Capital One Trials…

 

Since March 2011, Capital One has been our go-to credit card.  We signed up with Capital One because it was such a great international travel card.  The commercials were true you could use the points earned anytime, anywhere.  We dumped American Express which had become a cumbersome nightmare – at the time fewer and fewer places would except it.  I called Capital One today to get our history – we consistently pay the bill on time and in full.  We are what you would call a good risk.  Then why have our proverbial balls been busted for the last few months?  Why has it been impossible to use the card for online transactions here in Italy – unless it is for Amazon or another Giant corporation?  They know we are in Italy.  It is in their data base. A little back story might be the reason –

Information from Capital One on the Cyber Incident

Updated 9:30 PM ET, Sun Aug 4, 2019

What happened

On July 19, 2019, we determined that an outside individual gained unauthorized access and obtained certain types of personal information about Capital One credit card customers and individuals who had applied for our credit card products.

What we’ve done

Capital One immediately fixed the issue and promptly began working with federal law enforcement. The person responsible was arrested. Based on our analysis to date, we believe it is unlikely that the information was used for fraud or disseminated by this individual. However, we will continue to investigate. Safeguarding information is essential to our mission and our role as a financial institution. We have invested heavily in cybersecurity and will continue to do so. We will incorporate the learnings from this incident to further strengthen our cyber defenses.

https://www.capitalone.com/facts2019/

It seems that while strengthening their cyber defenses they are getting more and more cautious about who charges what where.  Now that is not a bad thing. As a matter of fact over the years I have appreciated and loved their fraud alerts and caution approving charges we had made in strange non USA places.  This is a really great thing.  The bad thing is now they have changed their protocol and we can’t prove who we are or that we are making the charge unless they send a text to our NJ cell phone.  Since we live in Italy half the year, the NJ SIM card is not in the phone or active.  They won’t send a text to a European number.  They won’t or can’t send a text to our NJ number that is a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) number.   They won’t let us call to get the magic one time code to complete an online transaction.  They won’t send the magic code to our e-mail.  They ONLY thing they will do is send a text to an out of service USA number.  In other words, as long as we are in Europe we can’t consistently use the credit card.

Historically, when a charge was held because they were concerned, I would call customer service and the charge would be immediately processed.  There were times they sent an e-mail about a charge Jack made that seemed unusual with a link to approve the charge.  Simple and always great customer service.  Actually, they had stellar customer service.

This “we can only send a text” is corporate stupidity.  Yes, I have called.  Yes, I called three times and spoke to three different reps.  All blamed it on Visa.  Hmm, when the Capital One Card Visa alert asked for the magic code and we couldn’t get one, Jack used our TD Bank Visa card and it went right through.  Same wonky out of USA vender.  Hmm.

Today I tried to log into Capital One on my Computer.  Even though they have it on our file that we are in Europe, I had to get a one time code to log onto my account.  There were three options. The first was to text me a temporary code – I put in our VOIP number just to try.  Boing bounced back.  The second was to call the home number we had on file – which is the same VOIP number.  The call came, I got the magic code and logged on.  The third was for them to send the code to my Capital One App, which is accessed by my finger print.  SHAZAAAM – why can’t they do that for internet vender charges that look smarmy????  Except I just tried that to re-log on and it wouldn’t work.  Fix it!

I hate to cancel the card.  We like the card.  We like Capital One.  As a last ditch effort to talk to someone who might understand our dilemma and not read from the script.”We send a text or we can do a three way call and talk to the vender.” (No they don’t have translators in the call centers.). I asked to speak to a Supervisor.  Supervisor Riley listened, understood my frustration and read the same script.  I then clearly, in my best radio voice suggested he forward the following to the marketing division of the company.   Do they really want to consider marketing themselves as the travel card when there are folks like me who are willing to explain to other folks like me that Capital One cannot be consistently used abroad?  Further, we know you’ve been hacked.  We understand the gravity.  That said, come up with a solution for acquiring the magic one time code that is not texting it to a USA number!  (psssst – think about sending it to the app and allowing the app to still function with a non USA number.)

PS – If anyone out there works for Capital One please forward this to them.

 

 

Bravissimi Ri Ualanegli!!

Hats off to the organizers, dancers and volunteers from Cultural Association Folk Ri Ualanegli,  who made the Festival Internationale del Folklore Pontelandolfo an artistic and administrative success.  A special applause to the group’s president Antonio Sicardi, the incredible Michela Delli Veneri and all those who, through dance, proudly promote the culture of Pontelandolfo both here and abroad.  Not only did over 130 dancers from five countries perform in Pontelandolfo but also in San Giorgio del Sannio and Morcone. Why is that touring factoid important to me?  Simple, as an arts administrator I know that spreading the cost for something over a number of events and venues is prudent. If a dance company is flying 5,386 miles – as the crow flies – from Thailand, they better have a series of gigs set up.  It was brilliant to share the festival with neighboring towns.  That meant more opportunities for the dance companies, more publicity for the over all series, more opportunities to promote a participating country, more ways to get Pontelandolfo’s name out there, more happy sponsors whose names are posted more places and my favorite  – you simply get more bang for your buck.

 

The opening and closing parades were energizing!  Flags of all nations.  Banners from each company. Dancers of all ages, colors and ethnicities.  The piazza was full of families enjoying the night and excited to see what we all think is probably the best Italian Folk Dance Company, Ri Ualanegli, but also dance styles from far – away places.

Seeing the companies coming in reminded me just how much work organizing a dance festival is.  Vetting and inviting companies is easy peasy. It is the other stuff that can be an organizational nightmare.  Hmmm, where do you house 130 people?  Where do they eat?  How do they get from point A to point B?  How about the outdoor stage? Lights, sound and tech staff? Promotion?

The hotel in town has 7 rooms.  There is no restaurant. There is no real public transportation. The town does not have a professional public relations staff.  Ri Ualanegli has members who are committed not only to the art of recreating historic dances but also enhancing the visibility of Pontelandolfo.  That means – gulp – they clean out and repurpose the abandoned senior housing project.  (That is another one of those political boondoggle stories.) Drag in beds to each apartment. Gather sheets, towels, toiletries. Shine up all the plumbing, light fixtures and grounds. Ask their friends and relatives to volunteer to cook.  Arrange tours of Pontelandolfo and the province. Essentially, do what ever it takes to make the housing and cross cultural experience wonderful for the guest artists. Of course, we can’t forget the production values.  They totally produce the multi night, multi venue festival. Work with the technical folks and promote the hell out of the event. Did I mention they do it all with volunteers!!!!

I am impressed.  I am touched by their generosity, verve and commitment.  It is this love for the dance, the village and the country that makes Ri Ualangli exceptional.  OK, just thinking about it is making me weepy.

Anybody wonder who was dancing?

Thailand’s Suankularb Wittayalai Chonburi 

Irish dance

 Troy O’Herlihy Irish Dancers

Fragneto_Fotor

Gruppo Folk La Takkarata, Fragneto Monforte, Italia

portugal_Fotor

Portugal’s Grupo Folclórico e Cultural da Boavista Portalegre

Colombia

Colombia’s Ballet Ciudad Duitama 

Ponte group_Fotor

Pontelandolfo’s Own –  Ri Ualanegli

Mille grazie a Ri Ualanegli!  I thank you, the town thanks you, the audiences thank you and all those dancers who flew in to experience Pontelandolfo’s love for the dance thank you.

Ci vediamo!

 

Not Just an Ordinary Kid’s Camp

Kids fighting fires. Kids finding lost kids in the woods. Kids rappelling down from a building. Kids assessing environmental risks.  KIDS???  Thirty-eight lucky children between the ages of ten and thirteen got to explore exactly what it means to be part of Italy’s volunteer safety net, Protezione Civile.  They also got an adrenal rush and I’m sure will consider becoming future volunteers.

 Volunteers are a cornerstone of Pontelandolfo life.  They organize arts activities, social events, parish festivals and most important of all ensure that Pontelandolfese are safe, secure and assisted in time of need.  On call 24 hours a day, Protezione Civile Pontelandolfo, Civil Protection, is an organization of a highly trained and committed residents who are willing to leap into the fray whenever there is an emergency.  On the news, you have seen volunteers like them, in their yellow trimmed uniforms, helping with search and rescue after earthquakes, floods etc. In Pontelandolfo, I have watched them do traffic control, handle snow emergencies, guide people to safety, assist the Italian Red Cross and essentially intervene whenever it was necessary.  Click here for an example of their role with a 2015 flood and wind that knocked more than our sox off.

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Italians have big hearts and have always had a willingness to lend a hand.  After citizens mobilized independently to assist with the huge disasters that hit Italy in a fifty-year period, like the floods of Florence in 1966 and the Friuli and Irpinia earthquakes, it was recognized that an organized public system of deployment was necessary.  In 1992, Protezione Civile, the National Service of Civil Protection, by law became an integral part of the public system.

This is serious business.  The region organizes drills which simulate real risk situations.  Since we live in an earthquake zone, our village hosted an earthquake drill.

It is so serious, that future leaders and volunteers are fostered through an annual exceptional week long summer camp.  With the support of the National Department of Civil Protection, the Comune of Pontelandolfo and in collaboration with Protezione Civile di Fragneto L’Abate, Gruppo Comunale di Protezione Civile di Bisaccia, and Protezione Civile Irpinia di San Potito Ultra, Stefano Baldini, the head of our local Protezione Civile, and his team of volunteers organized Il Campo Scuola 2019.

tent
This coed camp had all the cool out door experiences.

From July 1 through July 7 this year, kids did the usual camp stuff like setting up and sleeping in a tent, they also were immersed in theoretical and practical civil protection training courses.  What school in the summer???  Who would want to do that??  These kids certainly did. Besides it wasn’t all work and no play.  Some of the work looked pretty exciting.  The young trainees had to apply for admittance.  The program was totally free!  Participants came from Pontelandolfo, Morcone, Fragneto Monforte, Bisaccia, Sant’Angelo A Cupolo, San Potito, Aquilonia and Flumeri.  Bringing kids from a variety of towns together makes sense.  All of the individual Protezione Civile groups often work with each other.  If it is an emergency or a giant festa that needs crowd control, we see uniforms from a variety of places.  The kids working together at this age starts the collaboration ball rolling.

I remember being forced to go to Camp Speers ripping my forearm with a bow string and belly crawling with a 22 rifle.  I hated every minute of it.  If there had been some academic portion or if the firing a rifle was being taught for a real purpose I might not have fought tooth and nail not to go.

kid injury
Nope, not injured. Just learning how to carry an injured person.

These campers got lots of physical activity and real-world experiences.  Here is a quick overview – set up a field operation – yup put up the tents, rig electrical system etc.; over view of the National Civil Protection system; municipal contingency plans – what??  I have to pause here and tell Jack.  My husband spent most of his adult career working in emergency preparedness planning.  I bet after this camp some of these kids could write better municipal contingency plans than some of the town plans Jack read when he was with the State Police.

classkids

OK, back to the grueling week – they had a lesson on cartography ( I had to look the word up – science of drawing maps); figuring out territory orientation;  using a map and a single compass figuring out a path through Mountain Cavello to lunch!  No one got lost!!!  I would have been found weeks later sitting on a log begging to go home.  These kids were GREAT!.

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How many stories up is this??

After a lesson on the seismic conditions of our region and what to do if an earthquake hits, these kids leaped to another disaster.  What do you do if someone is trapped high up on a hill with a broken leg or in a burning building?  You use a safety harness, zip wire or rappel.

firekid
Team effort of numerous Protezione Civile groups.

I’m exhausted just writing about all that they accomplished. And the list goes on – fire safety and protection, hydroeological risks (looked this up too – distribution and movement of groundwater in the soil and rocks of the Earth’s crust), use of radios for communication, working with canine units, forest fire rescues, searching for missing people, working with people with disabilities and…….

Complimenti!  Bravi!

The kids who will be the leaders of tomorrow deserve a big round of applause and so do the volunteers of Protezione Civile Pontelandolfo who give their time, energy and love to our little village.

Ci vediamo.

Our Village Mourns an Artistic Legend

Ugo Gregoretti died on July 5, 2019 in the city where he began his life. The icon of Italian cinema and film was born on September 28, 1930 in Rome. The death of this pioneer of the new Italian cinema, director, actor, playwright and author was mourned not only by the film and theatre communities but also by the entire Pontelandolfo comunity. Within moments of the announcement of his passing, Pontelandolfesi from around the world paid homage to the man on their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds. Death notice condolences were ordered by individuals, families and community groups. These were posted throughout the village. Here is an example –

A titolo personale e a nome della  Redazione del sito  www. pontelandolfonews.com porgo sentite condoglianze alla Famiglia Gregoretti per la perdita del  caro amico e grande Maestro Ugo Gregoretti.

Renato Rinaldi

Ugo Gregoretti loved Pontelandolfo and Pontelandolfo loved him. As a boy, he spent his summers frolicking in the fields and piazzas of Pontelandolfo.

His father once owned the village’s medieval Tower. Saddened when his mother decided to sell the tower, he was often quoted as saying he wanted to set up a foundation for the property and open it to all.

In 2014, he donated his library to the town so that his personal and professional history could be preserved in the village he loved.  The collection of scripts, posters, film memorabilia and personal items is held in the newly renovated Piazza Rinaldi. The Ministry of Heritage, Cultural Activities and Tourism noted its importance.

Gregoretti also put his money where his heart was and developed Comicron, an international film festival that is produced in Pontelandolfo.

Comicron, devoted exclusively to one genre – comedy – is a unique experience in the International Festival scene.  The films are all shorts and most of the entrants are young filmmakers. Audiences come, watch and leave smiling.  Gregoretti’s famous actor and film making pals have also participated which insured that national press covered the event.

Gregoretti could often be seen in Pontelandolfo. He even came to the Club del Libro and entertained us with his tales and writing.

The mayor, members of the city council and citizens went to Rome to say goodbye. His wake was at the famous Casa del Cinema in Rome. On their website they noted:

Noi di Casa del Cinema, insieme a Luca Bergamo, Vicesindaco e Assessore alla Crescita Culturale, ai vertici di Zetema ma soprattutto insieme alla straordinaria platea degli appassionati di cinema, siamo adesso vicini a Orsetta, ai suoi fratelli, alla moglie Fausta, agli amici e compagni di mille avventure. Ciao Ugo, questa rimarrà casa tua.

He will be missed.

Ci vediamo.

(SORRY THE FONTS ARE SQUIRRELLY. WORDPRESS FROM MY IPAD IS HELL TO WORK WITH.)

Noooo!!! Don’t Bring FaceBook to Dinner

Full moon, clear skies, linen covered tables, delectable dinners and twinkle lights like little stars flicker over the patio. Traditional concertino music wafted in from the concert down the block. A perfect night at Medusa, one of our favorite seafood restaurants in San Salvo Marino.

Jack, I whispered, look around. Notice anything odd?

Whaaat? Jack bellowed his favorite response to anything I ask. What am I supposed to see?

The evil FaceBook blue light of enticement, addiction and control. That’s what.

Whaaat? Get over the phone on the table fixation.

Maybe, I am fixated on groups of people who don’t talk. The first time I saw a couple eating dinner and each reading a book, I was horrified. Why aren’t they talking? Who could go out to dinner and not talk? It was beyond my comprehension. Now, I see it all the time. At Medusa I saw –

Two 50-something well dressed women sipping wine, sharing a seafood antipasti and each reading FaceBook.

A family of three each eating their own pizza and slopping tomatoes on their Facebook linked phones.

An older elegant couple – like Jack and I – eating cozze, mussels cooked in a touch of white wine, staring at their telephones.

Nonna, nonno, mom, pop and one baby were all staring at cell phones. Yup, the moment they sat down, the mom plopped a hand held device in front of the kid.

I could go on and on and on. There were only three groups – four if you count Jack and I – out of about 20 tables that were not glued to their fakakata phones. There were the two men and their adorable dog who chatted away. The couple with the not so adorable 3 year old who they had to chase all over the patio. Lastly, a young family of mom, dad and two sons. The boys were both under 8 or 9 and were chatting about their day at the beach.

This addiction to FaceBook at Italian dining tables is troublesome on so many levels. The silence is deafening. No one listens to the joys and tribulations of the day because they are commenting on pictures of flowers, food and other people’s babies. Over the past few years the FaceBook ferver has grown and grown. I fear that the stereotypical loud Italian conversations will soon fade to key taps.

When we are in the USA, I don’t notice as many phones out on restaurant tables. Have you seen an increase in diminished conversation and growing table side telephone staring? Am I the only person who finds this FaceBook addiction unnerving?

Frankly, I don’t understand the need for Facebook. Somehow we all got along before the social media pipeline sucked us in.

I hear you. I hear you. Yup, this blog has a FaceBook page. Yup, I use it to let people know about Pontelandolfo and our program Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo. Yup, I post links to The NY Times in hopes that those who suck on the teat of fake news websites will read something a bit more valid. Yup, I spend about 1\2 an hour a day checking my notifications and my pages. Yup, the fact that I too have a FaceBook account makes me culpable.

But it doesn’t make me not stare at the ocean, while dining at an outdoor cafe or ignore the people I’m out to lunch with.

Rant is over. Let me know what you think. Maybe I am fixated.

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.

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!