Bravissimi Ri Ualanegli!!

Hats off to the organizers, dancers and volunteers from Cultural Association Folk Ri Ualanegli,  who made the Festival Internationale del Folklore Pontelandolfo an artistic and administrative success.  A special applause to the group’s president Antonio Sicardi, the incredible Michela Delli Veneri and all those who, through dance, proudly promote the culture of Pontelandolfo both here and abroad.  Not only did over 130 dancers from five countries perform in Pontelandolfo but also in San Giorgio del Sannio and Morcone. Why is that touring factoid important to me?  Simple, as an arts administrator I know that spreading the cost for something over a number of events and venues is prudent. If a dance company is flying 5,386 miles – as the crow flies – from Thailand, they better have a series of gigs set up.  It was brilliant to share the festival with neighboring towns.  That meant more opportunities for the dance companies, more publicity for the over all series, more opportunities to promote a participating country, more ways to get Pontelandolfo’s name out there, more happy sponsors whose names are posted more places and my favorite  – you simply get more bang for your buck.

 

The opening and closing parades were energizing!  Flags of all nations.  Banners from each company. Dancers of all ages, colors and ethnicities.  The piazza was full of families enjoying the night and excited to see what we all think is probably the best Italian Folk Dance Company, Ri Ualanegli, but also dance styles from far – away places.

Seeing the companies coming in reminded me just how much work organizing a dance festival is.  Vetting and inviting companies is easy peasy. It is the other stuff that can be an organizational nightmare.  Hmmm, where do you house 130 people?  Where do they eat?  How do they get from point A to point B?  How about the outdoor stage? Lights, sound and tech staff? Promotion?

The hotel in town has 7 rooms.  There is no restaurant. There is no real public transportation. The town does not have a professional public relations staff.  Ri Ualanegli has members who are committed not only to the art of recreating historic dances but also enhancing the visibility of Pontelandolfo.  That means – gulp – they clean out and repurpose the abandoned senior housing project.  (That is another one of those political boondoggle stories.) Drag in beds to each apartment. Gather sheets, towels, toiletries. Shine up all the plumbing, light fixtures and grounds. Ask their friends and relatives to volunteer to cook.  Arrange tours of Pontelandolfo and the province. Essentially, do what ever it takes to make the housing and cross cultural experience wonderful for the guest artists. Of course, we can’t forget the production values.  They totally produce the multi night, multi venue festival. Work with the technical folks and promote the hell out of the event. Did I mention they do it all with volunteers!!!!

I am impressed.  I am touched by their generosity, verve and commitment.  It is this love for the dance, the village and the country that makes Ri Ualangli exceptional.  OK, just thinking about it is making me weepy.

Anybody wonder who was dancing?

Thailand’s Suankularb Wittayalai Chonburi 

Irish dance

 Troy O’Herlihy Irish Dancers

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Gruppo Folk La Takkarata, Fragneto Monforte, Italia

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Portugal’s Grupo Folclórico e Cultural da Boavista Portalegre

Colombia

Colombia’s Ballet Ciudad Duitama 

Ponte group_Fotor

Pontelandolfo’s Own –  Ri Ualanegli

Mille grazie a Ri Ualanegli!  I thank you, the town thanks you, the audiences thank you and all those dancers who flew in to experience Pontelandolfo’s love for the dance thank you.

Ci vediamo!

 

Not Just an Ordinary Kid’s Camp

Kids fighting fires. Kids finding lost kids in the woods. Kids rappelling down from a building. Kids assessing environmental risks.  KIDS???  Thirty-eight lucky children between the ages of ten and thirteen got to explore exactly what it means to be part of Italy’s volunteer safety net, Protezione Civile.  They also got an adrenal rush and I’m sure will consider becoming future volunteers.

 Volunteers are a cornerstone of Pontelandolfo life.  They organize arts activities, social events, parish festivals and most important of all ensure that Pontelandolfese are safe, secure and assisted in time of need.  On call 24 hours a day, Protezione Civile Pontelandolfo, Civil Protection, is an organization of a highly trained and committed residents who are willing to leap into the fray whenever there is an emergency.  On the news, you have seen volunteers like them, in their yellow trimmed uniforms, helping with search and rescue after earthquakes, floods etc. In Pontelandolfo, I have watched them do traffic control, handle snow emergencies, guide people to safety, assist the Italian Red Cross and essentially intervene whenever it was necessary.  Click here for an example of their role with a 2015 flood and wind that knocked more than our sox off.

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Italians have big hearts and have always had a willingness to lend a hand.  After citizens mobilized independently to assist with the huge disasters that hit Italy in a fifty-year period, like the floods of Florence in 1966 and the Friuli and Irpinia earthquakes, it was recognized that an organized public system of deployment was necessary.  In 1992, Protezione Civile, the National Service of Civil Protection, by law became an integral part of the public system.

This is serious business.  The region organizes drills which simulate real risk situations.  Since we live in an earthquake zone, our village hosted an earthquake drill.

It is so serious, that future leaders and volunteers are fostered through an annual exceptional week long summer camp.  With the support of the National Department of Civil Protection, the Comune of Pontelandolfo and in collaboration with Protezione Civile di Fragneto L’Abate, Gruppo Comunale di Protezione Civile di Bisaccia, and Protezione Civile Irpinia di San Potito Ultra, Stefano Baldini, the head of our local Protezione Civile, and his team of volunteers organized Il Campo Scuola 2019.

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This coed camp had all the cool out door experiences.

From July 1 through July 7 this year, kids did the usual camp stuff like setting up and sleeping in a tent, they also were immersed in theoretical and practical civil protection training courses.  What school in the summer???  Who would want to do that??  These kids certainly did. Besides it wasn’t all work and no play.  Some of the work looked pretty exciting.  The young trainees had to apply for admittance.  The program was totally free!  Participants came from Pontelandolfo, Morcone, Fragneto Monforte, Bisaccia, Sant’Angelo A Cupolo, San Potito, Aquilonia and Flumeri.  Bringing kids from a variety of towns together makes sense.  All of the individual Protezione Civile groups often work with each other.  If it is an emergency or a giant festa that needs crowd control, we see uniforms from a variety of places.  The kids working together at this age starts the collaboration ball rolling.

I remember being forced to go to Camp Speers ripping my forearm with a bow string and belly crawling with a 22 rifle.  I hated every minute of it.  If there had been some academic portion or if the firing a rifle was being taught for a real purpose I might not have fought tooth and nail not to go.

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Nope, not injured. Just learning how to carry an injured person.

These campers got lots of physical activity and real-world experiences.  Here is a quick overview – set up a field operation – yup put up the tents, rig electrical system etc.; over view of the National Civil Protection system; municipal contingency plans – what??  I have to pause here and tell Jack.  My husband spent most of his adult career working in emergency preparedness planning.  I bet after this camp some of these kids could write better municipal contingency plans than some of the town plans Jack read when he was with the State Police.

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OK, back to the grueling week – they had a lesson on cartography ( I had to look the word up – science of drawing maps); figuring out territory orientation;  using a map and a single compass figuring out a path through Mountain Cavello to lunch!  No one got lost!!!  I would have been found weeks later sitting on a log begging to go home.  These kids were GREAT!.

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How many stories up is this??

After a lesson on the seismic conditions of our region and what to do if an earthquake hits, these kids leaped to another disaster.  What do you do if someone is trapped high up on a hill with a broken leg or in a burning building?  You use a safety harness, zip wire or rappel.

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Team effort of numerous Protezione Civile groups.

I’m exhausted just writing about all that they accomplished. And the list goes on – fire safety and protection, hydroeological risks (looked this up too – distribution and movement of groundwater in the soil and rocks of the Earth’s crust), use of radios for communication, working with canine units, forest fire rescues, searching for missing people, working with people with disabilities and…….

Complimenti!  Bravi!

The kids who will be the leaders of tomorrow deserve a big round of applause and so do the volunteers of Protezione Civile Pontelandolfo who give their time, energy and love to our little village.

Ci vediamo.

Our Village Mourns an Artistic Legend

Ugo Gregoretti died on July 5, 2019 in the city where he began his life. The icon of Italian cinema and film was born on September 28, 1930 in Rome. The death of this pioneer of the new Italian cinema, director, actor, playwright and author was mourned not only by the film and theatre communities but also by the entire Pontelandolfo comunity. Within moments of the announcement of his passing, Pontelandolfesi from around the world paid homage to the man on their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds. Death notice condolences were ordered by individuals, families and community groups. These were posted throughout the village. Here is an example –

A titolo personale e a nome della  Redazione del sito  www. pontelandolfonews.com porgo sentite condoglianze alla Famiglia Gregoretti per la perdita del  caro amico e grande Maestro Ugo Gregoretti.

Renato Rinaldi

Ugo Gregoretti loved Pontelandolfo and Pontelandolfo loved him. As a boy, he spent his summers frolicking in the fields and piazzas of Pontelandolfo.

His father once owned the village’s medieval Tower. Saddened when his mother decided to sell the tower, he was often quoted as saying he wanted to set up a foundation for the property and open it to all.

In 2014, he donated his library to the town so that his personal and professional history could be preserved in the village he loved.  The collection of scripts, posters, film memorabilia and personal items is held in the newly renovated Piazza Rinaldi. The Ministry of Heritage, Cultural Activities and Tourism noted its importance.

Gregoretti also put his money where his heart was and developed Comicron, an international film festival that is produced in Pontelandolfo.

Comicron, devoted exclusively to one genre – comedy – is a unique experience in the International Festival scene.  The films are all shorts and most of the entrants are young filmmakers. Audiences come, watch and leave smiling.  Gregoretti’s famous actor and film making pals have also participated which insured that national press covered the event.

Gregoretti could often be seen in Pontelandolfo. He even came to the Club del Libro and entertained us with his tales and writing.

The mayor, members of the city council and citizens went to Rome to say goodbye. His wake was at the famous Casa del Cinema in Rome. On their website they noted:

Noi di Casa del Cinema, insieme a Luca Bergamo, Vicesindaco e Assessore alla Crescita Culturale, ai vertici di Zetema ma soprattutto insieme alla straordinaria platea degli appassionati di cinema, siamo adesso vicini a Orsetta, ai suoi fratelli, alla moglie Fausta, agli amici e compagni di mille avventure. Ciao Ugo, questa rimarrà casa tua.

He will be missed.

Ci vediamo.

(SORRY THE FONTS ARE SQUIRRELLY. WORDPRESS FROM MY IPAD IS HELL TO WORK WITH.)

Noooo!!! Don’t Bring FaceBook to Dinner

Full moon, clear skies, linen covered tables, delectable dinners and twinkle lights like little stars flicker over the patio. Traditional concertino music wafted in from the concert down the block. A perfect night at Medusa, one of our favorite seafood restaurants in San Salvo Marino.

Jack, I whispered, look around. Notice anything odd?

Whaaat? Jack bellowed his favorite response to anything I ask. What am I supposed to see?

The evil FaceBook blue light of enticement, addiction and control. That’s what.

Whaaat? Get over the phone on the table fixation.

Maybe, I am fixated on groups of people who don’t talk. The first time I saw a couple eating dinner and each reading a book, I was horrified. Why aren’t they talking? Who could go out to dinner and not talk? It was beyond my comprehension. Now, I see it all the time. At Medusa I saw –

Two 50-something well dressed women sipping wine, sharing a seafood antipasti and each reading FaceBook.

A family of three each eating their own pizza and slopping tomatoes on their Facebook linked phones.

An older elegant couple – like Jack and I – eating cozze, mussels cooked in a touch of white wine, staring at their telephones.

Nonna, nonno, mom, pop and one baby were all staring at cell phones. Yup, the moment they sat down, the mom plopped a hand held device in front of the kid.

I could go on and on and on. There were only three groups – four if you count Jack and I – out of about 20 tables that were not glued to their fakakata phones. There were the two men and their adorable dog who chatted away. The couple with the not so adorable 3 year old who they had to chase all over the patio. Lastly, a young family of mom, dad and two sons. The boys were both under 8 or 9 and were chatting about their day at the beach.

This addiction to FaceBook at Italian dining tables is troublesome on so many levels. The silence is deafening. No one listens to the joys and tribulations of the day because they are commenting on pictures of flowers, food and other people’s babies. Over the past few years the FaceBook ferver has grown and grown. I fear that the stereotypical loud Italian conversations will soon fade to key taps.

When we are in the USA, I don’t notice as many phones out on restaurant tables. Have you seen an increase in diminished conversation and growing table side telephone staring? Am I the only person who finds this FaceBook addiction unnerving?

Frankly, I don’t understand the need for Facebook. Somehow we all got along before the social media pipeline sucked us in.

I hear you. I hear you. Yup, this blog has a FaceBook page. Yup, I use it to let people know about Pontelandolfo and our program Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo. Yup, I post links to The NY Times in hopes that those who suck on the teat of fake news websites will read something a bit more valid. Yup, I spend about 1\2 an hour a day checking my notifications and my pages. Yup, the fact that I too have a FaceBook account makes me culpable.

But it doesn’t make me not stare at the ocean, while dining at an outdoor cafe or ignore the people I’m out to lunch with.

Rant is over. Let me know what you think. Maybe I am fixated.

Ci Vediamo.

Save Those Bottles for Sott’olio!

Spring sprang or is that sprung or had sprung ? Pontelandolfese were springing over hill and dale hunting for spring vegetables. The favorite being wild asparagi! Thin, supple, dancing in the breeze – just like my fantasy of me – these delicious wild asparagus are prized among the gatherers. When I spy a smiling forager, I know that they have filled their baskets with asparagus. Some people just seem to know where to look.

I’ve spotted pokey amounts along the side of the road. Local wisdom has it that you shouldn’t pick stuff close to the roads – unless you’re starving. Makes sense to me – exhaust fumes cough, cough – have coated the wild sprigs. Real gatherers head for the hills. Fresh air, healthy hike and yummy finds make those a great experience.

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Did I go? Seriously? It sounds lovely but I had to wash my hair. Actually, having had Lyme Disese twice, I am afraid of ticks and don’t forage in tick land. The other reason I didn’t go was simply, my lovely neighbors and friends fear that since I am always off doing something, Jack will starve. If baskets of greens aren’t dropped near my door, they will find poor Jack on the veranda writhing with hunger. I love this myth!

My friend Nunzia appeared with not only a basket of wild asparagus picked by her charming husband, Amedeo, but also some in bottles covered in oil – sott’olio. Canning to me sounds complicated. I am afraid that I will kill people with tasty botulism or something equally gruesome. What everyone does here is not really canning but oiling. WHAT. Sounds like a spa gone wrong. This is so easy and so right that even I can do it. Folks in Pontelandolfo jar eggplant, asparagus, artichokes, sun dried zucchine and more sott’olio. I asked a couple of people to tell me how they do it. Everyone starts with uber fresh vegetables.  I mean picked today or last night.  All are washed, cleaned and chopped into little pieces. After talking to my friends and tasting what they jar, I realized there seems to be the only a few differences in the methods.

Thank you Nunzia for the jar of asparagus! Jack scoffed them down – he will not starve this week. Here is how she does it.  This technique can be used for a variety of produce including artichokes, eggplant and zucchini.  After you have prepped the asparagus, pour one liter of vinegar, half liter of water and a teaspoon of salt into a big pot.  Bring it to a boil and dump in the asparagus. Cook them for a scant 4 or 5 minutes. Drain them and them lay them out on a clean dishtowel and thoroughly dry them.  When they are dry put them in your recycled but clean jars. Leave a wee bit of room at the top.  Cover them completely with olive oil.  Then bang the jar – don’t break it – so that the vegetables move and mush down a bit.  Or with a clean fork push them down.  Make sure they are all totally covered in olive oil.  Then put the clean lid back on and put them in the cupboard until you need them.

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Cousin Carmella is my go to person for cooking questions.  She is one of the home cooks that the culinary adventurers for our September 7 – 14 2019 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo will get to cook, laugh and eat with.  Her sott’olio method for asparagus was a little different from Nunzia’s.  The prep is the same.  In a big pot bring to a boil two parts water and two parts vinegar with enough added salt to your taste.  When it is boiling, add the asparagus and push them down to the bottom.  They will rise up to the top.  When they do push them down to the bottom again.  Do this three times and drain them in a colander.  When they are cool, put them in a bowl and toss them with olive oil.  Next, put them in the jars and push them down lightly before covering them with olive oil.  Carmella’s husband Mario forages for mushrooms and she does the same process for them.  She noted that mushroom and asparagus cook in just a few minutes.  Other types of vegetables need to boil longer.  She feels that the vinegar is a better conservation method than using wine.  Wine make give it a better taste but you have to eat the items sooner

Besides the fact that we buy wine by the  five liter jug, you may be wondering why I asked her about using wine in the process.  Another great cook and lover of eating out in new restaurants with me, is my pharmacist pal, Adele.  One day she brought over a jar of artichoke hearts sott’olio.  Ha! She thought Jack would add them to his lunch time salad.  I ate every last one, they were delicious.  When the baby artichokes are plentiful in the market, she buys a bunch to put away and use in future dishes.  She had us over for her homemade ravioli stuffed with artichokes and we both loved them. Her technique for sott’olio is a different. Remember she makes a huge batch!  The first thing I noticed is that she strips away virtually all of the outer part of the artichoke and is left with the small center.  Prep for artichokes includes soaking them in water an lemon for at least an hour.  This is too keep them looking pale green and lovely. After the lemon soak, place each one upside down on a clean dish towel to drain. Her canning formula mixes 1 liter of vinegar with 1 liter of white wine and a half liter of water.  She tosses in some salt and brings it to a boil. When the liquid begins to boil again, time the cooking.  Boil the artichokes for only 5 minutes and using an colander promptly drain them.  Then put each one upside down on a clean dishtowel so that all of the liquid drains out.  Dry them too.  When they are completely cold put them in clean, sterilized glass jars and cover them with – not olive – sunflower seed oil!  Adele uses sunflower seed oil which makes her process really different.  She too uses the same process for different vegetables but alters the time.

I have been so fortunate to have met people who want to feed me.  All of the vegetables I have tasted processed like this have been a little crunchy, tangy and wonderful.  Try it this summer and let me know how it works out for you!

SPECIAL COOKING IN THE KITCHENS OF PONTELANDOLFO DEAL ALERT!!!!

We have room for two more culinary adventurers for our  September 7 – 14, 2019 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo session.  I want to see the session filled so I am doing something we have never done – HAVING A SALE! Send me an e-mail ASAP to be one of the two and receive a delightful discount!  HOW DELIGHTFUL?  10% OFF DELIGHTFUL! THAT IS A €€€€ SAVING! Contact me to find out just how great it is.

Info@nonnasmulberrytree.com. Do it today and have the cooking time of your life this fall. 

Ci vediamo!

 

Vivaldi Rocks Provincial Capital

Il Concerto Barocco in Teatro San Vittorino was an incredible night of classical music! We discovered the concert on FaceBook! The social media giant decided that I must like Baroque music and the concert event notice kept popping up. We had no idea where in Benevento we would find Teatro San Vittorino. Actually, Sygic our GPS had no idea either. We got close and did the Midge thing – I asked a couple of artsy looking girls if they knew where the theatre was. They shrugged and said follow us. We wisely did.

Thank you FaceBook

Teatro San Vittorino is an acoustically wonderful small performance space. It was once part of the Convent of San Vittorino. The Convent is now home to the Università Degli Studi  Del Sannio. The theatre is tucked in a back alley off a gorgeous pedestrian boulevard. Without our tour guides, we never would have found it. Once inside, I marveled at the architecture. Jack marveled at the padded living roomesq chair seating.

Il Concerto Barocco was a production of the Conservatorio Statale di Musica Nicola Sala in Benevento. We had previously heard a full orchestra concert composed of the conservatory’s faculty and students and knew this event would be a musical marvel. Every time I see world class musical students perform, I think of my days teaching arts administration on the Westminster Choir College Campus in Princeton. Those students lived and breathed their art. The young Italian men and sadly only one woman we heard play works by Vivaldi, Corelli, Telemann and Sammartini had that same passion and talent.

The Orchestra da Camera del Conservatorio di Benevento is under the direction of violinist Giorgio Sasso. The maestro was one of the two faculty members playing with the small ensemble. His violin was a window into his soul. The music flowed. Cembalo player – harpsichordist – Antonio Varriano’s fingers flew over the harpsichord’s double decker keys.

The Vivaldi rock star was accomplished flautist, Tommaso Rossi, playing the flauto dolce in Vivaldi’s Concerto in do minore RV 441 per Flauto Dolce, archi e continuo – Recorder Concert in C minor. I had to google “flauto dolce” to discover it was a recorder. Before he even began, the auditorium gave him a rousing round of applause. He was not only handsome as hell but a magical musician. Every elementary school student who plays the plastic recorder should see Rossi play the elegant wooden real thing. We got to hear him also in a piece by Sammartini. WOW!

Enough about the elders of the orchestra. Each one of the eight student musicians did a stellar job. The students rotated in and out of the orchestra based on the piece. Sasso, during applause, would pull featured students forward to have their moment. Thank you Orchestra da Camera del Conservatorio di Benevento for another rockin’ night in the provincial capital of Benevento.

We often get asked, “just what do you do in a small Southern Italian village?” I usually snarkily reply, “live.” Then Jack gives me that look and I talk about how there is culture everywhere we look, the cost of living is low and Europe is at our feet. We don’t have to travel far from Pontelandolfo to hear world class music, visit museums, or eat at Japit, the best sushi restaurant anywhere – 20 minutes to Benevento. After the concert we went out for dinner – Chinese. Yes, we can eat in restaurants that feature fare that is not pasta. Naples is an hour and 15 minute train ride away. This gorgeous port city is rich with museums, theater, opera, dance and incredible architecture. You get my drift? We live in a bucolic village with access to the culture we love. Yup, I’m glad we discovered Teatro San Vittorino in Benevento – yet another reason to live in Pontelandolfo.

Visit Pontelandolfo and you will see what I mean! It is not too late to join us for the September 2019 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo culinary adventure. Message Me!

 
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7 Events for 7 Decades

What am I freakin’ birthday crazy? When I turned sixty, I tried to accomplish 60 things in one year – including finding old boyfriends. Sigh… I failed. As I recall, I only accomplished about 35 things on my original list. For 70 great years of living, I figured it would be a no brainer to create over the span of 7 days 7 super memorable activities. I announced my idea to my friends on both sides of the Atlantic. Everyone was excited and so was I. No one said I was pazzo – although there were a few raised eyebrows.

BOINGGGGGGG – BOINGGGGG – BAANNNGGG – Then it hit me. Seven events in one week? How was I going to produce seven events in a Southern Italian village – one for each decade of my existence? Seven events communicated with my totally non-intelligible Italian. Taking a breath, I remembered that I love living in the little village of Pontelandolfo and wanted to share the things I love with the people I love. Plus between body language and my limited vocabulary, I can be understood – most times. Easy Peasy! I’ve produced lots of theater and community wide events – albeit in a country where I speak the language well. This was going to be fun. I mean who wouldn’t love the things I love? Here is the list – 1. Catered British Afternoon Tea complete with hats. Lemon curd anyone? 2. Garden Cocktail Party featuring a harpist and a cool converted mini truck bar. One Campari spritz please. 3. A professional theatrical production by a great company. Wine liberally served. 4. Sfogliatelle and Mimosa Breakfast – really who wouldn’t rush to that. 5. Fancy dress up dinner for my 22 best friends at my favorite seafood restaurant. 6. Wizard of Oz film and sing-a-long in English for school kids assisted by costumed characters. 7. Dancing Friday Night Away at Bar George’s Revolution. After I made the list of what I wanted to do and wrote my arts administrationesq plan, the angst started.

70? Who Me?

Who would I invite? Would people hate me for inviting them to one event and not the other? If I forgot someone, how would I show my face in the Piazza again? Damn, the angst was zapping me. This May I was 70 and I wanted to party like there was no tomorrow. A weeklong party designed to leave me hugging my mattress the moment it was over. I needed to un-angst my angst. Luckily, I had a posse. My Pontelandolfo team of sisters Rossella and Annarita, neighbor Nicola and pal Melissa kept me sane by reminding me Questa è litalia. The land of the Bella Figura and a slower paced place than I’m used to. They also know just about everyone I needed to find to make this weeklong festa happen. My off-shore pals Janet and George kept reminding me that I knew how to do this stuff – plus they did too. My friend Marie told me to call when I felt crazy. The ever-smiling Elena became my major duomo. The angst never really vanished – how could it I’m a Jersey girl – but everything fell into place and the week was a smash.

Those of you who are imagining how much a week of debauchery must cost and that I must be a trust fund baby – BZZZT. WRONG. No trust fund here or sugar daddy – though I am open to the idea. The cost of living in Pontelandolfo makes doing a party like this possible. You too can stage one week of incredible artsy stuff here in Pontelandolfo and still have plane fare back to the USA. Not only was the cost for everything I did low, the professionalism of each of the folks I contracted was incredibly high. Low cost. High Quality. This is just one of the reasons I love where we live. Remember, a cappuccino here is less than $1.00 and tastes a hell of a lot better than one from Starbucks. The first thing that smacked me in my planning ahead head, was that all the vendors told me a. not to worry about the price and b. didn’t require a deposit and c. would trust me to pay them whenever… WHAT??? If I don’t know what the gorgeous tea sandwiches, pastries and scones cost how do I send someone to pick them up?? Midge, breathe, this is Pontelandolfo everyone trusts you to pay them later. Being Midge, I made sure I had cash to pay everyone and then was astounded at how little everything cost. (Don’t ask cause I ain’t telling – this is a cash society.)

Some of the things I wanted to do were a wee bit tricky to pull off without advance planning. I mean, where would I buy a fascinator to wear to the formal afternoon tea? Worse, where would I get 4 to 8 teapots??? Answer – Mercatino Usato. In Benevento, there is this great place that sells used stuff. My teapots cost less than the tea – average $4 each and they are gorgeous. The fascinator and hats flew over from New Jersey. My good pal, Orietta, brought a box of tea from London and the ever creative Jack found interesting teas on Amazon.it.

Prosecco, tea, and funky hats!

Getting a karaoke version of the Wizard of OZ seemed easy -Amazon.it of course. Panic attack – Gennaro, my ace Tech Director, noted that the CD was Blue Ray and no-one had one of those players. But being the ACE TD, he figured it out and somehow loaded it onto something and projected it for the kids of all ages who sang and danced to my favorite movie. Here my pals and I are stopping traffic.

Hmmm, how do I present a professional theatre company in a village with no theater? Job it all in! My East Coast USA peeps know how much it costs to bring in lights, sound, set the space and get it all to happen on time. Imagine a price that is so incredible that normal folks like you and me can afford to bring top shelf theater to our home towns. I am probably boring you with all this talk about how cheap it is to live here. You have heard it all before – wise up – come hang out here too! Let me think – what have I missed??

My incredible dinner party, complete with the Midge menu, had everyone opening their belts and groaning. Sesto Senso, a great seafood restaurant, is used to “putting on the Ritz” for folks who want things a little fancy schmanzy. The memory cake was made by a local baker – you can’t tell but it was a yellow brick road with me prancing all over it. Yikes, in retrospect this was incredibly egocentric. But then, I am 70! Finally, I just remembered that I also scheduled a night of dancing so the we could dance off all the pounds from everything else we did. Sadly, I also ordered the dripping cheese man –

Great cheese melted over coals onto toasted bread and enhanced with truffles!

Happy birthday to me! Happy Birthday to you! The folks who flew in for my birthday – Jan and Marie from Ecuador, George from Holland, Karen and Al from Canada and Janet from New Jersey – I applaud you for putting up with me for all these years and living through the 7 days of Midge. Pontelandolfese – I applaud you for putting up with me now! Thank you to everyone who helped me make this the best birthday party ever! Anyone want to stage an event in a magical place in Southern Italy? Call me and let us make the magic happen for you.

PS. This blog explains why I haven’t written anything for a month!

PPS. We still have 2 spots left for the September Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo! Message me ASAP. Visit Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo.

The Pizzagaina Caper

Dum da dum dum. Dum da dum dum. (Opening music to a Bond film).

The first one turned up Friday morning. Could its humble crust and crescent shape hide a nefarious role? It was warm to the touch – ah ha! Warm made it even more inviting.  Do we dare cut it open and see what the flaky crust contains?

Looks safe enough – is that a quiche like filling?  I decide to investigate the mysterious arrival of unrequested pizzagaina further and head over to ace cook and my bestie cugina, Carmela Fusco’s house. Was bringing pizzagaina to a pals house a holiday custom?  Do they just magically appear?  As I climbed the steps, this incredible odor wafted down.  I picked up the pace and raced up the stairs.  From the exercise or the thought of tasting whatever food was causing that heavenly scent, my tongue was hanging out of my mouth.  I pushed open the door.

Permesso, I bellowed practically pushing Carmela aside before she could say, avanti.

There on her kitchen table were a stack of the crescents, hot from the oven and screaming to be eaten. 

I lunged for one.  She smacked my hand and explained, it was Good Friday, the day everyone makes the traditional Easter stuffed pastry, pizzagaina. But since they contain meat no one may eat them. 

What???  I thought the Catholic Church said it was OK to eat meat on Friday. Carmela looked at me and said, questo è il venerdì Santo.  Holy Friday, hmmm.  Diverting my attention from the great look and smell of the pastries, I asked how she made them.  She looked at me sternly and told me she made them the same way her grandmother made them and her grandmother wouldn’t let anyone eat them on Good Friday either.

The heart of the crust was not the flour – in today’s case whole wheat flour.  Nor was it the eggs, wee bit of salt and pepper.  The way to get a crunchy flakey crust is too make sure you have a pal who just butchered one of their hogs and gives you fresh lard. (Growing up in Flagtown my mom and nonna swore by lard too.) . Carmela had more than a liter of lard.  I could just imagine all the great crusts she would be making and hoped I’d get invited.

 

Like most of the great cooks in Pontelandolfo, Carmela doesn’t measure. She just knows how much flour, lard, egg, salt and pepper will work well together. The creamy filling I saw oozing out of the top of one of the pastries was egg, diced dried sausage (pepperoni), parmesan cheese and a local aged – stagionato – cheese. She said everyone made them the same way – with a wee bit of personalization. I had a deja vu moment when she told me her secret ingredient was an addition of a little cooked white rice. Shazaam, my Aunt Julie’s had added rice too. One of Carmela’s neighbors adds raisons another cooked fresh sausage.

Now, I am thinking quiche and runny egg so I demanded further information and asked how she got the egg goo not to run all over the table. By then her daughter, Annarita, had arrived and they both looked at me like I was stupider than a chicken. Actually, I think one of might have asked me if I was stupider than a chicken. You beat the eggs, add the diced sausage and then add so much cheese that you get a super thick filling that you can spread. OOOOHHHHH! Circles of dough are rolled. The filling is spread on half the circle – leaving about an inch margin. Then the unfilled half is folded over and the crescent is sealed by pinching the edges together.

Now can we taste one? I asked again with a winsome smile on my face. NO! they both shouted at me. If Jesus could suffer on the cross, we can spend one day without meat! With that they wrapped one up for me to take home and sent me out the door.

Wait, they wrapped one up for me to take home! It was still warm. The odor was so strong I wanted to shove the whole thing in my mouth. But I didn’t. I drove home. Only to find two more pizzagaina on my door step. Easter gifts from neighbors. Apparently, it is a custom. This is torture. I now have a counter full of delicious things that I am not allowed to eat! Then I got it! It was an evil plot to torture me and get the enticing things out of other people’s homes! Errrrrgggg. After pouring a finger of scotch, I started to rethink this caper. Was it really nefarious? Or was it an Easter lesson learned. I finally got it. Lesson learned and remembered.

Ci vediamo a presto! Buona Pasqua!

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Carmela is one of the ace cooks you can visit and learn from. There are still 2 spots left in the September 7-14 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo session.

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