I am “American” through and through, but I believe it is important for everyone to have a sense of the past and where we have each come from. Italy is the land where all of my grandparents were born. I grew up in an Italian-American household where we were proud to be American, but equally proud of our Italian heritage. When I was 10 years old, my parents wanted me to get a sense of that heritage. I was going to spend the summer in Palermo, Sicily. At the time, my then 80 year old grandfather would go back often to spend the summer with relatives and that summer, he was going to take me with him. I looked forward to this very much, but unfortunately, shortly before we were to have left, he developed some medical issues that made my parents think twice about sending me with him. I was certainly disappointed then, but as a parent now, I can understand their hesitation. He wound up going without me and though he spent that summer uneventfully, he never returned. While I didn’t get to experience Italy in the formative years of my childhood, I appreciated my parents’ desire for me to have experienced it then. I did eventually get to visit Italy as an adult and have been back a number of times since. With children of my own, I wanted them to experience their Italian heritage like I was supposed to do with my grandfather, one-to-one.
The idea for these father son trips was to explore areas important to our family history, but not to limit the trip just to those areas. To make the most of the trip, I needed to time it for the right age. Too young and their interest and level of sophistication to experience, learn and remember as well as their willingness to try new and different foods would not be sufficient. Too far into their teenage years, taking them from school would cause problems not to mention the risk that they would have too many other interests. I wanted to time it to maximize what they and we together would get out of it.
With my eldest son, our trip focused on Sicily, the home of my paternal ancestors. We met relatives in Palermo – many of the same ones I would have met with my grandfather years earlier – before going on a culinary tour of the island with Peggy Markel. This was agreat trip. We saw Madama Butterfly at Palermo’s Teatro Massimo, ate sea urchin right out of the shell on Mondello Beach, ate pannini on the ancient Grecian ruins of Agrigento, learned how to make panelle and arancini from Ana Tasca Lanza, watched and sampled the chocolate making at Bonajuto in Modica and witnessed the eruption of Mt. Etna amongst other special memories. It was during this trip that I first became acquainted with the Slow Food movement. We finished the trip in Sorrento in my maternal homeland of Campania. Perhaps the most important piece of information that I learned was that my surname did not originate in Sicily. The Sconzo name was a relatively late arrival to the island. It was brought by Giovanni Sconzo, a sea captain from the island of Elba, who moved to the then thriving city of Palermo in 1790.
Just a year later, I took my middle son on his trip. We spent have the trip in Campania. Our trip started in luxury at the Hotel San Pietro in Positano, moved over to capri and then to the wonderful Agriturismo Seliano, where we had the simplest and best pasta ever – hand-rolled fusilli with pomodorini del Vesuvio, not to mention amazing mozzarelle di bufale from their own water buffalos. While at Seliano in Paestum, we visited my maternal grandmother’s hometown of Giffone Valdepiano in the mountains of Salerno Province. We met with the mayor and toured the town, but couldn’t find the home my grandmother was born in. From Seliano, we moved to Naples, where we attended the Slow Food International Congress and ate spectacular pizza amongst other delights. This trip continued on to Modena, where we ate at Osteria Francescana (for my first time), visited an Balsamico Acetaia (sampling 100 year old balsamic), a parmigiano factory and the Ferrari Museum. Our trip finished in the magical city of Venice, eating moleche and exploring the city’s hidden alleys.
I just finished the last of these trips with my youngest son. This and my other two father-son trips to Italy were amongst the very best things I have done in my life. Over the next few weeks to months, I will post details from my journal as well as in depth reports on a few very special meals and experiences. I hope you enjoy this tribute to my family’s heritage!