As we drove down our mountain and headed toward the Mediterranean coast, my imagination soared. What would we find in a village whose name automatically put joy on your lips and in your mind. I was excited to visit Gioi in the province of Salerno – and frankly scared almost speechless. Those of you who follow and know me, know that for me to be speechless is well something that no one has seen. I was invited by one of Gioi’s premiere cheerleaders, Californian and Gioi native, Severino D’Angelo (publishes Sogna Il Cilento Quarterly) and the Pro Loco (think Chamber of Commerce) to talk about our village’s Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo program. My assignment was to help the community understand that, if they follow their dreams, they too can promote their village. Sounds like an easy peasy gig – right? So why were my teeth chattering? I had to speak to Italians in Italian! My my – see I’m stammering – Italian will get us fed and to the hospital but convince folks to follow their dreams??? I panicked. I packed Xanax. I needn’t have panicked.
After following the curving mountain road that led up the mountain from the sea, we arrived in a village that was so warm and welcoming that we did indeed feel – well – joy. The 29 square chilometer village sits high above the Mediterranean. From the park that once was the foundation of the medieval community’s castle, one can see the sea, Capri, and of course the hills and valleys of the area. Bella Vista!
After parking our car and setting off on foot to find the home of our host, Serevino, and his great wife Marcia, we encountered villagers who literally guided us through the narrow medieval cobblestone streets. Smiles and comments about how great it was to have us visit warmed our hearts. After meeting their other guests, Marlan and Terry, we had a quick lunch and walked over to the charming Delizie tra i Campanili B & B and Bar.
The owner has taken an ancient building and turned it into something warm and welcoming. This was the view from the terrace off our room.
The B&B is ready for tourists! Not only is it well appointed but – unlike some B&B’s in small towns – it has brochures, links to travel sites and a website. Build it and they will come! That is the dream that this B & B, the Pro-Loco and Severino have for Gioi. Gioi’s population is down to about 1,000 people. Like many villages in Southern Italy, there has been an exodus of Gioiese searching for work abroad or in the north. Jobs are scarce and people leave looking for a more secure work environment. There are lots of empty houses on architecturally wonderful streets. My first thought is that it would be a retired American’s dream place to live. It is walkable, near the sea, surrounded by a huge national park, close to a train line and pretty.
That first night, I talked about following your dream to about 50 residents plus the mayor and Pro Loco. Severino was my translator – gulp – there were times when my acting ability and Italian couldn’t get the ideas across. Thank God for Severino and my Power Point – which I had done in two languages. I was floored to see so many people out on a Tuesday night to hear how they might save their town by creating something unique. Afterwards, many came up and thanked me. These are the kind of interested citizens that absolutely can make a difference. They want to see something happen and the town to grow. The best part is, they are willing to think outside the box and try something unique.
That’s me in the center with the head of the Pro-Loco, Giuseppe Ferra, photographer Marlan Globerson and Marcia. I must admit, after performing in not my native tongue, I rewarded my self with a strong Irish whiskey. (An aside – Marlan is a well known photographer and does workshops!)
The next day, Severino had us brainstorming as he took us on a tour of the town. Il Sindaco (mayor), Dr. Andrea Salati, welcomed us to his home. It was a walk back to the time when knights roamed the countryside on horseback. He too wants to see his town grow and is willing to work towards that goal.
One stop was the studio of artist Mario Romano. His original work captured the spirit of the land and people of the area. We found out later that he was responsible for re-creating and restoring many regional church murals. Mario is charming and has taught art at all levels. Hmmmm – The Joy of Art in Gioi!
We also met a German entrepreneur, Gina Gonsior. She started a camp that every Waldorf School mom would want to send their kids too. (You know who your are!) Called Gioia di Vita, Joy of Living, this magical camp has gypsy styled caravans for sleeping, a tree house and a water system that is totally recycled. It is a hands on, learn about nature and grow as an independent caring person kind of place. Holistic in approach and open to all forms of creativity, it is a great place for kids of all ages. Maybe this could be part of Gioi’s unique tourism program! Think about the kids go to camp and the parents have a camp of their own – art, architecture, hikes….
Whatever the community comes up with, I hope you explore it so that you too can feel the joy! Visit Gioi!
There is still time to Visit Pontelandolfo this season! We have 3 spots open in our May 12 – 19 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo program. And only 1 spot left for September! Contact me ASAP if you want to join the adventure. firstname.lastname@example.org