A remembrance by Ann O. Koloski-Ostrow and Steven E. Ostrow
The news of the passing of Maria Pesce-Sgariglia has brought deep sadness to ourselves and to multiple Vergilian Society generations who knew the unfailing generous hospitality offered by herself, by her husband and life-long Villa partner Biagio Sgariglia, and by all their family at the Villa Vergiliana at Cuma.
We were fortunate to have known Maria and Biagio for a full half century (and our sons Aaron and Benjamin for more than half that time), going back to the early 1970’s — at which time they had already been resident hosts at the Villa for a full decade. Our memories of these two are nearly impossible for us to disentangle, so closely did they work their Villa charm as an inseparable team.
We think inevitably as will all former Villa guests of that team at work in La Cucina. Maria’s talents there, like Biagio’s, were ever on enticing display, her own specialty, dessert! They ranged from Neapolitan fruit pies to profiteroles to a variety of cakes, often “spiced up” with generous doses of Strega. But beyond the kitchen, Maria took a major hand in “tomato season,” during which she helped put up hundreds of bottles each season from late summer’s bounty grown right in the Villa garden. (While Biagio tended to wine production, in part from the Villa’s own vines.) For decades Maria with her immediate family took the major role in every imaginable “housekeeping task’: there was the cleaning, the laundry and ironing, the bed preparation, the dishes — all of it, until in more recent years she accepted the help of other family and of friends and neighbors to lend a hand. There was never a household with more expert or loving hands to maintain its high standards of care. And there was Maria’s gorgeous singing voice, Neapolitan tunes first and foremost — not to mention the excited melodies in Neapolitan dialect exchanged with family and friends — a beautiful thing unto itself, if indecipherable to us non-initiates. And she knew how to tale a tale (in easily decipherable Italian), especially a comic tale, that brought to light the absurdities, the foibles of Neapolitans and Italians (and Americans!) for a smilingly appreciative audience. (“What to do with a 5-lire postage stamp that had drifted to the floor?” “Well, …..!”)
It is one thing to enumerate the things that Maria was so expert at doing. But it is another thing, to try to capture the person that she was. Her voice and her smile and her beauty and her tales all revealed the depth of soul and spirit, the loving kindness, the incredibly generous heart that literally thousands of Villa friends and guests came to know over the course of nearly a full two-thirds of a century. Maria was for us “Villa crowd” an extraordinary hostess, an intimate friend. And within a large and remarkable family she was a loving partner to Biagio, an open-hearted daughter and mother and grandmother and (!) great-grandmother, a dear sister, and more. She knew she was blessed in her family and friends. And she was in turn a blessing herself to untold numbers of others. It is not enough to say that she will be missed. Life at the Villa Vergiliana will be hard to imagine without her. Maria was one of a kind.
Anna e Stefano
24 May, 2022