Friday, February 24, 2006

Baucina: Bivetto, LoCascio and the Mayor 2.22.06

This week we took a trip to Palermo for our anniversary and I will be posting that story with photos soon. But before arriving in Palermo late in the afternoon, we made a few stops. First, we returned to Baucina, the hometown of my paternal grandparents. In early January we had left a note for the prete (the parish priest) asking for his help in locating information about them. Since there was a festival about to take place that evening he could not meet with us and asked that we leave him a note with our request and our address so that he could send us the information we sought. Almost two months later now, we decided to try our luck with the Comune, the government offices (The Anagrafe). As in every other case, the people in this office were wonderful! They could not have tried harder to locate the names of my grandparents in their ancient record books. It took a bit of detective work, but they eventually located Fortunata under the name of "Cascio" - not LoCascio as we knew her name to be, but her parents' names were written as LoCascio! Had there been some error in the transcription? We don't know. But the person they found is my grandmother. It is fascinating that if you have a little bit of information: birth dates, parents names, that this documentation can be found with a desire to search on the part of the people in these offices. They were all as excited as we were when her name was found, proof that she had been born there.

The chief of police and the vice mayor even joined in the search! Everyone was eager to help us find traces of our roots in their city. Once my grandmother, Fortunata had been located and the Certificato di Nascito (birth certificate) was typed and stamped officially, the vice mayor offered to take us in his car to try to find the street where her family lived when she was born! There was no refusing, the car was outside, he had plenty of time, and away we went! What we didn't realize was that he was also trying to find any living relatives who were still there in Baucina. Street after street he stopped to talk with other LoCasios who might be related to us. We stood on street corners with her birth certificate, my Family Cookbook (the one I wrote with all the old family photos, the family tree and all the stories and recipes I had gathered and transcribed) but even though they were LoCascios, none had the winning combination of Francesco and Anna that constituted my particular strain of this very common surname. It became quite amusing actually, all these people, trying so hard to think back, make connections, but nothing, no one could do it. Several invited us to coffee! We have to remember that my great-grandparents left Baucina in 1903, over a century ago and perhaps all of their immediate family members left with them and that I suspect, ended my family's connection to their hometown.

The vice mayor, Antonino Varisco, pointed up to the street where they had lived, where, somewhere along the line the street's name had been changed because we could not find it. Baucina is a very, very steep city. The houses in "centro" having been renovated or rebuilt, I expect after the Second World War and seem mostly well cared for and maintained. It is a simple town, there is nothing flashy about it; it's not especially beautiful or charming. Every street rises up behind the last in a steep ascent to the top of the hill where they lived. We got out of the car, there were chickens in a little fenced in area; some of the houses were ancient looking, old stones, worn wooden doors, rusted metal gates and hinges and I could imagine them scraping out a living here and deciding they wanted more for their little Fortunata, Caterina and Francesco. Young, perhaps more ambitious and materialistic, they packed up their little family and made the journey to Palermo, to board the big ship and make the crossing to America, to Brooklyn, to a new life, never turning to look back, putting the "old country" behind them. Perhaps their parents and aunts and uncles came too. I suspect that is what happened. They all left. And in Brooklyn, they created a new Baucina. They built a church dedicated to Santa Fortunata, like the one back home and lived near their friends and relatives. They met and married people who came from their village in Sicily; they celebrated the same festivals, cooked the same foods, altering and adapting to what they were able to find in America. I was astounded to learn when I did my cookbook that my grandparents had emigrated in 1903. They barely spoke English! My grandmother was 10 years old when they arrived in America! You would think by the time she died in 1958 that she would have picked up some of the language. Her children spoke English. My father, in my recollection, did not speak Italian, but he must have to her. So many questions, so many things I want to know but that are now lost to me. I asked many questions as I was growing up about Italy but my mother and aunt did not know much. Their parents and grandparents did not speak of the old country. They died when I was young. Was it too painful that they had left their beautiful Sicily or were they just so happy to be in America that that seemed ancient history to them. I will never know.

In Search of Bivetto 2.23.06

The Bivetto name is a bit harder to locate than my grandfather Lore, the LoCascios or the Fabrizios. There exists a history of those names and it is assumed if you are one of them that your family came from Polizzi Generosa, Baucina or Chianchetella. So far it has been impossible to pin down the name Bivetto! We were astounded to learn that it has no origin in the city of Baucina. No one knew the name, no one had ever heard the name, and no record exists in Baucina of a Bivetto. I am stumped! The family history is that he was an orphan, adopted at birth, that he "made up" the name. How does this happen??? How clever was he to manufacture a name out of nothing? Or was the name misspelled when he reached America, as was often the case? Is our name really something else and since he could not read or write (I am surmising) he did not know how it was spelled and took the new spelling to be correct? But in Baucina, nothing even similar exists. So now where do I go to search? Is my name really Biveddo or Bavetto or Bavetta or...I don't know!

We decided on the way home to Marina di Ragusa to stop in Baucina to see if the prete was in. We didn't have any luck the last time, but what the heck we thought. Deciding to give him one more try, we rang his doorbell. He answered his intercom by telling me he could not do anything today. It was during the risposo (the rest period between 1 and 4) and he asked me to come back (this seemed to be a pattern forming) but I pushed a little harder and asked if he could at least come down and speak to me. He relented finally. We waited. It seemed perhaps he was just waiting and hoping we would just go away, that's the impression it gave us. We waited. Finally he opened the door and the blank, disinterested expression on his face was startling. He acted as if he could not have cared less who I was or where I came from. This all seemed just a big bother to him. I wrote down my grandfather's name BIVETTO and the dates that I have as his birth date (of which, to be honest, I am not completely certain) and asked if he could at least try to find some record of his having been baptized in Baucina. I gave him our phone number and address and he agreed to look. The documents are old he said, it would take time, he said, we would have to come back, he said. He said also that if he found something he would call; if he did not, he wouldn't call. I asked him to call either way and he reluctantly agreed. I was so glad that I could at least say the things to him that I needed to, in Italian, and we thanked him and went our way. I'm sure he must have very important things to attend to in caring for his parish and does not have all the time in the world do look for my ancestor but you'd think he could have shown a little more interest in the fact that I wanted to make this connection. At any rate, I do not have high hopes for his finding anything. He doesn't seem to be a person who would enjoy the challenge but who knows. Maybe he's just shy.

It was around 3:30 in the afternoon when we left Baucina and it started to rain as we were leaving this part of Sicily. The rain did not let up and in fact was quite heavy in places and made driving home a very stressful experience. In some places the fog was so thick we could only see the truck in front of us and were happy that he was there. Normally Bob would have done his best to pass him! It took much longer to get home than the expected 3 hours and we were happy to get home to Marina to find the streets dry and the skies relatively clear. However, the wind was really whipping and we grabbed our stuff and climbed up our stairs, just ahead of the rain that soon pelted our little Piazza Malta. We did not go back out to have dinner as we had talked about doing but made do with what we had in the fridge, turned on the heater, watched the skaters compete in the Olympics and, pretty tired, settled in for a quiet evening at home.

Our next adventure will be Carnevale in Acireale. We have reserved a room in the town for two nights and hope to do a little sightseeing of the area north of Catania as well, including some time in Taormina. But that's it for today. It's still raining and the wind is still blowing. We had a lovely taste of spring last week when the weather started to warm up which I know we'll see again when this storm blows over!

Rosemary e Roberto


Barbara Guy said...

I read with interest your entry about Baucina. My maiden name is Lo Cascio and I went to Baucina in 2001 with my husband and 2 children. We were lucky enough to meet a visiting American family who were originally from Baucina. They gave us a grand tour and even showed me the house that my paternal grandfather was born in. They told us that we were actually related. It was a most wonderful experience. When I was growing up, my mother told me that my grandmother often told her that if she had a daughter, she should be named "Fortunata". After my visit to Baucina, I understood the comment. Unfortunately, my paternal grandparents died before I was born, so the trip to Sicily was very important to me as it was the only way I had to connect with them emotionally. It was a trip that I will never forget. I now live in New York, where my grandfather settled.
Barbara Guy

Maria Creates said...

It is such a rare thing to know the writer of this Italian journey & Blog, a most wonderful, gracious and talented lady. To also know my family and I will be following in the footsteps of Rosemary and Bob traveling to Baucina to trace and find out more about my grandparents Leonardo Liberto and Domenica Gelfo.
Leonardo left Baucina in 1901 and Domenica with little Leonardo in 1902 to NYCity and lived on Elizabeth St with many others from Baucina.
I too wish I had asked more questions. I too feel the need to walk in the footsteps of my ancestors in Baucina and my dear friend Rosemary.
Maria Liberto Bessette, Dover DE, USA

Bob and Rosemary said...

Thank you so much Maria for your beautiful comment here. I can't wait to hear all about your trip and am always available to talk about Italy - and Baucina - with you, my sweet friend!