Secret Tomb Found!!!

Rinvenimento Tomba Sepolcrale – Discovery – Sepulchral Tomb

That was the headline on a statement circulated by the Comune di Pontelandolfo.  Italians have a great vocabulary. I had to use the Miriam Webster Dictionary for kids to understand the translation of Sepolcrale – Sepulchral – “relating to the burial of the dead – gloomy”– I would think being buried in an ancient tomb would be pretty dark and gloomy.  What is not so gloomy is why they issued a statement.  It was the precursor of some pretty exciting news.

On 21 Augusto 2018, in the Pontelandolfo section of Sorgenza, ScaPollici (the company putting mammoth wind turbines on our pristine hills) needed to bury conduits and began digging. I can almost see and hear the scene.

Vroom Vrrom VRRRRRRoooom, roared the backhoe.

“Che fa???? Whoa, what is that – a skull,” queried one of the guys watching the work.

“Cripes, whose it is,” asked the other guy standing and watching the work.

“Stop digging. Turn off the excavator. STOP. STOP. STOP DIGGING,” screamed the head guy standing and watching the work.

Someone alerted the police and the town. Our mayor promptly called the office of the Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio for the province of Caserta and Benevento. This office of the superintendent is the local office of the Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Cultualli e de Turismo (Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Activities and Tourism.)  Quickly, State sanctioned archaeologists raced to Pontelandolfo and supervised the work at the location.  Immediately, the front loaders were silenced, and manual excavation began. Our diligent municipal administration was not only updated by archaeologists constantly, but also repeatedly checked out the on-site activity themselves.

The archaeologists dashed off a report to the superintendent.  Wham bam, work was suspended in the area and the local Carabinieri were dispatched to guard the location.

I had no idea this was going on and being a gossip hound, I am glad I didn’t. Our Mayor and Council, supporting the requests of the archeologists, kept the information about the site a wee bit secret. During the excavation, the mayor, with the press pressing for information and locals gossiping up a storm did as he was asked and zita, kept his mouth shut. The professionals feared that if a lot of publicity was blasted about the site unauthorized “Raiders of the Lost Ark” type folks might start digging. Historically, artifacts have been looted from the village.

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Now the site is secured.  Who was this little Roman baby? What were her parents like? Can’t wait to hear the rest of the story.

Now the word is officially out and it is incredible news.  A 90 cm by 120 cm tomb, presumably from the Roman era, containing the skeleton of an infant was uncovered.  The skeleton was subsequently preserved in a safe place.  The tomb was covered with steel plates and secured.  More archeological sanctioned excavation will occur later.

Why is this great news?  Where there was an infant there was a group of people!  The importance of this discovery not only brings a sense of historic pride to the community of Pontelandolfo, but also the archeologists confirm what we all thought – there was a presence here of an ancient civilization. This unleashes scores of opportunities!

According to city spokesperson Gabriele Palladino in Pontelandolfo News –

…in the pleasant and spacious plain there was once a prosperous and laughing Pag: The Pagus Herculaneus, or village of Hercules. This rural district of the ancient Roman territory, embellished with marble, glass, mosaics of frescoes, statues, temples, aqueduct, fountains and spas, had life in the Piana…

Now our administration is considering all of the possible opportunities this gives us.  Imagine the collaborations with major universities to create an archeological zone!  Or the development of a museum to exhibit newly uncovered artifacts and the items already available to us!  This is incredibly exciting to me.  I envision, yet another reason to visit Pontelandolfo.

Yes, this poor baby’s bones, kept hidden for hundreds of years, could represent a new beginning for a small village in the Sannio Hills

Ci Vediamo.

 

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It’s All Happening at the Zoo

Like a lioness roaring at her cubs, I announced in una voce forte, “hop in the car we have places to go and animals to see.”

“What,” queried Jack, “sheep in the mountain? Stop bellowing like a lion. Where do you want to go?”

“Lions and tigers and bears -oh my – to the Zoo Delle Maitine in Pesca Sannita!”

Spending a lot of time in Pontelandolfo BN, we are always looking for day trips. Since lots of folks come to visit us or are culinary tourists in our Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo program, I think of it as research for our guests. Actually that is just an easy excuse. I love to explore. Life is short and there are lots of places to see. I have an old Visit Campania book – which I love. It is much more complete than the website and includes little towns. I looked up the Provincia di Benevento. Pesca Sannita had a fairly good write up. Hmm, I bet their administration understands PR and sent something in when they were asked. I googled the town, expecting to get the droll web-site template that Pontelandolfo and other towns use. Whoa – Pesca Sannita has a website dedicated to tourism. The blurb included a photo of a parrot and an invitation to visit Zoo Delle Maitine. That impressed me enough to get in the car and point driver Jack towards Pesca Sannita.

Besides, who knew there was a zoo? Perhaps the gnu knew, and now I’m telling you. A scant trip over the mountain to Pesco Sannita and we came upon a darling well thought out little zoo.

There was a sign saying “paid parking”. We pulled in and an older man pointed out where to park. I had a €5 bill in my hand – huge mistake – and asked him how much? He took the 5 and scampered off. I found out from the ticket taker that you just tip the person in the lot – like €1. Oops. For a well organized place, the zoo needs to get some “Parker Beware” signage up in the parking lot.

Our €6 each senior citizen tickets made up for the scammer in the parking lot.

What struck me at first was how clean the zoo was. Every animal encampment was pristine and large. For example, only two lions are in the huge lion park. It had a little lake, trees and lots of grass – very plain like. Next to the lake, the lioness was reposing in the shade. The man with the mane was posing for the cameras.

My zoo experiences are urban – Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo. And I remembered as a kid holding my nose against the smell – I was a wee bit obnoxious – thinking it was stinky and the animals were squished. We visited the Zoo Delle Maitine on a hot summer day and there wasn’t any odor. OK, that is a lie, it was a hot summer day and there were lots of sweaty kids. I will rephrase that – there wasn’t any overt odor from the animal habitats.

Signage near each grouping of animals talked about extinction. There were charts showing how endangered the animals were and why. I hope the signs are a catalyst for family discussions.

Most of the visitors had small children with them and some of the viewing areas had glass partial walls that permitted small faces to get up close and personal with the monkeys and other animals. One part of the zoo, that my “child” particularly liked was the fattoria, farm. They had really miniature goats and sheep. A perfect size for little people to look at and play with. It was an open area – still clean. We walked in and the farm yard animals obviously used to guests, ambled over to play. I had on a white skirt and bolted, but I’m told there were all kinds of food bearing animals.

Here is my wee companion playing in the farm yard.

Did they have every animal in the universe? No, but what they did have seemed well cared for and a joy to look at. Also, for the nonni who were bringing kids, there were lots of benches placed in shady nooks. One of the things I appreciated was that, unlike urban zoos, they didn’t gouge us at the refreshment stands. A bottle of water was the same €1 we would pay in a local bar. They even had a picnic area for folks who carried their own grub.

Jack and I spent half a day there and really enjoyed ourselves. Granted, people looked at us strangely because we didn’t have any kids with us. Occasionally, I remedied that by looking at groups of kids and saying things like Salvatore, sta attento!

Salvatore didn’t listen but this guy came over to say hi.

Next time you come to visit Provincia di Benevento, add Zoo Delle Maitine to your list!

Ci Vediamo!

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We are now signing up culinary adventurers for our May 2019 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo. Check out our website.

Rainy Day in the Museum – ARCOS

Like a ticking time bomb, I was ready to detonate. BAM!  It has been raining or threatening rain or rain was predicted for more days than I  – BAM. BAM.  With the voice and bared teeth of a Giganotosaurus, I bellowed – “Jack, I refuse to stay in this house another day.  If it fahkackata rains, it won’t melt us!.  Let’s go to Benevento and check out the contemporary art exhibit at ARCOS.”

Sigh, “What kind of art?  Where?”

“The show is called Materiche Geometrie.  Maybe its cubism.  Does it matter?  Let’s just go!”

I had read somewhere that there was an artist from Benevento, Mario Lanzione, who had an exhibit at the ARCOS Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Sannio.  We had often gone to the primary museum in Benevento, Museo del Sannio, and found it incredibly interesting.  We had never visited the companion museum across Corso Garibaldi.

Corso Garibaldi is a broad  avenue that has been turned into a charming shop and bar lined pedestrian street.  At the top is a castle and a park and at the bottom a parking lot.  In the middle, a UNESCO heritage site! For whatever reason, roads were closed and we couldn’t park at the top near the museum but at the bottom of the hill.  Well, the sun was shining and walking up hill is great exercise. Rats, I forgot to put the umbrella in my purse.  It won’t rain – look sun – hot sun.

When we got to ARCOS we were greeted by an incredible couple of museum employees. I was remiss in not getting their names.  Once they detected that my Italian was accented and we were pegged as foreigners, we engaged in a terrific conversation about why we love the Sannio Hills.  We paid our whopping €1 each senior citizen, Province of Benevento resident entrance fee and were surprised when the woman who was working at the ticket counter jumped up and took us on a personalized tour.  Now granted we were the only people in the place and rain was predicted and she might have been bored, BUT whatever the reason she made our visit absolutely incredible.

What we didn’t realize was that the facility held not only the Contemporary Art Museum but also Museo del Sannio Sezione Egizia.  Our knowledgeable guide steered us away from the art and on to the Egyptian part of the building.  I discovered that she was one of the educators that conducted programs for school children – in full period costume.  How could I not love her!

The name of the permanent exhibition is ISIDE la Scandalosa e la Magnifica!  Isis, the scandalous and the magnificent – who could not want to visit an exhibit with such a tantalizing name?

What we discovered was that a temple to the goddess Isis had been built in Benevento during the reign of Roman emperor Domitian.  He had his minions drag lots of Egyptian artifacts to Benevento.  The temple was built with a mixture of ancient Egyptian items and recreated Roman items.  Our guide pointed out how one could tell which statues were Egyptian and which were Roman replicas.  I have to say, the Roman ones are still pretty ancient.

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Roman copies – an original was there too and you could see the difference. God Horus, son of Isis was depicted as a resting Falcon.  There long beaks were chopped off in 380 AD.

Domiziano (Domitian) apparently said – IO sono il grande della vittoria. Re dell’ Alto e del Basso Egitto, sono Domiziano, vivente in eterno. Per Iside, madre divina, astro del mattino, regina degli dei, dai monti di granito rosso di Siene ho trasportato questi monumenti nel nobile tempio che ho edificato in onore della grande signori di Benevento nell ‘ ottava anno del mio regno.

I am the great victor. King of Upper and Lower Egypt, I am Domitian, living forever.  For Isis, divine Mother, Morning Star, Queen of the Gods, from the mountains of red granite of Siene I transported these monuments to the noble temple that I built in honor of the great gods of Benevento in the eighth year of my reign.

I couldn’t understand why a Roman would build a temple to an Egyptian goddess.  Rome had tons of its own gods and goddesses.  Along with a photo of a statue we saw in the museum, here is what I discovered:

Like other foreign rulers in Egypt, Domitian embraced Egyptian religion and co-opted, so to speak, a particular goddess cult – that of Isis – to enhance his own stature through association. Domitian spread Isis worship throughout the Roman Empire. In fact, this statue probably originally decorated a temple to Isis in Benevento in what’s now Italy, built during Domitian’s reign.

http://www.getty.edu/art/mobile/center/egypt/stop.php?id=364903.   J Paul Getty Trust

As we looked at headless and faceless statues, our guide explained that the temple was destroyed by the Edict of Thessalonica from the Emperor Theodosius who in 380 recognized Christianity as a state religion, forbidding all other pagan cults.  Essentially, when Christianity became the religion of choice all of the heads of the statues were lopped off.  Just a hint as to what the Christians would do to you if they caught you worshiping some other god or goddess.  Interesting how history repeats itself.

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Hacked off head of Isis.  The 3/4 life size statue was probably from the Temple of Behbet-el-Haga in the Nile Delta.

Since 1892, the sculptures and other found Egyptian items were merged in the collections of the Museum of Sannio.  At ARCOS, the items were placed in a manner to help the viewer – me – get a feel for what the temple looked like.  They also had screens for a currently non-working multi media immersion.  I can imagine the how much fun learning is for the school groups who work with our guide.  She not only told us what everything was but brought the place to life.  We also found out that a celebration to Isis still happens once a year!  (Don’t tell Theodosius.)

Oh, oh and get this – they hold jazz concerts and tastings in the recreated temple!  We made sure to get on the e-mail list.

I bet you’re wondering about the exhibition of contemporary art.  The galleries are wonderful, the geometric based art was interesting and provided a brief respite from the now pouring rain.  The artist currently lives in Benevento and has exhibited internationally.

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PS – Did I mention the museum staff offered to walk us back down the hill with an umbrella?  Did I mention they wanted to buy us coffee and hang out with us until the rain let up?  I love them!!!

Ci vediamo!

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He who knows the arts….

Cripes, look at the time, I bellowed.  Sweat was pouring off my brow and my clothes were frankly disgusting.  Rossella Mancini and I were setting up an art exhibit and had been collecting and cataloguing pieces all day.  The show would run for seven days and the opening was gulp – in two days.  We were juggling artigianale items – incredible hand loomed fabrics, straw woven into sculptures, wood carvings – with paintings by contemporary artists.  Our idea was to demonstrate how the traditional crafts of a community had a direct impact on the work of younger artists.

No, I screeched, leave her sitting at a table – wait, I’ll add one of the purses.

A painting, waiting to be placed, had been sitting on a little table and propped up on a column. With a little swatch of red cloth, a handmade purse and an empty chair, the painting of a young women in a bikini by Angelo Palladino became one of the “scenes” in the gallery.  Rossella and I were both racing around madly trying to get it all pulled together.  The program booklet?!  We need to design and write something and get it to the printer tonight.

I looked at my watch again.  We had seconds to run down the street to the book launch produced by a group of young friends.  As we raced down the block, from the opposite direction we could hear the tech crew setting up an outdoor stage.  Tomorrow night an International Folk Dance Festival opened.  

Good, there is a line to get in – No one will know we are late.  Cripes, I hope no one I know is here.

Looking like something the proverbial cat dragged in, I said hi to folks I knew and dropped into a seat.  Wow, I thought, the glitterati is out tonight. Not only was the audience well dressed, they all had come early – that must mean something “hot” is happening tonight. The performance space looked incredible – from the comfortable overstuffed turquise couch and coffee table on the stage, to the display of art photos by the incredible Salvatore Griffini, to the piano and guitarist primed to play – the tone was set for an interesting evening.  Taking a breath and hoping no one sat too close to me, I was hit in the head with the boing boing of an epiphany.  This very second, we could be anywhere the arts flourish – in a swank artsy neighborhood in Brooklyn or Downtown Manhattan or Chicago or Austin – BUT WE WEREN’T.  We were in a tiny little southern Italian village – Pontelandolfo.  A place where the young and the old make art.

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The evening was produced by “Liberia Tutti”, a group of young writers, actors, artists and musicians.  They had joined forces to produce the book launch in support of photographer, Salvatore Griffini, whose work was in the book. The evening hummed as Liberi Tutti embraced all art forms from vocals supported by piano or guitar, a Brechtian monologue superbly preformed by Gianmarco Castaldi, to a wonderful reading by the talented author Martina del Negro.  Frankly, the editor of the self-published book being launched spoke and I had to suppress my yawns.  Professor Renato Rinaldi, the driving force of the Pontelandolfo News was one of the highlights for me.  What he said reached into my heart and moved me to tears. I hope it will move you.

Chi sa musica, chi sa arte, che sa danza, chi sa teatro, chi sa letteratura, chi sa poesia, sa Pontelandolfo. He who knows music, he who knows dance, he who knows theatre, he who knows literature, he who knows poetry, knows Pontelandolfo.

The art show opened, dance companies from throughout Europe performed, bands

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Here I am moments before the opening.  I cleaned up pretty well.

played and the first week of August – Festival Week – tired us aging second actors out but reinforced the words of Renato.  He who knows the arts understands our little corner of the world.

Ci Vediamo.

 

 

Concetta Biondi

Ponte Old

On August 13, 1861, Pontelandolfo, home to 18 year old Concetta Biondi, was a quiet little mountain village.  Contadini were farming the land, children were seeking shady places to play and women were doing the million chores that women did daily.  Concetta may have been doing laundry in the common fountain trough.

THIS IS AN ARTIST’S RENDERING OF WHAT HAPPENED THE NEXT DAY!  

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Concetta Biondi was collateral damage in a battle – massacre – during the unification of Italy.  “Collateral damage,” that sounds so much better than raped and … I’m getting ahead of myself. Pontelandolfo is famous, along with neighboring Casalduni, for being destroyed by the Italian army.

In 1861, some partisans captured and killed a small number of Italian soldiers in nearby Casalduni. Seeking revenge, Italian Colonel Pier Eleonoro Negri directed his men to launch an attack.  “Leave no stone left standing,” he cried.  (Cfr. Nicolina Vallillo: L’incendio di Pontelandolfo in Rivista storica del Sannio. 1919.)

Entering Pontelandolfo smack in the middle of the night, Negri’s oafs butchered and burned the village . Oops, husband Jack just read over my shoulder and said, “oafs is not fair.  They were soldiers obeying orders.”

Ok, OK, I’ll fix it.  Soldiers obeying orders butchered and burned the village. Within moments, the countryside was in turmoil. Families leaped out of bed to the ringing of the church bells, rapid discharge of rifles and the crunch of boots pounding on the cobblestones. Clutching their drowsy children, adults wondered what the hell was going on. Racing to windows, balconies and doors, the Pontelandolfese were shocked to see soldiers running through their streets. The Italian Army had arrived and they didn’t look like happy campers.

The soldiers, kicked in doors, leaped up stairs, raced into homes killing men, women and children. Those that tried to fight back were dragged under the tilia tree in Piazza Roma and shot. Flames soared as the village burned.   I’m guessing my ancestors were lucky to live in an outlying Contrada or I wouldn’t be here.

“The conduct was horrible and immoral.  The looting and arson is infamous.” (Historian G.De Sivo, The Story of the Two Sicilies, Vol.II).

Concetta Biondi’s story has come to represent the disdain the mercenaries and the Italian army had for women.  Hmm, hot night, testosterone high men, sleeping women dragged out of bed wearing who knows what…  The bastards, as history has told us happened countless times, passed the women around like bowls of candy waiting to be munched.  Children were tossed aside like garbage and trampled.  In the name of Italy, dads and husbands were held by the barbarians and forced to watch the madness.

As the marauders plundered the city, Concetta Biondi, hid in her basement behind some barrels of wine . When she was discovered by the mercenaries, she fainted. I can imagine them tossing her around like a sack of potatoes, copping feels and stripping her.  Her father, Nicholas Biondi charged down the steps to save her. Tied to a chair, he was forced to witness the depravity.  When they were sated, the pigs killed Concetta and tossed her aside.  Wine poured out of the tapped barrels mingling with Concetta’s blood. Nicholas Biondi was executed by a firing squad.

StatueThis giant sculpture near Piazza Roma reminds us never to forget 14 Agosto 1861.  We even have a walking trail for tourists who want to learn more about the atrocities and walk where the dead walked.  Gruesome, but interesting. Lots of books have been written about the incident, including a graphic novel!  IMG_0004

Professor Renato Rinaldi of the Pontelandolfo News is one of our resident experts. He has documented much of what happened.

Can we get back to Concetta Biondi please?  Certainly.  Saturday, for the first time I realized she was an actual human being.  Not just a fable representing war crimes.  But a real young woman who hadn’t done a thing to deserve dying like she did.  Il Club del Libro di Pontelandolfo hosted Italian genealogist Domenico Carriero for the day.  Many of us tagged along.  We went to the parish archives and watched as Domenico started researching Concetta Biondi.  The books – held in a area that is anything but climate controlled – though it was hot and a window was open – go back to the 1600s!  Our guide to the archive was Antimo Albini. ( This is the link to a story about him researching my family.). When this book was opened –

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I began to feel the spirit of Concetta Biondi.  Her existence was noted in the parish records.  She once had walked the same cobblestone streets that I have explored.  She might have known my great grandfather or great grandmother.  Seeing the registry brought tears to my eyes and frankly, created an “ah ha” moment.

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As mankind continues allowing violence to occur in villages around the globe, I’m glad Concetta Biondi reminded me that atrocities leveled in the name of nationalism are often heinous deeds perpetrated on innocents.

Ci Vediamo.

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 Announcing the 2019 Session

May 18 – 25, 2019

Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo

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Impromptu Adventures!

When you live in the beautiful hills of Southern Italy, any excuse for a drive on a beautiful day is a good excuse. I was looking in my journal and found my notes from this particular drive on a beautiful day.  I think was the excuse was I didn’t want to wash the breakfast dishes. My adventuresome niece Alex was visiting us.  It is even more fun to go explore new places when you have great company – or in this case a “you can do it” cheerleader.  The sun was shining, the clouds were floating over the rolling hilltops and there was gas in the car.  This crisp clear wonderful day also happened to be the second Sunday in September, the one day a year they hold a mass in the little church in the mountains, Santa Maria degli Angeli. Alex and I were in the car, deciding if we should go left or right out of the driveway, looked at each other and both said the church in the hills – al’ avventura!  We went to find that 16th Century Church and as many unplanned excursions are – it was the beginning of an incredible adventure.

Here is a little back story about the church. Many Pontelandolfesi, including my ancestors, were contadini,- farmers and more often than not share croppers farming the mountains for a piece of the vegetable pie. Others were shepherds, alone high in the hills, minding the flocks of cows, sheep and goats.  Stone rifugi, shelters that were little more than huts were and still are scattered in the hills.  One dark night from the doorway of a rifugi, the face of a single shepherd, staring out at his flock, was suddenly filled with fear.  The air around him began to twirl and spin, spin and twirl until he was sucked up into the vortex of a giant tornado.  His flock of sheep whirled around him.  Panicked he did the only thing he knew might save him.  He prayed to the Madonna.  Pledging to build a church in her honor wherever he landed, he prayed to be put down safely.  He prayed and prayed and prayed.   Until Vroomp bang, he hit the ground.  Dazed but committed to the Madonna, he looked around to memorize the spot.  It took a few years but he made sure that the chapel got built.

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Photo by Nephew Nick of the Chapel – through a window

That is the tale that I have been told by many of the folks in my village.  Being a skeptic, I’ve done a little research and discovered other versions of the creation of the chapel – something about the Brotherhood, Pope Orsini, earthquakes, priests, nuns and well stuff that a Dan Brown novel are made of.  However, the Wizard of Oz-esq legend suits my sense of drama.

 The church was used a lot in the 17th and 18th centuries.  The contadini, working and living in the mountains, made it their religious home.  Times change, and people moved on to bigger houses of worship.  Now, the charming little space is only open one day a year, this was that day and Alex and I were going to find it.

 Have I ever mentioned the irony of living in a Southern Italian Mountain village and hating roads that were based on goat and donkey trails?  Narrow roads without guardrails that, like that tornado, whirl up the mountain, twisting and turning, scare the hell out of me. When Jack drives, I clutch the old lady hand grabber, scream, moan and refuse to look at the beautiful valley hundreds of feet below that is calling me to a sure death in a twisted heap of metal. The views are incredible!  So, I’m told.

 Was I going to admit my phobia to a young niece that has toured the world alone, decided to go to university in a foreign country and has been fearless since birth?   Alex and I got directions to the church from pal Nicola and started driving up a mountain.

 Gulp, I wasn’t kidding about the whirling and twirling narrow roads.  Shit, I had to keep smiling while what seemed like a cow path was taking us up higher and higher.  We followed the directions – I swear we did – but somehow were climbing closer to our celestial forbearers than I was super comfortable with.  Alex was the force that kept me going.  I was scared shitless to be wending my way up and up to certain death by careening around a curve and off a cliff.  She kept saying “I feel it – we are almost there – this is right”. We kept peering left – Nicola said we couldn’t miss it – on the left just past the old fountain.  Which old fountain – we passed a ton of old fountains.

 Stop the car. Stop the car. Alex shouted.  I see horses.  Maybe some people role-play contadini and ride their horses up here.

 What a great and charming idea.  Then I noticed that further up there was a line of parked cars. We must be Here!  Remembering that Nicola said to flip the car around and park pointed down the hill, I held my breath, closed my eyes and managed to turn around without falling off the cliff.

 We walked up the mountain closer to the tethered horses. Lots of people were gathering around and heading up towards a tent. Aunt Midge you said it was a cute church, said Alex, this looks like a revival tentMaybe they put a tent up for overflow?  I opined.

 Then we saw the cows – lots of cows.  Big giant white cows festooned with bells were mooing and eating.  Suddenly it hit us – it was a pagan cow worshipping ritual, or a country cow show and sale.  Actually, it was more like a cow beauty pageant and I must admit the announcers were better than the one who annually appears in Pontelandolfo for the Miss Mondo competition. The set up reminded us of a horse show. The show ring was near an announcer’s platform.  There were ribbons and trophies everywhere.   These giant white cows, I’m thinking they were the ones that graze in the mountains, were brushed and dressed for success.  The owners, or trainers, moved them along like champions. Sadly, we were so enamored with our find that I didn’t pull out my handy pad and take important notes – like who sponsored it and where were we.

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Alex scrambled up and sat on a fence to get closer to the action.  I wandered around and could feel the sense of community.  This whirling road may have landed us where that lonely shepherd had started his air borne journey. We were definitely in grazing country. These farm families were proud of what they do, and this event was an opportunity to share that pride together.  My language skills weren’t quite sufficient to ask a lot of dairy questions.  I have no idea what kind of cattle – white – they were big and white.  It is amazing what you can find when you aren’t looking!  Who would imagine that high in the Sannio Hills a festival celebrating bovine would occur.  Did I just say that?  This is cow country – what better place to celebrate them. Gaily festooned stalls had been created along a path.  People were wandering and admiring le mucche. The back drop was this incredible mountain vista.  With my feet firmly planted on the ground, I took the time to enjoy the mountain views. Walking further around, I realized that we were just above a valley sprinkled with medieval villages.   Wow!

We never did find that church but this – this was an impromptu experience I won’t forget.  After we watched the action for a while, cheering as loudly as everyone else, I did ask if there was an easier way down the mountain.  Oh yeah there was.  We were close to Cerreto and could follow a road down to Telese and the highway.  I knew that road!  It was a road for sane people.  Whew, I didn’t mention to Alex how happy I was there was an alternative route. I did tell her we would get to see new vistas, new cities and continue our adventure on the road.

Ci Vediamo!

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Creamy Yummy Zucchini

First a pal stopped by to say hi and offer me some garden goodness – zucchini just picked.  Then my neighbor Zia Vittoria walked in with an apron full of – you guessed it – zucchini just picked.  Not wanting to be ungrateful for the bounty, I hugged each zucchini carrier and said “I can’t wait to cook this.”  Then I walked into my kitchen and added the zucchini to the growing pile on the counter.  “Jack,” I bellowed, “tonight all we are eating is zucchini.”

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Like an early explorer, I searched high and low for yet another way to use this abundance of zucchini.  Nope, no more batter fried zucchini.  Nah, not interested in zucchini bread.  Yuck, I have done the turn it into spaghetti strands and pretend it is full of carbs.  Boing!  Then I remembered I had read a super easy and great looking recipe on FaceBook.

You know how people like recipe pages on FaceBook, you read them for a nano second and then can never find them again?  That really, hasn’t happened to you?  I had remembered seeing this recipe liked by a couple of foodie friends. It required tossing the zucchini with eggs.  Not a scrambled egg dish or a frittata or an omelet but a creamy yummy looking zucchini dish.  Could I find the recipe again?  Did I remember the name?  Did I remember the names of the foodies who liked the page?  NO!

I did remember the pictures!  Paper thin slices of zucchini in a frying pan and a hand pouring some melted butter and olive oil on them. A pot of broth on the stove and a scoop. Egg scrambled with parsley. A half a lemon being squeezed.  Parmesan cheese.  Now, what order were those pictures in???

Off I went to try to recreate the creamy yummy zucchini recipe. Yup, I made some mistakes, but that made the evening interesting.  I would have taken pictures but my hands were busy.

  1. Cut thin slices of the zucchini – leaving the skin on for the cool green color.
  2. Dump the slices in a frying pan.
  3. Melt a wee bit of butter and add a wee bit of olive oil. Then toss this over the top of the zucchini and mix it up. My first mistake was too much oil and butter.  When the zucchini cooked down there was too much liquid .  A little amount is plenty.
  4. Sauté the zucchini for a wee bit and had about 1/2 cup of vegetable broth. Again, I screwed up with my “more is always better” mindset.  I used about 1 cup and had to drain the soggy things.
  5. When the zucchini is almost cooked, toss on some fresh ground pepper and salt.
  6. Squeeze 1/2 a lemon and strain out the pits and pulp.
  7. Beat 2 eggs with thinly chopped parsley.  For sure only 2 eggs – the picture showed two yolks. When it is frothy, toss in the lemon. I thought that the lemon would make it curdle or do something weird.  But it didn’t.
  8. Think spaghetti carbonara!  Stir the beaten egg, parsley and lemon mixture into the cooked zucchini. Make sure there is not a lot of extra liquid! Remember my over liquid mistakes.  How did I rectify it?  I made a second batch with hardly any liquid. Two days later I made a third batch – yes I am binging on this dish.  Thinking outside the box, I got out the colander, tossed the cooked zucchini in it and let it totally drain. Then I put it back in the frying pan and added the egg mixture.  Voila!  It was magic.
  9. Now, toss a healthy handful of Parmesan cheese into the mixture and serve.

I don’t have a picture.  I know it sounds strange – but I was in comfort food heaven.  It was the Mac and Cheese of vegetables and didn’t have hardly any bad stuff in it.  Why am I writing this?  So that I remember what I did and can make it again tonight, next week and whenever I want Creamy Yummy Zucchini.

Ci Vediamo!

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San Salvo Marina

The magic of being the only person swimming in the clear Adriatic Sea is not lost on me. I feel like I’ve found a secret place that allows me to be me, frolicking like a dolphin under the noonday sun. Standing in the warm water, I look west past the ancient hilltop towns to snow capped mountains touching the clouds. The only sound I hear is water lapping on the shore. Welcome to San Salvo Marina at lunch time!

For the last 4 years, always in June, Jack and I have rented apartments here. We have now rented for the second time a two bedroom apartment – the kitchen is the only other room -with a large 3rd story balcony that gives us a wedge of a sea view and all modern appliances for €550 a week. (About $645.) We take advantage of off season rates, great summer weather and very few beach goers. Once school is out, this place will be packed and prices will escalate. The second week in June is perfect. Noon until 3:00’ish, when the few families who are here have left for lunch and a snooze, it is even more perfect.

I must admit, living in low costing Pontelandolfo has caused me to get shell shocked at even off season beach town prices. What, I bellowed one night after staring at the ocean and drinking at Beat Cafe, €7 for one glass of house wine and an aperol spritz? It would be less than half that at home. Jack reminded me that we would pay double that at the Jersey Shore. Oh, I sulked, OK I will try not to whine about prices MUCH.

Why San Salvo Marina? It is only about an hour and a half away from Pontelandolfo – which makes going to the beach an easy drive. If I am in a car for more than 2 hours, I become meaner than the wicked witch of the west. Having lived in Asbury Park and known the Jersey Shore intimately, I can say unequivocally that I loathed the honky took of places like Seaside Heights and loved the kinder gentler feeling of Ocean Grove or Sea Girt. San Salvo Marina has a wonderful lungomare – seafront promenade that includes closing off the adjacent street to vehicular traffic. It is a great place to stroll after dinner. The beachfront is full of medium rise condos that look like they have been built in the last 15 or so years. New ones keep popping up. That said, it doesn’t feel cramped and crowded. There is green space between buildings and a park between the buildings and the seafront.

We walk about 5 blocks from our apartment to the beach front stand we like. This year I GULPED when it cost me €75 to rent our spot near the sea for 7 days – yeah, yeah it was less than €13 a day but still. We got our two lounge chairs, table and giant umbrella set up by the attendant and nestled in for a seaside view and ahhhhh moment. €13 pppfffew – is niente, nada, nothing for this.

Being foodies, we also like San Salvo for its restaurants and proximity to our very favorite seafood restaurant – Il Corsaro Della Baia Azzurra in Porto Vasto. When we arrived this week, the first thing we did after lugging all the crap from the car and getting organized was walk the half block toward, Ristorante Al Metro. We were salivating as we thought of their riffs on local Abruzzo food and their industrial style modern and elegant dining room. As we started to cross the street this teeny tiny little girl – I found out later she was 6 but soon to be 7 – stopped Jack and was prattling away. Sensing he didn’t have a clue about what she was saying, I walked up to them. She had handed him a flier for Risto Pizza da Bocconcino, the corner joint we had just passed, and was delivering a marketing pitch that was freakin’ perfect. We thanked her, I put the flier in my purse and we continued on to Al Metro – which was now closed!!!!! We went back, found the girl and let her guide us into her dad’s Risto Pizza da Bocconcino. After praising her to her pop we took seats outdoors in a comfortable space and had a pretty decent but €40 lunch. OK, I’LL STOP WHINING SOON ABOUT PRICES. I had grilled cod, pickled onions and sautéed spinach. Jack had – I don’t remember – but we did share a bottle of a great Abruzzese white wine and mineral water. Since we were late eaters, the place was cleared out by the time we finished. Out came the home made limoncello, caffè and conversation. The owner sat with us and we argued about politics. He was the first Italian I have ever met that didn’t think the current president of the USA was a putz. He liked his brazen style! Let the arguments begin! Putting politics aside, we enjoyed ourselves and will go back.

One night we decided to drive the strip and look for a new place to dine. We discovered Medusa Ristorante Pizzeria on the very active Via Magellano. We agreed – an anomaly – that we had eaten the best mussels we have ever had. Their Cozze Marinate was full a chunks of garlic and parsely that added to the perfectly braised mussels. Yummy. We each had a fresh fish dish, side of veggies, mineral water and coffee for €54 – oh yeah there was that bottle of Abruzzese wine too.

Can we talk about gelato??? Ai 3 Scalini makes and serves the best gelato I have had in forever. It is fortuitous that it is a short half block from Medusa Ristorante! We had no choice – really Jack made me go there kicking and screaming down the street. The strawberry gelato reminds me of the wild strawberries of my youth. OMG – the chocolate is so full of chocolate that Belgium chocolates pale by comparison. We vowed we would only go once this week. But I’m thinking if I don’t eat breakfast or lunch…

I’ve got to stop talking about food. Time to stare at the sea, thank Vodafone for the cheap data plan that lets me turn my phone into a hot spot, and hmm it’s 6:30 PM here maybe walk to a seaside bar for an overpriced Aperol Spritz.

Ci Vediamo

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