Recently, three distant relatives of mine, siblings Vittorio, Mariapaola and Nicoletta Linfante friended me on Facebook. Their roots are in San Lupo where my great-grandmother’s family originated. This brought back memories of my spontaneous adventure to San Lupo.
It was around this time in 2001 that my mom, sister and I made a last minute decision to stop in San Lupo on our way to Rome from Calitri. San Lupo is much more tiny than Calitri in terms of square kilometers and population. In fact, the 2001 census listed only 877 inhabitants.
Getting there was quite a challenge. The village rests on a top of a mountain and the only way to get there was a devilishly narrow, wildly winding, one-way highway (or poorly paved trail, more like!) without a railing. Once we got on the highway, my mom and I glanced at each other warily as if we were saying, “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea….” But it was too late to turn back, besides the only way down was to drive backwards!
When we finally reached the town in one piece, we were surprised to see how incredibly tiny it was! I recall maybe only four or five cobbled streets, all of which, except for the main street, were far too tiny for cars to pass through. Another thing we immediately noticed was how lifeless it seemed. All shutters were closed, not one soul walked about, everything was as quiet as death. What a drastic contrast to vibrant Calitri!
San Lupo, photo by Lorenzo Ferrara
Not knowing where else to go, we decided to go to the cemetery that we passed on our scary odyssey up the mountain. While my exhausted sister slept in the car, my mom and I strolled around the cemetery hoping to find any Linfante’s (the family name of her grandmother). We were disappointed to find none until we entered what seemed to be a tiny ossuary located near the entrance. On both sides of the ossuary, there were stacks of hundreds of shoeboxes with people’s names written on the front. Naively thinking that its contents were pictures or personal contents to remember the deceased by, I picked up a shoebox and opened it. Well, curiosity killed the cat. I shrieked and staggered backwards when I discovered nothing but decomposing human bones!
After inspecting the ossuary some more, we discovered a good number of Linfante’s. A shoebox read, “LINFANTE FLORENZIO”, another “LINFANTE ELISA”, another “LINFANTE LUPO”, etc. I was dumbfounded and felt a pang of sadness. Here I was, thousands and thousands of miles away from home in a small, eldritch town in the middle of nowhere, looking at stacks of worn shoeboxes that housed our unknown relatives’ remains. What tough, impoverished lives they must have endured…not being able to afford the luxury of being properly buried.
We decided to return to the town in hopes to find a Sanlupesi and see if our relatives still resided there. We drove around for a little bit until we found a man walking along the street. I pulled over then asked him if he knows of any Linfante’s. He cheerily introduced himself as Domenico Di Libero and said that his grandmother was a Linfante! He then said that there was only one Linfante left, an elderly lady named Antonietta who lived in a neighboring town, Cerreto Sannita. He graciously offered to telephone her and then guide us there.
We followed Domenico out of San Lupo and into Cerreto Sannita to Antonietta Linfante’s flat. My mom and I greeted Antonietta and her husband, an university professor by the name of Daniele Biondi. They were very warm and hospitable, offering us espresso and le caramelle while Antonietta and I chatted, trying to figure out how we were related. It turned out that her grandfather, Lelio Linfante, was a first cousin to my great-great-great-grandfather, Emiddio. A bit distant, but a cousin nonetheless.
We were able to stay for only half an hour as the sun was quickly descending and I did not want to brave the dimly lit A1 highway at night. They sent us off with boxes of le caramelle and a teary embrace.
(By the way, Vittorio, Mariapaola and Nicoletta, who I mentioned in the beginning of this post, are Antonietta’s nephew and nieces.)