Tuesday, November 17, 2020

We appreciate you Nonno & Nonna! The family is doing well, thanks to you!

Michele Spadoni on his farm in
Shore Acres, Gig Harbor, WA
Dear Nonno and Nonna,

I want to give you a progress report on how the family you started a bit more than 100 years ago is doing. When you took that ship to America in 1909, Italian immigrants were treated with hostility and suspicion. The governor of Louisiana, elected two years after you arrived, described Italian Americas as “just a little worse than the Negro, being if anything filthier in their habits, lawless and treacherous.” Knowing this, you did your best to teach your children and grandchildren to be loyal and productive Americans. Each generation has learned honesty, patriotic values and a strong work ethic. You taught us the inestimable value of family love and togetherness. You farmed your land to put food on your family’s table and worked at jobs that others refused to do. And then you helped your siblings, nephews and nieces become established in America as well.

Anita Seghieri in
her 20s, in France.
Thanks to the hardships you endured, the whole world became open for subsequent generations. In the family we’ve now seen engineers, doctors, lawyers, teachers (an abundance of them), artists, musicians, designers, beauticians, city planners, writers, executives, business owners and leaders, military officers—people in nearly every occupational field. The doors that were closed to you are now wide open to us.

Dr. Leon Spadoni, son of 
Michele's nephew Alfredo.
Most of your grandchildren hardly knew you, but we want you to know we appreciate the sacrifices you made, the risks you took, the hardships and insults you endured. In honor of you, many of us are also rediscovering our Italian heritage, tracing our ancestry and visiting those places in Tuscany where it all began. You might also want to know that the family you left overseas, after struggling in poverty for a half century, has also enjoyed the same successes. At the end of World War 2, Italy experienced “Il Boom Economico,” and now our relatives there have taken full advantage of the nearly limitless career possibilities as well.

I await the day we can all be together again at that big and eternal dinner table. For now, on behalf of our family, I thank you for your courage, foresight, persistence and strong moral standards. Your work is done, your burdens lifted. Go and dance with the angels.

Tuo nipote, Paul (along with many others)

The image in this charcoal drawing by Lita Dawn Ancich now adorns
the historic Finholm building in Gig Harbor, Washington, where Anita's brother
Seghiero "Jim" Seghieri settled. Lita Dawn is Seghiero's granddaughter.

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Author’s note: I was inspired to write this after reading a similar essay by author and friend James Pantaleo.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Change your calendars! The Seghieri-Spadoni reunion will be in 2022.

Because of virus concerns, The Spadoni/Seghieri Family Reunion in Tuscany has officially been rescheduled to May 2-6, 2022. I’m still hoping I can be in Italy this coming spring to coordinate planning, but I need more time to pull everything together and reserve all the locations. And I’m sure that we will all feel safer by waiting to see how vaccine plans progress.

The first two days, May 2 and 3, we will focus on the roots of the Spadoni family, and May 4 and 5 will feature Seghieri history. May 6 will be an open day, with a variety of suggested itineraries, an optional cooking class and a farewell dinner at Fattoria Il Poggio, one of Montecarlo’s finest restaurants.

Photo from 2019 reunion in Gig Harbor
We anticipate that relatives from France, Italy and throughout the United States will attend. It is even possible that some relatives from South America could come as well.

Following is a tentative itinerary, with many details and exact times still to be worked out.


Morning: Road trip to Marliana, Massa, Buggiano Castello and Pescia—all places various Spadoni families have lived throughout the centuries.

Afternoon: Open

Evening: Dinner where you will be able to meet and greet Spadoni relatives. I will present information on how the various family lines are linked together along with history of the earliest known Spadonis. Primary information will be presented in both English and Italian.


We’ll be on the road for most of the day in order to visit the most significant historical Spadoni sites.

Morning: Stignano, Borgo a Buggiano and Ponte Buggianese. The church in Stignano is where we find the first records of Spadoni marriages and baptisms in the late 15th century. It’s also the location of the Spadoni tomb, an indication that the family occupied an important role in the town in the 1500s. In the 1600s and 1700s, most Spadonis moved into the lush farmlands that were opening up around Borgo a Buggiano and Ponte Buggianese as new canals lowered the level of the swampy Padule di Fucecchio. Ponte Buggianese still has a large concentration of Spadoni families, all of whom are descendants of two brothers from Stignano in the late 1400s. We will see the street named for Italo Spadoni, look at many Spadoni graves in the cemetery and visit the site where Italo was brutally murdered by Fascist zealots in 1924.

Afternoon: After lunch in one of Ponte Buggianese’s best restaurants, we’ll move on to San Salvatore, where Enrico, Michele, Alfredo and Adolfo Spadoni were raised (Enrico remained in Italy, while the other three all moved to Washington state). We’ll see the church where Michele met and later married Anita Seghieri. Then we’ll travel to Capannori, where we’ll visit the impressive but mysterious Torre degli Spadoni.

Evening: Dinner will tentatively be at La Favola Mia in Chiesina Uzzanese, which is owned by cousin Leonello Spadoni.


Morning: Tour of the Fortezza di Montecarlo, followed by a wine and Tuscan aperitivo tasting (fees to be collected upon entrance).

Afternoon: Tour of Lucca, with 5-Star guide Elena Benvenuti, a Lucca native and the wife of Davide Seghieri.

Evening: Dinner where you will be able to meet and greet Seghieri relatives. I will present information on how the various family lines are linked together along with history of the earliest known Seghieris. Primary information will be presented in both English and Italian.


We’ll be on the road for most of the day in order to visit the most significant historical Seghieri sites.

Morning: Tour of the facilities of the Casolare dei Fiori (family of Gilda Seghieri and Enzo Pasquinelli). Tour of churches in San Salvatore and Montecarlo and several other sites in Montecarlo with significance for Seghieri family members. Tour of Montecarlo cemetery.

Afternoon: Lunch in one of the Montecarlo restaurants that serves exquisite Tuscan cuisine. Tour of Casone di Marcucci (which once housed some 50 members of various Seghieri families), tour of family farm of Ivo, Celestino and Fabbio Seghieri. Tour of church in San Gennaro of Capannori, where Torello Seghieri was once the choir director. We’ll stop in Alberghi (a suburb of Pescia), where we will sample gelato from the best gelateria in the area and then stop at the bicycle shop owned by Francesca Seghieri and her husband Franco Natali. The final stop will be at a used merchandise store where you can buy interesting souvenirs at a great price.

Evening: Make your own plans for dinner. Recommendations will be available upon request.


Morning: Open, but with many suggestions, including: Go to the open air market in Ponte Buggianese (ends at 1 p.m.). Take the funicolare to Montecatini Alto. Go to a wine tasting (plenty of options). Drive to Vinci, birthplace of Leonardo and home to two Leonardo museums. Shop in Montecarlo, Montecatini or Lucca. Drive to the Devil’s Bridge in Borgo a Mozzano. Go to the Parco di Pinocchio. Take a train to Florence or Pisa.

Afternoon: Cooking class with Elena Benvenuti.

Evening: Farewell dinner at Fattoria Il Poggio.

What kind of costs can you expect? Airfare, obviously, is a major expense, but you can save by making reservations well in advance. The closest airports are in Florence and Pisa, each of which are about 40 minutes from Montecarlo. It’s usually cheaper to fly to the major airports of Rome or Milan. However, if you are only coming for the reunion and not planning to visit other cities, it likely won’t be worth the savings to book flights to Rome or Milan because of the time and expense required to travel to Montecarlo. Also, one of our family members is Gina Natucci, who is a travel agent familiar with the area, and she can assist in making airfare reservations. Contact her through the family reunion Facebook page.

You’ll need to provide your own housing, and I’ll provide recommendations with contact information in the coming months. You’ll also need to provide motor vehicle transportation as we move from site to site. You can rent a car at any airport.

Meals at our various group dinners will be paid to each restaurant, and costs will vary depending on what you order and the menu prices.

Cousin ElenaBenvenuti is a professional tour guide, and if you want to take the tours of Lucca or the cooking class, you will pay her set rates and make your reservations with her directly. It would be great if you could contact her prior to the reunion, but you’ll also be able to sign up when you arrive. Entrance to the Fortezza di Montecarlo costs around 8 euro and a wine tasting will cost from 20-30 euro.

Otherwise, there are no costs associated with the historical site tours, which I will lead, with occasional help from other family members. Showing people around our wonderful ancestral home is my hobby and a labor of love.

I’m a little nervous about bringing so many people together in one place, most of whom speak only one language. However, there is precedent: The French Seghieri families, with help from Davide, Elena and other Montecarlo relatives, have held some wonderful reunions both in Italy and France. Your patience and positive attitudes will hopefully overcome my shortcomings in planning and leadership.

I’ll be working with Elena and other relatives to firm up the plans. Meanwhile, put the dates on your calendars, talk to members of your family and make sure your passports are current. It may be more than a year away, but you’ll want to be well prepared for an unforgettable reunion and vacation! Ci vediamo in Italia.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Reflection on Italy’s traditional evening stroll: La Passeggiata

The current issue of Ambassador magazine contains my photos and article on La Passaggiata. You can read the text below, or enlarge the pages from the magazine and read it that way.

‟I think we stepped into the middle of a parade,” my wife exclaimed. Lucy and I were taking an evening stroll in the city of Pompei in the region of Campania, and we found the streets and squares packed with locals wandering around while going no place in particular. It was our first experience with a famous Italian event that exists in every decent sized Italian city.

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La passeggiata is a slow, gentle stroll through the pedestrian parts of the center of any city, usually beginning just before dusk. It marks the end of the workday, grants a breath of fresh air and allows people to chat with cousins, friends and neighbors. On weekends whole families walk together, sometimes splitting apart for smaller conversations and then joining again. People greet friends, swap gossip, share the latest news.

Although the Covid-19 virus has put a damper on this Italian tradition, restrictions have eased in recent months, and the passeggiata has returned—with mandated restrictions, such as increased personal space and the use of masks for close conversations. If anything, the months of isolation have increased the Italians’ appreciation of this social rite.

“Our love for life, sunshine and the beauty of the outdoors is even stronger now,” said Elena Benvenuti, a private tour guide in Lucca. “During the quarantine, the few privileged people who were allowed to go out to walk their dogs were ready at the door before their pets, even in the bad weather.”

Because the passeggiata is rarely listed among the “must see” sights in Italy, many tourists miss experiencing it, unaware it even exists.

“This is astounding,” Lucy said. “How did we miss this up to now? It’s like a multi-generational town party. It reminds me of one of my quilts, but where each patch is a person, woven together into one human fabric.”

And speaking of fabric, Italians know how to dress up. Even the most fashion-challenged person must appreciate these daily sidewalk shows. As we walked around in our blue jeans and nondescript sweatshirts, I couldn’t help but appreciate these well-dressed and coiffed italiani.

In the typical passeggiata, clothes are stylish but not garish. Colors are coordinated; styles are modern, classy and form-fitting, never faded or sagging. Sweatpants and sweatshirts are virtually non-existent. Yet people dress in a way that looks natural, effortless, which brings to mind the courtly mannerisms cited by fifteenth century Italian count Baldassarre Castiglione, who served in several royal courts.

In his book Il Libro del Cortegiano—The Book of the Courtesan—Castiglione gave advice on how to be a gentleman. He even invented a word to describe his ideal, sprezzatura, which means the studied carelessness that conceals art and presents everything said and done as something brought about without laboriousness and almost without giving it any thought. Author Dianne Hales has explained that the closest English translation “is nonchalance, which fails to capture the behind-the-scenes preparation and hard work that underlies the ability to carry off things that are exquisite and well done—be it a duel, debate or dance, executed with such ease that it inspires the greatest wonder.” This is the essence of another Italian expression bella figura, which means to make a good impression, literally present a good figure.

Sprezzatura has been described by fashion writer Johnny Liu as ‟artful dishevelment—dressing like you don’t care, taking a nonchalant attitude with your appearance—when in fact you do take time and effort to create your look. The trick to pulling it off is subtlety, confidence and an otherwise impeccable outfit.”

“I’ll never be that Italian,” I told Lucy. Though I grew up in America, I have since acquired Italian citizenship and purchased a house in Tuscany—yet I know to my Italian friends I’ll always be considered American. “Are they just born knowing how to dress and look sharp and beautiful? I think I’m missing that gene.”

“No, it’s obvious that they’ve learned it while growing up,” she said. “I’m sure they pay plenty of attention to the way they look and dress. But we’re from the state of Washington. We’ve made the grunge look famous.”

But a passeggiata goes far beyond simple fashions. Old people walk slowly, faces lined with character and experience. I can imagine that the old man I see might have been, one hundred years earlier, my own great grandfather, walking along with hands behind his back, or playing checkers with another old timer on a park bench.

I instantly sense that something is fundamentally different about these people. Many people walk with their arms linked together. Of course, this applies to couples of all ages and is not unique to Italy. But it is also common to see teenage girls with linked arms, a sign of close friendship. Middle-aged women walk with arms linked to their aging mothers to offer both physical and emotional support.

This closeness is not limited to the women. While it is unusual to see boys walking with linked arms, there still is a physical closeness and comfort with contact not seen in other countries. I see a cluster of boys talking loudly and easily with each other, and one puts his hand on the other’s shoulder and leans closer to share a story he doesn’t want everyone else to hear.

It is also possible to see middle-aged men with arms linked to their fathers, and even occasionally a young teen boy linked with parents, something that would be social suicide in America. The closeness of Italian family ties is typically something that people note and admire about Italy, and the passeggiata develops and encourages this trait as well as puts it on display.

While most people walk in groups, those walking by themselves seem perfectly comfortable. At a certain age—maybe the mid-sixties—men walking alone adopt what Lucy and I call the “old man walk,” leaning forward slightly, with hands clasped behind their backs. Body language specialists suggest this posture demonstrates a self-confident person who has lived a satisfied and fulfilled life. I occasionally practice this myself when walking alone so that I can look naturally when doing it in public.

Watching the teenagers interact during the passeggiata is another fascinating experience. Groups meet, mix and split into different groups. Rarely is anyone walking alone, and if they are, they’re probably on a cell phone, planning a rendezvous. Teenagers and young adults perhaps have the most at stake when it comes to making la bella figura. This is their chance to strengthen friendships, make new ones and impress the opposite sex.

In a way, the passeggiata of young people reminds me of school dances, charged with youthful energy, enthusiasm and passion, a socially sanctioned opportunity for flirting and courtship. Parents approve because the interpersonal skills gained are useful in the workplace and the complex politics of life. Of course, this event takes place every night, so the stakes are not so high and the participants more relaxed, experienced and comfortable.

The passeggiata is the place where many romantic relationships begin, according to Mari Accardi, who grew up in Sicily and is now a tour guide with Rick Steves. “A boy may send some glances toward a girl, and if she is interested, she sends some back. Then it’s up to the boy to take the next step, to say ciao, ask for her name and see if she wants to get a coffee.”

“Look at those men sitting together around that table,” Lucy said. “You should go join them. You look Italian. You’d probably fit right in.”

“Yeah, I wish.” I replied. “I probably couldn’t understand their dialect, and I get lost in social groups even when the men are speaking English. But I do envy them. If I had been raised here, maybe I would have developed better social skills, and then I could be comfortable sitting around chatting, arguing, playing cards with lifelong friends.”

“Or at least by now you would have mastered the old man walk,” Lucy said.

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You can see all of the current issue of Ambassador here.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

The heartwarming story of an orphan who found love in an Italian family

Michael and the medallion
What do Oliver Twist, Anne of Green Gables and Little Orphan Annie have in common? Of course, they were all orphans—and they were also mistreated and unhappy, even if their stories end happily. Their experiences lead many to believe that the lives of orphans in the past 500 years were, with few exceptions, mostly miserable. Possibly that is true, but in Italy, at least, orphans during the middle ages and renaissance era were generally well looked after by the Catholic church and charitable organizations.

Ospedale della Misericordia
e Dolce, Prato

I’ve written about this before in Care for the Innocenti and Museum for the Innocents, but I’ve just come across a real life success story that highlights this point. Italian-American genealogy buff Michael Lomagno discovered that his quadrisavola (great great great grandmother, or third great grandmother) was an orphan. She was given up shortly after birth and named Vincenzia Aprilini by an orphanage in Prato, Tuscany, the Ospedale della Misericordia e Dolce. She arrived at the hospital April 9, 1825, which explains the surname she was given.

Her unknown mother tied a black cord around her neck, from which hung a medallion—a Bolognese coin minted in the late 1700s. A piece of the coin was cut off, a common practice that assured that the mother could later reclaim her child by providing the missing piece of the memento.

For most researchers, finding that they have a “trovatelli” or foundling in the family line means a dead end—but Michael is not an ordinary researcher. He wrote an inquiry to the State Archives in Prato, and with the help of archivists there, he discovered a wealth of information.

“For many years I thought of Vincenzia as an abandoned baby who perhaps had a miserable childhood in an orphanage,” Michael said. “I was wrong.”

Michael at the Duomo of Prato.

Michael discovered that Vincenzia was baptized in the Duomo di Prato and only spent four days at the orphanage before being whisked away to the countryside where she lived with her wet nurse for the first year and a half of her life. Nursing mothers were paid a small stipend to care for newborns, so this was a common practice.

But this is where the story takes an especially interesting twist: The wet nurse was also one of Michael’s ancestors, his fourth great grandmother, Maddalena Mazzoni. She had recently given birth to a son, Bartolomeo Incrocci, who is Michael’s third great grandfather. For the first years in the lives of Bartolomeo and Vincenzia, they were raised as brother and sister, and a bond likely formed—but once Vincenzia was weaned, she had to move on to another family. Maddalena received a payment of 159.56 lire for her services. Now a dry nurse would be appointed to raise Vincenzia until age 14, at which time she could be returned to the Ospedale for occupational training.

Her new family turned out to be very close indeed. The supervising priest made a special request to the Ospedale asking that Vincenzia be moved to the family of Maddelena’s childless sister Rosa, whom he attested to be “of good morals.” Rosa and her husband Gaspero Benedetti kept Vincenzia in their home until age 19, which strongly indicates that she was welcomed and loved. Vincenzia and Bartolomeo grew up playing together, probably seeing each other nearly daily.

When Vincenzia did leave the family home, it was for a very special reason. She and her childhood “milk brother” Bartolomeo were married. They had nine children, the eldest of whom was second great grandmother of Michael Lomagno. Vincenzia also had at least 38 great grandchildren and lived until age 77.

Michael discovered the story of her childhood with the help of records kept at the State Archives in Prato and the hospital for orphans.

“What was truly special and humbling was to hold the medallion that was around Vincenzia’s neck when she was given up,” Michael said. “As you can see from the photos, the charm is chipped off. This is deliberate because if the birth mother ever came back to reclaim the child, she would have the missing piece to establish identity. Usually this never happened, but it is heartening to know that the mother of Vincenzia did not abandon her baby with ease of heart. There was hope. There was love.

“From my visit to the archivio, I was able to view the correspondence from the priests to the hospital as well as the ledger that was kept for the payments made for the first 14 years of Vincenzia’s life and, of course, hold the precious medallion that remained quietly tucked away in the archive for me to rediscover. It is a humbling but beautiful legacy to know my family’s history is preserved in Toscana, and I got to be reunited with it.”

Michael Lomagno in Lucca.