Le Marche: The Motherland
Trip Start Jul 04, 2014
7Trip End Jul 27, 2014
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"May our home know joy, each room hold laughter, every window open to great possibilities."
- Old Italian Saying
Italy is made up of 20 regions, each with their own personality, beauty, food and dialect. In the central east coast along the Adriatic, you'll find the Le Marche, filled with rolling hills covered in lines of grape vines and ski slopes of sunflowers, topped with fortified Medieval towns. The beaches are blanketed in colorful umbrellas and olive skinned Italians bathing in the sun. Le Marche is a lesser known region of Italy, in the shadows of its popular neighbors Umbria and Tuscany. And that’s just the way we like it.
My mom, uncle Peter and Auntie are Biagettis and 100% Italian Americans whose father, my nonno Aldo, was raised in a tiny town of San Michele in Le Marche, and he and my nonni Flora raised their family in Natick, Massachusetts, along with many others in the family tree who came over. We have countless relatives - cugini - who live near San Michele and my great aunt Italia still lives in the farm house that my great great grandfather bought over a century ago.
We have made this pilgrimage many times before, and this is the third time as an official family reunion in five years, with 25 of us coming over from the States to gather, catch up, and soak in being Italians, Marchegiani, to be specific.
We stay at Casa Ercole near Belvedere Ostrensa, which is too dreamy and obnoxious to detail. The casa’s white curtains swaying in the wind is what I think of when I need to go to a happy place. Our hosts Ercole and John are now family to us, and we are home when we are there. This time, Ercole’s mamma even gave us a pasta cooking lesson. There's an entire piece of furniture dedicated to the making of pasta. The woman knows how to roll.
Speeches are made, torches are passed, tears roll. You hear giggles and glasses clink a lot, "chin chin!" Pink bubbles were always opened for me, especially on my birthday. Word on the street is we went through 235.5 liters of wine. Some are contesting that figure, I am not. Benjamin Franklin did say, "Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy," afterall. We eat three homemade meals a day that leave you both elated with joy and in pain from not saying basta in time. If there's one word you learn in Italian, it’s basta. Enough.
Pranza is an afternoon event that can take hours, with rest afterwards even longer. The biggest pranza of the week is with the entire family – over 50 cugini under one roof, all with shared blood and ties, new infants to Zia Italia at 92. This year’s five course meal started with lasagna.
For the most part, we stare at the sunflowers, visit with the relatives that stop by in broken Italian and English, take day trips to shop for pasta cutters, have Reiki sessions with Lisa, and roam around the neighboring fortress towns in every direction. Or we just lounge at la piscina with our olive oil sun enhancer, and watch the kids - of all ages - play a Game of Boards. Night brings more games - mean rounds of Pitch - where cards are king.
And there are a few traditions we always repeat – a visit to the homestead, pranza at cugini Medissa and Angelo’s with either cappoletti or passatelli, a visit to Mondavio where Angelo is the man and in charge of the town’s incredible restoration (oh, there may be a great jewelry shop there too), and housecoat shopping.
Italy’s largest population is little old hunched ladies who have spent their lives cleaning and cooking and cannot be bothered with zippers, buttons, belts, or even coordinating outfits. The housecoat is airy, non-binding, complete with pockets, feminine as it’s typically floral, and epitomizes comfort. (In my perfect world, meetings, travel, nights out, are all performed in a housecoat, slippers and lip gloss. I've been working for years to bring it to trend.)
You can hit the motherload at local markets and this season’s were scored and gifted with hues of blue, mine looks like a Jackson Pollack. (Be. Jealous.) This year’s photo shoot was done against an old stone barn in the morning light of our last day.
I cannot say enough about my family. They are dedicated to each other, will surprise you with train tickets, rides, gifts, will do anything for you, including reserve tables on the beach for World Cup viewing, and will cook homemade anything you crave. Grazi por tutti.
Our family history is long and wide with names that are almost too classic to believe – Biagetti, Brunetti, Temprendola, D’Angelis. I have a great uncle Zefferino Zongi. I love them all, am grateful to them all, and proud to be among them all.
May we all live and love long through our stories, photos and recipes. Viva Italia!