The first time I went to the ranch, called Mariscotta, the property of the La Rocca’s–Felice’s relatives–they had already had this land for four or five hundred years. In order to get to the mountain ranch we had to go through San Frantello; the town where the French people in the past had ran to and hid. The dialect there is so different because of the merging of cultures. Nobody understands their language except themselves. They are very clannish, but Felice took me as a young bride to share the love of his land with me.
We got to Italy in the last part of November after Thanksgiving in 1938 right before Christmas. Felice wanted to take me to introduce me to his people and the ranch. We took my snow suit and my pants suit because it was very cold still. I had the snow suit on and as we came down the mountain, one of the men came down in front of us who was the herder of horses, I can’t recall the name, but they named him and he was in charge of the horses.
Anyways, then a man met us in San Frantello. We got up there in a car and were going to leave it there in a little wooden garage. It was alone and no one was around for miles, but back then we didn’t worry about it being stolen; so they stored the car there. Outside the garage there was a mule, she was a very wonderful mule. She was big for a mule, very broad. They put me up on the mule and on horseback we went for two hours to get to the ranch!
The Lady with the Pants!
Just before we got to the ranch there was a river. Turri Biscuni, Salvatore was his real name, was in charge of the ranch for my husband, was there on the other side and introduced us to his family. Turri said to his family before I arrived, which I found out later, what to do when we arrived, “When Signorina Laura gets off the mule don’t you dare stare at her!” he told them to just bow, congratulate her, and then look the other way. All because I was wearing my pants suit, which was not done in Italy at the time. The little boys started yelling in Italian, “The woman with the pants! The woman with the pants!”
After we got to Turri’s house I sat down and what I noticed was that all his sisters had the same haircut; parted in the center, straight black, with a great big knob. Their cheeks were very high, and dark eyes, with earrings. You could tell they were sisters. They had the giant biscuits laid out to eat. Usually they serve them for men, because they were big and hard. As usual, every place that I went in Europe I had my café espresso. I finished the hard bread, which was not my favorite, and my café espresso right away. In Italian fashion, they tried to give me more! You always had to prove that you liked it by eating more.
When we were all packed back up and were ready to go, the journey on continued. So right before we came to the river, Turri was on the other side and I thought to myself, “How would I cross this water?” I didn’t want to cross the water by myself. I hesitated and Turri turned around and said, “Signora Laura, put your feet on the back of the mule and look straight ahead. Don’t look at the water.”
In the meantime, I don’t know who they were, but they were yelling at us calling the last names or titles of those with us. Even the peasants went by their last names or titles. The peasants were talking to the herdsman asking who I was. They told them I was the Cavaliere’s brother to which they responded saying that they didn’t know he had a brother! But they joked that I had been in a private school because they were all embarrassed about me wearing pants. Whenever Sicilian’s could play a joke, they loved to. So they congratulated me for coming home and finishing school!
Crossing the River
When I got to the water, I put my feet over the mules back and looked ahead. When I got to the middle of the river I started to shake a little because the water almost reached my feet! Once we got across that river I was so relieved. Also I must point out how smart my husband was. He put a toilet in the mountain home where we lived, running water, and a pipe from the house under the ground into the river! He got water to flow to our bathroom and to the kitchen from that river. I thought that was so wonderful.
Anyway we got to the house, which I loved dearly. After supper I heard somebody behind the door welcome me into the home. I heard the people singing and women and men dancing and playing instruments outside. Felice opened the door and welcomed them in. They said, “Prima, we would like to offer you our little gifts.” One man even said, “Signora, we are just simple peasant people. We don’t live in a big city. We don’t know where to buy a gift for you. So we are here to offer you our mountain gifts.”
The first gift was from husband, it was Firenze–my horse. I called her and she came right up to me. So I grabbed a little sugar and she took the sugar from my hand! Then they put the horse to one side then they gave me a saddle that they had hand-made. The men that worked for my husband crafted this saddle for me. It was beautiful and they put it on the horse with the stirrups and so forth. Then the women brought me a homemade mountain cake that they had made for me. After that the young girls brought fresh wild vegetables to me and said they wanted to introduce me to the mountain vegetables. The next gift they brought were eggs that they just collected that day along with young hens. Then they brought me live chickens that they just imported from Maryland, Rhode Island Reds. They were known for big eggs and with them one rooster. These were the gifts I received. Along with mountain flowers too!
We would live there part of the year and then Sant’Agata part of the time. When Felice went to Mariscotta, I would go with him. His sisters were amazed that I would stay there in such a rustic environment. His sisters would not stay there longer than a weekend, but they were shocked to learn that I stayed there with him. One of the peasants would go in the morning and pick wild vegetables and cook them for the day and I loved being there.