Maria Andriani talks about La Badessa, which was once the largest landholding in Apulia, with conflicting emotions. Maria was born in a nearby agricultural village, but she really grew up at La Badessa, when the estate belonged to the Neapolitan Conte Caracciolo di Forino and his French wife. When Maria arrived just after the war, its immensity so amazed her that she thought it must be a village.
At first Maria came during the day to do the laundry, arriving with her cousin, Nicolino, who brought her on the handlebars of his bicycle, even when the ground was carpeted with snow. Her mother was a laundress who also worked in the fields, her father an invalid with tuberculosis. As soon as they saw that their children were old enough to work, they sent the sons to factories in Germany and Maria and her older sister, although totally untrained, were consigned to La Badessa. It wasn’t long until her sister left to study with the nuns, leaving Maria, a small scrawny girl, on her own. It was the first time she had lived in a room by herself, the first time she had slept in a bed by herself, and the first time she was totally without family, but she was determined to succeed.