At one end of the narrow, cobblestone street, a handful of men dressed in slacks and white tank tops craned their necks, the cigarettes in their hands frozen mid-puff. Scarf-cloaked women, bent and wrinkled, stopped partway through their downhill journey and stared.
There we were in Italy. Savoia di Lucania, if you want specifics. Four generations of my family, parking our rental cars in every available space (and then some) and shouting rudimentary Italian to passerby, as if we owned the place already. (That’s just how my family does things.) For we were in “The Village,” Papa’s village and, as it turned out, the village we were so excited to see was just as excited to see us.
The idea of a family pilgrimage to Savoia di Lucania first took shape two summers ago, an excuse to celebrate my Nonnie’s big 8-0 in the biggest way possible: with 30 of our closest relatives plus our Italian counterparts. We would rent out a villa in Giungano, a small town carved into the mountains of the Salerno province, and celebrate our fearless matriarch.
As a writer, I’ve always tended to seek out origins. My first notebook, a hardcover Winnie-the-Pooh one, was filled with semi-fictional accounts about friends and foes, my attempt at uncovering the “real” story behind the people in my life. After graduating from J-school, my stint as a breaking news reporter forced me to get to the root of novice and, sometimes, deeply troubling crimes.
But now it was my family I was considering as we smilingly grouped ourselves shortest to tallest, prepping for the photo that would mark this momentous occasion. Snap.
What the frame didn’t show was that in a week, when I was back at my apartment, that photo and all the others I had taken of that tiny Italian village would be gone; a grave mistake of my own doing. No more photos of the incredible home that my Italian family had invited us into; no more photos of the cobblestone streets or the church where my great, great grandparents were wed. I could forget about ever seeing that sunset that bathed the terracotta roofs in an apricot-y glow or the Benvenuti alla Salvia mural painted on the side of someone’s house, which I had planned to paint myself and give as Christmas gifts.
I had spent the better part of my trip viewing it from behind the lens of my camera. Instead of actually being present, in the moment, I (ironically) sought to preserve those experiences I had with my family in Italy with the click of a button and the flash of a bulb.
Flash forward almost seven months. Those of you who follow me on Instagram (@hfederico) might’ve noticed I’ve scaled back my posts. I haven’t touched my camera in a while, rather electing to get outside or go out with family and friends, and actually enjoy it.
Because despite those fears that I might forget a moment if it’s not captured on film, that little Italian village taught me one lesson I know I will never forget: Sometimes, it’s best to just put the camera away.