This spring I spent a few days in Vitulano, an Italian town of about 3,000 residents, built against the side of a mountain northeast of Naples. It seems that everyone in Vitulano is from a family that goes back generations in that same spot—half the town is related to each other by marriage or birth. And many of the families that have moved away to seek their fortunes elsewhere still come back to Vitulano whenever they can—on the weekends, during holidays, for family events.
While I was there I met a man named Corrado Mazzarelli. He left Vitulano when he was a teenager, first for Argentina and then for the U.S. But as a young man he came back to Vitulano to find a wife, and now that he is retired, he spends time there regularly. About Vitulano, he told me, “Your town is your second mother.” About his wife (they are still married), he told me, “the cow and the bull must be from the same town.”
We don’t always have the relationships we want with our mothers, but they are our mothers for better or worse—hopefully better—and that personal connection to place, like our connection to our mothers, is an imaginary line tied tight to us wherever we go. For some it may just be a thin thread; for Vitulano I think it might be a steel cable.
As for the cow, that’s an entirely different story.