Any Day in Pontelandolfo

2017 – Villages Diverse But The Same

At the dawn of 2017, fireworks surrounded Pontelandolfo’s iconic tower!  Pontelandolfesi bundled up against the cold mountain air, hugged each other and cheered.  In Flagtown, New Jersey illegal fireworks boomed in back yards.  We peered out the window and cheered – nah three people cheering loudly wasn’t the same as being in a village surrounded by other cheering folks.

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Messages of good wishes whipped through cyber space.  WhatsApp and FaceBook Messenger made me feel like I was in that piazza shouting auguri!  That’s a big lie. What I was really doing was shouting *&^%$ every time the muscles in my left thigh did the “I’m gonna get you back now” flash of pain dance.  I came back to New Jersey and had my left hip replaced the week before Christmas.  By New Year’s Eve my brain and legs were functioning but my left leg was still really angry at me.  Having spent a few weeks lying around between physical therapy sessions, I really had a chance to think about my life and I had an epiphany.  The Village that is Pontelandolfo is incredibly similar to the Village that each of us creates to survive 21st century life with out nervous breakdowns.  Here are some examples –

Being a hospital scaredy cat, I was blessed to have a village of women friends who took shifts hanging out in the hospital with me. Providing Jack with an opportunity to dash out and a sense of safety for me.  Last year, when  Zia Vittoria was in the hospital in Benevento, Italia, her grandson, Nicola made sure that folks were lined up to visit and check in. We see that kind of neighbors helping neighbors not only in my precious Pontelandolfo but in all kinds of neighborhoods across the world.

During the holiday season, Pontelandolfesi rally creating cultural events that engage everyone.  Pontelandolfo’s crafters and artigianal foodies sell their wares at the two day holiday market.  Wait?! Don’t we have those in towns across America too?  We do.  It is an opportunity for the local folks to share their talents and make some money.  Musical, literary and theatrical events are scheduled in many Italian villages.  In the USA we dash to local productions of the Nutcracker, Scrooge and Handel’s Messiah.  Different and yet the same, people all over the world enjoy the culture of their holiday seasons.

I am a culture lover and sadly admit that my New Jersey hometown feels like a culture wasteland.  Possibly because we are so close to Philadelphia, Princeton and New York the community doesn’t organize many holiday cultural events beyond religious services. Sadly, I am not in the Sannio hills and am missing both Casalduni’s and Pontelandolfo’s La Befana celebrations.  I will bet that a quick google search will turn up a “Three Kings Day ” Celebration somewhere in New Jersey.

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La Befana Celebration in Alghero, Sardinia.

Religious festivals, community picnics, community theatre, local musical groups, writer’s groups, book clubs, local dance companies – these things exist everywhere.  It doesn’t matter what religion someone is, what their native dress looks like, or what side of the ocean they live on, all of us enjoy belonging to and participating in community life.

May 2017 provide each and everyone of us with the village and sense of community we need.

Happy New Year !  Buon Anno!  Bonne Année!  新年快乐   Gelukkig Nieuwjaar!  

Gutes Neues Jahr!   あけましておめでとうございます    Feliz Año!       Šťastný nový rok!    

سال نو مبارک      С Новым Годом!    Feliz Ano Novo!    Gelukkige Nuwejaar!

Baci e abbracci!  Ci Vediamo!

Categories: Any Day in Pontelandolfo | 4 Comments

Transitions

It has been a month since you have heard from me.  Yikes? What have I been doing?  Well for the first week after the USA election I stayed in bed with a bottle of scotch and Italian candies.  Baci, baci!!

It has taken a while for me to make the transition from a citizen of Southern Italy to a citizen of the USA. Every November I find myself back in New Jersey.  I am happy to be in the clutches of my family and friends.  Ecstatic to see how much the wee ones have grown into interesting young adults.  After the frenzy of “welcome backs,” the happy hugs that make the emotional bubble in my chest burst with love, I look around and think “where am I?”  I had a teacher once who said that Europe didn’t exist – you got on a plane and flew around and then landed at a place like Disney Land where the pretend Europe was built.  He was kidding and trying to get us to think about the explorers who thought the world was flat.  He wanted us to realize that you have to get out of your comfort zone and see the world in order to understand not only the breadth of the world’s society – but who you are. But where am I?

The transition from the woman who lives in a small Southern Italian village to the woman who lives in the buzzing metropolitan area has always been difficult.  The culture shock of prices – $10 for two cappuccinos and one brioche makes my blood boil.  Hey, I get great cappuccinos for €1 and a FRESH brioche that tastes GREAT for €1.  Errrggg.  But more than prices, it is my difficulty accepting the changing cultural climate of my motherland.  I don’t need to harp on it – those of you who marched for equal rights understand that now we appear to be sinking into the quicksand of — well I can’t even talk about it.  If I do, I’m sure my “file” will just get thicker.

Transitions.  How do I transition from a life that includes a daily walk down the hill to the village piazza for a cappuccino and conversation to a life that means driving for an anything?  Everyone I pass in Pontelandolfo says buongiorno.  People I pass in my car flip their middle fingers because I drive to slow, fast or freaky. The fruits and vegetables I buy from Antonio’s truck in Italy haven’t been sprayed with stuff that could kill me.  The meat at the macelleria hasn’t been shot up with hormones.  Yes, I am lucky to have found a circle of local organic farmers in NJ so I am not forced to shop at giant super-markets.  I think about those that can’t.

Transition – my credit card is leaping out of my wallet. Don’t get me started on big pharma and the fact that the USA does not have a single payer health care system and is ranked under my feet on most studies.  Bloomberg News , Bloomberg Health-Care Efficiency Index, on September 26, 2016 ranked Italy 6th and the USA 50th.  My co-pay in Italy for my high blood pressure medicine is €2 – in NJ it was $46. How could this be?

I am a child of the 60’s.  During my university and young adult years, I was part of the politically active force of women who helped insure that reproductive rights belonged to women.  Who marched and voted for equality for all.  Who forced curriculums to include literary works by more than dead white men.  Who tossed boulders at glass ceilings. Who organized communities to improve the lives of those less fortunate than ourselves.  Who worked to bring arts experiences to children from all socio-economic strata.  Who –

Who now wonder “where have all the flowers gone – long time passing.” (Lyric by Pete Seeger.)  That is who I am.

Transitions.

Don’t despair, dear readers, don’t despair.  In a day or so the transition will be done and I will be back to my funny sardonic self.

Ci Vediamo.

 

 

Categories: Any Day in Pontelandolfo | 4 Comments

#&*#! I Don’t Have My Passport – Travel Trials

We hugged our pals Nicola and Dolores goodbye and entered the Naples airport. The cue for the Alitalia desk was long but we bravely entered.  My jaw dropped, my colon cramped, and my heart started pounding.  Barely a whisper came out of my mouth as I turned to Jack and said, “I don’t have a passport.” He turned towards the glass doors looking for Nicola – maybe they could race back before our flight. My chest tightened, we were due to leave in 2 hours and I needed to get to Sardegna.  Suddenly my fingers felt a wee bit of plastic in my purse.  My Carta Identità – every Italian citizen has one – I turned back to Jack. “We are just going from one Italian city to another right. I mean we don’t stop in I don’t know – Switzerland?”  He looked at me like I was pazzo. Right? Right, Naples to Rome and Rome to Alghero.

We were surrounded in the line by two tour groups – Canadian and Australian.  All of the happy lemmings were holding up their blue passports.  Question – Do all former British colonies have blue passports???  The line slowly moved when speaking Italian – noting I’m guessing my Carta Identità – a representative moved Jack and I up to the ticket counter.  Nice!  When we got to the gate, I noticed well dressed men and women holding up their Carta Identitàs.  It hit me – I’m part of the in crowd!  Weeeooooo.  So glad that passport is still sitting on the counter.

When we got to Rome the disorganized crush was uncomfortable.  The running from changed gate to changed gate and then standing there for almost an hour was tortuous.  Paying airport prices for a lousy panini was insulting in a country that prides itself on its cuisine.  Grrrrrrr.  Remember when it was glamorous to fly?  If you are over 60 you do!!

Working with ones the best Italian language schools, Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera, means we get to go to Alghero, Sardegna once a year.  When we landed the ace school administrator, texted me that a member of my group’s bags never made it to Alghero from Rome.  #&*#!  The bloody bags are tagged.  How hard is this to keep straight.  I breathed a sigh of relief when our bags came down the chute.

Pintadera’s trusty taxi driver, Fredrico, greeted us like long lost pals and shepherded us to our little house. The concierge opened the door and I started gagging and grabbed my inhaler. What the heck is that obnoxious whore house smell?  Did the perfume counter at Bloomingdales explode?  The concierge raced around and opened all the windows.  Jack found the disgusting plug in make fake smell devices and tossed them.  Apparently, the house had been shut up for a while and this was the crews way of refreshing the air.  GAGG. 

Travel, just another joyous way to spend the day.

PS.  Once we got settled everything was actually joyous – well except for paying double what we spend in Pontelandolfo for our morning cappuccino.

Ci Vediamo

Categories: Any Day in Pontelandolfo | 2 Comments

Writers Retreat Coming to Pontelandolfo!

HUZZAH!  YEAH!  WOOO!  WOOO!  Massachusetts based, Shape & Nature Press is organizing a June 2017 writers’ retreat for women in Pontelandolfo!  Why?  Why not!  Our green mountains, incredible history and welcoming residents could provide American writers with tons of inspiration.  Shape & Nature’s founder, Maria Williams, is a grad school buddy of mine.

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Maria explores Altilia – an archeological site nearby.

This past August, she came to hang out in the Sannio Hills with us and enjoy the village’s week long Festa.  Maria loved our medieval village.  One afternoon with pals George and Evert Ben from Holland, we had a four-hour lunch at my favorite agriturismo, Borgo di Cerquelle. I entertained the table with tales of the successful May 2016 “Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo” event.   Maria had a weird look in her eye and I realized later, I had given her an eureka moment!

That night as we sipped our Campari Spritzes, Maria looked at me and said, “why don’t I do a writer’s retreat for women here – in Pontelandolfo.”  Why NOT!!!!! I screeched – lets get started.  That is how this was born –

Out of the Castle
Writing Conference & Retreat – June 3-10, 2017

The first decision was where – that was a no brainer.  The Agriturismo Borgo di Cerquelle is set in the mountain, has loving owners and is committed to farm-to-table cooking.  The views from the bedrooms will inspire a novel or force the harried writer to take a moment and appreciate the beauty one finds in the Province of Benevento.

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The next hurdle was finding an Italian female author to be the keynote speaker.  The universe always provides – thanks to my New Jersey pal – another Maria – who introduced me to her pals Salvatore and Rosanna – I was introduced to Anna Santaliquido.  I spent 3 days in Bari as the guests of Salvatore and Rosanna and had the opportunity to hang out with Anna, one of Italy’s most respected and greatly published poets.  She is also the founder of  the women’s poetry organization, Movimento Internazionale “Donne e Poesia”!  Perfect!  She is amazing and was excited to help.

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Anna and I in Bari

Anna was not only enthusiastic about the writers’ retreat for women, but gave me tons of suggestions on how to integrate the community into the project.  We will be organizing programs for middle school students and recent English speaking refugee immigrants.  Public readings will be held and open to all.

Women writers of fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry are invited to participate in Out of the Castle, a writing conference and retreat. The conference is named in honor of 16th century Italian poet, Isabella di Morro, who was locked in her family castle by her tyrannical brothers but still managed to create a canon of work. So get out of your castle and come write in Pontelandolfo.  For the details – here is the link to the Shape & Nature Conference Information.

Share the information with your literary pals!

Ci Vediamo

Categories: Any Day in Pontelandolfo, Stops Along the Journey - Sites Off the Tourist Track | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

La Torre Mini Market

What? Has Midge gone daft? Is she writing a story about a grocery store – a mini market?  You can bet your pjeeeze I am!  La Torre Mini Market is the creation of a young married couple – Luigi Silvestri and Mariavittoria Stringile.

It is energizing to see young people get in touch with their entrepreneurial spirits and take the idea of alimentari to a new level.  Before they opened, they did something I am so impressed with.  They sat down with Pierino Di Angeles who had the Alimentari that I adored and asked her where she used to buy  her out of this world mortadella !  I bet they asked her other well founded questions too.

This little grocery store and deli – with the stress on the deli – not only carries all the stuff you need but ran out of just as you needed it.  But also stocks things that are a wee bit exotic like – truffle oil, goat’s milk, unusual spices and baked goods including real dark  – think those old Brooklyn bakeries – healthy rye bread!


The deli meats never looked dried out and dying in the case.  Salamis, prosciutto crudo or cotto, tacchino, all have been noshed on in our house to great satisfaction.  Even though we enjoy going to the local Caseficio – place that makes cheese – for our cheese quotas,  I’m glad to see that Luigi and Maria Vittoria stock mozzarella di buffalo made a wee bit up the road. l Casolare di Alvignano has won the 2016 “Oscar” for best mozzarella in Italy.

I asked them why they decided to take the plunge and work 24 hours a day building a little mom and pop community store.  Mariavittoria explained that her family moved to Germany and she and Luigi could have gone there to look for work.  Something held them back – their absolute love for Pontelandolfo and Pontelandolfese!   They chose to open a mini-market because they realized that after Pierina retired, there was no place in the historic center to buy what she used to sell.  They wanted to fill that void.

They more than fill the void!  I was super impressed during Pontelandolfo’s August week-long Festa  to see them open almost 24 hours a day.  They put a table in their doorway and sold canned beverages and panini to late night revelers.  Daily, construction workers dash in to pick up sandwiches to carry for lunch.  Frantic Midge runs in – because no one else is open on Sunday – to see what she can route up for Sunday pranza.

The couple have a son and are expecting another member of the family this winter.  Soon two little tykes will be running around and asking if I want some delicious mortadella!

Ci vediamo!

Categories: Any Day in Pontelandolfo, Local Businesses | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Ponte Simone -Perfetto per Pontelandolfo!

I stared at the defrosted fish, poked at the fresh spinach and then sighed, “I don’t feel like cooking – lets go to Ponte Simone.”  Ponte Simone is Pontelandolfo’s latest new happening spot.  The caffè/bar, tavolo caldo, grocery store, lotto parlor, slot machine parlor and more is the creation of a young and talented duo – Nicola D’Addona and Angela  Varricchio.  They took over a shop located at Ponte Sorgenza – just down the street from the center of town.  Closed the old place for a few months and gave it a make-over. They even made the furniture for the new dining room.

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Since I tasted Angela’s cooking, I have found a million reasons not to cook lunch.  My first experience was a fabulous farro seafood salad. Since Jack and I are trying not to eat wheat or rice, finding a place that cooked with farro was wonderful.  We often wander in, look at Angela and ask what we are eating today.  I’ve had roasted meats, grilled vegetables, caprese salads, green salads, soups – no matter what she cooks I’ll eat it because it is always perfect.  The price point is also perfect – I hate to make my USA pals  jealous by telling them that it costs us less to eat at Ponte Simone than it would to buy the stuff and cook it in New Jersey!

Angela also makes the gelato that is sold here.  Please don’t let my doctor know that I sampled some – how can I not eat sugar when there is home made melon gelato!  She experiments with flavors that are unique and scrumptious.

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Nicola is the bar man, grocery man and everything man.  Even though my Italian is sub par, he smiles figures out what I want and it magically appears.  Sadly, for me, every Campari Spritz I order comes with a tray of little noshes.  I beg, I plead, don’t bring me the snacks.  They still arrive and – gulp – I eat them.  I feel like I’m in a little caffè in any Italian city at cocktail time.  Lucky for me I only have to walk down the hill and stumble back.

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The couple works with other local business and I truly applaud them for that.  In the tiny grocery store I can buy meats from our local butcher, Franco Perugini.  Normally, I go to his shop but if I am in a pinch and he is closed…

Normally, Ponte Simone closes at 8:00 PM.  They put in 14 hour days.  Then there are the nights they produce events – when no one sleeps and everyone parties.  Music, a talent show, ethnic nights – the creative pair are turning this little corner of town into the place to be.  Bravi!

Every Sunday night, I take over a table in the dining room for “English Conversation”.  Whoever is interested in practicing their English that night shows up.  We chat, raise a glass and enjoy the home-town atmosphere of Ponte Simone

The wonders of life in a small town is that everyone knows your name. Growing up in Flagtown meant I couldn’t do anything wrong because everyone knew who I was and would either kick my butt or tell my parents.  Walking into Ponte Simone and hearing “Ciao Midge” reminds me of those days, puts a smile on my face and makes me remember how fortunate I am to be able to spend so much time in a little Southern Italian village.

Ci Vediamo!

Categories: Any Day in Pontelandolfo, Local Businesses | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Americans Living Abroad Need to VOTE!

Those of us who are able to split our time between an adventure in a foreign country and the United States are incredibly fortunate.  Living in another country, we still need to remember our obligations as American citizens.  Every American living abroad needs to vote!  Vote in the primaries.  Vote for the local candidates.  AND especially vote during the presidential elections.  Those of you who know me and have followed me, know that I was born into a family of staunch Democrats and frankly, have never had a reason to become anything else.  That said, I’m not going to use this platform to tell you who to vote for.  I am going to ask you look at the video provided by Democrats Abroad that tells you just how easy it is to get that absentee ballot and VOTE in this presidential election.

AND MAY THE BEST WOMAN WIN!!!

Ci vediamo!

Categories: Any Day in Pontelandolfo, Practical Matters - Living Abroad | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Do You Hear A Bell?

Che sarà sarà – Rant #1

Emergency Preparedness? “Bo?”


My hip isn’t always a happy hip. After a day of sightseeing in Bari, my hip was hurting. Our Pugliese pals, Salvatore and Rosanna, wanted us to see an art exhibit in the village of Conversano’s medieval castle. The artist – Giorgio de Chirico – is famous for “pittura metefisica”.  Think Picasso. Suddenly, we found ourselves living in a metaphysical nightmare. 

Salvatore entered the ancient stone structure, climbed the rock steps to the top and discovered the elevator for folks with disabilities. Actually, it looks more like a floating floor than an elevator. He bravely stood on the sheet of metal and rode it down to pick me up. Bump, click, groan and emergency bells started to bellow.  Frankly, we heard bells and didn’t have a clue what they meant. We were in the courtyard waiting for Salvatore.  Apparently, no one who worked at the castle knew what they meant either.  No one came running. After about 15 minutes we all walked to the elevator and light bulbs started flashing in our brains!!  Salvatore!! 

When the platform got to the ground floor the door wouldn’t open.  I would have been screaming my bloody head off. Salvatore calmly rang the bell. When we got there, he chatted with us through the locked door. 

Let him out!!!


After what seemed like ions of bells ringing, The security guard arrived opened the closet housing  the motor, reset it and nothing happened. He moved to the locked door, bent over and opened-a cleverly disguised by a lump of black rubber – keyhole. “We need the key.” What key? The key that in a nanosecond would open the door. Other castle staff members appeared and didn’t have a clue what to do. The sweet young thing hired for the exhibition leaned over the top of the floating platform and told Salvatore not to worry. 

Salvatore’s view for over one hour.


We were told that help may be coming from the nearby city of Monopoli. Che sarà sarà may make for a nice song but the laid back attitude doesn’t resonate with me. As a matter of fact it sucks. Why hasn’t the management of the public space trained people for this type of incident. Why didn’t they have a copy of the magic key?Is this another example of bureaucracy gone insane – is there a regionally annoited key keeper? What if a pregnant woman was trapped inside with her water breaking all over the vertical tomb?  What if I was inside screaming every curse word I knew in multiple languages and kicking the shit out of the walls?
More folks kept coming and looking. Nothing was happening.  Until, after one very long hour the Man got here from Monopoli. Two seconds and one tiny key later, Salvatore is released. 

Quest’è Italia. Che sarà, sarà…

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