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Nearly a century ago, Abruzzese poet Gabriele D’Annunzio wrote settembre, é tempo di migrare, “September, time to migrate.” Abruzzo-born Vittorio Panella says the adage used to describe the annual exodus from that region. Times have changed, but it’s interesting to note that his own migration to New Jersey took place in September 1998!
For career reasons, Vittorio became a New Jersey resident. The move may be temporary, but he’s enjoying the American experience and has made a number of observations about the cultural differences between his old and new neighborhoods. He graciously agreed to share his thoughts with Virtualitalia.com a few weeks ago.
Why is there a history September migration from Abruzzo?
There was a time when only agricultural lifestyles existed in the region. So, after the summer, there was little to keep people in Abruzzo, where the winters can get very cold!
Why do you feel it is part of Abruzzo’s past, and not its present?
Today, there are jobs and excellent schools in Abruzzo. The towns of L’Aquila, Pescara, Chieti, and Teramo thrive because technology, research, and education are healthy there. The most modern physics laboratory in Europe is located about 10,00 feet under the Gran Sasso mountain, and the Fucino Space Center has also been a great employment boon for the region. So, because Abruzzo’s economy is no longer solely dependent on agriculture, more people not only stay in Abruzzo but also come from other places to live there. Telecommunications and pharmaceutical firms are popping up, too.
Tourism is a great attraction now in Abruzzo. People are drawn to the beauty of the coast, the mountains, and the Natural Preserve with its bears in the Marsica.
What’s been preserved from the past in Abruzzo?
So many beautiful things! In every expression of daily life, in every human activity, even in the architecture, Abruzzo keeps strong ties to ancient traditions. Old street markets are everywhere, selling handmade items by local craftsmen. You can still buy beautiful ceramics, copper tools, solid wood furniture, and lace from someone who makes it as his or her livelihood.
And of course, the food is very good and very pure. You can find genuine and organic products such as bread, sheep’s milk cheese, handmade pasta, and roasted meat. Torrone and Parrozzo cakes are plentiful, and so is wine from the famous Montepulciano vineyards.
You can go just about anywhere and be surrounded by stone houses that are untouched from the time they were built centuries ago. Abruzzese have their own dialect, too, but that’s not unusual – every region has its own deviations from “proper” Italian language. Of course, the churches represent the people’s respect for their religion. Those churches are at least as old as the homes. Every year, the Abruzzese have street celebrations and parades, always in honor of a saint or the Madonna, whose likeness is carried on the shoulders of the people along the street of the village. The most famous procession is in Sulmona. A typical feast would include a movie, dancing, music in the middle of the roads.
One of the aspects of Abruzzo I miss most are the little squares where people meet to chat or just play cards. Sitting and talking is very important in Abruzzo, probably throughout Italy.
What cultural differences have you noticed?
Some things are the same. For instance, I work in computer technology and I can tell you I find there is no difference between Abruzzo and America – it is a common language! People are very friendly and willing to help you, just like in Abruzzo.
I am amazed, at the vastness of the spaces here in America! Everything is huge: the roads, the buildings, the parks. And yet, there is no place that serves a meeting place for people. No public squares where people sit and talk. But I’ve noticed that people move so frequently all over America, mostly because of their jobs. This doesn’t allow them to develop strong friendships, so maybe that’s why there are no public squares. Nobody is around long enough to get to know anybody else!
Also, despite all the space, there is no privacy in other respects: everyone can know your telephone number and address and call you thousands of times a day to sell you something.
The American house is different from the Italian one. I am used to solid stone, but here most homes are made of wood and prefabricated walls that don’t insulate you from hot and cold weather. I am also still adjusting to carpets. I think they are not hygienic!
The unbelievable number of races in America has not permitted the development of a national common identity. Some Americans struggle not to lose their cultural heritage, but many of them do lose it. I am sad to see so many people neglecting their own roots and traditions. What’s worse, though, is that I do not see Americans replacing those traditions with new ones. The United States is still a young country, so maybe that identity will evolve over time.
Do you think you will return to Italy?
Yes, I probably will. Maybe in September!
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