Father mountaineer and mother of Venetian origins, Paola currently manages the Restaurant-Hotel Marola. An “extended” family of hoteliers and migrants, citizens of the world. A dynamic life rich with different experiences and cultures, births and deaths in Belgium, in the Congo, in Italy. A family for whom “visiting relatives” implies a journey through half Europe, but with a common thread: feeling mountaineers, even though different.
My mother’s mother emigrated with her family in Belgium in 1925, in Zolder, in the Flemish province of Limburg. She began managing a boardinghouse for miners: he provided them with food and lodging. At first it was a service for only few people and afterwards, slowly, it became the meeting place for the Italian community. From managing the bar and the restaurant, she found herself doing the laundry and being a midwife, accompanying the doctor from a home to another. She had become a reference point , the clan leader of the Italian community.
My grandfather who had been an electrician in Italy, in Belgium was a train conductor. He was very involved in the Italian Combatants Association in Belgium, of which he was president. They met, got married and had three daughters.
Likewise, two young brothers arrived in Belgium, my uncle and father, native to Svolta of Toano. The first to depart was my uncle, who worked for the municipality of Toano and was chosen to go to Belgium on behalf of the Italian State in order to greet Italian miners migrating, including several fellow townspeople. When the teams arrived, he would sort them to the mines and help them get their accommodations. Afterwards my father joined him, and together they opened two grocery stores, in the Zolder area.
My uncle and father met and got married to two of the three sisters. One, obviously, was my mother. The two families have almost always lived and worked together.
My uncle was the one with the head for business, a busy traveler, never weary of thinking about new projects and destinations. In ’64 he had the opportunity to acquire a hotel in Africa, in the city of Kinshasa. My father followed him soon after with all of our family, with the purpose to run a second hotel in the south of Zaire in a forest on the border with Angola, where he hosted the technicians working in the refineries. Clearly, my grandparents had no choice but to follow. My grandfather died in Congo. Things were going well for us, until 1966, when very dangerous revolts began.
We returned to Italy, continuing to wander between Rome, Milan and Liguria. We have been here for 30 years now. Despite our traveler “spirit” we’ve always wanted to preserve our bond with the Apennines, where many relatives still lived, including our paternal grandparents who owned a house in Toano. When you are far away the connection with your land of origin tends to weaken, further more in the past when the only means to communicate were letters, but the never breaks.
If I think about all the years we’ve been around the world… and where did we end up as hoteliers? In Marola. There was no other way, my parents wanted to go back to their roots, their home, at all costs. We could be anywhere in the world and instead here I am, building my life, my family, my work in the land of my grandparents. My uncle has kept the dream of buying a hotel at home for years and now I find it on my shoulders. A hotel that’s 50 years old. I am happy with the choice to return, as well as my first life as a migrant.
I carry on me some values, but above all a way of being. We, children of Italians who grew up abroad, are different. Enriched on one side and impoverished on the other.