Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Earliest known ancestors faced warfare, frozen seas and plagues

Moderate temperatures in the three centuries preceding the birth of my earliest known ancestor, Giunta Seghieri, had led to notable agricultural and technological development, and all of Europe was experiencing rapid population growth and an increase in intellectual and mathematical sophistication. The harnessing of water power and related mechanical discoveries resulted in an era that many historians call the Medieval Industrial Revolution.

But Giunta, born around 1275, along with his children and their descendants, survived tumultuous times in Italy. Giunta’s very name could be an indication that his parents experienced difficulties in continuing the family line. says Giunta comes “from a short form of the personal name Bonag(g)iunta, literally ‘good addition,’ a name commonly given in the late Middle Ages to a long-awaited or much-desired son.”

Once born, Giunta—like all infants of the time—faced high child mortality rates, estimated at anywhere from thirty to fifty percent. And the moderate temperatures of the previous centuries were not to last. One historian notes that the fourteenth century “was a time of turmoil, diminished expectations, loss of confidence in institutions, and feelings of helplessness at forces beyond human control. Even the extinction of the human race was faced by medieval Europeans, in fact, far more directly than we ever have.”

The Hunters in the Snow, by Pieter Brueghel the Elder
Two great natural disasters struck Europe in the 1300s. One was climatic: a Little Ice Age, which started in the late 1200s and continued until around 1600. The Baltic Sea froze over in 1303, 1306 and 1307, something never before recorded. Alpine glaciers advanced. Crops failed after heavy rains in 1315, and French writers reported widespread famine, incidents of cannibalism and epidemics.

In 1328, Guinta found himself literally in the middle of a war between the Ghibelline forces of Castruccio Castracani of Lucca and those of Guelph Firenze in what is called the Battle of Altopascio. After Castracani conquered Pistoia, the Florentine troops responded to the threat and moved to confront him. But Castracani took shelter in the hilltop fortress of Cerruglio—now called Montecarlo—waiting for reinforcements.

A battle between Guelphs and Ghibellines in Northern Italy
Besieged by the Florentine commander, a small garrison of men from Altopascio resisted for twenty-six days before surrendering to the greatly superior Guelph forces, which outnumbered them 17,500 to 500. The winners put their camp at Altopascio, which is located but five miles from Cerruglio. Just a few miles from being directly in the middle of the battlefield lay the Seghieri farmland. Castracani’s allies arrived in time to defeat the Florentine forces, and Castracani was awarded the title Duke of Lucca as his reward. Giunta was about fifty years old at this time, and I have no evidence to indicate with which side he allied or even if he survived—only that his son Sighieri, probably born in the same decade as the battle, lived on to bear children of his own.

The worst, though, was yet to come. Young Sighieri had lived through a devastating war, but pestilence descended upon Italy in 1348 in the form of the Great Plague, the Black Death. Scholars have no doubt the sickness entered Europe through the west coast of Italy, and the peninsula was among the hardest hit of all areas. According to medieval historian Philip Daileader, “Recent research is pointing to a figure (of) . . . forty-five to fifty percent of the European population dying during a four-year period. In Mediterranean Europe, areas such as Italy, the south of France and Spain, where plague ran for about four years consecutively, it was probably closer to seventy-five to eighty percent of the population.”

Troubadour Peire Lunel de Montech composed a sorrowful lyric during the height of the plague: “They died by the hundreds, both day and night, and all were thrown in . . . ditches and covered with earth. And as soon as those ditches were filled, more were dug. And I . . . buried my five children with my own hands . . . And so many died that all believed it was the end of the world.” A chronicler in Siena wrote: “And no bells tolled, and nobody wept no matter what his loss because almost everyone expected death.”

Illustration of the Black Death from the Toggenburg Bible, 1411
Genoese sailors brought the disease from the East, dropping it off first in Sicily on their way back home. In late January of 1348, they infected Pisa, where it is recorded that 500 people died each day, and that became the entry point for the plague in northern and central Italy. Seghieri lived only twenty-two miles west of Pisa, and he certainly would have seen the plague at its very worst. The nearby metropolitan centers of Pisa, Florence and Lucca were among the hardest hit in all of Europe. cites Florentine writer Giovanni Boccaccio, who described the plague as it ravaged his city in 1348:

The symptoms were not the same as in the East, where a gush of blood from the nose was the plain sign of inevitable death; but it began both in men and women with certain swellings in the groin or under the armpit. They grew to the size of a small apple or an egg, more or less, and were vulgarly called tumors. In a short space of time these tumors spread from the two parts named all over the body. Soon after this the symptoms changed and black or purple spots appeared on the arms or thighs or any other part of the body, sometimes a few large ones, sometimes many little ones. These spots were a certain sign of death, just as the original tumor had been and still remained . . . most people died within about three days of the appearance of the tumors described above, most of them without any fever or other symptoms.

The violence of this disease was such that the sick communicated it to the healthy who came near them, just as a fire catches anything dry or oily near it. And it even went further. To speak to or go near the sick brought infection and a common death to the living; and moreover, to touch the clothes or anything else the sick had touched or worn gave the disease to the person touching.

Such fear and fanciful notions took possession of the living that almost all of them adopted the same cruel policy, which was entirely to avoid the sick and everything belonging to them. By so doing, each one thought he would secure his own safety.

Some thought that moderate living and the avoidance of all superfluity would preserve them from the epidemic. They formed small communities, living entirely separate from everybody else. They shut themselves up in houses where there were no sick, eating the finest food and drinking the best wine very temperately, avoiding all excess, allowing no news or discussion of death and sickness, and passing the time in music and suchlike pleasures. Others thought just the opposite. They thought the sure cure for the plague was to drink and be merry, to go about singing and amusing themselves, satisfying every appetite they could, laughing and jesting at what happened. They put their words into practice, spent day and night going from tavern to tavern, drinking immoderately, or went into other people’s houses, doing only those things which pleased them. This they could easily do because everyone felt doomed and had abandoned his property, so that most houses became common property and any stranger who went in made use of them as if he had owned them. And with all this bestial behavior, they avoided the sick as much as possible.

In this suffering and misery of our city, the authority of human and divine laws almost disappeared, for, like other men, the ministers and the executors of the laws were all dead or sick or shut up with their families, so that no duties were carried out. Every man was therefore able to do as he pleased.

Many others adopted a course of life midway between the two just described. They did not restrict their victuals so much as the former, nor allow themselves to be drunken and dissolute like the latter, but satisfied their appetites moderately. They did not shut themselves up, but went about, carrying flowers or scented herbs or perfumes in their hands, in the belief that it was an excellent thing to comfort the brain with such odors; for the whole air was infected with the smell of dead bodies, of sick persons and medicines.

Others again held a still more cruel opinion, which they thought would keep them safe. They said that the only medicine against the plague-stricken was to go right away from them. Men and women, convinced of this and caring about nothing but themselves, abandoned their own city, their own houses, their dwellings, their relatives, their property, and went abroad or at least to the country round Florence, as if God’s wrath in punishing men’s wickedness with this plague would not follow them but strike only those who remained within the walls of the city, or as if they thought nobody in the city would remain alive and that its last hour had come.

One citizen avoided another, hardly any neighbor troubled about others, relatives never or hardly ever visited each other. Moreover, such terror was struck into the hearts of men and women by this calamity, that brother abandoned brother, and the uncle his nephew, and the sister her brother, and very often the wife her husband. What is even worse and nearly incredible is that fathers and mothers refused to see and tend their children, as if they had not been theirs.

The plight of the lower and most of the middle classes was even more pitiful to behold. Most of them remained in their houses, either through poverty or in hopes of safety, and fell sick by thousands. Since they received no care and attention, almost all of them died. Many ended their lives in the streets both at night and during the day; and many others who died in their houses were only known to be dead because the neighbors smelled their decaying bodies. Dead bodies filled every corner. Most of them were treated in the same manner by the survivors, who were more concerned to get rid of their rotting bodies than moved by charity towards the dead.

Such was the multitude of corpses brought to the churches every day and almost every hour that there was not enough consecrated ground to give them burial, especially since they wanted to bury each person in the family grave, according to the old custom. Although the cemeteries were full they were forced to dig huge trenches, where they buried the bodies by hundreds. Here they stowed them away like bales in the hold of a ship and covered them with a little earth, until the whole trench was full.

The plague abated in 1352, though it recurred periodically with similar force during the next fifty years to devastate those who escaped the first attack. Sighieri Seghieri lived on the outskirts of a small village, and perhaps the lack of close contact with neighbors increased the chances for his family’s survival. Somehow Sighieri, about twenty-five years old during the first year of the plague, escaped unharmed, preserving the family line. The plague hit hard again in 1362, and after surviving this danger another time, Sighieri undoubtedly felt fortunate. Contemporary chronicler Giovanni Sercambi wrote that the land "was so contaminated that . . . all thought the end of the world was nigh. Those that remained alive became rich, because what had belonged to the many now came to the few." As one of a minority of the region’s survivors, Sighieri was able to expand the family’s land holdings, taking control of unclaimed land, and in the centuries that followed, the Seghieri family continued to grow.

For more on the history of this region, read this account of the early Spadoni families in the nearby Valdinievole: Early Spadoni families survived wars, famines, ice ages, epidemics and poverty.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Writing, researching, learning . . .

Our plan has been to take advantage of the normally rainy February weather to focus on our indoor projects, and though the weather has actually been much nicer than anticipated, we are pretty much sticking to the program. I hope that my research will tell me more about the conditions of life that my ancestors in Italy faced, so I have been reading and taking notes. Lucy has set up her sewing machine and will start her quilting projects soon. Both of us have re-started our language studies.

Because of this, we will have few adventures to post on the blog for the time being. Tomorrow I will post some of my research about the 14th and 15th centuries, just to give myself a sort of intermediate writing goal. 

Meanwhile, I have come across some advice given in a guidebook for travelers to Italy published around 1912 that is worth sharing, especially for all people who have dared to put their lives in the hands of an Italian cab driver, or for that matter, pretty much any Italian driver.

“On public transportation: The donkey-drivers have an unpleasant habit of inciting their animals to the top of their speed when passing through a town or village, and it is as well to warn them beforehand that their ‘mancia’ (tip) will suffer if they do not go quietly through the streets.”

It seems some things never change.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A place to call our own?

Wednesday, February 19
We just couldn’t help ourselves; we couldn’t resist the temptation to call the number and look inside. We have seen a dozens of old farm houses for sale in our general locale in the past few years, and even though we have concluded that it doesn’t make sense to buy one when we only come to Italy for two or three months a year, we usually stop to take a quick look.

Each one of them, upon a few days of reflection, has its own set of problems. Too near the noise of the highway. No land for an orto, a vegetable garden. Too much traffic on the street. Next to a smelly barn. Too big. Too small. No driveway. Too isolated. To far from a train station. We always conclude that even if we were in the market for a house—which, we always remind each other, we are not—this house would not be the one.

Except there is one house that keeps rolling around into our minds. We first saw the weathered vendita sign three years ago while riding our bikes in a neighborhood called Carrari. We wrote down the phone number but never called it. Each year afterwards, we would go a little out of our way to ride past it now and then, usually stopping for a few minutes to admire the yard, the view and the general location. What mainly draws us back is the location. From the yard, we can see the towers of both Altopascio and Montecarlo. It is on a quiet and seldom-used back road, yet it is less than one mile from the Altopascio train station, a flat and quick ride on a bike and not too far to walk. Trains stop more frequently at Altopascio than they do at San Salvatore, and Altopascio also has many more shops and a large weekly open-air market. Yet the house is only three miles from the Marcucci neighborhood where my Seghieri relatives live.

We also like the fact that it has a fenced-in yard and a lawn, not something common around here. It has a double carport that looks like it was built within the last ten years but was never used. A final factor in its favor is the neighborhood, which has about four large houses, each one containing about three apartments each. That means there might be twelve to fourteen families living there, a nice number for stranieri like us, who are looking for veri italiani as friends. “Our” two-story apartment was on the end of a three-family building, facing fields on three sides, so we would have more privacy than any of the other units.

Yesterday, at Lucy’s urging, I finally called the number and asked to have someone show us the inside. Giovanni was at work but said he was just about to head home for lunch and could come in ten minutes. That would be perfect, we said, and we sat down on the sidewalk to eat some bread we had bought during our bike ride through Altopascio. When he arrived, he took us around the outside and showed us the boundaries. Besides the lawn and carports, we would also have a 5000-square-foot field outside the fenced-in area, which would be more than adequate to grow any vegetables we wanted if we ever decided to live here year-around.

Giovanni said the unit is owned jointly by four people, the adult children of the former occupants, one of whom is his wife. They are asking 170,000 euros but are open to negotiate, and they are not in any hurry to sell. That’s good, I said, because we are not in any hurry to buy. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to go inside, because when Giovanni put the key in the door, the lock broke with the door stuck shut. He will call a repairman, he said, and then give us a call to come and look inside when it is fixed. So we walked around the outside again and asked more questions. Each floor is about 100 square meters, which translates to roughly 1,000 square feet. However, a fairly large portion of this—about three rooms—was formerly devoted to animals and farm supplies, so the finished living area would be maybe about 1,400 feet. Quite likely, since the house has been unoccupied for at least ten years and it was probably in poor repair even then, it would have to be completely refurbished both inside and out. In that case, the unfinished areas could be converted to living spaces.

The crumbling stucco on the outside would definitely have to be removed and replaced, Giovanni said, because it was of an older type that didn’t allow the bricks and stones underneath it to breathe, and so it would typically flake away and have to be replaced on a regular basis. Or, he said, we might like the pattern of bricks and stones that appeared with cleaning and not want to replace the stucco. He showed us the outside of one of the other homes in the community that had been remodeled by leaving the original masonry exposed, and it looked great that way. The brick tile roof should also be replaced, he explained, because with today’s newer technology, roofs keep houses cooler in the summers and warmer in the winters while still retaining a traditional appearance.

Unfortunately, we were not able to take any photos, because I apparently forgot to pack my camera battery charger, and I will have to buy a new charger, since my battery has gone dead. Meanwhile, we will wait for Giovanni to call when the lock is fixed, while we continue to ponder the crazy and unlikely idea of buying a house here.

Postscript: Giovanni never called us back. We rode by the house several times in March and noticed that the lock had not been changed, but when we discovered in late March that the door finally had a new lock, I called Giovanni two times and left messages that we would like to look inside. He didnt return our calls, and by this time we had concluded that even if we did lose our good senses and decided to buy a house in Toscana, it would be better to buy one in San Salvatore, closer to my relatives.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Settling into a routine in San Salvatore

Saturday, February 15
We docked at Savona Wednesday, which marked the end of our Mediterranean cruise. We had to transfer trains at Genova, Viareggio and Lucca before finally pulling into San Salvatore at 4 p.m.  We thought we’d buy some milk, juice, cereal and something for dinner at Matteo’s little grocery store, but in true Italian tradition, it was closed. Lucy had thought this might be the case, because for some reason, little grocery stores usually are closed on Wednesday afternoons. It’s one of the “charms” of the country.

Luckily, the Conad chain store in Chiesanuova is not as charming, and Luca took us there after he collected us and our luggage. We grabbed a few essentials and arrived “home” at the Casolare dei Fiori and cooked up some pasta in the same comfy apartment that we have lived in part time since 2011. We spent most of Thursday taking it easy, and then yesterday morning Luca and Roberta backed up their van with all of our kitchen supplies and furniture, and we spent much of Valentine’s Day leisurely unpacking. Lucy is still fighting a cough she picked up on the cruise, so she has to take it slow.

I did go out early to a local nursery and bought her some flowers that Suzye requested I deliver on her behalf, and later I rode my bike back to Conad to buy more food. On the way back, Ivo Seghieri flagged me down and welcomed us back, bringing me up to date on some local news. He is without doubt the friendliest and most colorful person we have met here, and talking to him always renews my motivation to improve my language skills so I can get to know him even better.

Ivo on his barn roof, trimming
a fruit tree.
In our one-sided ten-minute conversation, he told me that it had been warm but very rainy this winter and his wife was still in Russia dealing with her mother’s and her own health issues. He also told me that cousin Libero had died unexpectedly last fall, which was a big blow to Libero’s family and also to Ivo, because the two were close to the same age and had grown up together. He said it was a good reminder to appreciate life and live it simply and free of concerns over money, possessions and other worldly cares. From what little I know about Ivo, he could be the poster boy for this type of life, as he always seems cheerful and content. His farm provides many of his needs, and the countryside also supplies him with wild herbs, mushrooms and snails, all of which he has learned to use from his contadino upbringing.

I took my first trip to the church archives Friday evening and started the slow process of trying to find a record of every Spadoni born in Ponte Buggianese prior to 1920. The idea is that if I encounter more Spadonis who came from this town, I can easily place them into the family tree if they can give me the names of their grandparents or great grandparents. Of course if I really wanted to do a thorough job, I’d have to do the same for the archives of about twenty other small parishes in the region. That’s probably not going to happen unless I move here full time or live to be around 100.

The Ponte Buggianese church records begin in 1635 and I discovered that the first Spadoni born there was Lorenza, in 1637, and the second was her cousin Lorenzo, in 1638. This shows that the Spadonis were among the first to move to this lowland area when the lakes and swamps were drained. Lorenzo is in my family line, and I had not discovered his birth before. I had previously thought that his brother Lorenzo, born in 1628 in Stignano, was my ancestor, but apparently he died as an infant, and shortly afterwards the family moved to Ponte Buggianese.

Today Lucy will continue to unpack while I turn my hand to some writing and editing. I hope to have a book manuscript ready when we return in May and then see if I can find a publisher. We will also continue to work on our language lessons with the Rosetta Stone program. But hopefully I won’t spend all of my time sitting on my
culo. We have brought with us two books about hikes that we can take in Toscana and Umbria, and we hope to try some of these out in March and April.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

How are the Spadoni families spread across the world related? DNA test offers possibility to answer this shows nearly 1,000 people in the United States with the surname Spadoni. A large percentage of them have ancestors who came from Italy during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Most family groups have many known cousins living within the same geographical area. But are the Spadonis of one city or state related to those of another city or state? Through research in Italian archives, I have discovered previously lost connections between five American Spadoni family groups. Three are from Washington—Seattle, Tacoma and Gig Harbor. The other two are from Chicago and Alameda on San Francisco Bay. However, other Spadoni families are spread across the country, and I have to wonder if they are also related. Many Spadonis also show up in Australia, Canada and South America.

The same question comes up in Italy as well, only on a greater scale. lists some 1,500 people named Spadoni in Italy, and they too are distributed countrywide. The word “spadone” means “broadsword” or “big sword,” and “spadoni” is the plural. Usually the first person to be assigned a surname would use the singular form, and his offspring would take the plural. It is possible, even likely, that quite a few people in Italy took on the surname Spadone because of occupations as sword smiths, soldiers or aficionados of swords. But it is theoretically possible that an extensive Spadoni family developed from a single ancestor. Occasionally Spadonis from different regions will cross paths and exchange pleasantries, but they are usually left with the unanswered question about whether they are related within Italy’s distant history.

Now, however, there is a way to answer this question. DNA testing has become affordable and is rapidly growing in acceptance and popularity. All that is needed is for someone to start a Spadoni family name project with one of the DNA testing services. Once several Spadoni males from each family group have their DNA tested, it can be determined with relative certainty which groups are related to which. Not long ago I read the book Trace Your Roots with DNA, by Smolenyak and Turner, and noted that numerous people have started family name projects, encouraging people with the same surname to enroll.

I recently sent in an online order to FamilyTreeDNA of Houston to get my DNA Y-chromosome testing kit, and when I get the results back, the testing organization will give me the opportunity to contact anyone who matches my DNA, if that person has given permission to be contacted. However, my test alone won’t show anything if no one else related to me has previously been tested. The best way to match results is to work together with other people who share the same surname.

Family name projects test the Y-chromosome, which is passed down virtually unchanged from father to son, following the paternal line, so only males can be tested.  However, females can also participate in a project by encouraging brothers, fathers, uncles and male cousins to become DNA donors to the project. They can also help by providing Spadoni family information that they might have and by contributing financially to help fund a family donor.

Blood samples are not required for this test. Instead, a sample is taken using a small Q-tip-like brush to swab the inside of the cheek. It is similar to brushing one’s teeth. Some people are concerned that DNA tests provide medical information or will identify individuals. In fact, only the Y-chromosome is tested, which has no medical value. The tests are not the same as those used by law enforcement authorities, and in any event, individual privacy is protected. When comparing DNA test results, kit numbers are used rather than names in order to maintain anonymity. A participant’s identity would be known only by the family project administrator and is not given to anyone else without specific written authorization. If a match is found for your DNA and the other person wishes to contact you, you will be notified by the project administrator and you will have the option whether to contact them directly or not.

I am currently considering whether to apply to the testing company FamilyTreeDNA to be a project administrator and start a Spadoni family name project. It would involve creating a web site to explain the process and encouraging people to participate. Then I would have to communicate with everyone who makes inquiries and also coordinate with the testing company, as well as post updates and results to apprise people of progress. I would much rather that someone else step forward to coordinate, or at least offer to share the duties with me.

Fellow Spadonis, please think about the possibilities of helping to coordinate or at least contributing a DNA sample once a volunteer administrator has been appointed. The cost for the recommended Y-DNA37 test will be around $160, although a less definitive Y-DNA12 test will only be about $60. It will be interesting to find out how many different Spadoni branches exist and discover previously unknown connections. Contact me if you wish to be involved in any way, and I will put your information on a mailing list to be used once an administrator is in place. I promise to use your contact information for no other purpose than a Spadoni family name project and will not give it out indiscriminately.

Update: Read DNA search for relatives reveals little.
To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain perpetually a child. For what is the worth of a human life unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history? 
– Marcus Tullius Cicero, 106-43 B.C.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Tour of Civitavecchia and Tarquinia provides more than meets the eye

Sunday, February 2
People can be annoying. Also demanding, boring, rude. But more often they are entertaining, intriguing, charming, even fascinating. And I am coming to the conclusion that the main reason I like coming to Italy is to meet the people and learn about their lives.

Today we disembarked in Civitavecchia, the port of Roma, and while most of the passengers took off on various tours or Roma, we wanted to go in the opposite direction, to Tarquinia, to view Etruscan artifacts and ruins. While the tour department on the ship listed a tour of Tarquinia as one of the many possibilities for passengers, we were told that it never filled up, and we would have to make our own arrangements. I had checked the rail schedule online and found that Tarquinia was only about fifteen minutes away. However, not only were the train times less than ideal, the station in Tarquinia was about five miles from the Etruscan ruins and museum, so we would have to find a taxi to get into the city and another to get back to the stations. We disembarked from our ship and dealt with the usual surge of offers for transportation and tours. All appeared to be for Roma--but we found one private tour guide, Luigi, who also included Tarquinia on his list of possible itineraries. Then he promised to not only give us a tour of Tarquinia but also Civitavecchia and the Etruscan museum, and we found he had made an offer we couldn’t refuse. He gave us free transportation in his car and four hours of personal guide service, all at a price less than Costa had advertised for the guided group tour. Because it was raining, he recommended skipping the outside part of the tour, the Etruscan tombs, because the paths would be filled with mud and puddles. Inside the museum we would find four reconstructed tombs, so we could still get a good idea of what the tombs looked like.

Luigi showed us ancient city walls, exquisitely designed and decorated churches and panoramic vistas overlooking the city and surrounding hillsides. We went inside the hall of the Tarquinian city government, even though it was Sunday and the offices were closed.

“It will be OK, because I know the mayor,” Luigi said. He said the same thing when Lucy pointed out that he had parked in front of a gate marked “passo carrabile,” which indicates vehicle passage, no parking. “The mayor loves me because I give publicity and bring visitors to the city,” Luigi said. “Tarquinia is a better tourist town than San Gimignano, but people don’t know about it because they don’t advertise enough here.”
As we drove around, we found that Luigi is very proud of his community, and he didn’t hesitate to tell us the reasons why.

“The olive oil here is as good at the oil in Tuscany, which is the best in the world,” he said. The area is also famous for its artichokes, broccoli, romaine lettuce, cauliflower, chestnuts, fruit trees and a few other crops that I have probably forgotten. As he listed the items of produce, he sometimes described how he would prepare them in his kitchen, and he would lick his lips and roll his eyes back while remembering the taste of his favorite recipes.

Besides being a tour guide who speaks five languages, Luigi has recently started an olive oil export business, partnering with a large local farm. He complained that the woman who owns the farm, while producing excellent oil, lacks the vision needed to promote her business. Through Luigi, she sold some oil to a man who works in the customs office. When he wanted more, she kept raising the price.

“This man is a friend of mine, and we may need his help someday,” he said. The farmer is impatient, wanting all her profits to come quickly, Luigi said, but he is trying to convince her of the importance of building her client base and reputation. “Now she is refusing the give me more samples to pass out to potential customers. How are people going to see the quality of her oil without trying it?”

Luigi said if he can’t convince the woman to take a more futuristic view, he will have to look for another farmer to work with. He needs to develop this sideline because the cruise ship industry has cut into the traditional guide service business and reduced his income. I asked him questions about his guide service business and we discussed details about his soon-to-be-launched web site, a point of common interest, since I have helped another friend create a site for her tourism business.

We pulled into a Romanesque church in Tarquinia to take some photos of what Luigi informed us was a famous baptistery. We were greeted by a mother and her pre-teen son, who asked us to sign the guest book. They were volunteers overseeing the church’s security and happy to have visitors on a rainy winter day. Both spoke English well, and the boy said he had spent some time in the United States and would like to go to back again. To prove his interest in our country, he reminded us that today was Groundhog’s Day in the United States and said that Phil had seen his shadow in Punxsutawney.

We also stopped to see the city’s communal clothes washing basin, which is now used only by one person, ninety-year-old Vincenza, also one of Luigi’s friends. He passed by her yard and, finding her gate open, called out “Vincenzina” and beckoned her out to meet us.

Her weathered face looked even older than her years and she was largely toothless, but her compact body still looked strong and sturdy, and her mind and spirit remained hearty, hale and agile. She can remember when the long vasca was used by all the women in town and was a central gathering place for conversations. In more recent times, an artist has painted a scene on the wall of women washing together. The painting is upside down on the wall, but it is reversed when it reflects into the basin. When the water is disturbed, one has the illusion that the women are scrubbing their clothes.

When Vincenza heard that we are Americans, she told us that during the last war, she lived on a farm and her family hid American soldiers from the occupying Germans. Under questioning from Luigi, she said that she had never taken a day of vacation in her life. “How about on your wedding night?” he asked playfully. Well, she didn’t work that day, but her honeymoon room was in the house of her sister-in-law in a nearby village, and she didn’t really consider that a vacation.

After this, Luigi took us to the Etruscan museum and gave us a guided tour, which proved helpful because all the written documentation was in Italian and would have taken us a long time to read. While we enjoyed seeing the sights and museum artifacts, on our walk back to the ship, Lucy and I realized that the highlight of the afternoon had not been anything we saw but the people we had met and conversations we had experienced. It also occurred to us that often than not, the things we recall about our Italy trips involve the people, not the places, a valuable lesson to keep in mind.