by Melinda Gallo

My grandmother's hometown: Craco

We spent the night in Matera and visited the Sassi di Matera in the early morning. We headed down the winding roads to Craco where my nonna (grandmother) was born. As we drove up to see the abandoned town of Craco, which is shown in the picture, I burst out crying. I had never met my nonna and yet suddenly felt close to her.

Living in Florence :: My grandmother's hometown: Craco

We stopped in at the archivio (archives) to see about getting a fotocopia (photocopy) of my nonna's birth record. The office is located in the new town where the inhabitants have moved to, which is about 7 kilometers before the abandoned city.

The woman in the archives came out after her colleague called her. She greeted us with a stern face and said, "Dovevete chiamarmi prima. You should've called me first." We arrived more than an hour before they closed, and I had assumed that it would be as easy as it was the day before in Conca della Campania to just photocopy the page on which my nonna is listed. The town only has about 900 inhabitants now and I had assumed that not many people come to the archivio.

She explained the process to get copies, which included writing a written request and sending payment. The more she spoke to us, the more I realized that she wasn't going to budge and help me. I put away my documents, then turned and walked away. I was so disappointed by the woman's unwillingness to help me that I had to leave. I felt frustrated, angry, and sad and feared that my reaction would not be appropriate as I was already feeling emotional about being in my nonna's paesino.

We drove through the arid countryside to the old city of Craco perched on the hillside with all the ingredients to make a couple of panini (sandwiches). We ate our panini as we stood in the shade to look up at Craco. The more I looked at it, the more I became intrigued by it.

We walked around the abandoned city and took many photos of it. We had to be careful because many of the buildings are in ruins. We heard from someone in Matera that there is still a pastore (shepherd) living in the ruins of Craco. He obviously let the sheep graze freely in Craco as we saw what they left behind.

We navigated as much of the town as we could and even entered one of the churches that was still standing.

When we reached the bottom, we spoke to two men who were born in Craco and now live below. The two men had very strong accents that at times I didn't understand and looked to Alessandro to help me, but he didn't comprehend much more than I did. One of the men said, "Era un paese nobile. Craco was a noble town."

I was sad to leave Craco behind, but am happy about all the photos I took. We headed for Lecce because Alessandro said that it's the "Firenze del sud Florence of the South."

We wandered the streets and saw many of the Baroque architecture lit up against the dark sky. What amazed me most about Lecce was that as we walked around at 11pm, the streets were as full as they are in Florence at noon. Stores, restaurants, cafés, and bars were all open. A mostra (exhibition) was even bursting with people.

I loved being back in a bustling city again as we had only visited small towns since we left Florence. I can't imagine what my nonni (grandparents) must have felt when they arrived in New York after coming from their small towns. Both of them were born in towns where the population barely exceeded 1000.

I hope it was exciting to them as I find much joy in big cities. I do love the smaller towns as well because they are so quaint, but there is definitely something magical about the big cities, which offer so much to those who come to them.

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