Photo, from left: Pat Stefani Iamon, Chris Stella, Dar Costa Hawkins and Bob Stefani stand in the piazza of Asiago, Italy. Photos provided by Pat Iamon.
By Pat Iamon
On the last day of a two-week trip to Italy a group of LeRoyans were able to visit their family’s homeland, Asiago, Veneto, Italy. The Go2Italy trip the group was part of was organized by Jim Frascati, owner of Capish! Pizza-ristorante on Main Street in Le Roy.
Frascati has been organizing trips to Italy for more than 20 years. He is an Italian American, a retired police officer from Rochester who came from Sicily as a teenager. Frascati speaks perfect Italian and escorts his trips with his partner, Frank Cordiddi, and their wives.
The trip began on Sep. 5th on the doorstep of Capish! where the group of 46 boarded a bus to Toronto Pearson Airport. Their Alitalia flight dropped them off in Rome where they quickly boarded their connecting flight to Catania, Sicily. Once there, Go2Italy had a bus waiting with their personal driver of more than 10 years, Luigi.
A ferry, then "harrowing bus ride"
Over the two weeks the group toured Savoca, Mt. Etna, Taormina, Cefalu, and then left the island of Sicily in a ferry at Messina. The ferry took about 30 minutes to cross the couple mile Strait of Messina landing at Naples. The bus headed north along scenic highways up and around the mountains and through many tunnels.
The next few days the tour group took in Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast, and the Isle of Capri which included a harrowing bus ride through narrow mountain roads. The next stop was Rome where the group toured the Vatican, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Cathedral. The next day they took in most of the other tourist sites in Rome.
The last hotel stop on the tour was Venice where the group took a water taxi to walk to St. Mark’s Square.
Before the final day of the tour Frascati tried in vain to rent a car and drive the group up to Asiago. However, it was Sunday and all the car rental companies were closed and not answering their phone. Frascati then helped the group hire a car and driver to take them up into the mountains to Asiago.
Rising up very early on Sept. 17, the group left their Venice hotel and boarded their van at 5:45 a.m. for the 90-minute drive to Asiago. Pat (Stefani) Iamon, her brother, Bob Stefani, and Chris Stella, who are from Lime Rock, along with Dar (Costa) Hawkins and her husband Ron, of Le Roy, rode along the three-lane highway to the two-lane mountain road.
Foothills of the Alps
That mountain road had many switch backs. As their van approached the foothills of the Alps the group anxiously awaited the sign announcing the little town of Asiago. The Stefanis' grandmother, Catherine Stella, came from Asiago with her family as child, her 4-year-old brother got sick and died before reaching the United States; their great-grandfather Stefani came as a young man.
Stella, whose grandparents were from Asiago, and Dar (Costa) Hawkins' grandparents also originated from there. Asiago at 3284-foot elevation is framed by Northern Italy’s picturesque limestone mountains.
“It looks just like a little Alpine village,” Iamon said.
The population today is about 6,500. There is a beautiful church in the heart of the village.
“It is such a quaint and welcoming little place,” said Dar Hawkins. The group stopped first at the piazza (village square), which is surrounded by many little restaurants and shops and town buildings that at the early hour were all closed. In the piazza there was a stage with a colorful banner that seemed to welcome the group. The words on the upper left side of the banner, when translated to English, say: “Asiago a jewel in the midst of green.”
The group posed for photos that were taken by their driver, Allesandro, and a polite young man that was sitting on a bench there.
Cheese, green meadows, and graves
Asiago is famous for their soft cheese; as was evident by signage along the way and the cows grazing on the beautiful green meadows.
“It is the green mountain grasses the cows feed on that make the milk that make such delicious cheese!” Bob Stefani said.
The group headed into the countryside for a five-minute drive to the town’s beautifully kept country cemetery to look for their family names. At first it seemed like the gates of the cemetery were closed, however, there was an open door to the left of the gate that led to the main part of the cemetery.
The group spread out searching for graves with their surnames. It did not take long before they were able to find not only the graves of their families, but also other familiar Le Roy surnames such as Regoni, Bennetti and Forte.
No one in the group was certain what lured their ancestors from Asiago to the little town of Le Roy; however, rumors were that the stone crusher on Circular Hill Road sent for them to work at crushing and loading the limestone. Many in the group had ancestors; grandfathers, fathers, or cousins that worked at that facility, some retired from stone crushing at the plant.
“None of our family members ever returned to the village of Asiago or to Italy for that matter, which seems very sad," Iamon said. "I wore a locket containing my dad’s ashes that my son made for me. So, in a way I brought him with me. On our way back to Venice, we all felt quite nostalgic seeing and walking the same land that our ancestors spoke about and called home.
"We were all very happy that we had made the trip. Our ancestors must have really missed this beautiful scenery and rolling hills in this lovely town. I would certainly like to visit here again!”