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Tuesday, June 1, 2021

A Word on Contemporary Basilicata

Singer/Songwriter Rosmy performs at
the Giornate del Cinema Lucano in Maratea
My editor at Fra Noi Magazine recently asked me to write an article about my experience traveling through Basilicata and researching my origins there. If you've followed this blog for a while, then you know that I am always happy to offer my insight into contemporary Basilicata.

New School Basilicata

It has been 20 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America. I was living in New York City at the time and working at ABC News as a video editor. Seeing all that heartbreaking footage of people jumping to their deaths from the Twin Towers and then walking through the eeriness of Manhattan made me realize how precious life is and how we can literally be here one moment and gone the next.

That realization led me to do something I had been putting off for years — perform a genealogical search of my maternal great-grandmother’s family in Basilicata. Of all my great-grandparents who emigrated from Italy, I was the closest to her. She passed away in 1980 when I was 8 years old, and the loss had a lasting impact.

In early 2002, I wrote a letter to potential relatives in Italy and had a friend translate it into Italian. I knew the town, Rionero In Vulture, from an old photograph that belonged to my grandmother. I went to infobel.com, looked up everyone in town with the last name Nigro (my great-grandmother’s maiden name), and sent out a batch of letters along with NYC postcards and copies of photos my great-grandmother received from her brothers who stayed behind. Five days later, I received an email from a cousin in Rionero In Vulture thanking me for sending a picture of his grandfather (my great-grandmother’s brother). Attached was a family photo my great-grandmother had sent to him in the 1950s. I was amazed not only to make contact, but also at how quickly I received the response.

Polo Acquisti Lucania Mall in the town of Tito

I traveled to my ancestral home for the first time the very next year. I didn’t know what to expect before I arrived because everything I had read spoke of a remote, desolate region, often accompanied by pictures of old women wearing black. Two trains from Rome got me there in about six hours. These days, I take one direct bus from Rome, equipped with WIFI and air-conditioning, to arrive in five hours. What I found then and still find is the farthest thing away from desolate: traffic, young people, restaurants, shops, malls, huge grocery stores and every modern convenience you could wish for.

 

Over the years, I’ve gotten to know so many young Lucanians, as they’re called. While it’s true many young adults leave the area to seek employment elsewhere, many also stay, and they’re fueling the economy and modernization of the region. In Castelmezzano, for example, young Lucanians work in the tourism sector, providing hiking tours through the Dolomiti mountains, operating a zipline and running B&Bs. Watch a clip from my interview with Giovanni Romano, the director of tourism in Castelmezzano..



In Matera, locals like actor/restauranteur Nando Irene, have opened restaurants and art galleries and run film festivals, bringing tourism dollars to their town. On the other side of the region in Potenza, they own bookstores and production companies that specialize in computer graphics and animation. Potenza-born author/journalist Sergio Ragone has written several books with his orgoglio lucano (Lucanian pride) at the heart of his writings. If you want to practice your Italian, one is available on Amazon..


   


Meanwhile, the towns surrounding Monte Vulture, a dormant volcano, are enjoying attention from wine publications all over the world praising Aglianico del Vulture, which has been nicknamed Barolo of the South. Area wine producers like Paternoster, Azienda Agricola Elena Fucci, Cantine del Notaio and Martino utilize Monte Vulture’s fertile soil to produce high quality wine and olive oil. Young people like the D'Angelo siblings are following in their footsteps and starting their own businesses. What’s emerged is a whole subculture that includes B&Bs, restaurants and spas. 

One way to connect with the Vulture area is to listen to a Sunday show called Radio Vulture. It's a great way to practice your conversational Italian and to be in the cultural loop of Monte Vulture. The show is transmitted from Rionero in Vulture by a group of friends passionate about music. To listen, go to www.mixcloud.com and search Radio Vulture. Click follow and create an account. The shows are uploaded weekly. One of the hosts, Ricky Benz, is an established recording artist. His work is available on iTunes and Amazon. Click here to follow Radio Vulture on Facebook. 

 

Watch a clip from my interview with Gaetano Russo in which he talks about the Aglianico grapes of Rionero In Vulture..



There are a number of resources online that provide information about the region. My Bella Basilicata, which specializes in genealogy research and heritage immersion, was created by husband and wife team Valerie and Bryan who relocated to Valerie’s ancestral town about 15 years ago. The couple's agency has become a go-to for Italian Americans wanting to know about the land of their origins. The website includes information on the process of genealogy research in the South of Italy and what you will need to get started. 


If you’re on Facebook, check out BasilicataMedia, which features a new web series on the region equipped with English subtitles. Made by another husband and wife team, Greg and Silvia, the series features the two traveling throughout the region. Greg and Silvia are the owners of La Lucana, their family’s olive farm-turned-B&B. All 10 episodes are located on the page's "Beautiful Basilicata" playlist.


Click here to watch my 2018 documentary, "Return to Lucania," which traces the socioeconomic evolution of Basilicata since the early 1900s. If you're interested in learning more about the region's filmmaking legacy, look to the bottom sidebar of this blog for dozens of stories about the cinema of past and present made there.


- Written by Jeannine Guilyard for the May 2021 issue of Fra Noi Magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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