Introduction - "Incontra i parenti"
Sunday, April 14
This is primarily a story about a chaperoning trip - for my mother, so that she could visit her family - most importantly, her sister - in Italy, in may of 2019. Along the way, we took some time to take in the sights, do a hike, but primarily, this is a story about getting my mother to her home town of Avellino, Italy, and meeting a lot of my relatives. Hence, the title: "Incontra i parenti" - meet the relatives.
I think the biggest challenge of this trip was organizing it. First I had to convince my 95-year-old mom, who alternatively wanted to go and not go... go and not go.... All the while, I kept repeating to her some sort of variant of "seize life by the horns, and damn the torpedoes".
So, we eventually got my mom to say "yes". That led to the second major challenge: to ensure that my mom had adequate support -- support to get her through all of the phases of the travel and the stay in Italy. In order to manage and share these duties, I managed to (thankfully) recruit George and Elvira (two of my siblings). Lots of planning later, we had roughed in a plan for a trip of two and a half weeks. Some of us present in the first half, others in the second half, my mom flying in from Bathurst, us meeting her on the way, various pickups and car shuttling. Complicated.
And a final challenge, as the trip dates approached: due to the varying origins of our trip group and varying timelines, I had to book four separate airline tickets and make absolutely sure that for the flights upon which my mother was travelling, that we were on the same flights and sitting next to her. This is no easy task - ESPECIALLY when your airline changes flights from underneath you and messes up your carefully arranged seating arrangements. Thanks a lot, Air Canada!
En-route to Montreal
Anyhow.... after all of the planning and booking and re-booking and co-ordinating, the day finally came - a bright and sunny spring day in May (very unusual for Ottawa in 2019). The plan: George drives myself and Elvira to the Montreal airport so that we may meet my mother, who is on a flight to Montreal from her home town in New Brunswick. My brother Alphonse had just put her on this flight as we started our drive to Montreal. The gears of the complex plan were now turning!
George had decided to take a little leisurely tour before starting the drive, and we were a bit behind schedule. We still arrived at the airport at a reasonable hour, but my sister and I were then confronted with a particularly busy and congested line for bag drop for our code-share Air Canada/Lufthansa flight to Europe. I knew my mother was by now probably getting wheeled off of the plane from New Brunswick and probably wondering where I was.
On board and ready
After chafing for many tens of minutes through the bag-drop line, and then the security line, we finally made it into the gate area, at which point I had Elvira go to the departure gate for our flight to Europe, while I ran full-tilt to the arrival gate for my Mom's flight from New Brunswick. After a long run through the underground tunnel between terminals, I sweatily arrived to discover my mother just starting her guided wheelchair transfer to the the international terminal. Taking over from the kind attendant, I welcomed my mother and we started a brisk commute back over to the international terminal. The gears hadn't totally become disengaged. Onwards!
Happily all together now, we soon were able to board our Lufthansa flight (to Frankfurt) ahead of everyone else (owing to having a passenger in our party with special assistance needs). This was nice, being able to board the nearly empty A330 and make ourselves comfortable before the bulk of the passengers boarded. It also provided a few minutes of quiet time to sit down and converse. For a few moments, my mother was impressed with the size and luxuriousness of this "bus" we were on. I mean, it was a bus.... an Airbus....
The Next Leg
The service was excellent and the flight was smooth, landing in Frankfurt on time early Monday morning. The process of transferring over to our regional flight from Frankfurt to Naples was a snap due to our status as "passengers needing assistance". Having a custom wicket for customs and a private transfer bus to the plane -- all to ourselves -- made us feel a bit like royalty or VIPs. Anyhow, soon we were sitting on our A320, bound for Naples.
It was sunny and bright as we land at Capodichino Airport in Naples. Our trip had been very efficient, time-wise (I planned it this way to minimize travel time for my mom). Fourteen hours of total trip time from Bathurst to Naples was pretty fast, all things considered. Even so, we were all a bit bleary-eyed, and looking forward to unwinding a bit at my aunt's house.
First though, we needed to retrieve our baggage and snag our rental car for the forty-minute drive to my Mom's hometown. With the help of a friendly airport special assistance agent, we were soon at the baggage pickup area and waiting for our stuff. And... everything soon appeared, except for, my Mom's "Rollater" walker - an assistance aid without which, my mom is not really able to get around outside of the house. So, we wait, wait, wait.. and still no rollater. This was a bigger hiccup -- a bigger problem -- than a simple delay. My mother was not super impressed, and neither was I.
It was eventually obvious the rollater was lost, and we needed to raise a ticket with the baggage handling department, which we did, and got on with our travel. Fortunately, my relatives had arranged way in advance for the rental of some sort of mobility aid. I was leery about whether it would be at all suitable, but at this point it would be better than nothing. And hopefully Mom's rollater would soon show up.
I was slightly peeved about not getting a manual-equipped car (which I had requested of Sixt - my rental company), but at least it was the rear-drive BMW 1 series that I had picked.
We had heard from my aunt that the weather had been cool and wet recently, and on the 50 kilometre drive out of Naples to Avellino, we marvelled at the sight of snow dusting the highest elevations of the surrounding mountains. This was very unusual for early May in southern Italy, as these mountains are not that high (4000-6000 feet in elevation / 1400-1800 metres). Clearly it really had been rainy and cold (and snowy higher up). And, as if on cue to make our welcome extra gloomy, it clouded over and started to rain as we approached the city of Avellino.
We pulled up to my aunt's house (which is also the house of several of my cousins) at around 2pm. I had texted ahead and we had a small welcoming committee waiting for us as we rolled into the parking lot: my aunt Rosetta and cousins Giovanni, Anna, Paolo, and Gino. There were a lot of tears between my mother and my aunt as they hugged each other, and at that moment, all the trouble getting this trip to happen were worth it. Anything from here on was gravy.
After the emotional reunion in the driveway, we retired up to my aunt's apartment. I should mention for those of you who aren't familiar with the setup: my aunt and several of my cousins and their families all share the same piece of property that has two buildings on it. The buildings are divided into separate units (or apartments, if you will) that give them each privacy, but allow them to still be co-located. Very Italian.
First stop, Kitchen
We were tired, jetlagged, but... then we were ushered into zia (aunt) Rosetta's kitchen. Surrounded by her old-style kicknacks and decorations, she set about making us a multi-course lunch. If nothing else, my aunt is a creature of habit, and we had arrived right at her designated lunch time, which is generally near 2pm. So lunch was going to happen for us - period, no arguing.
It was comfortable and reassuring to be back in this kitchen, which we had all visited multiple times over the decades. Foreign, yet also familiar. And the seemingly standard bowl of pasta with tomato sauce was so perfectly done and flavored.... you could not ask for a better welcome gift.
First stop - kitchen and food
After lunch, we had some down-time, relaxing for the rest of the afternoon and early evening. I moved my stuff down in to Giovanni and Filomena's house, where they had set up a very nice place for me to sleep on their upstairs floor. My sister Elvira remained to bunk up with my Mom and aunt.
Later on, everyone was invited down to Giovanni and Filomena's for a take-out dinner. And with mom's missing walker situation, that meant we'd have to use the rented chair that been arranged for us. There it was, sitting down in the main foyer. It was clearly new, but its style seemed nevertheless dated. It had tiny wheels, no footrests, and couldn't be used to self-propel or self-walk. In other words, it was kind of like a less-useful wheelchair.
The rented chair
Transporting my mom from my aunt place down to my cousin's house was a laughable and semi-sketchy exercise. The little wheels kept getting caught in every crack and space between patio stones, walkways, and on the street. Surmounting small edges was no longer trivial because the radius of the wheels was so tiny. The pitch and length of the seat, combined with no footrests, meant that on any slight slope, my mom was in continous danger of tipping forward and onto the pavement. That meant any slope had to be done backwards, if it was to be done safely. And all four wheels castered about freely, so the chair immediately starting rolling off sideways on any slight side slope.
So, with care and a bit of skill, we made it down to Giovanni and Filomena's place. But yeah.... we needed Mom's rollater back, and pronto.
Evening Pizza at Giovanni's
After a simple but excellent meal primarily composed of margherita pizzas from a nearby take-out restaurant, we took my mom back up to my aunt's place, and we all retired for the night. A much needed full and deep night's post-travel sleep.