30 June – 1 July, 2015
There is something fascinating about returning to the birthplace of my grandparents. And not only that – it’s a sense that the journey is almost spiritual, that I am stepping backwards in a way, stealing a glance at something surreal and otherworldly.
So travelling to the tiny village of Sorbo, nestled under the breathtakingly beautiful mountains of Abruzzo, gives me the sense not of a weekend away, but of a journey of sorts. A journey in which I am returning to something which isn’t truly mine but which I can never disconnect myself from, because it runs in my veins. It is in this village, characterised by its cobblestones and one store/restaurant, that my grandmother was born. It was this village which was the world she knew until she made that giant leap in 1962, leaving her home and striking up a new one in Sydney, Australia.
In the car with my aunties and uncle, I felt the excitement rise. The scenery became more and more mountainous, and I couldn’t help but stare. Going back to the little paese, with limited reception and few services, I was prepared for a weekend of revitalization.
I wasn’t prepared for our water to run out, or for the town to be up in arms due to arguments with the council regarding the issue. It was particularly interesting when we were cooking lunch and the water actually stopped pouring from the tap. As in, completely stopped.
But I actually didn’t mind that much. And I mean that.
The last time I was in Sorbo, I was eleven years old. This time, as an adult and a fluent speaker of Italian, I was able to gain so much from the quick few days we passed there. I met my grandmother’s childhood friends, people who prior to my visit had been like mythical characters from a book, but now were real, kindly, beautiful women who welcomed me and praised my Italian and wanted to feed me and cried out various greetings to be carried back to those in Australia.
All the stories which Zio Guido, my Nonna’s brother-in-law, liked to tell me about the days when Sorbo was still full of life, the days before people started to move away, started to have a place. They were closer, more tangible.
Walking the short distance between the village and the cemetery. Wandering around the small piazza and uneven streets. Sitting around the table drinking bitters in the home of my Nonna’s cousin Rosanna. Reclining on the couch watching the Italian-dubbed cliff-hanger of the Spanish soap ‘Il Segreto’ with my aunt. Chilling in a bar in the neighbouring township of Tagliacozzo sipping on a refreshing crema di caffè.
These are the moments which I will cherish as long as I live, because they are not tourist moments shared by thousands of others – they are my own. They are part of my family story, of my personal travel not as a tourist or a student, but as an individual.
And I think it is when you find that little piece of happiness, those little moments that will belong to you and you only, the ones that shape you and make you, and give you that overwhelming sense that you were meant to be in that place at that time – that is what we travel for. We journey far and wide to attain some form of renewal and harmony, some moment – however brief or simple – that will stay with us.
And I found that in a little village in L’Aquila, Abruzzo, surrounded by the history of my Nonna.