Without the actions of one man in April 2006, my wife Lisa Grassi Blais and I may never have even dreamed about opening a tour company and holiday villa in Abruzzo, Italy.
That year, Lisa and I, her mother, sister, brother, sister-in-law and my mother and sister set out on a three week trip to Italy. This trip included a visit to San Sebastiano in southern L’Aquila, the Abruzzo village Lisa’s grandfather left to come to Canada.
Lisa’s family had lost contact with their relatives in Italy, but as soon as we got to the village, Lisa’s mother Nita met long-lost first cousins.
We spent an amazing day there, but like many remote mountain villages in Italy, almost everybody has moved away because there really isn’t any economic opportunity. So we visited with the people we found there, stayed at a hotel in a nearby town, and planned to return the next day for one last look before moving on with our vacation.
Little did we know that a second cousin named Cesidio Grassi was about to intervene and change our world in a major way.
The day before somebody from the village had phoned Cesidio in the seaside city of Ancona, 250 kilometres away from San Sebastiano, where he was living. The next day, Cesidio drove to San Sebastiano with old pictures and videos and a family tree hoping to meet the Grassis who had come from Canada. He wanted to show us that the village wasn’t always deserted and to urge us to come back at another time.
We were literally taking our last stroll down the picturesque main street and had stopped to take a look in the church when Cesidio parked his car, got out with a huge smile on his face and introduced himself. This led to drinks at the only bar in town and hours of conversation about the family, the village, and the Grassi’s in Canada. Cesidio said the timing of our visit wasn’t great, and we had to come back to the village again during one of the many annual holidays. He said people living all over Italy, Europe and the world return to take part in centuries old traditions and festivals. He said we would love it, and he also convinced us to stay another day so he could show us videos of some of these holidays.
The next day, we met him for lunch at a restaurant housed in an ancient building in the medieval core of the village. He played videos and we could see what he was talking about. The town that once had a population of roughly 3000 people but was down to a couple hundred swelled to more than 1000 as people flocked back several times a year. The biggest festival occurred in August every year and the town would literally be full of people. There would be hundreds of relatives, and we should come back in August to see them, Cesidio said. You could tell he really meant it.
We left later that day, but his words stuck with Lisa and her mother Nita, and Cesidio kept up a correspondence with us after urging us to return in August. We missed August 2006, but we did return in August 2007, and Cesidio was right. We loved it. In fact, it changed our lives in a major way.
Fate is funny. We likely wouldn’t have returned to Abruzzo at all unless Cesidio Grassi, a man we’d never heard of, decided to get in his car and drive 250 kilometres on the off chance he would bump into a group of long-lost relatives from Canada.
That’s impact. Thanks Cesidio.
Next Blog: Meeting the relatives.