Goodbye Nona

I just came back from Peru, where my grandmother unfortunately passed away hours before my plane left. However, Id like to take a minute to celebrate her and give her the recognition that she deserves. For she is a fascinating woman: a world-class historian, anthropologist and archeologist, but most importantly mother/grandmother. A woman of rare modesty and intense honesty, Ana Maria Soldi has influenced some of the most respected scholars in the world today and I am sure has touched the hearts of every single person she has ever met.

My grandmother, my Nona, was born in Genoa, Italy in 1918. She studied Chemistry at the University of Genoa and when she was 18 she met a distant cousin, Carlos Soldi, who has sailed from Peru to see his family for the first time since he was an infant. Ana Maria and Carlos instantly fell in love and continued their romance through letters from South America to Italy for a few years. When the war exploded in Italy, Carlos sailed to Italy to take Ana Maria to Peru with him, where she would be safe and they would start a family. They eventually had 5 children: Carlos, Jaime, Claudio, Hector and Adriana. (Hector is my father). My Nono Carlos was the manager of a large plantation in Ica, Peru. He oversaw the production of the Peruvian wine, much like his family once did in Italy.

Ica has an immensely rich history and was once part of the largest and most powerful empire the world ever saw (larger, smarter, and more innovative than the Roman and Greek Empires), The Inca Empire. While in Ica, my Nono developed a huge interest in archeology and went on many excavations, ultimately generating the largest private collection of Inca artifacts in the area. My Nona, a very independent woman, was fascinated by this culture and started doing research and field work of her own, and slowly became and gained reputation as one of the finest historians/scholars on the subject.

My Nona has always been a woman of great modesty and has never shared much with us in regards to her success because she always believed her success to be secondary to more important things such as being with the family and doing more research and writing on the subject she loved. Upon her very sudden illness and death (she lived a very healthy life for 90 years), her very dear friend and colleague, Heather Lechtman, Professor of Archeology and Ancient Technology at MIT, came down to see the family and share with us what my Nona means to her. Heather spent several days with my family telling us incredible things we never knew about my Nona. Heather is one of the most respected historians in the US today and in a recent article she wrote:

"Sra. Soldi was a steadfast colleague and friend to many Andean scholars for over more than fifty years. She worked closely with John Murra, Craig Morris, and with me. I could never have accomplished many years of fieldwork in Peru had it not been for her commitment to my research and to me. She had a deep knowledge of Andean prehistory, especially the societies of the south coast of Peru. The deaths of Morris, Murra, and AnaMaria Soldi in the past two and a half years end a rich, energetic, and transformative era in Andean studies."

I always knew my Nona was a very respected and well read historian/anthropologist/archeologist, but according to Heather she wasn't very good, she was in fact one of the best of her era. Apparently many of the departments of archaeological studies including those at MIT and Harvard have shaped much of their teaching around my Nona's thoughts and writings. She has also been a very influential figure in the lives of historian Maria Rostworowski and Janet Abramowicz (long time studio assistant for painter Giorgio Morandi, she wrote the introduction to the catalog for his latest retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum). My Nona was also the one who gave German archaeologist Maria Reicher a ladder in the 1930's when she first arrived to Ica to study the Nazca Lines. After studying the lines from the top of said ladder, Maria Reicher became one of the most influential archaeologists and thinkers Peru ever saw.
(Photo: Maria Reicher at The Nazca Lines)

Among other people who frequented my Nona, was painter Servulo Gutierrez, who made a series of breathtaking portraits of her that now hang at her house. I also found out that over the years during the 50's and 60's my Nona welcomed into her home many gay anthropologists and scholars from around the world, who had a very hard time studying a culture rooted in a place that at the time was (and still kinda is) so incredibly homophobic. Being a woman with such a unique vision, she welcomed every gay scholar and their partners into their home and shared her wisdom with these people who later became very influential historians.

I could go on and on about how wonderful my Nona was. Not only academically but also as a human being- a very delicate woman of classic beauty, always very put together, a woman of endless patience and wisdom. Yet she was a woman of great strength, very progressive for her time and definitely a woman of character. When my Nona died, the rich family that owned the plantation, a family of lawyers, refused to give my Nona the retirement money that she deserved, so she sued them in 1967. She sued a family of lawyers by herself without a lawyer of her own. She defended herself in court against 3 of the finest lawyers in the capital, and after a 10 year law suit she won and they payed her back every single penny and then some. I feel like that says a lot about the kind of woman she was.

Kind as one can be, my Nona and I could spend hours talking about art and photography. My Nona could look at me and smile in a way that no one else can. Her heart was warm and never full, there always space for everyone in it. A woman of great values and intellect, Ana Maria Soldi deserves to rest in peace and I hope she knows I am here celebrating her life and all of her success.

I love you, Nona and I am happy I was with you holding your hand until the day you left us. I am so proud to be your grandson and although I will never be half the person you were, I promise I will make you proud.