December 26, 2020
Where in Canada today is Boxing Day, a leftover from British colonialism, in Italy this is the feast of Saint Stephen. All over the peninsula there are towns, and hamlets named for this so-called first martyr.
In Aprigliano, my family lived in the frazione/neighborhood/parish of Santo Stefano. We had moved up the hill once my grandmother and aunt left for Canada to join my grandfather.
We moved into what was my grandmother’s ancestral home.
– The term ‘ancestral’ is relative, especially when you consider it was two large rooms at the bottom of a wide staircase. But it overlooked the Crati valley and the mountains opposite – an outstanding view. The downstairs room had a window overlooking the mountains to the east; but the upstairs room had a balcony and a pergola; I used to love to sit and stare at the opposite hilltop; and in the fall eat the ripening grapes. (My mother claimed that the mountains were full of briganti – brigands, and 5-year old me believed her.)
– Also, there were no internal stairs. My mother tells the story of having to go outside and up the exterior steps to go to bed. My dad put in a set of inside stairs.
In the early 40’s that section of the hilltop was the new, up-and-coming neighborhood. It attracted the new families, the younger people. And yet these ‘middle-class’ families soon abandoned it for the wilds of Canada, Argentina and Australia. (If you’ve ever been to Northern Ontario, you know that my adjective is almost sarcastic.)
When I first visited, some 25 years ago, Santo Stefano was almost empty; the alleyways that I ran through as a kid were filled with derelict houses; the communal over where my mother baked bread and cooked taiella had been bricked over; our beloved parish church had a leaky roof; and the interior was water stained and musty with disuse.
Today, the frazione has become the hub of gentrification in Aprigliano.
In 2001, I spent Christmas in Israel – one of my all time favorite trips. On the 26th, we walked the Via Dolorosa in the old town. The route to Golgotha begins at St. Stephen’s Gate. I remember calling my parents and explaining that Stephen had been martyred in Jerusalem. (All that time I assumed Stephen was just another Italian Catholic saint – aren’t they all.)