From Annecy to Bassano del Grappa: Taking Grandma to Her Parents’ Birthplace in Italy

David’s grandmother was born in France in 1932. Her parents are from the towns of Bassano del Grappa and Solagna, in the region of Veneto, Italy. Her father, Antonio Tosetto, came to France in 1929 to escape le camicie nere (the blackshirts, or Fascists) while her mother, Maria Todesco, stayed behind in Bassano until he could find a place to settle. He wasn’t heading for any particular town, but he came upon Annecy and decided to stay there. At this point, there were already 4 children born, though one would die at 18 months because an incompetent doctor gave her the wrong medicine. Maria finally went to Annecy with the 3 remaining children in 1931 and quickly became naturalized as a French citizen, just as her husband had done. Mamie (colloquial French for grandma) was born a year later, the first of the rest of the seven children to be born in France and not Italy. Mamie’s parents never spoke Italian again once they arrived in France (Annecy was occupied first by the Italians and then the Germans), and Mamie never learned to speak it. Even the first 3 children who had been born in Italy forgot their native language and only spoke French for the rest of their lives.


From Annecy to Bassano del Grappa

Mamie is now 78 years old and had been wanting to go to Italy to see where her parents came from practically her entire life. Bassano del Grappa is about 585 km / 365 miles from Annecy, which to my American brain means that it is right next door and incredibly easy to get to. But no one in the family had been able to take her there, whether because of the cost or the “distance” or the fact that it’s in a different country and a lot of the family members hate to travel or even leave Annecy. So when David mentioned it, I immediately set a date and booked the trip because unfortunately Mamie won’t be around forever and I did not want her to have any regrets in her life.  Even though it’s only about 6 hours from Annecy, we decided to fly so that she wouldn’t be stuck in a car all day with her aching legs since she wouldn’t be able to stretch them out properly. That turned out to be a huge mistake, but at least Mamie got to fly on a plane for the first time in her life.

Grandma on a plane for the first time in her life
First flight at 78 years old

I booked an apartment at Il Magicorto Agriturismo Bed & Breakfast in the countryside just outside of Bassano del Grappa after reading about it in Le Guide du Routard. It was AMAZING. If you are ever anywhere near Venice or Padova or Vicenza or Verona, you should stay here!  It was only about a 1.5 hour drive from the Venice airport. There are two apartments on the ground floor (with wide bathrooms for the handicapped) and six regular rooms upstairs, and they all have TV, internet and air conditioning.  There is also a restaurant, but it is closed in July & August.

Il Magicorto
Entrance of Il Magicorto

Elena was such a gracious host and made sure Mamie had everything she needed. Mamie adored her and said she reminded her of her own mother because she was so lovely and nice (and Italian, of course!). The Bed & Breakfast was in a beautiful yard next to the farm, so we had plenty of place to relax outside and we ate dinner at the picnic table every night. Every morning Elena offered us a delicious crostata with home-made jam and fresh cheese and salami. She even gave us eggs from the farm and they were the best eggs I have ever had in my life. Another great thing about Il Magicorto?

GATTINI!!! / KITTENS!!!

Everybody loves kittens!!!

EVERYBODY LOVES KITTENS!!!

Everybody loves kittens!!!
You have no idea how badly I wanted to bring them home…

We spent plenty of time in Bassano del Grappa, wandering the streets where Mamie’s parents walked, visiting the church where they got married, and taking photos of the Ponte Vecchio, also called the Ponte degli Alpini.  We drove north of Bassano to find Solagna, the village where Maria originally came from before meeting Antonio. Before WWII, the border with Austria was much closer to Bassano than it is today and Maria’s parents worked as tobacco smugglers, but Maria herself was too young to work. Antonio worked as a barber in Bassano. Maria and her sisters often went there because it was the larger city, and one day Antonio saw her in the street and thought she had le gambe più belle del mondo (the most beautiful legs in the world)… and the rest is history.

Ponte Vecchio

Bassano del Grappa

Piazza

Old buildings

We returned to Bassano the following day because of the mercato and Mamie bought herself an adorable hat. Then we ate pizza and gelato, of course.

Mamie and her hat

Pizza

Since we had plenty of time on Sunday, we drove down to Verona before heading to the airport in Venice. It was the hottest day yet so we only stayed for an hour, taking pictures around the arena and trying to stay in the shade.

Arena in Verona

Verona

I’m going to end the story there because you all know what happened next! In spite of how the trip ended, Mamie still said it was the best vacation she’s ever been on and the best gift anyone has ever given her. She has fully recovered -we hope – after resting all this week. I don’t know if she’ll ever go back to Italy, but David & I might try to drive her to Valle d’Aosta, an autonomous region bordering France that has both Italian & French as their official languages. It used to be a part of the Kingdom of Savoy, just like the pays de Savoie in France, except that it joined the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 instead of being annexed to France as Savoie was in 1860. But for now I think Mamie is content with her memories and photos of Bassano del Grappa, as well as the soil she took from the ground of Solagna to remember her mother.

Bassano del Grappa & Verona, Italy, Photo Album

Italian Realia Resources

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  • Costel

    Hi, how much was the lodging in Il Magicorto? Sounds interesting if it's only an hour and a half from Venice. Is there an alternative to go by train?
    Merci.

  • http://www.soyezlabienvenuechezmoi.blogspot.com Dedene

    Jennie, That vacation was such a sweet, loving gest to D.'s mamie. She received a priceless gift from you two.

  • ielanguages

    It was 100€ per night for all 3 of us in the apartment. Le guide du Routard says it's about 70€ per night for the rooms for 2 people.

    There's a train station in Bassano, but the B&B is located in Cassola, about 5 km to the south. I'd e-mail and ask if they can pick you up. You can definitely walk to stores in Cassola, but it's much easier to get around by car since it's out in the countryside.

  • http://labelleinfrance.com Stephanie

    Jennie, that was a great thing you did for David's grandmother. I am sure it meant the world to her!

  • Costel

    Thank you for the reply and for sharing your trip with us. That was very nice and even cultural :) Ponte degli Alpini …

  • http://www.journeyw.blogspot.com/ Viajera

    Wow! You guys are great grandkids! You can see the pleasure on her face in the shots.

  • Sally

    What a wonderful post. Sounds like you all had a fabulous time (until the trip back home, of course) … Mamie is very lucky to have family like you and David.

  • http://www.correresmidestino.com Zhu

    What a great idea! I'm sure she loved the trip, minus the flight problems you mentioned. Hope they won't spoil your memories because this is a great trip!

  • http://www.american-in-france.com Cynthia caughey

    Hi, Jennie, lovely story of your trip. Very kind of you to do that for Mamie. And thanks for the tip about the lodgings. When I lived in Italy I spent a day in Bassano and it was a lovely town. Mamie's story is fairly typical. B's mom is Italian – came from Italy in the 40's with her mom. Her father was killed in the first days of the war and the mom was left with raising 7 children on her own. B's mom only speaks a few words of Italian but she definitely acts like an Italian mama (although she says she's 100% French). By the way, congrats on you language awards. See you soon, neighbor. Cynthia in Chambery

Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.

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