Finding my Roots in Mosso Santa Maria

For the majority of my life, I’ve been interested in learning about Italian culture but I’ve always been extra curious about my Italian family history. In fact, I can’t remember a time where I wasn’t curious about it. On my mother’s side, finding information was pretty easy; I had countless conversations with my Nana about her family, their culture, and her childhood. After she died, although it made it extremely hard to get answers, we were still able to find information through immigration papers, passports, and photos; important family documents she had passed down to my mother. My mother’s father, on the other hand, passed away at a very early age, so his family’s history is still somewhat unknown. The only thing we know for sure is that he was from the Piedmont, and if you know anything about the latent feud between the north and the south (coming from stereotypes and cultural + socially constructed differences), you’d know that a northerner marrying a Sicilian was a pretty strange idea at that time. Because those from the north are stereotypically more educated than those of the south, my grandfather would always make remarks to my Nana. But his most famous line was, “I came into this family to educate you Sicilians!”. Her love for him was out of this world but those comments just didn’t fly. Thank God I got her strong attitude.

On my father’s side however, things weren’t always this easy. My grandmother knew her family had lived in America for decades and my grandfather knew his didn’t. My grandfather’s parents had this falling-out type of divorce and afterwards, my great-grandfather pretty much disappeared to start a new life. As a result, we had a lot of missing pieces in our family history. When I’d ask about it, my grandfather would tell me, “Ari, my grandfather used to go in the backyard at my father’s house, cut off a goat’s head, and sit there with a fork and eat it”… My grandfather was a funny guy; he had this serious tone but was really, secretly, a jokester. Anyway, like I said, we had a lot of missing pieces in our family history.

Fast forward to 2012 when my dad and I decided to visit the library in his hometown, Paterson, New Jersey, to see if we could find any information. We did find some credible information that led us to creating a trial account on which gave even more credible information that, just this past October, led me to search Ellis Island passenger lists. That was it! After years of researching, I finally found something. And after years of trying to figure this out, it was only when my cousin had to do a report on our family tree that things started to get serious. My entire family became curious and it became the main conversation at our Thanksgiving dinner.

If you know me, you know I truly believe that everything happens for a reason and that we really do have a destined path in this life. It was only about a month after virtually meeting my host family and deciding to come to Turin that we found out where the Garbaccio family began; Mosso Santa Maria, a small town located about one hour from Turin. It’s like everything came full circle in a matter of days.

Just last week, my amazing host family told me they wanted to take me to Mosso Santa Maria that upcoming weekend, “If you’d rather go alone, it’s ok. But if you’d like, we can come with you”. My face lit up. And of course I’d much rather experience this with my Turin family than on my own. Plus, upon arriving to Mosso, we realized that there would have been no way of getting here without a car; public transportation here doesn’t seem to exist.

Mosso Santa Maria is a small town in the province of Biella; so small that in 1999, it was fused together with the town of Pistolesa to create what is now, Mosso. The area is very mountainous, with narrow winding roads leading you to the center and in it there is a central square that is home to a few bars and restaurants, a tabacchi store, the Church of Saint Maria Assunta, and some shops.  Although Mosso is small, it is made up of several even smaller villages, including Borgata Garbaccio. I’m not sure if my family lived there at any point, but it was definitely a must-see.

Upon arrival, we stopped at the local bar for a coffee (cappuccino for me, duh). The barista at i Portici, the local ‘hang out spot’ or so it seems, was serving up coffee while engaging in conversations with customers with whom she seemed very familiar. The bar must be like a small family gathering every single morning—I love it! My host family asked the young woman at the bar about the area. She gave us some information but then pointed us to the barista who then called the attention of the man outside because he actually lives in Borgata Garbaccio. Like I presumed, she definitely knows her customers’. We sparked up a conversation with the man and after, my host family told him that my surname is Garbaccio and that I was interested in seeing the area. He told us not to expect much; the village, about 2km away, was extremely small and only home to four families. How cute?!

First, we took a passeggiata around Mosso. Walking through this vintage town is like walking through a maze. The streets intertwine and though you may pass things more than once while trying to find your way out, you don’t mind. The second look is even more charming. You notice the contrast between the neighboring houses; beautifully restored or completely abandoned. You notice the statues of Mary imbedded into the walls and brick peeking out through painted cement. You walk up and down cobblestone hills but the only sound you hear is the sound of your own footsteps. It is unlike anything I have ever seen.

After leaving the center of Mosso, we drove up the mountain to check out Borgata Garbaccio. The man at the bar was right; only four homes exist here. I walked around and admired the area as a small dog led the way; it was like a scene from an old Italian film. As if I couldn’t be any happier, there was a beautiful little sign that read Garbaccio and of course I had to take a picture with it. I wish my grandpa was here to see this!

It’s true that some of the best places in the world are those that are off the beaten path. Being here definitely solidified that. Not only was Mosso perfectly still and quaint, the experience as a whole was heart-warming and incredibly humbling. There are truly no words to describe the feeling.

Thank you to my Turin family for taking me on this journey, and thank you Ernesto Garbaccio for taking that long trip and starting a life for us in America, though I’m not sure why you decided to leave….


Before You Go:
Dining + Hospitality
There are various restaurants in the area outside of Mosso as well. I recommend  Castagneto in Trivero, a restaurant with delicious local cuisine.



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