"Ma Kettle's First home" Carolei by mapakettle

Carolei Travel Guide: 27 reviews and 32 photos

Where in heck is Carolei...???

Carolei is a very small town located inland from Amantea on the Tyrrhenian coast, approximately a half hour east by car, within the region of Calabria.

Calabria is in the extreme south of the Italian peninsula covering the narrow stretch of land between the Gulf of Policastro and the Gulf of Taranto. In other words...the foot part of Italy, not the heel.

Rural life...very rustic

We were fortunate to be able to stay with my mother-in-law's cousin in Carolei. Tessina and her husband Giovanni live in the same home that her parents had occupied when they were first married, as Tessina's parents did before them. Besides growing crops, they also raise an assortment of animals, including huge, fat stinky pigs. Now, I admit being just a tad afraid of these porkers, and to save face, I jokingly challenged my 78 year old mother-in-law to get in the pen with them. She did, and made the big piggies move out of her way upon command. Needless to say, my awe of this woman increased ten fold at this point.

To say that I was thrilled to experience this rustic life for even a short period, is an understatement.

The extremely thick walls of the house are of stone, brick, and mortar construction, with the typical clay tile roofing. The yard included a cook shed where our welcoming six course dinner had been prepared (six course, what am I saying, it was more like twelve). The house sat on a terraced section of a hill, and cement had been poured years ago to conform to the curvature of the land, creating charming, intimate hollows where herbs and flowers now grew in huge earthern pots. A kitchen sink, complete with drain board was attached to the wall, with a roll of paper towel placed over a spike driven into the wooden lental. A pencil dangled by a length of string nearby. Everything was functional, everything was in use.

We ate on long tables set end to end in the field behind the house, with nameless relatives and neighbors sitting side by side, and butterflies fluttering past our ears. The occasional honey bee zipped through our midst heading for the hives set up in the far corner of the property.

This was a scene directly from the movie 'The Godfather', and I was a part of it. (minus the violence of course) Bliss...

You have never eaten lasagna or bread until you experience it directly from a wood fired oven. Freshly roasted rabbit, steak, sausages, ribs, meatballs, pasta's of various types, and vegetables just hours after being plucked from their earthen home. I was in food heaven, the wine flowed freely, and toasts were frequent.

Question after question were thrown my way, and through liberal use of sign language, and the occasional shrug and silly grin, everyone soon came to accept this strange Canadian who loved to eat. The kids were fascinated by my lack of native tongue, and stared unashamedly at me throughout the meal. No grins, no laughter, but watched my every move.

After lunch...

Clean up was swift and efficient. Stacks and stacks of dishes were promptly attacked by all the female family members, while the men folk were literally shooed out of the kitchen. This is traditional, not to show male dominance, but used by the ladies as a ploy to get us out of the way, so the women can talk and joke freely. They turn chores into a social event.

The men retired to the concrete landing just outside the cookhouse, and perched on an odd assortment of wooden chairs, drank more vino, and chose between various liquers. The TV was plugged in, aerial erected, and soon everyone was engrossed watching their hero Shumacker (spelling ??) zip around the track. Auto racing is a big deal in Southern Italy for some reason, and even the kids were aware who was who in the various multi-coloured cars. Yours truly had no idea whatsoever. This was one time I was pleased I couldn't speak Italian, as my ignorance of race cars would quickly become apparent.

As the aftermath of a wonderful dinner was cleared away, Tessina was preparing platters of fresh fichi (figs) various citrus fruits, cheeses, and huge oblong cakes, lightly dusted with icing sugar. The men were called to the table once again, and nary a complaint was heard from anyone for missing the all important race. Food is sacred in Italy, and husbands understand the work that goes into preparation.

Coffee was served, men first as is the custom, and everyone picked away at dessert and 'corrected' their coffee with local Grappa. The kids remained in the centre of the action, and enjoyed the conversation as much as anyone.

Italian women surprise me, as each one talks on various subjects all at once. As best I could tell, there were at least five different conversations going on at the same time. To make a point, voices are raised, and hand gestures are urgently, almost frantically displayed. As an outsider, I sat in awe, blown away by the comprehension each person had of every thread of the discussions.

Italians are loud. Very loud. Points of view are important to express, and civility to one another is paramount. Good manners abound, but to be appreciated, you must stand your ground.

All day, neighbors dropped by to show respect to my mother-in-law. She was almost a minor celebrity in Carolei, and she was blessed to be able to revisit with childhood school chums, cousins and nieces, and basically anyone in the village who fancied a drink.

Great fun, I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed myself. Italians are such warm, family oriented people. I admire them.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:the villagers truly care about each other...
  • Cons:everyone knows each other's business
  • In a nutshell:found a warmth that is impossible to compare to any prior experience
  • Last visit to Carolei: Jul 2004
  • Intro Updated Dec 20, 2004
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Reviews (26)

Comments (27)

  • Dec 8, 2013 at 11:27 PM

    What an interesting article. My grandparents and older aunts and uncle were born in Carolei. Mom was first to be born in USA. Their family name is Iacino.I certainly remember as a child the conversations betwen my mom and my older aunts, often in Italian...spirited to say the least and talking over each other! There must be something there that breeds longevity. Mom's father died at 91. She herself died at 96 and her sisters died at 95,92,90 and 86, respectively.

  • Jan 16, 2008 at 8:44 AM

    My father was born in Carolei and I only visited once when I was 15. I truly enjoyed seeing the photos. It brought back many memories of my visit to my Aunt in 1966. I am going to share these photos with my children. Thanks

  • Carmanah's Profile Photo
    Oct 28, 2006 at 12:18 PM

    I loved reading about your experiences of Carolei. You're right, it would definitely feel as if you were in the Godfather! It must have been surreal at times to find yourselves in this picture-perfect idea of rural Italy, and to find that it exists!

  • Oct 18, 2006 at 7:00 AM

    Hey!! there are a few bars and pizzeria's.. very local quiet and quaint places.. they are all in the heart where you see the new streets.. there are soo many places...

  • Apr 23, 2006 at 2:50 PM

    Ah Pa, How wonderful it is to go down memory lane.:~)) Thank you for these stories. Also for dropping by. I am hoping that you & Ma had a wonderful Easter Weekend.

  • butterfly_girl's Profile Photo
    Nov 17, 2005 at 9:11 AM

    My Grandparents were from Calabria. I have always wanted to visit. Thanks for giving me a glimpse of the life there.

  • rosie235's Profile Photo
    Oct 13, 2005 at 5:08 AM

    I love those potato doughnuts. We call them pittolidi (?). Mum makes them at Christmas. they taste awesome with an anchovy filet in the middle. sadly, i'm not in the same state as my family and therefore miss out on all her wonderful traditional cooking.

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo
    Sep 8, 2005 at 1:39 AM

    This really is an out-of-the-way place! Great story of your visit there.

  • freya_heaven's Profile Photo
    Sep 4, 2005 at 4:18 PM

    You have some wonderful memories of your time here, It must have been lovely to have been so welcomed. Funny about your mother in laws photo, now your plans would be mean, lol. An enjoyable read, thanks (~_~)

  • balfor's Profile Photo
    Aug 28, 2005 at 5:52 AM

    Pa, you are so fortunate to have family there to have such wonderful experiences and getting to know your extended family!!!


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