After finally confirming our family connections to Francesco, Primo, and many others…we spent the day hanging out around in the hills enjoying Italy’s natural beauty. At around 6 pm we headed back down to the town square where Ross enjoyed a whisky with my dad while Leah and I sat and played cards with a giant bowl of the best olives we had ever had. The sun was setting and dusk marked the beginning of a special evening to come. A number of families and large groups of people were all gathered around the fountain. All the men were chatting like true Italians, everyone talking at the same time with wild hand gestures. Dogs were running around and little kids were playing in the water. It felt so good to be a part of this small town atmosphere and to feel welcomed like family. Of course we felt a bit awkward strolling up to a wedding party for people we had never met before but Pat assured us they would be happy to have us. The awkwardness was quickly dispelled when both the bride and the groom generously welcomed us in and seated by the dance floor.
Honestly, it was a great party but the fish made me totally sick, I had to walk back to the house for a quick rest after dinner I was so sick. Apparently they had served us nearly raw carp. So many people were telling us to “Enjoy!” and “Eat Up!” we felt we had to eat it, and so we did… peer pressure! Ross enjoyed it but he was starving and cardboard would have been appetizing. So we sat and ate, while every five minuets the family of the bride yelled, “Viva la sposa!” or “Long live the Bride!” it was quite hilarious. One man in particular kept getting up and yelling…every one loves the crazy uncle at a wedding. After the dinner we were served plated filled with cookies. Granted they were more appetizing then the fish, but still, not my favorite for dessert. Our favorites were the “Kunbits” which are candy covered almonds and therefore do not qualify as cookies. Delicious. Of course the table was covered with bottles of wine and juice. The bride and groom were buzzing around the party making sure to talk to everyone. The music shifted from a guy on an accordion to some more serious dancing music an hour or so later and then the party really got started. One of the first songs they played was Shikira’s song “Waka waka…This time for Africa.” I don’t know what came over me but I ran onto the dance floor, and totally went nuts, all by myself… I may have looked like a fool but my dad loved it and that was my intention.
While my dad’s Canadian/Italian friend Pat was hanging around and doing his best to get him drunk, we meandered around the party and were introduced to a couple more Paolini’s. We once again immediately connected. They were also from the Great house of Andrea, same as Francesco, Eduardo and his son Silvio. The pair seemed to be the youngest Paolini’s we had met thus far, they were for sure the hippest.
Eduardo was wearing fun, thick, red, square rimmed glasses. He had a baldhead and a large gray mustache. Light eyes and a deep voice. A complete character. He was happy to meet family from the US as he himself travels there frequently on business. In fact Eduardo was in the mining business and had travelled all over the world in search of oil and diamonds. His son Silvio, also with a shiny head, but with dark skin and darker eyes, was also an international traveler. Single and into his work and friends, a young handsome Italian man, enjoying life to the fullest. It was difficult to carry on a full conversation because the music was extremely loud and the crowd was becoming more and more boisterous as the wine continued to flow. Leah and I loved standing by my father as he talked it up with a number of cousins; clanging glasses together in celebration of lost family, laughter… It was a priceless time. The Italian wedding song came on and some man I didn’t know whisked me to the dance floor. The dance was exhausting… you bend at the knee lifting the foot back as high as possible quickly in a kicking movement and then alternating legs to the beat of the music. Kick, kick, kick… I was in flip-flops, the music was fast and it was my first time. All these factors combined into some minor foot injuries and a tad bit of hurt pride. I did my best and moved my hips side to side with the music, following the crowd. I looked back for my dad and saw him standing there watching with a huge grin on his face making the whole trip a winner for me. The song ended just as Leah was being brought to the floor… Lucky bird she was. We stood together behind our dad as he finished a couple more glasses of wine with his new friends and then decided to call it a night. We arranged to meet Eduardo the following morning for breakfast before we headed out of the city. That night we walked up the moonlit hill to our apartment with the sound of jubilant Italian tunes blaring from the party. We got ready for bed and all four of us, my mom, dad, Leah and I stayed awake laying in our beds revisiting the night with excited chit chat fit for hyper teenagers. We recounted all the people we’d met trying to place everyone’s names, finding humor in how stereotypical it all was. A drunken Italian wedding. Dancing with relatives we’d never met before. Primo, Silvio, Serio, Eduardo, Luigi, Francesco, Adriano, Mateo, Jugo, Carlo, Giovanni, & Isabella. We were in Italy partying with our very own family. What a huge gift. We went to sleep with the beat of the music coming from the town down below.
We woke up early the next morning and walked back down the hill to find Eduardo, the oil and diamond miner, and Luigi waiting for us at the one and only local coffee shop/bar. We ordered a round of cappuccinos and chocolate croissants, the breakfast of champions, and began to discuss the intricacies of Italian machismo. Eduardo explained how the great house of our Great Uncle Andrea Paolini was now his house. His sisters didn’t inherit it because as you go down the ancestral lineage, the men get the benefits. His house will go on to his son… and on and on. I get that this is how things work in Italy and in many other parts of the world but it still hurt Leah and I to hear the blatant facts of our machismo relatives. We went around the table talking about children and more lines of connection. Eduardo shared that Francesco’s son had died the previous year. He was 37 years old, got diagnosed with cancer and was gone 20 days later. This was obviously a very sore point of discussion for Francesco as he seemed to disappear into his own thoughts and a palpable aura of total sadness enveloped him. It was gut wrenching. We refocused on the positive side of things, that we had at least found each other. That a missing link from the Americas had come and found what they were hoping for. When the hour of our departure came we took some more photos and hugged goodbye. Leah and I got teary saying goodbye to Francesco. He really loved us and it showed in his bright eyes. We had met the man 48 hours before. This just goes to show how tight family bonding can be. Getting in the car and heading out of town was hard. Before we left we made one final stop at the local cemetery inside the gates of the church. We thought perhaps we would find some old family grave-sites. Sure enough, the first one we found was the one and only Andrea Paolini, my fathers great uncle and brother to his great grandfather. There were some other Paolini’s and we quietly gave our respects to them. Then we were off, back on the road and heading out to Tuscany. We made some promises with the people we’d met in Campotosto to perhaps return one day with a slew of other American cousins. This made leaving a little bit easier. I know the trip was a life highlight for my father, as it was for both his wife and daughters, I doubt it will be out done until we go back again with the rest of the Paolinis from the west.
*Note that our last name is spelled Pauline while the family we were searching for were all Paolinis. Why you ask? When my grandfather came over from Italy at 4 years old they changed the spelling from Paolini to Pauline.