Chi va piano, va sano; chi va sano, va lontano.

English translation: He who goes softly, goes safely; he who goes safely, goes far.
Idiomatic meaning: Slowly but surely.

After a late dinner in the bioagroturismo restaurant, we were up early for the first day of hiking. Nunzio, the farm owner, told us that the hike would be slow. We would be stopping when the sheep ate. Christina from Pescara translated for the English speaking participants. Christina and her sister participate in the Adopt a Sheep program started by Nunzio 10 years ago. They frequently visit the farm to help, much like a CSA member of an American organic farm. The truth of the walking was that the sheep and the shepherds were usually way ahead of us. Once in a while we were walking directly behind them or waiting as they grazed.

I was up at 4:20 am for a shower in my mini bathroom. The shower, toilet and sink were all in one small closet sized space -quaint. I was the first to the square. Oh, yes, there is Italian time. An Italian mother and daughter, Sophie is the daughter, drove me up to the farm. She stopped the car to ask some farm workers a question. I caught the first part and it did not make sense to me. I kept it in my brain to ask later. “Quanti ti manca?” Manca is from mancare-to miss. The mother later explained that she was asking how long will it take before we are ready.

After breakfast, there was quite a wait while everything was prepared for the hike. Shepherds spent a long time tying packs on the horses. Balancing the weight and tying with rope was tricky and time consuming. Finally, about 6 am, we were off.

Preparing the horse.

Starting downhill in the early morning.

Giù, giù, giù

We started from the farm at about 600 m (1,837 ft) and walked down to the Valley of Sagittarius or Gole del Sagittario, a designated WWF nature preserve.  This gorge was described by the mid nineteenth century author, artist and poet, Edward Lear, “frightening and beautiful.” We followed a path through dense vegetation along the clear running Sagittario River that reminded me of the Laurel Mountains of Pennslyvania. The water gurgled over rocks and the path remained cool and refreshing.

Nunzio leads us into the Gole del SagittarioSu, su, su

Stream in Valley of Sagitarrius

Su, su, su, su

We emerged from the wooded area and climbed to Castrovalva, a village that clings to the steep hills above Anversa. Castrovalva is a a frazione or ward of Anversa. Anversa is home to 40o people and another 50 – 1oo people live in Castrovalva. Castrovalva derives its fame from M.C. Escher’s 1930 lithograph “Castrovalva”. One of  Escher’s early works, it does not explore the themes of impossible constructions, tesselations, or mathematically inspired work that later made him famous. We stopped for tea and snacks at the plaza named to honor Escher. This is the point where he stood to capture the view of Castrovalva with Anversa below and Casale off in the distance.  Later, we cross a sunny hillside and climb to a height where we see these villages, as well as, Cucullo to the north. We also have a view of  windmills on a mountain to our north. These windmills serve 10,000 families but were often quite still as we walked.  We kept looking at them to guage our own height. The afternoon seemed long as we searched for shady spots to rest. Finally we thought we were as high as the windmills.

Climbing to Castrovalva

Castrovalva

A snack at Escher's view point

Wind Farm

Long view of sunny afternoon trek

There were two very young children on the hike. I found it amazing that they lasted the day. I heard that they sometimes rode the horses. The youngest napped on his fathers stomach as we rested in the shade of some short, scrubby trees.

Our youngest participant resting in the shade

The views were fantastic at every turn. From the start, I knew this was one of the best things I had ever done in my life. Sometimes in the heat of the afternoon, I would remind myself of this fact. With each magical view, I had no problem convincing myself that the fatigue was well worth it.

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Arriving in Abruzzo

For years Calascio, Italy, the birthplace of my father’s parents, occupied a special part of my mental and emotional space . Growing up near my grandparents in Windber, Pennsylvania, I identified with my Italian ancestry. My grandfather would always offer me a dime from his black leather change purse. I know it was a game. Perhaps I had to guess which hand held the dime. I had to tap his fist and he revealed it in his palm as he smiled gently. My grandmother babysat me while my parents worked next door at the grocery store . My grandmother taught me to cut pucarelle noodles and to crochet while telling me stories of their German shepherd dog at their old farm in New Florence, Pennsylvania.

When I started a craft business in the late 1990’s I knew exactly what to call it: Calascio Designs. I found old files filled with logo ideas just waiting for this occasion. While I dreamed of traveling there to take pictures that would become part of a better logo, none of my money making plans ever seemed to grow feet. Finally, I saved the money. After years of internet research on the Abruzzo region, I had an itinerary.

I set off for Rome on the 12th of June. But Rome was an after thought. I stayed for a few days to get over jet lag. My first destination was La Porta dei Parchi bioagroturismo in Anversa degli Abruzzi in the Abruzzo mountains. While it was not exactly Calascio, it was in the region. I would be doing what my grandfather did in Abruzzo. What a great way to experience geneaology! The farm organized a transhumanza, a three day hike walking the sheep from the lower pasture of the farm to a higher pasture in the national park for the summer.  My grandfather, Pasquale Iocca, was a shepherd in Calascio. He left Italy in 1890 or 1900 as a young man. An Ellis Island document lists Pasquale Tocca from Calosino arriving on the Aller from Genoa on June 6, 1900.  He was 23 years old  and his destination was Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania to stay with a brother-in-law. However, the 1910 US census states that Pasquale, now living with his wife’s family on the New Florence farm, immigrated in 1901. The 1920 census has the family living in Paint, a coal mine town near Windber, and it lists  1890 as the immigration date. All of these documents indicate a birth date in 1877.

This is where the bus driver left me when we reached Anversa.

Traditional music in the piazza of Anversa degli Abruzzi.,

So I began my Abruzzo journey with a traditional transhumanza. I discovered much about the history of this area along the way.

I took a bus from Rome to L’Aquila where I saw a sad and devastated city center.  The center is not being rebuilt from the earthquake of April 6, 2009, while building is going on on the outskirts. From there I took a bus to Sulmona and another to Anversa. The bus driver drove me closer to the center – not very far to go from his normal stop. Through the passageway between two tall buildings, I could see the mountains behind the village and another little village nestled higher in the mountains. Breathtaking!

My room was up the steps from the piazza. Before supper, there was traditional Abruzzi music to celebrate the beginning of the Transhumanza. Participants and townspeople joined in the piazza for the music.

I remember a story that Grandma heard Grandpa play the accordion and that is how she fell in love with him.  As I listened to the music, I imagined their meeting.

My room was at the top of these steps and the piazza at the bottom.

The whole time I was in Rome, I felt a sneaky underlying suspicion. I was suspicious of myself. I wondered what I was doing there. From the moment I set foot in Anversa, I knew why I was there. I felt whole.