Towards the end of the 19th century, one of many Italian families to leave their home town to seek their fortunes in England was the Quaglieri family from Arpino. They settled in Newcastle as did several other families from that region of Italy.
Their small daughter, Francesca, grew up and married a local man, Walter (aka Wally), and they had three daughters – Vera, Teresa and Francesca. The middle girl, Teresa, was my husband’s mother.
In 1951 Teresa’s mother took her to Italy, with a friend, as a 21st birthday present. They visited Arpino which she described in her photo album of the trip as a ‘small town up in the mountains’.
As you will see in this post, not much has changed since then. Indeed the piazza in Arpino has changed little over the centuries, like the rest of this ancient hill-top town.
In 1987, my husband Chris and I travelled with Teresa to Arpino, her second, and only other, visit to her mother’s childhood home. Thanks in part to World War Two, the Arpino and Newcastle branches of the family had not kept in touch. However Teresa had been able to track some down through a mutual friend in Newcastle.
On the Sunday morning of our visit we met up with them in the piazza that is the heart of Arpino, enjoying drinks and managing to communicate somehow, although they spoke no English and we (at that time) no Italian, even Teresa.
We saw them a couple more times during that visit but after it we again failed to keep in touch. Language was a barrier and there was no social media back then to facilitate interaction.
But Chris and I talked from time to time about going back to Arpino; not so much to see family as to see the town, and in particular to discover if it would still seem as charming as we remembered it, now that we are much more accustomed to the delights of rural Italy. And in 2017, we finally decided to make that return visit …
On our first evening, after settling into our apartment, we went out to reacquaint ourselves with Arpino. We walked down to the piazza (everything is either up or down here!) and found the bar where we had enjoyed our Sunday morning post-Mass drinks with the relatives, now called Bar Sport (maybe it always was?) We took our seats at a table in pretty much the same spot to enjoy an aperitivo.
Is there anything better than pre-dinner drinks in a small town in Italy? Locals were meeting and greeting each other after Saturday evening mass; children played in front of the statue of Cicero, who was born in Arpino (more about him in a future post); and the buildings glowed in the early evening light.
Apart from the nearby exposure of a recently excavated stretch of the Roman road, the Via Latina, the piazza was almost unchanged from our visit thirty years before, and from the one in Teresa’s old photos from 1951.
Arpino is a place where past and present are very close friends.