Adventuring through what still lives on in my Nonna’s childhood hometown, Taponecco.
It would be amiss of me not to write about my short but memorable time visiting the village where my Nonna was born, Taponecco, in the sun-filled days of June, 2022. With my partner Kyla, we rode our bikes from my Nonno’s nearby village of Apella, and started our search for my Nonna’s cousin Marina, who at age 83 and one of the oldest inhabitants of the village, is also one of around only 19 who permanently live in Taponecco.
We rang her door bell, but with no answer I imagined she would be up the hill tending to her large vegetable patch, so I climbed and found her there wearing an apron and with the biggest grin on her face she was immediately enthused to see myself and meet Kyla. She asked of our visit and for my curiosity I wondered if she knew where to find the old canale which Nonna recalls as the river they used to often walk down to and use the lavatoio, to wash their clothes in the 1940s. Marina knew straight away what I was talking about and took us on a tour all the way to the end of the village. She looked and walked so much like my Nonna it felt very much like home, she seemed just as excited to show us around as we were to be there.
As we got to the end we noticed the large abandoned ruins of stables and once homes and the overgrowing greenery of the forest creeping into the village. Marina directed to us the way to find the river, although she explained that it might be too difficult to find due to how much the vegetation had become overgrown and the path imboscato (hidden in the forest) as no one has been there in decades like there used to be, and that the lavatoio had been partially broken and unrestored. In eagerness to find something, Kyla and I left Marina and began our walk to discover something. The further we walked the higher the grass became, the lower the branches of the trees dropped and the louder the sound of nature got as we stepped further away from the village. The path was there but looked worse further ahead, almost with the need for tools to cut through it. We came across trickles of water heading down the slopes and sensed we were near but returned due to our unpreparedness and the bearing heat of the day. As a bush walk for another time, we decided to head up the hill to try the road that Marina had mentioned as another possible path.
This road was clearer for vehicles and gave us a gateway to incredible views of the surrounding mountains, where the ancestors of Taponecco, Apella and surroundings used to walk, tend to their animals and work off the land. We arrived at a bridge which we could hear was over a small river, and walked back with happiness that we had discovered some parts of the village we had never seen before. On our way back through the top of Taponecco, we bumped into two men having their afternoon chat outside. They were excited to hear we were from Australia, with one remembering my Nonna and Nonno. It didn’t take long before we were invited in for coffee where the resident and his wife showed us their beautiful home that they had renovated and moved into around 50 years ago from La Spezia. They served coffee, biscuits, made me their try their homemade bucciarin plum liquer, and told us their stories of their work, their children and the history of the area. Their hospitality was more than generous – and somehow we left at just before 8pm after meeting them around 4!
Our experience in Taponecco didn’t finish there. Two days later we stopped over to find Stella and Angiolino, an elderly couple whose whole family still live in Taponecco and remember my Nonni well. Angiolino, who grew up as a neighbour to my Nonna as a child, recalled going up to the Prada del Re (a main field just outside Apella at an altitude of 1000 metres) and Giovarello pass with my Nonno, where they used to go in groups to make hay. He recalled when they used to make beds out of wood and leaves they would find up there so they could sleep overnight. They both laughed at how much work they used to do and how they used to live. They both showed us the main patches next to their house in Taponecco where they still grow their own food. Their small patches are amongst a greater field that once used to be entirely cultivated by the whole village at the time when my Nonna used to work the land as a little girl with her family. Now with less people working the land, most parts have become overgrown, and with this has also increased the populations of wild animals. Stella lamented how just a few days earlier there was a large cinghiale (wild boar) right outside her house on the road at night, and even when she made noise it wasn’t scared off at all!
After I mentioned my nonnino Ettore, whom they remember well, they offered to show us the old family stables where my great grandfather and his brother Albino kept and fed their animals. It was just like walking back in time, where nearly everything in the small dark room was as they left it, all stone floors and troughs carved out for cows, horses, mules and donkeys. Stella and Angiolino then continued to show us the old homes they still own but have no use for, that are entirely in original condition. Angiolino showed us their old gradile for drying chestnuts, the carved out holes in the wall to light fires as stovetops, and the original saddles that the mules and donkeys used to carry. Generous with their time, Angiolino explained that even though there is no one interested in buying the old homes, he made sure to spend his money on restoring one of the crumbling roofs in order to save the history below. This lovely couple never ceased smiling and made our day.
On what we imagined as our last visit to Taponecco, two days later we came to see Marina one more time. When we arrived at her door there was no answer but I could see another woman across the laneway, so I called out to her. She turned out to be Edda Bastiani, my Nonna’s childhood friend and next door neighbour. Thrilled to meet us, Edda recalled all the stories of her and my Nonna and how good friends they were. Curious to find Marina herself, Edda tried to call out to her window above us but all we could hear was her television going. We walked over and met Marina’s other neighbour, Norma, who was married to Nonna’s late cousin Primo, Marina’s brother. Norma invited us in for coffee, and her and Edda conversed over the excitement of having visitors from Australia, where so many of their relatives and friends had immigrated to, as well as reminiscing about my Nonna and Nonno. Norma attempted to get Marina’s attention by yelling out to her from her balcony, but still nothing. After some time we all got a bit concerned, so we all went to Marina’s door together. After multiple door bell rings and shouts, Marina came to her door in hysterics, she had fallen asleep in front of the television! She was laughing her head off in embarrassment, and not long after these three beautiful, hilarious women argued over who would have us over for dinner – even though all three of them had already eaten. Edda showed us her beautiful home, of which she had restored, as the original home of her great grandfather Euclide Bastiani, the older brother of my great grandfathers Attilio and Antonio. Edda’s room was on the other side of the wall of where my Nonna slept as a little girl, and she recalled all the stories of their childhood together and what it was like being neighbours.
By this time the sun had set and we decided to return for coffee in the morning, before leaving Lunigiana onto the rest of our trip. Bright and early, Marina had us for coffee and we talked about family and her life in Taponecco. All three of these women live alone but they are incredibly independent and self-reliant, and support each other when they need. They were sad to see us leave as were we and even in tears we were all pleased we had the chance to meet and enjoy each others special company.
There’s no doubt that the people of Taponecco continue to live on, and even if their living is not easy all the time, they are an incredibly grateful, happy bunch of people. This little village still brings me so much joy – and these people who still live here made us feel so welcome. An experience we will never forget, and one that was heartwarming to recall to my Nonna and Nonno. Sending our wishes to all of those special Taponecco people.
By Charles Aitken
Lots of love and thanks to Kyla Green for sharing this journey with me and taking these beautiful pics