This is the second edition of IBTraveler's Recently Returned series of reader-submitted stories. Have you recently returned from traveling abroad? We want to hear about it. Click Here to find out more information.
The rain fell outside the window - light misty sheets of sticky, wet, dust-like water droplets. Verona isn't known for being a rainy town. The rolling hills and plush greenery suggest the presence of good rain, but Verona does not rival Seattle, Washinton, or Edinburgh, Scottland. The rain replenishes the land and the surrounding vineyards but is not a daily constant.
That day, however, it was raining, but I refused to let it deter me from my goal: finding my family. The problem was I didn't actually know if the people I was heading to meet were family or not. All I knew was that there was a Caprini family in Negrar, which was a little town about twenty minutes north of Verona, and that they owned a salumeria shop. I did not know what a salumeria shop was, but whatever it was, they owned one. Luckily, Alessandro had written the information down for me on a tiny corner of the previous night's dinner receipt. Taking out the wadded piece of paper from my pocket, I opened it and reminded myself of today's venture.
Salumeria Caprini, Negrar
Although I knew I needed to find this place, I did not actually know how to get there other than by bus. Alessandro had given me the name of the town and store, but not the specifics of how to find them. The boy at the front desk of my hostel pointed to the stazione on the map. You need to go here. His finger followed the main road down to what looked like the base of Verona, or at least the most southern tip of the center of the city. There is the stazione.
I headed out into the rain, excited, until I reached the stazione and realized there were at least thirty buses parked randomly in the parking lot, a tiny building to my left, which looked sad and run-down, and then a large building at the other end of the lot. I had no idea where to go first, but determined the big building to be my best option. Amongst the chaos, I found a few signs that said treno.
But I don't want a train, I thought. I want a bus.
Finally finding an open counter with a queue of people, I waited my turn to speak to the woman behind the glass, hoping she could be another person to help me.
La prossima persona, she said, uninterested. I smiled and said, Boun giorno, to which I received a response of, Giorno, and a waiting stare. When I asked if she spoke English, the woman's shoulders slumped slightly and she responded, Si, parlo inglese. I stared back at her blankly, completely unaware of what parlo meant, and knew that the dumb half-smile on my face now read as just that: dumb.
Yes, I speak English, the woman finally sighed. A little.
I explained my situation and she curtly explained that I needed the other building - the small run down building - and that I could buy my ticket there.
The bus took off promptly at 11:00am. There were a number of fermatas along the way, and the list showed Negrar as the last stop. During the ride, I noted the expanding countryside, vineyards, and cottage-covered hills sleeping in the mountains covered in a hazy mist that made everything seem even more dream-like and tranquil.
The fermatas were hard to follow. I tried to find some sort of post or sign through the rain, but every fermata showed nothing, and I found myself worried that I would actually miss my stop and ride the bus to nowheresville in the middle of rainy Italy.
A few moments later, the bus pulled into a tiny, three-block town and came to a stop. The bus driver shouted, Negrar, and I sat, horrified. This? This was Negrar? I had been expecting a semi-major town, not a three-block street. I collected my things, walked off the front of the bus onto the edge of the sidewalk, opened my umbrella, stood in the rain, and thought, Where am I?
The bus pulled away; no one walked down the street, and no one was in sight. The town appeared as though it were sleeping through a dreary coma. I suddenly realized I was completely alone.
Panic rushed through me like a surge of electricity.
What have I done? I thought, frenzied. I had gotten myself to the middle of nowhere with no plan of a return other than to sit, wait, and hope the next bus passed throuh the same stop. I cursed and mocked my stupidity.
You have to go to Negrar. It's easy to find. Ask.
And then what? What was I supposed to do, show people that tiny piece of paper?
You stupid idiot. Salumeria Caprini. I bet there isn't even a salumeria Caprini. I bet I'm on some sort of wild goose chase. Brilliant. Just -
I turned around in the middle of the street to see what was behind me and suddenly, there, less than 200 feet away, stood the entrance to an absolutely tiny little corner store, above which hung a massive, hand painted sign that read Salumeria Caprini.
Oh, my God.
My heart stopped. There, right in front of me was the store. The Salumeria Caprini. It existed. It actually existed. And I was staring at it.
Overenthusiastically, and with my umbrella in hand, I actually jumped up and down in the middle of the street, beaming a smile of victory. I even laughed from pride and success, until I realized some old woman came out of a nearby shop to look at me, horrified. But I didn't really care. I had found the shop. I had maybe found family.
Che cosa vuoi mangiare? a woman asked me when I entered.
Staring back at her, I replied, No parlo italiano. Since she didn't speak English, I tried my best to explain, in my minimal Italian, what I wanted.
Io Caprini, I said, pointing to myself. De Chicago.
Si, Caprini, the woman said, moving down to the meat section of the deli. Questo?
The woman pointed to a piece of Caprini salami, and I shook my head again. I didn't want salami. I wanted to meet some people, so I tried a second time.
Io, de Chicago, I started, pointing to myself. The woman nodded, not moving, which I determined was a good start. Mi familia from, ah, Verona.
Oh, the woman said, seeming to understand. Formaggio, she said and handed me a pre-cut sample of cheese.
No, not cheese! I thought, politely shaking my hand, declining the cheese. But the woman insisted so I ate the cheese and then tried again.
Finally, after much charading, a man named Joseph came over who spoke better English and I explained to him that my family moved to Chicago from Verona around 1900 and that I was here to find family.
Joseph stood for a minute, smiled, and pointed to a woman. She's a Caprini. That is Maria. This is her family shop. Who from family go to Chicago?
Louis. Louis Caprini, I said, hesitantly, worried suddenly that my information might not be correct.
Maria walked over at the sight of Joseph's waiving hand. He said something to Maria, and then, in shock and staring at me, Maria said, Louigi?
I figured Why not? Louigi sounds like Louis. It could be the same thing, and then I followed Maria over to a large, old picture hanging on the wall.
Louigi, she said, pointing to one of the two main men in the sepia colored picture. I blinked my eyes trying to process the photo. The man in the photo looked just like my uncle. He looked smart and confident. His jet black hair rested atop a high forehead, and his slightly heart-shaped face chiseled familiarly around the jaw-line and nose, like it did in my family members' faces.
Louigi went to USA 1904, Joseph offered after a few minutes of silence had passed.
Happily and shockingly, I thought with finality, I think I may have just found my family.
I spent the afternoon with Maria and her family. They were ordinary and incredible people all at the same time. I thought about how much they reminded me of my own family back in Chicago. English or Italian speaking, it didn't matter, Italians were Italians - hospitable, loud, friendly, fun, and always eager to chat and make the most of their time. It was perfect.
I passed the afternoon in a fog of awe, soaking in every detail of my surroundings. It all seemed surreal and impossible, and yet there I was, eating with Caprinis in Negrar.
I looked out the window from the table at the quiet rain, now barely falling outside. Everything seemed to be clearing. Maybe Alessandro wasn't so stupid, I thought. That may have been the best piece of paper I've ever received.
***Stephanie Caprini is the author of Living with B: A College Girl's Struggle with Bulimia and Everyday Life, and a blogger at www.truthsc.com. She also writes for the Darien Patch, an online magazine based in Darien, IL, and is working on publishing a second book. Outside of writing, she is an Arbonne Consultant and a Spanish teacher for middle and high school students.