Saturday, June 23, 2012


23 June 2012
Villa Ravino, Forio Ischia

The Sea
A fine breeze is finally blowing, cooling the heat saturated air over the gardens of the Villa Ravino.  We are waiting to go down to catch the ferry to return to the crazed streets of Naples.  We are told that there are lovely parts of the city, but we are headed only to the train and then back to Rome.  Barring strikes, demonstrations and other Neopolitan past times, we'll be back in Rome this afternoon.  I head home in the morning; Jane and Gail go on to Finland and Estonia for a few days.

Old Forio
It will take a return trip to get into the family lines here in Forio.  And why not return.  A small studio at the villa in the wonter is 600 euros a month.  A MONTH.  I see it in the future, with time also in San gregorio, finally learning the language spoken around me during childhood.  I did learn that what little I spoke was pure Gregoriano dialect.

It would be wonderful to continue the search right now, but it is time to return to other passions.  The Governor of North Carolina has six more days to veto that state's fast track frack bill.  In NY, the governor's decision is imminent and those communities on the"Frack Me First" list will do just that.  Perhaps I need to call on my Neopolitan roots and hit the streets!

Which DiMeglio?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The News from Ischia.... 78 Years Apart

21 June 2012
21 June 1934
Forio d'Ischia, Italy


Jane waits for sunset
Two solstices, 78 years apart.  The sun is about to set from the balcony of the Villa Ravino, overlooking the azure sea.  It is almost enough to ignore the heat wave; to ignore the hair raising taxi ride through central Naples to get to the ferry to the island of Ischia. 

In 1934, my mom described some of it much as I would today, though she arrived by steamship and not by train:
       "The Bay of Naples is a beautiful sight...When Naples itself came into view, Mt. Vesuvius could be seen as plain as day.  It was steaming on the top.  We finally docked and you never did see such a sloppy place as the Naples waterfront.  Honestly, I was so disgusted I felt like crying.  We planned to go to Forio, so while we waited for the little boat, Mr. D'Abundo [a relative] took us around Naples in a crazy little taxi." 
Marie DiMeglio

Our arrival in Naples yesterday was little different, though our friend and driver Valerio from San Gregorio negotiated the chaos with an expertise one could only applaud.  Our reaction was much like my moms.  We got to the boat, bought our tickets to Forio and were delighted to depart Napoli.  Our destination was the Villa Ravino, another fortuitous internet selection set on the top of a hill overlooking the bay.  With its pool and thermal pool and whitewashed verandas, and its incredible garden, I must confess that it was hard to get on with the search for family this morning.

Mom was not as charmed with Forio, her dad and mother's birthplace, as I was:

16-21 June 1934
     "It's the most ridiculous looking place I ever saw and the small stone houses are enough to disgust anyone...We were met by the whole town...we went to see the church of Saint Vito...we met Pasquale DiMeglio, dad's cousin..he was swell.            I couldn't sleep last night, it was so hot.  I went swimming down at the beach.  The water was beautifully clear... At about 12 o'clock a carriage came from us and we went and had dinner.  then a car...the only one in Forio..came and we went driving all over the island.. to Ischia, Cassamicola and other little towns.  They were all much better than Forio."

21 June 2012
Perhaps you are getting the sense that mom was a bit of an adolescent brat?  Most of her diary describes the boys she went dancing with when they came back in August to stay for a month, and were saved from staying with the relatives in Forio.  I went searching for the offspring of those same relatives this morning.

Spoiled by the experience in San Gregorio, I walked into town, coming first upon the church of St. Vito.  I was looking for the grave of grandpa's uncle, a Franciscan bishop and honored son of Forio.  I have a picture of the family and "tio vescovo"... uncle bishop, as he signs himself.  I knew he was buried in one of the town's many churches.  From St. Vito's I made my way to the cemetary, where I found the grave of  grandpa's brother SSalvatore, and of the same Mr. D'Abundo that mom mentions.  When I finally made my way to the municipal offices, the clerk;s first response was "which DiMeglios?"  We finally connected trilingually over the bishop and she contacted his only living relative left, who is an exceedingly distant cousin of mine.  Will try again for DiMeglios tomorrow.

Gail reads by pool
As mom said, it is hot hot hot, so I was happy to rejoin Jane and Gail in the pools and extensive gardens of the Villa Ravino.  Could these be the same gardens mom visited in 1934?

sunset on Solstice 2012
We elected not to go out for food, but watched the sun go down, hoping to see the famous green flash of Ischia.  The salami, ricotta, cannoli, pizza grano, tomatoes, melons and bread from the market works fine for me!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Finding Simoniello

Tuesday, 19 June 2012
San Gregorio Magno, Italy

 “We found another one!” said Valerio, the young man who drove us into the village of San Gregorio Magno.  San Gregorio is the mountain town that my grandfather Angelo Simoniello left in 1878, at the age of 16.   We are staying just outside of town at La Sfruschia, a farm and B and B.  Arriving yesterday, the owners told me that there were many Simoniello’s in the town, and that they all descend from the same line.  To verify this, we headed into the municipal offices to see what we could find.

San Gregorio's manos
Jeanne, Valerio, Gregorio Robertazzi, Tommaso, and archivist

A view of San Gregorio

Simoniello Agroindustrie

Jeanne, Valerio and Gregorio
In the office, we quickly found out that there were many records to be searched, and the first search yielded the death certificate of Grandpa’s brother Guisieppe, who died in the town in 1942.  Knowing this, the gradually expanding group of Neopolitan-speaking folks who happened to be paying property taxes in the town hall that morning began calculating my genealogy.  Included in these was a young man who, learning that my grandmother’s name was Robertazzi, identified himself as Gregorio Robertazzi and joined our entourage.  We continued communicating in broken Italian-English-Spanish (no problem discussing New Jersey and Bruce Sprngsteen, as he started singing “Born in the USA”.)
San Gregorio “Mano”
Our first stop was a visit to te oldest living Simoniello in town, Giovanni.  Giovanni is the son of my grandfather’s brother Pietro. He is 92.  We met him at the Simoniello AgroIndustrial plant, where I pulled out the family pictures, we talked about relatives  and I searched his face for some semblance of grandpa. Needn’t have bothered.
Giovanni Simoniello, Age 92
“Jeanne,” Jane said. “Look at his hands.”
Many of you know that I have a genetic arthritic conditions that causes my fingers to turn in weird directions, as calcium deposits in the joints.  My Dad had it to some extent.  But Giovanni and I had identical fingers.  We learned that many of the Simoniello’s in this line have the manos (hands).  We are second cousins! 
The cell phone rang and Gregorio  said that he’d located Tomasso, of the Robertazzi family, who spoke English and was going to meet us back at the City Hall so we could search the archives for more family records.  In front of City hall, we were hailed by another Robertazzi, an older man, who was happy to claim me as a cousin.  Up in the archives, we searched birth records for 1862 and 1863; found grandpa, and from this found our entire Simoniello family lineage, going back to 1826.  This confirmed that Giovanni and I were really related.  It also linked us to my biological Grandma and her sister Rosa Robertazzi, and Rosa’s husband Vito (who raised my dad)).
Gregorio bid us ciao, and we finished the search, which Jane and Gail captured on video and in stills. Everybody waved their arms and spoke loudly, sounding much like Christmas dinner in Brooklyn.  We concluded in the archives, and I went into a bar across the square to get us some something to drink.  Our Robertazzi cousin was there and he insisted on buying our water.

The cell rang again.
“Another Simoniello!” said our driver, Valerio.  It was Gregorio, saying he’d identified yet anpther living branch of the family, one who spoke English and owned the hardware store.  Her mother, Delia, was the granddaughter of another of Angelo’s brothers.  This brother was married to another Rosa Robertazzi, who was likely a cousin of my Rosa. (touch of intermarriage; explains the hands).   We met at the hardware store, and all went up to meet Delia.  She opened the door, and her daughter told her, “This is your cousin from America.”
Delia Simoniello and Jeanne compare fotos of Rosa Robertazzi
“What a surprise,” says Mom, deadpan.
“They left a long time ago,” I answered.
Delia  frowned.  “So what took you so long to get here?” she asked.
Laughter all around, and we accepted an invitation to coffee and biscotti.  Her husband made coffe, while we compared family trees and also family pictures.  It was the Simoniello face, and hair.  Delia was a real “skootch,” as my mom used to say, kidding all the time; switching from English to Italian.  I pulled out the Neopolitan words of my childhood, fazooles and pomeroles (tomatoes).  We exchanged phone and address, and we invited her to visit in the US and Australia, as this is also August’s, ( Jane’s son)heritage.
The day was really what one would wish would happen when “going home.”  I found cousins; I saw the agricultural land that is in my genes.  It is a slightly more verdant New Mexico, where the land produces but the children still leave in search of something better. 
We returned to La Sfuschia for a midafternoon meal: ricotta, provalone, and other cheeses made there, and a huge bowl of cavatelli, a pasta which I haven’t eaten since Rosa Robertazzi, covered our beds with them in the 1950s!
Grazzie to Tomas, Gregorio, Valerio, Cousin Giovanni, Cousin Delia and all the Simoniellos and Robertazzis we met today!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Pompeii: A Post from the Past

17 June 2012, Pompeii, Italy
Marie and Betty, 1934

In the summer of 1934, my mother Marie DiMeglio, her sister Betty and their father Pasquale traveled to Naples ans Ischia.  On July 10, they visited Pompeii.  This is what Marie posted to her daily diary, the blog of the past.

Vesuvius slumbers
July 10, 1934, Tuesday
Coupla folks at Pompeii

          "Today is my birthday-18 yrs old. Today we started out early and went by car to Vesuvius and Pompeii. An Australian young man came with us. He was cute. Up Vesuvius, we went in a funiculare and went right up to the top. We could see the fire come right out. Then, we had lunch at Vesuvius. We went to a coral factory and Dad got me a ring and a bracelet, both very pretty. In the afternoon we went to Pompeii and walked and walked thru the ruins. Then we went back to Naples and had supper."

Marie DiMeglio
Jeanne at Pompeii, 2012


Thursday, June 14, 2012

'Drum Bun' to Romania

Farewell Romania… you were everything we were told to expect (except that there were no gypsies lying down on the road anywhere!) 

trucks and horses and roads....
      Not to be disappointed on the final driving leg, Jane negotiated all the best of Romanian travel.  Patchwork pavement became cobblestones as we drove back into the mountains onto what will someday be an EU road.  Luckily we got behind an 18 wheeler who knew the road.  Driving safely, though without shocks, he knew when to hold, knew when to fold.  The best was on a one lane curve, as we contemplated where he would elect to go to avoid the 18 wheeler coming in the other direction; a large brown bull trailing his broken neck tether emerged from between the trucks.  Somehow, ground beef was not the result, but we don’t have a picture.
Jeanne and the Gypsy...who is who?
Gail snoozed while Jane drove and I was visited by the spirit of my Dad, Anthony, who as many of you know could find the worst case outcome in any situation.
State Farm IS There!
As we crossed what was clearly the Romanian breadbasket, I was curious as to how such huge farms were being managed.  In some towns we saw the remains of state farm complexes… huge concrete barracks and barns… being torn down block by block.  In some of the fields, aging equipment plowed and cut.  In others, men with grim reaper style scythes cut the wheat and other crops.  As we learned, at the time of the revolution/transition in 1989, a process was started of returning land  that had been taken by the state to its original owners.  This continues, so some land is held in small parcels, which produces a lot of the amazing tomatoes and cucumbers we have been eating.  Even in cases when land has been returned, people are recollectivzing, as they realize that it is more efficient to own one tractor, one harvester and to farm the land like an ejido in Mexico.  This land is in fairly large parcels and about 11% of the land is farmed this way.  Though the Communist model of the state farm has been dismantled, another chunk of land is still farmed as state entities.  Our friend Emi tells us that the Italians have bought up a great deal of land in the south and are farming it to feed their own population.

mountains lead to valleys

From No Religion to State Religion
Churches, everywhere; everyway!
Another question we had was, what’s up with the abundance of churches?  What happened to the monasteries during the Communist era, when atheism (a non-prophet religion) was the law?  Turns out that churches stayed open after purges of uncooperative clergy.  The resulting church supported the regime, though attendees were mostly elderly ladies.  With the fall of the Communists, religion revived with added vigor, and in fact is now state supported.   The Orthodox Romanian Church is now the official state religion.  As we saw by attending mass (sort of; it lasted hours) at the monastery in Bucovina, belief in that part of the country includes a fair dose of that old time religion, as it existed in the countryside 1000 years ago.
We bid goodbye to Emi after a quick meeting in Oradea.  She is a kindred spirit, and we need more like her as all of our countries begin a slippery slide into intolerance.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Churches, Monasteries, Monks and Nuns!

June 12, 2012
 Reflections from Jane

As we travel through Romania my thoughts are not of pleasant things. I look at the faces of the people and think you or your relatives turned on my family. They sent them to labor camps in Transnistria and to Auschwitz.
Great Synagogue Targu Mures: Locked

There is no trace of the Jews of Romania. The Synagogues are gone turned into Ecological Centers or warehouses or simply torn down.

I realize now that it was the Romanians not the Germans who rounded up the Jews and put them to hard labor or death.

Do the young people know what that generation did? If it is like Poland there is denial everywhere.

To completely wipe out a culture and religion from your own country and now you go to chruch, now you cross yourself everytime you walk by a cross or image of Jesus do you think of the Jews of Romania.

Elections in Romania for Mayor of various cities:

Who Won? I asked

The desk clerk at the pension said:

We Did, The Romanians! Even the Hungarians voted for him. Not that I am racist or anything but he was re-elected and he is one of us ROMANIAN.

Not only the Austria Hungarian empire bordewrs change but the Hungarian Jews were regarded as less than the Romanians because they were Hungarian Jews.

Thus have I learned about the country of my forefathers.

Who won? I asked

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Monks, Murals and Memories

Walled Monastery
Saturday and Sunday, 9, 10 June, 2012

Carpathians: No Wolves in Sight
Bucovina County, Romania
We were awakened today at just after midnight by a barage of fireworks from down the rural valley where we were spending the night-- one of the many Saturday weddings that take place in rural villlages.  This far north eastern corner of the country's claim to tourist fame are the many 14th Century monasteries that are part of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  Though some shelter within fortress-like walls, relatively simple on the outside, but heavily adorned with icons and gilt within, others are painted in rioutous colors and psychedelic murals inside and out.  With their high domed windows, I was cuirous about their orientation.  Conveniently, Jane's walking stick had a compass in the top, and it was clear that the buildings were on an East-West axis, with altars against the East wall.  Arriving on Sunday morning at a remote and active monastery, we listened to monks sing, and watched women with babushkas wait their turn to worhsip till after ALL the men were done.  Between the wall painting and the length of the service you get the feeling the monks had a lot of time on their hands in the middle ages.

 Outside of Painted Monastery
Painted monastery.... won't rotate!
We puzzled over some of the symbols in the paintings, and wondered how both the buildings and the religious practice survived both WW II and the Soviets.  At Putna, we could look across the border into the Ukraine.  At Dragomina, we were almost to the edge of Transnistria, a no man's land into which so much of the regions Jewish population were taken.  For Jane, it is difficult to look at aging train tracks and 75 year old train crossings, or to look into people's faces without thinking about family.

Does anyone know who invented the story of storks and babies?  There are stork nests on lamposts in every village, with mom and dad tending the newbies.  Though Gail persists in calling them pelicans, you can easily see the difference.

this won't rotate either!
Needless to say, we continue eatting our way across the country.  Fresh trout, wild mushrooms, stuffed cabbage and lots of polenta.

Eating Our Way Through Romania

Friday, June 8, 2012

Get Your Motor Running...... (staying) on the road!

Friday, 8 June 2012

Jane's white knuckles; horse cart
We loaded the blue Ford Focus rental, Jane got behind the wheel, Gail took over as navigator and Jeanne made the sign of the cross as we headed out of Oradea, bound for the mountains.  A relatively easy departure gave way to the Romanian version of the Indy 500, as Jane learned the rules of the road.  Dire predictions of car eating pot holes, bucolic bandits and maurading gypsies did not materialize, but the true meaning of defensive driving certainly did.  Jane's experience with both Colorado Rocky Mt highs and Aussie roundabouts served us well as she figured out when to move right into the shoulder/right lane and when to flash left signals and go like hell.  Some small differences between Romania and universal rural road driving included one lane bridges with double horse carts coming from the opposite direction. 

Jane and Gail decline first
Tin roof on new construction
We stopped halfway for a light lunch, but there is no such thing in this country.  The delightful owner of a restaurant/pension encouraged us to try the house speciality ciorba de burta (known to us as menudo) but we all refused.  After finishing bowls of soup, polenta and platters of pickles, she cleared the table and then brought us a bowl of burta.  We were going to try it, or else!  It was wonderful. 


Passed through the city of Bistrita, made it to the other side and checked in at the Sherrif Motel, not to be confused with the Old Sherrif Hotel next door.  We were the only folks there as we checked in, and selected our room just as Valentin, a photographer for a  Romanian travel site ( arrived to take photos of the hotel's rooms.  As we chatted about our various travels, he offered to show us pictures of some of the places we were planning to visit and might plan to visit, so we joined him in the lounge for our own private virtual journey.  We talked about old traditions in the north of the country.... when a family has a young daughter they decorate a bare trees with colorful pots.  When the daughter is finally of an age to marry, all the pots are red, and that's how you know!  Went on to religion, and skirted poltics, which would have taken the whole evening.  As we sat, the empty hotel filled with two busloads of Italian and Romanian kids on an intercultural excursion.  Though it could be a long night, we thank Valentin for a great afternoon.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Lions of Judah

Thursday, 7 June 2012
There are 700 people in the Jewish community of Oradea (Or-AH-di-ah); all that remains of the 25,000 souls who lived, worked, and worshipped here before the war.  It was the 2nd largest Jewish community in Romania, with 29 synagogues in the city.  We visited one still remaining today with Emi, a new friend and kindred spirit Jane made contact with before leaving Australia.  Emi took us first to see the park where the death trains departed, carrying adults and children to Auschwitz and other labor camps.  Most had first been moved to a large ghetto which was surrounded by a tall stockade fence.  Of these, 2500 returned at the end of the war, but only a small number remained here.


Detail on home once owned by Jewish Families

Like Jane's father Simon, Emi speaks both Hungarian and Romanian, reflecting the region's history.  Simon was born near here, and as we visited the synagogue, built in the 19th century, we all wondered if he and his parents had also been there.  In the short time we spent with Emi she described the work she does with her organization, TIKVAH ( Describing the group as "united in diversity" she is dedicated to not just remembering all that happened to the people here, but also reminding people of the normalcy of their lives and the contributions that they made to the culture and society of prewar Oradea.  She also wants to remember those, including parts of the Catholic community, who tried to help keep people alive.
Emi and Jeanne contmplate humanity
With this in mind, we made a stop at the Catholic cathedral, where the bishop at the time created predated baptismal records for some of the Jewish children.  As we approached the church, bells rang out, and we spent a few moments listening to organ and choir singing.  We wish we could have spent more time with Emi, but she was on her way to a distant village to make a presentation.  If she looks really tired in the picture, it's because she is passionate about what she does and gets little rest.

After our weighty morning we walked through the heart of the city, known as "Little Paris."  We did a bit of shopping, and I was delighted to find Romania's equivalent of the Dollar Store! And a thrift shop.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"Don't mention the war......."

Wednesday, 6 June

We left Budapest on an early train from Keleti Station, heading west five hours to the Romanian border city of Oradea.  This is one of the places Jane's family lived during the war years before being deported to the camps.  It is a place that also kept losing its identity.  If you asked Jane's father about his nationality, he would answer "what year?"  Hungary became Romania became Hungary became Romania.  But it was always Transylvania.

We have been sampling the foods and smells of Jane's mother's kitchen as we travel, passing through a countryside where fields of grain, vegetables, cows, deer and pheasant are abundant.  Small, neat red roofed houses dot the terrain, giving way at the city's edge to drab Soviet era apartment blocks.  At Oradea's train station we get a ride to the hotel from a Tennessee couple who also took the train, a nice start to our 700 mile journey through the Carpathian Mountains.  We hope to hear the gray wolves as we go, as there are still at least 4000 of them.

Jane Launders Money in Budapest

5 June 2012
In full fledge travel space-out mode, Jane laundered an unspecified amount of American currency in the Whirlpool mini-washer in our Budapest apartment.  Rather than hang the bills on the drying rack with the rest of the laundry, we elected to let them air dry while we hopped back on and off the tenuous tourist bus and took a quick sail on the not so blue Danube.  This provided an nice perspective on a city rebuilt on its old footprint in the wake of 19th century floods and 20th century bombing. 

Keeping with the theme of WW II devastation we visited the Great Synagogue, and the graves and memorials of the far too many people who did not survive. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Back to the Future in Budapest

Budapest, 4 June 2012 
It was a dark and stormy night in the city by the Danube. We (Jeanne, Jane and Gail)  have consumed bowls of goulosh and toured the city.  We are trying to answer the enduring question: Can a semi efficient socialist economy transition into a functional and vibrant capitalist system? Our quest began on the "Hop Off, Hop On" city bus tour.  A notable start to the day's travels took us through Castel Hill, where I lived 29 years ago.  We crossed the river and hopped off in central Pest (the other side of the river from Buda), successfully purchased train tickets to Romania, ate soup under the shadow of St. Stephen's Basilka, had glorious gelato and then prepared to hop back on.  Waited for the Yellow Bus.  Noted that traffic and trams were not moving.  Queries revealed that traffic was snarled because the taxi drivers were demonstrating in the heart of the city.  The taxi industry was privitzed when the economic transition occurred.  Now, a number of years later, the tourism ministry has decided that things were running better the way the taxi sytem was in the bad old days.  The proposal is to return to centralization.  No Yellow Bus.

When the Yellow Bus arrived, it was Red.  We tourists ran, as a group of cattle, to meet it; then drove around the square 3 times waiting to catch up with ourselves and the delayed bus schedule.  Finally got on the open second story of the bus, thunder cracked, rain pelleted; we headed down below.  Bus began leaking copiously.  Tourists tried to catch leaks in empty water bottles.  Finally made it back to to our stop, missing the last cruise on the Danube by about an hour.  I have begun to suspect that the system has transitioned from semi efficient socialism to inefficient capitalism.