Ten years is a long gestation period. I hate to admit it to you my favorite blog readers, but, some of the stories in my baby I started working on ten years ago. Maybe they weren’t on the page but they were circling my brain. Pinging and panging and causing my fingers to hover over the keyboard and then WHAM start typing. It is because of each of you that this book is now on bookstore shelves. Thank you. Why? Can we be truthful?
Ten years ago, we sold my family’s Flagtown farmette. Got rid of all of our furniture, cars, books, pots and pans. Took a deep breath and came to Pontelandolfo. After one week of La Dolce Vita, I thought I would poke out my eyes and rent my garb. I need to work! Sitting idly, sipping Prosecco and chatting in the piazza is great – for an hour. I need to work! Someone asked if the energizer bunny felt threatened by me. I need to work. But what would I do here in the Sannio Hills? I volunteered in the school, organized arts events but – what was I doing for my creative spirit? That is where you came in. I decided to start a blog that would – a. be sort of a journal for me. b. be a way to promote my new village and c. give me deadlines!
Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos grew out of Nonna’s Mulberry Tree. Some of you will recognize a few of the tales. They have been expanded and humorized! Your audience for my ramblings made this book possible. From the bottom of my heart I thank you. Read Furiously is a great publisher and I am so thankful that they decided to have me join their library of publications and make even more stories available to you. Grazie mille a tutti!
Those of you who already bought the book – I WILL LOVE YOU FOREVER. Those of you who are going to buy it tomorrow – DITTO. Oh, where can you buy it? Wherever books are sold. On line, in person – you may have to order it. Your local bookstore will love you if you go in and buy it there. I will love you if they would like me to do a reading!
Speaking of readings. The world is a small place. Zoom, FaceTime, Facebook Live makes it easy for me to visit your book club, library, store from anywhere in the world. Think about it! Have award winning acting skills and will travel – digitally anywhere.
Enjoy my travel memoir meets tour guide book! Have I told you yet today that I love you? Well, I do. Vi amo!
Two days ago it was freezing and I dreaded walking to the car. Yesterday, the weather couldn’t make up its mind. Today, it is so hot outside that I wish some of the summer clothes that are waiting for me in Pontelandolfo were in New Jersey. The weather has been equally weird in Pontelandolfo. Snow. Sun. Sun. Snow. What season is this? These seasonal shifts have my nose running and my mouth hungry for comfort food. It seems like today’s world is tossing us weather bombs we have to skirt around. To mask or not to mask. To wear a coat, hat and gloves or turn on the air conditioner. I decided to break open a bottle of Prosecco, not look out the window and read something light and summery. Better yet, to read something full of pictures of summer fruits, vegetables and great tastes. Slowly I opened An Italian Dish Brings YouNaturallyVegetarian Summer Recipes by Ellen Shick.
Ellen Shick is a foodie after my own heart. She is an Italian American who has researched her roots, walked the paths her great grandparents walked and loves to cook. What makes her even more special is that she too finds her family tree growing in Campania.
Her blog An Italian Dish is chock full of vegetarian recipes that make my mouth water. Ellen has published a number of interesting cookbooks. They can all be found on her blog site. The photos in An Italian Dish Brings You Naturally Vegetarian Summer Recipes brought me back to summer days in Pontelandolfo. Sigh…
When Jack and I are in our little Italian village, I buy what ever fruits and vegetables are in season. The trucks carrying produce and our charming little greengrocer, il fruttivendolo, Fresh Fruits, feature local seasonal produce. There are some imports but they are from points close by like Sicily. That means in the winter you can’t get zucchini. When zucchini is everywhere, my neighbors all can or dry their extras. Yes, you can dry zucchini for the brr of winter. Zia Vittoria, our neighbor, strings it up every summer! When I get back, I should ask her how she stores it.
When we are in New Jersey, even though I know I shouldn’t, I buy vegetables that aren’t in season and grown somewhere far away. That means, in March I can make Ellen’s MarinatedZucchini! I chose this recipe because the accompanying picture just radiated summer to me. I could taste those lush red tomatoes and the bursting with goodness zucchini. Off to Whole Foods I went. I don’t mean to give such a mega corporation a plug but… the fruits and vegetables I get at the one in Princeton are always perfect. My friend Kathy tells me that is not so at the store near her.
With two pounds of zucchini in my shopping bag, I got back and put together this simple yet yummy recipe. The ingredients are: zucchini, fresh basil torn in fourths, garlic peeled and minced, the always popular extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and pepper.
With my favorite Nonna knife in hand, I cut the zucchini into 1 inch chunks, put them in one of my giant pyrex bowls with a lid, added EVOO, basil, garlic, salt and pepper. The recipe said “stir well to coat every piece.” Thinking it would be exercise, I put the lid on and tossed the bowl around. As Ellen suggested, I put the bowl in the refrigerator overnight. That really gave the herbs a chance to meld with the zucchini. The next day I went on to step two. Heat a large saucepan and add the zucchini and all the juices that leached out into the bowl. Sauté it uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes. Stir it and don’t forget it. Jack reminds me I often add something to the stove and race off to my computer. Suddenly, I smell burning and race back. Don’t do that. Watch the zucchini – you may have to add a splash of water to keep it from sticking. Cook the zucchini until it just begins to soften.
Now, this is the part that I had the most problem with. Do I eat it warm, juicy and divine? Or refrigerate the vegetables to have as a salad with those tomatoes that I bought? Hmm, I needed instant gratification. I ate some immediately and called it a snack. The rest I refrigerated so that I could try to copy Ellen’s fabulous photo. I couldn’t.
Thank you to An Italian Dish for bringing a sunny day to this March madness!
For the past ten years, many of you have been with me on my journey as a Jersey girl living in Pontelandolfo. My second – or is it third – act as a quasi expat in a small Southern Italian village has been filled with unexpected life detours. Your support of my blog was the kick in the keister I needed to write a book about these Italian adventures. Gulp – the book is being published by independent press, Read Furiously! It even has an ISBN number – it is the freakin’ real deal. Wowza!
In these most unpredictable times, a fantastic get away is just at your finger tips! Sip a prosecco, sit in a cozy chair and read about places that you are not only visiting through my book, but can someday experience yourself. Giggle at the illustrations drawn by my best bud Janet Cantore Watson.
Pre-ording the book insures a copy lands in your mailbox at the same time it hits the book stores. All of you have always been here with me. As I think about you now reading my book, my heart fills with emotion. Thank you.
Maybe it is something in the water or the mountain air that has made our small Southern Italian village, Pontelandolfo, a breeding ground for talented artists, musicians, writers and actors. Michele Albini, a successful actor is a case in point. Pontelandolfese have cheered their native son as he appeared in numerous films, television shows and on professional stages.
Albini was born to be a performer. At the age of six, he was playing the piano. By seventeen he was acting. He even served as a young artistic director of Gruppo Teatrale Folk Ri Ualanegli. (Our folkloric dance and theatre company.) Yes, it is true, for decades we have had an incredible folkloric dance company in Pontelandolfo.
In 2001, after a three-year stint as an Air Force Officer, Albini decided to move to Rome and study theatre and music. Soon we were seeing him on posters, playbills and of course in theaters. 2012 found him accepting “Il Premio Massimo Troisi” award in the New Generation category. (This is a huge deal.) He has been on stage in such theaters in Rome as the Elysée, Teatro dell’Opera, Cometa Off, Teatro Due, as well as, at the Teatro Massimo in Benevento and at the Cimarosa in Aversa. Flicking around the television dial, we have caught him acting in shows like Gente di mare, Don Matteo, Il mostro di Firenze, Donna Detective 2, I Cesaroni, and La vita che corre. Instead of me prattling on about his talent – check out his Showreel!
Sadly, I’m in New Jersey this month so I couldn’t dash over to Rome and see Albini in his latest professional production, “L’Amico Ritrovato.”
Based on the internationally successful book, L’ Amico Ritrovato shares the story of two boyhood friends, Hans (played by Michele Albini) and Konradin whose friendship, was suddenly interrupted in 1935 by Hitler’s racial laws. The bond between a Jewish boy and a German boy is broken by episodes that will forever divide their lives. Many years after his separation from Konradin, Hans receives a letter that unexpectedly rewrites a part of their history.
Director, Alessandro Sena, using an adaptation written in collaboration with Marco Tassotti has created a moving work where the word, the movement and the music, create a strong scenic impact. The characters move in different historical moments from the 70s to the 30s recounting the horrors caused by Nazism and friendships that will always unite us.
When he is not acting, Albini is a writer and a musician. This past August, Jack and I were lucky to see him perform with his talented brother, Romeo in a musical biography of the Beatles, “In Spite of All The Danger”. Michele Albini wrote, performed and directed the piece. The production, produced by Egeria, was held in the village’s mini amphitheater. It was a perfect summer night filled with music, wine and the talented Albini family.
I am sure there will be more creative projects in store for Michele Albini and I hope we are on the right side of the Atlantic to see the next one.
Every time we leave our little hilltop Italian village and head back to New Jersey I get slammed with culture shock. Usually, it hits me in the wallet. I turn purple when I buy a cappuccino that sucks and costs me $3.00 or more. In Pontelandolfo, a fabulous morning cappuccino is only ninety cents. This year the culture shock surrounded the attitudes and regulations about Covid. For the past seven months we were living in a Southern Italian village that was Covid free and followed all the rules. (Yes, I know that Italy does have high Covid numbers – we live in a magical part of the country.) We had a “green pass” app on our phones that provided stores, restaurants, bars etc. with our personal QR code. That code let the business know that we had been vaccinated and had a booster shot. It also would be used for contact tracing if we had it recorded in a place where Covid was later unearthed.
We went to the same fabulous seafood restaurant – Sesto Senso – once a week. Once a week the waiters, who all know our names, asked to scan our green pass. The family that owns the restaurant also tossed into storage half of their tables and chairs. Even when the place was fully booked, we were seated so far away from another table that I couldn’t eaves drop.
Without a green pass, or evidence of vaccination and/or a recent negative Covid test, one cannot eat in a restaurant, enter a bar, go to work, ride the train, take a bus or enter the airport. To get into the terminal at Rome Fiumincino Airport we had to show our green pass and wear an N95, FFP2 or KN95 mask. Made sense to me. As we approached the United counter, we had to again show the green pass and the certification of a negative Covid test taken in the last 24 hours. We showed that green pass again at security and at the gate. Jack tells me I am forgetting a few places. It was about six times that we had to have proof of vaccination and/or covid test.
Accidentally one day, I raced into the Mini Market – where I know everyone – and was asked to turn around, go out to my car and get my forgotten mask. Ooops. Masks rock! People wore masks taking a stroll around the piazza. They wore masks shopping, giggling, chatting, learning and living. To me their masks represented their concern for other people. My mask will protect you from me. Mask wearing is a commitment to the society we live and work in. Masked, my sneeze isn’t going to shoot villainous virus thingies over to you.
Then we landed in New Jersey. BOOM! There is no mask mandate. Once we left the airport we saw maskless faces. BOOM, BOOM! I went into an empty TD bank, wearing my N95 mask, and used the ATM. The bank branch was closed due to Covid. The ATM is in an enclosed space. Two unmasked men walked into to use the adjacent machine. I wanted to scream “put on a %$#&! mask!” Instead, I left. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM.
I was horrified that the receptionist in my dermatologists office wasn’t wearing a mask. Was I rude when I refused to go to her station? Everyone else in the doctor’s office wore a mask. BOOOOOOOM!
Is mask wearing such an onerous thing? I am quite used to wearing them.
May this holiday season find you and your loved ones healthy, happy and secure. Since we are still masking up and social distancing, I thought I’d share some scenes from pre covid holidays. Hmm, I think I did the same thing last year…
2018, 2019 – great years sigh… Actually, all the years leading up to today have been great years. Today is part of a great year. We are alive, traveling, laughing and creating. Our holiday seasons have been quiet and contemplative but is that such a bad thing? This Christmas Eve, Jack and I may be eating seven fishes alone but I learned how to make a great baccala mantecato! Did you know you could buy mussels in the shells frozen? Damn, this year I learned a lot about frozen fish.
2022 shall soon be here. We will all be another year bolder and better. I shall raise a glass to each and everyone of you as I sincerely wish you all a great New Year.
Isola Ecologica or Hillsborough Dump – by any other name the dumpster diving is just as sweet. For over thirty years, an ornate Jacobean carved hutch graced my homes. When we made the decision to spend more time in Italy, I never should have sold it. The piece was found by my mother, sans the doors embazoned with nude figures, in the Hillsborough dump. Her pal found the doors in another part of the dump. In the early 1960s a Saturday morning run to the dump was an adventure. You brought your garbage and left with someone else’s garbage. Only it wasn’t garbage it was a treasure in need of a new home. Sigh, I miss those days…
Here in Pontelandolfo, fifty years later – could that be true – I was taken back to those blissful adventures at the local dump. We contracted a new internet provider and found ourselves with an old Dish TV style antennae. The big lug stared at us and dared us to toss it. We stared back from Tuesday until Saturday. We won. It would be tossed and we would take our first trip to the Pontelandolfo dump! Excuse me – dump is too common a term for the Sannio Hills. That Saturday, we followed the newly resurfaced mountain road to the Isola Ecologica! One thing the ugly wind turbines did for the town was the repaving of roads going up the mountain. I am embarrassed to say that in ten years I had never ridden the road we live on that far up the incredibly beautiful hill.
Soon houses were gone and more and more intricately shaped white boulders peppered the fields. The road took us up past enormous nature carved rock faces hugging the mountain side. The ride was gorgeous. We didn’t know what to expect so we kept on waiting for a sign or something. No, not a sign from the celestial hill side. A sign that said Isola Ecologica.
The sign was – well there was no sign. Like a dumpster diving oasis, the Isola Ecologica just rose up out of the mountain side. We weren’t sure what the protocol was and like “Harriet the Spy” parked outside the gate and spied.
Jack, I whispered, look some guy is stacking pieces of wood on the roof of his car. Seriously, he isn’t dumping it, he is taking it.
I started laughing so hard the Fiat rocked. Another guy was rummaging through what looked like a giant display of electronics after the Black Friday sale had reduced it to rubble. Until he stood up and proudly raised a monitor over his head, I had only seen his legs. Here on an Italian mountaintop, I had been transported back to the Hillsborough, New Jersey dump! I could see my mother and her pals dragging chairs missing only one leg or a seat out of enormous piles.
We finally pulled into the yard and Lorenzo, the helpful super of the yard, pointed to the bin the giant dish should go into. There was the electronics bin, wood bin, plastics bin, section for things like refrigerators and stoves, furniture piles and something I have never seen before.
Memories can be triggered by the smallest things. I miss that ornately carved hutch, restored by my mom and loved by everyone who visited my homes. I miss my mom and the joy she could find in a day of dumpster diving. Next time I feel sad, I’ll take something that may or may not need tossing and visit the Isola Ecologica.
Sitting in the piazza on November 1st, my heart was full and tears slowly slid down my face. Across from my table, parked in Piazza Roma was a portable – fully operational – medical unit. They were here not because there was an earthquake or flood or any other tragedy. They were here to prevent the tragedy of families loosing wives, mothers, sisters and daughters to cancer. Cancers that can be cured or held in remission with adequate warning. This was a portable screening center for female centered cancers. Pap tests, mammograms and colon screening tests were available. The set up was in the piazza all day, from 9:00 AM until 6:00 PM. The posters and social media posts all touted “ Campagna di Prevenzione Oncologica Gratuita.” This was a free health project of the Region of Campania. The medical unit was stopping in small towns all over the region. It was so simple for people to access this service. Women only had to call Pontelandolfo’s city hall to make an appointment for Pap tests or mammograms. The colon test kit was available by simply walking up and asking for it.
The sun was shining on the outdoor waiting area. From my seat, sipping my cappuccino I could hear “numero 25 mammografia.”The medical team welcomed people as they ventured near the area. I noticed that men have also gone in to pick up the colon cancer test.
The set up was slick. The front had video projections “Mi Voglio Bene” talking about each of the available tests. This campaign urging women to love themselves and get screening is fabulous. Imagine, something like this pulling into small towns all over America! Actually, I would love to imagine it but sadly I don’t know if it would ever happen. I mean, politicians don’t seem to give a tinker about women’s health issues and too many voters don’t understand the validity of universal healthcare.
I first found out about the testing center on FaceBook – which is the major news vehicle here. Later, the posters in stores, on walls and in the newspapers reminded me to find out what I was eligible for. At first, the snarky Midge giggled at the thought of joining a line of woman, without underpants, waiting for their internal exams and pap smears. Crude of me, I know. Then I started to think about my mom dying of breast cancer because the diagnosis was too late and I stopped giggling. I started appreciating what was happening not only in Pontelandolfo but all over Campania.
When I first got to the piazza at 9:00 AM, there weren’t any people waiting for services. I was one of the first women up the steps. Everyone was warm and friendly. I stoped at the reception desk and jokingly said I knew I was too old for everything but a colon test. Why did they limit mammography to women between the ages of 50 to 69, I asked. Younger women get ultrasounds. Both tests are given if something is found on one. I always wondered why we don’t use ultrasounds more in the USA. Believing on earring on the side of caution, I have been know to tell a tale to get an ultrasound. My breasts are dense and since my mom died of breast cancer, I often come up with some strange complaint to get one.
Then, I asked about the other age restrictions. Just like the USA’s medicare and other insurances, the national health care system restricts tests based on some data or another. For a Pap test the age range is 25 to 64. Every year a I beg for a pap-test. Medicare doesn’t cover them for old ladies either. Don’t old women get utero cancer??? A mammography is available for women between the ages of 50 and 69. I was obviously too old for that too. Though, when I talked about my mother dying of breast cancer, I discovered that they of course make exceptions. The Colon Cancer Screening kit was for folks between 50 and 74. It was the only test I hadn’t aged out of. The receptionist, who was charming and answered all my questions, asked for my health card and phone number. She then, just like at the deli, she gave me a number. I’ve noticed that in Italy, numbers are given out in medical waiting rooms. As part of their privacy laws, the nurses can’t bellow “Guerrera.”
My test — – Since I was the only one there, I didn’t really need the number. I was immediately ushered into a private room and asked for my particulars – name, address, phone number, my health insurance card had pulled up my residency and date of birth information. A second nurse came into the room and explained the test. Simple – take sample from – no I will not describe how to take a stool sample. The important thing was after the sample is in the glass holder, I had to take it to the analysis center in Morcone. I wondered why people couldn’t just run home, do what they had to do and bring the sample back to the portable center. Morcone is only five minutes away so it will be no big deal. If I don’t hear anything in ten days, the test was negative. I wish they would tell you either way. I think I’ll ask.
Sadly, for the three hours I sat at Bar Elimar I didn’t see hordes of women going to the center. November 1st, Festa di Tutti i Santi – All Saints Day, and a national holiday so it should have been easy for people to come. They are constantly coming but there is not a surge or a long line. Gulp, I just remembered women made appointments! Perhaps they are staggered appropriately.
For fun, when I got home I googled the ranking of the United States on health care issues. Every list I found from the World Health Organization to independent foundations ranked the USA – well not well. Never in the top 20. Just another reason to rethink the system of providing health care for not only women but all Americans.