Whether your parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents were from Israel, Italy, India, France or Germany, or wherever, I recommend you see their birthplaces if you were not born in their native country.
I made my pilgrimage back to Italy when I was 34. I traveled to Italy to visit a friend in Rome, spent time in Asti visiting cousins, and then traveled to Sicily to visit the birthplaces of all four of my grandparents which were (Milazzo and Canicatti). Two of my grandparents were from the same province in Sicily which was Messina.
I remember like it was yesterday the excitement and rush I felt when the plane landed in Rome. I first visited a former neighbor of mine from Manhattan who worked for the UN in Rome. I spent just two days there and it was memorable seeing the Vatican City. Spending time in Saint Peter's Basilica Square drinking espresso and hearing the church bells chime every hour of the day. No exaggeration I heard those bells in my head for weeks after I returned to New York. Going to see the Sistine Chapel; amazing. Where my friend Anne lived in Rome seeing all those small cars and seeing so many cats scurrying around outside.
From Rome, I went to Asti to visit my mother's first cousins. I was treated like Royalty. I must have put on 10 pounds in the 10 days I spent in Italy visiting all my remaining relatives. Asti as in Spumonti was beautiful. The cobblestone streets and there was countryside of Asti that I will never forget seeing a herd of sheep travel on a desolate road.
From Asti, I traveled by plane to Punta Raisi Airport in Palermo. That was a bit scary. I traveled with a black suitcase which contained my Producer friend Peter's large Camcorder. I guess I looked suspicious with my cap on and not having shaved that morning. Luckily my relatives met me at the Airport and explained why I was visiting Sicily. They told the Italian Police who were carrying machine guns, I was on a pilgrimage visiting relatives and was in Sicily solely for that reason.
After being detained for about 10 minutes, I was free to go and my historic journey continued. First I went to Palermo to see my cousins. They took me to the Catacombe dei Cappuccini which is underground. It's where countless exposed corpses are. That was bizarre.
Before going down below to the Catacombs, it was amazing to see the grave of my mother's cousin Carmelo who was killed in a motorscooter accident when he was in his 20s. I remember my grandfather telling me about him and seeing the gravesite brought back all those memories. We spent time in Mondello a beautiful seaport town in Palermo and from there went to Santuario di Santa Rosalia which is a Baroque church nestled against a stone cliff wall of Monte Pelligrino. It is the highest point in Palermo. The views of the sea are beautiful.
From Palermo, I traveled to Canicatti in Agrigento which was the birthplace of my mother's father Eugenio who sadly never got to see his brother again in over 50 years when he left Sicily in his early twenties. We traveled to a vineyard to see this large barn-like house where my grandfather once lived. In Canciatti it was so odd to see Greek ruins on one side of the road and on the opposite side a Modern Mall.
From Canicatti we traveled by car to Milazzo which is in the Provence of Messina. My father's father was born there. I was surprised to see a restaurant that bears my surname and to meet some relatives I never knew existed. They were so friendly. Our great-grandfathers were brothers. The views from Milazzo were beautiful. I visited the grave site of my great-grandfather who never came to America. I was surprised to learn he lived to be 79. He happens to look like my brother Pete.
I spent time in the Port City of Milazzo and remember seeing all those brightly painted small fishing boats and men making large fishing nets. My grandfather Vincenzo was a Seamen who was born in Milazzo and also worked in the sea ports of Argentina (Buenos Aires) and in France (Bordeaux).
I came to the conclusion when I got back to New York that you really don't know who you are unless you see where in the world your family came from. I also got a surprise invite to a Christmas Party of the late Actor Ben Gazzara whose father was from Canicatti simply because my Grandfather was from the same town in Sicily and that was an automatic bond. He treated me like family inside his Manhattan Co-Op. That's a Holiday party I will never forget.