My New Year started with thoughts of old years. On January 1st I knew I had to make my grandmother’s spaghetti sauce. I didn’t know why. I just knew I needed the smells of grandma’s house filling my kitchen and to feel the presence of those who are no longer here. As the fireworks went off and people toasted 2023, I pulled pig parts and sausages out of the freezer. It was an instinctive action, it was 12:02 AM Sunday morning and Sunday is – was – spaghetti day. I wish it still was, but it hasn’t been for years. Not since my Aunt Catherine died and the family Sunday table collapsed out of my life.
As I started chopping the onions, garlic and green peppers, I remembered the scent of Sundays at grandma’s house. The sauce bubbling on the stove, chicken parts covered with millions of onions roasting in the oven and garlic sputtering in a hot frying pan. The kitchen table was opened up to almost big enough for all the Guerreras that would race in when the firehouse siren roared noon.
As I added a handful of fresh parsley to the pot, I saw my Aunt Cat grinning. Every time she tossed whole parsley – stems and all – in the sauce pot, she would look at me with her big Cheshire Cat grin. It was her culinary secret to leave the parsley whole so it was easier to fish out. Later, when no one was looking, she would scoop out every cooked piece and eat it. There is something comforting about wilted parsley dripping tomato sauce pulled out of the pot and popped into my mouth. Please don’t tell Jack – he hasn’t seen me do this.
I left the pot simmering, filling the condo with aromas of my past and visited my walk in closet. Now, we have owned this condo since Covid lockdown and I have never organized my closet. The closet is more than a closet, it could be a New York City studio apartment. My purse collection – yes I love purses and shoes – was tossed up on a shelf that I could barely reach. Clothes that I hadn’t worn in years were cramped in garment bags. We spend half the year in Italy, do I really need to know what is lurking in the garment bags? Sigh – I decided my New Year needed organization and what better way to jump start organizing than as my mom would say, start in one corner and work out. What corner? The closet is in the furthest corner of the place. Hmm. I walked in the closet door, remembered my mom, and stopped at the first corner. A corner that held an old dresser, four shelves stuffed with who knows what and a couple of squished robes. Starting at the top, I pulled a plastic box down off the highest shelf. My primary concern was not passing out after the hard plastic conked me in the noggin. My second concern was who would find me in the closet if I was bleeding from plastic pieces and lying on the floor. Luckily, my sense of drama was stronger than the box and I managed to catch it before it conked me. Having no idea what was in the box, I shoved the stuff that was on top of the dresser on the floor, plopped the plastic box on the newly cleared dresser top and opened it up. New gloves I didn’t know I owned, spiked rubber things to put under you boots and prevent death by black ice, Christmas joke jewelry from a pazillion years ago, empty jewelry boxes and –
Now I understand why the universe told me to make that sauce! After finding this precious piece of my history and the condo full of the odor of my grandma’s kitchen, I knew where my 2023 was headed. Back even further into my past and closer to the family of my present.
Buon anno! Have a healthy, happy, creative and successful 2023! May all your resolutions come to pass and if they don’t may laughter fill your days. Abbracione.
The air is crisp, bacala is in the cupboard and gifts are being hidden under beds. As volunteers work together, Christmas season in Pontelandolfo gets more exciting each year. The calendar of events kicked off on December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which seems to always be the beginning of the Christmas Season. Decorations are dusted off, nativity scenes are pulled out of storage, lovingly placed in a prominent place and the baking begins. Family homes fill up as sons and daughters who work far away return to the village they love best. The bars all take on a festive air with lots of hugging and kissing among friends who haven’t seen each other for a while and yet instantly reclaim the closeness they had as children. This years calendar – Christmas 22 Under the Tower – had me clapping my hands and dancing around the house. I couldn’t believe all the live performances scheduled in this year’s calendar. Sala Papa Giovanni Paolo II – a community room – was recently rehabbed and turned into a small theater. Complete with plush red velvet seats that cuddle your bottom. This season it has a full schedule of films, concerts and theatre. Wowza. So many choices!
Do I dare admit that I am more than a little homesick for the Sannio Hills? I’m in New Jersey, pleased as Prosecco Punch, to be doing readings of my travel/memoir Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos.Yes Virginia there is a Santa or Babbo Natale and the book will fit in your “hung with care stocking”. But I kind of wish that on Christmas Eve I can tap my nose and instantly land on our Italian veranda. My landlord and great buddy, Nicola, sent me pictures of the house twinkling with lights and laughter. Each year cars filled with kids drive up to see his latest spectacular. He was one of the first people to decorate his home for the holidays. Now more and more people are doing it. I love the magic of the lights twinkling in the valley.
La Casa di Babbo Natale is ready! Interesting how the jolly elf looks different in various countries but brings the same joy no matter how he looks or what language he speaks.
Pontelandolfo lives in the heart of every Pontelandolfese in the world and in the hearts of those who have come to visit and felt what we all feel – the spirit of the Sannio Hills. Have a season filled with happiness and joy.
Looking for something to do this week? It would be so much fun to meet each and every one of you in person. Here is our opportunity!
This week, I am taking my book of travel humor on the road! Come laugh with me. I’ll be reading stories from Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos at the Newtown (PA) Bookshop, Frenchtown (NJ) Bookstore and at the Italian American organization UNICO District X! If you have a copy of my book, bring it along for me to sign. Also bring your questions about what life really is like for a type A New Jersey girl in a small Southern Italian village.
Thanks to Democrats Abroad we quickly got our ballots emailed to us, filled them out and emailed them back. For those of you living abroad who haven’t voted yet. Here is the first step as explained by Democrats Abroad.
Step 1: Request your ballot
Head to www.votefromabroad.org, your one-stop-shop for registering to vote and requesting your overseas absentee ballot. There, you’ll complete and submit your Federal Post Card Application (FPCA), the form overseas voters like you use to request ballots. The website will help you fill out the FPCA and tell you exactly where to send it. In most cases, you can submit it right then and there electronically!
Ballots from New Jersey were emailed to us from our County Clerk’s Office. One thing I should tell you is that these ballots are not secret. We had to sign a document saying that we understood that since the completed ballots would be emailed back they were open to others to read. Hey, I will tell you who I voted for. I don’t care if you read my ballot.
Printing, completing the ballot and accompanying paperwork, scanning and emailing the PDFs back to New Jersey is incredibly simple. What is not, is the arcane rule that we must also mail the printed, signed and scanned documents to our County Board of Elections. The directions say send them via Airmail. When I asked about Airmail at the Ufficio Postal, the agent looked at me. That hasn’t been an option for years. All mail goes in a plane – just not a special plane. Mail from Italy to the USA must go by a one engine barely moving plane or not at all. In 2021, I had a hissy fit. The New Jersey website, NJ.gov, has a portal called Track my Ballot. Tracking my ballot – which was mailed back from Pontelandolfo after it was sent in an email – I saw that it was received in ample time, but on Election Day and the weeks after it was not marked “accepted.” I called my State Senator, politicos, the Board of Election and generally made a whining pain of myself. Why, if I print, fill out, sign, scan and send the ballot back electronically do I have to mail the hard copy from Italy????? It is the law. It is stupid. Don’t go all – what about voter fraud – on me. An IPO address is easy to track. My signature scrawl is on file. Ask me a trick question or something that I can email back. How about voice recognition??
Sigh, I just looked. It has been a year and my ballot from 2021 was indeed accepted. I am not sure when. I stopped tracking it after two months. Not wanting to have my Father roaring down at me from his political backroom in the sky, today I went to Mail Boxes ETC in Telese Terme, spent €30 and FedEx is carrying our ballots across the sea. I can track them and was told it should take a couple of days. (I know we should have done that sooner, but we left on vacation a few days after I got the ballots. I screwed up.)
Don’t Worry poppo – the ballots will get there!
Voting isn’t something I do because my family has been so involved politically. It is something I do because it is my one opportunity to help insure that our democracy keeps on chugging forward. It is a gift and I relish it. Please vote. My brain is giggling that old cynical phrase attributed to Chicagoan, William Hale Thompson “vote early and vote often.” Don’t do that. Just go and vote.
Sigh… Midge and Jack succumbed to the evil Covid. Beh. Cough, cough, sneeze, sneeze. Now, no need to feel sorry for us. I truly enjoyed laying on the couch for seven days and binge watching Tehran on Apple TV. Sleeping until noon wasn’t so bad either. We are both finally rejoining the living, but won’t be leaving the house until we take a second Tampone Nasofaringeo Covid test.
How did we get it you ask? Well, we went on vacation. I know, I know, being retired and living in Italy is like one long vacation. Think of this as a vacation from vacationing. Or as my pal Marjorie put it, “You staycation all year and this is your going away vacation.” We had booked a Viking River Cruise that would glide us along the Rhine River from Amsterdam to Basel Switzerland. Amsterdam – damp, cold rainy Amsterdam. I know the exact second and place in Amsterdam that I gobbled up a bunch of Covid flying germs. The – they really need new administrators – Ann Frank House was the place. We had reserved time slots to visit the Ann Frank House. It was raining. There was a freakin’ long queue outside the Museum/House. We were soaking wet. My mask was soaking wet. My brain was soaking wet and wanted to ring dry whoever the programming administrator at the museum was that over booked time slots. Excuse me, the place is small and you sold enough timed tickets to fill the coliseum. We squeezed into the place – masked – and really enjoyed the museum portion of the exhibition. As we climbed the steep cramped stairs to the upper levels, I started to panic. They can’t be putting all these people into smaller and smaller spaces. Oh yes, they could. I pulled my mask down only once – to breathe after climbing a flight of stairs. Only for two minutes. That was all it took for the evil flying vermin to pounce on my lungs. Have I mentioned that masks were not required. I saw about 4 out of the crush of people wearing masks. (I do not know if what you just read is true. I cannot confirm or deny this is the place I caught Covid. The above paragraph was based on my Italian woo woo insights.)
We spent two more rainy masked days in Amsterdam before hitting the river. The Viking “longboat” only had about 160 passengers. We never sat with other people. Didn’t go to the main crowded dining room and were definitely cautious. Views along the river were great. Food and booze were great. Laughing with Sue and Phil, the couple we went with was great.
ALERT, ALERT, RING, DING, SIREN OOOOO. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, “Based on systematic reviews and meta-analyses in studies investigating infections with ancestral strains of SARS-CoV-2, the incubation period of COVID-19 is, on average, five to six days, with most studies reporting a range of two to 14 days.” I woke up on day 4 of the cruise and went right back to bed. (Notice how average I am – six bleeding days it took for the nasties to turn me into yuck.). I didn’t even think about Covid. Having had two severe cases of Lyme disease, I thought I was having a Lyme reoccurrence. My muscles didn’t want to work and I was incredibly weak. Blah, blah, blah, you don’t need to hear the whole gruesome story. Anyway, I only thought about Covid when I started coughing. That was in the airport flying back to Naples. I double masked and hoped for the best.
Back in Pontelandolfo, we immediately went to the pharmacy and got tested. We both tested positive for covid. What? How could Jack be positive? He doesn’t even have a sneeze happening. Pharmacist, Marco Perone, entered us into the system and printed out our, YOU BETTER QUARANTINE FOR A MINIMUM OF 5 DAYS OR GET A TIME OUT, certificates. Hiding our faces from the world we rushed home. Yes, once in the system the local police can really check on you. Besides that, we didn’t want anyone we knew – which is the whole village – getting sick.
We had been away from home for about 12 days. The refrigerator was empty. We looked at each other. Jack sighed. I had a coughing fit, recovered and went into “feed us please” action. The snarky readers out there will read what follows, guffaw and think, you can easily order food in New Jersey too. Supermarkets deliver. Restaurants deliver. Getting delivery is no big deal. Hey snarky – Do they also think for you????
My first text was to Luigi, co- owner of Mini Market La Torre. Think well stocked deli. My list was eggs, milk, bread, water, lunchmeat and wine and whine – I couldn’t think. Lunchmeat – they know us. They know I buy 200 grams each of mortadella, tacchino, e prosciutto motto. I didn’t have to think. Luigi tossed other stuff we would need in the bag. I snuck out side and put a Tupperware container with a bunch of money in it on our outdoor table. He left his store, ran over and put the bag of goodies on the table. Then he routed around the Tupperware and took what it cost.
Vegetables. We need vegetables. Fresh, green and full of antioxidants too. Text number two went to Nicole, owner of Fresh Fruit. Nicole gets up most mornings at 4:00 AM and heads to the fruit and vegetable farmer’s market near Naples. My text to her was briefer – green vegetables, fruit, onions and ???. She too appeared with a bag stuffed with green, yellow and I don’t remember fresh stuff. Nicole exchanged a receipt for cash in the Tupperware box.
Watching her, I started giggling. For years, I would go to farms, put money in a box and take eggs or produce. This is kind of a reverse honor system. Leave money in the box for someone to take and they leave you stuff.
How could we go a week without meat from Marcelleria Mancini? To butcher extraordinary, Stefano, my text was steak, chopped meat, chicken and some kind of interesting cheese. We ugly Americans eat more meat than we should. His other customers get one chicken breast thin sliced into cutlets for ten people. He knew better and two giant chicken legs and breasts arrived. With all the garlic and onions from Nicole, chicken soup was happening. He cut us two thick and scrumptious steaks. Enough for two meals. The cheese was a creamy and yummy caciocavallo – you know horse’s balls – from a local caseificio – cheese maker. Stefano didn’t rummage in the Tupperware box. He had stapled a bill to the bag and said pay me when you are better.
Pay me when you are better??? Would ShopRite at Home say “pay me when you are better?”
Speaking of texts. I texted our primary care physician, Doctor Palumbo. He replied instantly with what meds we needed to buy and what we should be doing. The first person to pick up meds for us was Nicola, our good friend and neighbor. A few days later I texted Dr. Palumbo again – I was worried about Jack’s oxygen saturation. More meds and a new text to my precious cousin Carmella. Vroom she was off and running to the Pharmacy. Yeah, yeah, CVS delivers but does the pharmacist call you and say, ” How are you two? Call if you need us.”
Since I didn’t want folks here to think we were ignoring them, I posted on FaceBook that we were Covid positive and in quarantine. Folks had not only wished us well via replies on my FaceBook post but hit other electric highways as well. I was too tired to answer my phone but I did look at the messages. Many of them came from my Pontelandolfo neighbors. “Call if you need anything.” “Can I do anything.” Those thoughts were said a variety of ways with funny or serious emojis. Those messages kept our spirits up. Thanks Carmella via Michelle for getting us that much yearned for loaf of bread! Thank you to Jersey Girl Kathy for daily checking on us too.
For the past ten years I have touted the joys and love we find in our small Southern Italian village. Pontelandolfo may not have Grubhub, Doordash or Uber Eats but damn, it has love. Lots of love. Grazie mille a tutti.
Midge PS. So excited! I will soon be in NJ and PA doing readings from my book, Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos! Come laugh with me!
I’ve often said, one of the advantages to living in Pontelandolfo is that we can hop around fairly inexpensively to visit other European cities. During one rainy week, four of us hopped over to Amsterdamfor a taxing good/bad time.
Like foxes sniffing for prey – taxi drivers roam the streets of Amsterdam looking for wet and bedraggled tourists to gouge. When we landed, the fox phone chain must have been rattling. The foxes didn’t have far to look for new soggy chickens to fleece! Our happy or maybe crazy foursome went out in wind, rain and hail. Ten minutes after leaving point A to get to point B, we looked like dripping shaggy dogs. The foxes pounced-
“Growl, there are four good ones,” drooled the first driver we met. “The white haired guy looks old and about to faint. Errrr, and look at that chubby momma flagging me down. She can barely waddle in the rain. The other two, with hair plastered down, look ready to cry. Hee, hee hee. Yumm.”
It was pouring when we left Amsterdam’s Ann Frank Museum. My little party of four was soaked and starting to wrinkle. Sadly, I didn’t see the driver’s drool and flagged the fox’s cab. It stopped. We started to get in and told him the name of our hotel.
€30, he snickered.
What???!!! We had paid the cab to get to the museum only €17. He looked at me. I looked at him. Susi, my friend sputtered, that isn’t just. We all looked at the rain, and sunk into our seats. No tip was getting into his greedy little paws.
After that scurrilous experience you would think we would have learned something. Noooo! We took a fun, yet rain and hail filled, canal boat tour. Seriously, the rain and hail made me feel like a native. We were toasty dry on the boat and laughing at the sounds above us. Then we got off the boat. Merde. It took thirty seconds for the rain to fill our shoes, pockets, hair and drench our coats. We clambered up the metal stairs to the dock and headed for the street. Susi raced ahead and starting talking to a cab drive. We all piled in. The hotel was about eight blocks away. We could see it. If we were nimble youths we would have run. We aren’t nimble or young. We asked the driver if he was going to use the meter.
It’s raining – you want a ride – €30.
Not a sputter came out of our blue and freezing lips. We paid the €30. It must be the official rain on tourists price.
I noted the similarity between the fair and honest taxi drivers of Naples and the fair and honest taxi drivers of Amsterdam. The honest folks clicked on their meters. The price gougers didn’t. The honest ones played by all the rules. Once, the four of us attempted to jump the cab line to enter the second and bigger vehicle in the cue. The noble driver of the second car wouldn’t accept us as customers and sent us back to the first car. Whoever was first in line was to be our driver – no matter how tight a fit it was for four people.
The foxes are always ready to take a bite out of your wallet. In Amsterdam, the unmetered prices versus metered prices fluctuated between thirty to fifty percent more. Some times even the metered fairs varied coming and going too. How could that be, we would bellow. Then one of us would point out that we seemed to have driven in a circle two or three times.
Hmm, has that ever happened in Naples? Until we knew better, Jack and I had been fleeced from the Naples train station to our hotel in the center of town. A tourist, or person who looks like a tourist, needs to beware. Drivers have said things like, your suitcase is big – that costs more. There is a special charge for blah blah blah. Look at the posted price sheets. There should be posted fixed prices in every cab. Amsterdam didn’t seem to have prices posted. Actually, they didn’t have cab licenses posted in the cars either. One time, after we got in, the driver took the sign that said taxi off his roof and tossed in on the front seat floor. He didn’t use the meter either. He had lots of reasons.
One way streets. Construction. Rain. I can tell you about the city. Beh.
Reading that, I began to understand why some drivers took the longest routes. I also read that you didn’t have to tip the drivers – except maybe the change. Sadly, not wanting to be ugly tourists we asked our first driver what the tipping standards in the Netherlands were. He said 10-15% but not mandatory. Duhhhhh. Silly girl, next time I should reasearch before we go anywhere. But why should I have to? Why can’t every driver be like the fair and honest drivers? Sigh…
Happy traveling! Enjoy every voyage – even if it rains.
As soon as we got out of our pal Jeff’s car, the succulent scent of slowly cooked cinghiali, wild boar, wafted over us. At 8:20 PM, Jeff, Marianne, Jack and I headed down the hill toward Pontelandolfo’s covered market. Since nothing here has ever started on time – ever – we were surprised to hear music playing and see everything organized and ready to go early! Sponsored by La Squadra Cinghiale Lido, wild boar hunting club, this was the best organized food centered event that I have ever attended in our little village. No, I mean, the best organized event ever! The club members thought of everything – starting with arrows and signs letting you know just where the event was. For years, I have whined about the lack of audience or tourist considerations. This group rocks and understood how to help everyone enjoy the night.
We got down to the covered market and joined the line to enter. The line flowed like a fast moving stream. We paid our €10 each, got a ticket and were whisked along. (Signage let us know exactly what to expect.)
A tray was placed in front of us, first stop – wine! That glass of full bodied red would be perfect with cinghiale. (You could also buy a bottle.) The tray slid down the counter and a club member filled a bowl with cavateli smothered in sauce teaming with chunks of boar. He pushed the tray on to the next station. A local hard roll – wrapped in plastic so no sticky fingers touched it – landed on the tray. Next stop, a scoop of cinghiale slowly braised with onions and garlic filled a tray cutout. That must be enough for ten bucks right? Nope. The final cutout on the tray was for an enormous scoop of cinghiale that tasted like it had marinated in wine and was slowly cooked with tomatoes and herbs. OMG it was ottimo, the best.
My neighbors – Nunzia and Amadeo – waved us over and created spots for us. The place was already full and tables had reserved signs. I had a chance to look around and appreciate the transformation the market space had undergone. Cafeterias style tables were set up and covered in yellow table clothes. Lots of them had reserved signs. I was happy that Nunzia called us over. The club had fashioned the cassa – place you pay – assembly line and enclosed kitchen at one end of the enormous space. The other side of the open space was the realm of Gabrielle Palladino, Pontelandolfo’s true renaissance man. He is an accomplished author of numerous books, a singer and theatre professional. He is also works in city hall. As they chowed down, the music he played and sang entertained the crowd.
The food was “to die for” and the convivial surroundings made the evening a spectacular success. After we finished eating, we didn’t want to leave. But the long line of hungry people waiting to come in, made me realize we should let them turn the table. The efficient volunteers had been coming around and bussing tables around us. What shall we do? Grab a bottle of wine and dance the night away!
The hunting club is housed in the old village nursery school. They get it for very little rent or free but maintain it and pay all the bills. La Squadra Cinghiale Lido is an asset to the village. Wild boars are really destructive and seem to multiply like rabbits. They have even taken over streets in Rome. My fantasy is that the organization also form a cooperative and get licensed to hunt beyond the season and sell the meat. I would be the first in line. Grazie La Squadra Cinghiale Lido for a perfect Pontelandolfo evening.
Every year on September 12th, I remember where I was the day before. To deal with my own sadness, fears and sense of loss, I started writing a play. The play I wrote, Email: 9/12 was based on the emails I received from friends and family around the world. It tells the story of 9/11 from very personal perspectives. It hit me today that the youngest members of my extended family weren’t even born when the Twin Towers went down. I’ve shared my play with them. The play would be a wonderful component for any social studies or history class and a catalyst for discussion. It is published by Next Stage Press.
Fernando Fiat loves an adventure as much as any other Fiat. (Those of you who have read Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos have tracked his journeys.) The other morning I got up, looked at Fernando, shuddered and screamed “Where have you been?” The car was covered in sand! Did it take me on the quick trip to a beach on the Adriatic? Had it accompanied me to the neighboring village’s Beach Volleyball tournament? No! The 500 XL shuddered a bit and looked at me with “do you still love me“ headlight eyes.
Then it hit me – like a dune in the eye. Morocco! The high flying Sahara sands had covered my poor Fernando and he/she never got to enjoy Morocco. Seriously, there were no gifts on the back seat from open air bazaars, fabulous food containers were not perched on the back seat and make my tummy dance music was not playing on the radio. There was just sand. Years ago Mario, my cousin Carmella’s husband had explained the Moroccan connection. Being a testa dura, I had put the story away as folklore. Bo, it isn’t lore! Look at Fernando!
Everyone here knows about the sand. Everyone but me believes it comes from Morocco. I did what any baby boomer would do, I googled it. There are websites dedicated to the flow of the Sahara sand from Africa to Europe, the Caribbean and even the United States! Even NASA follows sand storms! NASA, seems to like the sand, and alerts us to this hurricane factoid – hurricanes hate flying sand! More sand means fewer hurricanes.
Dust plays a major role in Earth’s climate and biological systems. Since it is rich with iron and other minerals that plants and phytoplankton need, it provides natural fertilizer for ecosystems when it lands downwind. The airborne particles also absorb and reflect sunlight—altering the amount of solar energy reaching the planet’s surface. Dust can also promote or reduce cloud and storm formation, depending on other atmospheric conditions.
According to that same NASA article. Dust sounds like a good thing.
Living in Southern Italy I learn something new every day! Usually, it is about preserving a healthy harvest. I never thought that the unwashed Fernando Fiat could help me understand that sand, a simple grain, can have such a global impact.