[Drawn from a detailed written account of a trip to southern Italy that I made with my brother Robert Marchione in late May and early June of 2006]
A panoramic view of the town of Aquara, the home town of my paternal grandparents
This trip was in large measure a genealogical expedition. While we had relatives and contacts in San Donato whom we could question, here we we had no surviving relatives. All we had in the way of documentation were some photographs that had come to me less than a year before from a first cousin, Ken Marchione, who I had just met for the first time. Ken is the second to the youngest son of my father’s brother Carlo Marchione, who had passed away some years earlier. The photos were apparently taken during our Aunt Nydia’s early 1950s trip to Aquara to marry a man named Buonopane, Cousin Jean’s father, who Nydia subsequently divorced. Unfortunately, the people appearing in the photos were not identified.
I thought that these might be portraits of my great grandfather and great grandmother Consolmagno. I tried to confirm my suspicions by mailing copies to my Aunt Eleanor, my father’s youngest sister, who I believed was living with her daughter Debby and Debby’s husband (a naval officer) in Virginia Beach, Virginia. However, the letter was returned to me marked Addressee Unknown. I didn’t know if this meant that Eleanor was living elsewhere or had possibly passed away. An attempt was also made to reach her bi-polar son, Bobby Fullerton, who had been a guest at our house for six weeks while job hunting in the Boston area five years earlier, but this effort also was unsuccessful. The person who answered the phone at Bobby’s last known place of residence, a kind of halfway house near Pittsbugh , said that no one by that name was then living there. My brother and I had been equally unsuccessful in our attempts to reach Nydia’s daughter, Jean, who lived in Marsala, at the western end of Sicily. We had a phone number for her (Bob had been in touch with her in 2001 at the time of a projected trip to Italy that was cancelled in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks). We didn’t know her husband’s first name, and his last name, Alagna, turned out to be one of the most common in the fairly large city of Marsala, so finding a current telephone number for Jean proved to be a practical impossibility.
Once it became clear that she could not be reached, we abandoned our plan to include Sicily and Marsala in our southern Italian itinerary.
Several days into our trip (which began in my mother’s home town of San Donato) we reached the seaside city of Paestum, famous for its largely intact Greek temples. [Mary Ann and I would, on a later tour of Italy, visit the famous Valley of the Temples in Agrigento in Sicily. The Paestum temples, were to my eye at least, much more impressive.]
Aquara, the home town of the Marchione, Consolmagno, and Costanza families is situated in the mountains, about 30 miles east of Paestum at the very center of the Province of Calabria and on the edge of the Cilento National Park. The countryside driving out to Aquara was notable for its fertility.
While both San Donato and Aquara are mountainside villages, Aquara is perched at a somewhat higher elevation. We drove to a point near the top of the town that seemed to be the principal square, parked the car a short distance away, and asked an elderly gentleman who had just parked a small truck nearby for directions. I explained as best I could, in my limited conversational Italian, who we were and what were looking for. I told him that our paternal ancestors were Aquarese, that our name was Marchione, but that ours was “un nome adoptivo” (an adopted name), and that our blood relatives were actually Consolmagnos on the male and Costanzas on the female side. We showed him the pictures of presumed relatives that Ken had furnished dating bad to the early 1950s (the same pictures I had sent to Aunt Eleanor some months earlier and that had been returned unopened).
A picture of an elderly couple that may well be our great grandfather and Great Grandmother Consolmagno. I was struck, I particular by the eyes of the man, which it seemed to bear a resemblance to those of my father and his siblings.
Another of the picture may be that of our grandmother’s younger brother, Guglielmo Costanza, who died at the age of 27, probably about 1919, possibly a victim of the Spanish Influenza epidemic. While the gentleman was unable to identify any of the people in the photos, he did confirm that there were many Consolmagnos and Costanzas still living in Aquara.
Possibly my paternal grandmother’s younger brother, Guglielmo Costanza, who died at age 27, and was my father’s and my namesake (Guglielmo being the Italian for William)
Continuing to walk in the direction of the piazza, we stopped briefly at a store where an assortment of seeds were on sale. One of the things I had told Bob on our way down was that I hoped to buy some local seeds for my garden back in Brighton, where I had just installed three raised beds for plants. Both of us, in fact, bought packets—in my case lettuce of various varieties, Italian celery, eggplant, and zucchini. (One of the first things that I did after returning home was to plant these seeds. Unfortunately, only the Zucchini came up, but with a highly woodlike texture, rendering them inedible). At this point the storekeeper came out to inquire who we were, and after I explained as best I could, directed us to city clerk’s office, suggesting that the they might be able to put us in touch with people who shared our bloodline.
On the way to city hall we also stopped briefly in the main square, the Piazza Vittorio Veneto (named for a World War I Italian victory over the Austrians), where a monument stands in memory of the townspeople killed in the war. Italy sustained some 600,000 deaths in World War I.
Aquara’s World War I monument, on which the names Marchione, Consolmagno, and Costanza appear.
Interestingly both San Donato and Aquara proudly commemorate their World War I dead, while both fail to memorialize those who lost their lives in World War II—the difference, of course, being that in World War I Italy fought on the winning side, while in World War II they on the losing side. We did snap a picture of the WWI Soldier’s Monument. The list of local war dead included Consolmagnos, Marchiones, Capozzolis and Marinos (the latter names those of cousins).
Interestingly, the main church in Aquara, the Church of San Nicola di Bari, is named for the saint who would later be dubbed Father Christmas (later we also visited Saint Nicola’s final resting place in the city of Bari in Puglia). The church was open so we had an opportunity to see the inside, which was somewhat plain. The origins of this church, are quite ancient, dating all the way back to 1308.
The exterior of the Church of San Nicola di Bari in Aquara’s main square.
The town archive stood a short distance beyond the square, but we were fated to be disappointed there. All the employees seemed indifferent to our presence—either in conference, on the telephone, of in the case of the female clerk in the outer office, so preoccupied with her written work that she paid us no attention whatsoever. It reminded me of an experience that Mary Ann and I had had almost twenty years earlier trying to exchange currency in an Italian bank in Rome, where we were kept waiting for over 20 minutes in a line that never seemed to move, and eventually abandoned our errand in frustration. After cooling our heels in the outer office of the Aquara town clerk for an extended period, it seemed clear that the bureaucrats just couldn’t be bothered.
Returning to the car, we asked another elderly gentleman where the town cemetery was located. We thought we might be able to match the photos we were carrying to those on the various tombstones and vaults of the cemetery, since the Italians place photographs of the dead on their gravestones. I was familiar with this practice because I had seen immigrant gravestones containing pictures back home in the Waltham Cemetery. The grave of my mother’s sister Olinda, who died in 1927 at age 3 1/2, had been furnished with a photograph in the Italian manner, though it had been vandalized at some point and the aperture was empty.
We were directed by this gentleman to the top of the town where we had little difficulty finding the small town cemetery, which was open at that hour and completely empty of visitors. There we spent the better part of an hour systematically examining the pictures and inscriptions in a vain attempt to find a match. The cemetery did contain gravestones and tombs bearing the names Marchione, Consolmagno, and Costanza, which we photographed. The name Inglese also appeared.
It had always been my understanding that our grandmother Emilia Costanza’s mother’s maiden name was Inglese (Italian for “English”), which led the family to the supposition that we had some English blood. It should be emphasized, however, that racial or ethnic purity is a rather absurd notion on the Italian peninsula. If one adds to the English ancestry suggested by the name Inglese, the German blood that the Salvuccis casually claimed by virtue of their height and lighter skin and northern (Tuscan) origins, to the Greek blood that our maternal grandmother’s family, the Sacchettis claimed by virtue of God knows what, to the likely admixture of Samnite descent, the blood of the fierce mountaineers who originally occupied the hills roundabout San Donato, to the Roman blood that one might infer from the Aquarese name Consolmagno (“great consul” in English), our bloodline is a bit of a muddle. When you add to those claimed sources of descent the Etruscan, Carthaginian, Saracen, Norman, Spanish, and French strains that were introduced into central and southern Italy by various invading forces and diverse armies of occupation that penetrated these areas over the centuries, the absurdity of Italian racial purity becomes clear, which may explain why racism made less headway in Italy as compared with northern European societies.
Interestingly the Buonopane name was not represented in the Aquara cemetery, which left me wondering if Nydia’s second husband came from Aquara at all. He may have been recruited from one of the surrounding towns. Nydia did travel to Aquara in 1950, I was told, specifically to marry him, but he need not have come from the town itself. Tending to to confirm this suspicion, the current Aquara telephone directory (or elenco telefonico (which can be accessed on line) lists no Buonopanes whatsoever.
Here we see two of the many gravestones bearing family names that we found in the Aquara Cemetery.
I did notice the presence in this cemetery of at least one Jewish headstone. I don’t recall the name that appeared on it. I knew it was Jewish only by virtue of a Star of David appearing on the marker. I thought it strange that a Jew would be buried among Christians, given the strict regulations Jews applied to their rituals and the Catholic Church’s equally restrictive burial practices.
Another interesting feature of this cemetery (also of the cemetery in San Donato) was the great number of small, green lizards that infested the grounds. There was nothing very alarming about these creatures since that are quite small and entirely harmless
By this time we’d concluded that there was nothing more in the way of genealogical information to be uncovered in AQuara. Apparently, neither the living nor the dead of this hill city had any detailed genealogical information to impart .
Unlike San Donato, which preserves much of its original medieval character in its Centro Storico, Aquara seemed somewhat less historically cohesive, notwithstanding its older age (the town was founded by the Greeks over a thousand years before San Donato8th century foundation as a religious shrine). Aquara’s architectural fabric may have suffered damage in one or more of the earthquakes that periodically devastate the mountainous regions of Italy. I’ve always found it singularly ironic that the ancient land of Italy occupies ground that is comparatively new and geologically active.
At this point we decided to head back to Paestum to visit the Greek ruins in the few hours of daylight that remained. The return trip took us some time, for we were traveling on country roads through a populated area, and also stopped for lunch at a roadside café.
One of Paestum’s beautiful Greek temples.
Upon reaching Paestum we went directly to the ruins and took many photos of its still largely intact and singularly beautiful Greek temples. We also stopped at a café for one of our innumerable resuscitating coffees. We also visited the nearby Paestum Archeological Museum, but by that time it was getting rather late in the day, and I was tired, which detracted from my enjoyment of its exhibits. Also, the museum was a bit stuffy. Either it wasn’t air conditioned or the air hadn’t yet been turned on.
Also, a bit later we walked barefoot along Paestum’s beachfront, our only direct experience of the Tyrrhenian Sea on this trip. The shoreline is beautiful, but the beach at that hour was covered with litter. This was probably the best day for weather of the entire trip. One interesting feature of the walk along the beach were two men who were gathering clams with rather large metal devices which they used to bore into the sand just off shore.
The beach at Paestum.
That evening we dined at a restaurant called the Nettuno (Neptune). Though quite elegant, and affording a romantic view of one of the temples, which were lit up, the slow service annoyed us. I wondered whether the clams (vongole) listed on the menu might have been the ones that we saw being gathered on the beach earlier in the day. There was a sign in the restaurant, incidentally, announcing that it had been in business since 1927, and I wondered if Benito Mussolini (the Fascist dictator who ruled Italy from 1922 to 1943) might have eaten there at some point.
That concluded our brief visit to Aquara (our paternal home town) and and the nearby ancient city of Paestum.