I have had a love affair with Italy since I was 2 years old. That is when my family packed all their belongings and boarded an ocean liner for the journey to a new life in Italy. In many ways, it was the reverse of the trip so many families had taken earlier in the 20th century.
After living their whole lives in northern New Jersey (they were in their mid-30’s) my parents got the news that my father was being transferred to Livorno, Italy. This was long before the Internet and 24 hour news channels, so armed only with what my parents learned in their 2 months of language classes . . . off we went.
I am the youngest of 3 daughters, and as a child had white blonde hair and bright blue eyes. No one was going to mistake me for an Italian. In contrast, my father with dark hair and olive skin was always mistaken for Italian.
We lived in Livorno for several years before moving to Genova, both cities are in Northern Italy. Soon after arriving in Italy my sisters were shipped off to Marymount, a Roman Catholic boarding school for girls in Rome. I attended kindergarten and first grade in Italy.
I went to a Swiss school in Genova where we were taught math in German, spelling and reading in Italian, religion was in Latin and we studied French for good measure. This was all in first grade! If only I could remember a little of what I studied when I was six.
We left Italy the summer before I turned 7. My father was afraid that his daughters were becoming too European and he wanted them to return to their roots in America. My parents kept Italy alive in our house by celebrating Italian holidays and searching everywhere for ingredients to make traditional Italian meals.
As young as I was, I still have wonderful memories. My childhood memories may not be the same type of memories that adults have, but they are treasured.
I remember standing at the edge of crater on Mt. Etna. Where were the safety railings? We could easily have tumbled into the crater!
My parents and I stayed in a hotel in Siracusa where I was assigned a room that could have housed a queen and all her ladies in waiting while my parents were given a normal sized room. My room had a balcony that looked out on a formal garden in full bloom while my parents overlooked a courtyard.
We went skiing in Sestriere, the site of the alpine skiing events for the 2006 Olympics in Torino. At six, I put on my skis and pointed them downhill yelling “pista” the whole way.
I climbed to the top of the tower in Pisa more times than I can count.
My family and I went to Carnivale in Viareggio every year. My sisters and I spent the entire time hitting each other with little foam bats.
Day trips to Portofino, Abetoni and Lucca all are a part of my wonderful memories of Italy.
Every time my father went on a business trip he would bring back a doll from that city or country. I still have those dolls. They have moved with me from Italy to Charleston, SC to Pittsburgh to New York City and finally to Atlanta where I currently live.
Although I have traveled all over Europe and make an occasional foray to an exotic locale such as the Galapagos Islands, it is Italy that will always have a special place in my heart. I try to get back to Italy every year or so. With the first taste of fresh pesto or tortellini and brodo, I am transported back to my childhood.
My mission in life is to get people to go out and explore the world. If Italy is not in your dreams, then go somewhere that is.
So why was my name Giachi? Italians do not have a “J” or a “K” in their alphabet so Jackie became Giachi. My first lesson in life was that nothing in life is permanent, not even your name!