Welcome to your new country

My grandparents on their wedding day in 1916

One hundred years ago today, my grandfather Domenico Mostardi arrived in America. When he stepped off the steamer S.S. Königin Luise at Ellis Island in New York, he was 29 years old, single, and spoke no English.

Domenico was from the sleepy hill town of Amandola in the region of Le Marche. I know nothing about what motivated him to leave; all but one of his eight siblings stayed in Italy. In contrast, my grandmother, whose immigration centennial was last year, left to escape the bleak poverty in Sicily; over a 20-year span almost all of her eight siblings immigrated to America.

My grandfather died before I was born, so I must ask my father for stories about him. Several years ago my brother and I have formally interview my father and asked him all the questions we could think of: it’s all recorded on tape and transcribed. Too many times I have waited until too late to interview an aged relative, and have lived to regret it. Do not take your elders for granted! Use your time.

I have since visited Amandola several times. In fact, I know the very house he was born in, and have visited the woman who now owns the house. Amandola is a beautiful hill town with a stunning view of the Sibillini mountains.

To the memory of my grandfather, Domenico Mostardi, 1882-1954.

Croatia 1: Saint Duje’s Day

Arlene and I recently returned from a vacation in Croatia and Italy. This will be the first of several posts about our trip.

The crowd along the Riva in Split on Saint Duje's Day

If you travel to a Catholic country and want to see authentic folk celebrations, visit a town on the feast day of that town’s patron saint. Not only will all the locals be there, so will everyone from the surrounding countryside. The town will be decorated with flowers and banners, and there will probably be a parade, maybe music and dancing as well.

We were in Split, on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, on May 7th, the feast day of Saint Duje. The crowd along the Riva (the wide promenade between the facade of Diocletian’s Palace and the shore of the Adriatic) was perhaps five times larger than it had been the day before. There were loudspeakers all throughout the marketplace, broadcasting the Mass in nearby Saint Duje’s church. Somewhere, we knew, there would be folkdancers and musicians in colorful ethnic garb, but it was madness to try and find them amongst all these people and street vendors. Besides, we only had an hour before we needed to board our boat to begin our cruise through the Dalmatian Islands.

Klapa singers in a reverberant hall near Saint Duje's church

One of the most enjoyable Dalmatian folk traditions is klapa, or a capella singing. Once an exclusively male art form, there are now many women’s klapa groups and a few mixed ones as well. One evening, as part of the festivities leading up to Saint Duje’s Day, we listened to a outdoor klapa concert featuring sixteen different choruses from all over Dalmatia, about half of which were women’s groups. There were no touristy frills, just high-quality singing all night long: clearly the concert intended primarily for the Croatian community, not for visitors like us. What a treat!

Read David’s other blog posts about the Croatia trip!

The peristil outside Saint Duje's church. This stone courtyard was the venue for the open-air klapa concert