(The second trip with my Dad and even more crazy coincidences!)

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At the request of some of my relatives, I have put up this synopsis of my trip to Positano, Italy in May 2001. The whole trip and how it came about make for a heck of a story. Let me know if you really want to see pics of the rest of the trip, or some of the other places I've been. Thanks. -Matt

The trip started because I had already planned to spend a week in Nice, France with my roommate and a couple of friends. I knew I'd have an extra week after they left, and Italy is just a few miles from Nice. So I decided to ask my Dad if he knew where our family was from in Italy. All he knew was that his grandfather was from "a small fishing village near Naples called Posedon." I went to Borders and looked in a Lonely Planet. There was no Posedon, but there was a Positano, which the book described as "The most picturesque town on the Amalfi Coast." I already knew the Amalfi Coast was supposed to be one of the most scenically beautiful placs in Italy, so that was the first mindblower to me. I asked my Dad if it could possibly be 'Positano' instead of 'Posedon', he said that must be it. It turns out the Southern Italian accent drops the last syllable most of the time.

So I thought maybe I would go to Positano and look in the phonebook for Savinos, or maybe go to the town square where the old men play checkers and ask around. But then my uncle Gary typed 'Positano' and 'Savino' into Google, and came back with a hotel on Savino street in Positano and several hotels owned by the Savino family. The Savino hotels were too expensive, so while I was sitting in a meeting with my bosses, I emailed the hotel on Savino street and told them my story. They got back to me within an hour. They explained that they were related to the Savino family, that a Savino worked in their gift shop, and that they would introduce me while I was there. That was mind-blowing event #2. So I booked the only room they had, a suite, for 3 nights.

After Nice, I made my way to Positano by train. I spent a night in Genoa, where I met some really nice students who took me out on the town. Then I spent a night in Cinque Terre, the other most scenic spot in Italy. My bus pulled into Positano right at dusk. The road is basically suspended halfway up the side of a several-thousand-foot cliff. On approach, Positano looked a lot like the dusk picture below, only from the other side, and obviously much more spectacular. I knew I was heading into something special.

That night I met Paulo, who runs an internet cafe/sandwich shop. I told him my story. He told me his girlfriend, Eva worked for Rafaella (I forget her current last name), who used to be Rafaella Savino before she married. Apparently the Savinos own half of Positano, and there's only 3000 people, so meeting someone who knew them wasn't that surprising. Eva came by later, I told her my story and she offered to introduce me to Rafaella the next day. The next morning as I walked down to the restaurant where people who were probably my family were waiting for me I started getting really nervous. I walked into the empty restaurant, there was a sweet 60-ish woman and a couple of men about the same age waiting for me. The first thing I did was show them my Passport, which has MATTHEW CLEMENTE SAVINO printed on it. (I had already heard there were several Clemente Savinos in town. Apparently 'Clemente' is not a very common name. I am named after my Grandfather.) They immdiately smiled and started calling me Clemente, and kept it up for the rest of the trip (say it with an Italian accent and some hand gesturing).

I showed them the pictures I had and told them what I knew--that my Great Grandfather, Beniamino Savino was born in Positano and came over to Long Island some time around the turn of the century. Rafaella then told me the whole story about my Great-Great Grandfather, Clemente Savino and the American and Italian side. She knew a lot more about my side of the family than I did. The moment I will never forget as long as I live is when I finally figured it out, and I looked at her and said "you mean your grandfather is my great-great-grandfather?" "Yes."

Apparenly Clemente was a coral trader and who was going back and forth between Positano and NYC around the turn of the century. Judging by the stories and the number of people named after him, he sounds like one of those larger-than-life figures, like how I picture my Uncle Bill back in the day. Around the turn of the century, Clemente decided he wanted his kids to grow up in the US, so he took all 6 of them and put them up in the houses of friends around NYC, mostly on Long Island. (Positano was a dirt-poor fishing village until WWII, when the British discovered it and started turning it into a resort town.) One of those kids was my Great-Grandfather, Beniamino. Then at age 71, Clemente's first wife died. Edit: I have learned one important change to this story on my 2nd trip to Positano with my Dad in 2006. Apparently Clemente's wife died FIRST, then he put his kids up in the U.S., which makes a lot more sense.

He moved back to Positano for good, married an 18-year old woman, and had 5 more kids. (Go Savino genes!) The descendants of those 5 kids now own a lot of Positano. Rafaella's hotel, the Covo dei Saraceni was originally Clemente's house.

We talked for a while, then they invited me to eat dinner at their restautant that night, and their hotel the next night. They were truly wonderful to me. The rest of the story comes out in the pics below. Positano was really incredible--the natural beauty and the wonderful people. It's blows my mind that part of me is from this town. And that this is all something I had never thought about until a few weeks before I left for Europe. I think a lot of Americans feel like their family tree only goes back a few generations. It was really incredible to learn I had roots like this. I also liked finding out there's some entrepenerual spirit and a wheeler-dealer in my background. I think the best part is that I know when I have kids it should be pretty easy for me to set it up so they could spend a summer in Positano. I think that would be a heck of an opportunity for an adolescent-age kid.

Me with one of the Clementes and Rafaella at Max's restaurant. This was the first meeting, I think I'm still pretty much in shock here.

Clemente had just lost a son a week before. On the bus into Positano I met a tourist who told me all about this crazy Italian funeral where they were carrying the casket through the town, down hundreds of steep steps, in the pouring rain. I found out the next day that it was my distant cousin in the casket.

A portrait of my Great-Great Grandfather Clemente Savino hanging in the lobby of the Covo di Saraceni. It's hard to tell from the glare, but he has a lot of my Dad's eyes.
The beach at Positano.
Positano circa 1850 or so. Reportedly, it was a very tough life. The town really didn't become a tourist destination until WWII. The British discovered it and decided they liked it. So the town started turning their houses into hotels and the Savinos made out pretty well. I think it's because most of the old-timers still remember the hard times, that the Positanians are so friendly and welcoming.
Old Positano again. The white house on the beach in the center was my great-great grandfather's house. It is now the Covo di Saraceni, the Savino family's 5-star hotel (below).
The Covo is the pink and peach building on the beach, as well as the swimming pool above. Here's their website.
Some of the American Savinos. This is one of the pictures that I showed to my relatives when we were first introduced. Mom and uncle Gary emailed it to me and I printed it up right before I went to met them.
Rafella and I in the lobby. She was so sweet and motherly. I felt like I had found my "Savino Grandmother".
Positano from above on the path to Monte Bello. Amazingly Positano really only ascends a third of the way or so up the cliff. And there are towns on the top. Nothing on the California coast that I've seen comes close to the height and steepness of the Amalfi Coast. The only place I've seen in the US that could compare in terms of natural grandeur is Yosemite--but add a beach and picturesque ancient Italian village.
Mio Cougino Massimo (Max), Rafaella's son. I think he looks a lot like the pictures of my grandfather at a youg age. He runs Max's Restaurant/Art Gallery, where they fed me the first meal. The place was very modern-upscale and it was pretty cool watching art deals go down while you eat. I want to try to bring the idea to LA. This is also where I presented the family with my cultural gift of T-shirts and a bottle of Gates barbecue sauce, which I lugged all across France and Italy. The chef came out, smelled it, and promptly proclaimed "ketchup". I explained that it was "not ketchup". But I think they just don't know what to do with sauce in a jar. The Australian guy I was eating with really liked it however.
My suite at the Villa La Tartana in Positano--probaly the nicest hotel room I've ever stayed in. I stayed in a hostel the night before, it was quite a contrast. Before the trip started, I figured that this room would be my big splurge. But at 145 Euros, it was barely more than the shoeboxes I stayed in in Paris and London.
Positano sailing away.
The north side of Positano, looking up.
    Savino Street in Positano and the business card from the Savino restaurant in the hotel.
Me with Rafaella and the other Clemente eating dinner at the Savino restaurant at the Covo di Saraceni. This was the second incredible meal they fed me, and it seems to be showing. I'm still trying to lose the 10 lbs I gained in Nice and Italy.

In the movie Only You, Marissa Tomei and Billy Zane eat dinner here. Rafaella said that business really picked up after the movie came out, and that people started coming in and asking for the exact table from the movie. Unfortunately the scene was filmed in the lobby where they don't normally have tables.

The town Church.
The town with the cliffs looming over.
This is Amalfi, the next town over, during a storm in 1987. Check out the size of the people in foreground. This is on a million postacards over there, but I'm still not 100% sure it's real.
Some students I met in Genoa that took me out on the town. They are Italian, Austrian, Irish, English and Maltese. I never felt like I was travelling alone the whole time I was in Italy. The distant Londoners I met right afterwards were quite a contrast.
Cinque Terre, like something out of a dream. This pic reminds me of several water-color paintings we had in the house when I was growing up.
Me on the way to Ravello with a sweet, wonderful, classy Aussie babe I met named Miriam. She sort of adopted me along with her friends Marsha and Susan. She taught me colorful Down Under sayings like "Givin' you stick" and that "fanny" means something entirely different over there.
This is my impression of the Mona Lisa eating fish n' chips at an English pub.