Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My Parents' Home Town in Italy

Bagnoli Del Trigno from the lower level piazza

Article first published as Bagnoli Del Trigno on Technorati.  (Photos by Carole Di Tosti)

(Actually this is more about Bagnoli's history. Photos in this article by Chris Black.)

I heard about this place my entire life. It's the place where my parents learned to make home made pasta, sausage, bread, canned tomatoes, peaches, paniche and other delicious treats. And it is the birthplace of my gluten allergy, damn!!! Bagnoli Del Trigno, you are the mother of my 12 time yo-yo dieting fiascos, my penchant for overeating and my thrifty genes which probably got my ancestors through famines in the 12th and 13th centuries and brought me up to the present, posting in my office in Starbucks, which about an hour ago, like the entire northeast, and like Bagnoli have, at times in the Appennines, sustained an earthquake.

Bagnoli from the (Terra di copa/alta) upper level within the town gates.
Bagnoli Del Trigno is nestled in the mountains about two and one half hours from Roma and about one and one half hours from the Adriatic coast. It is in the poorest, youngest and mostly forgotten province of Italy, Molise, which split from Abruzzo in 1963. No one in our paternal and maternal family who emigrated from Bagnoli knew that the two provinces separated from each other and they referred to the province as Abruzzi-Molise. Until
the day he died, my father still thought that the area was conjoined like it was in "ancient times,"  with the county seat at Campobasso where the family used to go to trade and obtain contracts for business (1910-30s). Since 1963 the county seat for Bagnoli is Izernia about 45 minutes away from the mountain town which means bathed (Bagnoli) in the Trigno River.
The Trigno River

The town was settled by the Samnite peoples who, legend has it, were gentle yet strong. When the Romans came to conquer the area, the Samnites resisted and engaged in three wars with the Romans until they eventually were overcome and made a harsh peace.

Bagnoli's site on top of a huge rock outcropping is a testament to how the feudal mountain towns of Italy were settled. The castle (currently being renovated) housing the noble family was situated on top of the outcropping at the highest point. Surrounding it on three sides were the lords and family elites in descending order of importance and service whose homes progressed down the steep incline until one reached the huge wooden and iron gates protecting the preeminent side townspeople. There was one road going up to the castle and one road coming down and snuggled along it were stone houses and the church and a sheer drop off on one side, a veritable wall of steep rock. The sentries and watchmen made sure to close these gates every evening against the stray wolf looking for prey or the roaming robbers and highwaymen who were looking to pillage, burn and kidnap.

Bagnoli was a tough one for the robbers because of its Edward Scissorhands' setting on the mammoth stone boulders. You see, it's as if the town was chiseled into the rock. As a result it is naturally protected by a precipitous drop that cannot to this day be easily scaled unless one is an experienced climber with the proper equipment. The first settlers must have been thrilled to witness the potential for the natural geological barrier and decided there could be no better place to situate a town. It would be difficult to launch an attack up the straight rock face. The only way to enter the town would be to assault the gates which were fortified. And the robbers first would have to thread their way through the houses and armed serfs below the gates who would alert the soldiers above and mount their own first resistance, wearing down the enemy for the stronger reinforcements above. They were not going to have an easy time of it. Torches were lit from one mountain town to the next if danger was approaching. From Bagnoli's castle, signal fires alerted Duronia, the next mountain town over. The noblemen and soldiers doing obeisance to the ruling Duke of the nearby town would offer assistance and send soldiers. In that way the towns communally thrived. There are signs of this today during La Festa when neighboring towns join each other to celebrate Fiera Augusto and the Patron Saint days.

Lower level (Terra di Basso) on a feast day procession.
There were two segments of the town. In Bagnolese these translate to the "higher level" and the "lower level." And depending upon the snobbishness of the locals, the closer you were to the castle, the more grace and honor you received in the town's social strata. To some extent this elitism exists to this day. One of my cousins is proud to live right on the piazza where you enter into the town. The other cousin lives on the outskirts near the fields and on the road to Rome. And there is a tweak of complacency about living in the closer location, rather than the outskirts. I remember my mother discussing gossipy, arrogant attitude."This" family lived nearer to the gates of the Lord and the castle, and "this" family lived on the lower level and were inferior peasants. What an irony that this attitude is prevalent in Italy regarding Torino, Stresa and the Lake Como regions and Milano. The Northern industrial "hard working" and fashionably elite Italy wanted to separate and secede from the "lazier, criminal types" in Sicily and Southern Italy below Roma. A guide on a tour of Italy five years ago told us that his mother who was from the North was disinherited from her family for marrying someone from Florence, the central region. Eventually, the family changed their minds, but it took a while. God forbid she married a Sicilian? The disinheritance would stick.

Bagnoli Del Trigno is a place one can return to again and again to learn something new. So I will return with more information about my heritage in this unique and fascinating place. But for now, I'm including a picture painted by my cousin Luigi Proietti which captures the essence of the feudal mountain town responsible for shaping who I am today.
by Luigi Proietti

FYI:  For more pictures of Bagnoli Del Trigno, click here.

Leyna Gabriele is the featured artist in the above presentation by Chris Black.
Bagnoli is the town of her ancestors; Leyna and I are cousins. 


Ben the Health Nut said...

Hey, this is one heck of a History Lesson on
our parents homeland. Entertaining and
thank God I don't have to go to a
Facebook hookup to read about this wonderful

Carole Di Tosti said...

You are so funny. lololol

Anonymous said...

You take beautiful pictures!!

Carole Di Tosti said...

I wish I could claim them all. My pictures appeared on Technorati. These were taken by Chris Black who takes great pictures. He could be a lifestyle photographer. But I use his photos and add my commentary...will do more in the future because his photos are soooooo expressive and artistic.

Waseem said...

Pictures are taken in good way...Like it.

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