They Came to Cook and Conquered a Village

In a small town, like Pontelandolfo, everybody knows your name. Tweens in a dark alley getting into something that they shouldn’t, don’t think it is such a good thing. “Second act’rs” like Jack and I living in a new place, find it magical. Whenever we go into the piazza we know we’re home. Folks say salve – hi, come stai – how are you, smile and wave. When we first started staying long-term in Pontelandolfo, going to the piazza was kind of like going to the high school cafeteria on the first day of school.  Who would I sit with?  Who would talk to me?  I don’t know how it happened but we too became part of the fabric of life here.   What struck me this past Saturday, was that every time a group of adventuresome cooks come to Pontelandolfo to be part of Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo they too quickly become part of our village’s life.

For three years the homes, citizens and businesses of Pontelandolfo have opened their doors and hearts to strangers looking for a different tourism experience. These strangers aren’t strangers very long.  Relationships are formed in nanoseconds. I know that the relationships are strong because I see the tears when folks depart. I read the FaceBook posts as connections are kept.  Love – the feeling of love is everywhere.

This latest group jumped right into village life with that first night “bar crawl.” They met bar owners, bar goers, politicos and curious folks. Pontelandolfese out for their evening passeggiata got a look at them. What troupers, having snacks and drinks at not one but all three bars on our piazza. It was obvious to all who met them that they were really interested in Pontelandolfo, our home town.

Tourists often pop in and out of Piazza Roma, take a picture of the iconic tower and dash off. The seven day commitment that both these latest and our past Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo participants made,  meant that the visitors wanted to have a meaningful encounter with not only the food of Pontelandolfo but also the community. They became regulars at the bars, chatted up everyone, played with the children, cooked and ate with families, visited with our baker, cheesemaker, butcher, listened intently as an elder craftsman talked about weaving fabrics as his great grandfather did – all this endeared them to the community.

Now if you know me, you know I wear my emotions on my sleeve and tear up often. When something really touches my heart, I not only tear up but am speechless – cause talking is impossible. There were many times during our cooking programs when I couldn’t speak. I have seen love crossing economic lines, ignoring politics and breaking down cultural barriers.

Some of our guests have had a root of their family tree here in Pontelandolfo.  They came not only to learn traditional Pontelandolfo cooking but to discover more about their past.  Our first group, three years ago, visited the Contrada (little village) of their ancestors and felt the connection that only blood returning to its source can bring. One of this past week’s women had ancestors from Pontelandolfo.  At the B&B she discovered a couple that knew her  distant cousin.  They embraced her and took her to see where her family was from. She was full of stories and felt the spirit of Pontelandolfo.

The women who open their homes to these strangers are so warm and loving that it is impossible not to feel welcome.  They have been touched as these strangers, who are strangers no more, have bought them gifts from their home states or made them something special.  A young female ship’s captain just presented each teaching cook with little dream catchers she knotted and wove from one long piece of ship’s string. Those little catchers will be holding a lot of love.

Everyone always pitches in as meals are being created, parties started or excursions planned.  I can see men and women of all ages flicking tablecloths, setting places and carrying dishes.  I also saw them carry wood from outside for wood burning ovens, making brooms from the sambuca tree and washing hundreds of dishes. This May, a female Broadway sound engineer, even fixed the butcher’s sound system. That meant that music flowed during our last night party. All of these actions felt like the actions of family members not recent strangers or guests.

Some of our visitors have even made sure that children’s books in English were added to our community library.  Since everyone must study and pass an English proficiency test this was a fabulous and thoughtful gift.

Children, twittering with stage fright,  who in traditional dress, performed stories from the town in English, have been cheered like movie stars.  Our guests have loved the challenge and work that these little actors put into sharing stories about their town.

I thank all the culinary tourists over the years, for bringing a tear to my eyes and silence to my mouth. I thank them for being willing to experience a small southern Italian village. I thank them for accepting us for who we are. I thank them for being who they are. I thank them for making me understand that love and food break down barriers!

Huzzah to those who came, cooked and conquered our hearts!

Cooks 4 sessions

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