It has been established that I am not the world’s best navigator. I am surprisingly adept at finding my way through cities on foot, yet in a car, I am totally useless. Since Mamma Parla drives and I ride shotgun, I learn to depend heavily on Google Maps to fulfill my purpose. But since my crap iPhone battery dies daily before late afternoon, I was little help in guiding us and when we pulled off the highway at the requisite exit at 5pm, the sun was beginning to set over Basilicata and the so-close-yet-so-far town of Spinoso. It was clear that we wouldn’t make it before dark (at least not with me navigating blind), so we decided to postpone our journey until the morning and sought accommodations in Viggiano.

Spinoso was so close that we could see it in the distance, perched on a rocky peak overlooking Lago di Pietra del Pertusillo, a manmade lake created by damning the Agri River. As we gazed over the valley, it occurred to me that our ancestors hadn’t seen the lake at all, which was built in the 1950s and 60s. The nature of their town, its irrigation and climate must have been so different when they left more than a century ago. I wondered where in the town they had lived and if their homes still existed.

Those questions would have to wait till the morning to even be asked. After a night in the ridiculously cute Viggiano, we drove down the mountain and around the lake to Spinoso. Armed with photocopies of passports, marriage certificates and a sketchy hand written family tree, we made our way to this remote town of 1,594 inhabitants we were sure–or at least we thought at the time–was our ancestral land. We were soon to find out.