Little Italy on the Appalachian Trail

If memory is a form of hunger, then I figure I should feed it. Mangia, as any good Italian will tell you.

After a little more than a year away from my New Haven, thin crust pizza lovin’, pasta sauce boiling in the kitchen family, I found myself hungry. I was missing the loud multi-generational gatherings and I was sick of having to explain to my West Coast pals what a cannoli is every time I wanted one. I hoped taking a job at a local Italian bakery would balance out my salmon eating Alaskan days.

I spent my weekends before the AT bustling about the kitchen and getting to know “the usuals”. Everybody’s got a brother or a cousin or a friend who knows somebody else’s sister or aunt or Nonna and everybody’s got an interesting story. Between hearing about Angie’s divorce, Tony’s daughter’s latest update from college, making cookie trays and boxing up the birthday cakes, I got to think about my own family. The journey my great grandparents took from their struggling town at the tip of Italy to the infamous Ellis Island. Sipping on hot minestrone soup on slow afternoons, I considered how the migration from New York occurred for my family, and ultimately how I ended up here in Connecticut and this bakery. I was back because of hunger for the old ways, the good food, the sense of belonging.

On the Appalachian Trail, I find myself trying to explain to my hiking partner why this time at home and in the bakery was so important. Why being Italian is such a thing. Why “When you’re here, you’re family” isn’t a just a  catchphrase abused by Olive Garden. (They may not be real Italian, but the sentiment is.)

“Buongiorno!”

a cheerful voice calls out to me on day two. “Buongiorno?” I call back confusedly. My thoughts reel; How did we miss the ocean? How could the white blazes have led us astray? When suddenly, a white haired man appears with socks rolled up over the ankles of his pants and a gold ring gleams brightly on his finger. “Come stai?” he asks, slowing a little but never stopping. “Sto bene.” I reply, still incredulous. Does he only speak Italian? “E tu?” “Sto molto bene.” Then in English he asks where we’re headed. So this is America and the Appalachian Trail after all. And we’re both going to Maine. Once he passes, I take a moment to adequately laugh at myself and to take comfort in knowing that another crazy Italian, another paisan is out here.

I consider Paisan a member of my growing AT family, though I haven’t seen him much since. He felt like the first sign that whatever this hike is going to be, it’s in line with the other thoughts, feelings, memories and experiences I hunger for more of.

Happy Trails & Mangia!

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