Born in Fallo, Guido had been sent to nearby Lanciano to attend high school (a rare privilege, merited by the boy's unusually promising intellect) and then had emigrated to Boston at age 16, where he continued his education, obtained a law degree, and established a flourishing legal practice in which he is still actively involved today at seventy-nine years of age.
No name could be more appropriate to its bearer than Guido's, both in terms of its English translation ("I drive") and in its cognate noun ("guide"). Guido drove us indeed, expertly and patiently on a path that led through the magnificent Val di Sangro (surrounding the river of that name), with stops in the neighboring towns of Civitaluparella (perched precariously on a nearby peak), Monteferrante (where we ate a magnificent meal of local specialities), Fara S. Martino (location of De Cecco and Fiorverde pasta factories), Lama di Peligni, Palena, and Montenerodomo - these last four in the shadow of La Majella (a spectacularly high rocky peak and source of the cascading waters that powered the De Cecco and Fiorverde plants) -.
Locally, he served as our guide to the social topography of Fallo, introducing us to rounds of relatives and friends as we strolled through the streets of the town. We had been told that Guido was the unofficial "mayor" of Fallo, and his knowledge of all the residents and their family histories bore out the truth of that claim.
Guido's last name is as significant as his first, for Di Sciullo occurs with considerable frequency in Fallo, indicating the tight web of interwoven kinship lines that make up the social fabric of the town. (As a case in point, the maiden name of Guido's wife Gina was, in fact, Di Sciullo, absolving her of the need to change her name upon marriage). A glance at the Fallo website ( is instructive in this regard: among the several hundred permanent residents, there are only thirty-four surnames, some of which occur more than four times each (Mariano, Maiocco, Frattura, Di Gironimo) and two of which (Di Sciullo, Castracane) exceed ten recurrences.
We soon came to learn that Guido embodied an important demographic trend of the postwar years in the region: the phenomenon of the "seasonal returnee." Every summer the population of Fallo swells from 217 to 600 or 700, reaching its peak during the feast days held on the first Sunday and Monday of August to celebrate the town's patron saint, Vincenzo Ferreri, and the Madonna del Perpetuo Soccorso (Our Lady of Perpetual Succor), respectively.
Towns such as Fallo which have emptied out due to emigration and have fallen largely into disrepair are now being revived and renovated by the population of returnees who are buying abandoned houses and even stalls to remodel for summer use.
Guido's vacation headquarters is the old family house which he maintains year-round as the residence of his aged, visually impaired Aunt Maria, and which he and wife Gina come to inhabit for most of July and all of August.
In gender terms, it is usually the Fallesi men who return, bringing "foreign" wives (either from the New World, or from other areas of Italy).
For such seasonal returnees, the drawing power of the birthplace must be exceedingly strong, able to override memories of the pain and bitterness of leaving, and the fear of being sucked backed into staying on a permanent basis.
Were the attachment to the hometown any weaker, the threat to the immigrant's adopted identity would preclude such a pull toward seasonal return.
In the case of the Fallesi, the impulse to reconnect with the culture of origin exists in perfect balance with the ability to maintain a full-fledged identity abroad.
We discovered, much to our surprise, that such seasonal returnees are not limited to first-generation immigrants. The children of Fallesi settlers in Australia, France, the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, etc willingly accompany their parents back to their ancestral home to form a kind of international community that reconvenes every summer in the streets of this tiny Abruzzese town. It became abundantly clear that the diaspora from Fallo is temporarily reversed every summer, only to be repeated at the end of August when the town empties out once more. It is as if Fallo were to re-experience the trauma of her population loss on a ritual basis. And the ritual around which this experience revolves is the annual feast of its patron saint.
Preparations for this event begin with a collection taken up from among Fallesi immigrants around the world. On the actual Sunday of the saint's day, mass is held at 11 a.m. followed by a procession in which the statue of St. Vincent Ferreri, festooned with gold jewelry for the occasion, is carried throughout the streets of the town on the shoulders of four sturdy men.
Led by the brass band of neighboring Pizzoferrato, the procession is joined by all the town residents, bedecked in their holiday finery, and by the Fallesi who have gathered from around the world to reconfirm their cultural identity.
Despite the fact that Saint Vincent Ferreri (1350-1419), a Spanish Dominican known for his apostolic fervor, never personally visited southern Italy, his worship is strong across the region and the procession's path through the town, with strategic stops to bless outlying farmlands shows how the saint's cult has incorporated ancient pagan rites designed to propitiate the spiritus loci.
A very different kind of festivity is staged instead, on Sunday evening, involving the latest pop music, performed by a live band, complete with lighting pyrotechnics, scantily clad go-go dancers, and ear-splitting amplification. Though pitched toward the teenage population of Fallo, it is the elderly who make up the bulk of the audience, sitting on chairs lining the piazza in stunned curiosity at the spectacle of this newfangled entertainment.
As our stay in the Abruzzo drew to a close, our next challenge was the logistics of return. There were no taxis in Villa Santa Maria, and bus transportation from our hotel to the train station was problematic - no one knew the schedule. Calling the numbers listed in the phone book or provided by information yielded only the message numero non abilitato (this is no longer a working number).
We managed to flag down a bus and were deposited at the station where we found three train cars parked on the same track, one of which was recognizable as the graffiti spattered vehicle which had brought us to Villa two days earlier. A somewhat befuddled railroad worker finally figured out that this car should be detached, so that the other two could make the scheduled run to Lanciano.
Aboard this conveyance, we retraced much of the territory we had seen with Guido the previous day, now transformed by the radiance of the early morning sun. Our last impression of that landscape, therefore, was of its colors: the tawny brown of the just-plowed wheat field; the turquoise of Lake Bomba; the silvery greens of the olive groves; the imposing gray of La Majella against the horizon.
Though not a seasonal returnee in the manner of Guido Di Sciullo, Mariano Di Vito travelled back to Fallo a number of times to revisit his place of origin.
To document that origin, I was able to consult the birth records of the Parrocchia di San Giovanni Battista in Fallo, where I found the following entry: "Anni domini 1895 die 31 maji. Marianus Di Vito figlius di Vincentii et Mariae Catinella natus heri hora prima an., baptizatus est."
We know little of the boy Mariano's first years, except that he lived together with his parents and three younger siblings, in Via Orientale 32, in a two-room house, whose front door had a square opening in the bottom to allow for the passage of chickens, but whose back window looked out over orange tiled roofs onto a mountainous landscape of extraordinary beauty.
Life was grueling in turn-of-the-century Fallo, where peasants had to walk great distances each day to till the fields, and where water issued from a single well located below the town. At this same site, clothes were laundered, animals drank, and water was taken home in barrels loaded on donkeys' backs or in huge copper receptacles, known as conche, carried by the town's women on their heads.
Early on, Mariano's father Vincenzo left Fallo to become a cook in Chiasso (Northern Italy) and perhaps traveled as far as Paris in search of work. It is not unlikely that Vincenzo took his oldest son with him on these journeys to the cosmopolitan North-journeys which left him ever more dissatisfied with the limited provincial life he found upon his return to Fallo.
Restlessness and ambition eventually led Vincenzo to make the most radical of all breaks from his homeland - that of emigration - and we find his name on the passenger list of arrivals at Ellis Island for the year 1905.
Maria, Mariano, and three siblings - Domenico, Gina, and Paolo - were to join Vincenzo in Philadelphia in 1907, where three more children, Elena, Sabatino, and Giorgio, would be born, swelling the family ranks to nine.
Why Philadelphia? The answer is implicit in the term "chain immigration" whereby family members followed on the heels of relatives who had settled in a given location before them, so that a series of links were laid out successively in time to form the Fallo-Philly axis. A second destination for members of Di Vito's extended family was Boston (adoptive home of many Di Sciullos) so that another axis, this time within the US, made Fallesi immigration a tale of three cities (or two cities and a town).
Mariano, who had acquired an elementary education in Fallo, lasted only two weeks in the Philadelphia school system before abandoning the halls of academe to sell newspapers on Market and Mole Streets. There, the diminutive twelve-year old developed the necessary street skills to survive among the other newspaper boys, despite their distinct physical and linguistic advantages over him. Undaunted, Mariano defended his territory and when a fight erupted, he would hold his ground, resorting to kicking his challengers below the belt when necessary.
This tough, scrappy kid soon traded the streets of Philadelphia for its dining halls, becoming a bus-boy and then a waiter at a series of men's clubs and social organizations, including the Union League, the Old Manufacturers' Club, and finally, from 1920 to his retirement in 1956, the Bellevue Stratford Hotel.