Taxi Drivers – Love Some and Hate Others

I’ve often said, one of the advantages to living in Pontelandolfo is that we can hop around fairly inexpensively to visit other European cities. During one rainy week, four of us hopped over to Amsterdam for a taxing good/bad time.

Like foxes sniffing for prey – taxi drivers roam the streets of Amsterdam looking for wet and bedraggled tourists to gouge. When we landed, the fox phone chain must have been rattling. The foxes didn’t have far to look for new soggy chickens to fleece! Our happy or maybe crazy foursome went out in wind, rain and hail. Ten minutes after leaving point A to get to point B, we looked like dripping shaggy dogs. The foxes pounced-

“Growl, there are four good ones,” drooled the first driver we met. “The white haired guy looks old and about to faint. Errrr, and look at that chubby momma flagging me down. She can barely waddle in the rain. The other two, with hair plastered down, look ready to cry. Hee, hee hee. Yumm.”

Ann Frank Museum visitors que up in the rain.

It was pouring when we left Amsterdam’s Ann Frank Museum. My little party of four was soaked and starting to wrinkle. Sadly, I didn’t see the driver’s drool and flagged the fox’s cab. It stopped. We started to get in and told him the name of our hotel.

€30, he snickered.

What???!!! We had paid the cab to get to the museum only €17. He looked at me. I looked at him. Susi, my friend sputtered, that isn’t just. We all looked at the rain, and sunk into our seats. No tip was getting into his greedy little paws.

After that scurrilous experience you would think we would have learned something. Noooo! We took a fun, yet rain and hail filled, canal boat tour. Seriously, the rain and hail made me feel like a native. We were toasty dry on the boat and laughing at the sounds above us. Then we got off the boat. Merde. It took thirty seconds for the rain to fill our shoes, pockets, hair and drench our coats. We clambered up the metal stairs to the dock and headed for the street. Susi raced ahead and starting talking to a cab drive. We all piled in. The hotel was about eight blocks away. We could see it. If we were nimble youths we would have run. We aren’t nimble or young. We asked the driver if he was going to use the meter.

It’s raining – you want a ride – €30.

Not a sputter came out of our blue and freezing lips. We paid the €30. It must be the official rain on tourists price.

I noted the similarity between the fair and honest taxi drivers of Naples and the fair and honest taxi drivers of Amsterdam. The honest folks clicked on their meters. The price gougers didn’t. The honest ones played by all the rules. Once, the four of us attempted to jump the cab line to enter the second and bigger vehicle in the cue. The noble driver of the second car wouldn’t accept us as customers and sent us back to the first car. Whoever was first in line was to be our driver – no matter how tight a fit it was for four people.

The foxes are always ready to take a bite out of your wallet. In Amsterdam, the unmetered prices versus metered prices fluctuated between thirty to fifty percent more. Some times even the metered fairs varied coming and going too. How could that be, we would bellow. Then one of us would point out that we seemed to have driven in a circle two or three times.

Hmm, has that ever happened in Naples? Until we knew better, Jack and I had been fleeced from the Naples train station to our hotel in the center of town. A tourist, or person who looks like a tourist, needs to beware. Drivers have said things like, your suitcase is big – that costs more. There is a special charge for blah blah blah. Look at the posted price sheets. There should be posted fixed prices in every cab. Amsterdam didn’t seem to have prices posted. Actually, they didn’t have cab licenses posted in the cars either. One time, after we got in, the driver took the sign that said taxi off his roof and tossed in on the front seat floor. He didn’t use the meter either. He had lots of reasons.

One way streets. Construction. Rain. I can tell you about the city. Beh.

Researching after the fact is like being a Monday morning quarterback. As I was writing this rant, I thought I should check with the experts. According to http://www.amsterdamtips.com/amsterdam-taxis

Taxi Rates in Amsterdam 2022

The cost of a taxi in Amsterdam depends on 3 elements – a starting tariff, a cost per km and a cost per minute which is all calculated by the compulsory meter in the vehicle. The maximum allowable rates are as follows:

Taxi car (4 people): €3.36 start tariff + €2.47 price per km + €0.41 price per minute

Taxi van/bus (5-8 people): €6.83 start tariff + €3.11 price per km + €0.46 price per minute.

Reading that, I began to understand why some drivers took the longest routes. I also read that you didn’t have to tip the drivers – except maybe the change. Sadly, not wanting to be ugly tourists we asked our first driver what the tipping standards in the Netherlands were. He said 10-15% but not mandatory. Duhhhhh. Silly girl, next time I should reasearch before we go anywhere. But why should I have to? Why can’t every driver be like the fair and honest drivers? Sigh…

Happy traveling! Enjoy every voyage – even if it rains.

Ci sentiamo,

Midge

Masks Unmasked

Jack and I came home to Pontelandolfo to find a bag of scrumptious fava beans on our door step. Our neighbor, Lina, had left them for us. (You’ve heard me talk about the ever growing and traveling fava bean before. Click if you haven’t.) The beans themselves are nestled in a furry lined pod. I sat down to clean them and realized I was “unmasking” the hidden delights.

As I unmasked the raw beans, I saw each little bean as a person who had been safely ensconced and came home to me unharmed. On May 4th, we arrived in Italy from the unmasked state of New Jersey. Frankly, since Covid was still active, I never felt particularly safe with the unmasking edict. Prior to boarding our flight to Rome, I was thrilled to read that Italy still had some stringent masking travel rules in place. The FFP2 masks remain mandatory on airplanes – as well as other methods of travel. (FFP2 is similar to N95 or KN95 masks.). Every passenger on our United Flight should have read all the Covid rules and regulations.

Of course, there is always someone who doesn’t read, doesn’t care or obviously knows better and can be a pain in the butt about it. “Why do I have to put on a mask?” shrieked the woman boarding the plane a few people behind me. The United employee at the gate was very calm and tried to explain that it was a rule. The loud mouth continued screaming, “we don’t have to wear masks anymore – didn’t you get the message?”

You who know me, know what is coming. I couldn’t bear it another nanosecond and pulling my school administrator stop the riot voice of authority out of my ass turned and bellowed – “It is an Italian law. We are taking a plane to Italy and Italian law supersedes whatever it is you are talking about.” Jack grabbed my arm and pulled me forward.

I mean what is the big deal about a mask? Since we arrived in Pontelandolfo, we have been surrounded by masks. The day we got here, after a short nap – OK from noon until 7:30 PM – we tossed on some clothes and went to dinner at our favorite seafood restaurant, Sesto Senso. Everyone working there was wearing a mask. Patrons wore masks until they got beverages. Tables were more that ten feet apart. No one complained. Masks in the grocery store, masks in the pharmacy, masks at the butchers, masks anywhere groups of people were congregating and no one was bitching.

Back to the fava beans. The little pods protect the beans until they are big, strong and scrumptious. I enjoy being protected by my mask and look forward to the end of Covid and being strong and scrumptious too.

Ci Vediamo

Midge

Laugh at my antics in Pontelandolfo and Southern Italy. Get a copy of my book, wherever books are sold.

Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos

Published by Read Furiously

Tales of Pontelandolfo to Hit Bookstores

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!

I cried when I saw this. Alex said it is like preparing for a Broadway opening – we are in previews!

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.

Pre-order from my great publisher – Read Furiously!

Pre-order a book at your local bookstore. Say hi for me. I would be happy to do a zoom reading for them too. You can also use Bookshop.org.

Barnes & Nobel now has it available for pre-order. So does Amazon.it! Amazon.com will have it someday.

Grazie mille! Abbracione a tutti!

Ci Vediamo

Midge

Check out my plays on Next Stage Press and the New Play Exchange.

Pintadera 2009 – Flashbacks

On a recent snowy night, I hunkered down to clean out a dusty over stuffed plastic tub. You know the kind – large, filled with files and memoribillia you will get to some day, covered with a snap on lid and left to fade in the back of a closet. I opened the tub, pulled out a batch of files when a folded cache of browning papers fell into my lap.  Was it very old love notes from a high school beau?  Or recipes in my beloved zia’s hand.  Giggle, I slowly unfolded the cracked paper and saw the date – January 2009.  Wow, it was a love note of sorts, my notes on an earlier trip to Alghero, Sardegna and Italian lessons at the fabulous Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera.  Walk with me back to January, 2009 and take an armchair voyage.

We were excited to be heading back to Alghero. Never having been there in the winter we didn’t know what to expect. The city juts out into the sea. Walking the sea wall in the summer is bliss. Will it bluster in January?

It did not bluster! I wore a coat but Jack did his daily walk in the noonday sun in only a sweatshirt.

On Saturday, January 3, 2009 – courtesy of air miles we flew Primo Classe on Alitalia from Newark to Rome.  (In those days there were flights out of Newark, New Jersey.) I still use the little grey tweed makeup bags they gave us filled with mini stuff that I probably tossed. .

On Sunday, January 4, tired and still tipsy from all that Primo Classe booze we lugged our suitcases across the terminal to our jumper flight to Sardegna. We had an uneventful but cramped Air One flight to Alghero.  (They went out of business in 2014.) A 25€ cab ride organized by Pintadera brought us directly to the apartment they had found for us. Pintadera co-owner, Nicola, met us with keys in hand.  I looked at the steep staircase from the street leading up to the apartment, muttered bad words and lugged my suitcase up. Gasping for breath I walked in and saw the sea. The steps were worth it. Wow, we have an apartment with an ocean view.  The terrace was tiny but a terrace.   There was a twin bed with pillows in the front room, a chair or two, table and a kitchenette.  The bedroom had a king-sized bed. For the amount of time we planned on staying there it was perfect.

Bella Vista from or terrace!

I love Pintadera.  This was our second trip to the school.  We are so taken with the place and people, that I had organized a group of Italian language students from New Jersey to join us this time.  Starting Monday, January 5, we had classes daily from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM.  The weather was perfect. Staring at the sea, sipping a cappuccino at a bar with a view was heavenly. January in Alghero means very few tourists, sales in the stores and lots of sun.

Every day at 11:OO AM class took a caffè break. This is January – note the sun, smiles and me squinting.
Jack is always teachers pet.

The queen of not doing enough research and just diving into travel, I really lucked out. The first week in January, Alghero was transformed into a cultural Mecca. We had no idea how important Epiphany was nor how involved the arts community would be. That Monday, after class we strolled the tiny cobble stone streets and alleys following the sounds of carolers.  Sparkling arches of holiday lights topped the throngs out for a pre-epiphany passegiata.  Itinerant volunteer actors dressed like La Befana or the three Kings could be found in every small piazza dispensing nuts and fruit to every child. Even us kids in our second acts!

The whole city came out on January 5th and 6th – Epihany – waiting for La Befana, (The gift giving strega.)

Piazza Teatro lived up to its name.  A troupe of wheelchair assisted and developmentally challenged actors costumed beautifully portrayed the manger scene.  The love pouring out from every actor filled the piazza and my heart.  Their focus and passion for the nativity brought the scene to life.

Every one visits the new born baby. This is a fraction of the actors. I bet there were twenty.

After a scrumptious dinner of roasted calamari and l’insalata at a nameless little spot we followed the sounds of six part harmony. Angelic male voices filled the air from Piazza Civica.  The crowed surged there.  It felt and sounded like there were hundreds of men dressed in black with white collared shirts singing in intricate harmonies.  Traditional Sardo and spiritual songs wafted over the crowd as we trailed the singers from piazza to piazza.  Choiristers sang a rousing march as they moved from spot to spot.   I never found out if all of these musical artists were from Alghero.

A phenomenal men’s choir serenades us.

La Befanas scampered about clutching brooms and tossing sweets at children. The the night before Epiphany, La Befana traditionally flies from house to house bringing candy to good children and carbone, coal, to evil monsters. Besides engaging with the crowds La Befana was also plastered on doors or hanging from lamp posts. (The universe must be kicking me. I just had finished yet another rewrite of my play “Mamma Mia – La Befana!??” when I found this picture. Hmm – time to start pitching that work???)

La Befana, the gift giving witch, is a symbol of Epiphany.

Often, other amateur actors appeared dressed as angels or in traditional Sardegna garb to entertain with stories, dance and pageantry.  Music and art was everywhere.

Folklorico Dancers shook the cobblestones. In 2009 I wrote, “Hey USA how about a little more public art?”

After class one day, I saw a sign for a children’s theatre performance at Alghero’s opera house, Teatro Civica di Alghero.  Built in 1829, the space is amazing.  Think a jewel box version of Carnegie Hall with draped box seats surrounding the house.  It is unique because it is the only Italian theater built entirely of wood. Lavish is an understatement. We ventured in and sat down in our box excited to see our first performance in Italy.  It was the worst children’s theatre I have ever experienced in my life.  Disclaimer, in the 1970s I was the director of a touring children’s theater company so I kind of know what works and what doesn’t.  Here are just some of the reasons it was abysmal – for the first fifteen minutes the star – a middle aged curly haired sprightly woman stood on stage directing traffic to seats.  Then the curtain opens – late of course – on an amateur cardboard set.  Add to that bad lighting and a shared microphone and you have all the stuff you need for failure.  I love audience participation and pre -show warm ups but this crew did a warm-up that lasted an hour.  Then there was a brief pause and the scripted piece began and went on and on and on.  The show started at 5:00 PM.  We snuck out with many others at 7:00 PM and the show was still going on.  Do I sound snarky?  I love theater and it pains me to have troupes produce less than professional work for children.  That said, seeing the interior of Teatro Civica was worth the distraction.

Who are the divas in the box???? We didn’t know the women we shared the box with but loved their fur coats.

Early Wednesday mornings I took an early morning jaunt to the covered market. This market is classic.  One whole section is just stall after stall of fish vendors.  Sardegna is an island and Alghero sits right on the sea – perfect location for the freshest of fish.  Fruit and vegetable stalls, ready-made treats and more filled the space.  I love wandering the aisles and discovering what I will be cooking.

Tuna anyone?
Ovella Negra just a staircase away from our apartment.

I love this city!  We also loved the wine and local cheese plates we enjoyed in Ovella Negra, the grotto like bar below the apartment. (We have been back to Alghero many times since and sadly, this bar is no longer there.). The owner was a real foodie. He only served local fare and treated us like visiting royalty.  During our two week stay, we did go there almost every single day so I could see why they treated us well.  This particular night, I must have had an orgasmic food experience – why else would I have written down every morsel.  We tend to share lots of small plates – think tapas style.  First, he served us a fresh, unsalted goat cheese that was so light and creamy it must have been made by angels.  With that, of course we had Cardegna, a dry white wine. Next, some room temperature small plates to warm ones heart of dried tuna and sword fish.  Yup, caught off the coast.  We tasted bottarga, Sardinian cured fish roe, for the first time.  Now, we are bottarga junkies.  Bottarga is cured, air-dried roe from flathead mullets and is a Sardinian staple.  After dinner, we were given a glass of Mirto – a local digestivo.  It is the national drink of Sardegna and made by infusing alcohol with fresh myrtle berries.  Most nights we staggered up the stairs to our apartment. The stairs seem easier when I stagger.

Saturday, January 10th we took the train to Sassari.  The train ticket was 3.80€ roundtrip.  It was a twenty-minute walk to the train station from our center city apartment. The ancient train meandered through a valley and we were surrounded by mountains.  Sheep, sheepdogs and olive groves completed the picture.   They city of Sassari was reminiscent of any neighborhood in any major Italian city.  Cobble stone streets, buildings that were built during the middle ages and – of course – one of the finest restaurants on the island.  We had the best grilled calamari ever at the Trattoria Gesuino.  Seriously, the best ever!  So very tender – I can still taste it.  We visited the Museo Nazionale “Giovanni Antonio Sanna.”  This archeological museum was chock full of great finds – including glass from 200 BC.  We will go back someday.

We hopped the Train to Sassari and visited the museum. That will be 2 euro please.

  Every great day takes longer than you think. Gulp, we missed the last train back.  Thanks to that snafu we experienced even more of the island on the bus. The bus was 3€ – bella vista – we saw hills, small towns and more sheep.  No wonder the local cheese is so fantastic!  The bus meandered through villages the train passed by. We were dropped off in the park by the city wall.  It was a shorter walk back to the apartment. Which of course we didn’t enter, going down to the bar instead.

Life in Alghero for educational tourists like us is magical. We didn’t know what to expect in January – except cheaper prices – and were happily surprised by the temperature, holiday culture and the food. Since I kept that journal in 2009, we have been back to Pintadera at least four additional times. We love the sea, the food, the people and of course Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera. We will return – perhaps we will see you there too.

Ci Vediamo.

Midge

PS: Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo is organizing for 2022. Today we read about travel. Tomorrow we travel.

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Missing Venice? Visit With Donna Leon!

Many of us are stuck in our homes thinking of all the places in the world we’d like to visit.  Why not take an armchair tour of Venice with my favorite detective, Commissario Guido Brunetti.  The fictional Italian detective,  is a commissario in the Italian State Police, stationed in Venice.  He is proud to be a native Venetian. The creation of Donna Leon, Brunetti becomes our eyes and ears in Venice. His wife, children, family life, upper class in-laws, obnoxious boss and the other detectives all become part of our tour.  We peek into the worlds of Counts and Countesses, immigrants, Venetian middle class and the very poor.  What I love about Leon’s books is the way they draw me into  the social, political and historic fabric of the city, and region.  With Brunetti, we hop on a traghetto (think bus in the water), a police boat, sometimes even a car, but most often on foot to wend our way through canals and neighborhoods tourists don’t see.

 And then the air was just as suddenly filled with the sweetness of springtime and buds and new leaves, fresh grass and nature’s giggly joy at coming back for another show
As they turned into the broad stereet, Brunetti saw evidence in support of his belief that this was one of the few areas of the city still filled primarily with Venetians.  It was enough to see the beige woollen cardiagans and short carefully permed hair to know the older women were Venetian; those children with their skateboards were not there on vacation; and most foreign men did not stand so close to one another during aconversation.  The shops, too, sold things that would be used in the city where they were purchased, not wrapped up and taken home to be shown off as some sort of prized acquisition, like a deer hunted and shot and tied to the top of a car.
“By Its Cover” 2014

The Venetian inspector also editorializes on the not so positive transitions that have occurred in Venice over the past fifty or so years.  He often speaks of the changes that all of us who have been fortunate to visit Venice over the decades have seen. The enormous cruise ships that displace tons of water and toss thousands of back pack smashing tourists all at once onto the island.  Like whirling dervish they twist and twirl over bridges.  Made in China faux Venetian glass, masks and more have taken over bakeries, butcher shops and vegetable stands.

Brunetti — I had the good fortune to grow up in a different Venice, not this stage set that’s been created for tourists …  Venetian families, especially young ones, are driven out because they cannot afford to rent or buy a home.

“Earthly Remains” 2017

Picking up travel and life hints while binge reading Brunetti is also a great way to plan your next visit to Italy.  There are so many food references that fans demanded and were rewarded with the Brunetti’s Cook Book.

The first time I had a prescription filled in our villages local pharmacy I was mesmerized watching the farmacista peel and stick labels from boxes.  Leon’s accurate description of the action had me smiling.  There are many more bits and pieces of everyday Italian life sprinkled in the books.
She took the boxes, peeled off stamps from the backs, and pasted them on to the prescriptions the woman gave her.  Then she ran the prescriptions over the sensor plate next to the cash register, put the boxes in a plastic bag, and accepted a twenty-Euro note in payment.  She rang up the sale and returned the woman’s change, added the receipt, thanked her, and wished her a pleasant eventing.
“Temptation of Forgiveness,”  2018
Take a walk with Donna Leon’s Brunetti and become a part of  Venetian life.  Just be wary when and where you walk.  Once we were trying to get over the Rialto Bridge and cross the Grand Canal.  A wild large tourist group of where could they be going in such a hurry, came galloping over the bridge.  Jack and I clung to the sides.  No, even though I thought it, I didn’t stick out my foot.
Brunetti’s first response, given that it was a warm day in early spring, had been to calculate the easiest way to walk from the Questura to the Palazzo without becoming entrapped in the by now normal migration paths of the herds of tourists.  Because of the clear sky and benevolent temperature, walking hip Riva Degli Schiavoni would be impossible, crossing Piazza San Marco an act of madness.
Brunetti walked home quickly, paying almost no attention to what or whom he passed, deaf to the sound of the returning birds, the only tourists no one resented.
“Upon Us a Son Is Given,” 2019
Donna Leon is incredibly prolific.  I think there are twenty-nine Brunetti novels. But there may be a new one coming soon.  She is my literary work ethic idol. Besides the cook book there are television shows, a Brunetti walking tour, even stories with music!  But hey – she IS a Jersey girl! Born in Montclair, New Jersey, she lived and worked in Venice for over thirty years.  Her Commissario Brunetti series has won countless awards.  I would love to award her the Midge’s Favorite Author of All Things Venetian award.  Would it be stalking if I just sat outside her house and stared???
“Trace Elements” is the latest book.  I can’t wait to get mine and see where Brunetti goes next. Why not pour a glass of Prosecco and visit Venice with Guido Brunetti. You will be so happy you did.
Ci vediamo!!

PS. Stay safe and wear a mask.

Travelling Back to Pontelandolfo

On February 17, 2020 we raced to Newark Airport to pick up my Italian cousin, Annarita.  We had great plans!  Trips to New York, walks in Philadelphia, strolling through the Grounds for Sculpture and being foodies – eating in every interesting non-Italian restaurant we could find.  Annarita is thirty-something and a great sport.  The first week we visited New York’s Italian Consulate, wandered city streets and, starting with “French 45” cocktails, enjoyed great French Food.  During the trip, rumblings of the Coronavirus were shaking in our head.  I carried enough hand wipes and hand sanitizer to keep a troupe of scouts germ free.  We smeared our hands with sanitizer in the train stations, cabs and well, just about anytime we touched something – out came the wipes and the sanitizer.

Carrying bleach wipes, sanitizer and vitamin C, Annarita flew off to Texas to spend time with our cousins.  She had a great adventure.  When she got back – boom – Coronavirus really dropped into New Jersey.  Jack and I had just bought a condo and moved in moments before the “stay at home” orders started.  Her March tickets back to Italy fell into the trash. The hip young woman was now stuck in a 55 plus condo.  WOW!  What fun!  We cooked, we laughed, we got everything delivered and didn’t venture out. After six weeks of this frivolity, she was ready to go back to Italy. The other reality was, foreign nationals without Visas are only allowed to stay in the USA for 90 days.  With this administration’s posturing on foreign folks  we were frantic to get her back by day 89.

We had two problems to deal with – 1. Would Italy let her back in the country? 2. If we couldn’t get her home by day 89, what would happen to her when she tried to leave the USA at a later date?  Taking deep breaths we booked a Lufthansa flight to Naples.

Would Italy let her in –

AUTODICHIARAZIONE GIUSTIFICATIVA DELLO SPOSTAMENTO  IN CASO DI ENTRATA IN ITALIA DALL’ESTERO spit out of my printer. This Self-declaration Form of Displacement must be completed by any Italian National coming back to Italy from abroad.  Since the east coast of the USA is a red zone, we started to worry and wondered what she would have to write and certify. Unless, you have an urgent reason to return, Italy would prefer you stay away in self quarantine.  She had to attest that she didn’t have the virus and hadn’t been near anyone who did.  The question that got me was , what is the urgency to come back?  The bloody 90 day cut off for her American stay was the urgency. She also had to guarantee she had a place to serve a fourteen day isolation quarantine.  That means – alone, no family, remain in a space where no one else has access.  We wouldn’t know if they would let her in until she got there!

Could she stay in the USA longer than 90 days –

Before she came to visit she completed an application for the Visa Waiver program, ESTA – she needed a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)   This is what Europeans usually apply for – you can fill it out at a Travel Agency.  Easy – right?  Except, according to Travel.state.gov – 

If you enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, you are not permitted to extend your stay in the United States beyond the initial admission period. You must depart the United States on or before the date on your admission stamp when you entered the United States.

I couldn’t get a hold of anyone in the Department of State. Does anyone still work there?  Being an old politico, I sent a nice campaign donation to my local congressperson.  I then sent an e-mail and asked for help with the DOS.  The office aide did call me and leave her Washington number.  I called back and obviously the aide blew me off because I never heard another word.  We were afraid that in today’s American climate she would be in major trouble if she overstayed the 90 day tourism window European visitors are allowed. Until she landed in Rome, we still worried.

It took angst, my skill of phone sex or phone tears magic and the ever powerful lawyer Rossella but in the middle of May Annarita was finally able to go home.  Home being my favorite southern Italian Village, Pontelandolfo.  Was it easy? No.  Were we gnashing teeth, arguing with airlines, frantic to get in touch with anyone in power? Yes

Let us start with the flight.  Just by chance – I had called Lufthansa to check on her flight status – we discovered that her flight to Naples via Frankfort was cancelled.  WHAT?  I asked the representative why we didn’t get an e-mail or a text message or even a notification on the Lufthansa app?  Who knows why?  We went to the Naples Airport website and discovered that no flights were coming in or out.  It seems that the small regional airports were closed.  The reality was she had to fly from Frankfort to Rome.  Great, you’re thinking, Rome is cool.  Sadly, after literally hours on the phone with three different people in the Lufthansa call center, we discovered that because Italy is so concerned with social distancing and the safety of its residents they insist planes flying in had to be no more than half full.  The only flight would   arrive in Rome at 5:45PM.

Too late to get a train close to home – besides it was impossible to get train tickets.   Maybe someone can drive the three hours and pick her up.  WRONG!  Italy knows how far reaching this virus is and contains it by not letting people go from one region or another unless they work in a vital industry.  That means that no one from Campania can drive to Lazio and pick her up.  We were frantic.  Her family in Pontelandolfo was besides themselves.  Her sister kept calling hotels in Rome. A pal who owns a travel agency called all his pals trying to get Annarita a place to stay.  All of the hotels are being used for isolation quarantine.  There are no beds in Rome.  The tension mounted and pounds of cookies, biscotti and tortes were being devoured.  We could get her to Rome but then….

Thank the Lord for Rossella, ace advocate and older sister, she found out that there were some limousine services that could cross regional borders.  One was found in nearby Benevento.  I am imaging the back passenger seat being a containment bubble.  The driver texted Annarita  and said not to worry he would be there and be carrying “real Italian” coffee for her.

Annarita fly
Annarita Flying Back

Everything was in place – or was it.  We got Annarita to Newark Airport three hours early.  Social distancing apparently wasn’t on anyone’s brain.  That said, the airline employees did exercise caution.  Annarita said that no one would touch her luggage.  She printed her own boarding pass, luggage tags etc.  The wait for the flight  was harrowing.  No one respected the six feet rule.  Airline employees screamed, “RESPECT DISTANCING.” But with hundreds of people anxious to get out of New Jersey, it was chaotic.   Chairs were X’d out but people just stood crowded together.  It was frightening.  People all wore masks and many others wore white coveralls covering their clothes.  They covered up but crowded up – makes no sense. To board the plane – it was a United flight – the had six foot makers near the door.  Five people at a time were called to that position and allowed to board.  The boarded from the rear of the plane first.  That was smart.  No one was standing in the aisle breathing on seated folks.  Annarita  said the plane was half-full and there were empty seats between people.  Then she landed in Frankfort.

Frankfort was “impossible”.  I thought the Germans would have had this organized.  They didn’t and worse – Lufthansa had lied to us.  The plane to Rome was not half full.  It was freakin’ overbooked.  People were packed near the gate and arguing to be let on.  She got on.  Kept her mask on and sanitized her hands a million times.

The Rome airport was organized and social distancing was mandated.  There was a long spaced line for everything.  They took the temperatures of very young people and others.  Luckily, Annarita had filled out the Self Declaration Form in advance.  Folks queued up for about twenty minutes to get a table and fill out the form.  Again, one person at a table please.   Every single traveller met with someone from border control to review the form.  Questions were asked and answered.  Annarita breezed through.

The Limo driver met her, helped with the luggage and walked with her to the car.  Hand sanitizer and wipes were in abundance.  She sighed, settled back and made it home to Pontelandolfo.

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Pontelandolfo – our favorite place.

When an Italian returns they must also give a form to the local police, the mayor’s office and A.S.L. – Aziende Sanitarie Locali – universal health care agency.

Our house in Pontelandolfo was obviously empty so she hunkered down there.  Her family had stocked the refrigerator and pantry, the wi-fi was on and the television works.  What more could she want?  After the fourteen days, someone will come and test her or give her a physical.  That hasn’t happened yet.  Doesn’t matter.  She is home.  She is healthy.  She has opened the windows in my house.

Hopefully, after she is back with her family, we too will soon be isolation quarantining in our Southern Italian home.

Ci vediamo.

 

 

Good Eats at Rome Train Station

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

No Kids With Markers – Actual Signage

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

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

Love the scribble logo that is everywhere.

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

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

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

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

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

Where Have All the People Gone?

Robotic Terminal C – Newark Airport

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

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

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

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

Ci vediamo.

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

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