Saturday, March 5, 2011

Love in Lavello

The Original Middle Ages Entrance to Lavello 

My journey through Italy has been life changing. Two days ago, I met my Italian relatives for the first time in the beautiful village of Lavello, located in the southeastern region.  My American family and I are not particularly close. Not like you would expect of an Italian-Amercan family. The truth is, I often felt like a "spiritual orphan," wandering around looking for my home and family. In California, I have close friends who I love like family, but in Lavello, I found my home. My roots.

Roberta and Ananita

After meeting my cousin, Mario, and his beautiful family, I was touched by their total excitement to meet their American relative. In broken Italian and English, we spent 4 hours together catching up, eating pizza and drinking locally made wine. I felt close to them instantly. I wasn't sure at first, but I thought I felt some love from them... I tried not to attach myself to this idea, because we had just met...

A Lavello Troubadour

To thank them for their hospitality, I sang them a song. Mario's wife, Nananita, called relatives on the phone so they could listen to their new American cousin sing in English:

The next morning, Mario picked us up at his family's hotel, and brought us to my great-aunt Tina's house. She was standing outside, in pearls, a beautiful cashmere sweater, and a long matching skirt. She had her hand on her heart, and when I walked up, she embraced me with the most intense amount of love I have ever felt from a "stranger." She kept shouting "Bellisima! Belissima!" as she squeezed my cheeks and looked into my eyes. I was so touched. I felt instantly at home, like I had known her my whole life. She brought us inside, and as the phone continued to ring, more and more relatives walked into the door excited to see us.  I met aunts, uncles, and cousins. I was kissed and hugged more than ever in my life. Everyone was so excited, and they continuously brought us more and more drinks and candy. 

Mom, Tina, Me and Mario

We decided to eat, so they brought us to a local restaurant where we had a traditional Italian lunch. 3 courses, plus desert, about 3 hours long... It was beautiful. Like something out of a movie. Everyone shouted when they spoke, laughed louder than a timpani, waved their arms around, and continued to hug and kiss all of us. At the end, I played my guitar and everyone danced. When I was finished, they sang traditional Italian songs from Lavello.  It was beautiful! 

Lavello is surrounded by beautiful countryside,
rolling hills with olive trees and vineyards.

My cousin, Pia, who is only 4 years older than I am, made us promise to come to her wedding in July. We had an instant connection. Using the iPad's translator application in order to communicate, we discovered that we are both activists, both interested in politics, and our birthdays are only 4 days apart from each other.  The similarities in other relatives were fascinating. I discovered a poet, a journalist, and a musician named, get this, Michele. After lunch, I sang some American folk songs for them, as well as the traditional Italian song "Caro Mio Ben." I admit I was very nervous singing in Italian in front of real Italians, but they were very complimentary, and when I finished, my other great-aunt Sabina came up and planted a giant kiss on my cheek.

Song is a nice way to say "Grazi."
All the excitement and energy it took to understand and speak Italian, as well as the forte (strong) wine, made me feel not so molto buono... so I had to go back to the hotel to sleep it off.  Inside my heart, I was beaming, but my stomach needed me to take a break...

As we approached this group of men,
Mario informed me that one is my cousin.
Big surprise! 

Later that night, Sabina insisted on coming to the hotel with Pia and they brought gifts. A history book of Lavello from Pia and a beautiful Italian purse from Sabina. I was so overwhelmed with gratitude. The next morning, before leaving for Rome, Tina came to the hotel to say good bye, and she had more gifts! I couldn't believe how kind everyone was after meeting them for only the first time. When I mentioned this to Mario, he said to me, family is very, very important and you are family. In the car as we left, I kept thinking about that and felt like I might cry...

A local woman. I did not ask if we were related...

When I was preparing for this trip to Italy, I thought it might bring up thoughts of love, because Italy is famous for that. Every trip I take teaches me a profound life lesson, and as I anticipated this one, I considered that the subject might be love. But unlike the version in the book/film  "Eat, Pray, Love," this international trip brought me a different kind of love. An unconditional, familial kind of love. I felt a strong connection to my relatives in Lavello. A connection I haven't felt before in the states. It was pretty amazing. 

The family eats & eats & eats...

In this blog, I talk about peace and love, two things that I believe are necessary to cultivate in order to change the world. I began my meditation practice long ago in order to attain true inner peace, but love has always been shaky for me. When you move around a lot, you learn how to guard yourself from deep, unconditional love, perhaps allowing only a few people inside.  My relatives in Lavello had absolutely no problem showing me love the instant they met me. I was so struck by this. What if I could show that kind of love to everyone I meet? What if we all could do that? 

The old men on bicycles were so authentic...

In America, it is sometimes hard to show love. We don't touch each other or reveal deep feelings until we have "proven" we are worthy of such intimacy. But in Italy, I discovered that there are many people who grow up with a deep and instant sense of love for others. Lavello showed me what it could be like to instantly share love with someone, and to be vulnerable without any fear whatsoever.  

Happy in Lavello

I hope I take some of Lavello's love home with me to the States. My country could use some serious unconditional love at this point in time.


  1. What an incredibly beautiful experience for you, Michelle! Speaks to the power of your musical mission.

  2. You have a beautiful voice.

    And what a beautiful story of your trip, all the love!