I had been looking for it for months... imagined my arrival there endless times... and now here it was. I parked, quite literally, in its shadow. And it was closed. And there was nobody around. I felt like Clark Griswold at Walley World.
I milled around for hours and saw only three people. The first one told me he wasn’t from there. The second looked like Sammy Hagar if Sammy Hagar had gray hair and was coming off a two-week bender. He just waved when I asked if he spoke English.
The third was Costantino.
I helped him unload firewood. We talked with growing excitement about the improbability of our meeting. He wasn’t even supposed to be there -- he normally works Mondays, but he had taken the day off to load firewood. Through fits and starts, we eventually determined that his fifth great-grandfather is my sixth great-grandfather. Or something like that. What’s a few “greats” between long-lost cousins?
As for the gray-haired Sammy Hagar, I’m related to him, too.
Tip 8: Every answer leads to more questions. It's a blast.
Costantino, his girlfriend Federica, and I drove from Camposilvano to his apartment in Rovereto. His walls feature a poster of Back to the Future (Ritorno Al Futuro) and a framed Italian newspaper that got the results of Brexit wrong -- “Dewey Defeats Truman” for the modern Euro age. We ate Pringles and compared life stories.
We are both one of four sons, no sisters. He is the youngest, I’m second-oldest. He works with his dad in construction. In high school and college, I worked with my dad in construction. You know those metal fences that you see along mountain highways that catch rocks? His company, Rigon Costruzioni, installs those. Costantino showed me photos that he took while he and his brothers were hanging off of cliffs high above the Mediterranean Sea. Buncha badasses, my cousins.
Later, when I posted a picture of us on Facebook, some of my relatives said they thought Costantino looked like the brother who is two years younger than me. In the pictures, yes. In person, I didn’t notice.
He went to his bedroom and came back with a gift: A T-shirt from an annual festival at Camposilvano. The logo on the breast is mountains drawn by his late mother. More of her artwork hangs in his living room.
Costantino and Federica took me to their favorite restaurant and refused to let me pay. I soaked bread in olive oil and devoured it. I asked him to suggest the most authentic dish on the menu, which he did. He ordered pizza and offered me some. Too soon it was time for me to leave. As we said our goodbyes and vowed to keep in touch, Federica ran into their apartment and returned with a bottle of olive oil for me to take home. I’ve been savoring it, one piece of bread at a time, since then.
What started as simple curiosity turned into a life-changing experience I’ll tell and re-tell for the rest of my life. So will Costantino. He was as excited about all of this as I was. We text or email or interact on Facebook at least once a week. I hope to go back to Italy soon-- I’ve still got my heart set on a certain hotel stay.