Monthly Archives: September 2012

I’ve let the trail run a little cold in the quest for more family knowledge. While I am excited to pick up the story once again, my summer was too full of falling in love with every country and new friend to spend any significant amount of time in front of my computer. Now that I have returned, I am anxious to pick up where I left off. Cousin Mike put me in touch with Helen Stanton, author of a website chronicling the story of her family, who share a similar history with mine- Italian transplants to the UK. Helen’s website is an absolute wealth of information, and answers many of my questions.

The stunning Rizza sisters – Caroline, Phyllis, Carmen (and child), Marie

As I posed at the end of my last post, I wanted to find out why, and when, the Pacellis and Rizzas migrated to Edinburgh. While it’s still unclear how and why the Pacellis left Italy, church records indicate that Vincenzo and Maria Rosa, parents of Maria Antonia, were active in the Church of the Sacred Heart in the 1890’s, and that Vincenzo was a musician, which was apparently a common occupation for Italian immigrants. Coincidentally, one of my great-grandmother’s brothers who was killed in the first World War was also named Vincenzo, and was also a musician. The loss of three of Maria Antonia’s sons in the first World War, two of whom played the violin and some other instrument (piano? flute? I don’t correctly recall), is part of what broke her heart, eventually causing her to abandon her family in Canada.

Anyhow. The Pacellis’ arrival in Edinburgh is still a mystery, but is seems that Michelangelo and his brother arrived in Scotland, following their father, in the early 1890’s. This follows a mass-migration pattern that was apparently traditional in Italy. Supposedly, seasonal or temporary migrations were the norm in Italy during this time, and it was Napoleon’s influence, and the unsurprising influx of French aristocracy who needed land, that squeezed the lower classes, pushing them North and West, and made many of these migrations more permanent. It is no surprise that the Rizzas owned several ice cream shops, as the Italians were apparently renowned for their music, artwork, and confectionaries. (Anyone who has tried Italian gelato or sorbetto will undoubtedly agree)

pre-unification Italy

A second question is where, exactly, the Rizzas and Pacellis came from within Italy. My great-grandmother was long proud of the fact that her mother was Piedmontese. The Piedmontese were traditionally well-off and lighter in countenance, as they share a border with France, and were instrumental in winning Italy’s independence pre-1900’s. Italy is still a country divided, the north enjoying a far higher standard of living than the south, and being Piedmontese was akin to aristocracy, especially when living among the diaspora in ethnic neighborhoods. Despite the fact that the neighborhood the Pacellis called home was not the high street (their front door literally overlooked the gallows), their aristocratic roots were a point of pride that lasted through the generations. It seems, however, that this blue-blood was one-sided, as history and migratory patterns indicate that the Rizzas’ origins were further South.

As always, more research has only raised more questions. Soon to come is a long-lost photo, which was taken on the same day as the picture sent to me from cousin Paul, from Ireland.


“Solitary” has so many different connotations – while “solitary” makes me think of “alone,” which makes me think of “lonely,” which leads me to negative things like “fear” and “sadness,” “solitude” makes me think of positive things, such as “reflection,” and “growth.” For this week’s challenge I choose a selection that captures a range of these emotions.


Greyfriar’s Graveyard, Edinburgh, Scotland

Swiss National Day Celebration, Haut-de-Caux, Switzerland

Ruins of Baalbeck, Beqaa, Lebanon

I’m not someone who watches television very much. In fact, when I say “television,” what I mean is “I don’t often watch my computer,” because I don’t even own a television. I’m not morally opposed or anything, just too indifferent to spend my time and money on buying a television and cable service and doing all the upkeep and whatnot that it requires. Plus, there really isn’t a good place for one in our house, unless we got a giant flatscreen and put it over the fireplace or something, but that seems almost sacreligious. Like, the fireplace is such a homey, cozy spot, modernizing it with a tv would sort of defile it. Anyhow, I think this “not watching much tv” thing came from my first year of college, when I was rowing. Since socializing outside the team was near impossible (we had practice at 4.45 am every day, and regattas on the weekend, leaving only mealtimes and class to pack in all your socialization and friend-making), so many of my Friday and Saturday pre-practice or pre-regatta evenings were spent watching Greek or Gossip Girl, or some other lame show that made me wish that I was also out there living my life, making friends and poor decisions, rather than just sitting there and watching other people do so. After a year of this, I felt sad and pathetic. Worse still, I was BORED. I think boredom, when you are blessed with a great brain and surrounded by fascinating and brilliant peers on a gorgeous campus is one of the worst crimes imaginable.  Anyhow. First and sophomore years marked my departure from television. I vowed to start living and experiencing, rather than simply watching. Predictably, this meant that I started partying a lot. I’m still pro-partying, so long as it’s not to excess. I think it really is one of the best ways to experience friends and acquaintances without all the weird falsenesses and pretensions of “coffee dates” or whatever. When you think about it, partying is one of the few times when most everyone present is truly present – focused on the people around them rather than what’s for dinner tonight, or how much they dislike their job, or whatever it is people spend their time thinking about. But, if you are busy living your life 24/7, I have found, you end up exhausted, and after three months of no television (you can’t stream in Europe and the Middle East) I have rediscovered my love of hulu and projectfreetv.

I’m a fan of HBO, as a network. I’ve never actually had it, but I like a lot of what HBO has done – made sex acceptable dinnertime conversation with Sex and the City, helped kids with autism sing, dance, and raise money with Autism, the Musical, and even gave everyone a little vampire softcore  with True Blood, to name a few. Lena Dunham’s new series, Girls, I think, is pure genius.  No, it’s not all that original, and in fact the comparisons with Sex and the City run deep. It focuses on one young woman, who is a (n aspiring) writer living in New York City with her three best friends. The four personalities even have similarities- there is a hardworking and earnest prude, the gorgeous and over-sexed blonde,  the tries-too-hard-to-be-liked-and-follow-rules student, and the hardly-has-her-act-together writer and main protagonist. While they have their various loves and lovers, the main theme of their friendship is central.

As you expect on HBO, the sex scenes are multiple and graphic, but unlike the porny perfection of SATC or True Blood, these actresses are refreshingly real, and portray all too well the insecurities and inexperience of their youth. Hannah, our protagonist, is downright curvy, and we get to see her in every state of undress. Although the friendships are a bit underdeveloped as yet, what really rings true about these young women are their relationships to themselves, to men, and to the new world of the professional workplace. We see Hannah get herself into and out of a number of downright humiliating positions, but emerge with the resilience of someone who certainly has double my self-esteem. Interestingly, Adam, Hannah’s love interest, is the most sexualized character – in the first five episodes he hasn’t appeared wearing a shirt, and never leaves his own apartment. While I’m not one for analysis, I would be curious to hear what an English or Film major would say about his sexualization and near-imprisonment, as we almost always see him through the door or window. The relationship between Hannah and Adam probably resonates with most women between the ages of 18-30, and paints a pretty clear picture of the sad reality of dating a hipster manchild.

attractive? yes, but still a refreshing choice as sex symbol.

At one point during the pilot, Hannah tells her parents, “I think I’m the voice of my generation… or at least a voice, of a generation,” and it couldn’t be more true. Girls is certainly just as white as SATC, and it portrays a different kind of upper-middle-class existence. Although Hannah and co. don’t wear couture, they are graduates of a small, liberal arts college who receive support from their parents. While this is clearly not abnormal in many cultures, there are very few families who can financially support their children through and after college, in a city like New York. I wouldn’t claim that Hannah Horvath is the voice of my generation, but I think that Lena Dunham has done an incredible job creating a show that so aptly captures the reality of the slightly aimless recent graduate.

Rose and thorn?

As I wrote last week, I’ve experienced a certain amount of culture shock upon my return from three months of galavanting. After the extreme sensory experience that was Beirut, I thought I was going to be ready to sit back for a while, relax, read a book, appreciate the peace and calm of my quaint hometown… after all, I have never been so aware of a city as I was in Beirut. It infiltrates your body with every breath you take, every firework and call to worship that you hear, every drop of sweat that rolls down your back. As it turned out, the flight home was enough of a desensitization for me, and now that I am here and surrounded by the mundane that I craved so much, I miss the buzz, the dynamism, the grit.

In the absence of the everyday excitement of traveling, I’ve been working on cultivating excitement here, at home. Since my return home, I have:

-Returned to my job at the wine store
-Returned to my job at the middle school
-Read several books
-Joined a new gym
-Hosted a party
-Planned another party
-Picked up my cello again
-Mentally rearranged my entire house
-Mentally planned out my next adventure (more new continents! Don’t worry, I really can’t afford this one this time)
-Registered for, and am considering dropping, an art class
-Become obsessed with the Lumineers
-Discovered some of the more delicious uses of coconut oil

Despite my efforts, I’m still not too excited, and my mind keeps going back to that next trip that is always evolving in the back of my mind. Until then, expect more reminiscences, random art projects, and weekly photo challenges, as well as humor, recipes and occasional debauchery at the blog I co-write with a friend about our fascinating, Claremontian lives.

Everyday life is near impossible to capture while traveling, if only because everything seems so incredible. I think this is why I love street performers and farmer’s markets- because they are so familiar the world over, and still so full of local flavor.

Yodellers in Bern, Switzerland

Samples of Turkish Delight at Burough Market, London

A local painter, my friend, and a painting he resembles in Byblos, Lebanon

Near and far is an important concept considering my last few months of travel; I always find it interesting to find those places that feel ‘far,’ because although Switzerland is thousands of miles away from home, I never feel far away when I’m there, but there were months during the years that I lived in Boston when I felt lightyears away from home.

Below are a few of the photos that capture near and far for me, personally, taken on some of my favorite days this past summer. Near and far blend over Lake Geneva, Switzerland on a hike from Caux down to Montreux.

Foreground: spiderweb. Background: Bern, Switzerland – home to Einstein, the capital of Switzerland, and the Bern Bears

An abandoned building somewhere between Byblos and Tripoli, Lebanon

Reverse culture shock, post-travel blues… whatever it is people call them, I’ve heard that’s a thing, but this is the first summer that I have been distinctly aware of experiencing this. I feel listless and bored, uninterested even in watching television or reading; an empty day causes stress because I don’t know how to fill it, rather than relaxation. I remember this itchiness in college – the desire to do something, to want to do something, but not know what it is I wanted to do, and not feeling like I had anyone to do it with. My automatic instinct when I feel this is to think, well… I haven’t been to see my friends in San Francisco in years, or, maybe I should visit Boston again… before I remind myself that I’m focusing on being in Claremont now, that I’m working on being at home and enjoying my family and friends that are here, rather than running off to something more exciting. 

The other day I was at Disneyland, one of my favorite destinations, aboard the Indiana Jones ride. As we crossed a wobbly bridge, the safari car threatening to unseat us, I was struck with an odd feeling of deja vu- when had I recently experienced a similar rush of adrenaline? And then I remembered… in Beirut, aboard the crazy buses and taxis that weave their way through mountain roads and in between traffic as though they are unbreakable, or have passed all the codes and inspections of Disneyland’s imagineers. While I’m happy not to live in a country whose traffic laws approximate a children’s ride meant to make you feel unsafe, I miss the feeling of living, of constant conversation and stimulation, of feeling completely aware of being alive, even if that realization was through pain or fear.

I love my hometown, and I always will; there is something inherently lovable about comfort, consistency and stability, but returning to this after three months of unending overstimulation, conversation and the constant stream of new, exciting, and beautiful people has been a greater challenge than I’d anticipated. Since I have decided to be here indefinitely, I am making the most of it, attempting to become more active and develop those so-called ‘hobbies’ that I never had time for in college. Everyone close to me be warned – you will most likely be receiving personal sketches, watercolors, and experimental baked goods in the very near future.