My uncle and aunt’s favorite spot in the palazzo was the garden — Kiki said he expected to see Adam and Eve — and many old Bernaldese came to visit them there, including the poet Pietro Russo, who presented my uncle and me with a dictionary he had published of the Bernalda dialect. He and Uncle Kiki spent a long time discussing meanings, derivatives and cognates. Various “cugini” came by to pay their respects (usually bringing with them homegrown peppers or olive oil) — there was the sculptor Gaetano Russo and his brother Michele, the actor who reached out to me when I was shooting in Rome, saying he was a cousin from Bernalda. Eventually he won a role in “The Godfather Part III.” They operate an arts center in a castle 10 minutes away, with exhibits, music and theater performances. There was also Rocchelia, the town’s good-looking professoressa. I’m told that when she first started teaching at age 22, her class was filled with local boys and she didn’t know why. Finally she realized they were attentively looking at her legs under her desk.
Over meals of capuzzelle, an oven-roasted sheep’s head, and while sunning ourselves by the pool, we reflected on great-grandfather Carmine, who would go swimming in the Basento River. That’s where he caught pneumonia at age 44 and died, leaving Senza Naso alone to support her four sons with the beautiful dresses she made for the rich ladies of the town, no doubt the very ones who lived in the Palazzo Margherita. It’s said that when her boys all emigrated to America, she remained alone in Bernalda bella, doing her beautiful embroidery and never seeing her sons again.
On one of the last days, Uncle Kiki told me he understood that Palazzo Margherita was really a sentimental project for me, an expression of love for our family.
Francis Ford Coppola, Back To Bernalda