La Famiglia di Bianchi
by Susan DeFazio
(Des Moines IA)
“I you cousin. You come here.” This is what the Italian-accented woman said when she called me in response to a letter I had mailed to potential relatives in Italy. Without any reservations, she invited me to her home. I accepted her invitation and two months later, I was at the Lamezia train terminal waiting for this new-found relative to take me deep into the heart of Calabria to the never-before-seen home of my ancestors.
The superstrada leads north from Lamezia to Bianchi, but so do the secondary roads, and that’s route she took. The narrow road twisted and turned as we made our way through the seemingly endless dark green forest of pines and hardwood trees of Il Mezzogiorno to the hilltop comune of my grandfather and great-grandparents. The natural landscapes and vistas viewed from the hills surrounding Bianchi are breathtaking and I found it hard to understand why anyone would leave such a beautiful place.
A walk through the cobblestone streets of the historic center of Bianchi allows one to appreciate the simplicity of the architectural details of the oldest buildings, such as the baroccheggiante-style Church of St James the Apostle, dating back to 700. This is where my grandfather was baptized and my great-grandparents married. I read names like Scarpino, Elia, DeFazio, Marasco, Cosentino, Colosimo, Bianco, Costanzo and Arcuri listed on a monument honoring fallen war heroes, and recognized these people as my ancestors. I shopped in family owned businesses that lined the streets. I toured oregano fields, gathered mushrooms and picked anise seed along the roadside. In Censo, I walked into the house where my grandfather & great-grandfather were born. A visit to the cemetery, where I saw tombstones bearing pictures of my relatives, was surreal.
The Biancari are ingenious, hard-working people. These warm people have a strong sense of family, so strong, in fact, that they didn’t hesitate to welcome an unknown Americani relative into their homes. I’m proud to say that I have Italian cugini, and prouder yet to say that we are no longer strangers. – Susan DeFazio
Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa
If your are ever in Des Moines make sure you stop and visit my friend Susan at the Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa Their board of directors put together a great cookbook featuring their favorite family recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation. The book entitled “Cucina Italiana” can be purchased through their website. - Phillip J. Speciale