Save Those Bottles for Sott’olio!

Spring sprang or is that sprung or had sprung ? Pontelandolfese were springing over hill and dale hunting for spring vegetables. The favorite being wild asparagi! Thin, supple, dancing in the breeze – just like my fantasy of me – these delicious wild asparagus are prized among the gatherers. When I spy a smiling forager, I know that they have filled their baskets with asparagus. Some people just seem to know where to look.

I’ve spotted pokey amounts along the side of the road. Local wisdom has it that you shouldn’t pick stuff close to the roads – unless you’re starving. Makes sense to me – exhaust fumes cough, cough – have coated the wild sprigs. Real gatherers head for the hills. Fresh air, healthy hike and yummy finds make those a great experience.

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Did I go? Seriously? It sounds lovely but I had to wash my hair. Actually, having had Lyme Disese twice, I am afraid of ticks and don’t forage in tick land. The other reason I didn’t go was simply, my lovely neighbors and friends fear that since I am always off doing something, Jack will starve. If baskets of greens aren’t dropped near my door, they will find poor Jack on the veranda writhing with hunger. I love this myth!

My friend Nunzia appeared with not only a basket of wild asparagus picked by her charming husband, Amedeo, but also some in bottles covered in oil – sott’olio. Canning to me sounds complicated. I am afraid that I will kill people with tasty botulism or something equally gruesome. What everyone does here is not really canning but oiling. WHAT. Sounds like a spa gone wrong. This is so easy and so right that even I can do it. Folks in Pontelandolfo jar eggplant, asparagus, artichokes, sun dried zucchine and more sott’olio. I asked a couple of people to tell me how they do it. Everyone starts with uber fresh vegetables.  I mean picked today or last night.  All are washed, cleaned and chopped into little pieces. After talking to my friends and tasting what they jar, I realized there seems to be the only a few differences in the methods.

Thank you Nunzia for the jar of asparagus! Jack scoffed them down – he will not starve this week. Here is how she does it.  This technique can be used for a variety of produce including artichokes, eggplant and zucchini.  After you have prepped the asparagus, pour one liter of vinegar, half liter of water and a teaspoon of salt into a big pot.  Bring it to a boil and dump in the asparagus. Cook them for a scant 4 or 5 minutes. Drain them and them lay them out on a clean dishtowel and thoroughly dry them.  When they are dry put them in your recycled but clean jars. Leave a wee bit of room at the top.  Cover them completely with olive oil.  Then bang the jar – don’t break it – so that the vegetables move and mush down a bit.  Or with a clean fork push them down.  Make sure they are all totally covered in olive oil.  Then put the clean lid back on and put them in the cupboard until you need them.

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Cousin Carmella is my go to person for cooking questions.  She is one of the home cooks that the culinary adventurers for our September 7 – 14 2019 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo will get to cook, laugh and eat with.  Her sott’olio method for asparagus was a little different from Nunzia’s.  The prep is the same.  In a big pot bring to a boil two parts water and two parts vinegar with enough added salt to your taste.  When it is boiling, add the asparagus and push them down to the bottom.  They will rise up to the top.  When they do push them down to the bottom again.  Do this three times and drain them in a colander.  When they are cool, put them in a bowl and toss them with olive oil.  Next, put them in the jars and push them down lightly before covering them with olive oil.  Carmella’s husband Mario forages for mushrooms and she does the same process for them.  She noted that mushroom and asparagus cook in just a few minutes.  Other types of vegetables need to boil longer.  She feels that the vinegar is a better conservation method than using wine.  Wine make give it a better taste but you have to eat the items sooner

Besides the fact that we buy wine by the  five liter jug, you may be wondering why I asked her about using wine in the process.  Another great cook and lover of eating out in new restaurants with me, is my pharmacist pal, Adele.  One day she brought over a jar of artichoke hearts sott’olio.  Ha! She thought Jack would add them to his lunch time salad.  I ate every last one, they were delicious.  When the baby artichokes are plentiful in the market, she buys a bunch to put away and use in future dishes.  She had us over for her homemade ravioli stuffed with artichokes and we both loved them. Her technique for sott’olio is a different. Remember she makes a huge batch!  The first thing I noticed is that she strips away virtually all of the outer part of the artichoke and is left with the small center.  Prep for artichokes includes soaking them in water an lemon for at least an hour.  This is too keep them looking pale green and lovely. After the lemon soak, place each one upside down on a clean dish towel to drain. Her canning formula mixes 1 liter of vinegar with 1 liter of white wine and a half liter of water.  She tosses in some salt and brings it to a boil. When the liquid begins to boil again, time the cooking.  Boil the artichokes for only 5 minutes and using an colander promptly drain them.  Then put each one upside down on a clean dishtowel so that all of the liquid drains out.  Dry them too.  When they are completely cold put them in clean, sterilized glass jars and cover them with – not olive – sunflower seed oil!  Adele uses sunflower seed oil which makes her process really different.  She too uses the same process for different vegetables but alters the time.

I have been so fortunate to have met people who want to feed me.  All of the vegetables I have tasted processed like this have been a little crunchy, tangy and wonderful.  Try it this summer and let me know how it works out for you!

SPECIAL COOKING IN THE KITCHENS OF PONTELANDOLFO DEAL ALERT!!!!

We have room for two more culinary adventurers for our  September 7 – 14, 2019 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo session.  I want to see the session filled so I am doing something we have never done – HAVING A SALE! Send me an e-mail ASAP to be one of the two and receive a delightful discount!  HOW DELIGHTFUL?  10% OFF DELIGHTFUL! THAT IS A €€€€ SAVING! Contact me to find out just how great it is.

Info@nonnasmulberrytree.com. Do it today and have the cooking time of your life this fall. 

Ci vediamo!

 

Vivaldi Rocks Provincial Capital

Il Concerto Barocco in Teatro San Vittorino was an incredible night of classical music! We discovered the concert on FaceBook! The social media giant decided that I must like Baroque music and the concert event notice kept popping up. We had no idea where in Benevento we would find Teatro San Vittorino. Actually, Sygic our GPS had no idea either. We got close and did the Midge thing – I asked a couple of artsy looking girls if they knew where the theatre was. They shrugged and said follow us. We wisely did.

Thank you FaceBook

Teatro San Vittorino is an acoustically wonderful small performance space. It was once part of the Convent of San Vittorino. The Convent is now home to the Università Degli Studi  Del Sannio. The theatre is tucked in a back alley off a gorgeous pedestrian boulevard. Without our tour guides, we never would have found it. Once inside, I marveled at the architecture. Jack marveled at the padded living roomesq chair seating.

Il Concerto Barocco was a production of the Conservatorio Statale di Musica Nicola Sala in Benevento. We had previously heard a full orchestra concert composed of the conservatory’s faculty and students and knew this event would be a musical marvel. Every time I see world class musical students perform, I think of my days teaching arts administration on the Westminster Choir College Campus in Princeton. Those students lived and breathed their art. The young Italian men and sadly only one woman we heard play works by Vivaldi, Corelli, Telemann and Sammartini had that same passion and talent.

The Orchestra da Camera del Conservatorio di Benevento is under the direction of violinist Giorgio Sasso. The maestro was one of the two faculty members playing with the small ensemble. His violin was a window into his soul. The music flowed. Cembalo player – harpsichordist – Antonio Varriano’s fingers flew over the harpsichord’s double decker keys.

The Vivaldi rock star was accomplished flautist, Tommaso Rossi, playing the flauto dolce in Vivaldi’s Concerto in do minore RV 441 per Flauto Dolce, archi e continuo – Recorder Concert in C minor. I had to google “flauto dolce” to discover it was a recorder. Before he even began, the auditorium gave him a rousing round of applause. He was not only handsome as hell but a magical musician. Every elementary school student who plays the plastic recorder should see Rossi play the elegant wooden real thing. We got to hear him also in a piece by Sammartini. WOW!

Enough about the elders of the orchestra. Each one of the eight student musicians did a stellar job. The students rotated in and out of the orchestra based on the piece. Sasso, during applause, would pull featured students forward to have their moment. Thank you Orchestra da Camera del Conservatorio di Benevento for another rockin’ night in the provincial capital of Benevento.

We often get asked, “just what do you do in a small Southern Italian village?” I usually snarkily reply, “live.” Then Jack gives me that look and I talk about how there is culture everywhere we look, the cost of living is low and Europe is at our feet. We don’t have to travel far from Pontelandolfo to hear world class music, visit museums, or eat at Japit, the best sushi restaurant anywhere – 20 minutes to Benevento. After the concert we went out for dinner – Chinese. Yes, we can eat in restaurants that feature fare that is not pasta. Naples is an hour and 15 minute train ride away. This gorgeous port city is rich with museums, theater, opera, dance and incredible architecture. You get my drift? We live in a bucolic village with access to the culture we love. Yup, I’m glad we discovered Teatro San Vittorino in Benevento – yet another reason to live in Pontelandolfo.

Visit Pontelandolfo and you will see what I mean! It is not too late to join us for the September 2019 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo culinary adventure. Message Me!

 
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7 Events for 7 Decades

What am I freakin’ birthday crazy? When I turned sixty, I tried to accomplish 60 things in one year – including finding old boyfriends. Sigh… I failed. As I recall, I only accomplished about 35 things on my original list. For 70 great years of living, I figured it would be a no brainer to create over the span of 7 days 7 super memorable activities. I announced my idea to my friends on both sides of the Atlantic. Everyone was excited and so was I. No one said I was pazzo – although there were a few raised eyebrows.

BOINGGGGGGG – BOINGGGGG – BAANNNGGG – Then it hit me. Seven events in one week? How was I going to produce seven events in a Southern Italian village – one for each decade of my existence? Seven events communicated with my totally non-intelligible Italian. Taking a breath, I remembered that I love living in the little village of Pontelandolfo and wanted to share the things I love with the people I love. Plus between body language and my limited vocabulary, I can be understood – most times. Easy Peasy! I’ve produced lots of theater and community wide events – albeit in a country where I speak the language well. This was going to be fun. I mean who wouldn’t love the things I love? Here is the list – 1. Catered British Afternoon Tea complete with hats. Lemon curd anyone? 2. Garden Cocktail Party featuring a harpist and a cool converted mini truck bar. One Campari spritz please. 3. A professional theatrical production by a great company. Wine liberally served. 4. Sfogliatelle and Mimosa Breakfast – really who wouldn’t rush to that. 5. Fancy dress up dinner for my 22 best friends at my favorite seafood restaurant. 6. Wizard of Oz film and sing-a-long in English for school kids assisted by costumed characters. 7. Dancing Friday Night Away at Bar George’s Revolution. After I made the list of what I wanted to do and wrote my arts administrationesq plan, the angst started.

70? Who Me?

Who would I invite? Would people hate me for inviting them to one event and not the other? If I forgot someone, how would I show my face in the Piazza again? Damn, the angst was zapping me. This May I was 70 and I wanted to party like there was no tomorrow. A weeklong party designed to leave me hugging my mattress the moment it was over. I needed to un-angst my angst. Luckily, I had a posse. My Pontelandolfo team of sisters Rossella and Annarita, neighbor Nicola and pal Melissa kept me sane by reminding me Questa è litalia. The land of the Bella Figura and a slower paced place than I’m used to. They also know just about everyone I needed to find to make this weeklong festa happen. My off-shore pals Janet and George kept reminding me that I knew how to do this stuff – plus they did too. My friend Marie told me to call when I felt crazy. The ever-smiling Elena became my major duomo. The angst never really vanished – how could it I’m a Jersey girl – but everything fell into place and the week was a smash.

Those of you who are imagining how much a week of debauchery must cost and that I must be a trust fund baby – BZZZT. WRONG. No trust fund here or sugar daddy – though I am open to the idea. The cost of living in Pontelandolfo makes doing a party like this possible. You too can stage one week of incredible artsy stuff here in Pontelandolfo and still have plane fare back to the USA. Not only was the cost for everything I did low, the professionalism of each of the folks I contracted was incredibly high. Low cost. High Quality. This is just one of the reasons I love where we live. Remember, a cappuccino here is less than $1.00 and tastes a hell of a lot better than one from Starbucks. The first thing that smacked me in my planning ahead head, was that all the vendors told me a. not to worry about the price and b. didn’t require a deposit and c. would trust me to pay them whenever… WHAT??? If I don’t know what the gorgeous tea sandwiches, pastries and scones cost how do I send someone to pick them up?? Midge, breathe, this is Pontelandolfo everyone trusts you to pay them later. Being Midge, I made sure I had cash to pay everyone and then was astounded at how little everything cost. (Don’t ask cause I ain’t telling – this is a cash society.)

Some of the things I wanted to do were a wee bit tricky to pull off without advance planning. I mean, where would I buy a fascinator to wear to the formal afternoon tea? Worse, where would I get 4 to 8 teapots??? Answer – Mercatino Usato. In Benevento, there is this great place that sells used stuff. My teapots cost less than the tea – average $4 each and they are gorgeous. The fascinator and hats flew over from New Jersey. My good pal, Orietta, brought a box of tea from London and the ever creative Jack found interesting teas on Amazon.it.

Prosecco, tea, and funky hats!

Getting a karaoke version of the Wizard of OZ seemed easy -Amazon.it of course. Panic attack – Gennaro, my ace Tech Director, noted that the CD was Blue Ray and no-one had one of those players. But being the ACE TD, he figured it out and somehow loaded it onto something and projected it for the kids of all ages who sang and danced to my favorite movie. Here my pals and I are stopping traffic.

Hmmm, how do I present a professional theatre company in a village with no theater? Job it all in! My East Coast USA peeps know how much it costs to bring in lights, sound, set the space and get it all to happen on time. Imagine a price that is so incredible that normal folks like you and me can afford to bring top shelf theater to our home towns. I am probably boring you with all this talk about how cheap it is to live here. You have heard it all before – wise up – come hang out here too! Let me think – what have I missed??

My incredible dinner party, complete with the Midge menu, had everyone opening their belts and groaning. Sesto Senso, a great seafood restaurant, is used to “putting on the Ritz” for folks who want things a little fancy schmanzy. The memory cake was made by a local baker – you can’t tell but it was a yellow brick road with me prancing all over it. Yikes, in retrospect this was incredibly egocentric. But then, I am 70! Finally, I just remembered that I also scheduled a night of dancing so the we could dance off all the pounds from everything else we did. Sadly, I also ordered the dripping cheese man –

Great cheese melted over coals onto toasted bread and enhanced with truffles!

Happy birthday to me! Happy Birthday to you! The folks who flew in for my birthday – Jan and Marie from Ecuador, George from Holland, Karen and Al from Canada and Janet from New Jersey – I applaud you for putting up with me for all these years and living through the 7 days of Midge. Pontelandolfese – I applaud you for putting up with me now! Thank you to everyone who helped me make this the best birthday party ever! Anyone want to stage an event in a magical place in Southern Italy? Call me and let us make the magic happen for you.

PS. This blog explains why I haven’t written anything for a month!

PPS. We still have 2 spots left for the September Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo! Message me ASAP. Visit Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo.

The Pizzagaina Caper

Dum da dum dum. Dum da dum dum. (Opening music to a Bond film).

The first one turned up Friday morning. Could its humble crust and crescent shape hide a nefarious role? It was warm to the touch – ah ha! Warm made it even more inviting.  Do we dare cut it open and see what the flaky crust contains?

Looks safe enough – is that a quiche like filling?  I decide to investigate the mysterious arrival of unrequested pizzagaina further and head over to ace cook and my bestie cugina, Carmela Fusco’s house. Was bringing pizzagaina to a pals house a holiday custom?  Do they just magically appear?  As I climbed the steps, this incredible odor wafted down.  I picked up the pace and raced up the stairs.  From the exercise or the thought of tasting whatever food was causing that heavenly scent, my tongue was hanging out of my mouth.  I pushed open the door.

Permesso, I bellowed practically pushing Carmela aside before she could say, avanti.

There on her kitchen table were a stack of the crescents, hot from the oven and screaming to be eaten. 

I lunged for one.  She smacked my hand and explained, it was Good Friday, the day everyone makes the traditional Easter stuffed pastry, pizzagaina. But since they contain meat no one may eat them. 

What???  I thought the Catholic Church said it was OK to eat meat on Friday. Carmela looked at me and said, questo è il venerdì Santo.  Holy Friday, hmmm.  Diverting my attention from the great look and smell of the pastries, I asked how she made them.  She looked at me sternly and told me she made them the same way her grandmother made them and her grandmother wouldn’t let anyone eat them on Good Friday either.

The heart of the crust was not the flour – in today’s case whole wheat flour.  Nor was it the eggs, wee bit of salt and pepper.  The way to get a crunchy flakey crust is too make sure you have a pal who just butchered one of their hogs and gives you fresh lard. (Growing up in Flagtown my mom and nonna swore by lard too.) . Carmela had more than a liter of lard.  I could just imagine all the great crusts she would be making and hoped I’d get invited.

 

Like most of the great cooks in Pontelandolfo, Carmela doesn’t measure. She just knows how much flour, lard, egg, salt and pepper will work well together. The creamy filling I saw oozing out of the top of one of the pastries was egg, diced dried sausage (pepperoni), parmesan cheese and a local aged – stagionato – cheese. She said everyone made them the same way – with a wee bit of personalization. I had a deja vu moment when she told me her secret ingredient was an addition of a little cooked white rice. Shazaam, my Aunt Julie’s had added rice too. One of Carmela’s neighbors adds raisons another cooked fresh sausage.

Now, I am thinking quiche and runny egg so I demanded further information and asked how she got the egg goo not to run all over the table. By then her daughter, Annarita, had arrived and they both looked at me like I was stupider than a chicken. Actually, I think one of might have asked me if I was stupider than a chicken. You beat the eggs, add the diced sausage and then add so much cheese that you get a super thick filling that you can spread. OOOOHHHHH! Circles of dough are rolled. The filling is spread on half the circle – leaving about an inch margin. Then the unfilled half is folded over and the crescent is sealed by pinching the edges together.

Now can we taste one? I asked again with a winsome smile on my face. NO! they both shouted at me. If Jesus could suffer on the cross, we can spend one day without meat! With that they wrapped one up for me to take home and sent me out the door.

Wait, they wrapped one up for me to take home! It was still warm. The odor was so strong I wanted to shove the whole thing in my mouth. But I didn’t. I drove home. Only to find two more pizzagaina on my door step. Easter gifts from neighbors. Apparently, it is a custom. This is torture. I now have a counter full of delicious things that I am not allowed to eat! Then I got it! It was an evil plot to torture me and get the enticing things out of other people’s homes! Errrrrgggg. After pouring a finger of scotch, I started to rethink this caper. Was it really nefarious? Or was it an Easter lesson learned. I finally got it. Lesson learned and remembered.

Ci vediamo a presto! Buona Pasqua!

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Carmela is one of the ace cooks you can visit and learn from. There are still 2 spots left in the September 7-14 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo session.

Click here for more information! Or email info@nonnasmulberrytree.com

Easter Memories

I Miss the Crowded Table.

What is it about holidays that makes me leap back decades in time? Four year old Midge races around her grandma’s kitchen until big hands pick her up and plop her on top of a sears catalogue on a chair. Aunt Julie is at Nonna’s stuffing a pie crust with rice, chopped up dried sausage, pepperoni, other pork parts, cheese and a bowl of scrambled eggs. Aunt Cat sits rolling mountains of meatballs. Nonna, grandma, punching a bowl of dough down tells me to help with the meatballs. Uncle Sal grins from ear to ear as he wanders around the kitchen holding a recently cleaned chicken by the feet. Little girl me sitting and getting meatball yuck between my little fingers feels loved, safe and happy. My meatballs have a particularly odd shape – quite artistic. I knew that a bunch of people would be coming, the kitchen table would be made bigger and anything we could sit on would be dragged into the room. All the food piled in the middle of the table will disappear in a nano second and the talking, laughing and shouting will roar out into the street. Many Easters later, Jack and I would be living in that old Flagtown farm house. On Easter I wanted to reclaim those feelings. Truthfully, ever Sunday I wanted to be back in that kitchen. I still wanted to be surrounded by – well everyone. To make that happen, what does the woman with the organizer gene do every Easter until the once wee ones rolled their now adult eyes —

Family and Friends Like Family Annually Raced for Eggs.

The tykes who gathered eggs now have babies of their own. Time marches on and yet, somedays I actually feel myself back in the white farm house. Last week, the olive branches that were being hung all over Pontelandolfo reminded me that it would soon be Palm Sunday. That triggered a visceral need to reminisce and question myself. Why did Aunt Julie put rice in that egg and meat pie? She called it pizzagaina – gain a million pounds when you eat it. The pizzagaina I find in Pontelandolfo doesn’t have rice. It is kind of a quiche with a pie crust top. Pastiera di grano – a sweet ricotta, wheat berries and dried fruit pie delish dish – kind of looks like it has rice. Then it hit me! Zap! Aunt Julie used the rice to stretch the filling. My elders lived through the depression and when I was a child were still on the lower end of the financial spectrum. They taught us to use every piece of every animal, mineral or vegetable. Then again Aunt Julie was Sicilian. Maybe where she grew up the savory pie was made with wheat berries and in Somerset County NJ in the 1950s you weren’t going to find them. Sadly, I should have asked the question sooner.

It is spring in Pontelandolfo and the lambs, baby bunnies and baby goats are dashing about happily. Soon, lots of folks in the village will be happily eating them. As a kid in Flagtown, I don’t ever remember eating lamb or goat for Easter or any day. I think it was because it would have made Aunt Cat go ballistic. She often told the story of her parents raising goats. Actually, some Flagtownians called the Guerrera subsistence farm “Goat Patch.” Piccola Caterina loved those goats. They would follow her about, play tag and give her big kid hugs. Every year just before Easter Italians from the “big city” – you know places like Patterson, Jersey City or Newark – would come to Flagtown and buy their Easter meat. As soon as the cars pulled up the baby goats started to panic. Aunt Cat would get as far away as she could but said she still heard the cries that every spring broke her heart. She swore that those kids knew their time was up and cried all the way to the back of the barn. She hoped those city people choked on their dinner. So no goat meat for us.

Easter Sunday, mom would have always figured out a way to get us new hats and outfits. We went to the South Branch Reformed Church. WHOA you weren’t Catholic?? Shhhh, don’t tell anyone. My grandfather caught a Catholic Priest flirting with my nonna and wooooosssshhh the Catholic Church became off limits. Besides, the South Branch Reformed Church was right down the road in the little village of South Branch. The village sat on the banks of the South Branch of the Raritan River and way back then still had the homes of famous folks like opera singer Anna Case, New Jersey Governor Peter Dumont Vroom and Diamond Jim Brady. For me it was a metropolis – there was an apartment house from the 1800s, Amy’s store and Post Office and lots of cute farm boys who came to buy soda or go to church. I still remember Sunday school, Easter Dawn Services and sitting on the front steps of the church because my mother forgot to pick me up. Sadly, the state was going to dam the river to build a reservoir so they condemned houses, Amy’s store and more. They never built the reservoir – errrrrg. Just f&*^ed up the area. Hmm, perhaps I should stop thinking about yesterday and look out the window at the Sannio Hills and start telling you all about the Easter Traditions in Pontelandolfo. I will – next week. I need to spend a few more moments in the past.

Buona Pasqua from the Guerrera Girls.
Ci Vediamo

It is not too late to plan your September 7 – 14th Trip to Pontelandolfo! We still have 2 spots open for the incredible culinary and cultural experience – COOKING IN THE KITCHENS OF PONTELANDOLFO!

Good Eats at Rome Train Station

Roma Stazione Termini has always been a drudge for me. Drag the suitcases, muscle through the crowds, strain to see what track we needed and if we were hungry, tired and waiting a while, going a bit outside the station to a steak house. (There is a wooden cow that invites you in and the beef is actually good.) Plus there are chairs! Now Roma Termini has a new place to sit, people watch and eat –Il Mercato Centrale Roma.  

No Kids With Markers – Actual Signage

Schlepping our suitcases down the right side of the station – through the department stores and shops – we found the entrance to Il Mercato.
Actually, having to wade through cramped shops isn’t the most comfortable approach to Il Mercato. Leaving the station and walking outside around the block would have been easier. When we saw the funky sign, we knew we were in for a treat. Giggles bubbled up and we entered the hall.

WOW! Being there at an off peak eating time, we were able to see the space in all of its utilitarian grandeur. There is a lot to see – seventeen food stalls, one restaurant, one pizzeria, one beer vendor and one large coffee bar. The restaurant, La Tavola, is designed for those who don’t want to wander around. It can be found one level up from the ground floor. Also, there is additional seating on the third level. (Note – what we would call the first floor is Piano Terra, second – Primo Piano, – third – Second Piano.) It was fun strolling past the stalls tempting us with interesting things to eat, cook with or grab for gifts. Even better was sniffing all of the great scents of Italian home style cooking. We grabbed two seats ordered drinks from the friendly cameriere, Jack sat with the luggage and I zapped from stall to stall taking it all in.

Love the scribble logo that is everywhere.

I roamed trying to decide what to eat first – we had three hours. Yup, it is one giant food court. Yup, it looks like a food court in a high end mall or in Grand Central Station NYC. Yup, everything we tried tasted pretty good. Unlike the tourist restaurants in places like Florence or Rome or Venice – the quality wasn’t dumbed down for out of towners.

Being ace detectives we uncovered an amazing truth as to why it didn’t seem dumbed down for tourists – Italians seemed to be the principal patrons! We saw folks coming in off the street for a quick lunch. Folks opening briefcases, grabbing food and having impromptu meetings. And yes, we did see people like us with suitcases. Even though we had been warned by Pontelandolfese that the place was for tourists only, our observation led us to disagree. First of all, they didn’t try to gouge us with super inflated prices. It is Rome so prices were higher than our village, however, the prices were better than we have found in Manhattan. Since we had a few hours to kill we each started with an obscenely large cappuccino – the four cup cappuccissimo cost €7 and took us about 45 minutes to drink. It was a ridiculous huge accompaniment for our €1.20 cream filled brioche. After walking that off, we rallied for lunch. I jotted down some prices. A filling plate of Pasta Carbonara €8, glass of white wine €5, and a small bottle of water €1.50. Have I mentioned they also had Free wifi for everyone? Have I mentioned gelato?

During the lunch crush, it was a really a crush, we didn’t feel comfortable hogging the seats. Too many folks needed a place to plop and eat. Having hoarded seats for about two hours, we felt guilty. When our lunch plates were empty, we gave up our chairs and ventured back to the main part of the station. This September when we head back home from studying Italian in Sardegna, we will drag our sand filled suitcases through the station and return!

Ci vediamo! Perhaps we will see you soon in Sardegna!

PS – Message me at info@nonnasmulberrytree.com and check out the cool opportunity to study Italian in Alghero, Sardegna! €1500 for two full weeks of classes, cultural activities, social events and HOUSING! Cheap and wonderful. September 28 – October 12 at Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera.

Where Have All the People Gone?

Robotic Terminal C – Newark Airport

What? What is going on here??? We walked towards our gate in Newark Airport’s Terminal C – a terminal we never use – and I gasped. Tablets* to the right of me. Tablets to the left of me. Tablets on tables. Tablets at work stations. It had already pissed me off that United had us check in on a tablet. I of course asked for a person and eyes were rolled. Really, a person will be weighing and checking in my suitcase. Couldn’t the same person also check me in, scan my passport and talk to me? Tablets were everywhere – in every nook and cranny. Ohmmm – let us all stare at and pay homage to a silent tablet. Talk? Why would anyone bother to talk? Giggle about the characters in the queue with the woman standing next to you. Chat with a stranger about places unknown. Engage in conversation. Who would want to do that? I would. That’s who – ME!

Why have I not noticed this dehumanization of travel before? I am sure the tablet phenomena did not just happen overnight. How useful these little lonely centers are. One can order food – will that soon be delivered by a robot? Or perhaps play a solitary game. Log on and check what ever needs checking. Where the frig are we – at a freaking chain restaurant with fewer and fewer wait staff and consistency so boring that I cringe? Yup, just what our culture needs, robotic waiting areas, another way to ignore each other. There was a time when young people were sent off to do a European tour as a way to stretch their horizons. Letters of introduction were carried to far away places and young people would gulp, knock on a door, hand over the letter and hope that someone would welcome them. A conversation would ensue. Of course, all wore morning coats and top hats but hey the idea was a good one.

I’m a cultural dinosaur. If a store no longer has a cashier for me to chat with and expects me to self-checkout, I leave the stuff and go somewhere else. I am perfectly capable of using the scanner and sticking my credit card in the correct slot. I just won’t do it. Part of the joy of traveling, shopping, exploring are the people I meet. People are what make a new country interesting. Conversations are the cultural connection. Don’t you dare tell me I can text, e-mail, tweet or otherwise maintain a wi-fi connection. That is not a connection. It is a wi-fi wall between myself and other people. No one knows if I am being smarmy, sarcastic, ironic or honest. Real connection is seeing the smile, hearing the laughter, seeing the sadness in the other person’s eyes or getting pissed off at the tone of voice. Voice – I want to hear the voices.

When we got to where we were going, I looked around the very small international airport and sighed. Here too were the bolted down tablets – not as many – but scattered about encouraging isolation. If you are in an airport and see a woman in her second, hmm or is it third, act with tears slowly dripping down her cheeks staring at the robotic world. Go and talk to her. It will be me.

Ci vediamo.

*Full disclosure – I have had an iPad tablet for years and years. I love them and use one often for writing, reading, researching etc. I use them when I am not in a restaurant, not at the dinner table with pals, not in a social setting and not when I can strike up a great conversation with a stranger.

Check out our new permanent page – Nonna’s Events! There you can find out about all the cool stuff we are involved in like Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo or language classes at Pintadera in Sardinia.

An Experiment with 4 Suitcases

How can we possibly need all those suitcases??

What were we thinking dragging four – count them – four empty suitcases back to the USA? Well not exactly four empty suitcases. Jack has filled one to the brim. I leave clothes on both continents and am happy to schlepp nothing.  Why empty suitcases?  So that I can fill them with household goods we want to bring to our place in Pontelandolfo.

We have been flying Lufthansa which gets our full “going to Italy” suitcases to Naples where our best bud, Nicola picks us up. No suitcase angst. Jack, my frugal husband, discovered that premium seats on Norwegian Air from Newark, NJ was so much cheaper than Lufthansa.  Downside – you land in Rome with four full suitcases.  Upside –   the seats lie flat and you can sleep. Downside – you pay to stay in a hotel for a night or two.  Upside – it is Rome.  Downside – you have four freakin’ full suitcases!

When we landed in Rome with our four incredibly full and heavy suitcases – yes, you heard a WHINE –  the hotel’s driver picked us up and carried most of the bags. Then we used Mailbox Express to send half the bags to Pontelandolfo. We still had to drag two suitcases and computer bags on the train. Not fun. Oddio! I freakin’ hate it.

It was time to head back to New Jersey for a wedding – via Rome – with the same, albeit empty, four suitcases. I scoured for a car service – even a Bla Bla car – to get us and all our shit to Roma Fiumicino. The ever brilliant, Pasquale and Rossella, provided me with bus information. Flix Bus was cheap but took ten hours and left way too early in the morning.  Azienda Trasporti Molisana, ATM, had a bus that left from Boiano and only took the same three hours it would take in a car.  Hmm, I decided we would investigate.

I was telling my ex-pat pal in Ecuador, Marie, about my experimenting with bus transportation.  She promptly said, “ah, an experiment with four suitcases.”  Thanks Marie for the title!  Thanks for also reminding me that in Ecuador you have been using the buses forever.

An Experiment with 4 suitcases – 

ATM really had a comprehensive schedule.  But before I would investigate price, I sent a few e-mails to info@atm-molise.it.  (Dear proficient speakers of Italian – ignore my linguistic flaws. Non- Italian speakers will think I’m brilliant.)  Gulp, could I really drag 4 suitcases plus computer bags on the bus.  ATM responded immediately. (Damn, that impressed me.)

Me: Quante valigie possono portare ogni passeggero?  Grazie.

ATM: Quante ha bisogno di portarne? (I could see ATM rolling his/her eyes. How many do I need to carry – indeed!)

Me: Due (2) per me & due (2) per il mio marito.

ATM: Non c’è problema, buon viaggio. (Now ATM is laughing out loud and can’t wait to see us drag the suitcases down the street to the bus.)

Then I remembered a really important question.

Me: Dov’è ferma il pulmino nel Via Cavadini Boiano? The street is a long one.  How would we find the stop?

ATM: Davanti al vivaio La Ginestra, c’è il palo con l’indicazione ATM. Hmm near a nursery and there is a sign – sure there is a sign NOT.  This is Italy.

I moved on to the next step in the grand experiment and for €28.35 I booked two seats on the 9:55 AM ATM bus from Via Cavadini in Bojano (Boiano) to Fiumicino.  Jack and I often go to Boiano and decided we would do a trial run to find the alleged bus stop.  Shazaam – there was a clearly marked ATM sign right where they said it would be.  We were psyched.  This will be easy-peasy.

Trying to make the trip a wee bit easier I stuffed the duffle bag Jack usually packs into an oversized suitcase.  Great!  Now we are down to three suitcases, two computer bags and a purse.  What?  Jack promptly took his favorite blankee, I mean duffle bag out of the larger suitcase.  We are back up to four.  I whined again.  Jack then jammed, kicked and bullied a slightly smaller empty suitcase into the oversized one.  Four suitcases – pulling three and pocketing another. 

Rossella and Pasquale drove us to Boiano.  It had snowed.  The mountains looked fabulous.  The bus stop – full of snow.  How do you drag suitcases in the snow?  The bus arrived on time and stopped in the street.  Smart move.  We pulled the suitcases down the street and tossed them in the under-carriage storage bin.  The bus was modern and the seats comfortable.  The glass roof and wide windows provided breathtaking mountain views.  They also eliminated any large overhead storage.  My computer bag nested under my legs.

Happy Bus Riders!

After about an hour, I noticed the Lavazza Caffè maker ready to serve us and that there wasn’t a bathroom.  Suddenly, I had to pee.  Snow capped mountains zipped by.  I had to pee. I refused to think about peeing.  Olive groves, flocks of sheep and goats, plains prepped for spring plantings – those views and those thoughts filled my head. So did the many ways one could ask for a bathroom – C’è un bagno?  Dov’è il bagno? La toilette??  We arrived at Roma Stazione Tiburtina.  Our bags came out of the bottom of the bus and we were told to wait at the same place for the bus to Fiumicino.  I used my now longer list of Italian bathroom phrases and found the bathroom.  Paid the 50 cents to enter. Waited for a stall. Opened the door and found a marble hole in the floor with foot pads.  NOOOOOO!  I had on pantyhose.  That means taking off the pantyhose and putting my bare feet – noooooo!  I sucked it up and went back to get the bus to Fiumicino.  I could hold it another 40 minutes.  I am a strong woman.

The bus arrived and they loaded our luggage underneath, checked our tickets and off we went.  The wi-fi worked on this bus – it hadn’t on the first one.  It was a double decker bus and we chose the easy to get to bottom level.  We each took two seats and put our computer bags on one.  Most people went upstairs for the better views. Soon we arrived at Fiumicino’s international terminal.  They helped us with our bags and off we went to check in.  (Yes, I immediately found a bathroom.)

The bus company was easy to work with, ran on time, and was comfortable.  We have now discovered yet another way and another reason to get to Pontelandolfo!

Ci  vediamo!

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