The Old Valente House
in Via San Nicola, Gambatesa | Dr. Vincenzo D'Alessandro | Senator Guglielmo Iosa
Angelo asked for Via San Nicola number 14 (where Giovanni Valente was born in 1887 and Serafina Valente was born in 1888) and number 19 (where Luca Valente and Salvadore Valente were born in 1884 and 1889 respectively), but the people told him that the numbers have changed.
But people were able to identify the old Valente houses, and they were sure that there were only two. (The second house is the old house in the left foreground; this once belonged to Luca's brother Donato who emigrated to Rochester, New York; but later the house belonged to Luca's son Francesco Valente). The other Valente house, the house of Donato Valente and his wife Serafina Pudetti and their daughter Maria Vittoria and their three sons Antonio, Francesco (the father of Luca), and Nicola Valente (the father of Giovanni and Salvadore), was the house to the right of the white house.
All the brothers could have lived in the same house, because in those days 5 or 6 people lived in a single big room, with all their animals too (their chickens under the bed). Four people might sleep in the same bed, two with their heads at one end, and two with their heads at the other end. Very old people might spend the whole winter in bed, trying to stay warm (Stone houses are very cold in winter).
The white house and the Valente house used to be one house. There is a big garden behind these houses that is connected by the kind of covered passageway (cloister) found in monasteries. It is a big garden with a well. (But now the garden is overgrown and disused. The well is shared by both houses; that was part of the contract when they were divided.)
Photograph by Angelo Abiuso (Geneva), 3 August 2002 at 11:30 AM
Location of this photograph (no. 3) ...
- Entering Gambatesa from the southeast (the road that leads to the cemetery) and looking towards the Church of San Nicola, these are the first houses in Via San Nicola.
This is the old house of Luca Valente's brother Donato and later of Luca's son Francesco Valente in Vicolo di San Nicola ("Saint Nicholas Lane").
- Two photographs of the old Valente house in Via San Nicola. The other photograph of the old Valente house in Via San Nicola.
- This is the view looking toward the front of the Church of San Nicola and down Via San Nicola to Vicolo di San Nicola.
- The Church of and Monastery of Saint Nicholas (Chiesa e monastero di San Nicola).
The above map is based on the Street map of the village center of Gambatesa. This map is the lower right corner, marked number 11, of that map.
Three (Drinking) Friends
Among Dr. Vincenzo D'Alessandro's good friends in Gambatesa there were my great-grandfather Luca Valente and my great-grandfather Luigi Abiuso (the father of Francesco Valente's wife Luigina Abiuso, my Valente grandmother who has contributed so much information and so many stories to this site). Dr. Vincenzo D'Alessandro was the godfather of the Salvatore Valente who today lives in Forlì.
These three gentleman used to have "parties" in the Gambatesa way: food, wine, music and songs!
Once, when they had all drunk a bit more than a bit too much, they were together on the balcony of my great grandfather Luca's house in Via San Nicola (see the photograph above), and they started singing -- but it was 3 o'clock in the morning! The whole street was woken up and Orlando Abiuso's grandfather (who had once lived in the house now painted white above) said that he would ask the carabinieri to "interfere with the their party" if they did not stop, because it was too late. It seems that they used to have that kind of party from time to time.
But the biggest drinker of the three friends seems to have been Luigi Abiuso (who had emigrated to the United States for a couple of years). He used to drink very slowly a bottle of wine every evening before going to bed. Because of that, even many after years later, everybody supposes that Luigi's branch of the Abiuso are big drinkers! This is the sort of thing people get reminded of on Easter Monday, when everyone has to have a drink: "Oh, come on, I know your grandfather liked to take a drink", etc.
Some people are violent or sad when they get drunk. But that was not the case with these three "gentleman", and because it was late and because Luca's neighbor had complained, they decided to go home. But they "couldn't let friends go home alone" (that was perceived to be impolite, like closing the door to your house just after greeting someone: you have to talk for a bit.) So they decided to walk each other home. So, still drunk, they started to walk each other home. But, of course, once arrived they couldn't let the others walk home alone.
So until 6 o'clock in the morning they walked up and down the streets of Gambatesa, walking each other home until the morning!
Dr. Vincenzo D'Alessandro
Before Vincenzo D'Alessandro, the doctor in Gambatesa had been Vincenzo's father Francesco D'Alessandro. The people called him Don Cicio (a diminutive of the name "Francesco").
In 1937 Don Vincenzo became the new doctor, and because he was the only doctor in Gambatesa, people thought that he took advantage, that he did not have to be very nice or polite to them. They used to complain about him (as, of course, they also complained about the village priest), and Don Vincenzo complained about them too. Every morning his office was full of people. "What the hell are you doing here? I'm not Jesus Christ!" the poor doctor said. The people, being ignorant, thought he could cure every illness, as if he could make the blind to see and the lame to walk.
Vincenzo D'Alessandro was a character; people found him difficult to deal with, brusque. But it was difficult for Vincenzo, too. He was an educated man who had studied in Rome; they were ignorant peasants, most of whom could barely read and write if, that is, they were not completely illiterate. They were cafoni ("backward country people"); he was a cultured and educated man from a very rich family (At that time the family owned and lived in Gambatesa's castle). The gap between them was immense; they were people from opposite worlds. And perhaps that was where the problem came from: that, despite being from the same village, they were from different worlds.
What was it like for an educated man to have to deal every day with an ignorant and superstitious population? What were the doctor's frustrations with this irrational humanity that he could not reason with as he might have reasoned with educated people? And he could have had no rest from this, for a doctor always has sick people to attend to, and Vincenzo D'Alessandro was the only doctor for Gambatesa's population of well over 3,000 people.
The difference in education between the parish priest, Don Giacomo Venditti, and the Gambatesans was also immense. But Don Giacomo had a more diplomatic way, and he used to joke with the people; he had the common touch, but the doctor did not.
(Albert Schweitzer's attitude toward the Gabonese as they were then was, "It's true, I am your brother, but I am your older brother." But not all men are able to look at life this way, and even many of those who do, find it impossible to keep their tempers, patience.)
But in the end the whole village turned out for Vincenzo D'Alessandro's funeral in April of 1966. The people were very sad when he died because he was their doctor -- the only person in Gambatesa who could help sick people. But also his death was unexpected, and then there was the difference in social class (and so the people felt some residual peasant deference toward their "betters" and then, too, there was curiosity to see the high government officials and rich people who were visiting the village). The D'Alessandro family was very rich; they were the first in the village to have an automobile, radio, television. Even today when people talk about the former doctor, they call him "Don Vincenzo".
Vincenzo D'Alessandro as a doctor
When he was angry he was furious (even with his wife who was and is still a nice woman). But he was a very good doctor: "It was always what he said," still say lots of Gambatesans about the diagnoses of the doctor. He did the possible to save the life of a young cousin of mine but he couldn't. Despite the little technology of the time he was able to find what was wrong with people. He was really a good doctor, but when he was angry it would be better to run away from him.
Vincenzo D'Alessandro as a youth
When he was young Vincenzo said to his father that he didn't want to go to the university. His father sent him to some field the family had at Macchia della Terra (near Masseria Valente) and Vincenzo had to plow the land. He did it the first day and when he came back home the first evening his father asked him, "Did you like it?" and Vincenzo said Yes. "Very well," said his father, "then you can go there tomorrow." It went on like this for a couple of days and in the end Vincenzo decided to go to the university.
When Vincenzo's father Francesco D'Alessandro died, the family put what is called il lutto around the door of his house to show that the house was in mourning. Il lutto was a big black curtain put all around the framework of the house door. Because the D'Alessandro were living in the castle, the lutto was quite big.
The next morning all the village saw that during the night somebody had cut the black curtain. People said that somebody needed it to make a dress.
This may help to you to understand the attitude of Don Vincenzo and the common people toward each other.
Cutting the lutto was not done from lack of respect; it was because the people were poor; it was not a question of respect. The people living in Via Serrone, which is a street going down from Largo del Castello (the small square in front of the church of San Bartolomeo, across from Gambatesa's castle), were very poor people. [Street map of Gambatesa (See nos. 5 and 3)] When you are in Via Serrone, the size of the houses is very small. The Palazzo Benevento was in the opposite direction from the castle and the church; there were rich families living on that side of Largo del Castello (at least to judge by the size of the houses).
A story from the past, about how life used to be in Gambatesa, about how country people were resourceful
When she saw the picture of the vineyard pump, my godfather's wife told me a story of a man with the nickname "la pompa". He was living with his father and, as with most people, at night in the evening he would return to the village, but sometimes they had to stay in a house in the country. Sometimes it is necessary to give an enema to the cows or the horses from time to time, and this man's father needed one. And so because their farm house was far away and the father was in pain, it was not possible to put his father on the horse or donkey. And the father told his son to "wash the vineyard pump out, boil some water, put it into the pump and very slowly start pumping this water into my bottom". And so the son did this very slowly, asking all the time, Sta bene così, babbo? ("Is it all right, dad?") and the father answered yes. And so the father was relieved.
But anyway the next day the son took his father to the doctor in Gambatesa, and the doctor was Vincenzo d'Alessandro. But along the way the son stopped to talk to people they met along the way and the word of what had happened was spread by word of mouth, and so by the time the son and his father arrived in the village, the doctor already knew what had been going on during the night. And so when he saw the son, he said to him, "Don't worry, if your father did not die last night, he will not die today."
And so the son did not have to tell the doctor anything about what had happened, but the doctor told him that if the son had not done what he did during the night, the father would already be dead now. And so this is how the son got the nickname "la pompa" added to the end of his name. This story dates from between 1937 and 1966.
The Streets of the Poor
As I told you, on the street going down from the Church of San Bartolomeo, Via Serrone, all the people were poor. You can compare the size of the houses with the size of Palazzo Beneventi or the Palazzo Rotondo (where the post office is now just in front of La Villa, Gambatesa's municipal park). There are two words in dialect for the houses in Via Serrone:
- ruttel' which is the word for the place people keep chickens (People in Gambatesa used to keep chickens in holes dug out of the tufo that the village is built on), and
- catapecchie (but the final "e" is silent as in the French language; Italian catapecchia, "hovel") which is the word that describes a small house like those in Via Serrone. Catapecchie would be used to describe the slums of South America, for example, Brazil's favelas.
In Europe usually the rich lived near the top of the hill and the poor lived near the bottom. Tenir le haut du pavé is a French expression that comes from this ("To control the highest point of the pavement, the top of the street, the highest point of the hill"), meaning "to be upper class". The expression is related to the military expression Qui tiens le haut tiens le bas: who controls the top of the mountain also controls the base of the mountain, the valley below. (Rich people in the United States live in Nob Hill, San Francisco, and Beacon Hill, Boston, for example.)
Usually there was a gutter in the middle of the street (le ruisseau de rue): it was an open sewer (égout à ciel ouvert, "a sewer open to the sky") where people used to drop all kinds of things (In the morning they used to empty the chamber pots). Of course all that stuff used to finish its run down the hill where the poor were living. A few very old people used to do this until the end of the 1960's.
The Muddy Streets
My grandmother told me about the streets. Gambatesa's streets were not as good as today. There was lots of lot' ("mud") on the streets. In San Nicola (another poor district but a bit richer than Serrone) there were big stones on which people used to jump when the "street" was covered with mud, just like children like to do on rivers (to cross the river by jumping from one stone to another). Sometimes it was difficult when people died to bring the coffin to their place and then to carry them to the cemetery.
Aldo Vittorio D'Alessandro
Vincenzo's brother, Aldo Vittorio D'Alessandro, was a central inspector for the Ministry of Public Education (ispettore centrale del Ministero della Pubblica Istruzione in Rome; he is dead now. He helped people from Gambatesa find jobs in Rome and in other cities (There was a network: people from the same village helped one another).
Aldo Vittorio managed to find jobs for a few people in Gambatesa in the public administration, and perhaps this was why the Gambatesans thought more highly of him than of Senator Guglielmo Iosa of Gambatesa, whom they accused of doing little for his own village despite his high position in the government.
Senator Iosa was an important man in Italy, but when in Rome they asked him if there was something special to be done for Gambatesa he said, "In my village everybody has a small house and a piece of land; they don't need help." When he retired to Gambatesa he asked the Italian government just for the money he would need to live in his old days: "I don't want to take advantage of the wealth of the nation." In Gambatesa people still complain about him because in Riccia another senatore did a lot for Riccia. Of course, there is more than one way of looking at these things.
Memories of Don Guglielmo Iosa
From Angelo Abiuso's father Salvatore's cousin and from Zio Angelo Abiuso. When Don Guglielmo was working in Rome as Under-Secretary of State of Agriculture (sotto-segretario di stato di agricultura; this was under Fascist rule, as symbols on Don Guglielmo's official correspondence attest) and later of Work, some people in Gambatesa knew that Don Guglielmo was coming back to Gambatesa using the normal bus, that is, the transport used by the common people. So these people made a welcoming party with Gambatesa's music-band; but Don Guglielmo sent everyone home: he did not want this; he wanted to be treated as an ordinary man, like everyone else.
Zio Angelo, who later sold potatoes to Don Guglielmo (Iosa accepted the price without dispute and paid him), said this was because Don Guglielmo did not want to be treated as someone special. He used to talk to people in Gambatesa's La Villa, to talk to the people as one of them; he especially liked to walk in the countryside and talk to the people of the countryside.
The only thing he did for Gambatesa per se was a fruit tree plantation; it was located just before La Peschiera (an old covered fountain) when you came into Gambatesa from the southwest (but the plantation is not there any more). Don Guglielmo was interested in fruit trees -- he wrote a book about it -- and so the orchard was like a scientific experiment, but for the Gambatesans it was just a place to get free fruit.
The public library of Gambatesa is named after Guglielmo Iosa, as is the public school. The library is under the new school, on Via Nazionale just in front of Largo della Madonna. The school in Gambatesa has tree levels: kindergarten, primary school, junior high school (called in scuola secondaria di primo grado; senior high school is called scuola secondaria di secondo grado, and for this children of Gambatesa must take the bus to Campobasso.)
Related page: another photograph of the old Valente house in Via San Nicola, from August 2002. The photograph shows an old gun port in the apse of the Church of San Nicola.
The URL of this Web page: https://www.roangelo.net/valente/casavale.html
Last revised: 19 October 2014 : 2014-10-19 by Robert [Wesley] Angelo.