Jack, who takes a nap every afternoon, dragged my tired, pajama clad butt off the couch at 9:00 PM and told me to get dressed. It was time to head to the piazza. How many nights in a row could I drink, eat, drink, watch performances and go to bed at 2:00 AM???? Hell, I’m 73 years young and pride myself on my “youngness” but even I in the prime of my third act can’t go out every night for an entire month. (Jack said I am exaggerating it is only seven to ten days. Feels like a month to me.)
During August, Pontelandolfo becomes an arts and entertainment hotspot. We do compete with other towns for the crowds but our Folk Dance Festival can’t be topped. Gruppo Folk Ri Ualanegli, our internationally acclaimed folkloric dance company, produces a festival that brings in dance companies from around the world. This group takes our dance heritage seriously. One of the big draws on the opening night is our junior company. Children as young as three and four stamp, twirl and dance the dances of their ancestors. Click Here and check out the photos and video on their FaceBook page. This year dancers from Mexico, Serbia, Poland and other parts of Italy danced on the outdoor stage in Piazza Roma. Incredible. Absolutely magical.
The August nights also resonate with music and movies. Comicron 2022 – 7th Edition, a three night festival of short comic films, is an annual event. Created by celebrated film director Ugo Gregoretti, it provides young film makers with an incentive see comic shorts as an art form. Check out the Pontelandolfo entry, Il Re dell’Oblio written and directed by Gianluca De Michele and featuring my cousin – Valerio Mancini!
You thought the festival was only a week? Actually, the official Pontelandolfo festival is about a week long. Notice, the other villages enticing us to leave our couches and venture forth. During the month in Pontelandolfo other events pop up . Who could resist this musical night –
I challenge you to join me next year and see every event! Here is the drill, we get to the piazza – If I am still walking – at about 8:30 PM and hunker down in our reserved table at Bar Elimar. Bar Elimar is directly across from the stage so we get great seats, food, drinks and conversation. Often, I leap out of my chair, being careful not to spill my Campari Spritz, and race into the crowd to get closer to the stage. At about 1:00 AM we walk up the hill to our car and head home. Now we are too jazzed to go to sleep. Repeat. We repeat this lifestyle for a bunch of days. Next? Sleep for a week.
Today, I am drinking water at my usual table and staring at the piazza. Tonight will be another late night. Maybe, I’ll head home, take a lesson from Jack and zzzzzzzzzzz. And you – rest up and get your body here next August!
So excited – Next Stage Press just released my Eastern Woodland Native American Play – “Many Snows Ago” in September! Elementary School teachers will love it. “Mamma Mia – La Befana?!” comes out in the fall. Don’t forget to pick up a copy of my book about life here, “Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos.”
” Why, I just put one foot in front of the other and keep on smiling.”
“No, but really what do you do? I mean it’s not like a vacation, or is it like a super long vacation? What do you do every day?”
Hmm, what do I do on a typical day in Pontelandolfo. Let’s take today. Just what did I do today. First I carried the laundry bag down the stairs, separated the lights and darks and then I did a load of wash. I used to wash our clothes by hand – no really – the first year we lived here every single day I would wash what was dirty from the day before an hang it outside to dry. I felt like I was part of village life. After that early morning chore, I would walk to Piazza Roma and see laundry flopping in the breeze all over town. Of course, that worked amazingly well when we were here in the summer. One Christmas, my sheets froze on the line. My fingers froze getting the frozen sheets. The dining room was draped in damp sheets. The dryer was delivered the next day. But today, the sun is shining and it is going to be hot, so just like all over Italy, the clothes are happily hung on the line. Here is breezy example.
Next stop, Piazza Roma for a cappuccino and a visit to Dr. Palumbo. Nothing tragic, I just needed a prescription refilled. A prescription that will cost me next to nothing in a copay. Seeing our primary care doc meant climbing the three flights to his office. I consider it exercise. Huffing and puffing as I entered the waiting room, I wheezed out, Buon giorno, Chi è l’ultimo? The person who is last in the cue raised a broken wrist. I sat down, caught my breath and then as I waited my turn, caught up with local gossip . After arriving sans an appointment – no one makes an appointment – I waited less than I wait to see my primary NJ doc. Hello Margarettttt, smiles Dr. Polumbo. Yup, without a nurse putting a file in a pocket with my name on it he knows who I am. He prints out the script, I say grazie and I’m off.
Down the steps and across the piazza to Farmacia Perone to fill my meds. That is always a pleasure. The entire family of pharmacists always seem to be smiling, offer a little chit chat, at laugh at my reaction to the low low prices. I grab my drugs, say ciao, buona giornata, and I’m off.
A quick dash into the Ferramenta where hardware store owner Nicola smiless broadly as he says Buon Giorno Midge. Of course I immediately forget how to say low energy fluorescent lightbulb. We both laugh and he points to the ligtbulb display. I get one and raced back to Bar Elimar for Jack who is now on his forth espresso.
Home for a quick change into a bathing suit and pool wear. We were off to spend the day at Queensley Country Resort. This place is a scant 10 minutes from our house and always makes me feel like my book Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos was picked up by HBO and I’m in LA. (Did you see how I just slid that plug in?). It is a truly glamorous place. Today, I swam laps in my not glamorous black tank suit. Everyone else was in a bikini. Everyone else was LA thin. After lunch, yes they serve lunch with real flatware. You can order a glass of wine and sit at a cloth covered table. Jack had his usual Caprese Salad and I had an l’insalatatone – big green salad with tuna. Don’t shrug your shoulders and sigh – you wanted to know what a typical day was like. This was my day.
Though there was some excitement today. We met a fairly large groups of folks from England. One couple of the group own a house in Compolattaro – the village next door to Pontelandolfo. Gerry and Jane plan on doing what Jack and I do – six months here and six months there. Listen up folks, there are houses for sale and this isn’t a bad place to perform your third act.
Speaking of acts, while I was at the pool a Facebook Messenger text popped up on my phone. It was Gene Kato from Next Stage Press. NO, THIS REALLY ISN’T A COMMERCIAL – THIS REALLY HAPPENED TODAY! Gene had done the dummy for the front and back covers for the play of mine he is publishing next. (He has already published two, “Many Snows Ago” is number three and this fall he is also publishing “Mamma Mia La Befana?!) So from the pool, like some hotshot millennial, I called Gene and we talked about the cover. OMG – what a day! Third acts like this are simply fabulous dahlink.
Tonight we are going to Sesto Senso for dinner. Who can cook after a day like this? I will be too tired to write about dinner – which starts close to 9:00 PM. Just know it will be yummy. Oh, and thank you for asking about my day.
Some folks have their names blazoned in the tabloids, trotting across banners on news shows and plastered on posters. My name – maybe someday will be tabloid fodder – but meantime can be found in a new novel by Casey Dawes. When dinosaurs roamed the earth, Casey and I went to Montclair State College together. She texted me one day and asked if she could use my name and be a character in her latest book, Spring in Promise Cove. Honey Moely, her books sell like hotcakes ! How could I say no to being immortalized in a novel.
Casey Dawes writes non-steamy contemporary romance and inspirational women’s fiction with romantic elements. Her latest series is set in a small fictional town on Montana’s Whitefish Lake. Kelly, Maggie, and Alex, all in their mid-forties, reclaim their friendship, embrace their community, and find a second chance at love along the way.
No, I’m not Maggie but I’m in the same book! “Midge,” a writer, attends a spa/rejuvenation retreat with her old college buddies. Indeed, the other women at the retreat were friends of mine from my MSC days too. When I read the book, I realized that Casey captured all of our personalities spot on. I will not reveal the plot – just know romance is in the air and problems can always be solved with support of pals.
Casey has lived a varied life, some by choice, some by circumstance. According to Casey, “My master’s degree in theater didn’t prepare me for anything practical, so I’ve been a teacher, stage hand, secretary, database guru, manager in Corporate America, business coach, book shepherd, and writer.” (Sounds pretty practical to me – we all learned how improvise and create something out of nothing.)
She inherited an itchy foot from her grandfather, traveling to Europe and Australia and many towns and cities across the US while in business. She’s lived in towns with a population as small as 379 and in an apartment complex on 42nd Street and 9th Avenue in Manhattan. She’s dragged her belongings from New Jersey to Massachusetts, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, California, and Montana. (Hmm, I think we have lots in common.)
She and her husband are now traveling the US in a small trailer with the cat who owns them. When not writing or editing, she is exploring national parks, haunting independent bookstores, and lurking in spinning and yarn stores trying not to get caught fondling the fiber!
A few days ago my second 15 seconds happened totally out of the blue. We adore WHYY, the Philadelphia National Public Radio station. Even when we are in Italy, I always listen and contribute during their fund drives. I was in my office, heard the pitch for $$, went to the website sent a gift and wrote a paragraph about how important WHYY was to me – particularly when we are abroad. Less than 15 seconds later, I leaped out of my chair as the WHYY personality said “Midge gives even when she is out of the country!” For the next few minutes, “Midge” was the example for giving. I was soooo proud! I promptly texted my family in the USA and said, send money to WHYY! I don’t know if my diminutive name made a difference in their fundraising efforts but boy was I proud to help.
Yesterday, my sister sent me this headline from the local Ewing NJ paper, Ewing Community News. Cripes, my 15 minutes of fame just hit the trifecta!
Now Midge, shouldn’t that be “Italian Writers Rock?” Hmm, well it could be but then it wouldn’t be the creation of the energetic Wendy Ridolini. Wendy lives in Bisenti, Abruzzo and is committed to helping authors find their voices, get published and market their work. She is the visionary behind the September Creative Writing Retreat in Abruzzo and Sunflower Publishing which provides editorial and business publishing solutions. Her by-line as a book critic can be found in a variety of English language Italian magazines. How come I didn’t know about these magazines! Why haven’t I been subscribing to Italy Inside and Out, Abruzzissimo magazine or Lucca news.org?
Wendy goes out of her way to identify authors who live in Italy and/or write stories set in Italy. Are you wondering how we met? She found me! WHAT? How can a critic and podcaster just find you? Gulp, I guess that means I am an author who lives in Italy, writes stories set in Italy and blatantly self promotes anywhere I can! One day I received an email from this women, Wendy Ridolini, I didn’t know telling me about herself. She produces the video podcast Italy Writes and was asking if she could interview me about my book Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos. Wow! I googled her and saw all she did and who she wrote for and sent back a resounding YES! The “Harriet the Spy” in me had to know why me. The easiest thing to do is just ask. So I asked Wendy how she found me. This is what she said,
“Things just appear in my Facebook feed, you just somehow popped in there. What worked for me was the title Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos. This must be a crazy woman who wrote a crazy book because it had a crazy title. I had to meet her.”
I guess all those totally silly TikTok videos and instagram posts really worked! The evening before the interview my PR pal Kathy, via FaceTime from New Jersey, made sure my room was set up, the lights were good and the large poster of my book cover was prominently placed. Being anal, I refreshed my aged brain with the answers to questions that I thought Wendy might ask and went to sleep feeling prepared. BOOM! RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR! CRASH! Cripes what is happening to our house? Those were the sounds that woke me up at seven A.M. the next morning. The destruction workers that my landlord had contracted to pull down the tottering garage attached to our house and more specifically my office had started.
“TODAY!: I shrieked, “it has been months and they are starting today??” My theatre head kicked in and almost overcame my memoirist panicking head. I raced all over the house searching for a small space that didn’t rumble and tremble. Pal George in the Netherlands got the hysterical FaceTime call – “Does this room work – how does it look – &^^%#,” I said before I said hello. We settled on a small closet sized space with no electricity. The only light on my soon to be made up face was from a window. It had to do. Finish reading, then watch the video and tell me what you think.
Turn about is fair play so a week or so after that interview, I called Wendy to get more information about her writer’s workshop. I love the camaraderie of being around other writers and was trying to figure out if I could go. (Sadly, when I saw the dates I realized I was already booked on a Viking River Cruise.) The all inclusive price for the workshop was so cheap, that I have to keep my eyes open for next year. Rates are based on the room size in the lovely Casa delle Rondinelle in Bisenti, Abruzzo. The cheapest price for single occupancy is £1150 or if two people share the room £625 each. That’s $1403 and $762 dollars – for room, food transfer from the Pescara airport, workshops with super authors, yoga classes, Italian language class, one on one sessions with editor Amy Scott and more goodies.
Wendy has assembled a sterling group of authors to conduct master classes. She said, “There is nothing like talking to someone else who has been on a journey and discovering it may have taken months and years to get that book out there – and that could be inspiring”. Quoting the distinguished author Sue Morecraft, “Forty years to become an overnight success!”
Some of the featured authors include memoirist Cathy Rentzenbrink and short story author Katherine Mezzacappa – shh don’t tell – she writes under a bunch of names – including erotic fiction – then again, why shouldn’t she! Midweek, Angela Petch will do a workshop on research for a historical fiction novel. Elizabeth Buchan, who has worked both sides of the table – first for publishers and then as an author – will share her unique experience. I give up! There will be numerous guest authors in different genres. What a fabulous week and I can’t go. To find out more –
I asked Wendy for her back story. How did she get into the author business. Turns out is it the family business. She and her husband Duncan Watts moved to Abruzzo in 2009. Wendy taught English and life was lovely. Then Boom Crash snd Shake the enormous earthquake that leveled Bisenti totally destroyed their home. Her husband wrote an account about the destruction of houses during an earthquake in Bisenti. They put a caravan in the olive grove and lived there for several years. It was there Watts wrote his first book, Olives and Earthquakes.
Wendy edited the book and got it ready to launch. Duncan loved writing so much that he kept writing, under the nome di plume – Jack Lench. Zap, Wendy was pulled into the publishing business. I love this so much and I have so much experience now on self publishing, I wanted to do this for a job! A career was launched! Things are working out, the Caravan may feel lonely because they left it behind an moved into a fabulous home.
Wendy’s next interview is with Rhys Bowen! I am soooo jealous! I’ve read everyone of Bowen’s book. Wendy will be talking to Bowen (Janet Quin-Hardin) about “the Tuscan Child” and “The Venice Sketchbook.” Can’t wait to hear that interview.
“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth!” Or in this case a cinghiale – wild boar – with tusks. With the horse, the proverb meant – don’t start looking at his teeth to see how old it is. With the wild boar – I didn’t give a tinker’s damn how old it was as long as I can cook it. (Notice I slipped in another anachronistic saying. I’m in a literary frame of mind.) Wild boar is one of my favorite carnivoristic treats. (I just made the word up.) What is she rambling on and on about? Anybody heard from Jack? He needs to make her a martini.
I had a great day! A pal who is an ace hunter brought me a precious gift. Il collo parte del corpo del un cinghiale! The huge neck of a wild boar, cut up into precious meaty neck bones. Determined to make a sugo that would make my nonna proud, I went to work. Did I know what I was doing? I didn’t have a clue. When one doesn’t have a clue, it makes sense to ask a professional. Our local butcher, who makes great porta via, take away and cook at home pre-spiced and prepped meats, was just the person to ask. I asked him how to cook this monster neck. He looked at me quizicaly. “Do you really think you will like it?” I know I will like it. Every time I eat cinghiale at someone’s home or in a restaurant, I adore it, love it, want more of it.
Cripes, some of you are now sobbing for the poor wild boar whose life ended so abruptly. Here is the reality. Cinghiale are now becoming so prevalent that they are traveling through the streets of Rome waiting to take a bite out of a vegan tourist. The poor member of the pig family are mean buggers and seem to love to chase you off your own property. They no longer have many natural predators – I haven’t a clue why – and are over running Italy. My Texas cousins just told me they have the same problem there! If it were up to me, entrepreneurial young hunters would work out a deal with the country to hunt them, create great sausages, dried meats and meals with them and sell them to folks like me. Or if being benevolent, give the meat to the poor.
OK, we no longer feel badly. This particular cinghiale was observed harassing a family’s dogs, cats and young children. Now his neck is mine to cook. I was told, and being an A type personality, also read at The NY Times Food website, that I must marinate the boar in red wine and mirepoix. (That is a very fancy word that I always forget and ask my chef friend Kathy for. )
I chopped up in my food processor a very large onion, two fat carrots, two stalks of celery and celery greens – mirepoix. Into the largest stainless steel bowl I had that would fit in the now empty refrigerator went two bottles of really cheap local red wine and the mirepoix. (Actually, Annarita and Jack drank some of the wine and said it wasn’t bad. It cost €1, so a buck a bottle and not bad is a good deal. No one told me to fine chop the vegetables but it made sense to me.) I stirred it, added fresh ground salt and pepper to the mix and pored it gently over the cinghiale waiting to bath in another equally large stainless steel bowl. Why did she use a stainless steel bowl, you ask? My grandmother used stainless steel bowls for everything. There must be a reason. If you know, please leave a comment. The very drunk refrigerated boar languished in the marinade for about 14 hours.
The next day, I rough chopped onions and garlic. This was tossed in EVO – local olive oil of course – and sautéed. Wait, I forgot a step. The butcher said brown the bones first in a separate frying pan. Brown them until there was no liquid coming out of them. This really happened. Maybe wild boar drink a lot of water or like sponges soak up the wine. It took a while to brown them and a lot of liquid was released. When it stopped running, I added them to the big sauce pot and sort of browned them again with the onions and garlic.
Looking at all that red wine, rich with blended mirepoix, I had an epiphany – that was quickly collaborated by The NY Times cooking app. I tossed some of the wine blend into the pot and continued to turn the meat filled neck bones until that liquid had dissipated. then I just started making my grandmother’s sauce.
Yes, sauce – rich tomato sauce. In Flagtown, New Jersey it was sugo – sauce. (In case “gravy” insisters look it up on Word Reference, sugo also means gravy made with drippings from meat – NOT SPAGHETTI SAUCE.)
After cutting my hand manually smashing a can of peeled whole tomatoes into a mush, I tossed them in the pot. Not my hands, the squished tomatoes. Don’t worry, I switched hands and bled on the side until the tomatoes were in the pot. I used two giant cans of whole tomatoes, two big bottles of plain tomato sauce, and three normal sized cans of crushed tomatoes. As my grandmother did, I rinsed out each can with about a half of can of water and tossed that water in the pot too. Boing, it hit me – I had been saving the rinds from the great local cheese. Why not throw that in too? So I did. Also floating in the pot was diced basil, oregano, salt, a pinch of hot pepper flakes, and a big handful of fresh parsley. In honor of my Aunt Cat, I didn’t chop it up. She always left it untied and whole.
The enormous pot simmered on the stove for approximately 6 hours. I cooked it until the meat was falling off the bones. The odor wafting through the house made me sing, dance and think about a play based on spaghetti sauce. When I couldn’t stand waiting another nano-second. I turned off the flame and using a spider – not the insect – that basket thing on a long handle – pulled up all the bones. To visually enjoy these delicious morsels, I gently laid the succulent meat encrusted bones on a white platter.
Waited four minutes and then burnt my fingers pulling the meat off the bones. YUMMMMY! The meat now shredded, I set aside to top the pasta.
Time for a reward! The spider crawled back into the sauce pot and retrieved the parsley! Like my Aunt Cat, I ate each green piece reverently and with joy! Parsley’s vitamin K is important because it helps blood to clot so my cut finger would stop dripping and contributes to bone health. Ironic hey? I’ll be eating those boar bones next.
I can honestly say, this was the best sauce that I have ever made. There are no pictures of the tagliatelle pasta doused in sauce and topped with strips of meat. There are definitely no pictures of my guests smiling as they slowly chewed, tasted and sighed. I always remember the picture after we have scoffed down everything on the table. If you can’t get wild boar, think pork neck bones! Enjoy.
Tis the season to enjoy the fava beans that miraculously appear at my door. Didn’t I just write about fava beans – anybody remember? Here in Pontelandolfo spring has more than sprung fresh produce. Gardens are lush and fava beans are growing everywhere. In two days they will disappear. That means peel them, cook them and eat them while you can. Yawn, sigh – again. I hate to yawn over free food that is full of vitamins, minerals and protein. More importantly, I’m told by local fava lovers, regularly eating fava beans may boost your immune system.
As I sat down to free the beans from a hundred pods, my cousin Carmela texted and announced that at 3:00 PM she was coming for an Aperol Spritz. She wouldn’t come alone. Yikes, aperitivo time is snack time. What do I have that could pass as a snack? Fava beans? I googled fava and found that people make spreads out of them. After reading a few recipes, I tossed my iPad aside and started experimenting. Here is my latest creation.
Peel a bunch of beans.
Toss them in water and boil them until the outer skin looks wrinkled. (About 5 minutes.)
Burn my fingers peeling off the wrinkled outer skin. You would probably wait until they cooled.
Look around for stuff to toss in the blender with them.
I had a beautiful “sweet onion”, garlic and tons of spices. First thing tossed in the food processor – what you thought I’d use a mortar and pestle – was half an onion. VVVVVVVRRRRRooom, my eyes were tearing but the onion was squished. How much garlic? Jack and I believe a head of garlic is the perfect amount for any dish. Since I was only making about a cup or two of dip, I tossed in two cloves. VVVVRRRRRooom. Done. Next the fava. VVVVVRRRRRooom – what the heck? It looked like some yucky chopped up yuck. Olive oil! Of course! I added some fresh local olive oil and looked around for herbs. Salt, pepper and – I had saffron! Saffron.
It smells OK but needed something. Something? Hot pepper? No, I hate super hot stuff. Then I saw the bowl of fresh lemons on the counter. Boing – of course – that would punch it up. I squeezed in half a large lemon and gave the food processor another spin.
Did I ever admit that I am a cook who never remembers to taste what I am cooking? Well, I won’t admit it now. I put the mush in a pretty bowl, surrounded it with taralli and crostini. Divine. Hmm, I wonder what it tastes like?
Cousins Carmella, Annarita and pal Maryann showed up for Aperol Spritz and lady language. “Midge, tu hai fatto vellutata!” Vellutata? Would it be crass to look the word up before I made the drinks? My green mush was apparently something quite chic! Vellutata!
After everyone had a sip of their Spritz – or was it a glass – we dipped into the vellutate di fava. OMG – it hinted of guacamole! Maryann, who is also American, said we needed Doritos or tortilla chips. There are no tortilla chips to be found but San Carlo makes a spicy little corn horn. My green mush was delicious! What a discovery. We drank, laughed and ate all the green mush – I mean vellutate di fava.
Oh, on a practical note. Carmella told me I didn’t have to peel and cook all the fava. I should freeze some for later. No, no, I said. On line it said you had to blanch them, toss them in an ice bath and generally spend too much time in the kitchen. She shrieked with laughter. Here in Pontelandolfo, women just toss the beans still in the pods in a zip lock bag. Work out all the air and toss them in the freezer! Damn! Who knew! Just another Monday in Pontelandolfo.
PS: Here comes a begagraph – that is a paragraph where I beg you to do something. Something so easy it is definitely peasy. This November I would like to fill my calendar with readings of my funny memoir meets travel guide book about living in Pontelandolfo and driving. A reading of Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos would be fun for all of us. Please pitch me to your bookclub, social club, Italian American club, local bar, library or bring me in as a guest to a class. When I am in New Jersey I love being busy. I also love acting out my work. So PLEASE FIND ME GIGS!
We have only been back for a few days and the larder was more than bare. Thursdays the shops are only open half a day so I was up at dawn – well, 8:00 – to start foraging. Not being totally insane my first stop was Bar Elimar for a cappuccino and brioche.
Dov’è Jack? Where’s Jack? Repeated the chorus at the bar.
Let us get the “where’s Jack” part of the story over. Cripes, without Jack at my side I am chopped liver. After my coffee, I went to the hardware store. “Where’s Jack?”. Next I stopped at Conad, our little local supermarket. “You’re solo today? Where’s Jack?” The fruits and vegetable store, the place to buy agricultural stuff, the butcher. “Dov’è Jack!” I have that phrase memorized. Thank you merry questioners for today’s basic lesson in how important Jack is to the village. Well, I always knew that, but it was kind of cool to have it reinforced. He is the smiling part of this couple. Actually, the queries about Jack reinforce today’s theme. Shopping is social.
The check out people at the super supermarkets where I shop in New Jersey smile and are courteous but never ask me “where’s Jack?” No one leans over the counter or comes around the counter just to gossip about the weather, life or what is happening in the world.
Today’s foraging had me socially interacting, entertained and paying prices that were so low that I had a hard time not saying they were a mistake. At the Ferramenta, hardware store, the owner and I had a nice chat while he spent time adjusting, cleaning and putting a battery in the remote control for our giant electric gate. We talked about a friends cruise, laughed at the electrical tape that held my remote together, and spent time as neighbors. Repaired remote plus battery – €1.50.
Next stop, Fresh Fruits, for incredible Italian oranges, lettuce, cucumbers, red onions, peppers and I don’t know what else I spent €5.50. Nicola, The young woman who owns the store is always working alone, spends time chatting with each customer and puts a smile on my face.
Jack calls Conad, “the supermarket that time forgot.” Actually, if you didn’t know it was hidden down an alley you wouldn’t know it was there. No sign, not a flag, nothing, niente to let you know it exists. Trucks are constantly unloading supplies for this tiny full service grocery store. It may not have a sign but the three women who work there, make the experience so pleasant that people visit once a day. Imagine, the manager today asked me if I wanted “un buon caffè.” She was going to make me a coffee. I spent about €50 but bought three bottles of Prosecco, a bottle of Jack Daniels, butter, eggs, tuna, canned tomatoes – three bags full of stuff. After dragging the stuff to the car, I was off to the baker, agricultural store and butcher. Each place made me feel like family.
My last stop was a tiny little wooden building in neighboring Morcone. Pecorino Del Sannio only makes and sells cheeses made with sheep’s milk. I had only been there twice four months ago and yet the owner asked,”How did my cheese carry to New Jersey?” We tasted her latest creation, lemon flavored sheep’s milk aged cheese soaked in Aglianico ( a red local wine.) Delish. I bought a hunk. I wanted my cousin Carmella to try the cheese so I bought her a pound. Then I bought a lot more. Before I got the bill she asked if I wanted to taste her sweets. Who could say no? She then proceeded to gift me a huge pecora ricotta and pistachio dessert. This enjoyable outing cost me €31.
To some, shopping in small shops on a daily basis may seem like a throwback to 1950. It may be, or it may be that a life style that rewards conversation, personal service and inclusion is worth keeping.
Jack and I came home to Pontelandolfo to find a bag of scrumptious fava beans on our door step. Our neighbor, Lina, had left them for us. (You’ve heard me talk about the ever growing and traveling fava bean before. Click if you haven’t.) The beans themselves are nestled in a furry lined pod. I sat down to clean them and realized I was “unmasking” the hidden delights.
As I unmasked the raw beans, I saw each little bean as a person who had been safely ensconced and came home to me unharmed. On May 4th, we arrived in Italy from the unmasked state of New Jersey. Frankly, since Covid was still active, I never felt particularly safe with the unmasking edict. Prior to boarding our flight to Rome, I was thrilled to read that Italy still had some stringent masking travel rules in place. The FFP2 masks remain mandatory on airplanes – as well as other methods of travel. (FFP2 is similar to N95 or KN95 masks.). Every passenger on our United Flight should have read all the Covid rules and regulations.
Of course, there is always someone who doesn’t read, doesn’t care or obviously knows better and can be a pain in the butt about it. “Why do I have to put on a mask?” shrieked the woman boarding the plane a few people behind me. The United employee at the gate was very calm and tried to explain that it was a rule. The loud mouth continued screaming, “we don’t have to wear masks anymore – didn’t you get the message?”
You who know me, know what is coming. I couldn’t bear it another nanosecond and pulling my school administrator stop the riot voice of authority out of my ass turned and bellowed – “It is an Italian law. We are taking a plane to Italy and Italian law supersedes whatever it is you are talking about.” Jack grabbed my arm and pulled me forward.
I mean what is the big deal about a mask? Since we arrived in Pontelandolfo, we have been surrounded by masks. The day we got here, after a short nap – OK from noon until 7:30 PM – we tossed on some clothes and went to dinner at our favorite seafood restaurant, Sesto Senso. Everyone working there was wearing a mask. Patrons wore masks until they got beverages. Tables were more that ten feet apart. No one complained. Masks in the grocery store, masks in the pharmacy, masks at the butchers, masks anywhere groups of people were congregating and no one was bitching.
Back to the fava beans. The little pods protect the beans until they are big, strong and scrumptious. I enjoy being protected by my mask and look forward to the end of Covid and being strong and scrumptious too.