Reader Nicholas Calvano tells Italy Magazine what happened when, after making contact with his Italian relatives, he and his wife went to see them.
On March 16, 2001, my wife Marge and I flew into the Linate Airport in Milan, Italy, one whole hour late. Waiting for us in the area outside of the luggage pick-up was Michele Calvano, and his wife, Celestina.
Marge was a short distance behind, trying to keep up so she wouldn't miss the eventful first meeting of the two relatives. We noticed a woman nudge the man standing next to her. Immediately, he raised a paper with the letters "NICK CALVANO" boldly written on it. It was then that I spotted them and approached with the greeting, "Come sta, Michele Siamo più tarde. Mi dispiaci!" nearly exhausting my entire Italian vocabulary in the first few seconds.
This was going to be fun since Michele and Celestina knew just a little more English than I knew Italian. Somehow, with a combination of broken English, broken Italian and sign language, we managed.
Michele and I went to the car rental office to pick up our reserved car, while Celestina and Marge, who speaks no Italian, attempted to get acquainted. Fortunately, Celestina had taken a crash course in English a few years earlier when she accompanied Michele on a six week business trip to Charleston, S.C.
We had an exciting 30-minute ride to the hotel, following closely behind Michele. Before we left the U.S., he suggested that we meet at the airport and they would drive us to the hotel in Bergamo.
We told him that we would have lots of luggage with us and would need the car for the remainder of our trip after leaving Bergamo, so we stuck with our plan to pick up the car at the airport and follow him to the hotel.
It was already dark and 7 pm in Italy is peak traffic time. Anyone who has ever driven on the New Jersey Turnpike or Garden State Parkway knows about stressful driving. Believe it or not, the Italian autostrada was even worse. But we managed to arrive at the hotel in Bergamo safely and waiting there was Stefania, Michele's daughter who had just returned from her business trip to Spain. After depositing the luggage in our room and having some brief conversation (Stefania speaks English fluently), they left with plans to return for us in the morning.
The next day dawned with rainy skies but that didn't dampen our spirits at all. When the family appeared this time, they had their other daughter, Daniela, with them. The four of them guided us through the old section of Bergamo to tour some of the medieval buildings and walk through the narrow, shop-lined streets before taking us to an old-town restaurant for a typical Bergamo meal.
It was, of course, delicious but the best part was how we managed to converse during the meal that lasted about two hours (Stefania served as interpreter). We learned so much about this family and their ancestors, their parents and grandparents. By the time we left, we had been the only patrons remaining in the restaurant. Before taking us back to the hotel for a bit of rest, Michele showed us around the newer section of Bergamo.
Then it was back to our hotel for a rest before going to Michele and Celestina’s house for dinner and more conversation. As soon as we had our coats off, Michele excitedly escorted us to his study where he had many old photos of his parents, grandparents and his great uncle who was the first in the family to emigrate to the U.S.
Marge told me later that at one point she thought we had made a terrible mistake. Michele showed us some old photos of our relatives in D.C. and she didn’t recognize them. She said she got this horrible, sinking feeling that we were not related because she recognized no one in the photos.
“Oh my God” she thought, “these people are not Nick’s relatives and I don’t know what to do. They took us to dinner and are entertaining us in their home and we are strangers.” She breathed a sigh of relief when Michele later produced more recent photos and she recognized my cousins.
We had brought them a booklet that contained pictures of some of their American relatives and it seemed they really appreciated it, returning all evening to look through it again and again. The girls cooed over the pictures of our grandchildren.
After dinner, a delicious meal prepared by Celestina, Michele brought out more photos of all of his family through the years as the girls were growing up. He and Celestina also had done some travelling to Egypt and to China, as well as the U.S., so we enjoyed looking through those albums, also. It appeared that no one wanted the evening to end but time kept moving right along and it was 11 pm before we knew it and time to leave. We said our goodbyes to our gracious hosts and promised to keep in touch and meet again before long.
We did indeed meet again - several times. Michele and Celestina made two trips to Florida and we made three trips to Italy, the last one being in July 2004 for Stefania’s wedding in Milan. And what an experience that was!
The ceremony began about 11 a.m. and the reception was held at what had been a Duke’s palace that was now being used for events. The food was spectacular and it just kept coming and coming.
We met more relatives, none of whom spoke English but it was fun trying to communicate with my twenty-word Italian vocabulary. (How many times I’ve heard, “Everyone in Italy speaks English.“ That’s a myth and the next time I hear it I’m going to smack someone.) We stuffed ourselves, then danced and danced until about 2 a.m. Exhausted, we bid farewell to our relatives then left with the reception still in full swing.
And that’s how a brief email note from someone named Adrian Calvano in Australia led to our attending Stefania’s wedding in Milan.
The next day we were off to Vasto but that’s another story.
Also read Nicolas Calvano's story - part 1