Tag Archives: Family history

Abruzzo’s Teramo province — Part 1, Adriatic views

This post is part 1 of 2 posts regarding the Abruzzo’s Teramo Province. It concentrates on a few towns that are either directly on the Adriatic Sea coast of Abruzzo, or within view of the coast.

Abruzzo is a central-south region of Italy, shown in red on the small map of Italy below. Along with Lazio to the west (you know, the region where you’ll find Rome), it completes a wobbly band around the middle of Italy.

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Small Italy map showing Abruzzo in red. Big Abruzzo map showing the four provinces. Image By Vonvikken (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Teramo is the northernmost province of Abruzzo, and is the birthplace of my maternal grandparents, Giovanni Pergolini and Anna Mezzacappa.

Various Italic tribes lived in the area until the 3rd Century BC when Rome’s rule began. The Teramo province borders the Ascoli Piceno province of Le Marche region to the north, and the L’Aquila province of Abruzzo to the south-west.

The hill towns of Teramo retain many of the medieval era walls, castles, buildings or fortresses, some of which are built on older Roman and pre-Roman sites.

With the introduction of a coastal railway line in the mid 1800s, towns sprung up near the train stations and many of the hill towns lost their importance. However, these towns still retain an authentic old character and charm and are perfect for wandering around for a morning or afternoon when everyone is home for ‘la pausa’. Think winding staircases and streets so narrow a little Fiat cinquecento would have to fold its mirrors in to pass through.

Throughout the year, cultural and enogastronomic events take place in both the hills and on the coast. This is authentic, untouched Italy.

Montepagano

Our grandfather was born in 1895 in Rosburgo, and his birth registered in Montepagano, the medieval walled settlement dating to the 11th century AD. Until 1927 the central government administration (the Comune) for the area was in Montepagano. Now the Comune is in Roseto degli Abruzzi and Montepagano is the smaller village or ‘frazione di Roseto’.

Some highlights of the cultural calendar are wine festivals celebrating the local wines from the Colline Teramane  (Teramo Hills), a festival of unpublished poetry and a festival celebrating ‘Tradizione Paganese’ (the people of Montepagano are referred to as ‘Paganese’) or ancient recipes and flavours from the medieval borgo.

One of my favourite museums in Abruzzo is in Montepagano; the Museo Civica della Culture Materiale. This Museum of Material Culture is an incredible resource of historic documents, photos and objects of daily life in this medieval village. Run by volunteers and with all items donated, it is fascinating for those with family heritage in the area, or for any lover of social anthropology.

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The curator of the Museum of Material Culture (Museo Civico della Cultura Materiale) in Montepagano, Teramo, Abruzzo, showing me old school registers. I was looking for the names of my descendants from Montepagano, the Pergolini and DeAngelis families.

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Old Chitarra pasta makers and other kitchen tools

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Holy cards and religious books from local homes

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Box of playing cards

tailor workshop museum montepagano

A tailor’s workshop set up in another room

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Every imaginable kitchen tool or implement

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Coffee accoutrements

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One part of the museum was full of old records, posters and photos of musicians and pop icons.

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The walls of some buildings are adorned with permanent plaques in metal or terracotta inscribed with poetry. Montepagano hosts a national poetry competition for unpublished poems in Italian and in dialect.

Pineto

The pine forest that goes right to the water’s edge gives Pineto its name. This is a special place for beach walks and bike rides in the quiet pine forest, Casual eateries where you sit barefoot with your toes in the sand are found on the edge of the pines.

The pines here were planted between the sea and the railway line by the 19th Century farmer and landowner, Signor Luigi Filani. They give the whole town and beach area a serenity not found at some of the more boisterous summer playgrounds along this northern part of Abruzzo’s Adriatic coast.

Only a short distance from where I usually stay in Roseto (read below), this is a favourite bicycle ride of mine. You can ride to the Torre (tower) del Cerrano and back to Roseto in an easy half day. The tower was built in the 16th century as a watchtower to guard against invaders approaching via the Adriatic.  There is no visible town to protect on the coast as the population and civic centres were up on the hills in the ancient towns of Mutignano and Atri.

Today, the tower houses a Museum of the Sea and is in the middle of a protected marine reserve area that runs seven kilometres along the Adriatic coast from Pineto to Silvi.

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In the pines of Pineto.

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My ride, a rental from In Bici n Roseto. Bikes can be rented from many places along the coast. I always use In Bici in Roseto,

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The quiet beach of Pineto with a vendor selling beach wraps and kites.

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Torre di Cerrano

Roseto degli Abruzzi

No trip to Abruzzo is complete without a visit to my few remaining cugini in Roseto degli Abruzzi.

In the 1860s a small collection of houses appeared near the coast and this area was called Le Quote. Eventually the new Adriatic railway, connecting Ancona (Le Marche) with Bari (Puglia) brought more people to what became known as Rosburgo. Following WWI the soldiers being transported up and down the line objected to the Germanic-sounding Rosburgo and the town officially became Roseto degli Abruzzi, known by most simply as Roseto.

The cultivated pines of Pineto are more famous, however I remember my grandfather talking about the scent of the pines in Roseto where they grow naturally, right on the lungomare (along the sea). Walking through the little shady parks of pine trees never fails to bring a smile to my face as I recall my grandfather.

Roseto has a population of about 25,000 people, which swells in summer as Italians and other European visitors — mainly German and Dutch as well as the returning families of emigres (like myself) — come to enjoy the clean water and safe, flat swimming beaches.

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Sunrise over the Adriatic from our favourite Bed and Breakfast in Roseto (Luci a’mmare)

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A cool park opposite the beach, set in native pine forest.

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Roseto’s beaches are granted Blue Flag status for their clean, safe waters and abundance of entertainment and food options at the many Lidos.

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Another Adriatic sunrise

Giulianova

Ten Kilometres north of Roseto is the town of Giulianova which is comprised of the old town on the hill, Giulianova Paese, and the modern beach resort and town called simply Giulianova or Giulianova Lido. Giulianova stretches out along the railway line that follows the coast, and is a holiday destination in summer, much like Roseto. Both the old town and the Lido are known for many seafood, pasta and pizza restaurants. Having visited the beach town in the past, eventually, in 2017 we ventured up the hill to Giulianova Paese and enjoyed the splendid view from the ‘Belvedere’ and a delicious lunch. The duomo and the old buildings in the town are worth a few hours look.

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Giulianova Lido and the stunning Adriatic Sea can be viewed from Giulianova Paese on the hill.

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From the Belvedere, looking out to the Adriatic Sea

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Geometric paving of the Belvedere (lookout) in the old town of Giulianova

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Duomo of Saint Flaviano, Giulianova

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Inside the Duomo of Saint Flaviano and lovely are also ceramic tiles representing the stations of the cross.

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Inside the Duomo of Saint Flaviano there are also etchings of the stations of the cross.

Giulianova lunch blue cheese and walnut gnocchi

Gnocchi and walnuts in a blue cheese sauce, delightful with a glass of Ceresuolo, a local rosé made from the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grape.

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Shady arcaded buildings along the main square

Atri

Considered by many to be the finest small city in the Teramo Province, Atri has charming streets, important buildings and a very special setting on a hill that overlooks the Adriatic Sea. The town, like so many in the province, is at the top of a hill in a defensive position.

In the countryside to the west of the town is a nature reserve known as the Calanchi d’Atri. Guided walks and independent itineraries are available for those wishing to explore this area of natural beauty caused by years of erosion. The Calanchi support a diverse range of animal and plant life and the 380 hectare reserve is managed by the WWF (World Wildlife Fund).

Atri dates back to pre-Roman times and was already important prior to Roman habitation. During the 12th-century Atri came under the control of the Acquaviva family, a fate that would ensure its standing as a city of art and culture.

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There are several points from which to view the  Calanchi d’Atri.

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Lunching with a view of the Calanchi

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Me in the centre with our good friends Nando and Lucia

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Genziana and Liquorice liqueurs… for digestion…

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The sunny Piazza Duomo, Atri

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Spring flowers adorn balconies, Atri

Atri’s 13th century Cathedral di Santa Maria Assunta is built on the remains of an 11th century structure. It incorporates a 56-metre high bell tower (campanile) and a cloister. Parts of the complex are closed because of past earthquake damage, however, the glory of the cathedral is a fresco cycle by the 15th-century Abruzzi painter Andrea de Litio (or Delitio) depicting the life of Jesus. The crypt was originally a large Roman cistern. Some sections of clear glass flooring allow you to see fish motifs in mosaic can be seen. This is a delightful cathedral.

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Inside the vaulted area of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta are frescoes by Andrea De Litio.

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More frescoes by Andrea De Litio

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More frescoes by Andrea De Litio.

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Built on a Roman cistern, fragments of black tesselated mosaic tiles can be seen through sections of clear glass flooring.

Summary

Basing yourself in any of the towns covered here, you can easily day-trip up and down the coast and nearby hills. In fact, you can go much further inland and discover some of the beautiful villages in the foothills of the Appenines. But I’ll leave that for Part 2…

Abruzzo and my mother

Abruzzo is never far from my mind.  I am planning a trip of my own later this year. But, as always in April, my thoughts turn to my late mother Louise Pergolini Tucker. She would have been 89 this week. Not only was she born on the 10th of April but she also died on her 81st birthday. So the date holds even more significance and bitter-sweet memories.

Ironically, our mother never visited Abruzzo, but she was our link to her parent’s place. We are connected by a long line of people with the names of Pergolini, DeAngelis, Mezzacappa, DiRocco, Fagà, Marini, Marani, Ettore, Tassone. Villages like Morro d’Oro, Rosburgo, Montepagano, Montorio al Vomano, Notaresco, Scoppito, Roio Piano and more.

Through the years photos kept our migrant grandparents in touch with their family. Travel was not easy, money was short.

The first picture below shows our great-grandmother Sofia DeAngelis with her youngest child Vittorio Pergolini taken in Roseto degli Abruzzi. Vittorio was born in 1910, a year after his older brother (my grandfather Giovanni – John ) left for America. The brothers met 50 years after this photo was taken. Four of Sophia’s six children emigrated to ‘L’America’.

The next photo is of our mother’s grandfather Nicola Mezzacappa,  from Morro d’Oro, Abruzzo, pictured on the front porch stoop at Thompson Street, Philadelphia in the 1940s. He left his wife behind until he got settled, then sent for his family, which included my grandmother.

The third photo shows the brothers: my grandfather John, my grandmother Anna Mezzacappa and Zio Vittorio. It was taken in Rome when John and Anna made their one-and-only trip back to Italy in 1963. The brothers first met on this trip.

The last photo shows more of Louise’s Abruzzo influences. Her own mother, our grandfather’s brother’s wives and a neighbour at a beach house in Delaware, cleaning up after a clamming expedition and meal, no doubt.

Vittorio Pergolini Sofia DeAngelis

Vittorio and mother Sofia, Roseto degli Abruzzi

Nicola Mezzacappa

Nicola Mezzacappa, from Morro d’Oro to Philadelphia

Anna and John united in Rome with Vittorio, 1963

Anna and John united in Rome with Vittorio, 1963

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The women cleaning up after a fish dinner.

It’s almost unfathomable to us now, with ease of travel and modern communication methods, that brothers could not meet until they were in their 50s and 60s. But they wrote affectionate letters and sent photos back and forth to maintain the relationship. Thanks to the relationships they kept, some of us have been fortunate to meet our mother’s cousins and their children and grandchildren. The journey of discovery, not only of our family but of the beautiful rich culture of Abruzzo, continues.

For all of our mother’s modernity, forging her way in the new world, there was no denying her Italian roots. Last year, before I started this blog, I wrote on my other blog about Louise’s love of Mussels. Soon after, on this blog, I wrote about the connection with her heritage symbolised by the dish Scripelle ‘Mbusse. Food is surely the biggest connection to one’s heritage.

I’m reminded of Louise’s resistance to making lasagne because it was so labour intensive. After all, she had six children, a part-time job as a nurse and a home to run. But we always convinced her to make lasagne for special occasions. She didn’t make her own pasta though. No, she was a modern woman who knew where to buy the good stuff!

Her lasagne was truly worth the wait. She never used a recipe. Feeding a large family was intuitive for her. For quantities, she worked back from how many people she needed to feed on the occasion. Then she doubled it in case any unexpected guests arrived. Nothing could be more embarrassing than to run out of food!

Louise’s lasagne was a tightly packed, multi-layered affair, and in hindsight was more like a timballo. Traditionally a timballo from the Teramo region is made with super-thin crepes (crespelle) instead of pasta. However, Louise used layers of fresh egg pasta, mozzarella, a homemade tomato sugo (starting with ‘un soffritto’ of garlic, olive oil, carrot, celery, onion and herbs) with minced (ground) beef, some vegetables like zucchini or eggplant if in season and topped with more mozzarella and pecorino cheese.

It’s surprising that I don’t have a photo of my mother’s famous lasagne to show here. Maybe one of my siblings has a photo of the Christmas table to share. If you’re reading guys, send me your photos!

Instead of Louise’s lasagne, I will show you our modern American mother of Italian heritage, caught between cultures and managing both with great legs, and a martini…or two. Salute!

Louise at age 38 or so, already the mother of 5.

Arrosticini days

Arrosticini are skewers of cubed lamb meat cooked over charcoal and are a specialty of the Abruzzo region of Italy. Historically, arrosticini were prepared by shepherds on the move. Now they can be found at many festivals in the region, at social gatherings, conference lunches and some restaurants.

Most of the foods that we grew up with reflected the ethnic identity of our grandparents. On our father’s side, Anglo-Celtic and German, and on our mother’s side Italian (Abruzzese). But our Italian grandfather was from the coast and never really liked the taste of sheep meat. So, my first discovery of arrosticini was at a restaurant on Lungomare Roma in Roseto degli Abruzzi – Lo Spizzico – which my sister and I visited in 2010 with our cousin Walter.

On my next visit to Abruzzo I was pleased to have more of these tasty lamb morsels at lunch one day while attending Let’s Blog Abruzzo 2013.

Note the narrow gutter-like grill for cooking the arrosticini - Santo Stefano di Sessanio (AQ)

Note the narrow gutter-like grill for cooking the arrosticini – Santo Stefano di Sessanio (AQ)

My husband is an afficianado of cooking over charcoal and when I suggested we get some lamb from our butcher, he was keen. After all, it’s summer in Australia and  open BBQ season. Our garden was, and still is, ripe with juicy tomatoes and fragrant basil for an accompanying salad of locally made buffalo mozzarella, salted capers and peppery rocket (arugula).

Adelaide’s mediterranean climate provides us with a variety of excellent local olive oils and wines to match with any meal. Once the lamb was skewered and sizzling over the coals, the biggest giveaway that we weren’t in Abruzzo was that we don’t have a proper arrosticini grill. We substituted our little Weber charcoal grill. Our cut of meat was probably slightly leaner that in Abruzzo but Andrew ensured all the cubes of meat were small enough and evenly cut so as to cook evenly without drying out and added a drizzle of oil to each.

With summer still here for some time, we will be enjoying many more ‘arrosticini days’.

John (Giovanni) Pergolini – my grandfather the tailor

Two recent articles have inspired me to write about my late grandfather John Pergolini, longtime tailor.

First, a review of a documentary about Italian tailors, which I have yet to see (Men of the Cloth – a film by Vicky Vasilopolos). The review is written by fellow Abruzzophile Helen Free on the Abruzzo Blogger Community site.

Second, an article on Teramonews.com details honours given to the 105 year old Master Tailor (Maestro Sarto) Altobrando Rapagnà in the little village of Montepagano, in the Teramo region of Abruzzo, my grandfather’s and Maestro Rapagnà’s home town.

My big sister Ann and I have great memories of our grandfather (Pop Pop we called him) and his wonderful creations. Nowadays we live on other sides of the world from one another (thank heavens for Skype, eh) but we share a love of family history. Being close in age, we have many similar memories.

Ann recently told me that it was Pop Pop who encouraged our mother Louise to buy a sewing machine for us when we were pre-teens because Ann had already expressed a wish to learn to sew. We both took lesson from the local Singer Sewing Machine school but Pop Pop taught us the real secrets to good tailoring and how to properly finish our work. He would magically pull a bit of thread out and unfurl your morning’s work, telling you to do better if your sewing was not to his standard. He was incredulous that we had learned how to make buttonholes with a machine and not by hand!

Family legend goes that Pop Pop refused to make our mother’s wedding dress because he was worried he wouldn’t do a good job. The lace and other fabric for the dress had been a gift from a family friend in the cloth trade and was quite valuable. When Louise went to her final fitting the day before the wedding Pop Pop went with her. He was not happy with the outcome. They accepted the dress then once at home, Pop Pop took it apart and remade it, cursing in Italian that he should have done it himself in the first place.

Ann and I have been to Italy many times now, together and separately. We’ve met cousins and uncles and exchanged stories, picking up more information and language on each visit. Although we have both studied Italian, we are far from fluent. We were telling a cousin about our grandfather’s habit of always touching our clothing (or our friend’s clothing) to decide the quality of the cloth. If Pop Pop liked the fabric he would say in English, with his thick accent “nice-a  stuff-a”. We learned that day in Italy that the Italian word for fabric or material or cloth was ‘stoffa’.  All along he had been speaking Italian to us but we had never realised it! How much more did we miss?

When we were small, we would often have a new outfit of clothing at Easter and Christmas, mostly overcoats and snow pants made of wool which Pop Pop had leftover from big bolts ordered for his home tailoring business.  We might be lucky to have a bit of pale blue wool and some navy trim on a lightweight wool jacket, or a tweed winter coat, hat and snow pants that we could zip at the leg to put on over our shoes. I’ll never forget some of the great outfits we had and some of my mother’s fabulous coats and jackets.

Below I’m sporting a coat, pants and hat fit for a Pennsylvania winter!

Me at about age 3 in one of Pop Pop's creations. A winter coat and snow pants fit for a Pennsylvania winter.

Me at about age 3 in one of Pop Pop’s creations

After my grandparents were both gone, some of Pop Pop’s old artefacts such as tailoring tools, a button box and old photos from the Italian Tailors Beneficial Society of West Philadelphia’s annual dinner dance, ended up with Ann.

Being clever and an artist, Ann has made a few ‘oggetti d’arte’ to commemorate our grandfather and his ‘forbici d’oro’ – golden scissors. Click on any of the photos to enlarge.

A tailor can never give up his art and craft completely. Up to the age of 90 Pop Pop could be found at his local dry cleaner’s shop in Atlantic City New Jersey where he had retired after our grandmother died. Sitting by the sewing machine he would replace missing buttons and repair buttonholes by hand.

Right up to his death at age 93, Pop Pop put on his suit each day. Under his lapel he always had hidden two sewing needles. In his pockets were a thimble and a scrap of paper wound with some black and some white thread. He was always ready.

Now, the art and craft of the tailor may be endangered. Let’s hope it’s not.