When is Buffalo not Buffalo?

When “buffalo” means Buffalo Mozzarella! Who knew that the creamiest of mozzarella cheeses came from a water buffalo? I didn’t. Did I just admit a lack of knowledge on something edible and Italian?

About 20 years ago, Jack, my Aunt Cat and I drove through the valleys of Compania searching for buffalo. Silly me imaging the bison that ruled the plains were nestled in the Sannio Hills. Oooops – classic mistake. Can you imagine milking a two-story tall mammoth bison? Thanks to Martenette Farms, a group of ten farm to table foodies will see the buffalo for themselves.

Fattoria al Tavolo With Martenette Farms*

Ace organic farmers Andrea and Tony of Martenette Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey wanted to share their love of farming and good eating with others. They created a super culinary and farm adventure that takes place in my home town, Pontelandolfo, from October 17 – 24, 2020. Guess what it includes? A visit to a buffalo farm!

Participants will explore, eat and live in a small southern Italian village. Becoming part of village life, they will gain a cultural understanding of what lies behind great Southern Italian dishes. This farm to table experience is for those of you who want to see a part of Italy that is off the crowded tourist trail, see where the local food comes from and taste dishes that go back generations.

For example, the group will eat in private homes and at agriturismos – farms that serve food. Visit working farms, hear lectures on herbs, look for edibles in the Sannio Hills, learn the ancient sport of cheese rolling – La Ruzzula, and of course visit olive groves and taste great wine after trekking through vineyards.

Check out their website for details – Martenette Farms

I can’t wait to meet this group of culinary adventurers! Ci vediamo!

*Regretfully, there are no special dietary considerations. Since you will eating in people’s homes, not restaurants, accommodations cannot be made for allergies or preferences. This medieval village has charming cobblestone streets, but it is not handicapped accessible. The adventure and experience in the home of local families requires the ability to climb stairs, walk on uneven streets and feel comfortable in a hilly mountain environment. The calendar of events may change but will be similar.

How Much? Don’t Worry!

I have always been really afraid of being somewhere and not having enough money to pay the bill. Maybe it is because when we were little, we really didn’t have enough money. In my earlier lean adult years, I would count my cash down to the penny and search the car seats for more. The thought of getting to the cash register cashless was one of those nightmares I never wanted to have, but often did. To this day, I check my purse and make sure my wallet is there. Then I check my wallet to make sure the money that was there last night is still there this morning. Minutes before entering a store, I again open my wallet to triple check for money. Maybe it is paranoia. Maybe I’m horrified of once again tossing stuff on the supermarket belt, watching the prices cha ching into the cash register, realizing I don’t have enough money and yanking things off the belt. This ever happen to you? Did you sink down below the counter? Frantically start pulling things off the belt? Or do what I have done, drop my head down in shame and slither away?

In Pontelandolfo, where everybody knows your name, not only is that not something for me to worry about, but I have had a hard time getting people to let me pay them. Trust and sense of community are important aspects of life in our little village.

True examples –

Jack went to our supermarket, Gran Risparmio, and filled the cart with things we needed. He never checks to see if his wallet is there or if someone picked his pocket. Oops, maybe he should have. He went to pay and was €20 short. Did he sink below the counter? Nope, the man at the register packed up the groceries, handed them to Jack and said pay me later. I was so embarrassed and ran back to pay. They were shocked to see us so soon.

Another day, I was behind an older woman in Conad, another miniature supermarket, she was mildly confused about what she was buying, what she was cooking for pranza and where her wallet was. Mariagrazia, the super nice cashier, looked at her smiled and said, “I know you will be back and you will have your wallet then.” It took all my actor training to remain uninvolved in the story. I wanted to A. Pay for her. B. Leap over the counter and kiss Mariagrazia. It was such a gentle moment and obviously one that has been repeated. My gut reaction was that someone else would be in later to pay for her.

One night, I bought a large group to Sesto Senso, my favorite local eatery. We had a fabulous seafood meal, enjoyed bottles of wine and sipped digestivos. I walked up to the cash register with a credit card in hand. Claudio swiped it in the machine. Then he swiped it again. I started to sweat. Shit, had I forgotten to pay the bill? Claudio, looked at me and said the machine doesn’t work. It has been happening all day. Pay us next time you come.

During the festa to end all festas – my 7 events for 7 decades birthday week – I booked a number of people to work with me, ordered all kinds of food and booze, hired musicians, a theater company, caterers and more. Getting prices was difficult. Creating a budget became such a nightmare that I soon tossed it into the nightmare trash barrel. Questa é Italia! Go with the flow.

We have an exceptional bakery, Diglio Forno, I ordered a carload of stuff for my British Tea Party. When I asked if they wanted a deposit they looked at me like I was crazy.

We have a talented guy, Vittorio, who provides theatrical lighting and sound for many of the major events in the region. I asked him to handle the technical aspects of my birthday weeks two public events. Getting a price was hard but getting him to take the money during the show was even harder. He too looked at me like I was from another planet. I found out that it often takes him months to be paid by the towns that hire him. I was an anomaly. Could I get one person to instantly accept the cash I had for them in an envelope? Don’t worry. Pay me later. Pay me after the show. Pay me next time I see you. Don’t worry!

During our Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo events we book hotel rooms for our guests and are never asked for a deposit. Actually, we end up paying after our group has left. The vineyards we visit for a food and wine parings, the agriturismo that hosts our welcoming luncheon and other collaborators never give us a bill but trust us to pay them. Trust. I think that is what living in a small village generates. Trust.

When I am not in town and need to send flowers for a funeral or birthday, I call Nella at her flower shop. She doesn’t ask for a credit card. She doesn’t tell me what it will cost. She simply creates an arrangement and delivers the flowers. When I am back, I pay her.

It isn’t that folks don’t want to be paid or don’t feel they deserve their stipend. I believe it has to do with a real sense of community. More than community, it is a sense of family. Those of us who live here are part of the familial fabric of the village. Family who treats each other like family. I’m guessing strangers in our midst might not be extended the same courtesy.

People who provide services, own shops or restaurants know their community. They know were their clients live. Know is the operative word. Knowing your neighbor and knowing who you can trust. Sadly, shop keepers tell me, that also means knowing who you can’t trust.

I think one of the reasons I feel so connected to Pontelandolfo – besides the fact that I can feel my nonna here – is that the life style and sense of community reminds me of the Flagtown, New Jersey. Growing up in Flagtown,when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, I spent my youth knowing everyone in that village and not worrying about falling off my bike because someone would pick me up. There was the same sense of familial community that I am blessed with in Pontelandolfo.

Just another reason to Visit Pontelandolfo!

Ci vediamo

Midge

Curbside Service Pontelandolfo Style

There aren’t many things I’m afraid of.  Needles, however, turn my tummy to jello, make my teeth clench and my hands sweat.  Imagine the wave of fear that washed over me when the orthopedic doctor in Alghero, Sardegna said “everyday for thirty days you have to give yourself a needle in the stomach.” I screamed NO.  The nurse said, “or die from a blood clot.”  Oh, I mused – die or get a needle in the stomach everyday for thirty days.  Thirty days ways the length of time I was to wear the cast/boot on my broken ankle and repose.  Gulp, I’ll take the needle but I can’t give it to myself.  The nurse showed my husband Jack how to jab a needle in my gut.  Jack did it – I think happily and with a malicious grin – for three weeks.  Then he left for Venice.  Catzzo, now what do I do?  No way I can shoot myself up with blood thinners – eeeeeuuuuuchh.

midge

Wheelchair and Booze! One way to get through this.

Curbside Service at La Farmacia!  Annarita, my resourceful personal assistant, brought me to Pontelandolfo’s pharmacy.  Since I wasn’t supposed to put pressure on my foot and wasn’t about to hop on cobblestones, I couldn’t get out of the car.  Dottoressa Tina Perone raced to the rescue!  Pharmacists here can give needles and will – even it that means watching me tremble in my car.  Tina opened my car door, I pulled my dress over my head, pulled down my panties and closed my eyes.  Hey, did you give me the shot?  She had and I hadn’t felt a thing.  We went to the pharmacy for the entire week that Jack was gone and I almost happily got my daily needle.  Thank you Perone family!

Curbside service didn’t just happen at the pharmacy.  Small town life is wonderful.  Shop owners helped me, laughed with me and made sure I kept rolling along.

Curbside Service at La Feramenta!  I had a new sink installed and needed to buy a faucet.  No way could I handle the uneven street with my hop-along walker.  The owner of our local hardware store sent out selections for me to choose from.  The transaction happened at the car.  Thank you Nicola!

Curbside Service at Da Tiziana!  Since I was now sleeping in the dining room and folks kept stopping buy to visit and stare at my broken ankle, I needed nightgowns that weren’t tattered and stained.  Off we went to our local clothing shop.  The owner dashed out with nightgowns.  Then, in the street, she and Annarita helped me balance on one foot while I tried them on.  Of course, I did that over my clothes!  My mamma taught me not to stand naked in the street.  We visited her a few times to buy knee socks and other stuff.  All carried to the car. Thank you Tiziana!

Curbside Service at Bar Elimar and Bar 2000!  Wheelchair in tow, the ever powerful Annarita decided I needed to get out of the house.  I sighed. She threw me in the car.  We arrived at Bar Elimar and barista, Annette, moved tables around outside so I could easily toss my sorry butt in a chair from the car.  Ahhhhh- Campari Spritz please.  Another time we went to Bar 2000 and owner, Ghaleb, went out of his way to make me comfortable.  Thank you both!

It pays to be a local!  Thank you to all those kind and generous Pontelandolfese who fed me, laughed with me and made my thirty days of staying off my foot bearable.

Ci Vediamo!

Raritan NJ and Sister City Colle Sannita (BN)

Growing up in Flagtown, New Jersey, we often visited Raritan,the town next door. When the dinosaurs roamed the earth, and I was a child, we hopped in the car and visited Raritan for pizza and gelato. Raritan was the closest we could come to hearing and seeing Italians. Home to lots of Italian American families, it also was a real town and for country girls a treat. The town took great pride in it’s son, World War II hero, Marine Gunnery Sargent John Basilone. Every September there was and still is a parade and festivities to celebrate Basilone’s heroics in the Pacific Theatre and his Congressional Medal of Honor.

Imagine my surprise to discover that a scant 20 minutes up and down the hill from Pontelandolfo was Colle Sannita, the Basilone family’s Italian home town. Anthony Bengivenga, contacted me to let me know that Colle Sannita was officially being declared the Sister City of Raritan. Anthony would be there to represent Mayor Chuck McMullin of Raritan and as a national officer, District Governor, UNICO National. (UNICO is the largest Italian American organization in the USA and was started in Waterbury, Connecticut – home of more Pontelandolfesi than Pontelandolfo.) Anthony oversees ten UNICO chapters and has also helped form the sister city agreement between Terno D’Isola in Bergamo and South Plainfield. Basilone’s mother Teodora Bengivenga was the cousin of Anthony’s grandfather. The connections sent shivers up my spine. There was no way I would miss that celebration.

John Basilone’s father was born in Colle Sannita. The municipal meeting room was packed with Basilones from around the world, including Kim Van Note, Diane Hawkins and interpreter Regina Basilone. Six dashing young marines from the US Embassey of Rome, who had played earlier both the Italian and American national anthems, were also there.

The sense of pride was so strong that my heart expanded and I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. Not only was it an emotional signing ceremony, but I realized it was also a tourism and growth commitment between the two towns. Listening to the resolution, I heard terms like arrange for trips, exporting and importing products and mutual promotion. Smart move for both towns.

Anthony, an incredible representative of Raritan, UNICO and the family, gave a heartfelt speech. He also presented the Mayor of Colle Sannita with resolutions of endorsement from the New Jersey State Legislature and Somerset County, NJ. UNICO National President Frank DeFrank sent a letter of congratulations. WOW, it felt great being an Italo-Americano surrounded by such Italo – Americano passion and pride.

Raritan’s son comes home to Colle Sannita

Colle Sannita comes to Raritan, NJ

Thank you Anthony for making me realize that you can take the girl out of Flagtown but Flagtown is always nearby.

Ci Vediamo!

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.