by Melinda Gallo

My grandfather's hometown: Orchi

Ever since I moved to Italy one of my biggest dreams has been to go to visit the two paesini (towns) where my nonni (grandparents) were born. Both of my father's parents were born in Italy, but grew up and met in New York. I never met them, but I have always wanted to see where they came from. And now that I live in Italy, I feel the pull to know more about them and to visit the paesino in Italy where they came from.

Living in Florence :: My grandfather's hometown: Orchi

We jumped in our rental car at 5 am and drove south to my nonno's home town of Orchi, which is a frazione (hamlet/village) of Conca della Campania. Conca della Campania is in the northern part of Campania.

As the sun was rising, we drove down the highway through Tuscany and Lazio to arrive in Campania. As we approached Craco, we went through lush countryside with roads that were lined with tall castagni (chestnut trees).

By around 10 am, we were parking our car along the street where a few older men were standing outside talking. We walked into the municipio (town hall) to talk to someone in the Ufficio Anagrafe (registry office). I had contacted them once before to see if they could get me information on my bisnonno (great-grandfather) because he was also born in Orchi, but the woman who answered the phone said that their records didn't go back that far.

The older man in the ufficio greeted us and I explained that my nonno was born in Craco in 1892. I asked if I could see the archivio (archives) to see what other information is listed there. I told him when my nonno was born and he walked into another room and pulled out a registry book that he flipped through as he walked toward us. He showed me the entry for my nonno with the handwritten information with extravagant loops.

I stared at the page and wanted to take in each letter. He explained that many of nostri cugini americani (our American cousins) come to visit the town where their nonni were born. The kind man said, "Vuoi una fotocopia? Do you want a photocopy?" I smiled and said, "Sì, per favore. Yes, please."

After he made the fotocopia, we went through the information regarding the other brothers and sisters of my nonno and he photocopied each page. What we learned was that my bisnonna (great-grandmother) wasn't born in Orchi because her last name isn't from the area. We discovered that their marriage wasn't written on the entries for the birth of each child. The man said that in the old days, men married their wives in their hometowns. So most likely she wasn't from Orchi or even Campania in his opinion.

We asked him how much we could pay him for the five fotocopie, but he said he didn't want anything. He told us to make sure we head up the road to visit Orchi and ask the woman at the alimentari (small grocery store) for any other people named Gallo.

We drove along the windy road a few kilometers to Orchi and parked in front of the alimentari. We asked the woman working there if she knew of any other Gallos in the town. She was so excited that she quickly took us outside to the man who lived a few doors down whose last name was also Gallo.

The man didn't come out, but his wife was walking up the path and told us that it'd be almost impossible for her husband to know anyone because my nonno was born so long ago and her husband was born at least 30 to 40 years later.

We walked around the paesino and I tried to imagine what life was like when my nonno was a child there. Orchi now probably has only a few hundred inhabitants, but most of them are of retired age. Many of the edifici (buildings) seem to be deserted, but a few of them are still inhabited. We looked out at the countryside around the paesino, which is green with cultivated fields all around. We could even see Conca della Campania from the piazzetta (small piazza) at the end of the main road.

After our quick visit of my nonno's hometown, we drove to Caserta to visit the Reggia di Caserta. Every time I mentioned to anyone that my nonno was born in a provincia di Caserta (province of Caserta), everyone would say, "Hai visitato la Reggia? Did you visit the Reggia?" We both decided that we couldn't come all this way and not see it.

We were both stunned by the grandeur of the Reggia di Caserta. The immense palazzo (palace) with its well manicured garden in the front was difficult to miss from the road. We walked around the reggia for a few hours and still didn't make it to the end of the parco (park). We did enjoy the numerous amazing fountains and statues.

By 3 pm, we were back in the car on our way to Matera to get us a little closer to where my nonna was born.

I enjoyed spending the day in Campania and see where my nonno came from. I didn't feel at home there as I do in Florence, but it was so interesting to see the place where he was born.

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