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Around this time of year, I have certain tasks I like to complete and these include cleaning out the photo file on my computer.

Inevitably, I find myself looking at the pictures I’ve taken over the last year and marvelling at what I did (and didn’t) make. Naturally I think about what I liked best and what I didn’t end up liking very much at all. Some pictures make me proud and some make me laugh because I know I was just rushing to get through the picture-taking so I could just eat.

But of all the pictures I took in 2010, the one above is my favourite.

It was taken on Sunday September 5th in Rocca Monte Calvo, Italy, which is the town that my father’s family is from in Le Marche.

Sometimes I think that to call Rocca Monte Calvo a town is to perhaps overstate it. The fact is that at its busiest, when the town was still inhabited by families that had been there for generations, I doubt it would have numbered more than even 1,000 inhabitants.

Like many of Italy’s hill towns, La Rocca (that’s what we call it) was impacted dramatically by industrialization and by war. By the time the second world war was over, more and more people were leaving the town to move to nearby cities, other parts of Italy or as in the case of my father, to Canada.

For many, many years now, the town stands almost empty as virtually no one lives there on a permanent basis any longer.

In the summer, however, the warm winds breathe life into La Rocca as many of the old-timers return to their shuttered houses to escape the heat of the city. Along with them they’ll bring their grandchildren who are sent up into the hills to spend summers with nonno and nonna while parents are busy working in the city.

In recent years, though, there have been some additional people returning to La Rocca and I count among them. We’re the children of La Rocca’s immigrants: all those folks who left home and sailed to other countries to build a new life. We’re the ones that go back to a place we weren’t born in, but yet somehow feels like home.

We return to our ancestral homes that have been renovated or are in the process of being renovated and we literally step into the embrace of a town of people who wait for us.

It’s the most beautiful thing.

This past summer, myself and another family that’s from Montreal, decided that we would say grazie (thank you) by throwing a party for the whole town.

On Sunday August 5, 2010, we invited all the summer inhabitants of the town, along with their families and with any other La Rocca descendents that we could get a hold of, to come and celebrate.

Our day started early in the morning when we gathered in front of the town church. A blessing was said and we then embarked on a 7 kilometre walk that took us up to the town of San Gregorio.

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On our way, we stopped for a sosta (a break) amongst the chestnut trees that provide all the chestnuts the families of La Rocca enjoy during the holiday season (my family owns chestnut trees, too!).

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After reaching San Gregorio, we stopped for water and then made our way back down to La Rocca where we all quickly went home to shower and change.

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And then the party started with the centrepiece being a beautiful porchetta (roast suckling pig).

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There was lots of wine, lots of sweets and a lot of love.

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Some of my aunts and uncles were very emotional that day because they said it had been a long time since there had been any festivities in the small piazza in front of our house. They said it reminded them of when my grandfather was alive and the doors of our house were open to everyone.

Of all the nice things that ever been said to me, this was one of the nicest. It has warmed me from the inside out and made me so proud to know that a simple gesture of thanks has made my family and so many others so happy.

There is nothing that money can buy that could possibly have made me as happy as those simple words made me.

And that picture at the top of this post makes me almost as happy. It’s a photo of a group of people enjoying a communal meal. It was a day of simple bliss as everyone shared and enjoyed together.

On this New Year’s Eve, this moment is what I’m thinking about. I hope that 2011 brings us all more moments like this.

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Buona fine e buon principio! (Have a happy ending and a happy beginning!)

Ciao!