I have been fortunate to track down some of my father’s heritage – from Luxembourg to Los Angeles. Now it was turn for my mother’s side of the family. They come from a very beautiful part of Italy – in the hills along the Italian Riviera.
We visited the small town of Casarza Ligure; the “Gallo” name is everywhere which is my mother’s maiden name. The homesite of my great Grandfather, Guiseppe Gallo is situated high on a hill above Casarza and the busy highway below; Giuseppe was born in this home. He left Casarza at age 18, signed in at Ellis Island in New York and never returned to Italy. It was with great disappointment and sadness that his home was torn down 2 or 3 years ago and in its footprint sits a brand new apartment building.
The ancient olive trees that conceivably he or his father helped plant are rooted deeply in the steep hillsides. From this site one has a great view of Casarza far below, the Mediterranean Sea off in the distance and directly below, the busy highway which shoots through the mountains one tunnel at a time. When he lived here it probably would have been nearly quiet except for natural sounds; today it is a very noisy perch because of the highway.
We visited the town cemetery – the Gallo crypt had been rebuilt in the last year after one of our relatives tragically died at a young age from a motorcycle accident. He wrote the following in Italian on his wall the night before he died: “Perche cercate tra i morte colui che e vivo?” or translated into English: “Do not look among the dead for one who is living”.
A garden sits next to the cemetery – an old farmer welcomed us in to look around. He knew one of our relatives who died 10 years ago – a priest who was instrumental in building our family tree with names of relatives that date back to the Renaissance period.
This part of Italy is so little visited by non European tourists compared to nearby Cinque Terre and other parts of the Italian Riviera. This is refreshing especially when you head for the hills above town and find small little inhabited villages – some just containing a handful of homes. Narrow roads wind their way between ancient homes. One such place is Varese Ligure – a medieval city full of “Figone’s” the maiden name of my grandmother. Her family was from this tiny town. The bridge built in the 1500’s is one of the highlights of a visit here. It was built after a young lover died trying to reach his wife, crossing a foot bridge over the swollen river.
Now we are staying at a beautiful old hotel, Hotel Amici – run by the mayor of the town. There are no tourists here, the hotel is empty except for us and we spend the evenings languidly lounging around one enjoying Italian wine at any of the several cafes located on the main plaza.