It was in 2011 that my excitement began to rise with the news that the 2014 Club Crew World Championships for Dragon Boating would take place in Ravenna, Italy. Our team, the Ottawa Premier Women “Galley Girls”, wanted to compete at the World Championships in Italy. That meant a ton of training… We qualified in Victoria, BC, and continued to work very hard for the next year with the goal of reaching the podium in Italy. Time flew by and, before I knew it, I was in Ravenna. What a surreal experience! Competing in Italy, the country where my roots are firmly planted. Where my nonno, Raphaele Licari, and bisnonni, Giuseppe & Domenica Imbessi, immigrated from. The team performed amazingly. Not only did we reach our goal, we did so in all 3 of the events in which we competed! By competition’s end, we had earned a silver medal in the 200m and gold medals in the 2000m and in the much coveted 500m marquee event. Words cannot express how incredible an experience this was. And for it to happen in Italy! Dad and Mom would be so proud.
Little did I know that was only the beginning…
With the competition over, my husband and I started our 4 week journey through Italy - starting from Venice and working our way down. We saw amazing landscapes, picturesque villages, historic sites and met wonderful people. Still, for me, the most exciting part would be when we would try to find where my nonno had come from - the little village of Fiumara in Reggio Calabria. I had never been that far south. Once in Reggio, we began our search. My father, Frank J. Licari, and my Zio Raphaele Licari had given us information to help find Fiumara and, we eventually did - I was ecstatic! There I was, seeing the sites nonno would have seen so many years ago - the sea, the beautiful river valley lined by steep hills, the countless fruit trees!
For me, the trip simply could not have gotten any better. And then, along came Rocco (Battista) a resident of Fiumara, who started speaking to us. Ironically, he had been born in Ottawa and offered to help. You can imagine our surprise when he said, “I know a Licari here. Want to meet her?” He generously hopped into his car and led us through the hills to Angelina’s home. Within seconds of being introduced, there were cries of joy, hugs, tears, and we were quickly ushered into her home. Food was brought out, phone calls were made and more family arrived, including son Emilio and daughter Cristina. A feast ensued with much laughter and I realized my family had grown. We were informed a hotel was not an option so we settled in with Angelina’s generous hospitality. We extended our time in Fiumara to learn more about the area and get to know the family we had met. So many wonderful people gave of themselves and their time to make our stay so special. People like Father Angelo Licari and his sister Tita and Francesco Belle, the village historian, along his wife Shella and son Vincenzo. All of whom welcomed us into their homes and allowed us to share wonderful meals with them - all the while helping me learn about my family and our genealogy tree. We have never experienced such warmth and generosity, nor have we eaten so much fantastic food.
Dragon boating brought me to Italy. But the Golds we won in Ravenna are easily matched by the Gold I found in Fiumara!
I have truly been blessed by this gift, this once in a lifetime experience that I will always cherish.
Written by: Christine Licari