Shopping is Social

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.

Pecorino Del Sannio in Morcone

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.

Ci Vediamo.

Midge

To read more about my life in Pontelandolfo buy my book, Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos.

Published by Read Furiously

Masks Unmasked

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.

Ci Vediamo

Midge

Laugh at my antics in Pontelandolfo and Southern Italy. Get a copy of my book, wherever books are sold.

Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos

Published by Read Furiously

My Slavic Secret

We have all been bombarded with the horror that Putin’s War is promulgating in the Ukraine. Schools, hospitals, apartment buildings razed by bombs. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing for their lives. This atrocity effects each and everyone of us differently. Social media is overflowing with pleas for help and personal stories.

My friend James Martin posted this on Facebook:

My family (all 4 grandparents) left the Ukraine in the early 1900s to save themselves and their offspring from the terrors we see there now. They saw in their early teens that European Countries had been fighting for Centuries over this beautiful land with an abundance of natural resources and agricultural capacity. They anticipated that the wars would continue. They missed the starvation holocaust (they were farmers also), Hitler’s aggression (he was shipping out train loads of the Ukraine black soil), and now Putin. They left behind their families but never lost touch. My parents, my sister and I, owe them everything. Ukrainians never forget 💙💛🇺🇦.” James Martin

“Ukrainians never forget.” That phrase really got to me. His words brought up a well of emotions and maybe even smacked me on the side of the head. Because, I had forgotten. Forgotten that I am fifty-percent of Slavic Descent. Being raised in Flagtown on the Guerrera compound, my Italian family was there everyday and had such a huge impact on me that I have always just said I was an Italo-Americano. The passion I felt for my Italian side masked the other DNA that was floating around. Until I read Jimmy’s piece and saw what was happening to other Slavic people. Then wham – I remembered.

One of these women is my great grandmother, Beta Skok
My maternal grandparents
Valentine Forejtek and Kristina Czerní

Borders changed so often in Eastern Europe that I am not really sure what country my grandparents came from. Was my grandfather born in Kromyerize, Bohemia or Austria-Hungary or Czechoslovakia or Slovakia? Different historic documents list different places. Family lore has it that Valentine was a multi-linguist and a great chef. Both skills served him well in WWI. He could be from wherever it was better to be from. My grandmother, who died when my mother was only nine or ten, was born in Sobotište, Slovakia or was it really Austria Hungary or Czechoslovakia. She was born in 1898 so it was probably Hungary. As Jimmy said, these European countries had been having turf wars for centuries. The resilient people, with incredible conviction maintained their heritage and homelands.

My mom and her mom.

My Slavic genes have probably provided me with my tenacity and as the Italians say, “testa dura,” hard head. I wish I had gotten to know more about that heritage. Time to fill in the other side of my family tree.

A little research and WOW.

Back to Italy. I reached out to Italian pals to see how Italians were feeling about the war and helping refugees. Gabriella Mancini, the best physical therapist in the world, lives in Milan and reports this.

ITALIAN AID TO UKRAINE IN ABSENCE OF HUMANITARIAN CORRIDORS 

More than two weeks after the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Italy’s response has been impressive. Not only in the big cities but also in the smaller ones, thousands of people took action to send humanitarian aid to the population that remained and, also, to welcome the first refugees who landed on Italian territory in the best possible way. Despite the problem of inflation, rising fuel prices and the absence of humanitarian corridors – as a consequence of this conflict incited by Russia, trucks with tons of food, medecines, clothes and basic necessities departed to reach the Ukrainian border. In particular in Milan, we assisted in the creation of numerous non-profit associations, also led by priests and public figures, who have worked (and still continue to do so) to complete the mission of humanitarian aid for Ukrainian citizens and soldiers. Several collection points are scattered throughout the city. This enables every citizen to easily contribute to help people who have remained separated from their families and their belongings. In order to be able to cope with the immediate emergency of the Ukrainian people, the call on social networks is to donate as much as possible to support refugee reception facilities, hospitals and orphanages. Many pharmacies are working to collect medicines for the first aid of war wounded. There are also many Italian families who are trying to host refugee people with the hope that sooner or later this relentless horror will end. Thinking of the fact that we did not even get out of the Covid-19 emergency and we already have to face another one; it sounds really absurd and in some ways this situation could be even more serious than the pandemic. Probably the truth is that man will never learn from the mistakes of the past.” Gabriella Mancini

Archbishop Avondios, Vicar of the Archdiocese of Milan
Social Media is full of appeals.

This message raced around WhatsApp:

Stasera alle 20 suoneranno le campane delle chiese. Spegnete le luci delle vostre case finché potete, per dimostrare a Putin che preferiamo stare al buio piuttosto di comprare il suo petrolio o gas. Questa azione si farà in tutta l’Europa allo stesso momento, a Londra(alle 19), Europa Centrale(noi) alle 20, Kyiv(alle 21) e Mosca (alle 22).
Per favore inoltrare questo messaggio.

Translated: Tonight at 8 pm the church bells will ring. Turn off the lights in your homes while you can, to show Putin that we would rather stay in the dark than buy his oil or gas.This action will be done throughout Europe at the same time, in London (at 7 pm), Central Europe (us) at 8 pm, Kyiv (at 9 pm) and Moscow (at 10 pm). Please forward this message.

I don’t know if turning out the lights made Putin think again about his criminal actions but, like singing from the balconies during Covid lockdowns it makes people think a bit about what is happening.

What am I doing? Donating to Doctors Without Borders and allowing my Slavic genes to start talking to the Italian genes. It is time for me to unleash the power of both sides of the Adriatic Sea.

Ci vediamo


“Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos” takes to the Road! I will be reading excerpts from this, my new book on April 21st at Cafe Brio in Hillsborough, NJ and on April 27th at Rossi’s Bar and Grill in Hamilton, NJ. Reservations a must. E-mail me for details – info@nonnasmulberrytree.com

On May 7th from 2-4pm, the talented illustrator, Janet Cantore Watson, will be representing “Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos” at the Commonplace Reader in Yardley, PA. I’ll be back in Pontelandolfo with Fernando Fiat plotting more tales.

I Just Gave Birth!

Thanks to my publisher – Read Furiously!

Ten years is a long gestation period. I hate to admit it to you my favorite blog readers, but, some of the stories in my baby I started working on ten years ago. Maybe they weren’t on the page but they were circling my brain. Pinging and panging and causing my fingers to hover over the keyboard and then WHAM start typing. It is because of each of you that this book is now on bookstore shelves. Thank you. Why? Can we be truthful?

Ten years ago, we sold my family’s Flagtown farmette. Got rid of all of our furniture, cars, books, pots and pans. Took a deep breath and came to Pontelandolfo. After one week of La Dolce Vita, I thought I would poke out my eyes and rent my garb. I need to work! Sitting idly, sipping Prosecco and chatting in the piazza is great – for an hour. I need to work! Someone asked if the energizer bunny felt threatened by me. I need to work. But what would I do here in the Sannio Hills? I volunteered in the school, organized arts events but – what was I doing for my creative spirit? That is where you came in. I decided to start a blog that would – a. be sort of a journal for me. b. be a way to promote my new village and c. give me deadlines!

Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos grew out of Nonna’s Mulberry Tree. Some of you will recognize a few of the tales. They have been expanded and humorized! Your audience for my ramblings made this book possible. From the bottom of my heart I thank you. Read Furiously is a great publisher and I am so thankful that they decided to have me join their library of publications and make even more stories available to you. Grazie mille a tutti!

I saw the finished book for the first time Tuesday. It came to my condo in a plain brown envelope???? Hmm

Those of you who already bought the book – I WILL LOVE YOU FOREVER. Those of you who are going to buy it tomorrow – DITTO. Oh, where can you buy it? Wherever books are sold. On line, in person – you may have to order it. Your local bookstore will love you if you go in and buy it there. I will love you if they would like me to do a reading!

Speaking of readings. The world is a small place. Zoom, FaceTime, Facebook Live makes it easy for me to visit your book club, library, store from anywhere in the world. Think about it! Have award winning acting skills and will travel – digitally anywhere.

Enjoy my travel memoir meets tour guide book! Have I told you yet today that I love you? Well, I do. Vi amo!

Ci vediamo,

Midge

Grazie to “An Italian Dish”

Two days ago it was freezing and I dreaded walking to the car. Yesterday, the weather couldn’t make up its mind. Today, it is so hot outside that I wish some of the summer clothes that are waiting for me in Pontelandolfo were in New Jersey. The weather has been equally weird in Pontelandolfo. Snow. Sun. Sun. Snow. What season is this? These seasonal shifts have my nose running and my mouth hungry for comfort food. It seems like today’s world is tossing us weather bombs we have to skirt around. To mask or not to mask. To wear a coat, hat and gloves or turn on the air conditioner. I decided to break open a bottle of Prosecco, not look out the window and read something light and summery. Better yet, to read something full of pictures of summer fruits, vegetables and great tastes. Slowly I opened An Italian Dish Brings YouNaturally Vegetarian Summer Recipes by Ellen Shick.

Ellen Shick is a foodie after my own heart. She is an Italian American who has researched her roots, walked the paths her great grandparents walked and loves to cook. What makes her even more special is that she too finds her family tree growing in Campania.

Her blog An Italian Dish is chock full of vegetarian recipes that make my mouth water. Ellen has published a number of interesting cookbooks. They can all be found on her blog site. The photos in An Italian Dish Brings You Naturally Vegetarian Summer Recipes brought me back to summer days in Pontelandolfo. Sigh…

When Jack and I are in our little Italian village, I buy what ever fruits and vegetables are in season. The trucks carrying produce and our charming little greengrocer, il fruttivendolo, Fresh Fruits, feature local seasonal produce. There are some imports but they are from points close by like Sicily. That means in the winter you can’t get zucchini. When zucchini is everywhere, my neighbors all can or dry their extras. Yes, you can dry zucchini for the brr of winter. Zia Vittoria, our neighbor, strings it up every summer! When I get back, I should ask her how she stores it.

When we are in New Jersey, even though I know I shouldn’t, I buy vegetables that aren’t in season and grown somewhere far away. That means, in March I can make Ellen’s Marinated Zucchini! I chose this recipe because the accompanying picture just radiated summer to me. I could taste those lush red tomatoes and the bursting with goodness zucchini. Off to Whole Foods I went. I don’t mean to give such a mega corporation a plug but… the fruits and vegetables I get at the one in Princeton are always perfect. My friend Kathy tells me that is not so at the store near her.

With two pounds of zucchini in my shopping bag, I got back and put together this simple yet yummy recipe. The ingredients are: zucchini, fresh basil torn in fourths, garlic peeled and minced, the always popular extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and pepper.

With my favorite Nonna knife in hand, I cut the zucchini into 1 inch chunks, put them in one of my giant pyrex bowls with a lid, added EVOO, basil, garlic, salt and pepper. The recipe said “stir well to coat every piece.” Thinking it would be exercise, I put the lid on and tossed the bowl around. As Ellen suggested, I put the bowl in the refrigerator overnight. That really gave the herbs a chance to meld with the zucchini. The next day I went on to step two. Heat a large saucepan and add the zucchini and all the juices that leached out into the bowl. Sauté it uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes. Stir it and don’t forget it. Jack reminds me I often add something to the stove and race off to my computer. Suddenly, I smell burning and race back. Don’t do that. Watch the zucchini – you may have to add a splash of water to keep it from sticking. Cook the zucchini until it just begins to soften.

Now, this is the part that I had the most problem with. Do I eat it warm, juicy and divine? Or refrigerate the vegetables to have as a salad with those tomatoes that I bought? Hmm, I needed instant gratification. I ate some immediately and called it a snack. The rest I refrigerated so that I could try to copy Ellen’s fabulous photo. I couldn’t.

Photo from page 16 of “An Italian Dish Brings You Naturally Vegetarian Summer Recipes.”

Thank you to An Italian Dish for bringing a sunny day to this March madness!

Ci Vediamo.

Midge



So excited! On March 22nd, my book will be available wherever books are sold! Get it now as a presale order. Thank you so much for taking this Italian adventure with me.


Tales of Pontelandolfo to Hit Bookstores

For the past ten years, many of you have been with me on my journey as a Jersey girl living in Pontelandolfo. My second – or is it third – act as a quasi expat in a small Southern Italian village has been filled with unexpected life detours. Your support of my blog was the kick in the keister I needed to write a book about these Italian adventures. Gulp – the book is being published by independent press, Read Furiously! It even has an ISBN number – it is the freakin’ real deal. Wowza!

I cried when I saw this. Alex said it is like preparing for a Broadway opening – we are in previews!

In these most unpredictable times, a fantastic get away is just at your finger tips! Sip a prosecco, sit in a cozy chair and read about places that you are not only visiting through my book, but can someday experience yourself. Giggle at the illustrations drawn by my best bud Janet Cantore Watson.

Pre-ording the book insures a copy lands in your mailbox at the same time it hits the book stores. All of you have always been here with me. As I think about you now reading my book, my heart fills with emotion. Thank you.

Pre-order from my great publisher – Read Furiously!

Pre-order a book at your local bookstore. Say hi for me. I would be happy to do a zoom reading for them too. You can also use Bookshop.org.

Barnes & Nobel now has it available for pre-order. So does Amazon.it! Amazon.com will have it someday.

Grazie mille! Abbracione a tutti!

Ci Vediamo

Midge

Check out my plays on Next Stage Press and the New Play Exchange.

Award winning actor hails from Pontelandolfo

Maybe it is something in the water or the mountain air that has made our small Southern Italian village, Pontelandolfo, a breeding ground for talented artists, musicians, writers and actors. Michele Albini, a successful actor is a case in point. Pontelandolfese have cheered their native son as he appeared in numerous films, television shows and on professional stages.

Pontelandolfo’s Michele Albini

Albini was born to be a performer. At the age of six, he was playing the piano. By seventeen he was acting. He even served as a young artistic director of Gruppo Teatrale Folk Ri Ualanegli. (Our folkloric dance and theatre company.) Yes, it is true, for decades we have had an incredible folkloric dance company in Pontelandolfo.

In 2001, after a three-year stint as an Air Force  Officer, Albini decided  to move to Rome and study theatre and music. Soon we were seeing him on posters, playbills and of course in theaters.  2012 found him accepting “Il Premio Massimo Troisi” award in the New Generation category. (This is a huge deal.) He has been on stage in such theaters in  Rome as the Elysée, Teatro dell’Opera, Cometa Off, Teatro Due, as well as, at the Teatro Massimo in Benevento and at the Cimarosa in Aversa.  Flicking around the television dial, we have caught him acting in shows like  Gente di mare, Don Matteo, Il mostro di Firenze, Donna Detective 2, I Cesaroni, and La vita che corre. Instead of me prattling on about his talent – check out his Showreel!

Sadly, I’m in New Jersey this month so I couldn’t dash over to Rome and see Albini in his latest professional production, “L’Amico Ritrovato.”

Featuring Michele Albini

Based on the internationally successful book, L’ Amico Ritrovato shares the story of two boyhood friends, Hans (played by Michele Albini) and Konradin whose friendship, was suddenly interrupted in 1935 by Hitler’s racial laws. The bond between a Jewish boy and a German boy is broken by episodes that will forever divide their lives. Many years after his separation from Konradin, Hans receives a letter that unexpectedly rewrites a part of their history.

Director, Alessandro Sena, using an adaptation written in collaboration with Marco Tassotti has created a moving work where the word, the movement and the music, create a strong scenic impact. The characters move in different historical moments from the 70s to the 30s recounting the horrors caused by Nazism and friendships that will always unite us.

When he is not acting, Albini is a writer and a musician. This past August, Jack and I were lucky to see him perform with his talented brother, Romeo in a musical biography of the Beatles, “In Spite of All The Danger”. Michele Albini wrote, performed and directed the piece. The production, produced by Egeria, was held in the village’s mini amphitheater. It was a perfect summer night filled with music, wine and the talented Albini family.

I am sure there will be more creative projects in store for Michele Albini and I hope we are on the right side of the Atlantic to see the next one.

Ci Vediamo!

Midge Guerrera

Buy a book of mine!

Keep checking the Buy a Book page and be one of the first to read my new collection of short Italian tales – Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos.

Rocked by Culture Shock

Every time we leave our little hilltop Italian village and head back to New Jersey I get slammed with culture shock. Usually, it hits me in the wallet. I turn purple when I buy a cappuccino that sucks and costs me $3.00 or more. In Pontelandolfo, a fabulous morning cappuccino is only ninety cents. This year the culture shock surrounded the attitudes and regulations about Covid. For the past seven months we were living in a Southern Italian village that was Covid free and followed all the rules. (Yes, I know that Italy does have high Covid numbers – we live in a magical part of the country.) We had a “green pass” app on our phones that provided stores, restaurants, bars etc. with our personal QR code. That code let the business know that we had been vaccinated and had a booster shot. It also would be used for contact tracing if we had it recorded in a place where Covid was later unearthed.

Great roasted calamari but no over-heard conversations.

We went to the same fabulous seafood restaurant – Sesto Senso – once a week. Once a week the waiters, who all know our names, asked to scan our green pass. The family that owns the restaurant also tossed into storage half of their tables and chairs. Even when the place was fully booked, we were seated so far away from another table that I couldn’t eaves drop.

Without a green pass, or evidence of vaccination and/or a recent negative Covid test, one cannot eat in a restaurant, enter a bar, go to work, ride the train, take a bus or enter the airport. To get into the terminal at Rome Fiumincino Airport we had to show our green pass and wear an N95, FFP2 or KN95 mask. Made sense to me. As we approached the United counter, we had to again show the green pass and the certification of a negative Covid test taken in the last 24 hours. We showed that green pass again at security and at the gate. Jack tells me I am forgetting a few places. It was about six times that we had to have proof of vaccination and/or covid test.

Accidentally one day, I raced into the Mini Market – where I know everyone – and was asked to turn around, go out to my car and get my forgotten mask. Ooops. Masks rock! People wore masks taking a stroll around the piazza. They wore masks shopping, giggling, chatting, learning and living. To me their masks represented their concern for other people. My mask will protect you from me. Mask wearing is a commitment to the society we live and work in. Masked, my sneeze isn’t going to shoot villainous virus thingies over to you.

Masked up at an outdoor art show. Every time the octogenarian artist’s mask slipped,
someone reminded him to yank it up!

Then we landed in New Jersey. BOOM! There is no mask mandate. Once we left the airport we saw maskless faces. BOOM, BOOM! I went into an empty TD bank, wearing my N95 mask, and used the ATM. The bank branch was closed due to Covid. The ATM is in an enclosed space. Two unmasked men walked into to use the adjacent machine. I wanted to scream “put on a %$#&! mask!” Instead, I left. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM.

I was horrified that the receptionist in my dermatologists office wasn’t wearing a mask. Was I rude when I refused to go to her station? Everyone else in the doctor’s office wore a mask. BOOOOOOOM!

Is mask wearing such an onerous thing? I am quite used to wearing them.

Culture shock.

Ci vediamo

Midge