There were no High Speed trains and there were no low cost flights either.
We didn’t use the internet, we didn’t know what broadband and super-fast connection were.
There was no chat, no time spent on Facebook and Instagram.
However, there was a small house in a village of the Madonie, Polizzi Generosa, where loved ones lived, who, every summer, awaited the arrival of Roman relatives.
Every year, when the summer period approached, the anticipation of the meeting increased day by day.
My family and I had to prepare for the departure, our relatives had to organize for our arrival.
In particular, my father and I were responsible for the “technical management” of the trip. We had to go to the station two months before the scheduled departure date, hoping to be able to reserve the contingent of seats made available.
This could also mean having to go back to the ticket office several times until Dad and I could return home triumphantly with the “seat reservations” confirmed.
The train ride had something “epic” about it because in the summer those trains were full of people who had left their towns, their lands, to seek their fortune elsewhere. But they could not miss the summer appointment in returning to their native hometowns.
Trips that often involved long journeys, especially from Germany, from Northern Italy (in particular Turin) with significant costs.
Those were the years of the “cardboard suitcases“, of the rushes to take the seats that remained available, of overcrowded trains.
On the morning of the day we were due to leave, my mother would go into action to prepare what we were to take with us for the train ride.
Sandwiches prepared at home in the hours before departure, water, blankets for the night, towels and soaps to be able to at least refresh your face when you wake up.
There was never a lack of thermos to be able to have a good coffee during the long journey (we left Rome at 17.00 to arrive in Palermo at 10.00 the following day) accompanied by a familiar scent.
Looking out the train window (there was no air conditioning at the time), I was fascinated by all the movement of people passing by on the sidewalks waiting for departure.
At a certain point you could hear the sound of the doors of the wagons beginning to close, the red light turned green, the Stationmaster whistled.
The train began to move slowly, while some passengers who were distracted by buying water before boarding the train, chased it, managing to get on anyway.
To tell all the memories related to the train journey, I would have to write an entire volume to describe the thousand stories lived on board these trains. The nights often spent chatting in the corridors, the backwards and forwards of people going up and down.
We arrived at Villa San Giovanni (last station in Calabria) early in the morning.
After a stop of about half an hour to wait for the ferry to arrive, the train was forced to make some entry and exit manoeuvres, until it was divided into three sections.
Even today, pending the bridge that should unite Calabria to Sicily, this procedure has remained unchanged.
At the end of these operations it was possible to get off the carriages, which in the meantime were positioned on the tracks inside the ferry, and travellers could get on the outside decks.
In the meantime, there were people who were queuing at the breakfast bar, the most daring ate arancini in the early morning, certainly not light.
This was the most intense moment from an emotional point of view: for me as a child it was like taking part in a “little cruise“, but for my father and for all those who were returning to their native land, it was something “magical”, or “spiritual”.
You saw them completely immersed in their thoughts watching in ecstasy their homeland that was approaching.
On many faces, including my father’s, it was easy to see tears flow.
After the fatigue of the night, the most “touristic” moment of this long train journey arrived.
From Messina to Palermo the train ran along the entire north coast of Sicily and therefore was a riot of images, sea views, a succession of sensations and emotions.
Milazzo, Capo d’Orlando, Patti, Santo Stefano di Camastra, Cefalù, Altavilla Milicia. Fishermen who came back from nights at sea, farmers who started the day in the fields, the first bathers on the beach, ships that could be seen on the horizon, the people who greeted us from the terraces of the houses.
When we entered the tunnel that precedes the arrival in Cefalù, my mother was already starting to set us in motion to prepare us for getting off, and I did not want to leave the window … there was still an hour left to arrive.
Once we were in Termini Imerese, or in Palermo, it depended on who would take us to Polizzi Generosa, after the first intense hugs and the first tears, the most demanding and also the most anxious part began.
Until the current highway was inaugurated, a three-hour car trip awaited us, climbing along state and provincial roads that led to Polizzi.
Curve after curve, we approached the goal.
The road to the town lapped the countryside below, the people who were in the street recognized us and greeted us.
At a certain point in the distance you began to see our town: that image that every time you come back is always the same, yet it is as if each time were the first.
Entering the village was a riot of greetings
When from the Piazza del Belvedere, the entry point into the city centre, we took the course for the last few meters that separated us from our home, it was like a marathon runner entering the stadium to run the last steps of his long marathon.
However, there was no stadium audience waiting for us, there were no gold medals.
The reward of that trip were the relatives, friends, neighbours who had gathered near that house to wait for the “Romans”.
I leave you to imagine what it was like when you got out of the car and all the travel fatigue dissolved in the warmth of the hugs, in the emotion of tears.
There was almost a kind of “Greek tragedy” to all of this.
A chaos of hugs, kisses, handshakes, in which you no longer understood who you were greeting: the relative, the friend, the passer-by who had stopped.
My family’s house was already too small to accommodate those who normally lived there. Even today I am here to ask myself how they managed to host us too, who were certainly not a family of a few people, to which were added friends who came to greet us and often stopped for lunch or dinner.
That house did not have the comforts that we are looking for today to make the holiday “exclusive”, but despite this we felt good all the same.
We did not complain if the water was too cold or too hot, if the mattress was suitable for the posture, if the wardrobe was not large, if we sat tight at the table.
When it was time for lunch, there were those who sat on the steps of the internal staircase, those who equipped themselves outside and the neighbours who passed by did not disturb us, rather they were welcomed into our house, sharing the pleasure of proximity.
Another moment I will never forget was the “first walk” in the main street.
Anyone who has experienced the rhythms of a town knows very well that there is a whole ritual that generally begins around 6 pm.
After a first break at 8 pm for dinner, it was resumed at 9.30 pm and continued until late at night.
After having disposed of the “first hangover” of emotions with the closest people, we had to prepare for “going out into the field”.
In those days the town was a place that in the summer was filled with people from all over the place and the main street was filling up with people who gathered to stroll.
Our house had the advantage of being located in the centre of the town.
A descent of a few meters separated us from the main street and therefore we also had a visual perception of the flow of people who began to walk.
There was a moment of indecision that preceded the first walk.
While you were there thinking about what to do, the first voices came from people who had recognized us and invited us to take a walk together.
It was the moment when all delay was over and we went.
The first walk was only the first of one of the repeated round trips between the two main squares of the town.
It was customary to start by going arm in arm with your best friend, to which other friends were gradually added. As long as the course was full of many small groups that intersected, and often joined together to form even more numerous groups that were distributed among the street, the bars, the squares.
Anyone who met you for the first time hugged you and asked you: “When did you arrive, when will you leave, did you come alone or with whom did you come?“.
It wasn’t a police interrogation, it was just an act of courtesy and respect towards the guest.
At that time there were no mobile phones to distract us from these simple, intense gestures of friendship and affection.
The days of vacation flowed between moments of celebration at home and on the street, large meals without worrying about cholesterol, hypertension, so much happiness was there to counterbalance health risks.
There was no talk of organic, but in reality we had lunch and dinner with the real products of nature, from the farmer directly to the table.
Whole days were spent in the countryside below, welcomed by the owners who made their homes available to host people.
We ate, danced, had fun with genuine things, anticipating the fashion of farmhouses, which later became one of the most popular holiday experiences.
I also remember that I liked to wander alone to discover the alleys, squares, fountains, churches, and historic buildings of which Polizzi Generosa is full.
In one of them: “Palazzo Notar Nicchi“, close to our small house, I was able to enter thanks to relatives who worked there as waiters.
I was fascinated by the furniture, the furnishings, the ceramics and I remember a beautiful piano.
Even as a child, I could walk the streets of the town in total tranquility.
There was no risk of being hit by a “hijacker”, you weren’t afraid of having bad encounters.
The people who lived in the town knew who I was, and therefore I would never have found myself in trouble.
I enjoyed walking past the houses, hearing the whisper of the women sitting in the doors of the houses, their faces behind those embroidered curtains.
There are so many other memories in my mind.
The trips to follow the local football team, when they went to play in neighbouring villages followed by parades of cars and vans full of fans.
Religious festivals, which are still moments of high intensity today.
The Hazelnut Festival with the parade of Sicilian carts along the route from which beautiful girls in folklore costumes threw bags with hazelnuts, the pride of this town.
The Feast of the Patron Saint San Gandolfo, with relative expectation to know who would have been the artist who would have held the concert on the stage in Piazza del Belvedere.
Indelible memories that even today, after many years, remain the strongest memories, even if I have had the opportunity to visit many cities and many places in the world.
In these memories there is childhood, family, friendship, respect for people, healthy living, the simplicity of a gesture.
I can’t help but finish this story, remembering that my father left from there, immediately after the Second World War to come and serve in Rome where he met my mother.
An encounter that gave birth to a long love story.