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Part II -- The Unfortunate Pilgrim*: Or You Can’t Get There From Here

Part II -- The Unfortunate Pilgrim*: Or You Can’t Get There From Here

Jerry Krase (August 9, 2015)
Jerry Krase
The shortcut to Laurino, we thought (La scorciatoia a Laurino, abbiamo pensato).

Finding her roots in the almost mythic hometown of my wife's father, Anthony Charles Nicoletti, wasn't as easy as we thought it was, but it was well worth the effort. To paraphrase Cristoforo Colombo: "If we ever go back, I think we'll use a different map."


In the summer of 1985, I got a small PSC/CUNY Faculty Research Award to do “Photographic Research in Southern Italy.” I planned to travel with my wife for a few weeks and then go it alone to find my roots in Sicily. After this experience, I delayed my search until a decade later when I hoped my Italian would be better. When we told some of Suzanne’s relatives that we were going they encouraged us to visit the hometown of one side of her family in Laurino, Province of Salerno. In preparation I had borrowed a detailed Italian Auto Club road map from my good friends Vito and Rosa Pietanza.
After I did extensive photo work in Puglia we started back toward Naples via Potenza to Laurino. The ACI map showed the shortest, most direct route as a road of odd color (Strada Provinciale 11e and 11f). As I couldn't decipher the map legend, we took what turned out not to be, the short cut. However, I was fluent enough to stop and ask along the way “E questa strada per Laurino?” But, of course, the responses, whether in Italian or dialect, were incomprehensible: Si, ma  bla, bla, bla, bla.”  Is this the road to Laurino?  Yes, but blah, blah, blah, blah. As we drove along. the road changed from two-lanes paved, to two-lanes unpaved, to one-lane totally unimproved upon which we encountered goats and herders and one equally lost car going in the opposite direction at a point at which we barely were able to allow it past. After unanticipated several hours of breath-taking views and back breaking bumps the devolution of the road reversed and we entered Laurino much worse for the wear.

In town we asked for the residence of the la famiglia De Gregorio and were energetically pointed the way. We entered the three story stuccoed structure situated on a steep incline and knocked on the door. The small but still three-generation extended family had just finished dinner but when we explained who were they treated us like lost, royal, relatives. The table was quickly re-set and after we finished eating and drinking a wonderful meal we were invited to stay longer (even a few days).  Although my Italian was limited we were able to converse in German, French, and a bit in English because we shared the table with Italians who had found it necessary to spend years working abroad. We thanked them for their kind invitation to stay but (truthfully) explained that were on our way to meet people in Sorrento and needed to make up for the time lost on the road through the mountains. After we left the house and waved goodbye, our new cousin "John" took us to a local bar and introduced us to neighbors and friends over un caffe. When we finally departed, there were some tears, and we felt as though we were leaving “home” for the first time, but then again only symbolically. 

When I got back to “The States,” I decided to explore the one-way communication I had with people along the side of the road (Strada Statale 11) on the way to Laurino. In pursuit of meaning I sent the message below to some of my best academic Italian friends by e-mail. Their responses, which I have arranged below for conversational analysis, reveal a great deal about authentic Italian bonta:

Amici/e I need help with a translation of phrase from English into Italian for a paper I am writing about my own, and my wife Suzanne's, search for our roots in Italy. It regards traveling to a remote village in (Campania) Italy and asking people along the way whether this was the road to the town. The question I asked, perhaps incorrectly, was: "E questa la strada per Laurino?"  The answer in Italian was, I believe (credo che): "Yes, but you can't get there from here."; "Yes, but you can't get there this way."; or "Yes, but the road turns into a goat path (which it did)." Grazie tante, Mino Cangelosi (Jerry Cangelosi) Krase

These were the replies:

1. “Si, ma non ci arriva da quì - Sì, ma non è questa la strada - Sì, ma la strada diventa una strada da capre.   Hope to see you soon. All the best Mino Vianello

2. Traduzione: “è questa la strada per Laurino?" Sì, ma non ci si arriva da qui. la strada diventa una mulattiera (mule trail). Saluti, Maddalena Tirabassi

3. "Sì, ma non ci si arriva da qui." / "Sì, ma la strada va a finire in un sentiero" (but I would not know how to translate "goat path". Best, Cristina Allemann-Ghionda
4. Dear Jerry: My translation: "sì, ma non ci si arriva da qui"; "sì, ma non ci si arriva da questa parte"; "sì, ma la strada diventa una mulattiera".  Best, Stefano Luconi

5. Jerry, I am on my way to Venice for a MA thesis discussion where I acted as co-supervisor. "Si, ma non puoi/può andarci da qui..." Will get back to you soon again, best!

Paolo Ruspini

6.       The most Italianate response, which I gratefully received from my Italian colleagues was as follows:

Jerry:  the question "E' questa la strada per Laurino?" is perfect, in Italian. The problem is that, encountering a "native" in Italy, the native -- only to be kind -- tends to reply to the question as if it were: "Is this one the best way to Laurino?"; so that the reply is: "Ok, this way is good, inasmuch as it goes to Laurino; the best way, however, is ......".  In fact, replying: "No, it's wrong, the good way is another one" the native could have felt uneasy, since the reply would be a bit rude. Anyway: your question was classical; I also would have used the same linguistic form; and I would have had the same reaction. Bye. Leonardo Cannavo

I replied to Leonard, thusly: grazie tante, ma come si dice in italiano le frase? how would you say it in Italian? and can I quote you in my paper? I think your understanding of the situation is perfect. la tua comprensione della situazione e perfetto! 

To which he wrote:

Ok, sorry, I didn't get the point. The easiest translations for the three phrases is as follows: 

"yes, but you can't get there from here" = "Sì, ma da qui non ci può arrivare".

"yes, but you can't get there this way" = "Sì, ma da questa strada non ci può arrivare".

"yes, but the road turns into a goat path" = "Sì, ma la strada diventa un sentiero per capre".

If you quote me in a paper of yours, it will be a honor; you need not ask for permission. Most unfortunately, few methodologists (and consider that I feel uneasy wearing the hat of a methodologist) refuse to consider the cultural and psychosocial frames of their job. Speech interaction is both amusing and revealing.  Bye. L.
What I also didn't understand at the time was that not only can't get to Laurino this way, you can't find roots you don't really have in a place you have never been. This will be explored in Part III of

The Unfortunate Pilgrim*: Or You Can’t Get There From Here

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You can't get there from here

Grazie Jerry, I've been in your position several times. And it can be frustrating as well humorous. Knowing how to ask a question but not prepared to understand the answer. The most rediculous encounter was in a small hill town to the Southeast of Mt Aetna. The small town had a circular fountain the central piazza. When we arrived at this circle, signage was useless to us. There was an old person leaning against the fountain. I asked him in my best Italian, "What is best way to go to Agrigento. I thought I understood and we left. Ten minutes later we were back up at the town center and the old man was still there. Embarrassed, I again, asked with apologies, for directions to Agrigento. On we went, my wife Kim and I. She's frustrated, trying to decipher our map for insight. We are both becoming intolerant of each other, sure enough, we are back in the center of town. Thankfully, the old man wasn't there. But needless to say, we were tired and hungry and angry. We finally realized that we had overlooked a small road that appeared to go in the wrong direction, but actually switched back on itself and went through a tunnel. We made it out of there finally and did get to Agrigento only to discover that the new Agrigento was quite far from the ancient one. Which meant it was too late for the sight so an overnight in the new Agrigento necessary. This experience enlightened me to the impossibility of lookin for kin in Palermo, one of the most chaotic Cities I've had the misfortune of driving in. We decided to not stay in Palermo and move on to Chefalu, a beautiful small city on the North coast of Sicilia. This trip was taken about ten years ago, yet I have not been able to return and continue my quest to find my distant relatives.

italian travel

the nice thing about getting lost in italy, is it's in italy.....