Bentornati! Welcome Back!

Pontelandolfo – our favorite place.

The hills were alive with the sounds of music!  Just not the song you are thinking of.  For the past few days, our village has serenaded us with the sounds of welcome, love and joy featuring that musical word that means so much – bentornati!  Bentornati is the melodious way to say welcome back – but really more than just welcome back.  I am so happy to see you!  We are glad you are back!

We are glad to be back in pontelandolfo!

After our quarantine period was over, Jack and I donned our masks and made our way down to Pontelandolfo’s village center.  It was the first time we had been to the piazza since covid shut us down and trapped us so very far away.  Wow!  So many changes!  The weekly market wasn’t in Piazza Roma – but we could see the vendors trucks behind the school in Piazza Its Been So Long I don’t Remember the Name.  Look, I shouted, a new outdoor bar is open on the promenade.  What a great place for a quick pick me up during the pre-dinner passegiata or after dinner night out.  All of the bars have a much bigger outdoor presence. Newer tables, umbrellas – wow – so urbane!  Those changes were brought about because outdoor seating was the only way the bars could eke out a living during the height of the pandemic.

We continued to drive around and noted that everyone was wearing a mask.  Shoppers were carrying their bags of goodies and wearing masks.  Venders were wearing masks. Bar staff were all masked up.  We parked the car, put on our masks and got hit with the welcoming sounds of Bentornati!   

Bentornati from the owner and customers at Bar Elimar.  Bentornati and conversation with a man we barely know who told us to sit in the shade with him.  Bentornati and fist bumps from people we knew and passed in the streets.  Bentornati and invitations to come over for coffee from folks we haven’t seen in pandemic ages.  Bentornati and tell us everything you have been doing – from the pharmacists.  Bentornati, from the staff at the grocery store.  Bentornati and what vaccines did you get – from the florist. People knocked on our car window to say Bentornati!  Bentornati and come for dinner – an invitation we promptly accepted.

This simple welcome back phrase made us feel immediately right at home.  We felt surrounded by the affection and friendship that one is blessed to feel in a small town.  Bentornati, ci siete mancato.  Welcome back we missed you.

Ci vediamo!

Midge

Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo is organizing adventures for 2022! Cook, explore, taste, create and live like a Southern Italian

Quarantine Angst

Quarantine day 8 – I didn’t kill Jack yet.

At least I’m not wearing an ankle monitor! How do Jack and I manage not to kill each other during our latest quarantine in Pontelandolfo? He reads, feeds the chickens and stares at the mountain. I ramble up and down the stairs of our chilly stone house, cook, stare at the mountain and remind myself it is only for ten days. Lets back up a wee bit. How did we get here? Why are we quarantining when tourists from the USA can take quarantine free flights?

After dealing with health issues and the Covid Crisis for what seemed like an eternity in New Jersey, we finally felt secure enough to travel back to our Pontelandolfo home. I knew I didn’t want to visit more than one airport and risk seething at wackadoos who refuse to wear masks in crowded spaces. That meant finding a flight directly to Rome and ordering a car service to drive us from one region to another. Finding the flight was easy. We bought tickets on United from Newark to Rome. Their website was incredibly helpful as were the reminder emails to do everything on the pre-boarding list. Besides the usual chaos promulgated by the TSA, everything at Newark Airport went smoothly. The mask mandate was followed by our fellow travelers. This brought joy to Jack since he wouldn’t be embarrassed by me giving the evil eye and a tongue lashing to anyone who was non-compliant. People were courteous and spatially conscious. Here is a look at that pre-boarding list –

Vaccines? Check – we both had our two doses of Moderna. They didn’t ask to see them but we had our cards ready. Actually, we provided the data in advance to United and the EU-PLF.

EU-PLF? Check – sounds like peeeyyuuuu stinky feet but it is the Passenger Locator Form that you have to keep on you. Passenger Locator Forms (PLFs) are digital and will help public health authorities do contact tracing. That means if someone on my flight had some infectious disease, the European Union/Italy could find me. The idea is to prevent the spread of disease. In Newark they just wanted to see the piece of paper with the bar code but no one scanned it. When we got to Rome no one scanned it either. I’ll keep the bar code in my wallet with the vaccine card.

Covid-19 Test 48 Hours Before Landing Check – for $85 each we got our noses swabbed the afternoon before we left. I carried our negative test results and a United representative barely glanced at them.

Digital Health Pass ReservationCheck – we made appointments to get our noses tickled again by a doctor administrating a covid swab test in Rome. In Rome’s Fiumincino Airport this was really well organized and it only cost € 20 each. Why did it cost so much more in New Jersey? We were swabbed, waited about twenty minutes and given a certificate of a negative test. Hmm – what happens if the test is positive? I’m glad I didn’t have to find out.

Self-Declaration Form for Travel to Italy From Abroad Check. Double Check and Tripple Check. I completed this form in English and in Italian. It states that I am not a denier – I get that there is Covid -19 and haven’t tested positive, took the swab test, will take a swab test in Rome, will self isolate and where you can find me climbing the walls during self isolation. NO ONE took the form! United staff glanced at it. On the plane they gave us another one to fill out. NO ONE took that form either. I tried to give it to the car service driver. He didn’t want it. I thought maybe Pontelandolfo wanted it. They wanted something different…

After going through Border Control, we went out front and found our driver. He waived a sign with our names on it, helped lug the luggage and made us comfortable in his clean Mercedes sedan. Anybody need a lift from Rome – www.autonoleggiocerrato.it! In a three hour super highway and winding hill road journey, we made it back to Pontelandolfo. Our masked family and friends who are like family, were waving at us from the other side of the street. Think parade of one car with social distancing. When we got in the house, our cupboard and refrigerator were both jammed packed with fresh vegetables, meat and the cheeses you can only get in the Sannio hills. Wine from the local vintner was peeking at us from a shelf. Thank you! Grazie a tutti!

We settled in, I couldn’t wait to go see the piazza! What, we can’t go see the piazza? Jack looked at me – “quarantine remember.” But we took the covid quarantine free plane? “Tough – the village expects it.”

It has been eight days. Only eight days. Soon it will be ten days. Quarantining is the right thing to do. We care too much about this village to be the bearers of evil infectious yuck. Besides, quarantining isn’t so bad when you have a view like this.

Ci vediamo!

Midge

Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo

Midge Guerrera

Pintadera 2009 – Flashbacks

On a recent snowy night, I hunkered down to clean out a dusty over stuffed plastic tub. You know the kind – large, filled with files and memoribillia you will get to some day, covered with a snap on lid and left to fade in the back of a closet. I opened the tub, pulled out a batch of files when a folded cache of browning papers fell into my lap.  Was it very old love notes from a high school beau?  Or recipes in my beloved zia’s hand.  Giggle, I slowly unfolded the cracked paper and saw the date – January 2009.  Wow, it was a love note of sorts, my notes on an earlier trip to Alghero, Sardegna and Italian lessons at the fabulous Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera.  Walk with me back to January, 2009 and take an armchair voyage.

We were excited to be heading back to Alghero. Never having been there in the winter we didn’t know what to expect. The city juts out into the sea. Walking the sea wall in the summer is bliss. Will it bluster in January?

It did not bluster! I wore a coat but Jack did his daily walk in the noonday sun in only a sweatshirt.

On Saturday, January 3, 2009 – courtesy of air miles we flew Primo Classe on Alitalia from Newark to Rome.  (In those days there were flights out of Newark, New Jersey.) I still use the little grey tweed makeup bags they gave us filled with mini stuff that I probably tossed. .

On Sunday, January 4, tired and still tipsy from all that Primo Classe booze we lugged our suitcases across the terminal to our jumper flight to Sardegna. We had an uneventful but cramped Air One flight to Alghero.  (They went out of business in 2014.) A 25€ cab ride organized by Pintadera brought us directly to the apartment they had found for us. Pintadera co-owner, Nicola, met us with keys in hand.  I looked at the steep staircase from the street leading up to the apartment, muttered bad words and lugged my suitcase up. Gasping for breath I walked in and saw the sea. The steps were worth it. Wow, we have an apartment with an ocean view.  The terrace was tiny but a terrace.   There was a twin bed with pillows in the front room, a chair or two, table and a kitchenette.  The bedroom had a king-sized bed. For the amount of time we planned on staying there it was perfect.

Bella Vista from or terrace!

I love Pintadera.  This was our second trip to the school.  We are so taken with the place and people, that I had organized a group of Italian language students from New Jersey to join us this time.  Starting Monday, January 5, we had classes daily from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM.  The weather was perfect. Staring at the sea, sipping a cappuccino at a bar with a view was heavenly. January in Alghero means very few tourists, sales in the stores and lots of sun.

Every day at 11:OO AM class took a caffè break. This is January – note the sun, smiles and me squinting.
Jack is always teachers pet.

The queen of not doing enough research and just diving into travel, I really lucked out. The first week in January, Alghero was transformed into a cultural Mecca. We had no idea how important Epiphany was nor how involved the arts community would be. That Monday, after class we strolled the tiny cobble stone streets and alleys following the sounds of carolers.  Sparkling arches of holiday lights topped the throngs out for a pre-epiphany passegiata.  Itinerant volunteer actors dressed like La Befana or the three Kings could be found in every small piazza dispensing nuts and fruit to every child. Even us kids in our second acts!

The whole city came out on January 5th and 6th – Epihany – waiting for La Befana, (The gift giving strega.)

Piazza Teatro lived up to its name.  A troupe of wheelchair assisted and developmentally challenged actors costumed beautifully portrayed the manger scene.  The love pouring out from every actor filled the piazza and my heart.  Their focus and passion for the nativity brought the scene to life.

Every one visits the new born baby. This is a fraction of the actors. I bet there were twenty.

After a scrumptious dinner of roasted calamari and l’insalata at a nameless little spot we followed the sounds of six part harmony. Angelic male voices filled the air from Piazza Civica.  The crowed surged there.  It felt and sounded like there were hundreds of men dressed in black with white collared shirts singing in intricate harmonies.  Traditional Sardo and spiritual songs wafted over the crowd as we trailed the singers from piazza to piazza.  Choiristers sang a rousing march as they moved from spot to spot.   I never found out if all of these musical artists were from Alghero.

A phenomenal men’s choir serenades us.

La Befanas scampered about clutching brooms and tossing sweets at children. The the night before Epiphany, La Befana traditionally flies from house to house bringing candy to good children and carbone, coal, to evil monsters. Besides engaging with the crowds La Befana was also plastered on doors or hanging from lamp posts. (The universe must be kicking me. I just had finished yet another rewrite of my play “Mamma Mia – La Befana!??” when I found this picture. Hmm – time to start pitching that work???)

La Befana, the gift giving witch, is a symbol of Epiphany.

Often, other amateur actors appeared dressed as angels or in traditional Sardegna garb to entertain with stories, dance and pageantry.  Music and art was everywhere.

Folklorico Dancers shook the cobblestones. In 2009 I wrote, “Hey USA how about a little more public art?”

After class one day, I saw a sign for a children’s theatre performance at Alghero’s opera house, Teatro Civica di Alghero.  Built in 1829, the space is amazing.  Think a jewel box version of Carnegie Hall with draped box seats surrounding the house.  It is unique because it is the only Italian theater built entirely of wood. Lavish is an understatement. We ventured in and sat down in our box excited to see our first performance in Italy.  It was the worst children’s theatre I have ever experienced in my life.  Disclaimer, in the 1970s I was the director of a touring children’s theater company so I kind of know what works and what doesn’t.  Here are just some of the reasons it was abysmal – for the first fifteen minutes the star – a middle aged curly haired sprightly woman stood on stage directing traffic to seats.  Then the curtain opens – late of course – on an amateur cardboard set.  Add to that bad lighting and a shared microphone and you have all the stuff you need for failure.  I love audience participation and pre -show warm ups but this crew did a warm-up that lasted an hour.  Then there was a brief pause and the scripted piece began and went on and on and on.  The show started at 5:00 PM.  We snuck out with many others at 7:00 PM and the show was still going on.  Do I sound snarky?  I love theater and it pains me to have troupes produce less than professional work for children.  That said, seeing the interior of Teatro Civica was worth the distraction.

Who are the divas in the box???? We didn’t know the women we shared the box with but loved their fur coats.

Early Wednesday mornings I took an early morning jaunt to the covered market. This market is classic.  One whole section is just stall after stall of fish vendors.  Sardegna is an island and Alghero sits right on the sea – perfect location for the freshest of fish.  Fruit and vegetable stalls, ready-made treats and more filled the space.  I love wandering the aisles and discovering what I will be cooking.

Tuna anyone?
Ovella Negra just a staircase away from our apartment.

I love this city!  We also loved the wine and local cheese plates we enjoyed in Ovella Negra, the grotto like bar below the apartment. (We have been back to Alghero many times since and sadly, this bar is no longer there.). The owner was a real foodie. He only served local fare and treated us like visiting royalty.  During our two week stay, we did go there almost every single day so I could see why they treated us well.  This particular night, I must have had an orgasmic food experience – why else would I have written down every morsel.  We tend to share lots of small plates – think tapas style.  First, he served us a fresh, unsalted goat cheese that was so light and creamy it must have been made by angels.  With that, of course we had Cardegna, a dry white wine. Next, some room temperature small plates to warm ones heart of dried tuna and sword fish.  Yup, caught off the coast.  We tasted bottarga, Sardinian cured fish roe, for the first time.  Now, we are bottarga junkies.  Bottarga is cured, air-dried roe from flathead mullets and is a Sardinian staple.  After dinner, we were given a glass of Mirto – a local digestivo.  It is the national drink of Sardegna and made by infusing alcohol with fresh myrtle berries.  Most nights we staggered up the stairs to our apartment. The stairs seem easier when I stagger.

Saturday, January 10th we took the train to Sassari.  The train ticket was 3.80€ roundtrip.  It was a twenty-minute walk to the train station from our center city apartment. The ancient train meandered through a valley and we were surrounded by mountains.  Sheep, sheepdogs and olive groves completed the picture.   They city of Sassari was reminiscent of any neighborhood in any major Italian city.  Cobble stone streets, buildings that were built during the middle ages and – of course – one of the finest restaurants on the island.  We had the best grilled calamari ever at the Trattoria Gesuino.  Seriously, the best ever!  So very tender – I can still taste it.  We visited the Museo Nazionale “Giovanni Antonio Sanna.”  This archeological museum was chock full of great finds – including glass from 200 BC.  We will go back someday.

We hopped the Train to Sassari and visited the museum. That will be 2 euro please.

  Every great day takes longer than you think. Gulp, we missed the last train back.  Thanks to that snafu we experienced even more of the island on the bus. The bus was 3€ – bella vista – we saw hills, small towns and more sheep.  No wonder the local cheese is so fantastic!  The bus meandered through villages the train passed by. We were dropped off in the park by the city wall.  It was a shorter walk back to the apartment. Which of course we didn’t enter, going down to the bar instead.

Life in Alghero for educational tourists like us is magical. We didn’t know what to expect in January – except cheaper prices – and were happily surprised by the temperature, holiday culture and the food. Since I kept that journal in 2009, we have been back to Pintadera at least four additional times. We love the sea, the food, the people and of course Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera. We will return – perhaps we will see you there too.

Ci Vediamo.

Midge

PS: Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo is organizing for 2022. Today we read about travel. Tomorrow we travel.

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Cooking – Live From Pontelandolfo

The sky outside was grey, but my kitchen was bright and filled with the laughter and joy of Pontelandolfo’s Carmela Fusco. Disclaimer – Carmela is my talented cooking cousin. Was Carmela literally in my kitchen?  Nope, we were testing the concept of a virtual cooking class.  From sunny Italy, Carmela led students thousands of miles away through the process of making bignè, the airy pastry you need for profiteroles!  

I felt like a cooking idiot when, during the process, I realized that profiteroles – I had only ever seen stacked in a pyramid and covered with dripped chocolate – were literally the favorite dessert of my youth.  Chocolate covered cream puffs!  My mother, bless her soul, used to make them for special occasions.  I never tried, but when I needed a mom hug, I would buy a box of Boston Cream Pie mix and get almost the same creamy taste. It wasn’t the same but I could feel the love.

Something else I learned, was that bignè is also called choux pastry.  There isn’t any yeast or raising agent in the dough.  It has a high moisture content that creates steam and that puffs the pastry.  Isn’t the science of food grand?

Carmela’s daughter Annarita Mancini, as she does for our Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo program, was there to translate.  Those of us gathered around our tablets trying to make bignè study Italian with Annarita and vowed not to ask for her help. Gulp, I needed her help. I mean, I have only been trying to learn Italian for twenty years, cut me a break.  This wasn’t just a cooking class. This was a chance to use the Italian we had been studying in a real-world situation.  What could be a better place to practice our language skills than Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo? (Admission – when we obviously didn’t quite get what Carmela was saying, Annarita jumped in.)

I am only going to talk about the first step towards the light, cream filled profiteroles – making the bignè. This is the small pastry of a cream puff.  Carmela told me that the neat thing about her bignè is that you can stuff it with sweet or savory fillings.  She doesn’t add sugar, as I think my mom did, into the pastry.  The ingredients are:

150 grams acqua – water

80 grams burro – butter

150 grams farina – flour

5 – 6 uova – eggs

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius .

Prep a cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper.

Even though we got the ingredient list sent to us, there was a wee dilemma changing the metric measures into the British Imperial System on the fly.  Correct, I had no idea that cups, ounces and pounds were part of something called the British Imperial System.  Cripes, it even sounds like empire building. One learns something new every day.  Time to work on my math skills or have the conversion app open on my phone.

We put the water in a big pot on the unlit stove and added all the butter.  Then we turned the heat on high and melted the butter.  It takes a long time to melt that much butter.  When it finally melted and had little boiling bubbles we added the flour a little at a time. (Other recipes on line said dump all the flour in at once – Carmela was meticulous about drizzling the flour in.) KEEP STIRRING.  This part requires a strong arm.  Who needs a gym – you have a kitchen!  When the dough started to cling together in a ball and no longer stuck to the pot, we turned off the heat.  We stirred the dough a bit more – with Carmela warning us, “not too much we don’t want it to cool.  Now, crush it so it isn’t a ball.”  What?? We just stirred until our arms ached and made the bloody ball – now I have to crush it? We smooshed our balls.

This next part was kind of magical and required eyes that saw the nuances of color.  We added an egg and blended it into the dough until the color of the dough was the color it was before we added the egg.  When your arm starts to scream, get someone else to take a turn stirring.  Finally, the color will be same as it was.  Then add the second egg and repeat the process.  Yup, it is a long process but the results – delicious.  Once again, when the color was the same as it was before the second egg we tossed in egg number three.  

No, you are crying not again!  Why didn’t we just toss all the eggs in at once?  Carmela pointed out it might seem easier to add all the eggs at once but the secret for a cloud like bignè is to do it this way.  The dough needs time to absorb each egg. I think this should be a team sport – like a relay with someone else there to take a stirring turn. They could also keep the Prosecco glasses full.

We were laughing out loud as we tried to show Carmella our dough by tilting our iPads and phones towards our pots without dropping them in.  Stop laughing!  Add egg number four!  We repeated the process and then added the fifth and final egg.

Whew, this was the hardest part.  Where is that prosecco? 

Using a spatula we cleaned the sides of the pot by drawing all the sticky dough to the center in a ball like pile.  Now, taking two tablespoons,  we attempted to drop the dough in cute balls on the prepared cookie sheet.  Carmela is a master at this, she rolled the dough back and forth and created balls.  She pointed out they didn’t have to be perfect.  Misshapen was fine – except all of hers were perfect and all of mine looked a lot less than perfect.

Carmela said, “Make sure you leave space between the globs.  With all those eggs the pastry will rise. When our nonnas made this pasta they used their hands to mix the dough – even though it was really hot.”  Hmmm, maybe that is where I got my asbestos hands.

Almost done. Put the tray of bignè into the pre-heated oven for about 20 minutes.  They will grow and get a warm toasty color. They really do grow! Well not everyone’s grew we did have a batch that kind of looked like tasty hockey pucks.

When you take these lovelies out of the oven and they have cooled you can slice them and use them for light little tea sandwiches or invite me over because you are filling them with a decadent cream and topping them with chocolate.  Yummy.

Carmela’s Bignè – Perfetto!

We all had a great time giggling, groaning and cooking with Carmela. Can’t wait until the pandemic is over and we can really be with her in her kitchen!

Ci Vediamo.

Midge

Organizing 2022 Now. Click here for more information.

Pontelandolfo’s Movie Makers

Ever notice that in some communities the arts just flourish? Kids enjoy not only sports but making art too. Towns comes together and theatrical/musical magic happens. Pontelandolfo, a teeny tiny Southern Italian village, is one of those artistic Petri dishes spawning talented artists, dancers, writers, musicians and filmmakers. Older posts have talked about our dance company, the visual artists, village wide theatrical productions etc. Is something in the air? Is it in the nature or nurturing of our young people? Or an enchanted coupling of both? I think it is a combination.

During the holiday season, I discovered yet another group of young people making art – filmmakers under the moniker Nonna Anna Film Group. Spearheaded by Gianluca De Michele, the bourgeoning company is committed to not only telling original tales but shooting their films in Pontelandolfo. According to De Michele, “The short films we shoot are set in Pontelandolfo, because I believe that there is a reality to be re-examined here, not only from a historical and traditional perspective, but also from a visual point of view.

Meet Igor Rinaldi, Francesco Mancini, Gianluca De Michele,
Federico Mancini and Nicola Colesanti

De Michele studied directing and screenwriting in Bologna at the Accademia Nazionale del Cinema. (Check out the website, I think Gianluca is in the cover photo!). He has always been in love with using media to tell a story but is quick to say that Nonna Anna Film Group was not something that he created alone. The company was developed with his friends Igor Rinaldi, Nicola Colesanti and Federico Mancini. I asked him – why call it Nonna Anna – you are all in your twenties. This brings us back to the nature and nurture question. When the company was producing their first film Oro nel Torrente – Gold in the Stream – his grandmother, Anna, who provided the locations and support was instrumental. As was his father and brother who provided all of the video equipment. It was their second film, Il Regalo di Natale – The Christmas Gift, that I saw.

According to De Michele, ” In The Christmas Gift,” I emphasized the inner conflict of a father who knows that he will disappoint his son by not being able to buy him the gift he wants, precisely during the period when children dream the most. Pirandello believes that comedy works with tragedy. The message of our short film lies in the fact that, paradoxical as some situations are, the seriousness of a topic is developed on the basis of a comic intention. The film is the mirror of a dream that must not be broken and of the deep love that inspires every parent…” Take a peak and let’s discuss it –

The setting will make you all want to visit Pontelandolfo.

It took the film crew one full work week to shoot what we just watched in a few minutes. I am delighted to have discovered yet another group of dedicated artists living and working in Pontelandolfo.

Ci vediamo!

MIDGE

Join us – Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo

Arrivederci 2020

the joy of out with the old and in with the new!

Weeeeeeoooo! 2020 will soon be OUT and a new decade zooms in.

Christmas vector created by BiZkettE1 – www.freepik.com

Who won’t be sorry to see 2020 hit the highway. Pandemics, thousands dying, food shortages, toilet paper wars, weird weather, floods, political mayhem and… Basta! Enough looking at what was horrible, atrocious, disastrous, horrific, terrible and inconvenient this past year. Time to move forward with the hope for all mankind that this holiday season brings. To help us remember ’tis the season to be jolly’ and ‘goodwill to all,’ I thought I would play the part of the ghost of Christmas past and share some wonderful older moments.

One of the most joyous activities of the Christmas season is Morcone’s Presepe Vivente. This is the best community theatre production is the world. The entire Southern Italian village of Morcone – which is just around the hill from Pontelandolfo – would come together and turn their normally quasi abandoned, historic center into Bethlehem. WOW! In 2018, Jack and I spent hours immersed in the story of Christmas. It is the story of poverty, intolerance, a gentle soul providing shelter to a couple who had no where to go and love. John 3:16-17 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. 

Enjoy the camaraderie of the story tellers.

I will admit it, over the years I have over indulged – often nightly. My eyes never close, sounds just fall out of my mouth and my heart explodes. I am a Christmas Light junkie. Put me in a car after dark, drive me around and I will fill the car with Ooooooos and AAhhhhhhhhs that will rock your socks. The next night I will do it again – in a different part of the Sannio Hills – but I am attracted to those lights. Perhaps it has something to do with that big star over Bethlehem. This is one holiday event that we all can do and still keep that ugly virus at bay. The car is a super social distancing bubble and I intend to drag Jack kicking and screaming out to our car to drive around and Ooooo at holiday lights – tonight, tomorrow and dopo domani.

Benevento has a wonderful pedestrian street that in years past was a holiday joy to walk.

Food glorious food. We are still doing our traditional seven fishes this year with our foodie friends and family. Sharing a meal is a heartwarming holiday ritual. (Did you ever check out this blogs recipe page?) Everyone makes a fish dish and we start eating early and finish pretty close to midnight. Laughter, swapping tales, toasting and burping fill the room. It is a tradition that we will not miss. No, we are not risking our aged bodies in maskless revelry. I set up a FaceBook Messenger Group and we will be eating together but apart. That means we can swig the Prosecco and won’t have far to go when we are done. That also means we can still raise a glass to each other in love, friendship and food.

Memories of a meal shared long ago can still put a smile on my face.

This holiday season we won’t be gathering in the piazza, wandering the Christmas Market, or going to Sesto Senso for an incredible New Year’s Eve feast and musical event. We will be sending our love to you and yours from our home to your home over wi-fi, phone lines and cell towers. This is the time for gathering up the steam to forge ahead for a new year, a new season and a happy, healthy love filled life. Buon Natale.

2019 wasn’t a bad year and 2021 will be even better.

Ci vediamo prossimo anno!

Midge

PS: Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo will be organizing for 2021.

Language Schools Need Help

Have you every visited a place or met a person and just known that they would always be a part of your life? That is how I felt the first time I spoke to Nicola Schroeder and the first time I visited Alghero, Sardegna. Nicola and Angela Canessa are the founders of what I think is the best Italian Language school for foreigners, Alghero’s Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera. Over the years, Jack and I have enriched our language skills and cultural acumen by spending time in Alghero and studying at Pintadera. Knowing Nicola for years, I was taken aback by our recent phone call. The school was in trouble – big trouble – caused by the pandemic. No tourists equals no income from anywhere. During the pandemic, unlike bars and other businesses, Italian Language Schools are not eligible for any government assistance. That means all the teachers, administrators and support staff are not bringing in any money. Nicola was literally my first friend in Italy – literally my first friend and one I value – I would hate to see the school she worked so hard to build close.

Ever the organizer, Nicola has connected with other language schools throughout Italy to develop a collective lobbying effort and organization – Scuole LICET (Lingua Italiana, Cultura e Turismo). What follows is that story, generously shared with us by Nicola Schroeder.

During the spring of 2020, in the middle of Italy’s total lockdown, we (Pintadera) received a phone call from Roberto Tartaglione, a prominent figure in the field of Italian language teaching, author of significant and innovative textbooks, and decades ago the founder of an important school in Rome. Angela and I were delighted and flattered that such an important person was even calling our little modest language institution out in the boonies of remote Sardinia! He laid out his concerns for the future of Italian language schools. I remember him saying that we would be lucky if we got back to operating in the summer of 2021. At the time, it was probably end of April, we were convinced this would all be over by the time summer started. Little did we know…

In order to get the government’s attention as to our importance in the country, it was Roberto’s idea to join forces – us, Italian language schools up and down the Italian peninsula and on its islands. I embraced the idea and got other Sardinian schools involved. 

Italian language schools for foreigners are active promoters of Italian culture and language, those that come to Italy to attend one of our courses are the same people that visit our museums, our archeological sites, they rent cars, go to restaurants, stay in hotels or flats, they spend money! Yet, we, Italian language schools, promoters of tourism and the “italia” brand worldwide are not recognized by the government. Our category has not received government funding, despite having been shut down in early March.

Unfortunately, so far there are no real fully documented statistics on Italian language schools in Italy. We think there are about 200. I was in charge of researching and doing excel sheets of all the schools in Italy, region by region. There’s an association called ASILS which groups 43 of the older and larger schools, those that were set up in 80’s and early 90’s. LICET includes we smaller schools dispersed all over Italy, those that sprouted as the low-cost airlines started bringing foreigners to the smaller towns. We’re 50 schools now with an average of 350 students a year each, who stay on average 2 weeks. Official calculation by ASILS says that each student spends 1800€ in Italy including course fees. So, let’s say there are 200 schools and they average 200 students per year who each spends 1800€… that makes €72,000,000 in expenditure in Italy by Italian language students, It’s probably more, or was more.

ASILS schools claim their turnover is 75-95% less this year than last. LICET Schools are about 70% less. I think in general the larger schools are more desperate than us peewees. The big Italian language schools had lucrative agreements with American colleges and loads of Chinese students. These all disappeared overnight. I remember when President Trump pulled American students out of Europe, sometime in March, I was on the phone with my friend from Florence and she said that 24,000 Americans left Florence over one weekend and that would mean the city’s end, so much had they become dependent on the U.S. student income. 

LICET’s objective is to be recognized by the government, not only as Italian language schools but also as the promoters of tourism that we are, and receive subsidies to be able to survive. And we want to offer our expertise and contacts to continue to promote Italy, its language, culture and heritage. We would like to be part of the recovery plan.

Thank you Nicola for the update. The group has been working diligently to address the issue and be heard by the appropriate government agency – Ministero per i beni e le attività Culturali e per il Turismo. Here is an earlier article from the Italian daily paper – LA Repubblica. What follows is a translation of the crux of the story –

For this reason, the newly formed LICET association addresses the Ministero Beni Architettonici Cultura e Turismo directly, asking not only for support, but proposing a collaboration: “Our activities, scattered throughout the national territory, in large cities or small centers, are two hundred magnets capable of attracting foreigners and giving a strong impulse to the relaunch of that important tourism that is talked about so much in the country’s plans for rebirth. – concludes Roberto Tartaglione – Each school has mailing lists, contacts, small propaganda machines capable of enticing foreigners to return to Italy; every school has been doing this for years, just to develop its own business. Today is the time to do it all together to relaunch a market beyond individual interest.”

Call to action – First – like the LICET Facebook page. Then, why not send an email to the person who is in charge of the Ministry of Culture’s Facebook page – after you send a Facebook Message! Let the Ministero per i beni e le attività Culturali e per il Turismo know if you came to Italy to study at a school and how the schools help promote tourists. Let us put on our advocacy hats and help the language schools get some government help. The Ministry’s Twitter handle is #MiBACT. I am tweeting that they need to help the schools and you can too. Check out their website and send a letter. This is my idea not Nicola’s. I’m from New Jersey we leap into the fray.

Making plans for 2021 or 2022? Besides coming to visit me and Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo, enhance your visit by studying Italian at Centro Meditteraneo Pintadera.

Ci Vediamo

Midge

Missing Venice? Visit With Donna Leon!

Many of us are stuck in our homes thinking of all the places in the world we’d like to visit.  Why not take an armchair tour of Venice with my favorite detective, Commissario Guido Brunetti.  The fictional Italian detective,  is a commissario in the Italian State Police, stationed in Venice.  He is proud to be a native Venetian. The creation of Donna Leon, Brunetti becomes our eyes and ears in Venice. His wife, children, family life, upper class in-laws, obnoxious boss and the other detectives all become part of our tour.  We peek into the worlds of Counts and Countesses, immigrants, Venetian middle class and the very poor.  What I love about Leon’s books is the way they draw me into  the social, political and historic fabric of the city, and region.  With Brunetti, we hop on a traghetto (think bus in the water), a police boat, sometimes even a car, but most often on foot to wend our way through canals and neighborhoods tourists don’t see.

 And then the air was just as suddenly filled with the sweetness of springtime and buds and new leaves, fresh grass and nature’s giggly joy at coming back for another show
As they turned into the broad stereet, Brunetti saw evidence in support of his belief that this was one of the few areas of the city still filled primarily with Venetians.  It was enough to see the beige woollen cardiagans and short carefully permed hair to know the older women were Venetian; those children with their skateboards were not there on vacation; and most foreign men did not stand so close to one another during aconversation.  The shops, too, sold things that would be used in the city where they were purchased, not wrapped up and taken home to be shown off as some sort of prized acquisition, like a deer hunted and shot and tied to the top of a car.
“By Its Cover” 2014

The Venetian inspector also editorializes on the not so positive transitions that have occurred in Venice over the past fifty or so years.  He often speaks of the changes that all of us who have been fortunate to visit Venice over the decades have seen. The enormous cruise ships that displace tons of water and toss thousands of back pack smashing tourists all at once onto the island.  Like whirling dervish they twist and twirl over bridges.  Made in China faux Venetian glass, masks and more have taken over bakeries, butcher shops and vegetable stands.

Brunetti — I had the good fortune to grow up in a different Venice, not this stage set that’s been created for tourists …  Venetian families, especially young ones, are driven out because they cannot afford to rent or buy a home.

“Earthly Remains” 2017

Picking up travel and life hints while binge reading Brunetti is also a great way to plan your next visit to Italy.  There are so many food references that fans demanded and were rewarded with the Brunetti’s Cook Book.

The first time I had a prescription filled in our villages local pharmacy I was mesmerized watching the farmacista peel and stick labels from boxes.  Leon’s accurate description of the action had me smiling.  There are many more bits and pieces of everyday Italian life sprinkled in the books.
She took the boxes, peeled off stamps from the backs, and pasted them on to the prescriptions the woman gave her.  Then she ran the prescriptions over the sensor plate next to the cash register, put the boxes in a plastic bag, and accepted a twenty-Euro note in payment.  She rang up the sale and returned the woman’s change, added the receipt, thanked her, and wished her a pleasant eventing.
“Temptation of Forgiveness,”  2018
Take a walk with Donna Leon’s Brunetti and become a part of  Venetian life.  Just be wary when and where you walk.  Once we were trying to get over the Rialto Bridge and cross the Grand Canal.  A wild large tourist group of where could they be going in such a hurry, came galloping over the bridge.  Jack and I clung to the sides.  No, even though I thought it, I didn’t stick out my foot.
Brunetti’s first response, given that it was a warm day in early spring, had been to calculate the easiest way to walk from the Questura to the Palazzo without becoming entrapped in the by now normal migration paths of the herds of tourists.  Because of the clear sky and benevolent temperature, walking hip Riva Degli Schiavoni would be impossible, crossing Piazza San Marco an act of madness.
Brunetti walked home quickly, paying almost no attention to what or whom he passed, deaf to the sound of the returning birds, the only tourists no one resented.
“Upon Us a Son Is Given,” 2019
Donna Leon is incredibly prolific.  I think there are twenty-nine Brunetti novels. But there may be a new one coming soon.  She is my literary work ethic idol. Besides the cook book there are television shows, a Brunetti walking tour, even stories with music!  But hey – she IS a Jersey girl! Born in Montclair, New Jersey, she lived and worked in Venice for over thirty years.  Her Commissario Brunetti series has won countless awards.  I would love to award her the Midge’s Favorite Author of All Things Venetian award.  Would it be stalking if I just sat outside her house and stared???
“Trace Elements” is the latest book.  I can’t wait to get mine and see where Brunetti goes next. Why not pour a glass of Prosecco and visit Venice with Guido Brunetti. You will be so happy you did.
Ci vediamo!!

PS. Stay safe and wear a mask.