I left my hostel early to make sure I had enough time to first find the Roma bus station and then to buy a ticket. Thank goodness people speak some English otherwise I would have been screwed. I know some Italian to barely navigate but hand gestures have been my main mode of communication. I got into a bus that took me to Sulmona, where I needed to transfer to Scanno. All the while I hoped I would not end up regretting my decision to go to this small Italian mountain town. All of the views along the way to Scanno were beautiful including Scanno di Lago. The towns were filled with tiny houses and apartments tightly packed together. I arrived in Scanno at noon with instructions from my family to ask for Eustachio at Pane dell’Orso. The bus dropped me off in the historic center of town in front of the tourist office so I figured I might as well pick up some maps and see what I could find out there. The first man I met did not speak any English so he directed me to a woman that spoke some. I communicated that I am family of Eustachio Mancini, Sandra and Rolando Mancini, and Agnes and Ronaldo Mancini. She knew the names as well as a couple of others. After communicating with her colleague in Italian and asking a fluent English speaker that happened to walk by, they explained in general where I could find the house. I said thank you and walked in that direction. As much as I tried, I could not seem to find the house since the directions were a little vague. With little else to do, I stopped at the bakery Pane dell’Orso for further explanation. Unfortunately, the man working at the bakery did not speak a lick of English but with his sinistras and destras, he was able to tell me where Eustachio should be. After all the confusion and walking around cluelessly, I found a home isolated from the rest of the surrounding buildings with door bells for Eustachio and Agapito, another name I had to remember. I got no response from Eustachio so I gave the Agapito residence a try. Sure enough, someone acknowledged me in inaudible Italian. Soon after, an elderly woman peered out the window. With my best efforts (effort can only go so far when you have a pathetic Italian vocabulary), I tried to explain to her that I was family of Mancini and all the rest. She nodded and seemed to understand but the conversation continued on for ten minutes without getting anywhere. After awhile when I knew all hope was lost, I said ‘ciao, grazie’ and left with my tail tucked between my legs. Since I was getting hungry, I stopped into the local supermarket to eat. With a whole lot of hand gestures, I somehow was able to order bread (sliced), some kind of sliced meat, and buffalo mozzarella. Looking quite pathetic, I sat in the main piazza to eat my sandwich. No joke or exaggeration, the cheese might very well have been the best I have ever had. As good as the cheese was in Paris, this mozzarella is in a category of its own. Soft and creamy, while not too salty, it was a great complement to the light and fluffy bread. After eating to my heart’s content, I had nothing else better to do than walk the narrow streets of Scanno. I covered most of the town but could not get into any of the churches since they were closed. Anyways, to continue killing time I decided to hike up the mountain/hill opposite of Scanno to get a good view of the whole town and basically shrivel up whatever energy I had left over. The day was very hot and humid and, with the 40 pounds or so of luggage strapped to my back, the climb began with a rough start. At about 1/3 of the way up I decided to ditch my large luggage under a tree to lessen the load as I continued upwards on this rocky path. From this standpoint, I could see all of Scanno. The view gave me the perspective I needed to be more appreciative of where I was. The path died out but I was not finished; I chose to make my own path while trying to gain whatever traction the rocky slope could spare. Eventually, I ended my climb thoroughly drained/sapped/deprived of energy but was rewarded by my efforts with a view of Lago di Scanno, which rested in the valley to my right. The thought of swimming in a cool and refreshing lake never sounded so good. As much as I enjoyed the hike up to that point, I already began thinking about going back to Rome so that I could get a head start on my trip to Cinque Terre. The whole reason I came to Scanno was to see some family and get a better appreciation for where I came from. Based on what I remembered from the bus timetable, I still had a chance to make the 5 o’clock bus. Downwards I went in search of my backpack. From what I recalled, I thought the backpack would be easy to find but I was fooled by my assumptions. Feelings of stupidity overwhelmed me. I began thinking I would need to finish my trip with what little I had in my daypack. What started off to be a great idea to see my long lost relatives and the town my family came from began to turn into a total disaster. I began regretting my ill fated choice to travel out of the way to this town when I could have been in Siena for Il Palio. Now, I was lost and wasting time. I kept going down the mountainside while attempting to keep my balance and not tumble to my death from all the loose rocks. The song “Landside” was stuck in my head as I tripped, fell, and slid down numerous times only to grab ahold of the rare sturdy rock within reach (the landslide of loose rocks will bring me down…). My efforts to find my bag were getting continuously hopeless. I prayed to St. Anthony to spare me some sanity. After retracing my steps multiple times, I ran across a landmark that looked awfully familiar. With renewed energy and belief, I climbed the mountain once more. Low and behold under a tree, my bag lay there waiting for me. Immediately, I dropped to my knees in gratitude. I walked to my bag and kissed it over and over again. With my luggage once more on my back, I scurried down the hill to hopefully reach the bus stop before the last bus left for Rome. At the tourist office, I saw the unfortunate news that the last bus departed a half hour ago. All that aimless climbing of the mountain to find my bag dashed whatever hopes I had of being on that bus. I went inside the tourist office to charge my phone so that I could make a call back home to let everyone know what was going on. My only mode of communication, since I had no wifi to use the iPad, failed me. I wanted to take that useless piece of technology and throw it in Scanno di Lago or the nearby river. Being as helpful as he could, the non-English speaking tourist office representative let me use the restroom, explained to me the bus situation for tomorrow, and showed me the nearest hotel I could stay for the night. At the time, I was drenched in sweat and pissed off beyond belief. The only thing that tempered my anger was the thought of jumping into the lake. Before doing so I needed to check into the hotel (even though I was ready to sleep on the streets or under some tree) and get rid of my bags. Luckily, the hotel had wi-fi so I was able to check my email and Facebook to see if anyone tried to communicate with me while I restored my energy with the leftover bread and meat I had from earlier. Apparently, my little angels back home were working like busy bees to help me out and get in touch with the family in Scanno. Apparently, the house I talked to the elderly woman at was in fact the right house. With Rosanna, another person in this confusing family tree, back home from work, they were awaiting my arrival. If I hadn’t checked into the hotel first, I would have been at the lake lounging in the cool water. With this unexpected notice, I walked back to the same house I was at earlier that day. After ringing the bell once again, a voice responded and soon after the gate unlocked. After entering through the gate, I met a woman named Rosanna. She greeted me warmly, saying ciao, and giving hugs and kisses (the typical way Italians say hello, something that needs to be imported into America). She guided me upstairs into her home where I encountered the woman I met earlier in the day from the balcony window. Even though we couldn’t understand each other, we laughed and smiled over the confusing way we first met. The three of us entered their family room where we first sat there awkwardly trying to gain some common ground. Rosanna encouraged me to eat some chocolates she had and we began the humorous awkward tango of talking over a mountainous language barrier. I understood a few words here and there but most of the time I shrugged my shoulders and smiled while saying “non capisco” (I don’t understand). Surprisingly we made a lot of progress with hand gestures (I felt like a mime half the time). Rosanna was helpful by babying down the Italian language so that I could make out certain phrases. Every once in awhile we came to a stand still where one of us threw up our hands and said “mannaggia la miseria” (a form of damn it). Ascenzia (still not sure the elderly woman’s name) was the best; whenever the confusion became too much, she started crying with laughter and then all of us joined in. Luckily, my Nonna called and she was able to speed along the process. Apparently, Rosanna wanted to show me around Scanno and then cook me dinner. Even though I was full to begin with, how could I say no? So Rosanna took me around Scanno as I kept nodding whenever she pointed at different buildings and then I would say “bella, bella”. I quickly developed the impression that Rosanna is the queen of Scanno; whenever we passed by the locals, a chorus of ciaos were chanted through the streets. Despite the difficulty in language, she made me feel very much at home and happy to here after the frustration from earlier that day. We passed the home that my family still owns and the old home of my great grandfather, Celestino. Being around family and seeing where it all started completely altered the perspective I first had of Scanno. Also, we went into five or so churches; in that moment, I realized how much Italians have a connection with their religion. For a small town, five plus churches is a lot. Although small, each of the churches were beautiful in their own way, especially Santa Maria, the main church in town. After winding up and down all the narrow streets of Scanno, we ended up at Pan dell’Orso where Rosanna bought A LOT of pastries and cookies. I soon realized my stomach and I would be in for a long night of Italian hospitality. From what I could tell, Rosanna even tried to see if I could get out of my hotel reservation so that I could stay at her house for the night. Back at Casa Rosanna, I waited while Rosanna and Ascenzia fixed dinner. Not too long after, I was summoned to mangia (eat). Into the dining room I went where a healthy sized bowl of pasta awaited me. With some formaggio (cheese) and more pomodoro/ragu (tomato sauce with meat), I dug in. I felt their eyes upon me waiting for my reaction until I said molto bene (very good). I have experienced Italian hospitality within my own immediate family before but this was on a level of its own. The entire meal revolved around me, the guest of honor. Both of them made sure I was satisfied. I was given another bowl of pasta upon completing the first (again, how could I say no?). With every other bite, I took a swig from my glass of wine to finish the job. Ascenzia and I became drinking buddies as we challenged each other with alternating pours from the bottle (haha, oh Ascenzia, what a funny gal). I figured the meal would be completed with that bowl of pasta or possibly a salad but I guessed wrong. A plate of cooked baby zucchini with some carrots and bread crumbs arrived next with meatballs, sausage, and ripe tomato slices on the side. Oh boy, my stomach was about to triple in size. I had no choice but to power on and beg for more room within. In my opinion, the zucchini was the highlight of the meal (I must get the recipe ASAP). The tomatoes were soooo sweet and fresh, the way a vegetable should be (and that’s why I could never create a pizza of the same quality as Italy back home). At this point in the meal, I realized I was eating the same as the two women combined, if not more. For each scoop they had, I was given double. With little room to spare, dessert came next. Dark and white chocolate masticioli (light on the inside with a fine crust on the outside, making it a primo cookie) and a fluffy cupcake sort of thing with a creamy lemon custard secretly hidden within were delicioso! The cookies were broken in half with one of them halved again. The two wonderful ladies enjoyed their quarters while I was given the half (I was really hurting at this point but down the hatchet the food went). To finally complete this marathon meal, we ate baby peaches and I was offered a glass of limoncello. I coughed it down and we all smiled. I said mille grazie (many thanks) a hundred times over for the food, friendship, and showing me around the beautiful town of Scanno. Ascenzia disappeared into the kitchen while Rosanna and I stared at each other at first before continuing the awkward language tango. We talked about the family’s ability to speak and understand Italian. With our hands we showed the tiers of the family with Mario, Gabriel, and others towards the top and then I signaled with my hand way below the table where Antonio resided, haha. She pulled out a European map on which I pointed out where I had been and would be in the future. Then, she showed me a detailed map of the Abruzzo region and where Scanno fit into the area. For a short while, I got a crash course in Italian. She played teacher and I was the student as she pointed out different things in the room and pronounced the Italian name, after which, I repeated for practice. Even though we had just met today (and especially for Ascenzia and I, we felt like strangers upon our first encounter), these two wonderful and amazing women welcomed me into their home and gave me more than I could ever ask for. Also, she gave me a goodie bag filled with the leftover cookies and pastries as well as the peaches. In my best Italian (which isn’t saying much), I explained that I would be leaving Scanno for Rome at 7 in the morning. I was getting quite tired so I said thank you once again for everything and buona notte (good night). She asked if I would return and I said I hoped to but with more Italian words in my arsenal. Back at the hostel, I planned out tomorrow’s travels to Cinque Terre before basking in the fact that I actually had a room to myself for the first time in over a month.
Day 37: Sooo….Scanno