A couple of week’s ago I attended a dinner/dance for an association that is trying to make a connection between immigrants in the States who migrated from a town in the South of Italy. Belmonte is the name of the town and it means beautiful mountain. It is where my dad and his family were born and raised until they came over the Atlantic to build better lives.
The town is based on a steep hill that chutes down to a lovely beach area. My father and his siblings spent most of their time on the hill – planting and growing vegetables, farming and yelling at each other because they didn’t have phones to contact one another.
What I associate with this town is the beach. Whenever we returned to Italy during my teenage years, my family and I would spend time on the beaches of Belmonte. During both my father’s time and my visits, I never got the impression that there was a big population in this town. I got this idea because almost everyone I knew from Belmonte was people who were in the US (and they happened to also live within a few blocks of me!). Somehow I got it in my mind that no one really lived there any more except a couple of lizards and goats. (Obviously this isn’t true but distance does something interesting to perception!)
At the event there were a lot of the people I had always known and seen at other functions (most of them were second or third cousins after all!). I was not surprised to see them there drinking and dancing away. But there were a couple of other people I had never seen before. As I told my sister, those people must have been ones from the other side of the hill.
The best part of this event was to see my dad walking around and mingling with people he knew and with those he didn’t – making new friends. The few times he was sitting at the table, people came out from everywhere to say hello to him. He joked with a couple of people and threatened to punch others with is usual fist waving in the air stance.
My dad wanted to take a picture with the mayor of Belmonte. They had met each other before but he wanted something to remember from the event. I gladly conceded to that request. The mayor made a joke about their both having the same first name. He was very gracious.
As we walked back to our table, my dad continued his super social behavior – greeting people here and there, waving at others. I began to wonder who the real mayor of Belmonte was as I walked behind him. My dad, the little man from the beautiful mountain, expatriate mayor of Belmonte.