IThe following tale is taken from the magazine "Voices in American Italian" ( volume 13, fall 2002, number 2) and it has been drawn up by the professor Millicent Marcus. We thank the professor and those who have collaborated to finding and sending the document and have allowed his publication.


An Amateur Historian Reconstructs a Remarkable Italian Immigrant Life

This is the story of two journeys: one undertaken by a twelve-year-old boy who immigrated to Philadelphia in 1907 from Fallo, a small town in the Italian province of Abruzzo; and one by a middle-aged university professor who sought to experience, in reverse, that earlier journey. The motivation for embarking on the second journey is implicit in the results of the first. Mariano Di Vito, a poor, barely educated immigrant from Fallo made a career for himself in Philadelphia of such astonishing success that he died a millionaire and left his fortune to the University of Pennsylvania to found a chair of Italian Studies in his name. As the first holder of the Mariano Di Vito Professorship at Penn, I felt it was incumbent upon me to understand and spread the remarkable life story of my benefactor. I was enormously helped in this project by a number of people.
Pasquale (Pat) Maiocco, retired dentist from Havertown, Pennsylvania and second cousin-once-removed of Di Vito, has offered me a treasure trove of documents, photographs and anecdotes, generously supplemented by his wife, Pauline. Pat put me in touch with Guido Di Sciullo, first cousin-once-removed of Di Vito, who returns to Fallo every summer and served as my on-site host and guide to the region. Judge Victor Di Nubile, Di Vito's lawyer in Philadelphia, and close friend, proved a rich source of knowledge and insight, as did Victor's wife, Mary. Without these "informants" I would never have gained access to the facts, images, and underlying cultural currents that make up this extraordinary story.
My research began in the summer of 2000 with a trip to Fallo, or rather, to Villa Santa Maria, the nearest town large enough to have a hotel, together with my husband Robert Hill. This journey was first and foremost a "fact-finding mission" but it was also a pilgrimage undertaken to fulfill a vow of thanks in the classical tradition of pietas. Logistics were a major problem, however. Since my husband and I are not avid drivers, even on the best of roads, we decided against the obvious recourse to a rental car and entrusted ourselves to the vagaries of public transportation.
This was a felicitous, if time-consuming, choice, because not only did it spare us the stress of negotiating hairpin curves on winding mountain roads, it also approximated, in its regress to ever more primitive means of transportation, a kind of anthropological return to origins. In this way, I felt that I could close the circle that began its course ninety-three years ago when Mariano Di Vito left Fallo for Philly.
I had been well prepared by a series of warm and generous conversations with Pat and Pauline Maiocco, as well as with an Abruzzese colleague from the University of Georgia, Mia Cocco, who had taken the trouble to xerox some pages from an atlas on Fallo and on Chieti, the provincial capital.But English language guidebooks of Italy were of little help-Fodor's contained no coverage of Abruzzo at all, nor did the manual Italy by Tram.
Even my unflappable travel agent in Florence was nearly defeated by the challenge of getting us to our destination, though she did manage to find a tortuous route and made only one strategic mistake in the process.
Given this difficulty of access, Fallo took on the magic aura of the forbidden castle of fairytales, and we became the princes for whom the first trial of courage and ardor was to arrive at the castle at all.
Another fairytale element surfaced in the folklore surrounding the name of the town, perhaps in order to explain away the embarrassment of its literal meaning (fallo means phallus). Guido Di Sciullo attributes the town's name to the command of a feudal overlord, Re Caldora, ruler of Civitaluparella, in the highlands above Fallo.
When the local serfs complained to their lord about the daily trek down the mountain to farm the lands below and asked permission to pitch camp nearer the site of their toil Re Caldora granted their wish with the soon-to-be-legendary formula "fallo" (do it).
Though folk etymologies may be indifferent to grammar (linguistic accuracy would require the plural command form, fatelo), another explanation did emerge which corrected for the technical flaw in Guido's account. In Pat Maiocco's version, the spokesman for the peasants was St. Vincent Ferreri, whose plea to establish a community nearer the workplace was met by the king's command to "do it" in a form that was appropriately singular in number. This grammatically impeccable explanation, however, is suspect on historical grounds, for the saint's travels never took him to the Italian South. Far less colorful, but intellectually unassailable, is the learned etymology of Fallo, whose medieval name was Faldus, meaning fold or slope, referring to the geology of its mountain setting.


Our means of transportation regressed at each leg of our trip to Fallo, making this very much a journey back in time.We started out on the supermodern Eurostar, whose name reflects Italy's ambition to join the world of its advanced northern neighbors, and whose bullet-nosed contours, tray tables, hostesses and messages from the cockpit make this train the next best thing to the very air-travel that it tries to simulate. Replete with cell-phone and computer-toting passengers, the Eurostar whisked us from Florence to Rome in decidedly first-world splendor.
The second leg of the journey, from Rome to Sulmona (birthplace of Ovid as well as Mecca of summer campers), involved a return to a slightly earlier, though nonetheless elite mode of train-travel-the Intercity, equipped with air-conditioning, reupholstered compartments, and state-of-the-art W.C.
But from Sulmona, the transportation reverts to a two-car regional train whose fitful stops and starts gave new meaning to the paradoxical label "accelerato". In contrast to the chic Eurostar crowd, this train was temporary home to 167 hyperactive campers and their eight exhausted counselors, on the last day of a two-week outing in Abruzzo.For the next lap of our journey, we boarded a one-car train in Castel di Sangro (belonging to the subsidiary Ferrovia Elettrica Sangritana) whose only sign of modernity was the graffiti which embellished its outer shell.The conductor literally had to wind up this vehicle and link its terminals to a tangle of electric lines, and as we began our slow progress along the narrow-gauged track, I was reminded of the miniature trains on which I had ridden so often with my children through the parks and zoos of America.The Ferrovia Elettrica Sangritana, which makes the Castel di Sangro-Lanciano run, has a faithful fan club of dogs who chase it at regular intervals and for whom its passing is obviously the most exciting event of the day.
As this primeval conveyance made its way through the ravishing mountain slopes, some lushly tree-covered, others bare and worn, a series of towns would appear, perched on high plateaus or wrapped around mountain contours.
Each twist and turn of this ancient train presented surprising new vistas to our astonished eyes. But when Villa Santa Maria finally materialized, nothing could have prepared us for the spectacular view in store. The "paese" seemed to grow out of a huge stone slab that sliced vertically through the mountainside. It is as if this gigantic mineral chip had presented itself as a ready-made fourth wall for the original home-builders of the town.
The exhilaration of our first visual encounter with Villa was matched by the warmth of our personal welcome there. Mystified as to how to reach our hotel from the train station, we were aided by the conductor, for whom this stop was also the end of the line. He took us under his protective wing and led us onto a local bus whose every passenger greeted us with a chorus of "buona sera!"
The bus soon deposited us at the only hotel in lower Villa Santa Maria (there was another one in the town's upper reaches) where we were awaited by the concierge, who told us that our host in Fallo, Guido Di Sciullo, had been flooding the hotel with phone calls and visits in eager anticipation of our arrival.