It is estimated that up to 25 million Argentinians have a full or partial Italian heritage. This is approximately 50% of the country’s population. The converse is also true: having an Argentine correlation is, in Italy, as widespread as hosting a Juventus supporter in one’s family. Although one would argue that it’s nowhere near as unfortunate.
Up to the very night of my departure for Buenos Aires I thought my family was the proverbial odd one ought. Piedmontese call themselves bogianen, which those of you versed in the language of the French will have little issues to translate in ceux qui ne bougent pas. Those who won’t move. In true bogianen spirit, then, I always thought that no one in our family had ever ventured beyond the homely air of Europe.
I was wrong.
I rang my father before embarking. Sounding mildly surprised at the destination, though I’d already mentioned it, he asked if I was going to look out for some cousins of his. Actually, his grandma’s cousin. I didn’t know we had any.
My great-grandmother, who died on her 100th birthday for she always said that she’d get to 100 and that was it, had a cousin. Unlike every other male in the family he answered the call of duty not in the Alpine troops but, instead, in the (then Royal) Navy. His service during the Great War, somewhere in the shallow and narrow Adriatic Sea, was deemed enough for him to face the unknowns of a Transatlantic voyage, a one-way ticket to America. So, one fine day in the disillusioned years that followed the end of the war, he took his newlywed bride and joined the exodus of Italians heading for the New World.
The only issue in this masterplan was that, to quote what my father said whilst I giggled uncontrollably, “They went to the wrong America”. You see, sea-wolf cousin and his wife were meaning to board a ship bound for Ellis Island, off the coast of New York; in the chaos of Genoa’s port they instead went on a boat bound for Argentina. Oops.
It’s unclear how sea-wolf cousin and his poor wife had taken the news of that “minor” mistake. Knowing our family, it’s entirely possible that their fellow passengers had been serenated by a flowery assortment of dialectal locutions that associated deities with farm animals, but there’s no proof of that. Yet, being the pragmatic Piedmontese they were, they didn’t let this minor incident spoil their new start in life; after all, what’s 5,000 miles of error? They settled in the Buenos Aires province and went on to lead a quiet, moderately successful life, slowly disappearing into the fog of History as years passed.
It was then time to board. On the jetway to the plane I asked my dad if he remembered the town where sea-wolf cousin and wife had settled. Jovially he said that he did.