Part 2: A DeNapoli Family Christmas

Note: this post has been migrated from my former blog “Parliamo dell’Italia – una ragazza fortunata a Perugia.”

I have to say that I welcomed the moment I found my family parked in the main piazza of Mola with a bittersweet feeling. I was beyond ecstatic to see them (I didn’t sleep for at least 2 nights prior), but I was also extremely sad to see my program in Mola come to an end. However, as you can probably gather from everything mentioned by Jimbo, I didn’t really have a lot of time to be sad about anything. We were in The Amazing Race version of Christmas Break, the million-dollar prize being that we didn’t all kill each other by the end. Spoiler alert: each member of the immediate DeNapoli family is safe and sound.

Sorrento welcomed us with a downpour, consequently forcing me (the “restaurant Nazi”) to resign quickly and accept dinner at a restaurant in the middle of the main square of Sorrento. I have spent the last 4 months here trying to find the sketchy, back-alley restaurants; they are always better & cheaper, but when The General is the one with the credit card, who am I to complain where we eat? The food was fine, but the dinner was memorable solely because of the 90E bill (outrageous for 4 pizzas) and the twerpy little waiter who literally begged for a tip at the end of the meal and then scowled at us as we walked out without giving him even more money.

From Sorrento we drove around the coast over to Herculaneum where we were guided through the ruins by Giuseppe, an Italian man who spoke English with an Italian-British accent. The man was a genius and I loved him because every time Jimbo dared to ask the beyond stupid question “is this the original?” he simply replied, “yeah, ok” and kept walking. Herculaneum was beautiful and the history there is astounding, but I have to say that the real highlight of the day was watching my father transform into an Italian driver. Once he realized that the Peugeot was in fact bigger than 3 SmartCars and a Vespa combined he just started laying on the horn and busting through intersections. This was accompanied by The General gripping any surface she could reach while gasping dramatically and Nick and me laughing in the back seat. Needless to say, it was entertaining.

A long and windy road brought us to Montalcino: town of beauty, Brunello, and monks ringing church bells every 29 seconds. Nick ate wild boar (manly), but the next evening sipped on a Bellini (chick drink); Jimbo slept in the crack between our 2 beds every night for a few hours after a few glasses of wine; and The General enjoyed the quiet, calm of its quaint atmosphere … all while knitting a pair of socks. After a few nights there and some good, hearty, Tuscan food (bye bye fish), we had to leave, but not without a minor crisis when some members of the family felt that the Peugeot was going to blow up… don’t worry, it didn’t.

Finally, we made it to Perugia. The final leg. I think Nick and I definitely received the better end of the deal on this one – just ask Jimbo about his “crack room.” Upon arriving here, Nick and I checked into our little apartment that we have until the 8th. J + G asked for a room in the same hotel and were placed across the hall from us. In a smoker room. On a cot bed. On their 25th anniversary. I could see the problem, but I am still scarred by the horror that was the Sunflower Hostel in Rimini, so I am not really a fair commentator. However, I think that a 60E a night, run down, smelly room, was probably not their ideal way to spend their final night in Italy. Unfortunately, nothing of much excitement happened while we were all here together; it poured rain from the sky, from the ground, and from sideways and when it finally stopped the fog was so heavy that we couldn’t see much of anything.

The time went by too fast and when Nick and I shut the doors on our beloved Peugeot from the outside and watched as they drove away I think everyone was a little bit sad. But at this point Jimbo is back in Littleton, working his crazy hours and probably trying to figure out his new espresso maker, while The General is most likely recovering from the stress of it all … by knitting (ps. Mom – Nick & I love the slippers you made us).

So not only did we complete the race, but we also won the prize – everyone made it out alive. Well, “baby Nicky” as Jimbo likes to refer to him as, is actually still in Perugia, soaking up his last few days of legal drinking, lazing around, and just in general being a 17 year old in Italy, but he will be home soon enough. I think our survival though wasn’t really the best thing that came out of all this. I think it was the fact that I was lucky enough to spend my 20th Christmas in Italy with my family. But that’s just me talking.

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Part 1: A DeNapoli Family Christmas

Note: this post has been migrated from my former blog “Parliamo dell’Italia – una ragazza fortunata a Perugia.”

[Jimbo]

Well, I had been waiting most anxiously (or maybe not) for my trip to Italy to see my daughter Sarah. My initial trepidations, including dogs in the kennel, being gone 14 days, missing out on work projects and missing my otherwise planned prime rib dinner on Christmas were all overcome by the excitement of Italy – right? And let’s not mention the extreme anxiety caused by the threatened British Airways strike. So I dropped off the dogs at the kennel and politely asked the man not to use my pets for any medical experiments while I was gone and went home to wait for the limo (while I checked my CrackBerry over and over). Well British Airways called promptly and advised our flight was delayed two hours. Great start right? So I hurriedly searched for the contact info for the limo company that I so irresponsibly lost (mistake #1 with The Genral) and told them to hold off.

We left eventually and took off around 8:30 from Denver. I squeezed myself into the straight jacket like coach seating configuration and eventually enjoyed a two or three hour neck snapping nap with that great hangover feeling when you wake up. I then dined on some rubber beef and patiently waited to get off the damn plane while I watched The Genral try to kill the oaf in front of her who had his seat on full recline. We got to London and, lo and behold, we missed our connection to Italy. A three-hour wait in line to rebook with severe jet lag after a four day, 60 hour work week was exactly what I needed to start my vacation off right. We eventually made it to Rome where I enjoyed a couple of days of no sleep and more jet lag and where I proceeded to famously tip wait staff American style without knowing the tip was already included in my bill.

Then on to Mola di Bari, land of my paternal grandfather. To get there I had to pick up our car in Rome, a stick shift, full size, Peugeot minivan parked in a garage built for Minis and baby Fiats. Does anyone know that you have to pull up on a stick shift before you put it in reverse? And who builds stick shift minivans anyway – only the French apparently? I eventually got out of the lot without taking anyone out and got on the Autostrada. There are only two speeds on the Autostrada – illegally, extremely fast and ridiculously slow. There is no in between and either speed invites major trouble that the Italians simply don’t recognize. More about driving later.

Arrival in Mola where we hooked up with Sarah – finally. We toured the town, found a place to park our bus, and settled in to our room. Shockingly, Sarah cooked Christmas Day dinner & it was delicious, but the greatest meal we had was on Christmas Eve. Gina, owner of our B&B and an Italian energizer bunny, invited us to dinner with her family. We earned our 4 seats at the table by learning how to make pasta, by hand, with her family members. After the feast, we had a Baby Jesus festival parade right at midnight where we were given a Baby Jesus to place in the manger, after four processions around the dinner table and lots of Auguris! Upon leaving Mola, we came close to wedging the minivan between a building and a few parked cars on a street meant for scooters which caused a major Genral SFOM that required a significant recovery period for everyone.

We took a quick trip to Modugno, hometown of Rocco DeNapoli, where I almost killed everyone by driving the wrong way down an Autostrada exit ramp as a result of a minor glitch in our navigation system. Not a problem at all.

So after Modugno, to fulfill a promise to my mother, I went on a pilgrimage to my maternal grandparents place of birth in Ricigliano. Never been there before and never going back. We exited the Autostrada (already in the middle of nowhere) and climbed a mountain to this little town of glory – not. This place was in the middle of nowhere perched on a mountaintop inhabited by sheepherders. No shops, no restaurants – nothing. I searched in vain for family members, only to find an old man who spoke dialect that Sarah could barely decipher. The place looked surprisingly like West Virginia and at that point the realization set in that I am an Italian hillbilly. We peeled out and looked for the highway – on to Sorrento.

I am leaving the rest of this blog to Sarah as this is a joint effort. I leave here today to seek sleep and solace in my little ranch house in Littleton, while we abandon Nick and Sarah in Perugia. Nick is staying an extra week to keep his sister company before her classes start. I am concerned that when I left him he was drinking a beer and making origami. Mamma Mia!