I began the trip yesterday, hoping to get ahead of the storm, but where the drive was through flat Ohio corn-fields and gray skies; the severe weather was also moving west and got to Northern Michigan by the time I reached Oxford north of Detroit.
There is a storm warning for Gaylord – the middle of the state, an I-75 corridor and a snow-belt area. The cameras for Michigan State Transportation show a snow-covered I-75 North in the Grayling/Gaylord area. (I’ve always wanted an opportunity to use those two names in a posting, guess it finally came along.)
So, I’ll stay at Rose-and-Derrick’s at least today. We’ll see what the roads look like tomorrow and decide if we’ll travel or wait till Saturday.
The image is of Rose-and-Derrick’s neighbor’s house. I couldn’t do a wreath and this was the next best thing – a blurred wreath in the background and bare branches in the foreground.
I’ve never tried to understand the gray-gloom of this time of year, mainly because I’ve always been focused on the long ride to Sault Ste Marie and getting there without hitting bad weather. But this year it seems that the gray-gloom was all-encompassing. Pittsburgh was cloud-covered and everything was a miserable-gray. And today, it’s raining and gloomy here in Southern Michigan. I finally figured out that the season begins with the gloom and end with the sun. No wonder Mother Church decided to re-structure the Roman Saturnalia and the coming of spring. (Whoever figured out to do Christmas in the gloom and Easter in the brightness of spring was a genius.)
The weather is really frightful; we are getting the rain-band of the storm. We’ve decided to stay in and enjoy the luxury of not having to go anywhere or do anything. And Sambuca makes doing nothing even more pleasant.
The image is of the presepio on top of grandma’s old sewing machine, the stairs festooned in garland and me in the mirror with camera and quilted jacket. The presepio is an old world, Italian tradition we’ve all maintained. They’re no longer the hand-made, hand-painted, paper-mache, Neapolitan figurines, now they’re made in resin molds and colored in bland, faint earth-tones. (The Neapolitan angels drape the Christmas trees at The Metropolitan in NYC, The Carnegie in Oakland. And the mangers scenes, celebrating the poor of the world, spread out under these artificial evergreens.) My presepio was a gift from Jo’. One of her friends had gone to Italy and she got her to buy me my manger figures. (The one I assembled when we first came from Italy is at my parents. It’s figures are Neapolitan and paper-mache.)
Rose talked to both Mafalda, my mom and her mom – Mafalda’s sister and my aunt. Both understand the interference the weather has brought, but are confused about the fact that we just didn’t drive up. (My aunt mentioned that the schools were closed in the Soo, because of the weather. And yet we’re supposed to drive up and visit with them.)
We had a great supper – pasta with herbs flavored olive oil, salad and dessert. The dessert was wonderful. Derrick roasted chestnuts out on the grill, in the rain and I suggested we have the Visner di Pergola that they had brought back from Le Marche. The Visner is a sweet wine – wild cherries from the Macerata area blended with Sangiovese and Montepulciano wines. The wine gets its name from the wild cherries know as visciole. Throughout Le Marche families make their own version of Visner. And the quality varies just as the quality of the home-made wines we will soon drink up the Soo varies. (I’m curious to see what my dad’s wine will taste like this year. With him it’s always a surprise. My uncle is more consistent with his wine from year-to-year.)
Even though it has been a great day relaxing and not having to worry about driving, the news is all about the storm and the havoc it is wrecking across the mid-west. We may not leave until Saturday. By then it will have made its way through Michigan. Also, by Saturday, the Interstate should be in decent shape.
The image on the right is of a Christmas sock on Rose-and-Derrick newel-post.
The snow made it to this part of the Lower Peninsula. Detroit was spared, but we’re 70 miles north of the city.
Went outside to shoot some pics and it’s not all that cold, but you can feel the thin layer of ice on the concrete. After all it rained and rained all day yesterday.
The Michigan Department of Transportation’s camera still shows snow covered roads in the Grayling/Gaylord area. And the decision is to stay put one more day and to head up tomorrow. By then the storm will have moved out of the area and the roads should be in better shape.
Leger texted me to say that Boehner can’t get the votes he needs from his fellow Republicans to pass a Plan B bill. I know this makes me old, but I do remember the same thing happening to the Dems when their run was over. The country had changed and they were still running on a liberal agenda. (Nixon was the symbol of the change of the end, but the Dems wouldn’t look.) Well guess what, the country has changed again and the Republicans still thinks that white-men rule. (Obama is the new symbol and there is just as much cultural blindness now as there was 45 years ago.)
The world is beginning to get back to a non-sullen routine – the skies are losing their gray pallor; the winds are running empty; the snows are drifting slowly; the reds and greens of the season are twinkling bright.
My dad doesn’t like the fact that we’ve been stranded by the weather and readily expresses his displeasure. (Even Connie couldn’t leave for Toronto and the Thormans. All flights out of Sault Ste Marie were cancelled yesterday.) The storm was correctly named – Draco. (JK Rowling would be pleased to know that the characteristics she gave her fictional antagonist have also served to define the storm.) BTW, did I just mix my metaphors – The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Harry Potter?
The drive north from Oxford was OK except in two places – 30 miles south of Gaylord and 30 miles before the Soo.
Gaylord is the center of the snow-belt, in Northern Michigan, and the trees surrounding the highway were amazingly beautiful in their snow covers. The winter landscape was worthy of a postcard. (Draco left behind a winter wonderland.) But all I kept thinking about was the snow storm – what it must have been like two days ago on this stretch.
After three hours of snow-free roads, I-75 became a problem. The right lane was covered with packed snow. Not a big problem given that it hadn’t iced, but the packed snow made it difficult to drive casually. Such conditions are two-hands-on-the-wheel-and-no-music driving events. All the cars got into the left lane and we followed each other down the highway like goslings following mother. And because the left lane was clear, we were able to maintain speed. After Gaylord, the road was clean and I thought, “If that is the worst I’m going to get then I’ll thank some higher power.”
There are certain markers that I use when making this trip, Gaylord is one; the sight of the south tower of the Mackinac Bridge is the other. (Once I hit the bridge, I have to steel myself for the crossing. The span is an engineering marvel and a magic string over the straits, but the roadbed and the low railings scare the shit out of me. The low railings and the missing road-shoulder make riding in the right lane feel like I can hurdle into the roaring waves at any minute. The left land is an open metal grid – supposedly the grid allows for wind currents and thus stabilizes the Mighty Mac. But riding on the inside lane is nerve-racking and feels like the car will slip and slide. But that sensation is easier to deal with than the fear of being hurled over the side, so I drive the inside lane. Throughout the ordeal, I keep telling myself that the trip is coming to an end.) Once I crossed into the Upper Peninsula the road was a mess. The north bound lanes were not clean and I drove the last 30 miles on packed snow. I just kept looking for the steel mill smoke stacks. I-75 ends at the International Bridge over the St. Mary’s river, the boundary between the U.S. and Canada. On the Canadian side of the river is the steel mill.
My favorite room in my parents’ house is the sun-room. It faces the garden and its windows are always curtain-free. It’s also the view that has the most memories.
Behind my parents’ garden is the Coccimiglio’s house. Giselle Coccimiglio was the beauty of my generation. (She was the classic Italian young woman with beautiful long black trusses.) And like all the immigrant daughters was very restricted in who she could talk to and who she could socialize with. (I remember thinking that her parents were more like my grandparents in their over-protectedness.) Giselle was not allowed to socialize with anyone in her class. (Frank, she and I were all in grade 8 at St. Veronica’s.) My mother would tell me about all the kids I had grown up with and she told me that Giselle married some older Italian man that her family selected. Giselle died young of breast cancer.
To the right of Coccimiglio’s is Colleen’s family’s house. We played softball in the field behind Colleen’s house. She was the only girl to play with all us immigrant boys – Frank, Rainer, Ron, Jackie, Mike, Joe, Carlo. And everyone wanted her on their team, not because she was attractive, but because she was the best ball player in the neighborhood. Even Ron with his natural athleticism and fluidity couldn’t hit as far as Colleen. Every time she was up to bat, all the fielders would move back to the road knowing they had to prevent a home run. (I don’t remember any of us caring that she was a girl and could hit and run better than us.)
Next door is Concetta Sirianni’s house. She is this gregarious woman full of bawdy language and extreme opinions. And a welcome breath of fresh air into a very proper Calabrese family. (The two Perri sisters come from families that prided themselves in a sense of propriety. A propriety that set them apart. Afterall their mother came from a family of small business people – lace makers – and their father had made it to l’America and prospered there.) Mafalda told me that Concetta has “buried two husbands” and is now involved with a social group of widows and widowers and having a great time. Mafalda wonders if she’ll find a third husband.
Sitting here drinking my morning espresso, three crows flew into the yard. (I associate crows with winter. It seems I only see them during that time of year.) I quickly got my camera and started shooting. The crow is flying away lighting over the Coccimiglio’s house.
Today I sat down with Mafalda to ask about the Perri family’s geneology.
My grandfather was one of six children – Assunta, Eugenio (my grandfather), Gulia, Emilia, Stefano and Concetta. My great-grandparents were Angelo Perri and Luisa Carbone.
The family story is that my grandfather – Eugenio – came to Canada and sent money back to the family in Calabria. My great-grandmother supposedly used the money as dowry for the girls and to purchase a house in Corte. (My great-grandparents raised their family in one of the torre in the hills surrounding Aprigliano. And with my grandfather’s money, they left the country-house and moved into town. The pic on the right is me standing in front of the house that my great-grandparents lived in.) But when my great-grandmother died, my great-grandfather went to live with his son Stefano and gave Stefano the house deed, even though it had been purchased with money his brother, my grandfather, had sent from Canada. (My grandfather believed that his mother had saved the money he had sent and that he could return to Calabria and make a living using his savings to buy land. Instead, when he returned he found that all the money had been spent. He packed up and returned to Canada.)
When my parents married, Mafalda’s uncle Stefano rented them the house in Corte. I was born in that house. (Mafalda tells the story that she and my dad had missed one of the rent payments – 700 lira a month – because times were hard. Her uncle Stefano came over with his shotgun and told her that if they missed any other payment, he would use the gun on them. Mafalda was outraged, because this was the house her father’s money had purchased.) I never knew that the house in Corte had been the Perri family house in town.
My great-uncle Stefano died at work. He fell while he was pruning on olive tree and the fall killed him.
The sisters Assunta was the oldest of the Perri children. She married Eugenio Vigna and there were 6 children. Gulia married Giovanni De Fazio. She died young and left behind 5 children. Emilia married Luigi Carbone and they had three children. I visit with one of those children – Maria Lucente when I go to Aprigliano. Maria bought the old Perri house where my parents first lived and where I was born. She incorporated the old Perri house into her house.
Concetta married Peppino Giordano and moved to Pietrafitta the next main town on the SS178 after Aprigliano. (Mafalda remembers the least about this aunt.)
Connections Za Nuziata is related to us through her grandmother. Her grandmother Rosaria Perri and my great-grandfather were brother and sister.
Let me begin with Christmas Eve. We always go to my aunt-and-uncle’s for this meal. (Years ago, they agreed that for one family to host both the Christmas Eve and the Christmas Day meal was not fair or practical, so the two days got split between my aunt’s family and my family.)
My favorite dish is the spaghetti dressed with olive oil and anchovies. The other pasta option is a red sauce flavored with calamari. (They still follow the old Catholic tradition of no meat dishes on Christmas Eve.) The white spaghetti with the anchovies is for the 4 remaining Apriglianesi – Egilia, Mafalda, Ciccio and Mario. My uncle and his step-mother are from Martirano and don’t eat the white spaghetti. Rose and Derrick follow the Martirani and use only the red sauce with the calamari on their pasta.
My uncle always has some surprise at this meal. This year it was Strega – a yellow herbal liqueur from Campania.(He pointed out that this particular bottle was direct from Italy and not purchased in Canada.)
This led to talking about the process that one had to go through to buy any alcohol product in Ontario. I remember the Liquor Control Board (LCB) store on Albert Street. It was lined with shallow shelves and above the shelves were pictures of the various products you could buy. The customer filled out a card with the product name and its number and took the slip up to the counter. One of the agents would go into the back and bring out your product. And my favorite product was a liqueur called Millefiori. It too was a yellow liquid, but inside the bottle was a branch and the branch was coved in sugar icing, clear sugar icing. It was a beautiful presentation. (I’ve been looking for a bottle for years with no luck. Rose said that she had also looked in Italy and was told the company no longer make the product.) My uncle claimed that Strega has a similar taste. I didn’t know Strega, so he rummaged around in his “bar” and brought out a bottle purchased in Italy not at the LCB, and we opened it and had a drink. It does taste similar to Millefiori just not as sweet. But then there isn’t a branch covered is sugar inside the bottle.
Today the meal is at my parents’ and we’re expecting a minimum of 20. And Ciccio has been cooking since this morning at 6:00. Right now the two old people are in the downstairs kitchen arguing about how many will be for dinner. (I had lunch; yelled at them for arguing with each other; (The argument was whether Ciccio should break open his 5-year-old barrel of wine. Mafalda claiming that this was a good occasion, Ciccio claiming that he had no empty bottles to transfer the old wine into.); I left them to their own devices and came upstairs to do this entry. I guess at 85 and 86 arguing may be healthy.)
There will be two distinct meals – an Italian set of dishes and a Canadian set. The Italian foods include capelletti in a chicken broth, lasagna, and various greens – rapini, broccoli, and salad. The Canadian foods include fried shrimp, fried clams, turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. I eat the Italian stuff.
The pic is of the tables in the downstairs kitchen. My mother is at the sink preparing some food.
At dinner my dad got sick, because he ate a bad clam. (I never eat their non-Italian food. I believe they should stick to the foods they are familiar with, but then they wouldn’t be Canadian; they would still be immigrants. And in this family the tension between the two cultures is always a fine line that all of us tread.)
Last night, my dad was going on and on about his cousins who spent Christmas Eve at home rather than join their children at a restaurant. Ciccio was outraged at this break – going out to eat on Christmas Eve rather than cook and host all the family – with tradition. I kept saying that it was OK given how much work it was to host a large family gathering.
The bad clam incident led to a memory dump of all the other times that Ciccio inflicted his experiences on the rest of us at Christmas…
There was the time that the neighbors came to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Ciccio visited with them. They came just as we were getting ready to sit down to eat. The visit got extended and we all left the table hoping that they would get the hint, but Nah, they stayed with Ciccio for at least another 45 minutes. By the time we ate the food was cold.
There was the time when the chimney caught fire just as we were sitting down to eat and Ciccio decided to go on the roof with the hose and sending water down the chimney that was shooting out sparks. The fire department came, made sure there was no chance of fire and left. We all went back in to eat.
The pic is of Christian, with his aunt Connie in the background. He’s sporting a beard. (Connie claims he looks like his nonno when Ciccio was young.)
Connie gave me a new red espresso pot. It will add color to my kitchen.
The British live on in Canada – today is Boxing Day. (By the time I got up, Ciccio had taken down the two extra tables and set them by the stairs. I got Christian and Clay to take them back out to the garage.)
Because the sun was out, I decided to take a walk to St. Veronica School. (It’s funny how my one year at St. Veronica’s – 8th grade – is a stronger memory than any of other elementary school experience.) I followed the route I used when going to school in the winter of 1964. In the fall, I would go through the wooded lot between Douglas Street and the school then known as the bush, but in the winter I would use the streets.
The pic is of the corner of Douglas Street and McFadden Avenue. Ron lived on Douglas, in the house on the right. (Much of the housing stock that was there in 1964 is still there. Newer houses fill in the lots that were empty back then.) Growing up, Ron’s house was the place we would all hang out at. It was where we would meet in the morning to decide what we were going to do. Frank lived at the end of McFadden.
I didn’t crop the image, because I wanted to show the snow. The banks were easily 5/6 feet high.
By 10:30 I was on my way home. I drove the first half today and tomorrow will head east to Pittsburgh. The Customs’ agent was this really nice person and we talked about how I became an American citizen. (Going through Customs is usually an ugly experience.) Getting through Customs is the first step home and crossing The Mac is the second.
I’m trying to figure out how to situate this last post and I decided to play with the idea of memory.
I went out for an early walk, my last before leaving for another year and I was coming down McFadden and there, on the horizon above the pine trees, was the symbol of 1950’s Sault Ste Marie – huge black chimneys bellowing white smoke and narrow chrome chimneys spouting open flames.
My family came to this northern outpost, because in the late 50’s, after the war, Canada was building its industrial base and recruited laborers in the devastated cities and towns of post-war Italy. It almost emptied out Calabria. There are more Calabrese in Southern Ontario than there are in Calabria today.
The Canada of the late 1950’s and the 1960’s was a nation on the move – new roads, new airports, new cities, new suburbs, new universities, new museums. The immigrants, who crossed the Atlantic, saw it as the land of hope, the land of work. My dad worked at the mill and made a living for his family. All his children got a university education and the opportunity to make a good life. (While in college, I went home for the summers and worked in the mill. Made enough money to pay my next year’s expenses. That’s how I paid for Junior-Year-Abroad.)
But modern-day Canada is selling its natural resources to the highest bitter. In July, the Wall Street Journal reported:
Cnooc Ltd. swept into Canada with China’s biggest overseas acquisition yet, a $15.1 billion deal to buy one of that country’s largest energy producers that reignites a debate over the role of Chinese state players in North America’s energy industry.
If completed, the deal for Canada’s Nexen Inc., would mark China’s most ambitious push into the continent’s oil and natural-gas fields. It would give Cnooc a key role in technologies reshaping the energy landscape and open the door for it to operate in North American fields alongside such oil-and-gas giants as Exxon Mobil Corp. and Statoil ASA.
To read this series in chronological order,
click on the category title – Christmas-12.
The drive from Oxford to Pittsburgh has a couple of unpleasant spots, but it also has the pastoral Ohio Turnpike.
The first tension-step is getting on I-75 South. This morning traffic was light and getting on was easy. Two or three miles down there was an accident and a long backup, but I got through it quite quickly. The next tension-spot is the exit towards Toledo. (It’s actually the continuation of I-75 South but it veers west away from downtown Detroit.) From the exit and until you enter Ohio, I-75 is miserable. The landscape is Blade Runnerish. I-75 through south-east Michigan is an ugly environment and the section south of Detroit the worst. The run through the Marathon Oil Refinery area is surreal. (I hope replicants run the machinery?) When I see the Welcome to Ohio sign it’s a relief. I’m out of Michigan.
I-75 through Ohio is beautifully landscaped and the Cable Stayed bridge in Toledo is elegant. Next is 280-South a connector to the Ohio Turnpike. Going through the gate at Entrance 155 and heading east is another marker on the road home. The Ohio Turnpike is really well designed. Huge cement walls separate the east and west bound lanes, and the service centers are new and very modern. The topography undulates through corn-fields and today they were white with December snow.