Altomonte. A seemingly uneventful- and even, unknown, town to most… but after my visit, I know it will always be a place of great personal importance. My father was born in this small town, and when I first arrived, I was greeted by what’s left of our family there: my grandmother’s sister, her daughter, her husband, and their two children- all of whom became a part of my family- or rather, I became a part of theirs- during my three day stay there.
After a nine hour bus ride (which was grueling, by the way), I arrived in Altomonte at 6:30 am. Perfect timing right? Soon after, I was greeted by Giovanna and Mario who took me to their house located somewhat within the city center. The clouds hung low and our drive through the country was incredible. I was largely unsure of how to interact with my “family,” as blood doesn’t necessarily dictate relationships.
I was overloaded with food (to put it lightly), and received my favorite italian dish ever- direct from my grandmother’s mouth to her sister’s- “peperoncini crusschi.” I’m sure I spelled that wrong- but they are dried red peppers (not spicy), fried in oil until they are incredibly crunchy and then drizzled with salt. They are delicious… especially when there is a really cute older woman who can’t wait to make them for you.
My three days there were mostly spent running errands with Giovanna (which I really liked), picking up Rebecca from elementary school, and eating way way way too much. I solely spoke Italian for three days, and was amazed at how much my Italian improved by the end. I didn’t realize how important- or rather, how extremely beneficial, it is to be immersed in the language at all times. Unfortunately, back in Siena, I have about 30 other American students around me most of the time- and by no means do we consistently attempt to speak solely in Italian.
Being in Altomonte, seeing the house that my father was born in (which is now in ruins, by the way), made me think about what the word “family” actually means. I have a family in the United States, I have a host family in Siena, and I have extended family in Altomonte. From experience, I have found all these “terms” to imply completely different things, to evoke completely different sentiments, and to suggest completely different lifestyles.
While I found myself relieved to return to a city and house I knew after the mysteries of the ten day break, I found myself more comfortable with the “family” I discovered in Altomonte. We looked at incredibly old pictures of my “family” in the United States, we ate food that I am accustomed to having back at home, and we even shared in activities (a thing that I really don’t get the pleasure of doing back here in Siena with my host family).
In all, I had an amazing time and am so glad that I got to meet them.