Unwinding in Avellino
Monday, September 24
The next dawned bright and early - but not for us. The previous two days' worth of travelling and not sleeping meant we had earned a nice, long luxurious sleep-in. After my mother, my sister and I had had a simple breakfast, I had a chance to look around the flat that had been assigned to us. It was quite a spacious place: two full bedrooms, two bathrooms, both with shower facilities, a nice open kitchen, and a huge living room / dining room area. Construction and styling was definitely European - very high ceilings, concrete-based construction, extensive use of tiles and ceramics. And, this being Italy, two generous outdoor balconies.
Living room for the week
The flat was part of a fairly large structure - but this wasn't some sort of apartment building; instead, this large three-story, 4+ unit structure was built by my uncle Peppino Porcelli as a residence to house several different related family groups - himself and my aunt, my cousins Gino and Anna's family, and my cousin Giovanni's family, among others. Everyone living under one roof but with separate, private flats - an arrangement much more common in Italy than in North America.
After morning breakfast and cleaning up, we began what was to become the ritual of the morning: the trip upstairs to meet with my Aunt Rosetta, so that we could all understand who was doing what during the day. My mother would make the trip up the one-flight of stairs with a bit of difficulty, but overall seemed to handle it quite well. In the past, she had stayed in the common family unit in the very basement of the building, which necessitated a climb up two-and-a-half flights of stairs. Staying in this higher flat made things much easier for her.
To Rosetta's place
Sitting in my aunt's warmly lit kitchen, we discussed the day's plans. Since we were visiting family, many phone calls had to be made to see who would be coming to visit, and when. Much co-ordinating and many questions, including if and when we would be returning for lunch and dinner (lunch and dinner were always held, like clockwork, in zia Rosetta's kitchen: lunch at 2pm, and dinner at 8:30pm).
The morning ritual
Although this wasn't one of my typical outdoorsy vacations, I still had some sense in my mind of a number of things I and my sister (and even my aunt and my mother) could do - but not today. Today was a go-easy, go-with-the-flow kind of day. No particular itinerary. Just hang out.
Elvira at Rosetta's Balcony
So, hang out we did. We visited with our aunt until about noon, at which point we decided to head into town. For one, I wanted to locate a mobile phone store in order to finally get my hands on a data+voice SIM card for my phone. And my mother had in mind a short grocery stop, feeling that given that we were now three people living in her flat, that we needed to stock up. That was ok - a simple day doing random errands was a great way to unwind.
Out into the busy streets of Avellino we went. Even though Avellino is a town many times smaller than Italy's biggest cities, it still had a fairly busy snarl of vehicle traffic - in fact, probably worse than downtown Rome itself, which seems more given over to foot traffic. Still, we managed to wind our way through town, locating both a TIM mobile store and a suitable supermarket. Milk, eggs, bread, butter, cheese, prociutto, cereal.... typical sorts of things which would serve us well at breakfast - and for sandwiches on the short walks I had planned for Elvira and I over the next few days.
We were back in time for our appointed 2pm lunch, which consisted of wine, water, fruit, a plate of frittata, and pan-browned potatoes. Simple but tasty.
Lunch at my Aunt's
After lunch (which for many Italian households, ends up being around 3:00pm), both my aunt and my mom went off for their afternoon siesta naps. I was feeling like a bit of exploring, so I suggested to Elvira that we go for a little drive around Avellino and vicinity.
We decided to head up to the base of the nearby bulk of Montevergine - the biggest and most prominent mountain near Avellino. Around its base are several small mountain towns, one of which held special significance to our family. This little town, called Mercogliano, was where my grandmother grew up, and was where my mother's family spent part of their time when they grew up (the other part of their time was spent in a large apartment in downtown Avellino).
I also wanted to visit Mercogliano to get a sense of the beginning of a hiking route that I wanted to take Elvira on - a hike from the town up the mountain of Montevergine itself. I had read descriptions of this hiking route, which was also a historic pilgrimage route to a well-known religious sanctuary high up on the mountain, but the start point was not clear. Advance scouting was required.
After successfully locating the minimally-signed start to the hiking trail, we decided to do a little more highway wandering, tracing twisty mountain roads around the base of the Montevergine massif. We ventured onto roads that I had never before visted in my trips to Avellino, and eventually we came to another little mountain town a little ways to the north and west - a little place called Pietrastornina. I had heard tell of an interesting rocky tower in the middle of town, and sure enough, there it was: a rocky spire, quite sheer-sided in spots, rising out of the town.
As it turns out, this tower of limestone rock has quite a bit of history, being used for well over a thousand years as a military fortification and lookout. It would have been cool to climb it, but the gate leading up the only path to the top was closed. Turns out you need an appointment with the Campania regional superitendency of culture, which we did not have.
I found out several days later that the town of Pietrastornina held some historical family significance: my grandfather, Gaetano Perugini, came from this very town - a fact unknown to me until this trip!
It was now time to return back to Avellino. Daylight at this time of year waned at around 7pm, in any case, so there would soon not be much to see. We returned to the Porcelli residence to discover that one of our cousins - Gabriella - had dropped in for a visit.
Gabriella is my oldest aunt Ninuccia's daughter. She has a very cool job in the field of archeaology, and during the very week we were visiting she was travelling between several centers in southern Italy on archaeological-related business. We spent a pleasant couple of hours chatting, and then, with a final invitation to a dinner out with her and her husband the next evening, she was off.