Retire to Pontelandolfo!

Join the likes of George Clooney, Jonny Depp, Madonna, Sting, and Francis Ford Coppola.  Live the Italian life you’ve thought was impossible. Wait!  Is it possible?  Seriously, can a normal person afford to retire or own a home in Italy?

MIdge Jack Ponte

Jack and I are always being asked How did you do it? How can you afford to live in Italy?  My first response is to remind folks that we do not live in a tourist packed, guidebook referenced city.  We live in a village in the Sannio mountains.  There are lots of small villages like ours, throughout Southern Italy.  Village populations have plummeted.  The lack of jobs has sent the young folks north or to other European cities.  Earlier emigration, during the 20thcentury to the United States, South America and Australia has resulted in lots of empty housing stock.

There are relatively large apartments here that are listed at €40,000.  By large I mean two or three bedrooms, living room, dining room and kitchen.  Yes, of course there are bathrooms too with bidets even. Today, the exchange rate would put that home at $44,458.  Average rents range from €250 to €300.  We pay more than that but not a hell of a lot more for a three-bedroom, three-bathroom, two-kitchen house on a working farm.  We were lucky, when we first rented, it was fully furnished.  Over the years we have personalized our home with our own furniture and art.

Buying a house or renting here in Italy normally means you are getting an empty house, unless someone died and the heirs are selling with all the stuff.   That means no kitchen cabinets, no appliances, bubkas, niente, nothing.  That said, the folks who are leaving a rental unit have paid for a kitchen that probably won’t fit in their new place and might be willing to sell it to the new tenants.  I have seen homes for sale that are being sold full.  Jack cried when I said NO to a house in CentroStoricothat was for sale for a song, had great views and was full of antiques – including art. I love where we live and at this point in my life didn’t want to pack up and move.

Our furniture comes from the ever-popular IKEA!  The price point is almost equal to the USA prices.  More important – they deliver!  Of course, I am delighted that Jack so throughly enjoys putting it all together.  I also found two amazing resale shops in Benevento.  For my Seven Events for Seven Decades festa in May I needed lots of tea pots, teacups and serving pieces.  That is when I discovered the resale shops. Great stuff – housewares, furniture, clothes etc. at Salvation Army store prices.

When we decided to look outside of the United States for quasi retirement options, we sold our house, our cars, our clothes, our housewares, just about everything.  The art I didn’t sell and my favorite kitchen toys have been coming here in our checked luggage.  Jack and I still go back to New Jersey annually for 5 or six months.

According to a February 21, 2019 article in the money section of USNews:

The average Social Security benefit was $1,461 per month in January 2019. The maximum possible Social Security benefit for someone who retires at full retirement age is $2,861 in 2019. However, a worker would need to earn the maximum taxable amount, currently $132,900 for 2019, over a 35-year career to get this Social Security payment.

https://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/social-security/articles/2018-08-20/how-much-you-will-get-from-social-security

Let us arbitrarily and capriciously use $1600 per month as our starting number. Today, that would be worth €1439.55. I am math deficient but will give a monthly budget based on what we pay a whirl. Let’s pretend you bought a €40,000 home.  REMEMBER ALL OF THESE NUMBERS ARE GUESTIMATES AND NOT TO BE TAKEN AS HARD COLD FACTS! Also remember that I am math challenged.

Monthly Fixed Costs

Taxes  €280 a year for our place but I couldn’t get the tax formula.  Some people pay as much as €800 €23.23
Electric This is what we pay for a super huge house.  Bills are for 2 months. We average €63. €31.50
Cell Phone Vodofone cell service – unlimited everything.  I use the data for a hot spot everywhere. €20.00
WiFi   €20.00
Garbage €93 all year €7.75
Car Insurance We have the large Fiat 500 XL and pay €1000 a year. €83.33
Gas –  propane or natural In the winter we heat with propane.  We also use it for hot water. I’m not sure how to figure this out.  Last December we spent €1,000. This summer for most of the summer €400.  Many people heat with pellet or wood-based systems. €400.00
Car Gas Cars are well designed and can be bought that run on gas, metano (natural gas), gpl (propane) and electricity.  We have diesel and fill up once every few weeks unless we are taking road trip.  You buy it by the liter. 65.00
Water 24 Every two months 12.00
Sewer We have septic. 0
MONTHLY FIXED COSTS 662.81

I have never done this before!  Thanks for the budget Midge!  Did I just thank myself?? We average €662 a month for fixed costs.  Actually €10 more – I forgot Jack’s cheap cell phone plan.

Medical care for folks in their second act is really important.  Jack and I are super lucky that I was able to become an Italian citizen and he, as my husband, was too.  That means we have access to the incredible socialized healthcare system here.  I am going to base my thoughts now on your not being of Italian heritage and able to live here and access the system.

Before Jack became a citizen, he was able to purchase in our local Farmaciaall of the medications prescribed in the United States.  That includes meds for diabetes, cholesterol, blood pressure and heart issues.  Every month we saved a bundle.  His purchase price RETAIL was less than or equal to his Medicare part D copay.

We both use a great dental team here – private and not in the system.  Because of dead root issues with the anchor stubs, Jack just replaced a bridge here.  The old bridge with preparation of the anchors cost approximately $8,000.   With two root canals the new bridge cost €1900.

We had an interesting dental experience the first year we were here and subsequently learned from it.  I made an appointment for us to have our teeth cleaned.  The dentist looked in our mouths and said why are you here? You have no plaque or other gross stuff. Your gums look great.  Well, we replied our NJ dental office says you should go every six months and the dental hygienist calls to remind us.    I now go once a year for a check up and a cleaning.  The dentist – not a dental hygienist- does the cleaning and takes what ever time it needs.  I just had it done for €85.  The full panoramic X-ray cost €30.  The dentist doesn’t have the machine. We go down the street to a Diagnostic center.  I am guessing that keeps costs down.

Private doctor visits range from €50 to €150 depending on who you see and for what. Last year I paid a cardiologist €150 for an exam.  He, himself, did an echocardiogram and Doppler for carotid artery stuff.  He also gave me script for blood work.  I returned with the blood results and there was no fee for the second visit.  Since I liked the idea of knowing a cardiologist here, I made an appointment for Jack.  The doctor didn’t charge us for that either.

The town arranges for the Croce Rossaand doctors to bring medi-vans to town for things like free sonograms of your thyroid.  I mention this one because I availed myself of the service and they discovered a few nodes on my thyroid.  I went to my PCP here and got script for a full blood work up that included thyroid tests.  The blood test at a private lab cost €60. (Have you looked at what LabCorp charges medicare?). Then I went to see a fancy endocrinologist who not only looked at the blood work but gave me the same kind of exam an internist would do.  Cost €100.

If you had to go the hospital, I have no idea what they would charge. This is a country with socialized medicine and there isn’t any mechanism for collecting.  This May a friend of mine was visiting from the USA and thought he was having a heart attack.  The rescue squad came – complete with a medical doctor and nurse on board – examined him, gave him an elettro-cardiogram and then took him to the hospital.  The ambulance cost nothing and the hospital didn’t charge. That said, we asked and discovered that if you are from the United States, which does not have health care reciprocity with Italy, you are supposed to buy private insurance. Jack bought it the first year we were here and it cost us about $1000 for a year.  He never used it.

Let’s Eat Out! Why should I cook when we can go to a fabulous restaurant and have great food with good wine and leave with a bill for often less than €40?  At a local tavola caldawe can get lunch for about €10 each.  Why make a cappuccino at home when you can sit in a bar, stare at the piazza, chat with pals and pay barely anything.  Here are some local bar prices.

Croissant          €1

Cappuccino       €.90

Caffè                €.80

Aperal Spritz     €2.50

Tap Beer           €1.20

Tap Wine          €1.50

Cocktails           €3.oo to €5.00

Amaro              1.50

Fast Food – usually only available at night or during one of the many festas

Pork or beef grilled on a hard roll           €3.00

Porcheta on a hard roll                          €3.50

Sausage on a hard roll                           €2.50

I can’t remember the prices of everything – I need to eat out even more. The local bars have specials often.  For example, €5 dinner included a glass of wine, steamed mussels, bruschetta and a fried fish. Every weekend you can get a gyro for €3.50.  The take-away pizza place has whole pizza from €3 to €6.

Our favorite and really exceptional seafood restaurant has fish entrees that range from €8 to €12 -of course  –  fresh not frozen.

Buying Clothes for us is hard here.  We are both too big!  Jack wears a USA men’s XL and I wear a size 18.  I get my dresses made by the seamstress.  The cost of labor is so low that I am embarrassed to tell you what I spend. Jack orders clothes from Lands End UK. If you are thin, you can buy clothes at the market and spend peanuts.

Pets are a dog or three running loose outside or cats.  Most domestic animals are outside, fending for themselves and get fed what the family eats.  I don’t know what pet food costs.  The local shop for farms has all kinds of stuff for cows, pigs, sheep and maybe dogs. It is loose and you buy it by the kilo. Recently we noticed a few families with a dog on a leash.

Yikes, information overload!

Have I convinced you to come?  Let me know what else you would need to know. 

Ci vediamo!

Capital One Trials…

 

Since March 2011, Capital One has been our go-to credit card.  We signed up with Capital One because it was such a great international travel card.  The commercials were true you could use the points earned anytime, anywhere.  We dumped American Express which had become a cumbersome nightmare – at the time fewer and fewer places would except it.  I called Capital One today to get our history – we consistently pay the bill on time and in full.  We are what you would call a good risk.  Then why have our proverbial balls been busted for the last few months?  Why has it been impossible to use the card for online transactions here in Italy – unless it is for Amazon or another Giant corporation?  They know we are in Italy.  It is in their data base. A little back story might be the reason –

Information from Capital One on the Cyber Incident

Updated 9:30 PM ET, Sun Aug 4, 2019

What happened

On July 19, 2019, we determined that an outside individual gained unauthorized access and obtained certain types of personal information about Capital One credit card customers and individuals who had applied for our credit card products.

What we’ve done

Capital One immediately fixed the issue and promptly began working with federal law enforcement. The person responsible was arrested. Based on our analysis to date, we believe it is unlikely that the information was used for fraud or disseminated by this individual. However, we will continue to investigate. Safeguarding information is essential to our mission and our role as a financial institution. We have invested heavily in cybersecurity and will continue to do so. We will incorporate the learnings from this incident to further strengthen our cyber defenses.

https://www.capitalone.com/facts2019/

It seems that while strengthening their cyber defenses they are getting more and more cautious about who charges what where.  Now that is not a bad thing. As a matter of fact over the years I have appreciated and loved their fraud alerts and caution approving charges we had made in strange non USA places.  This is a really great thing.  The bad thing is now they have changed their protocol and we can’t prove who we are or that we are making the charge unless they send a text to our NJ cell phone.  Since we live in Italy half the year, the NJ SIM card is not in the phone or active.  They won’t send a text to a European number.  They won’t or can’t send a text to our NJ number that is a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) number.   They won’t let us call to get the magic one time code to complete an online transaction.  They won’t send the magic code to our e-mail.  They ONLY thing they will do is send a text to an out of service USA number.  In other words, as long as we are in Europe we can’t consistently use the credit card.

Historically, when a charge was held because they were concerned, I would call customer service and the charge would be immediately processed.  There were times they sent an e-mail about a charge Jack made that seemed unusual with a link to approve the charge.  Simple and always great customer service.  Actually, they had stellar customer service.

This “we can only send a text” is corporate stupidity.  Yes, I have called.  Yes, I called three times and spoke to three different reps.  All blamed it on Visa.  Hmm, when the Capital One Card Visa alert asked for the magic code and we couldn’t get one, Jack used our TD Bank Visa card and it went right through.  Same wonky out of USA vender.  Hmm.

Today I tried to log into Capital One on my Computer.  Even though they have it on our file that we are in Europe, I had to get a one time code to log onto my account.  There were three options. The first was to text me a temporary code – I put in our VOIP number just to try.  Boing bounced back.  The second was to call the home number we had on file – which is the same VOIP number.  The call came, I got the magic code and logged on.  The third was for them to send the code to my Capital One App, which is accessed by my finger print.  SHAZAAAM – why can’t they do that for internet vender charges that look smarmy????  Except I just tried that to re-log on and it wouldn’t work.  Fix it!

I hate to cancel the card.  We like the card.  We like Capital One.  As a last ditch effort to talk to someone who might understand our dilemma and not read from the script.”We send a text or we can do a three way call and talk to the vender.” (No they don’t have translators in the call centers.). I asked to speak to a Supervisor.  Supervisor Riley listened, understood my frustration and read the same script.  I then clearly, in my best radio voice suggested he forward the following to the marketing division of the company.   Do they really want to consider marketing themselves as the travel card when there are folks like me who are willing to explain to other folks like me that Capital One cannot be consistently used abroad?  Further, we know you’ve been hacked.  We understand the gravity.  That said, come up with a solution for acquiring the magic one time code that is not texting it to a USA number!  (psssst – think about sending it to the app and allowing the app to still function with a non USA number.)

PS – If anyone out there works for Capital One please forward this to them.

 

 

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

Fragneto_Fotor

Gruppo Folk La Takkarata, Fragneto Monforte, Italia

portugal_Fotor

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.

tent
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.

kid injury
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.

classkids

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.

firekid
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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