Yes, Italy is stunningly beautiful with a rich history and the best food you’ll ever eat. But it’s not my home. It never will be. I’ve done my best to make myself comfortable here, and I’ve had some good times. I love my husband, father, ancestors, all native Italians. And my love-hate relationship with Ischia will never go away.
My heart, however, belongs to New Jersey. Often, when I’m in the Boot as I am now, I grow nostalgic for home. When I do, I look at pictures of the George Washington Bridge. I am a Bridgewoman by birth, and it is my security blanket. It earned its post for life on 9-11. After spending the night of 9-11 on the floor of my friend’s NYC apartment wondering how the world could ever be the same, I found my way onto the ferry. On one side of the boat, I saw the inferno of downtown New York and smelled the stench of our apocalypse. On the other side was the George Washington Bridge – brave, strong, intact, and beckoning me home. Indeed, it has become ever more the center of my world. Whenever I return from Italy, it’s always right there. In front of me. Beckoning me home once again.
So, I was inspired by its beauty and this photo my husband snapped while in the car one evening back home. It’s always most beautiful when it’s all lit up or adorned with an American flag, isn’t it? In an attempt to stretch my writing chops (and feel like I’m back in middle school), I chose haiku to express my sweet, sweet nostalgia for home. Here goes:
Growing up in Fort Lee, N.J., I have always heard tales about my family’s arrival to the neighborhood from Italy and the wonder with which my father and others greeted the Palisades Amusement Park in the 1960s. While my immigrant family was settling into the new world and working like “chooches” as the Italian Americans would say, they managed to at least entertain themselves a few times at the famed park, replete with its roller coasters and Ferris wheel.
That’s why when I read about Palisades Park (St. Martin’s Press, 2013), a novel that tells the story of a fictional family’s triumphs and hardships amid their work at the Palisades Amusement Park, by Alan Brennert, bestselling author of Moloka’i and child of Edgewater, N.J., I jumped at the chance to pre-purchase it. At 5 a.m. this morning, curled up in my bed, I happily opened my Kindle Fire HD to find my copy of the book.
Revolving around Eddie and Adele and their children, a daughter Toni, who wants to be a high diver despite her mother’s objections, and son Jack, the novel takes place in northern New Jersey, where the family works at the Palisades Amusement Park. Spanning the 1930s to the park’s closure in 1971, the book also takes readers through major moments in history as someone in N.J. at the time might have witnessed them.
It’s a real page turner, and anyone with the slightest connection to northern New Jersey will appreciate all the detail about the area’s history. I only got as far as the fire that famously struck the park and how that is beginning to affect the family before my son and my work forced me out of bed, not to mention out of the pages of the novel. Still, I already experienced the horrors of someone trying to jump off my George Washington Bridge, the symbol of my hometown, and references to Fort Lee’s original name, Coytesville, and its past as the first Hollywood. I can hardly wait for the story of this family to unfold and to hear about the changing landscape in the 1950s and 1960s when my relatives were planting our roots in this intriguing place that is so often overshadowed by its more famous neighbor, New York City.
Of course, I recommend you take this book with you on your travels or for reading at the beach this summer. It will be a challenge for me because I’m already swept away by the story, but I”m going to try and pace myself so I have it to read as I travel to the Motherland, Italy, later in the spring.
The writing is so powerful – I can definitely see why Brennert, who won an Emmy award in 1991 as a writer/producer of L.A. Law, is a favorite with book clubs – that you will feel as though you are apart of the story and moving right into Fort Lee, Cliffside Park, and all the other nearby towns related to the Palisades Amusement Park. If you really want to make the words leap off the page, you can head to the Fort Lee Museum tonight at 7 p.m. ET, where Brennert will be celebrating the book’s release by signing copies of it, and check out the museum’s exhibit on the park.
Maria Regina, the daughter of my brother John and his wife Jaci (and more importantly my parents’ first granddaughter), finally met her father’s side of the family last week. The family was overjoyed at her presence — and no one was more excited to meet six-week-old Maria than her little cousins, who held her and loved her as much as they could in the short time she visited. (To check out the images from Maria’s visit, you can click on the “Maria Meets the Family” photo album.) We still can’t get the sweet new baby smell out of my parent’s house. Who doesn’t love that?
Well, the hubby — miracle of miracles — is back in Ischia, Italy, despite the volcanic ash from Iceland that has disrupted air travel to Europe. We’re not sure how he made it home because virtually no one else has been able to leave. But if anyone could find a route back to Italy in a pinch, it would be my husband.
My husband and I always seem to be entertaining people, especially when we are at our home in the United States. Whenever friends come from Italy, we cook, clean, and visit New York way more than usual. It’s worth it because we usually have a whole lot of fun ourselves. Although we sometimes get on each other’s nerves in the kitchen. We both have our own way of doing things, and we usually end up cooking two different menus. Recently, we had our friends Francesco Serpentone, Domenico, and Titti, along with a few other Italian guests, join us for dinner — and my father did the cooking while I was working and Antonio was with everyone at the Statue of Liberty. I just took care of setting a lovely table, the salad, antipasto, and dessert. Papa did the rest. We made a pretty great team. You can join us at the table by visiting the “Dinner with the Big Snake” photo album.
I’ve been traveling to Ischia, a small island off the coast of Naples in Italy, which is the home of my ancestors on both sides of the family and birthplace of my father Pasquale, since I was two years old. But I never dreamed I would end up marrying an Ischia native and spending half my time living on an island. That’s exactly what has happened.
Although Ischia is beautiful — known as l’Isola Verde for its lush vegetation, has gorgeous beaches everywhere you turn, and some of the best food you will ever eat — it’s still an island, which means there are limitations and inconveniences. While Americans see me as a Italian, as I live in Italy, I still experience culture shock because the truth is that I was born and raised in the United States. As a result, I’m an American first. And I’m a Jersey girl at heart, so it’s hard to be away from fair Fort Lee, N.J., my hometown, for long periods of time.
Still, having family in both places has always had me feeling torn. When you’re in one place, you miss the other because of the people you have to leave behind. The emotional roller coaster of living in two places makes for great stories.
On these pages, I hope to share with you a bit about how I live and work as a journalist with my feet in both of these distinct worlds — Italy and the United States. It’s never easy, but it’s always interesting. There’s lots to learn about both of my homes, and I hope you will join me on the journey by entering this site frequently. Like a good Italian American girl, I always leave the door open and offer guests a bit of refreshment. Benvenuto!