Flour Wars, Mask Shortages – Improvising During a Pandemic

It was about 9:30 PM on a blustery early March night – a time when the Hillsborough Shop Rite was usually quiet – that the impact of the Corona Virus hit me.  This literally dark and stormy night the megastores’s parking lot was full. Crazed shoppers raced through the building. Shopping carts were piled high. People were wrenching paper towel rolls away from each other.  What the hell?  

Over the last few months, I bet all of us have seen long vacant toilet paper shelves and a sad empty paper towel aisle.  We have also seen resilience and creativity.  I found our cloth napkins – we use them for a few days before washing.  Why buy paper napkins? A cloth rag works well – who needs paper towels?  But flour and yeast – now that is another story.

You all know that my amazing cousin, Annarita, was trapped in our Condo.   What did we lust for?  Food Pontelandolfo Style.  I sobbed over the lack of good crusty bread – like those one kilo loaves made at Diglio Forno.  Annarita FaceTimed with her mom, Carmella, and groaned when she saw mamma’s fresh pasta.  Jack was aching for pizza from Sesto Senso.   Not, a problem, I thought.  If we can’t go to the village, let’s bring the village to us.

Our Little Village in the Sannio Hills.  It was virus free!!!

With flour and yeast, Annarita would  replicate those gorgeous gluten powered treats.  So I thought.  Imagine my tears, when my end of March shop yielded not one wee bit of flour.  Yeast – who bought all the yeast? Not one packet of yeast was left on a shelf.  Did I look in more than one store – who are you asking?  Of course.  When did the entire population of Central Jersey start baking? This was not an isolated scene.  It may have been a global farina, mouka, mel, harina, flour shortage. My family in Pontelandolfo, who really do know how to bake, roast and toast, also said there was a run on yeast.  Obviously for the last few months, around the world, some folks were hoarding toilet paper – others – flour and yeast.  It took until April, but I did score flour.  Did I say score?  Sounds like I was jonesing for flour.  Obviously, I travelled far and wide in my quest for flour.

Now that we had flour, it was time for Annarita to do her magic.  She wanted to start with pasta and asked me where my pasta machine was.  Hmm, I thought where is that machine?  Oh yeah, when we moved to Italy I gave my New Jersey machine to my nephew, Christopher.  Rolling pin, she asked.  Hmmm, where did that go?  No problem, we are exceptional women and know how to improvise.  A quick search of our condo yielded –

You might think it is a closet rod but we saw a matterello, The long wooden dowel all the women in Pontelandolfo use to roll out dough.  Annarita asked if I had a pasta board.  Pasta board – you know that huge hunk of wood you knead and then roll dough on.  Years ago, when we sold our house in Flagtown, we sold everything and headed for Italy.  Who knew that we would buy a condo in New Jersey and be quarantined without furniture, dishes and things like a rolling pin. We were determined.  I bleached the counter, tossed down some flour and she was set.  We improvised.


Need a place to dry pasta?  Improvise – go back to the closet and toss the clothes on the bed.


Yeast?  Just ask my sister, Susan!  She sent me a link to a YouTube video  done by a cute Italian chef – “cuoredicioccolato” is the name of his channel.  The video explained how to make sourdough starter from stuff you have in the house!  Of course you do need flour.  Who knew honey, yogurt or raisons percolating in flour long enough started things growing!  Of course, this requires commitment – you have to keep feeding the sour beast flour daily!  My niece, Alex,  was committed –

Our family improvised it’s way around the crusty bread crisis. Others used their creativity problem solving.

My number one buddy, Janet, works at Somerset County Vocational Technical High School and was part of the team that made thousands of  plastic full face masks for medical workers.  Everyone knew there was a shortage of Personal Protection Equipment.  Faculty and students in the Mechatronics program fired up 3-D printers and voila 3-D printed plastic headbands popped out. Janet said the team scrounged the school to uncover every box of unused plastic transparencies.  They gave away thousands of completed masks to local hospitals.   Janet showed me one she made–


I am no where near that creative.  But, I did solve our lack of masks problem. Masks had to be worn even on the short dash from our condo door to the mail room. Jack pointed out that he had tons of really old t-shirt material boxer shorts and asked if they would work.   I didn’t think we could walk around with under-gochies on our heads but hmmm.  One leg equals two layers of cotton.  Snip, snip – I cut off a leg. Found a stapler and stapled in pleats.  I do have a child’s sewing machine and was able to  toss a quick stitch or two down the outer edge to keep the pleats in.  Took out the staples and added panty streamers for ties.


Yes, that is a vodka bottle.  Yes, it was full when I started.

I know that each and everyone of you has been creative and resilient. Under comments share your improvisation!  I want to know what creative solutions you all came up with to survive the pandemic. PULEEZE – inquiring minds want to know!

Ci Vediamo


Midge Guerrera

Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo



Apology Blog for Bad Spelling

So sorry!  Through the errors of thinking that all my devices worked seamlessly with each other – I sent the blog “Vote Early” from my iPad.  It was an older un-edited version.  ERRRGGGGGG!  Those of you who think I can’t spell voting – and worse – couldn’t see the red line underneath it.  I am sorry for causing you pain.  Just know – it caused me even greater pain.


2015 in review

Thank you all for being a part of the Nonna’s Mulberry Tree family. I truly appreciated all the support the blog got in 2015.  The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for the blog.  It reminded me just how important each and everyone of you are to the blog’s success.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 8,700 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

There were 94 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 92 MB. That’s about 2 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was October 27th with 217 views. The most popular post that day was Balance.

Have a wonderful New Year!  May 2016 bring  you all health, happiness and prosperity.

Ci Vediamo!


La Dolce Vita – The Tour!!!!!!

Mi Chiamo Magherita Anna Guerrera

Dad's head shot for a State Senate Run.
Dad’s head shot for a State Senate Run.

  Go Slide 1 –  John Guerrera

La figlia di Giovanni Francesco Guerrera e Margaret Foretek


 Go Slide 2 – Nonna & Nonno

La nipote di Francesco Guerrera e Maria Rosaria Solla


Go Slide 3 – Salvatore’s Remains

La pronipote di Salvatore Guerrera e Caterina Guerrera – Don’t give me that look  – it’s a small village.

Midge cutesy

Go Slide 3 – Midge

But hey – call me Midge – I’m a Jersey Girl and an ex-Pat – one of those gypsies who spend part of the year – ex – out of  the – patria – fatherland. Or as my pal Madame Lawrence and I like to say – the mother country.  My husband, Jack and I spend a good part of every year in Italy – living

Ponte from Rose's house

Slide 4 – Pontelandolfo

La Dolce Vita! The Sweet Life!

Belle Viste, glorious foods, incredible wines – every baby boomer’s fantasy – the standing ovation of second acts – just thinking about it makes my heart go pitter patter – or is that agida? Rats – that’s dialect – acido – the more I study Italian the less I know – pain in my acido.


 Go Slide 5 – Villa

Midge, get back to the story – yeah – where were we – oh yeah our 6 months in Italy – this year we unpacked our bags in our great house – that’s not it.

Restored Stone Italian Home
Restored Stone Italian Home

Go Slide 5 – House 

Still ain’t too shabby – living here for 6 months and closing up the New Jersey money pit – I still had cash left over at the end of each month. How could that be? Reasonable – not NJ – rent  – 3 bedrooms – 3 bathrooms – utilities included and all the produce we can eat.  And a landlord we absolutely adore – coupled with extended family we love to pieces.  Sigh – perfetto!


Go Slide 6 – Historic Village

Here’s our little village – Pontelandolfo – provincia di Benevento – regione di Campania. My family left in the early 1900’s – why? They were starving – no jobs – war ravaged land…

La Dolce vita!        Wait, wait here it comes –

Go SFX 1: Boom – Crash – Clang

That other shoe –   After two days – we’re told my husband was a clandestino – illegal immigrant – deport his ass criminale!

Congratulations!  You just made it through the opening few moments of my new one woman show – “La Dolce Vita – or Is It?”  Thanks to Marie Di Stefano Miller and the Westlake Italian American Club I was able to present my – gulp – very first performance of the show to about 100 members of the club.   Is it terrible of me to admit I freaking loved every second of it!?  I loved sitting in the dressing room – yeah this place was classy with a real stage with dressing room – anyway I loved the butterflies in my stomach and my visualization of a successful show to calm my nerves.  I loved putting on that dash more of extra make up and high heels – uncomfortable as hell but I planned on not using the stage but walking throughout the house and I’m short.  

Westlake 1

That’s me – the short thing in front.

I loved the smile on my cute husband’s face as he watched me perform – instead of watching the slide monitor.  

Jack Westlake

Cute Techy!

I loved the check.  I gotta say I just love all of it.  Seems the audience loved it too – well almost – there always seems to be another shoe in my life.

Dear Midge,

I want to thank you very much for the well developed program you presented last night.  You are a superb presenter. Its progression was right in stride, and you enabled everyone to identify with the various scenarios.  Well done.

Many are still talking about how much they appreciated and enjoyed the program. 

Until the Other Shoe – Bang, Boom

My bizarro antics held the audience until I winged – not my shoe – worse – a plastic table flag holder at two women who must have not seen each other for at least 3 minutes and had a lot of catching up to do – cause they talked frantically for the entire hour – never coming up for air.  What the hell is wrong with me – 98 people were absolutely focused on me – clever me – funny me – and I go off and wing a frisbee at two chiacchierone.  The audience was shocked! I made a joke of it – talked about being a “Jersey Girl” – but lesson learned!  DIVA BEHAVIOR IS VERY BAD!!!  Thanks Marie for not calling social faux pas police.  Marie’s letter continues –

Again thank you for sharing your exploits with reliving the Italian pathways that lead to the US.  Interesting that on both sides of my family I have a grandfather and great grandfather who had two wives.

Marie Di Stefano Miller

Thank you Marie for the kind words and the opportunity.

You too can see the show – just have your club give me a holler!  Yes this a blatant self promotion plug. Need cash to maintain La Dolce Vita.

(I promise not to wing the flag holder at anyone in your audience – maybe candy kisses – now that is an audience control idea – pocket full of kisses.)

Chasing Windmills


Whirling dervishes dance madly in the noon day sun as the wind whips

over the mountains of Campania.

One morning, on our way to the  Naples airport , I screeched at Jack to pull over.  He raised an eyebrow and kept on driving.  Rats, how would I really get a glimpse of the thousands of windmills that peppered the mountain ridge if he didn’t pull over?  That was the first time I spied the windmills that are part of the onshore wind farms that earned Italy its 2012 standing as the world’s sixth largest producer of wind power. I have no idea how wind power works but the science guys at http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/wind-power.htm will absolutely explain it all.


Sentries posted on the tops of mountains

Sannino soldiers gaze down on the approaching Romans.

Tall, helmets pointed to the heavens – bodies still against the azure sky.

When I first saw them, I wasn’t thinking – “Gee, how green and save – the – planet this is.”  I was thinking, “Hear the sounds of the marching feet as the Roman army emerges over the crest of the hill.”  Seriously, from a distance they look like advancing ramrod straight soldiers with pointed hats.  Up close they are more like super giant stick figures.  Up close?  H’mm did she really drive up the mountain to get closer?  Yes, by gum we did!   Why?  Because we could!  So why not.  OK, if the truth be told, it was a chilly, dreary day and I was going to poke out my eyes with a pen if we didn’t get in the car and do something.  Anything – as long as it didn’t cost a bundle of bucks and we didn’t have to change out of comfy clothes.  Anything – never give me that option.  My brain tumbles and rumbles and soon bizarre suggestions spew forth like Vesuvius.  Anything meant – chasing windmills.  Jack, knowing divorce was eminent if he didn’t get behind the wheel of the car, started the engine and let me navigate.  Navigation was something like – “NO, NO – TURN RIGHT” – when ever I saw the top of a windmill.  We were so intent on getting close to the windmills that I didn’t even shriek at the switchbacks along the way.  What we didn’t do was record exactly how to get to the ridge.  All I remember was from Colle Sannita take SS 212 and make a right on SP 55.  I was too entranced to take notes but said into my video at least 10 times – we were on SP55!


http://www.thewindpower.net/zones_en_7_campania.php keeps a database of wind farms and their operators.  You tech folks might find this interesting.  I don’t know how often they update it.  I swear I counted more windmills than are noted.  Some may have been the third or fourth phases of a farm and not yet included.

According to http://www.ieawind.org/countries/italy.html, Installation of new wind farms in Italy continued its pace in 2011. Total online grid-connected wind capacity reached 6,878 MW at the end of the year, with an increase of 1,080 MW from 2010. As usual, the largest development took place in the southern regions, particularly in Apulia, Calabria, Campania, Sardinia, and Sicily. In 2011, 590 new wind turbines were deployed in Italy and their average capacity was 1,831 kW. The total number of online wind turbines thus became 5,446, with an overall average capacity of 1,263 kW. All plants are based on land, mostly on hill or mountain sites. The 2011 production from wind farms could provisionally be put at about 10.1 TWh, which would be about 3% of total electricity demand of the Italian system.

Electricity is expensive here so I was hoping the wind farms were producing a lot more than 3%.  Well, this data is from 2011 and we know that Italy in 2012 was the 6th largest producer of wind power.

Hay fields surround the windmills.

 What is interesting is that the farmers are still working the land around the windmills.  As we wended our way around we passed beautiful new combines, tractors and balers .  I am guessing that the income from the utility companies helps keep this area green and farmed.  Windmills plus farm land sure beats the housing developments plus loss of farm land that are a blight on New Jersey.

Grey day washed away by the buzz of chasing windmills.

I learned something this grey day – chasing windmills is a guaranteed cure for boredom.  Listen to the sound of the wind whistling on the ridge!

Napoli è una bella città – BUT DON’T DRIVE THERE!

Watch out!  Sheeeeeeeet, the motorini is aiming for us.  I clutch the armrest.  My heart races.  Jack scowls and bellows, “stop screeching.”

Photo From Guardian UK

Ahhhhh, thank you for listening.  I have discharged my angst.  I inhale deeply, and count to ten.  H,mmmmmmm.  I visualize white light surrounding the car.   WATCH OUT!!!!!!   I immediately stop all this relaxation, funky granola, bull poop and bellow, “DON’T EVER TAKE A FREAKIN’ CAR INTO THE CENTER OF NAPLES!”

Here’s the story.  It was a beautiful day and we thought we could explore Naples.  Our fabulous landlord had taken us a few weeks earlier. He drove us directly into the glorious historic center.  He was incredibly familiar with the city and assured us the historic center was clean, safe and wonderful.  It was!  The architecture and history are worth a visit. With Nichola we strolled down to the waterfront, had a caffè in a small bar and people watched.

Post card pretty.

We thought we could do it on our own.  (Notice the “we thought”.)   We were accompanied by Giusy who attends Università DI Napoli “Federico II”.   The plan was to take the train from Benevento.  The down side of idyllic, very small village life is that there is really no public transportation.  At 7:00 or 7:40 AM students and those lucky enough to have jobs can take the bus to Benevento.  At 8:30 AM there is a bus to Campobasso.  We didn’t know until a few days later you can take it all the way to Naples but it is a really long – stop everywhere – ride.  Where was I?  Oh yeah, the plan was to take the train from Benevento.  Great plan – 20 minute ride to the station – 30 minutes trying to figure out where to park – and then finding a parking lot only to discover that the prepay machine only took coins!  Sounds like New Jersey transit – we’ve got the trains just nowhere to leave your car. Shouting and cursing ensued – that was me.  Jack did the scowl sigh thing.  Giusy said, “maybe we should just drive.”  Well she lives there how bad could it be?

I need to point out that the last time Jack drove to Naples – about 5 years ago – we were going to the Capodimonte Museum and National Galleries and got stuck in a horn blowing, knives flashing, traffic jam at a 1/2 mile wide round-about (circle).  We were forced to crawl around the circle for about 45 minutes.  We had only gone about half-way around the huge thing when Jack was able to ease off into a wide avenue.  In less than one block, the wide two way street had bottlenecked into a goat path.  People had double parked  or abandoned their cars on both sides of the street.  It was an impassable, drivers screaming and horns blaring NIGHTMARE.  Jack Mr. Calm in a crisis pulled the car onto the sidewalk and told us to get out.  When in Rome or Naples do as ….   We abandoned  the car,  took a cab to the museum and worried abut driving later.  So, here we are driving in Naples again.  Are we insane?  Don’t answer that.

This time we had our handy iPhones and could use the GPS.  We knew we wanted to explore a  neighborhood and picked the bayside “Posillipo”.  Getting in was a dream.  We took the autostrada to the city and then followed the water all the way to Posillipo.  Parking in a lot was easy – though again you could only use change.  Since we figured we only needed three hours to stroll, eat lunch and stare at the sea, we scrounged enough coins.  The view from Posillipo is amazing.  We all agreed this was the neighborhood to live in.

Blue skies, beautiful buildings – perfect!

Gated private streets led to magnificent houses and apartment buildings.  Sigh, anybody want to give me a scant million?

Want to buy me this house in Posillipo?
We first saw these “lovers locks” in Paris a few decades ago. Young love….
Now this is a roof top terrace!

Strolling through the neighborhood we discovered a restaurant with an incredible view.  Reginella Restaurant was the type that brochures touting the charms of a seaside community are sure to mention.  It was perched on the side of the cliff leading down to the Bay of Naples.

Magical view! Note the very thin wrought iron railings – easy to see the sea.

We sat on a terrace overlooking the sea.  Initially, the charming host sat us right next to the railing – ah a glorious view!  Giusy and I looked at each other – we were both turning green.  All I saw was my life passing before my eyes as I fell off the side of the cliff and lay broken on the rocks below.  With chattering teeth we asked for another table.

Ahh – happy new people sitting in our still warm railing side seats.
I stopped hyperventilating enough to take a cute photo.

Once we were happily seated a bit further back, we concentrated on the incredible seafood.  I’ll let you see the food and judge for your selves.  (Pssst – My “risotto alla pescatore” was chock full of clams, mussels, scallops and pieces of calamari.)

Octopus tossed with lemon on a bed of arugula.
Need protein? Buffalo mozzarella hidden under prosciutto.
I took the mussels and clams out of their shells and then remembered to take a picture. Hey, It smelled like I should dig right in.

Delicious!  Seafood by the sea .  Those of you  waiting for the other DON’T DRIVE shoe to drop.  Hang on – here it comes.

After lunch we strolled a bit and took  in the sites of the neighborhood.  Most shops were closed. Even stores in the cities close for lunch and a break, opening again at about 4:30.  Sated from lunch and the fabulous view we decided to head for the historic center  and check out where Giusy attended university and lived.

Whaaaaaaa.  Whaaaaaa. Nervous breakdown alert.  If you do not have a strong stomach for street chaos stop reading.

We set the GPS for the address of the apartment, followed the bay and suddenly were told to turn left into Dante’s third level of HELL.  Thousands of Evil Kenivals zoomed in and out of stop and go traffic on motorcycles, motorini and broom sticks. Cars double and tripped parked making streets impassable.  The GPS didn’t quite get street closings  due to well who knows – it was Tuesday.  Where the hell was my Xanax?  Clutching the purse on my lap like a life jacket, I tried not to cry out every time a freakin’ car or motorini cut us or or came careening toward us.  My nails bit into my palms.  Jack squared his waspy jaw and forged ahead.  Forging ahead isn’t the right phrase.  Begging for life – that’s a good phrase.  Or crying for my mother – that’s a good phrase.  It is like driving a car in a full washing machine set to the spin cycle.  Bump, rrrrrrrrrrrrt, squeak, ugggggggg — HELL.


Giusy reminded us she always took the bus and walked and didn’t really know the direct route to her apartment.  Gee, thanks for the relevant information!  We saw the sign for a parking lot and whipped the car in.  Relief.  On foot, we enjoyed exploring the university.

Who could study in this place. I’d be staring at the architecture.

Next, it was on to discover how college kids live.  We checked out Giusy’s apartment – palace sized rooms stuffed with kids. Sound familiar?  Well, in the U.S. we really don’t usually find apartments with 14 foot ceilings, beautiful ironwork elevators and five bedrooms, two baths for 350 euros per each of the five roommates.  Granted, clothes were still tossed around and the furniture was all cast off – but still it felt like a palace.

Time to go – so we trudged to the parking lot – where being 8 minutes late – they charged us for an extra hour.  Giusy argued like a trooper and oh yeah  – she won!  They didn’t charge us.  We gritted our teeth for the drive home.  I couldn’t watch as Jack tried to squeeze out of the garage to the street.  We hadn’t a clue how to get out of town and the GPS in our iPhone was obviously under a lot of stress.  We ended up by the docks – well that was fun.  Not TOO many cars jockeying for position there.  We sat inhaling exhaust for what felt like hours – Jack says it was only 30 minutes.  The conversation in the car came to a dead halt.  Since I was’t allowed to make caustic comments or scream, it was very quiet.  Somehow Jack got us out of the city and on to the highway.  We all exhaled and enjoyed the mountains, farms and lush green that is the Italian country side.

Naples is a glorious city.  TAKE THE BUS!

PS:  Jack says it wasn’t so bad.  We got home didn’t we!!!

Streets Closed for Calcio!

After a super supper at the local restaurant, “È n’ata Cosa” (cda santa caterina, 82027 Pontelandolfo),  we drove into town.  Oops, I need to pause the story for a second.  All the foodies are wondering what we ate and how much we spent.

 Thinking it would be a light food night, while reading the menu, we started with a dish of  olives and a bottle of the local Aglianico wine.  Our thought of sharing a simple pizza margherita was abruptly erased. The waitress described the “frutta del mar”  –  mussels, clams, calamari, other fish I can’t remember,  oil and garlic – and we too were hooked.  Both of us ordered the seafood on linguine and were not disappointed.  We added salad and a bottle of aqua frizzante to round out the meal.  Oh the cost –  only 30 euros. That is about 40 bucks for lots of fresh seafood, a bottle of great wine and more.

Back to the story,   We wandered down towards Piazza Roma for an after dinner drink or two at one of the outdoor bars.  We love sitting outside and people watching.  We only grasp about 20% of the conversations – mostly spoken in dialect – but it is great fun to play Harriet the Spy and listen in on the plots and twists of everyday life.  Oops, Jack just looked over my shoulder and “ahhemed” – OK, OK, I’ll drop the papal “we”, I’m the only one that eavesdrops on folks.  We drove into town chatting away about the great meal when blinking lights and a temporary fence barred the way.

Whoa – a police barricade had closed off access to the piazza.  We screeched to a halt, were detoured to a one way street and wondered what was happening.  Screams and shouts could be heard through our closed car windows.  Was that fear?  Could something heinous be happening.  I looked at Jack and knew we had to get closer and find out what was going on.  He looked at me with that “are you pazzo?” expression.  We parked near the town recycling bins – far enough away to be safe and close enough to hear the sounds.  The screams turned into a wail – the piteous kind of forlorn wail that could only mean one possible thing in a small Italian town – some evil team scored a goal against Italy.

Out the dark came the shouts of fans.

We rounded the corner and could see a movie screen set up in front of Bar 2000.  The street was closed off, picnic tables filled the street and about a hundred people were gathered watching a calcio match of Italy versus Brazil.

What a great marketing strategy for the bar!  I asked my cousin if the town charged the bars for closing the street – a potential additional income stream.  She didn’t think so.  Then I remembered I had to stop thinking like an American.  People of all ages from babies in strollers to great grandads were enjoying the cool night air together.  All the town had to do was put up a fence and a community event could be created.

Picnic tables in the street.

We watched for a moment or two and walked the half a block to the next bar.  There, a flat screen TV was perched on an outdoor bar tuned to the same game.  A smaller but no less vocal crowd watched the game – or is that a match?  We stood there for a while too, adding our cheers, jeers and sighs to the sounds of the crowd.

Just a typical night in a small Italian village.

Cittadina Italiana – Citizenship


In 2007 my mug graced my brand new Italian Passport.  The process to become a Cittadina Italiana took me about three years and numerous trips to the Philadelphia Consulate.  It took my sister less than one year and two trips to the Newark Consulate.  It took my niece (her picture is above) about 6 months.  It will take my cousin about three years plus.  WHAT????  Let  us start at the beginning. The questions most people ask me are these: Why would you do it?  What is the benefit of having dual citizenship?   Is the process difficult? How much did it cost you?

Why would I do it?

Why wouldn’t I do it is more like it.  In the early 1990’s I started actively researching the Guerrera Family Tree.  Piece by piece, I was collecting data, adding branches and getting more and more involved with the lives of people I had never met. To get a better handle on the research, I knew that I had to go to Pontelandolfo and visit the archives of the commune.  Zia Caterina, Jack and I made that journey in 1995 – another blog will tell you that whole story.  We not only added numerous branches to the tree but discovered my father and Zia Caterina’s first cousins!  When Zia Caterina and I had gone to Italy in the 70’s their uncles were still living – we missed an incredible opportunity then.  After meeting my extended Italian family, I became even more obsessed with all things Italian.  Particularly, all things related to this small village in Campania, Pontelandolfo. While we were there I bought a few copies of my grandmother’s and grandfather’s birth certificates and certificate of marriage.  That was an incredibly smart thing to do since folks have told me it is difficult to retrieve those documents via mailed requests – unless you use a service like http://myitalianfamily.com.

Nonno & Nonna
Nonno and Nonna

A quick search on line revealed that I was indeed eligible for citizenship – an act which would bring me even closer to my roots.  There was no “aha” moment or benefits lightbulb that exploded in my brain – just the deep seated need to be closer to my “i parenti,”  the DNA that makes me who I am.

What is the benefit?

How American of us to want to know what the hell we get out of the deal.  Like feeling closer to ones heritage isn’t enough!  Well, let me think what do I get out of it?  If Jack and I really do retire to Italy we are already part of the Italian community. During the Bush Jr. years, My sister and I did talk about moving quickly forward so that if the draft was reinstated and we didn’t particularly agree with the why behind the war we could get her kids out.  Now, that might have been our 1960’s sensibilities kicking in, because  Italy had mandatory service until January 1, 2005.   The other benefit is being able to work anywhere in the European Union – a benefit that my niece is actively using.  Further, I can stay in Italy or any of the Schengen Treaty countries for as long as I like – no ninety days for me!  ( Of course we are only staying 90 days this trip because Jack hasn’t applied for spousal citizenship yet.)  The USA State Department explains all this. http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_4361.html   OK, I am bored with the what is the benefit idea – the benefit is IT MAKES ME HAPPY.

What is the process?

Ah, this is tricky!  In the over ten years since my family has gone through this process it has changed based on who we spoke to in which consulate and new regulations.  Here is the basic tenet – if one of your parents was an Italian citizen at the time of your birth – no matter where you are born – than you by blood are an Italian citizen.  Yikes, my dad was born in Manville, NJ – does that disqualify me?  No!  My grandparents had not become American citizens until after my dad’s birth.  That automatically made him an Italian citizen living abroad.  Did my father know that? No!  When I explored the process I explained it to him and he couldn’t believe it.  He had served as a Navy pilot during WWII, had been Mayor of our home town – how could he also be an Italian citizen?  Guess what – lots of you probably are eligible – here is what is currently on The Italian Embassy Website.

CITIZENSHIP BY DESCENT / DESCENT (” jure sanguinis “)  And ‘the son of an Italian citizen parents (father or mother) Italian citizens. Citizenship is transmitted from parents to children regardless of generation, with the condition that none of their ancestors ever renounced the nationality.

Go to the web site to read all of the rules and regulations. 


The first step is to discover when the elder of your Italian American family became a citizen.  We were lucky, my Zia Caterina saved everything.  Including her dad’s certificate of citizenship.

We still have the original!
We still have the original!

Since my dad didn’t know he was an Italian citizen, he didn’t renounce it.  When he found out, he was thrilled and admitted he never would have renounced it.  OK, I had the blood line covered.  Now what – this is the story of what I went through.  Next will be my sister’s story, then my niece and finally my cousin.

Midge’s Story:

I hop over to the Italian Consulate in Philadelphia and ask for a list of the requirements for citizenship.  At that time it listed things like : Birth and Death Certificates of my Grandfather,  Naturalization Certificate of my Grandfather, Marriage Certificate to my Grandmother, Birth Certificate of my Grandmother,Birth Certificate of my Father, Marriage Certificate of My Parents, Birth Certificate of Midge, Marriage License and Certificate of Midge, Birth Certificate of Midge’s Husband.  Easy – no brainer!  When I had the time, I drove from city to city in New Jersey and New York and bought the required documents.  Full of myself for accomplishing this, I waltzed into the Philadelphia Consulate without an appointment.  They took me into a secret room and I waited.  After about a half an hour of staring at the art, a lovely woman pulled me into an office and looked at my fat folder.  She smiled an said I was on the right track but needed an apostile for each document.  An apostile?  Wasn’t that one of the men who travelled with Jesus?  Turns out an apostile is a certificate from a state that guarantees that the documents that I just bought from a variety of towns were valid.  OK, so on the way home I stop in Trenton and go to the apostile office.  They explain that they can’t put an apolstile on any of the documents that I just dropped a couple of hundred dollars on because I didn’t buy them from the NJ Office of Vital Statistics. But, I stammered, the oficies of vital statistics in each town were happy to take my money.  A week or so later, I go back to Trenton and buy all of the same documents.  Since there were so many I had to have them processed.   That took a few weeks – when I got them guess what they looked like?  The same bloody pieces of paper but they originated from the NJ Office of Vital Statistics!  Off to pay for the apostiles.  I don’t remember what all this cost me but I think about $25 a piece of paper times two.  If you order documents online there are additional fees. This is from the NJ Office of Vital Statistics:

How do I obtain a record with an Apostille Seal? You must purchase a copy of your vital record from the Office of Vital Statistics and Registry and indicate on your application that it is needed for Apostille Seal. You will receive a certified copy, which contains the original signature of the State Registrar or Assistant State Registrar. You must forward this certificate to the Department of Treasury requesting an Apostille Seal.

Since my parents were married in New York City, it took a full day to gather the documents from NYC Boro Hall and then walk a few blocks to the State of New York Office to request the apostille. During each step of the process, I purchased additional copies of every document so that my sister would have a set.  When I had a completed set, I made an appointment at the Philadelphia Consulate and carried the box in.  I did make a copy of my entire packet, just so that I knew what I submitted.  About one and a half years later I got a letter from Pontelandolfo saying that I was a citizen.  Wheeeeeeeeooooooooooo.

Sister Susan:

Susan had copies of all of the documents.  When she got around to doing this, residents of Somerset County New Jersey were told to use the Consulate in Newark.  We read the website and made an appointment for her – it was about four months out.  We also read the new regulations – she needed a translation of every document – including the apostiles.  You were only allowed to use an Italian translater from the consulate’s approved list.  That cost her about $50 a document.  This was all done via e-mail.  We scanned the documents and sent them off.  Scanned translations came back.  This was great we thought – because now my cousin Maryellen can use the same translations.  Susan took her two children to the appointment.  We figured we would process everyone at the same time.  WRONG.  Susan had to be certified first.  She was missing something – I can’t remember what – but I do remember pleading and begging with the consulate employee because whatever it was I knew was on file from me in Pontelandolfo. Susan made a second appointment and returned with whatever had been left on the dining room table.  During the second visit, she is given a document that she is told her daughter can use to prove lineage and easily apply for citizenship.  We go for dinner and a drink or three.  Just a few months later Susan gets her letter of recognition.

Niece Alex:

Alex lives and goes to university in London.  I suggested she use the London Consulate.  She took her handy document from Newark and back up documents and headed to that office.  They told her she needed to supply the same complete package that her mother had submitted and that the little certificate from Newark was nothing. UGGGGG.  All of this is now done electronically, Alex asked if they couldn’t just get the same documents sent back to them?  No.  Another appointment please.  Oh yeah, now we have to make the packet and get it to London!  She brings the packet and is nervous about completion.  She would like to stay and work in Europe and the EU Passport would be very helpful.  Months go by and she hears nothing.  She visits and e-mails the London Consulate and they say all things were e-mailed to Pontelandolfo.  We asked our cousin to visit the Pontelandolfo office of Vital Statistics and check on Alex’s status.  Instantly, her paperwork was done and her certification sent off.

Formal Letter
Formal Letter

Cousin Maryellen:

Takes all of the same documents – but adds her dad’s information – translated and in a cute folder to her appointment at the Newark Consulate.  There, she doesn’t get past the triage dude.  You see, my grandfather’s birth certificate from Italy says Francesco Guerrera but his citizenship papers say Frank Guerrera – how do we know it is the same person?  This name change – a common occurrence – happened with her father’s documents and our grandmothers.  They told her nothing could be processed until she got the documents certified as belonging to the same person.  I was with her and argued up a storm, explaining that two of us had already used the exact same documents and gotten citizenship. Further, all of the documents were already on file in Pontelandolfo.  He shrugged.  We left and Maryellen hasn’t moved the process forward. So lessons learned.  Double check everything.  Read all new regulations.  If you can, have a local relative in Italy lobby for you! What did it cost me?  Do we count the trip to Italy to buy the birth and marriage certificates?  I’d say if you include travel and all the mistakes I made it cost me about $1,000.  It cost my sister about the same because it was $50 a document for translation plus the cost of the original documents and apostile.

Was it worth it?

Hell yes!