||Jan 1 2001
More than an entertaining memoir/travelogue, Deeply Rooted is a story that examines the value of family, the courage of the human spirit and the grace of growing older. In it, Ginda explores the familiar terrain of Tuscany and Umbria, with an artist's eye for color and texture. She tells the story of the Calabrian peasant and his family, and how their solid strength, unwavering faith and gentle humor color their world and that of all who are fortunate enough to spend time in their warm presence. It is a book that will make readers long for a simpler, slower life, at the same time that it encourages them to pursue their dreams.
Ms. Maggi Reid
Ginda Simpson - El Marsam Studio
The moment we arrived at his gate, I saw him waiting under the arbor of his terrace. The noonday sun was luscious, filtered by the vines, dappling the ground with a pattern of white light and blue shade. He stood tall, unbent by the decades spent in the field. Afflicted with a skin disorder, the surface of his face was a patchwork of copper and pink tones; the pigmented parts bronzed by the Mediterranean sun and the rest turned a permanent pink long ago. My eyes took only brief notice of this, for life had etched a road map in the sun-parched terrain of his face; all the roads began at the fountain of his smile and ended near the oasis of his eyes.
It was then that, without a flicker of warning, I was drawn into his soul. His eyes held me in a warm embrace while his lips murmured "Virginia, rimani qui, non te ne vai mai." "Stay here, don’t ever leave." His large, earth-worn hand engulfed mine while I received his whiskered kisses on both my cheeks, and, in that moment, I did not ever want to leave. I lingered in the surge of pleasure as the transfusion of his affection coursed through my veins. Ciccio… he is my mother’s first cousin, born at San Leonardo. His father and my grandfather were brothers.
Rosa, the woman he vowed to love and cherish more than fifty years ago, was by his side. She was a beauty back when Ciccio first saw her in the fields by the sea. In her youth, she wore her long shining hair coiled on the top of her head. That day, she wore her dark curly hair cropped short and the natural lack of gray was a contrast to her aged complexion, a crinkled brown parchment revealing the many crossroads of her long life. Her thick glasses made it difficult for me to see into her eyes. Her bosom hung low on her short frame, a soft cushion behind the apron she dons each morning, an apron often splattered with tomato sauce or a dusting of flour.
As was the custom of homemakers in Calabria, Rosa seldom sat at mealtime. Buzzing around the table, she saw to the needs of her family and guests. She hovered with a large platter heaped high with fried eggplant or extra chunks of provolone cheese. Slicing through the thick crust of the coarse homemade bread she had wedged in the crook of her arm, she dealt out new pieces as easily as if they were playing cards. "Mangia, mangia!" she implored.
We were always urged to consume more than we comfortably could, and it was Ciccio’s habit to urge us on to drink. "Bevi, bevi!" he would plead with a twinkle in both eyes. He was proud of his homemade wine, and indeed it was the best red in the circle of our family’s winemaking. I selected a seat some distance from him, as I always found it difficult to resist his proffering of more wine. I preferred to watch his merriment through the clearings in the forest of wine bottles on the twelve-foot long table as he tempted and teased his dinner companions. Plastic bottles of water were planted among the wine bottles, but he warned us often: "Non bevi quella; l’acqua non é buona!" "Don’t drink the water; it is no good!"
On that day, it happened. Rosa was standing behind the chair where my daughter, Bridget, was seated for pranzo, our mid-day meal. Laughing merrily at the familiar family antics, Rosa cradled the back of Bridget’s head in the cushion of her breasts and placed her strong hands on Bridget’s shoulders. Looking at her husband with pride and tenderness she said: "Questa é una ciaramella!" "She’s a ciaramella, isn’t she?"
Being a ciaramella is being part of the Corasaniti family, usually a member with a genetic streak for pure, undiluted fun and hardheaded determination. It is a family nickname the origin of which has been lost through the generations. I have been told that the word means "bagpipe" and many varied explanations exist, but in our family, the expression adds up to only one significant meaning. Rosa was saying that Bridget was one of us. That same day, Ciccio went down in his wine cellar and brought up a bottle of wine from the year she was born. Bridget was twenty-one.
I believe deep down in my bones that it was in that moment, in that tender touch, that it happened. Bridget received the transfusion that links all of us.
She, too, is a Corasaniti.
Through prayer and perseverance, we found and purchased an enchanting 300-year old farmhouse in the Umbrian countryside. It is the place where we have learned to listen to life's music and greet each new day with wild, wonderful abandon.
Review by Anthony Buccino
Deeply Rooted in Faith & Family by Ginda Ayd Simpson
If you've ever dreamed of packing up all your belongings and moving to a beautiful farmhouse with a breath-taking view of the unforgettable countryside of Umbria in Italy, it would do you well to first read Deeply Rooted in Faith & Family by Ginda Ayd Simpson (290 pages).
Through a series of fate twists, the author - an artist - and her husband abandon a comfortable life in Egypt where his oil industry job has folded after two decades and decide at 50 what's next!
It turns out to be house packing in Egypt, house hunting in Italy and dealing with international shipments (of car and crates) and phone companies and paper work, and finding 'the' house. Says Simpson, "It scares me to think that all our worldly possessions, except for the contents of our suitcases, are in the hands of strangers."
Simpson, who is one of 12 children, weaves chapters of her family history - tied to Italy and tells parallel stories of what led up to the idea that life in Italy could be beautiful, and the strength of the roots pulling her back to her ancestral earth.
Here, in part is how the artist as author describes a relative in Italy: "... Her skin was smooth and dark as an olive but her hands were rough and swollen from her labors. Her thin lips were spread tight across an overbite in a lock of determination and concentration ..." and a later visit to this same relative yields the following, "Caterina wastes no time in beginning food preparations. Visits with Ciccio without eating a full-blown meal are unheard of and surprise visits are no exception."
Finding their new home in Italy is like falling in love for the first time.
The journey, well documented here, is the thing. In search of a home, Simpson observes, "The gray skies match my mood but even when I am most dispirited I cannot deny the allure of the sea, an intense blue ribbon of water that meets the misty horizon with defiance."
It’s the defiance of every roadblock to change and moving forward that pulls you along as your read Deeply Rooted.
A colleague tells me that the paperwork trials and bureaucratic tribulations endured by the author and her family are commonplace to this day and likely will be the same hundreds of years from now.
It's the beauty of the place, both in the family flashbacks and the new discoveries in each walk in what will become El Marsam, that serves to overcome the intolerable wait for paperwork to bring a car in from Egypt, or proceed with daughter Bridget and Darin's wedding.
The artist often stops to smell the roses, or in this case the fresh flowers in the groves, and the food.
Oh, the food. Everywhere the food has its influences in this book. Every family gathering has more food than anyone can eat. And huge helpings of loving-family-around you with each bite!
The artist as writer observes in word-pictures. For instance, you can see the night sky here: "... the sky that only this morning was an impenetrable white is now a deep blue-violet; the acacia tree creates an ink-black filigreed silhouette against the brushed silver moon."
I could have done without so much attention being paid to the daughter's wedding. Not that I'm against weddings, or living happily ever after-ing, but I would have preferred more on the hills and the landscape and the artwork. But the wedding details and story does serve to make the new country home, to make Italy the place where the family not only is from, as in generations past, but where they have returned, and will be from for generations to come.
I hated to finish this book, to leave the sweet, homey visit with artist Ginda Ayd Simpson and her family through their trials. But as her new neighbors might say "basta!" enough. The only way to keep enjoying this story is to pick up and head out to the artist's bed and breakfast in Perugia. You'll already know the story of how the house got its address, recently, at the end of the 20th Century, when it finally needed one for the new American family that came home to El Marsam, a farmhouse with a view.
This is not a book you are likely to come across in the book store. It has been printed in Italy and in Italy, and an American publisher should look into our own version. Deeply Rooted is is a delightful and enchanting book of an artist’s journey home. It is one you should consider owning for your personal library, and donating a separate copy to your local public library.
For ordering information... visit www.gindasimpson.com For visitor's info visit www.elmarsam.com
Review by Pat Fogarty (Writers in Rome)
Deeply Rooted is a book to enter with care. From her gallery of word pictures, author and painter Ginda Ayd Simpson lays out a richly tinted panorama of the Italian countryside, its land, people, and natural bounty. There’s a thoroughly engaging surface texture. Yet within this brilliant parade of scenes, a complex chronicle of faith and family unfolds, as Simpson and her husband seek to take hold, and root in a new life.
When a corporate merger in Cairo leaves Ginda’s husband Mike jobless, the couple faces a challenge familiar to today’s global market worker. Due to downsizing, and Mike’s age, suddenly there’s no employment, no new address circled as next layover on the map. The Simpsons have no place of their own to return to. Where to go? Most of all: why? Ginda and Mike set out in pursuit of answers.
After the nightmare complications of leaving Cairo, the couple’s first stop in their journey is along the southeast Italian coast, in Calabria. It’s both a reuniting with kin and return to a country that has signified much for both of them. Almost a century ago Ginda’s Grandfather Giuseppe Corasaniti emigrated to America from his father’s lands. Across the wide Atlantic and the many decades, through visit and reunion, the American and Italian Corasaniti relations have never ceased bonding. Though time has passed since Mike’s temporary Naples residence, and Ginda’s last family contact, they still mutually celebrate the rich experiences and life values they each found during their Italian stays. They agree: it’s a common heritage and building-point.
At the Corasaniti ancestral house, great-cousins and aunts still work the land at San Leonardo, in the small town of Davoli. Here the Simpsons arrive to rifocolare - restore and re-strengthen - in every way. For this homestead and its cultivated fields represent a century-long history, where love of family and land, and enduring religious faith have triumphed. A chronicle that begins with Giuseppe’s emigration forms a chain across the passage of time, to a present day wedding ceremony for Mike and Ginda’s daughter Bridget, in the tiny old church reposing in the heart-and-home-land of San Leonardo.
To organize this event, there’s been, of course, a grand Corasaniti reunion and countryside picnic. In one typical stroke from her vibrantly organized word canvas, Simpson provides a Gargantuan vision of the groaning board and overflowing affection shared on this occasion. With the author, we savor the warm sharpness of local wine, the odors of wood oven breads, the hot pepper in local sausages. Corasaniti cousins whisper in our ear: Ci penso io/I’ll take care of that for you. And so, in San Leonardo, surrounded by a casting-director’s dream of relatives and acquaintances, enclosed in a circle of loving warmth, secure in their life-affirming religious convictions and belief in prayer, Ginda and Mike Simpson reconstruct their personal link to the ever-rich and generous Italian countryside, and the sustaining Italian values of faith and family.
Now they know what they want and need. And after long scouring of a brilliantly-described paesaggio, they find it in a stone and masonry casale nestled in the verdant Umbrian hills. Here they bring their energies, dedication, and love to Spazzavento, windbreaker hilltop home. Challenges are the order of each day. From the semi-comic dramas played out with Italian bureaucracy, to the hard physical labor involved in bringing an ancient farmhouse and its lands back to life. Their new home is alive with their energies and commitment.
As coincidental, but icing-on-the-cake climax to the Simpson’s tale, chance research in old documents reveals their casale is four centuries old, part of a much larger estate named “Villa Pace,” a name that represents the lasting peace they find as they work the land, pruning, reseeding, planting, and caring for its abundant crops.
To keep fresh in memory the hard-won fruit of faith and family, and their long journey to this goal, they decide to give their new living space, an Egyptian name, El Marsam: workcenter and artist’s studio. In the old vineyards and fruit groves planted on their undulating terrain, within their ancient casale, the Simpsons are home.
Review by Maya Williamson (Cairo)
Ginda Simpson's memoir, Deeply Rooted, records not the pangs of growth, the passions of youth, or the high points of a successful career, but rather a process of re-evaluation and recommitment experienced in middle age. What to do when you are no longer tied to a specific location because of your job or your family? Do you go, or do you stay? Perhaps because Americans are less rooted in their soil than people of other cultures, or perhaps because they have essentially remained pioneers, more and more American retirees pack up and move somewhere else. Those with international experience may leave the United States altogether.
With their three daughters off on their own and Ginda's husband's career as a geologist prematurely terminated as a result of a merger in the oil industry, the Simpsons decided to settle in Italy. Deeply Rooted explains why - emphasizing the importance of cultural and spiritual rather than physical or geographical rootedness. Ginda, a painter and writer, loves the culture and life style of Italy; her husband loves working the land, growing his own olives and grapes - with dreams of making wine. About one half of the chapters in the book chronicle, in diary form, the details of the couple's move from Cairo, where they were posted at the time of the lay-off, into a three centuries-old restored farmhouse in Umbria. It chronicles all of the emotional and practical upheavals involved in this move, not least of which the challenges of the Egyptian and Italian customs authorities. The other chapters recount, in the form of a narrative covering some hundred years of family history, why the author in particular is so drawn to the land of her ancestors. In this way, alternating between the personal present tense of the diary and the past tense of the historical sections, the narrative makes one an integral part of the other, Ginda's own world a part of that of her extended family, the present of the past, the past of the present.
What distinguishes this book from other en vogue records of cultured Americans setting up house in similarly romantic locations like Provence or Tuscany (the best-selling books by Frances Mayes, for example) is I think the depth of the author's love for and connectedness with the people and their culture. Not only do we get luscious descriptions of landscapes and food in the Niccone Valley, of old houses in their natural setting, of the fruits of the land, of the art and architecture of Florence, and the beauty of the countryside around her ancestral hometown Davoli in Calabria, there are also deeply affectionate portraits of her relatives and stories of family ties that have remained strong across the ocean for over a hundred years, culminating in her oldest daughter's wedding at the Santa Lucia Church in Davoli, their ancestral village, in August 1998.
There is much that is very personal in this memoir, which makes it both heartwarming and eminently readable. It seduces with the culinary and aesthetic delights of Italy, shows that the horrendous hurdles put up by foreign bureaucracies can be overcome without resorting to crime or the dark arts, and is proof that it is never too late to take a new direction. Playing it safe and staying put may be the worst thing for you.
This book is an inspiration, an injunction to follow your dreams no matter what.
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