Before I begin this travel blog, I would like to take a somber moment. My grandmother died a few days before my trip down South to visit my Italian cousins, and that hung over a good portion of the trip. I and everyone who knew her only have good memories of my grandmother and, though I am saddened that she is gone, I know she is in a far better place now. If God has a lanai, she’s sitting there sipping coffee.
At the same time, I’m glad that I visited my family – my grandmother’s brothers and sisters, and their families – when I did. And I am glad that we were able to share a great time together.
A time in which I ate a lot of pizza.
A LOT of pizza.
Very nearly copious amounts of pizza.
Notice the me for scale.
Also cheese. Not just a lot of cheese, but also the best cheese I have ever had in my entire life.
The city of Battipaglia, where my family lives and where the Guarracino family is originally from, is rightly proud of their buffaloes. It is from these buffaloes that the locals make three primary cheeses: mozzarella di bufala, ricotta di bufala, and many different variations of caciocavallo (a type of provolone). And all three are fantastic.
And I won’t even begin to start when it comes to my Zia Rosa’s cooking. Simply divine. I’ll just leave these zeppoli as a tidbit.
Joe Metrano, Mike Shun, Paddy Mulligan, and Seth Kraft – my zeppoli squad – if you are reading this and seeing what I’m seeing, then y’all know that we have to up our zeppoli game.
But I didn’t just spend the visit eating. I also visited the local sights, starting with the nearby ruins of Paestum.
It may come as a surprise to many that some of the best preserved Greek ruins in the world are in Southern Italy. Why, you may ask? Because the Greeks colonized Paestum and much of Southern Italy. Well, the history is a bit more complex then that. The area was first settled by the Oscans, who were a local Italic people. Then the Greeks came in and really started building up the city. Then the Oscans came back and reconquered the city, starting an era of Oscan rule that would last… long enough for the Romans to conquer them.
But this site was preserved so well because it quickly became a swamp during the Dark Ages, and the swamp became home to malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Thus the area became a local secret up until the 1800’s, when it was added to the Grand Tour (which was basically a pan-European tour route for the insanely wealthy). However, the swamp kept out actual archaeologists until Benito decided that malaria is bad and drained the swamp. The allies invaded, the American scholars and tourists arrived shortly after, and the rest is history.
Also tile work. Yet more fantastic Roman tile work to satisfy my admittedly abnormal appreciation for classical flooring.
Here’s a fun little something from Paestum. This used to be the site of a temple to some minor Greek God, until the Romans came. Then the Romans faced a problem. On one hand, they were Romans, and therefore didn’t care about any pansy Greek god messing up their superior Roman city planning. On the other hand, they were Romans, and therefore extremely superstitious. As a result, they just built this stone shed with no doors around it. That way, they didn’t technically destroy the temple and anger the god, they just threw it under the proverbial bed and forgot about it.
The next major site I visited was Salerno at night, which is a magnificently beautiful city. Flex your arm. The forearm is the Amalfi coast, as seen here from across the bay.
The inner crease of your elbow is the harbor, as seen here.
The bicep forms a long and beautiful stretch of beach called the Lungomare. My cousin calls it “Salifornia” because it reminds him of famous pictures of Los Angeles, but in Salerno.
And then, after Salerno, there’s Naples…
Naples is insane. I swear there were streets so small and dense that I could stretch out my arms and block the whole road. And that packed road I’m in in that picture above? That’s Via San Gregorio Armeno, and it is famous for this.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, all together in the presepe. And every stall on every street is selling some extra character or add on to your basic home nativity set.
Every single stall.
And then suddenly, cathedral.
You don’t get “suddenly, cathedral” in America, or even in Rome; in Rome the cathedral gets a piazza to itself and a promenade with trees and shops. Naples doesn’t have the room for any of those frills. No, all that open space is inside the cathedral.
This cathedral is dedicated to Saint Gennaro, whose blood is famously preserved here. Three times a year his preserved blood goes from the solid coagulant to hot, living, liquid blood. When the city of Naples was riled to frenzy during the Napoleonic Wars, only the liquefaction of Saint Gennaro’s blood brought the riots to end.
My visit was all too short, yet packed with good times. I hope to return soon, to visit my family again. And I would like to thank my family so much for their hospitality and love, especially when I needed it.
Nicholas Guarracino '18