited the family church and marveled at the old and historically beautiful buildings up on a hill above the town. The spectacular views from our hilltop perch were breathtaking.
Spectacular views from Termoli, photo by Carmine Colavecchio
Any worry we had about the boys getting along with the other kids and not being able to communicate was soon erased when they all discovered the common ground of iPad gaming, kicking a soccer ball in the front yard and riding bikes up and down the quiet cul-de-sac. One of John’s cousins summed it up perfectly: “They played all day, without speaking the same language…under the same sky”.
Kids enjoying playground at Casale de Clesilde, photo by Esther Colavecchio
The family took us to a fabulous place for lunch that was off the beaten track. Casale di Clesilde boasted the most breathtaking views and vista out over the lush green Italian countryside. It is set high up on the hillside in Guardialfiera, about a 45 minute drive along the Strada Statale from Termoli. The fresh air combined with the country quietness provided an idyllic spot. There was a playground outside the rustic, familial style dining room and this is where the kids happily played, ran and laughed, in between courses. There were so many courses we lost count. The food was authentic and delicious. We started with antipasto comprised of affettati, mozzarella, cooked beans, two kinds of meatballs, cooked veggies and prosciutto. We also enjoyed two stuffed pasta dishes, one of which was pasta filled with mushroom and another filled with walnut cream. We had meat, potato and salad main courses done in the Italian way of being flavoursome, tasty and filling. The addition of a few wines, many hours of talking and laughing and cake and champagne to finish the day made for a truly memorable experience. One of John’s beautiful cousins, Anna, even made a fabulous cake decorated with ‘Welcome to Italy’. We were overwhelmed and humbled by the fuss made of us that day and it is a memory that we will treasure forever.
When it finally came time to say goodbye, there are no words to convey the sorrow of parting. We’d been unsure of what to expect on this voyage of family discovery and re-connection but what we found and experienced in Italy exceeded any wishes and hopes we’d had for a magical and memorable trip.