Missing Venice? Visit With Donna Leon!

Many of us are stuck in our homes thinking of all the places in the world we’d like to visit.  Why not take an armchair tour of Venice with my favorite detective, Commissario Guido Brunetti.  The fictional Italian detective,  is a commissario in the Italian State Police, stationed in Venice.  He is proud to be a native Venetian. The creation of Donna Leon, Brunetti becomes our eyes and ears in Venice. His wife, children, family life, upper class in-laws, obnoxious boss and the other detectives all become part of our tour.  We peek into the worlds of Counts and Countesses, immigrants, Venetian middle class and the very poor.  What I love about Leon’s books is the way they draw me into  the social, political and historic fabric of the city, and region.  With Brunetti, we hop on a traghetto (think bus in the water), a police boat, sometimes even a car, but most often on foot to wend our way through canals and neighborhoods tourists don’t see.

 And then the air was just as suddenly filled with the sweetness of springtime and buds and new leaves, fresh grass and nature’s giggly joy at coming back for another show
As they turned into the broad stereet, Brunetti saw evidence in support of his belief that this was one of the few areas of the city still filled primarily with Venetians.  It was enough to see the beige woollen cardiagans and short carefully permed hair to know the older women were Venetian; those children with their skateboards were not there on vacation; and most foreign men did not stand so close to one another during aconversation.  The shops, too, sold things that would be used in the city where they were purchased, not wrapped up and taken home to be shown off as some sort of prized acquisition, like a deer hunted and shot and tied to the top of a car.
“By Its Cover” 2014

The Venetian inspector also editorializes on the not so positive transitions that have occurred in Venice over the past fifty or so years.  He often speaks of the changes that all of us who have been fortunate to visit Venice over the decades have seen. The enormous cruise ships that displace tons of water and toss thousands of back pack smashing tourists all at once onto the island.  Like whirling dervish they twist and twirl over bridges.  Made in China faux Venetian glass, masks and more have taken over bakeries, butcher shops and vegetable stands.

Brunetti — I had the good fortune to grow up in a different Venice, not this stage set that’s been created for tourists …  Venetian families, especially young ones, are driven out because they cannot afford to rent or buy a home.

“Earthly Remains” 2017

Picking up travel and life hints while binge reading Brunetti is also a great way to plan your next visit to Italy.  There are so many food references that fans demanded and were rewarded with the Brunetti’s Cook Book.

The first time I had a prescription filled in our villages local pharmacy I was mesmerized watching the farmacista peel and stick labels from boxes.  Leon’s accurate description of the action had me smiling.  There are many more bits and pieces of everyday Italian life sprinkled in the books.
She took the boxes, peeled off stamps from the backs, and pasted them on to the prescriptions the woman gave her.  Then she ran the prescriptions over the sensor plate next to the cash register, put the boxes in a plastic bag, and accepted a twenty-Euro note in payment.  She rang up the sale and returned the woman’s change, added the receipt, thanked her, and wished her a pleasant eventing.
“Temptation of Forgiveness,”  2018
Take a walk with Donna Leon’s Brunetti and become a part of  Venetian life.  Just be wary when and where you walk.  Once we were trying to get over the Rialto Bridge and cross the Grand Canal.  A wild large tourist group of where could they be going in such a hurry, came galloping over the bridge.  Jack and I clung to the sides.  No, even though I thought it, I didn’t stick out my foot.
Brunetti’s first response, given that it was a warm day in early spring, had been to calculate the easiest way to walk from the Questura to the Palazzo without becoming entrapped in the by now normal migration paths of the herds of tourists.  Because of the clear sky and benevolent temperature, walking hip Riva Degli Schiavoni would be impossible, crossing Piazza San Marco an act of madness.
Brunetti walked home quickly, paying almost no attention to what or whom he passed, deaf to the sound of the returning birds, the only tourists no one resented.
“Upon Us a Son Is Given,” 2019
Donna Leon is incredibly prolific.  I think there are twenty-nine Brunetti novels. But there may be a new one coming soon.  She is my literary work ethic idol. Besides the cook book there are television shows, a Brunetti walking tour, even stories with music!  But hey – she IS a Jersey girl! Born in Montclair, New Jersey, she lived and worked in Venice for over thirty years.  Her Commissario Brunetti series has won countless awards.  I would love to award her the Midge’s Favorite Author of All Things Venetian award.  Would it be stalking if I just sat outside her house and stared???
“Trace Elements” is the latest book.  I can’t wait to get mine and see where Brunetti goes next. Why not pour a glass of Prosecco and visit Venice with Guido Brunetti. You will be so happy you did.
Ci vediamo!!

PS. Stay safe and wear a mask.

Buying a House in Italy?

Last week my inbox was hopping with messages. 

Thinking of moving to Italy. How hard is it? How do I apply for Italian Citizenship?  Ya think I can find a house to buy in Italy?  Will the Italian bureaucracy make me insane? If I don’t speak Italian am I screwed?

For whatever reason, it seems folks who read this blog are getting the ex-pat fever or maybe simply looking for an alternative lifestyle. La Dolce Vita!

Before you dive into buying a home, you may want to commit to a long-term stay. Try out a town for a few months and see if the village or city is a good fit. Because everyone wants to live in Tuscany or Umbria doesn’t mean that you will adore the backpack carrying hordes of tourists who share those regions with you. Explore Campania, Basilicata, Molise, Puglia or Sardinia. Southern Italy is beautiful, costs less and I’d be able to visit. We’d love to see you in my hometown – Pontelandolfo (BN)

Thank You Raffaele Pilla. Grazie Mille!

We love living in a small Southern Italian village.  Becoming part of the fabric of a tiny community is doable.  Prices are low, people are friendly and the fresh food…  Sigh.  Let us get back to the task at hand.

Disclaimer – I never bought a house! We rent a house twelve months a year. To aging Baby Boomers – oops Jack reminds me he is not a boomer since he was born pre boom and is just old – rental is an easy alternative. That said, I called my favorite Italian attorney, Rossella Mancini and asked her how it worked.

Steps To Buying Your Home

Step one: Codice Fiscale

Apply for a codice fiscale.  This is like an American social security number or tax code.  This number follows you.  It is used by Italian public offices to identify you.  You need to have one to enter into contracts, leases, loans etc.  The codice fiscale is assigned by birth to all Italians and upon request to the rest of us.  You can apply for your Italian codice fiscale through any Agenzia delle Entrate. (tax,office)

If you have applied for and became an Italian citizen, check your documents. I swear, I got a codice fiscale when I got the letter confirming my citizenship.  If you don’t have one, contact your nearest consulate.

Step Two: Love a House

Find a house you love.  The inexpensive ones need a lot of work.  Unless you speak Italian, I would suggest you hire an “Italian Friend” to help you search and translate discussions with owners, towns and contractors.  You may want to know about how much a renovation would cost before you commit.  Join us in Pontelandolfo and we can find a team to help you look for something cool.  

Sites to Help You Search for a House.

Check them all out and then just come to Pontelandolfo.

Step Three: Contracts

Now comes the interesting part.  Contracts and commitments.  Hire an attorney like Rossella to do this with you.  The seller must pay for the technical report on the state of the property and any necessary certificates.

To calculate fees and taxes at the time of sale, the price in the contract must be determined in Euros and it if possible, include the equivalent in dollars or other currency. 

If the cost of the house exceeds 2,000 euros, payment can be made according to the method agreed by the parties but cannot be made in cash. To allow for traceability, it is preferable to pay by bank transfer or wire from abroad. 

Disclaimer:  Double check all my info.  Rules Change and I could be wrong.

At the time of closing of the sale to a private person – like you – one pays between 2% to 9 % stamp duty tax calculated on the cadastral or real value of the property, with a minimum of 1,000.00 euro. I’m told it will be 2% if the house is your primary residence and 9% if it is a secondary residence.

I have heard from the breezes over the hills that some sellers and buyers have deeds that have one sale number and a handshake deal for a higher number. Contract price paid at the closing and the extra outside of the closing. A little tax scam for both sides.

Step Four: Cough up the cash.

Registry Fee: There is an imposta catastale, land registry tax.  This is a fixed fee that is €50 if you buy the house from a private person and €200 if you buy from a company. This pays for the change of ownership on the cadastral lists.

Value Added Tax: The VAT or as it is called in Italian IVA is due on every purchase and there is no exception for a house.  The percentage amount is based on whether you are buying from a private person or a company and if the house is a primary or secondary residence. It is 4% for a primary home, 10% for a secondary and 22% for a luxury model – like that villa with a tennis court, pool and putting green.

Again, I am not an attorney, Realtor or even good at math. Double check everything! This is what I understand the process to be.

Step fivePay the Staff

You will of course have to pay for any translations, translator, attorney or notary, real estate agency (if you use one) and the person who keeps you sane.  This is really no different than buying a home in the USA.

Step Six: The Beat Goes On

Live la dolce vita and pay property taxes and utilities.  There is currently an interesting law in Italy.  If this is your “first house” or primary residence you pay lower taxes.  As an expat you will have to take up residency within 18 months of the purchase.

• IMU is the municipal real estate tax payable by those who own a property. If it is your primary residence and isn’t what is classified as a luxury home, with today’s laws there is no tax due. IMU is paid to the Municipality where the house is located and depends on the cadastral value of the properties. Currently in Pontelandolfo it is equal to 0.95%.  Less than 1%!

• TARI is the annual tax on waste. TARI is always paid to the Municipality and depends on the square meters of the house and the number of family members. Pontelandolfo is expected to reduce it by 2/3 for residents abroad. The town figures you won’t be there all year.

Step Seven: Dinner?

Call me.  I will bring a bottle of prosecco to celebrate.  Then we will find a lovely little trattoria for dinner under the setting sun.

Ci vediamo!

Midge

PS – 2021 – Come Cook in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo! New one to seven day programs for groups and individuals. Ask about our Learning Italian in the Kitchen classes!

COVID Italian Rapid Response

Listen up!  Italy has a nation wide policy on Covid that includes a Rapid Response Team. Wouldn’t it be cool if the USA did too?  The health care system, under the Ministero della Salute – Ministry of Health – remember, Italy has national health care – Il Servizio Sanitario Nazionale – is administered by each region. What follows is a true tale of fast contact tracing and testing in Southern Italy.  The country and regions are working together for the greater good –

It all started in the Sannio Hills with the renovation of the medieval castle below.  Man the battlements!  

REINO-CASTELLO.jpg (1100×459)

On a Saturday at the end of August, the village of Reino in the province of Benevento held an event to celebrate the grand opening of their restored medieval castle.  They got great press and hoped the castle would become a tourism anchor.  (That link has a video of this grand edifice designed to ward off all war mongering enemies.) The sun was shining and people, including Pontelandolfo’s own mayor, Gianfranco Rinaldi, enjoyed exploring the space. The following Monday, the warm memories turned cold with fear.  The mayor of Reino tested positive for Covid 19. Immediately the town and the Azienda Sanitaria Locale (ASL) – the local health agency leaped into action.  

  1. The town immediately activated it notification system. Masks were made mandatory everywhere in the town of Reino.  With outdoor social distancing they had previously eased up on the wearing of masks.
  2. Everyone who was at the grand opening was contacted.  Those contacted helped spread  the word.  Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and local media all were full of the news.  

For example, our Mayor quickly posted his possible Covid contact on Facebook and went into isolation quarantine. Facebook in Pontelandolfo is read by the majority of the citizens.  The town uses it to let people know about everything from new laws to weather alerts.  The Mayor is a Facebook Friend with just about everyone.

Just how did the town of Reino know who was at the event?  How were people contacted so rapidly?  How did the Ministry of Health do something that we haven’t been able to do In the USA?  One answer is that the majority of citizens in our little corner of Italy have loaded the App Immuni on their smart phones.  The idea is simple and doesn’t sacrifice privacy. Immuni doesn’t collect names, dates of birth, addresses, telephone numbers or email addresses.  It cannot determine someone’s identity or the identity of those that they come in contact with.  It doesn’t save  GPS or geolocation data.  The data is saved on your smartphone and the connections to the server are encrypted.  

 

Simply put – the App notes where you are, the date and time of the day.  That information is saved to your smart phone.  If someone else who was in that same place at that same time is tested positive for Covid, you will immediately be contacted through the app.  Yeah, yeah all you folks who are afraid of them knowing where you are need to remember that if you have a smart phone, use social media and don’t have an spy quality encrypted phone they probably already do.  I realize that not all Italians have a a smart phone and that not all Italians have downloaded the App.  What I do know is purely anecdotal from my very politically active sources in the Region of Campania that tell me everyone they know has the App and shares information with elder family members who may not have a phone.

3. Besides the alarm on the App sounding, phones ringing, town websites putting up notices and social media being loaded with information, the province’s Rapid Response Team left the bat cave. The ASL Rapid Response Testing Team  set up a mobile voluntary testing site across the piazza from Reino’s castle.  Folks got quick blood tests to see if they had Covid antibodies hard at work in their systems.  Everyone cooperated.  Out of the 746 people in this tiny village who took this quick test 15 people tested positive for the antibodies and went to take the yucky nasal-pharyngeal Covid test.  In reality anyone who wanted to could also make an appointment for the full Covid test.  Happily Pontelandolfo’s mayor tested negative but remained in quarantine for fourteen days.

4. To control the pandemic, people entering Italy register with the town they are going to and remain in isolation quarantine for two weeks. The police will stop by and check on you.  We  know that because my cousin, returning from New Jersey to Pontelandolfo,  made the mistake of sitting outside on her veranda during her isolation.  The police arrived and sent her back inside.   We are so blessed in Pontelandolfo that everyone working together for the greater good has kept us Covid free.

Obviously it is much easier with National Health Care and a national plan.  I wondered about App use in the USA.  Jack insisted he read about Apps were available in the USA but that people were hesitant to use them.  Are any connected to government Departments of Health?   I wondered if New Jersey’s Department of Health recommended an App. Just for fun, I searched at NJ.gov and then called the General Covid Questions hot line to find out.  The gentleman who answered the phone was very nice and put me on hold to investigate.  Nope, nada, niente.  Unlike Italy, New Jersey residents don’t have access to a tracing application that is coordinated by a government health agency.  I asked the call center person to please forward my suggestion that New Jersey needs an App – we can’t wait for the Federal Government – and  if there were to be an App it should be mandated.  The states I found that have asked citizens to voluntarily use Apps haven’t been successful. North Dakota was the first state.  At the end of August, Nevada launched an App. Let us hope that Nevadians sign up.  I haven’t been successful in finding many more.  Wooo Wooo fear of Big Brother watching seems to be the problem.  I’m a theatre kid – I don’t care who watches me, where, doing what or when. Seriously, I don’t care.  If tracking where I go can help stem the pandemic, I am all for it.  The New York Times just had an article about Apple and Google creating software.  Click Here to read the article.  If it is coordinated by our home states, I hope we are encouraged to use the software.

As those who follow this blog know,  I am not afraid to point out things that don’t work in Italy.  We hate to admit it but not everything in Southern Italy is absolutely amazing.  This commitment to keeping the population safe, however, is incredible and something that one would hope other bigger countries would copy.

Ci Vediamo

Midge

 

You too can make fresh pasta.  Consider Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo in 2021.

 

 

August Flashbacks

How did September get here?  What happened to August?  The pandemic – duh – no wonder I have no stories to tell of the annual August festa. Remember the year I tried to write about each of the seven events and slept through the last two? August in Pontelandolfo is usually jam-packed with concerts, art exhibits, processions, remembrance celebrations, Feragosto picnics and house parties. Pontelandolfesi from all over the world return home to eat, drink and reminisce with family seen only once every few years. This year, thanks to the pandemic, the monthlong whirlwind didn’t happen.

No stage was set up in Piazza Roma. 

img_6991

Performing artists weren’t  contracted or were cancelled.

Ri Ualanegli, our internationally acclaimed folk dance company, didn’t host a 2020 dance festival.

What did happen in August?  Gardens were tended.  Crops harvested.  Produce canned. Bars opened. Cards were shuffled. People strolled the piazza. Families ate, drank and enjoyed each other.  Trekking, forest foraging and picnics took place in the mountain.  Beaches were visited.  Kids started thinking about school starting on September 14th. Some folks did the usual August thing and went on vacations. Returning vacationers caused a surge in Covid-19 cases.  

Not again…

Pontelandolfo is a microcosm of good health.  During the pandemic, there has only been one case of Covid.  Perhaps it is the mountain air and great wine.  I will start thinking about next August and what a joy the annual festa will be.

Ci Vediamo

Midge

Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo.  Booking 2021.

 

Pop Those Fava Skins – Pop Pop

Spring may have sprung and gone, but my Fava memories deserve sharing. I’ve told you the tales of the roving basket of fava beans. I didn’t enjoy as many fava dishes this year as I have in the past, but did discover something worth shucking a bean pod about. Normally, after shucking a basked of bean pods, I cook the beans in their shells. Frankly, the thought of adding another step to the cooking process seemed like a pain in the pattooty. Then one fava craving day, I googled FAVA BEANS. I was surfing for any interesting recipes. Each one I found said shell the beans. NOOO! I am not going to boil a pot of water, toss in the beans, pull the beans out and burn my hands just to shell them. Shucking them from the pods is work enough.

Apparently, some other cooks didn’t want to deal with the heat of the boil either. They froze the beans instead. I couldn’t believe it when I read that and googled fava some more. Quite a few sources said freeze the beans and the shells practically pop off the bean. Hmmm. Of course, I read all the instructions and then realized I didn’t have a small sheet pan that would fit in my freezer and guarantee a single layer of beans. Also, I wasn’t going to hang around and time the beans for 30 minutes.

I shucked the beans and tossed them into a nine inch square baking dish – it is what I had that would fit in the little freezer. Were the beans in rigid little rows not touching? Nope, I tossed them in the dish. Yup, they were on top of each other. Then I put the dish in the freezer and forgot about it. Later that night, I remembered and went to visit them. They had turned whitish and looked cold. I stirred them so the ones on the top could cuddle up on the bottom. Then I went to bed.

The next night, I wanted to use the beans. I remembered reading they should be allowed to thaw for at least 15 minutes. Of course, that meant I was not going to get dinner done in time so I didn’t wait. WRONG. This was a classic “Midge doesn’t listen” mistake.

As they thaw they get more and more wrinkly –
like your forehead when you squint in the sun.

When I first tried to pop the beans out, all I did was freeze my fingers and ultimately peel the shell layer off. As the beans began to thaw it became a flim flam thank you ma’am.

Squish and pop!

Notice how the beans in this picture look whiter and wrinkled. They were thawing. It actually works! But you really have to wait at least 15 minutes.

It does take time to shell the beans and frankly, I don’t know if my palate is refined enough to really taste the difference. They do feel smoother when I eat them, but taste better? Jack said they tasted different but he wasn’t sure either if it was better. What do you think?

How did I cook them? Hmm – what did I do? We just chopped up bacon and let it sizzle. Then snuck in a little olive oil and a grossly chopped onion. When the onion started to look translucent, I tossed in the beans and enough lamb bone broth to cover them. The usual seasonings were added to the pot – salt, pepper, bay leaf and (please don’t tell my nonna) garlic powder. I also added some thick chunked potatoes. Slowly they cooked.

They were tasty. Coupled with some crusty rye bread, they were dipping great. Would I peel the shells in the future? Hmmm.

Ci Vediamo,

Midge

http://www.cookinginthekitchensofpontelandolfo.com

http://www.midgeguerrera.com

Flour Wars, Mask Shortages – Improvising During a Pandemic

It was about 9:30 PM on a blustery early March night – a time when the Hillsborough Shop Rite was usually quiet – that the impact of the Corona Virus hit me.  This literally dark and stormy night the megastores’s parking lot was full. Crazed shoppers raced through the building. Shopping carts were piled high. People were wrenching paper towel rolls away from each other.  What the hell?  

Over the last few months, I bet all of us have seen long vacant toilet paper shelves and a sad empty paper towel aisle.  We have also seen resilience and creativity.  I found our cloth napkins – we use them for a few days before washing.  Why buy paper napkins? A cloth rag works well – who needs paper towels?  But flour and yeast – now that is another story.

You all know that my amazing cousin, Annarita, was trapped in our Condo.   What did we lust for?  Food Pontelandolfo Style.  I sobbed over the lack of good crusty bread – like those one kilo loaves made at Diglio Forno.  Annarita FaceTimed with her mom, Carmella, and groaned when she saw mamma’s fresh pasta.  Jack was aching for pizza from Sesto Senso.   Not, a problem, I thought.  If we can’t go to the village, let’s bring the village to us.

ca193f4a-64ec-432d-ad50-ee0317da5179
Our Little Village in the Sannio Hills.  It was virus free!!!

With flour and yeast, Annarita would  replicate those gorgeous gluten powered treats.  So I thought.  Imagine my tears, when my end of March shop yielded not one wee bit of flour.  Yeast – who bought all the yeast? Not one packet of yeast was left on a shelf.  Did I look in more than one store – who are you asking?  Of course.  When did the entire population of Central Jersey start baking? This was not an isolated scene.  It may have been a global farina, mouka, mel, harina, flour shortage. My family in Pontelandolfo, who really do know how to bake, roast and toast, also said there was a run on yeast.  Obviously for the last few months, around the world, some folks were hoarding toilet paper – others – flour and yeast.  It took until April, but I did score flour.  Did I say score?  Sounds like I was jonesing for flour.  Obviously, I travelled far and wide in my quest for flour.

Now that we had flour, it was time for Annarita to do her magic.  She wanted to start with pasta and asked me where my pasta machine was.  Hmm, I thought where is that machine?  Oh yeah, when we moved to Italy I gave my New Jersey machine to my nephew, Christopher.  Rolling pin, she asked.  Hmmm, where did that go?  No problem, we are exceptional women and know how to improvise.  A quick search of our condo yielded –

You might think it is a closet rod but we saw a matterello, The long wooden dowel all the women in Pontelandolfo use to roll out dough.  Annarita asked if I had a pasta board.  Pasta board – you know that huge hunk of wood you knead and then roll dough on.  Years ago, when we sold our house in Flagtown, we sold everything and headed for Italy.  Who knew that we would buy a condo in New Jersey and be quarantined without furniture, dishes and things like a rolling pin. We were determined.  I bleached the counter, tossed down some flour and she was set.  We improvised.

IMG_4268

Need a place to dry pasta?  Improvise – go back to the closet and toss the clothes on the bed.

IMG_4300

Yeast?  Just ask my sister, Susan!  She sent me a link to a YouTube video  done by a cute Italian chef – “cuoredicioccolato” is the name of his channel.  The video explained how to make sourdough starter from stuff you have in the house!  Of course you do need flour.  Who knew honey, yogurt or raisons percolating in flour long enough started things growing!  Of course, this requires commitment – you have to keep feeding the sour beast flour daily!  My niece, Alex,  was committed –

Our family improvised it’s way around the crusty bread crisis. Others used their creativity problem solving.

My number one buddy, Janet, works at Somerset County Vocational Technical High School and was part of the team that made thousands of  plastic full face masks for medical workers.  Everyone knew there was a shortage of Personal Protection Equipment.  Faculty and students in the Mechatronics program fired up 3-D printers and voila 3-D printed plastic headbands popped out. Janet said the team scrounged the school to uncover every box of unused plastic transparencies.  They gave away thousands of completed masks to local hospitals.   Janet showed me one she made–

janetmask

I am no where near that creative.  But, I did solve our lack of masks problem. Masks had to be worn even on the short dash from our condo door to the mail room. Jack pointed out that he had tons of really old t-shirt material boxer shorts and asked if they would work.   I didn’t think we could walk around with under-gochies on our heads but hmmm.  One leg equals two layers of cotton.  Snip, snip – I cut off a leg. Found a stapler and stapled in pleats.  I do have a child’s sewing machine and was able to  toss a quick stitch or two down the outer edge to keep the pleats in.  Took out the staples and added panty streamers for ties.

IMG_4349

Yes, that is a vodka bottle.  Yes, it was full when I started.

I know that each and everyone of you has been creative and resilient. Under comments share your improvisation!  I want to know what creative solutions you all came up with to survive the pandemic. PULEEZE – inquiring minds want to know!

Ci Vediamo

Midge

Midge Guerrera

Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo

 

 

Travelling Back to Pontelandolfo

On February 17, 2020 we raced to Newark Airport to pick up my Italian cousin, Annarita.  We had great plans!  Trips to New York, walks in Philadelphia, strolling through the Grounds for Sculpture and being foodies – eating in every interesting non-Italian restaurant we could find.  Annarita is thirty-something and a great sport.  The first week we visited New York’s Italian Consulate, wandered city streets and, starting with “French 45” cocktails, enjoyed great French Food.  During the trip, rumblings of the Coronavirus were shaking in our head.  I carried enough hand wipes and hand sanitizer to keep a troupe of scouts germ free.  We smeared our hands with sanitizer in the train stations, cabs and well, just about anytime we touched something – out came the wipes and the sanitizer.

Carrying bleach wipes, sanitizer and vitamin C, Annarita flew off to Texas to spend time with our cousins.  She had a great adventure.  When she got back – boom – Coronavirus really dropped into New Jersey.  Jack and I had just bought a condo and moved in moments before the “stay at home” orders started.  Her March tickets back to Italy fell into the trash. The hip young woman was now stuck in a 55 plus condo.  WOW!  What fun!  We cooked, we laughed, we got everything delivered and didn’t venture out. After six weeks of this frivolity, she was ready to go back to Italy. The other reality was, foreign nationals without Visas are only allowed to stay in the USA for 90 days.  With this administration’s posturing on foreign folks  we were frantic to get her back by day 89.

We had two problems to deal with – 1. Would Italy let her back in the country? 2. If we couldn’t get her home by day 89, what would happen to her when she tried to leave the USA at a later date?  Taking deep breaths we booked a Lufthansa flight to Naples.

Would Italy let her in –

AUTODICHIARAZIONE GIUSTIFICATIVA DELLO SPOSTAMENTO  IN CASO DI ENTRATA IN ITALIA DALL’ESTERO spit out of my printer. This Self-declaration Form of Displacement must be completed by any Italian National coming back to Italy from abroad.  Since the east coast of the USA is a red zone, we started to worry and wondered what she would have to write and certify. Unless, you have an urgent reason to return, Italy would prefer you stay away in self quarantine.  She had to attest that she didn’t have the virus and hadn’t been near anyone who did.  The question that got me was , what is the urgency to come back?  The bloody 90 day cut off for her American stay was the urgency. She also had to guarantee she had a place to serve a fourteen day isolation quarantine.  That means – alone, no family, remain in a space where no one else has access.  We wouldn’t know if they would let her in until she got there!

Could she stay in the USA longer than 90 days –

Before she came to visit she completed an application for the Visa Waiver program, ESTA – she needed a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)   This is what Europeans usually apply for – you can fill it out at a Travel Agency.  Easy – right?  Except, according to Travel.state.gov – 

If you enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, you are not permitted to extend your stay in the United States beyond the initial admission period. You must depart the United States on or before the date on your admission stamp when you entered the United States.

I couldn’t get a hold of anyone in the Department of State. Does anyone still work there?  Being an old politico, I sent a nice campaign donation to my local congressperson.  I then sent an e-mail and asked for help with the DOS.  The office aide did call me and leave her Washington number.  I called back and obviously the aide blew me off because I never heard another word.  We were afraid that in today’s American climate she would be in major trouble if she overstayed the 90 day tourism window European visitors are allowed. Until she landed in Rome, we still worried.

It took angst, my skill of phone sex or phone tears magic and the ever powerful lawyer Rossella but in the middle of May Annarita was finally able to go home.  Home being my favorite southern Italian Village, Pontelandolfo.  Was it easy? No.  Were we gnashing teeth, arguing with airlines, frantic to get in touch with anyone in power? Yes

Let us start with the flight.  Just by chance – I had called Lufthansa to check on her flight status – we discovered that her flight to Naples via Frankfort was cancelled.  WHAT?  I asked the representative why we didn’t get an e-mail or a text message or even a notification on the Lufthansa app?  Who knows why?  We went to the Naples Airport website and discovered that no flights were coming in or out.  It seems that the small regional airports were closed.  The reality was she had to fly from Frankfort to Rome.  Great, you’re thinking, Rome is cool.  Sadly, after literally hours on the phone with three different people in the Lufthansa call center, we discovered that because Italy is so concerned with social distancing and the safety of its residents they insist planes flying in had to be no more than half full.  The only flight would   arrive in Rome at 5:45PM.

Too late to get a train close to home – besides it was impossible to get train tickets.   Maybe someone can drive the three hours and pick her up.  WRONG!  Italy knows how far reaching this virus is and contains it by not letting people go from one region or another unless they work in a vital industry.  That means that no one from Campania can drive to Lazio and pick her up.  We were frantic.  Her family in Pontelandolfo was besides themselves.  Her sister kept calling hotels in Rome. A pal who owns a travel agency called all his pals trying to get Annarita a place to stay.  All of the hotels are being used for isolation quarantine.  There are no beds in Rome.  The tension mounted and pounds of cookies, biscotti and tortes were being devoured.  We could get her to Rome but then….

Thank the Lord for Rossella, ace advocate and older sister, she found out that there were some limousine services that could cross regional borders.  One was found in nearby Benevento.  I am imaging the back passenger seat being a containment bubble.  The driver texted Annarita  and said not to worry he would be there and be carrying “real Italian” coffee for her.

Annarita fly
Annarita Flying Back

Everything was in place – or was it.  We got Annarita to Newark Airport three hours early.  Social distancing apparently wasn’t on anyone’s brain.  That said, the airline employees did exercise caution.  Annarita said that no one would touch her luggage.  She printed her own boarding pass, luggage tags etc.  The wait for the flight  was harrowing.  No one respected the six feet rule.  Airline employees screamed, “RESPECT DISTANCING.” But with hundreds of people anxious to get out of New Jersey, it was chaotic.   Chairs were X’d out but people just stood crowded together.  It was frightening.  People all wore masks and many others wore white coveralls covering their clothes.  They covered up but crowded up – makes no sense. To board the plane – it was a United flight – the had six foot makers near the door.  Five people at a time were called to that position and allowed to board.  The boarded from the rear of the plane first.  That was smart.  No one was standing in the aisle breathing on seated folks.  Annarita  said the plane was half-full and there were empty seats between people.  Then she landed in Frankfort.

Frankfort was “impossible”.  I thought the Germans would have had this organized.  They didn’t and worse – Lufthansa had lied to us.  The plane to Rome was not half full.  It was freakin’ overbooked.  People were packed near the gate and arguing to be let on.  She got on.  Kept her mask on and sanitized her hands a million times.

The Rome airport was organized and social distancing was mandated.  There was a long spaced line for everything.  They took the temperatures of very young people and others.  Luckily, Annarita had filled out the Self Declaration Form in advance.  Folks queued up for about twenty minutes to get a table and fill out the form.  Again, one person at a table please.   Every single traveller met with someone from border control to review the form.  Questions were asked and answered.  Annarita breezed through.

The Limo driver met her, helped with the luggage and walked with her to the car.  Hand sanitizer and wipes were in abundance.  She sighed, settled back and made it home to Pontelandolfo.

ca193f4a-64ec-432d-ad50-ee0317da5179-2
Pontelandolfo – our favorite place.

When an Italian returns they must also give a form to the local police, the mayor’s office and A.S.L. – Aziende Sanitarie Locali – universal health care agency.

Our house in Pontelandolfo was obviously empty so she hunkered down there.  Her family had stocked the refrigerator and pantry, the wi-fi was on and the television works.  What more could she want?  After the fourteen days, someone will come and test her or give her a physical.  That hasn’t happened yet.  Doesn’t matter.  She is home.  She is healthy.  She has opened the windows in my house.

Hopefully, after she is back with her family, we too will soon be isolation quarantining in our Southern Italian home.

Ci vediamo.

 

 

Io Resto A Casa Pontelandolfo & NJ

io resta

Days have passed and it seems that in our New Jersey home one day folds into another.  Yes, we remain indoors.  Yes, we only leave to go to the pharmacy and vegetable store. Yes, household supples, meat and dairy get delivered.  Yes, I am anal about wiping down all deliveries and hand washing. Yes, after returning home from an outside trek, I insist that Jack or I immediately strip, shower and wash the outdoor clothes. Yes, besides contacting family and friends here and in Pontelandolfo, I have been a binge watching, novel reading full time layabout.

My “what have you done for me lately” brain got a spurt of energy and sent me to my computer.  It is time to tell you the story of Pontelandolfo (BN) and the Coronavirus.  My cousin Annarita came to visit us at the end of February expecting to stay for a month and a half.  Then the Coronavirus hit Italy and she decided to stay with us.  Then the Coronavirus hit the USA and the three of us realized we had to hunker-down in New Jersey for the duration.  With her here, we get daily updates on the life of our Pontelandolfo family and friends.

What I realized is that the Italians in Southern Italy do everything with resolve and passion.  When Giuseppe Conte, Prime Minister of Italy, said the quarantine would be extended until April 30 people execepted it.  Unlike the ridiculous stories I read in the New Jersey papers no one had a wedding,  birthday party, or state house protest with hordes of people.  They stayed home.  Because they stayed home, only one person in our small Southern Italian village has tested positive for the Coronavirus. The person who tested positive is a nurse in an out of town rehabilitation center. She is isolated in her home and will stay there until she tests negative. The virus has not spread in our village. However, there is a flour and yeast shortage.

Schools were closed and teachers are providing home based lessons.  The high schools seem to be giving final exams on line.  All the elementary school kids were encouraged to create a rainbow to hang in their windows.  The activity was an opportunity for parents to explain how working together by staying home is for the good of everyone.

IMG_0057

I can only talk about what is happening in Pontelandolfo. From my family I have gotten first hand information – it helps to have politicos in the family who have an information main line.

Information distribution is key during a crisis.  Starting early in March, the country went to the mattresses to stop the onslaught.  #iorestoacasa. Pontelandolfo uses signage, e-mails, facebook and its Pontelandolfo 2.0 app to get the word out.

IMG_0056

The municipality of Pontelandolfo gave each family one washable mask to use.  Why only one?  Because only one person per family may leave the house to go the grocery store, butcher, or Farmacia.  That person must print out and fill out a “self-certifying traveling for proven needs” form.  (Folks titter that every time Premiere Conte speaks there is a new form to fill out.) The police stop all cars coming into town and ask to see the form.  They stop you on the way out too.  There better not just be a jug of wine and no groceries!  Yes, you can get a ticket.  The police presence is excepted as necessary and a reminder to stay home.

The sense of community is amazing.  The three levels of government, social service agencies and individuals are all working together for the greater good. The men and women who volunteer to be part of Protezione Civile Pontelandolfo, have been instrumental in providing information and assistance.  Idea Bellezza, a local company, donated food and hygiene products to distribute.  For Easter, the municipality brought Easter Baskets to every child. Tina Perone of Farmacia Perone made hand sanitizer for every customer.   The Region of Campania also bought masks for the pharmacies to give away.

Vincenzo De Luca, the president of the Region of Campania announced the following assistance.  The region allocated fourteen million euro for a fund called Bando con la Famiglie. Social Service agencies got funding early for problems in the community. Funding was put in place to get food from the producers to the distribution sites. Students who can’t afford to buy their school books and supplies would be helped.  Money is also available for families with children under the age of 15 and need financial assistance. Since all children are at home, €500 per month is available to help families that work in essential services pay for babysitting. That said, when the fund is depleted the funding stops unless there is something else in the pipeline.

Conte’s Italy, is providing additional help. INPS, think social security agency, is providing assistance. Anyone receiving a INPS check of less than €1,000 gets up to €500 from the government to insure they receive a monthly pension check of at least €1,000. Since all students are learning from home, there is money available to buy poor students computers and get their homes hooked up to the internet. Funding is available to distribute food to families in economic difficulty. Self – employed persons and those with small companies are also being assisted.

My first thought was could someone double dip – get funding for the same sort of thing from all levels of government. My cousin looked at me and raised an eyebrow. I guess the answer is no.

Families are spending time together. Music is being made.  Songs are sung.  No one disobeys the rule to stay home and don’t go beyond two hundred feet of your home. Nationally, Coronavirus numbers are falling.  In Pontelandolfo the number remains one.

I think there are lessons to be learned here.  The government jumped in and tested tons of people.  Rules were put in place and the people listened. Everyone understood that one helps oneself and the world by staying home.

IMG_4288

Ci vediamo prossima volta.

Midge