ario and his twin brother Aldo were born in Montona, Italy in 1940. Imagine Montona: a sleepy, medieval town set atop a cone-shaped hill in the Italian countryside. To get to the highest point, you need to climb 1,052 steps, the longest stairway in the world. And from the summit, the view of the Quieto river valley with its picturesque vineyards and fertile fields is absolutely breathtaking. In the surrounding forests, residents gather world-renowned truffles using specially trained dogs. Within Montona itself, children play freely, peacefully and happily on pristine cobblestone streets, amid ancient churches and the famous bell tower constructed in the 13th century.
That was Montona as the Andretti family knew it. But World War II broke out around the time Mario and Aldo were born and when it ended in 1945 the town was forever changed. Montona, located on the Istrian peninsula, was ceded to Yugoslavia as part of the post-war political settlement and the town they loved fell under Communist rule. The family stuck it out for three years hoping that the only world they had ever known would right itself. But when things hadn't changed by 1948, the family of five decided to leave Montona knowing their lives would never amount to anything under Communist doctrine. Their first stop was a central dispersement camp in Udine. About a week later, they were transferred to a refugee camp in Lucca.
Today the town of Montona is part of Croatia and is called Motovun. It hosts a film festival each year and still attracts tourists from all over the world who are drawn to its architectural and cultural charm.
The Andrettis left Montona in 1948 and moved to a refugee camp in Lucca. Aside from the camp, Lucca is a stunning city. It is a walled city and has been defined by its walls for more than 2000 years. Situated in the northern part of Tuscany, it's a town, rich in architecture. The medieval churches integrate splendidly with noble palaces.
The old grocery and pastry shops situated in the via Fillungo offer the most exquisite local specialties. The wine taverns, the trattorias and the restaurants are all testimony to the long tradition that Italians have for the pleasures of the table.
Mario's father, Gigi Andretti, was hopeful for the first few years that he would find a job and rebuild his life, allowing the family to remain in Italy. But after four years when things were not improving, he submitted a request for U.S. visas. For three more years the family waited for visas. Then, all of a sudden the visas came through and Mario's father told the family, we're moving to America. For seven years, from 1948 until 1955, they had lived in the camp.
On the morning of June 16, 1955, the Italian ocean liner Conte Biancamano arrived into New York Harbor. That was the day the Andrettis began their life in the United States. Mario was 15 and had been in the refugee camp since he was eight. His father had exactly $125 to his name and none of them spoke English. They settled in Pennsylvania with an uncle.