Do you remember what it felt like when being a kid and entered to your favorite toy store? or a candy/ice cream/video games store? or going to the concert of your favorite band? or entering a selected whisky or wine store
as the alcoholic I am? Most of the times, it becomes an unexpected and amazing surprise in those cases, and such feeling is what I got as soon as I landed in Bergamo.
Bergamo is a medieval city located at the northern part of Italy, 52.2 km from Milan, right in the middle of the mountains, and distributed with an old town at the upper part of a mountain, and the downtown all around the mountain. As any medieval place, there are huge fortress walls that used to protect the city from thieves and war. Specifically, from the Venetian army and the Cyprus war. A lot of gardens, vineyards, and mountains surround the city. The chilly fall mornings and afternoons, plus the red leafs, the stone roads, the huge stone arcs and the red roofs, make my arrival to the city, a magical and astonishing one.
“Oh mio dio!” said the taxi driver as he found out why I came to Bergamo in the first place. A fat, big, with a lot a beard and a fantastic laugh italian sir, that immediately started to ask me what I knew and gave me advices of where can I search/ask/go. “Ciao italo-messicano, benvenuto a Bergamo!” he says as he lefts me in the door of the hostel.
The next day, a chilly and cloudy, yet fresh and nice morning wakes me up, and I found myself walking to the “Archivio di Stato di Bergamo” to ask the whereabouts of my bergamasca ancestors.
A lovely ma’m is at the reception lobby and welcomes me with a cute smile and blushed make-up cheeks. Her name is “Maria Gracia” and as I remembered all my italian, courtesy of “L” and of “Enzo Gorlomi” I explained my story and she becomes very curious and interested in what I’m looking for. I ask her: what is your favorite thing of Bergamo? and she responds: “Everything!” She tells that she travelled a lot when she was young and wild, that she was very curious about traveling around the world, about meeting new people, but specially to have memories to share some day. I do ask her: “do you think if we all were optimistic, the world could be a better place?” to what she responds: “are you a Jehova witness or something? you’re just too optimistic to be normal, and they asked me the same question you just did. You won’t convince me to join you!” while laughing, to what I laughed very loud too, I said that “holy water” makes my skin burn instantaneously, more laughs, and in the end, she just stated that traveling indeed makes people better human beings, and that going back home in peace is the most important thing in this life.
It surprises me very much, that one of the managers explains that someone, at some point in the past, went already there to search the origin of “Maqueo”. The research is however unsuccessful and they actually said that “Maccheo” does NOT exist. (Imagine a scene of me screaming in my knees NOOO! dramatically). They explain that they have records only after 1822 and that anything before that is extremely difficult to find, or at least I would require way more info than what I had, which was not much. They also confirm that surnames like “Maceo”, “Macchio” and “Machio” might exist but are definitely NOT from Bergamo; however “Macchi” and “Maccali” pop up and gave me some hope. They advise me to go to the cathedral and ask for the “Archivio Diocesano” and search for these names. If they were born and baptized in Bergamo, they would have it there, so off I went to the “Citta’ Alta” or upper town, right in the heart of Bergamo, as I ate an insanely orgasmic tasty ice cream of strawberry and figues and something else.
After walking for about 30 min, taking the “funiculare” and being totally speechless by how beautiful this place is, I arrived to the clerical archives and ask the lady in charge. They make the search and find that indeed, they were not registered there, they say that there are “Maccali” records in Milano, but “Macchi” might be in any neighbor villages of Bergamo. Basically, impossible to know, at least just in a couple of days. So I feel dissapointed but somewhat excited, and decide to make another research on my own in the internet and also to ask my family. I needed more.
Then, I found a mexican book that clearly says that two brothers called Julián and Esteban Maqueo, originally Giuliani and Stefano, from Italy, arrived to Mexico in 1830 to Oaxaca, both from the Garibaldi army, still wearing the uniform and the belt with the golden spread wings eagle and stay there to work as merchants. It also says that Stefano was known as “the traveler”. It was still before 3:00 pm, which is when the state archive office closed and off I went there, to ask for any military records of that time. As I arrived, the reception lady and the managers smile and say “how did it go??”. I explain everything, and they sadly state that they only have military records after 1870. However, they tell that the “Museo Storico di Bergamo” has a lot of information regarding participants, people, places, maps, of the garibaldini army and movement, so they might be able to help. A tiny beam of light is in my head again, to what I decide I’ll give it a shot saturday morning.
I am starving and aim for a local cuisine place, to what I ate the famous “Polenta” which is a typical bread of this area and “Casoncelli” which are similar to the ravioli but these are filled with chopped bacon and have butter. A lot of butter. Plus wine of the house and another delicious gelato. I keep walking and falling in love with the city, until I find a local bar at the eastern part of the town, in which I decide to sit down, drink a beer, and start writing in my journal. After an hour, the place becomes packed and I start wondering what is this place. And then, surrounded entirely by italians, I find myself talking with the guys beside me, absolutely nice and cool, they get surprised that I only came to Bergamo to discover my roots, they get happy by the fact that I’m a Bergamasco, they say that I speak very good italian and invite me a beer. Two beers. Three beers. Wine. More wine. Pizza. A lot of pizza. I met A BUNCH of people. All of them welcoming me as if I was another italian of the group.
One of them, called Edoardo Bovati, the typical handsome italian guy you would see in a magazine, both by looks and by personality. An absolutely nice and funny mate that speaks spanish too and I decide to ask him about his life, his experiences, his dreams, his expectations. Born in Milan but grew up in Bergamo, he says that he started traveling when he was 3 years old to the caribbean islands and he remembers so vague details. His first plane he took alone was by the age of 10, to visit relatives in England, and he stated that when being an adult, he first traveled because he felt just bored. Today he assures that he travels because you can learn something new every single day. After wandering around Asia and South America and North America, he says that xmas means Paris, New York or Bergamo, but no favorite city arises. Making the world a better place, means to make environmental consciousness and educate the people better in that way.
As the wine and beer ran off and the weather went down, I walked back to the hostel and pray that the hang over at the next day would allow me to wake up early-ish and to have a bearable headache.
And of course, the prays were useless, and I was struggling my way up by one of the stone stairs at the eastern side of the city and went directly to the Museo Storico. Sad was my reaction to know that indeed the museum was open, but the offices were closed (that’s why they gave me an appointment for monday) but the guy in charge said the Dr. was aware of my case. Again with my best “Antonio Margareteee” version I explained my story and the guy got quite excited and curious about it. It was very interesting to know that there was a group of the Garibaldi army that was sent to Mexico back to 1829-1830, to deal with some loose issues of the mexican independence, the exact date my ancestors claimed to arrive to aztec lands. My eyes got wide open, the headache disappeared and my heart started beating faster. He says that the research needs indeed to be done, and gives me the e-mail address of the doctor in charge and the website. E-mail that I will send tonight. “In bocca al lupo!” he says. “Crepi il lupo!” I respond (thanks again “L”) and he assents and smiles back.
And I spent the rest of the day wandering around the walls, the streets, the secret passages, the gardens, the stone roads. To be quite sincere with you, I have always had a difficult time to define a place as “home”. For me, home is where my parents and my memories are, it is where I have my family, as I would assume most of us do. But it is also a place where I can be totally in peace, and that is the difficult part to achieve, at least in a constant way. These almost 3 days, I honestly experienced quite a lot of deep emotions in this place. Happiness, excitement, anxiousness, frustration, re-happiness, the fact of being totally stunned by the culture, the people, the lovely italian ragazzi, the strawberry and ricotta gelato, the music, the language, even an unusual yet awesome instant crush/love moment that I will write in another time. As “Maria Gracia” said: Everything!.
So right now, being at the “Piazza Vecchia” or old square, right in the heart of Bergamo, I listen to the bells ringing and also to classical music played with loud speakers all over the place. I do dream and think if both my great great great great grandfather walked and wandered around these walls and I just smile. Despite being by myself, I am embedded by a magical italian atmosphere. I do not feel like a stranger. After a long long long time, I feel peace inside me. I feel very happy.
I feel in home.