Jeff and Elaine's Italy Trip

Day 5
Monteleone di Spoleto

 

This was the day I was waiting for with great anticipation. My great grandfather Francesco DeMarco immigrated from Monteleone in the late 1800s, and was one of the founding members of the Monteleone Society in Trenton, NJ. If I had much chance of finding family members, this is where it would be. I had printed out several pages from the online pagine bianche using different family names. There was Venanzi (my great grandmother), Perleonardi (the husband of my father's aunt Rose) and Iachetti, which is the Italian spelling of Jachetti. My father has always talked about our relation Father Peter Jachetti, who was one of the first Italian catholic priests in New Jersey. Father Jachetti was also related to his cousin the Cardinal, Egidio Vagnozzi.  

We got in the car and headed south from Perugia, passing by any number of hilltop towns including Assisi, Spello and Foligno. There were signs for truffle vendors all along the way. Truffles are one of the local crops in Umbria. Just before getting to Spoleto, there is a tunnel (which we took) that connects the main valley with a valley known as the Valnerina, a beautiful valley region with wineries and other local delicacies. Here we had a choice - take the shorter but much windier road directly to Monteleone, or take the longer route through Cerreto di Spoleto and Cascia. The folks at the car rental agency had recommended the winding road, so we followed their suggestion.  

The road was narrow, and was very curvy. The views were beautiful, but we were a little concerned in that it was quite remote, with only one tiny church town on the entire length of it, which was about 20 miles. It ascended rapidly - Monteleone is over 3000 feet in elevation - and we started seeing patches of snow. These got bigger and bigger until finally the road was completely covered. There seemed to be no end to it, and we had slowed down to a crawl to avoid sliding. We were getting very nervous, but we finally came over the ridge onto a much flatter, straighter and wider road from which we glimpsed our first view of our destination:  

 

That's it, on the little hill just to the right of center...


After we got a little closer, I was able to get a better shot, clearly showing the entire hilltop town.  


We came around the curve, and saw this sign, confirming our location!  


We parked outside the main portal to the city.  


I thought the easiest way to make contact would be to be with a business - and one of the addresses I had was for the Alimentari Iachetti, which is a grocery store. Not 50 yards into the town, what should we see but this:  

 

We struck up a conversation with the woman you see, whose name is Celeste Iachetti. Turns out she is related to Father Peter Jachetti and Cardinal Vagnozzi! Her son, Girolamo (Gimmi) runs the market, and it turned out he had visited Trenton himself, and eaten at the Roman Hall, which is the establishment that my great grandfather had helped to build. They spoke no English, and we but poor Italian, but were able to get on famously. Celeste bought us a coffee at a bar across the street that was run by a fellow who had worked the Princess Cruises in southern California for many years, so we were able to increase our communication a bit.  

I asked about strascinati, as I had in every town before this. Noone yet had heard of it, but Gimmi's eyes lit up as he told us that we were to eat with him and his family that afternoon, and we would have strascinati! He was very excited that we were there. He told us where the cemetery was, and how to find Peter Jachetti's grave. There was still an hour or so before lunch time, so we headed out on our own for awhile, and decided to check out the cemetery to look for possible relatives.


The cemetery was absolutely beautiful. Most of the graves are in above ground crypts - and most of them are routinely maintained!  

 

We looked at every one - found 2 DiMarcos, a bunch of Venanzis and several other family names. These were mostly more recent than the time when my great grandfather came over. There were older ones in the ground in the courtyard itself, but almost none of them were marked.  

Finally we found Father Peter Jachetti, who had been brought back to Monteleone fairly recently.  


After touring the cemetery, we went over to the city hall and asked about birth records for my great grandmother. Turns out that they only had records from 1860 on, which explains why they hadn't been able to find my great grandfather. There was no index, and they could not find Rosa Venanzi by looking at each page of difficult handwriting. However, they did find a birth record for Giovanni DiMarco, son of Luigi. I am pretty sure that this Luigi was my great grandfather's brother. They made me a copy of what they had, and we then headed back to the grocery store to meet with Gimmi for lunch.
Gimmi lives in a beautiful duplex, just outside the front gate of the town. Celeste came, and we met his wife Mariana and daughter Laura, age 13. Giralomo Jr. was home, but was not feeling well and stayed in bed for the duration of our visit.  

Then came the food - what a feast! We started with the best strascinati I've ever had - turns out they use a little pancetta as well as Italian sausage in it. The sausage was so good and so fresh you could eat it raw, and they had us try some. Amazingly sweet! Gimmi then pulled out a three page history of strascinati, complete with recipe. See History of Strascinati.  

Next up was rabbit - I quipped that it was chicken with four legs ;-) To accompany there were french fries and salad, and of course wine and water. For sweets, there was a mincemeat tort and brandied raisins. Then they pulled out some of the local specialities, including pecorino cheese and salami de Norcia. Norcia is the city where they specialize in pork products, with a special way of preparing and curing the pork that goes back several centuries. It is only 2 towns away from Monteleone.  

After two and a half hours of enthusiastic conversation, we finished with an espresso, and accompanied Gimmi to the bank, where he made copies of the family genealogy, the history of strascinati, and a commemoration from 1980 of the centennial of the emigration of the Monteleonese to Trenton! The bank didn't charge us a centessimo.  

Finally, it was time to leave, and Elaine took this shot of Gimmi and me:  

 

As a going away gift, they gave us a bag of farro, which is the original non-hybrid wheat that is the same as that used in Roman times, with a big label saying "Product of Monteleone di Spoleto."


After telling the Iachettis our tale of woe regarding the trip there, they told us that the other way back was much better, and quicker because it was relatively straight with no snow, being a main road. We took their advice, and passed through the towns of Cascia and Cerreto di Spoleto in the dark without incident or concern.  

Upon returning to Perugia, we ate a small dinner at Lo Scalino in the form of a pizza with ricotta, soup and the copa speziale, which was farro, kernels of corn and chopped avocado in a mayonaise sauce, which was surprisingly refreshing and delicous!


The weather had been beautiful the entire time. Rome was cool, but not unpleasant in the mid 50s. Perugia was a bit colder, and Elaine bought a beautiful lambswool scarf on the street for 7 euros, and I bought a pair of gloves for about 10. She liked the scarf so much, we bought a couple more as presents for Lia and Sofia.  

We were glad we had increased our cold weather wear, as Monteleone was quite cold!


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