An Accidental Visit to Basilica di S. Ambrogio

The sun was shining, the air was clear and we were energized to take the Metropolitana to the Duomo. Every time we come to Milano, like tourist lemmings we head for the Piazza Duomo, gawk at the Gothic marvel constructed of pink veined white marble and enjoy the energy of the crowd.

The outside is amazing. The facade features more than 3,200 statues. We have stared and created narratives to go with some of them. Today, we were determined to see the inside of this incredible house of worship.

Have I ever mentioned that I run from hordes of tourists? That backpacks attack me? That lines that go on forever are not enticing? Now, we knew it might be crowded. It was after all a glorious December day but we had no idea…

First clue – the armed guards at every door. Second clue – long lines waiting to get into the church. I asked when the next mass was and if you had to stand in line for that. The guard put his hand on his gun and looked at me. We went to the back of the line and discovered that to go inside the Duomo you had to buy a ticket. Ok. Ok. We can do that. Where the hell is the ticket booth? We wandered around the gigantic exterior and across a side street finally saw the ticket and Duomo souvenirs store. Upon entering I was handed a number – 40. I was number 40 in the longissimo queue to buy a ticket to stand in a two hour line to wander with a pazillion people in the duomo. NOT!

I remembered reading about the quality of art and architecture of Basilica di Sant’ Ambrogio, pulled out my map and dragged Jack in that direction. Boy, am I glad I did! It wasn’t a short walk but it got us out of the tourist crunch and into a neighborhood. The amount of graffiti I see in Milano confounds me. We were in, what appeared to be, an upper middle class neighborhood and there were graffiti tags everywhere. Tired of walking and ready for wine and sustenance, we happened upon Caffe’ Della Pusterla (Via De Amicis, 22). Yummy, friendly and full of local folks who were happy to help us on our journey to Sant’Ambrogio. We both had Stinco e Patate – pork shin, think ham hock braised to perfection and served with lemon roasted potatoes. I flashed back to my grandmother’s Sunday dinners. Ahhhh. After a great meal, wine and the local digestivo – Fernet – we set off to the Basilica.

Coming upon the complex, I felt like I was stepping back centuries. Saint Ambrose (Sant’ Ambrogio) is the patron saint of Milan and was the driving force behind getting the building done. The church, originally built between 379-386 A.D., is a great example of Romanesque Style.

For great pictures – CLICK HERE. The Basilica’s website has a super surround view gallery.

Today, the Basilica of Saint Ambrose’s crypt is the final resting place of the patron saint. It is below the main church, in an area called the “Tesoro di Sant’Ambrogio”. Numerous martyrs from Roman times have also been buried there. For €2 you can head down to the Tesoro see the Basilica’s artifacts. We walked through the iron gate, paid our €2 and slowly walked through the exhibit of gold and silver artifacts and other objects of high artistic and religious value from the 13th to 19th centuries. The works of art that had the greatest impact on me, were not made of gold, silver, silk or jewels but of found objects, scraps of cloth and stolen pieces of wood.

In 1944, Italian soldiers who were held at Wietzendorf, a German Concentration Camp, created this nativity scene. Determined not to compromise on their religion, these brave men created something special with a Boy Scout knife, small pair of scissors and door hinge as a hammer. We joined another couple staring at the installation, soon tears were sliding down all our cheeks.

Leave Piazza Duomo behind and visit the Basilica di S. Ambrogio located at Piazza S. Ambrogio 15. You don’t need a ticket and there aren’t any lines. All you will find is a pleasant opportunity to explore a historic venue in a great neighborhood.

Ci Vediamo!

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Baci, Baci! Irregular Regulars

Baci, baci! Grand abbraccio! Kiss, kiss, big hugs. Within half an hour after landing at Malpensa in Milano, Jack and I were embraced by Milanese warmth and passion. Right off the plane we were welcomed back with gusto. For us, the hugs started at the Taxi queue. Since we were traveling with four – count them 4 – giant bags, we wanted the next mini van in line. Bentornati, welcome back, echoed from the cache of drivers waiting for fares. Three helped our driver put the hernia inducing bags in his van. One stole his keys, which – after a bit of kibitzing about why does he always get the bella gente, nice people – were returned. Bentornati? Who did they think we were? How could they know us? My kind husband smirked and noted that I chat up everyone, how could they not remember us? The standard fare from Malpensa to the city center is €95. After the driver belly lugged our bags to the door of the hotel, I handed him €100. He thanked me profusely and gave me a big hug. Bentornati!

We rang the bell at Il Girasole High Quality Inn’s portone (humongous door blocking the complex from the street) and announced ourselves. Midge, Jack Bentornati! The words rang out before the door was fully open. Nicola Negruzzi, one of the vivacious owners of our favorite little hotel, pulled open the door and wrapped me in a cocoon like embrace. Next, Jack’s turn for a huge hug. Whenever we come to Milano – which is about once a year – we stay at Il Girasole. Co-owner, Matteo Negruzzi came in – saw us – and….. Bentornati! Baci, baci, grande abbraccio. Big hugs and kisses to both of us. Matteo reminded us that Il Girasole is our Milanese home away from home.

Jack and Matteo

We always truck over to Mail Boxes ETC and ship our suitcases to Pontelandolfo. If we are arriving from the states and off on other adventures, it makes sense to off load some of the baggage. Jack schlepped the bags over the threshold of the store and the owner joined the Bentornati chorus. He knew exactly why we were there, whipped out the right forms, asked where we were off too and guaranteed our luggage would make it home before we did.

Up the street and around the corner is Tony’s, an inexpensive restaurant that serves pretty good fish and just about anything else you could find in a higher end local place. We walked in, asked for a table for two, took off our coats and whomp – heard Bentornati! The waiter looked at us and said – New Jersey right? Glad you’re back – but you always come back!

I could give you two more examples – Vineria San Giovanni and the Restaurant Mamma Lina – but you get the drift.

Wow – I must look like someone famous! In high school I could pass for Sally Fields in her flying nun phase and once in an airport Jack was confused for Tom Wilkenson (British actor). Maybe we give off a famous person auro? Baaammm – then it hit me. We are irregular regulars! There is no schedule. No one knows when we will return to Quartiere Villa San Giovanni, this friendly Milanese neighborhood. We are absolutely irregular regulars!

Except to see the sites, listen to music and window shop, we avoid the tourist packed historic center of Milan. A few years ago, thanks to Nonna’s Mulberry Tree subscriber Lynn Y., we got turned on to Il Girasole. Located at Via Doberdò 19, close to Metro stop Villa San Giovanni, the hotel has all the bells and whistles of the big guys – free wi-fi, parking, more than continental breakfast and incredible staff. Every time we fly to Italy through Milan or venture north with our car, we stop and stay in this neighborhood populated by real people and featuring non tourist prices in restaurants and shops. At il Girasole, my favorite room is somehow always available for us. The afternoon registration ritual turns into aperitivo e spuntino and we like the local eateries. Bam – irregular regulars.

Becoming an irregular regular sort of comes naturally to me. I like things that are familiar and good. If the service, price and goods are great – why not go back?! Are you wondering how folks remember us? The former mayor of Princeton, Barbara Sigmund, taught me a great politicians trick – stick out your hand and say your name. Then make sure you get the waiters, store owners, etc. name and use it a few times while you are there. Of course, ten minutes later don’t ask me their names but I’m good while I’m in the place. Also, name badges and writing on uniforms help a lot. Why not joke, laugh and chat with folks where ever you are? It feels good, makes the time pass pleasantly and BONUS – you too can become an irregular regular and hear that pleasant bentornato – welcome back!

Ci Vediamo!

Have An Expressive Holiday

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Crying, laughing, talking with voices, hands and faces.

Buon Natale! Buone Feste!  During this magical time of year, all of our senses will be zanily energized. Normally, Italians are incredibly expressive people.  Our hands, faces, and bodies, all become one with our voices to help us relay our feelings and tales.  Now, communications will be foisted into high holiday gear. From the moment families kiss each other hello, laughter will burst out of homes. The volume will go up a notch as we engage in fuel enhanced political rants, chase the giggling wee ones around rooms and swear that our calcio team is the best.  We will be expressive until the moment the last digestivo is sipped and goodbye hugs are given at the door.

Or, da, da, da da – BOOM –

Has everyone become a cell phone zombie????

I am frightened!  Scared of the cell phone phenomena that has reached into the very essence of people and turned them into automatons – robots fixed on mini screens. Faces blank, lips held together, eyes vacant – ZOMBIES!!!!  STOP THE MADNESS BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE!

My dear expressive countrymen, while you are with family and friends this holiday season leave your telefonini in the car.   Also, turn the bloody thing off while you drive, walk around the piazza, go out to dinner, visit the sea… I get apoplectic when I’m on the autostrada and see a truck driver holding his phone in one hand and gesturing with the other hand. Just what body part are they steering the truck with? You jerks driving on A14 toward Milano who almost crushed us know who you are.

Blank stare zombie texting is even worse than talking. Especially if you are the driver of the yellow fiat who was aiming for me on the curvy narrow road out side of Morcone!  I honked – the male driver looked up – note I said looked up – his eyes were filled with texting madness and his hands – WEREN’T ON THE STEERING WHEEL.  I am sure that drivers do this all over the world, however, on skinny, scary mountain roads it is totally inappropriate.  The cretins could kill me!  I wanted to block the bloke’s path down the hill and stomp on his phone.  I didn’t.  Instead, I bellowed a very American explative out the widow.

Imagine a world of scantily clad people milling through waist high water eyes staring blankly ahead clutching something to their ears.  The cast of the latest horror apocalyptic film – or worse PHONE ZOMBIES AT SEA?  Blah, blah, blah – why the hell does anyone have to actually walk in the Adriatic Sea blah, blah, blahhing on their phones? No one who is actually enjoying the sea wants to hear a phone zombie bellow in a variety of languages Can you hear me now?

However, the cultural phenomena that really bothers me is one that may dampen my holiday spirits. Whole families – mom, dad and 2.5 kids – sitting in a restaurant ignoring each other and scrolling through their phones. Jack and I may not have riotous conversation every time we dine out but we do acknowledge there is another person at the table. I want to scream at families, Watch the pizza bubbling in the wood burning oven. Or, sit back and smell the scents of great dishes being brought to other tables.  Stop looking at your fahkackata phones.

What ever happened to conversation?  Where are the frantic hand gestures and facial dances that make us unique?  I see more and more families sitting silently. That silence is not communal – all are in their own little FaceBook bleary eyed world.  I’ll take little tykes running around restaurants any day to a total lack of personal interaction. If I were the communications czar, cell phones would be left in purses and pockets at the dinner, lunch and breakfast tables.

May Auntie Midge gently suggest a phone moratorium until February? Let us not loose the spirit of communications that makes us who we are.  Defeat the telephone zombie invasion. Think of it as La Befana’s holiday gift to you and yours.

Sorry for the phone rant, but we just got off a train and were surrounded by business people sharing work related information that I should have recorded and sold.  I have to vent somewhere.  Thanks for listening.

Ci vediamo.

Olives to Olive Oil

This month the hills and fields of Pontelandolfo are a bustle of olive picking activity. Tis the season to make that luscious green-yellow oil that the Sannio Hills are known for.

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Photo by Gabrielle Iacovella

Our village is chock full of ancient Ortice olive groves.  For generations families have been harvesting their olives and either pressing the oil themselves or since the dawning of the 1900’s taking them to our local Frantoio Oleario Rinaldi the olive oil mill owned by the Rinaldi family.  Started by Giovanni Rinaldi, the oil mill has been managed by a Rinaldi for generations.  Today’s managing director is Rocco Rinaldi.  His sons Gianfranco and Sergio play active roles.  The other role of Gianfranco’s is that of the mayor – sindaco – of Pontelandolfo.  Sergio is a professional taster certified by the National Organization of Olive Oil Tasters in Italy.

My New Jersey tasters aren’t certified but love the heady aroma and flavor of Rinaldi’s Vantera brand oil. I had a case of Vantera – sent to New Jersey just in time for last Christmas.  Today, one of the recipients asked if Santa’s Elves were shipping another case over this year.  Hmmm, I wonder if she has been naughty or nice?

We are truly oil spoiled.  Folks in Pontelandolfo who make their own oil, often store it in centuries old stone cisterns or vats.  My happy oil dance just spins out of control when my pal Nicola takes the lid off his vat and scoops his fresh oil into a jar for me.  YUMMY!

My first thought was to tell you all about how this great oil is made through a cold milling process.  The oil is extracted through a “superdecanter” in the low-temperature, continuous plant.

My second thought is to simply go to the video –

Are you “jonesing” for a taste of our hometown olive oil?  Taste some during our 2018 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo sessions for adventuresome cooks!

Ci Vediamo!

 

 

It Takes A Village to Learn Italian!

Valerio Ponte

Intermediate and advanced students of Italian, here is your chance to burst your ability to speak up a notch.  How?  Through crowdteaching in Pontelandolfo this spring!  WHAT???? Here is the back story –

Gli dico ma.. I was in Pontelandolfo’s library having a conversation with some of my wee English students when like a flash-choir three of them blurted out, “Direi – usa condizionale.”  Huh, I replied to the ten year olds who corrected my Italian.  One tyke rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders.  Glielo direi ma, I corrected my sentence – (I was trying to say “I would tell him but…” but had said “I tell him but.”)

Jack and I have been staying longer and longer in Pontelandolfo.  When we first visited my Italian was barely there.  I was great with gestures, acting out what we needed and generally making everyone from shop keepers to small children in the piazza giggle at my attempt to speak la bella lingua. Over the years my Italian improved and just recently I figured out why – CROWDTEACHING.  Hey, if one can have crowdsourcing or crowdfunding – why not crowdteaching? As we became fixtures in the community, more and more people corrected my Italian.  Marilina, in Bar Elimar, made me repeat Caffè shakerato a pazillion times this summer.  If I wanted a decaf espresso shaken over ice and lusciously turned into a summer drink, I had to stop saying decaffeinato shakerooooo or shakirito or shaken not stirred.

Crowdteaching.  Hmmm.  Why not share this concept with other students of Italian and combine it with life in a Southern Italian village?  That thought has turned into Leap into Language Immersion in Pontelandolfo.

Students of Italian who are currently at the intermediate or advanced level, have the opportunity to experience the language in its natural setting, take formal classes and be corrected everywhere and by lots of people.

You will eat lunch in private homes, play cards with the guys in the bar, roll cheese with the Ruzzola Team and improve your conversational skills. Every home that you visit and every social or cultural activity that you attend will include native speakers correcting your speech.  Imagine an extended family of native speakers helping you improve your language skills.  There will be laughter, friendships will be built and you will leave with an increased capacity for conversation.

Included Highlights:

  • Transportation from the Benevento train station.
  • 7 nights, single or double room, with television, refrigerator and breakfast. Five rooms in this cute B&B have private baths.  A two-room suite shares a bath.  Unless it is requested, the last 2 people to register will share a room.  The shared room will be very large. Il Castello
  • 8.5 hours of formal classes and 7 full days of immersion.
  • Welcoming apertivo and snacks.
  • Pranzo at an agriturismo. Tour the property, play with the animals and perhaps hear a tall tale or two.
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  • Four (4) meals in local homes. Eat, drink and swap stories with a family in their natural environment.  They will want to know all about you and you will want to know all about them.  Conversation will swirl.  Two participants will be dining in each household.
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  • Wine and artesian food tasting at a local vintner.
  • Pontelandolfo Day – open air market, tasting of locally produced products, and other activities.
  • Explore the Sannio hills with Mario! He has walked the mountain hunting truffles, asparagus, mushrooms and more.  This is a unique opportunity.
  • After a morning of exploring the mountain, pizza pranzo at B&B Calvello.
  • Learn the ancient sport of cheese rolling – La Ruzzula!

Thank You Zorrotropa For Their YouTube Video Ruzzola del Formaggio.

  • Drink beer and chat with the men who sit in front of the bar daily, play cards and hand games like a native.
  • Lecture and tour of the historic church, San Salvatore.
  • Italian movie night and discussion.
  • Lecture “I Gesti.” Before you leap into the local fray, learn the sign language.
  • Learn the traditional folk dances of the town from dance company Ri Ualanegli.
  • Excursion to Altilia Roman Ruins.
  • Lecture on the history of Pontelandolfo.

Date: Friday, April 20  through Friday, April 27 2018

This cultural adventure is limited to 8 people.  For more information e-mail us at info@nonnasmulberrytree.com

Crowd-learning – who knew that it would take a village to teach me Italian!

Ci vediamo!

 

 

 

 

 

Cook, Eat, Laugh!

Cook, Eat Laugh!  That is exactly what happens each time a group of adventurous foodies – women and men – come to Pontelandolfo and hang out in local kitchens and learn the dishes that nonnas have been sharing for generations.  Pontelandolfo – to me – is an example of the best that Italy has to offer.  No backpack swinging tourists. No overpriced cappuccinos. Simply incredible mountain views, fresh foods cooked seasonally, a population that embraces life with joy and a welcoming attitude that surrounds all newcomers.

Just a scant two years ago, Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo was an idea floating around a kitchen table.    How could we bring some tourism money to Southern Italy and not promote the town into another jammed packed tourist site.   The “ah- ha” moment came when a visitor said to me, I would love to just spend a week here living like the Pontelandolfese.  Bingo!  Together with a group of homemakers an incredible opportunity, for folks who love to cook and travel off the beaten tourist track, was born.  Visitors have been Cooking, Eating and Laughing ever since we produced the first event in May 2016.

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Our First Group Visited Our Historic Tower

Now it is your turn!  Cook, Eat, Laugh!  Become part of a small Southern Italian village’s life.  See a different part of Italy and taste dishes that go back generations.

Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo

May 19 -26 or September 8 – 15 2018

Limited to 8 people!

The Experience Features –

  • Transportation from the Benevento Train Station
  • 7 nights at B&B Il Castello
  • Welcoming apertivo and snacks.
  • Pranzo (lunch) at an agriturismo.  A great example of Italian Farm-to-Table eating.
  • 4 half-day cooking classes with local cooks. After preparing the dishes for pranzo or cena you will sit down and eat with the family.  Here is an example from September 2018 – some of you may have seen this!
  • English Speaking Translator for all classes and events.
  • Wine and artesian food tasting at a local vintner
  • Pontelandolfo Day – open air market, tasting of locally produced products and other activities.
  • Excursion to  Sepino Altilia Roman Ruins
  • Walking Tour of Historical Pontelandolfo
  • Visits to another village’s cultural site or a cultural activity – to be determined.
  • Last night “arriverderci” with all the local cooks.
  • Apron
  • Written recipes in English.

Regretfully, there are no special dietary considerations.  This medieval village has charming cobblestone streets but it is not handicapped accessible.  The adventure and experience in the home of local families requires the ability to climb stairs, walk on uneven streets and feel comfortable in a hilly environment.

To see more photos of Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo, visit our Facebook Page.

Cook, Eat and Laugh with us!

Registration materials and financial information will be sent via e-mail to those that want to join the adventure.   info@nonnasmulberrytree.com 

Ci vediamo a Pontelandolfo!

Time travel through your taste buds


You’ve seen lots of folks “cry in their beer.”  But, I’m willing to bet that I’m the only person on the planet seen crying over cooked pig’s feet.  As I slurped the meat and fat off the bones cooked to perfection in parrozz, I could feel my nonna hugging me and hear the squabbling of my Italo-Americano family fill the Flagtown farmhouse kitchen. Parrozz- what the heck is parrozz? Thank you Angelamaria Addona of B&B Calvello for whisking me – and our group of Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo September 2017 cooks – back in time.  To the time when subsistence farming, foraging and eating every single bit of the animal you raised was the norm.

Kathy, one of my best foodie buds, couldn’t believe it when I called her about this dish. I literally had started crying when I ate it and when I talked about it. Crying for my Nonna Rosa, Zia Caterina and all the elders of my family who not only had made this dish after foraging for dandelions and wild fennel but passed me the mapeen so I could wipe my hands on the communal towel after sucking the meat off every bone in my bowl.  Pig parts and weeds, I said to Kathy. Pig parts and weeds – so delicious that I could have stayed at B&B Calvello long after the van came to pick up the American cooks and kept on eating. Kathy suggested that I stop calling the dish “pig parts and weeds”. In dialect it is called Parrozz con Cacchiarella!

In her turn of the 20th century kitchen, Angela made parrozz  – vegetable and meat soup/stew – and cacchiarella – unleavened corn bread. Parrozz con cacchiarella is a dish that dates back to the time my ancestors scampered over our Sannio hills searching for what today’s foodies call edibles.

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If you are not afraid to forage, here is how you make it. Go out in the field and pick what ever vegetable green is in season. Verdure di compagnia– greens from the countryside. She used the white part of bietola, which is in the rhubarb family.  Cicoria, chicory, was raising its green head on the countryside so that was the second veggie. She washed the veggies and cut them in big chunks. They were tossed in a pot and covered with water with a dash of salt. When the water came to a boil the veggies simmered for half an hour.

Angela cooked some local cabbage leaves while pig parts were cooking away in yet another pot.  These are the parts of the pig I LOVE  – pig’s ear, feet, cheeks etc. Boiling softens them and lets some of the grease out. After the pork had cooked, she tossed out most of the water and layered the cooked vegetables on top of the pork pieces. Chunks of garlic were tossed into the fray. Do not mix it up! Top it with the pre-cooked cabbage. Think of this as a green lid. Toss a wee bit of salt on top and a tiny bit of olive oil. Not a lot since the pig parts are full of fat. Cover the pot and cook it very slowly on a low heat. It is great with wild fennel – but they weren’t in season now – so Angela added fennel seeds.

A wee bit later, Angela took the lid off the parrozz to let the extra water evaporate. She lowered the flame even more and pushed the cabbage down on in the pot. Do not turn the pot! The pig parts stay on the bottom and the vegetables stay on the top! The minestra will be bubbling, you will smell the pork and veggies and keep on wanting to stir it up.  DON’T!  Leave the pot alone and let it simmer along until the weeds – oops – I mean greens are cooked and the scent of pork wafts through the kitchen.

When the liquid comes to the top and the veggies sink. Turn it off!!! It is finished. But what about the cornbread called Cacchiarella?  You would have been working on it while the soup/stew was bubbling away.

The first step to making the cacchiarella made no sense to me – until my ah ha moment later. Take giant cabbage leaves and cut off the bottoms and slit the core a wee bit. Wet them and put them in the sun so that they will wilt and get flat. Then go out to the fields and cut some sambuca tree branches to make a broom. Why? You will of course be using a wood burning oven and need the broom to push the coals back to the side while maintaining the temperature of the oven. Wet a second broom to really clean the base of the oven. Oops, guess I forgot to mention that Angela’s kitchen has a wood burning oven and stove!

Back to the corn bread. Make a flat circle out of four or five flattened cabbage leaves. Flatten them further. They are now the tray or parchment paper for the corn bread. The corn bread she made with our Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo cooks included 600 ML of water, 1 kilogram of corn meal, 4 spoons of salt – well they were spoons, a hand full of wild fennel seeds and 3 tablespoons of olive oil.  Knead it up!  Take your aggressions out on the dough! Meanwhile, for a few hours your wood burning oven has been filling the air with the scent of days gone bye. Oh, only use olive tree wood in the oven and when the bricks turn white sweep the coals over to one side with a broom made with sambuca leaves.  Then take the dough and spread it out on the cabbage leaves and with your handy pizza peel slide it into the prepared wood burning oven.  Wheeeooo, this is a lot of work.  Watch it rise and fall and turn a golden brown.   Then pull it out and remove the cabbage leaves – let it cool a second or more first.  Rip up the corn bread and add it to the top of the soup/stew pot.  Serve it immediately and watch me salivate. Watch the tape and enjoy.

 

You too can learn traditional Southern Italian cooking.  Join us.

Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo May 19 -26 and September 8-15, 2018

For more information, send an email to info@nonnasmulberrytree.com.

Russian Symphony in Sannio Hills

More than one person has asked me what Jack and I do in a teeny, tiny Southern Italian village.  The implication being that we must be bored to tears.  Usually, I give a snarky response like – the laundry or pick tomatoes.  The reality is, we are involved in more cultural activities here than we are in New Jersey.  Italians have a passion for and a commitment to the arts.  The arts are part of the fabric of who they are and their lives.  Yesterday, after doing the laundry – no – not really, I got a text from my friend Adele.  She alerted me to the free symphony orchestra concert in neighboring Morcone.  Jack and I were absolutely in!  We love classical music and until we got there didn’t know or care who we were hearing.

I expected students from the music conservatory and was surprised to see the Grande Orchestra Sinfonica Russa della Repubblica di Udmurtia. ( I just googled Udmurtia to see what part of Russia it was – they breed great musicians!)  Their conductor, Leornardo Quadrini, is not only Italian but is committed to sharing the music of the world with the people in our Sannio Mountains.  I found out that some how he donated the concert to Morcone!  He has been recognized with a load of awards for his commitment to the Province of Benevento.  The maestro has conducted for places like La Scala and a variety of other opera houses.  Not too shabby!  Maestro Quadrini is also gorgeous and has a larger than life personality.  The orchestra entered in dress black, he bounded into the space on his cell phone giving directions to someone.  Folks in the audience were yelling out additions to the directions.  When they were finalized – all applauded!  He beamed and then looked down at his clothes – “it’s hot and I didn’t have time to change – do you mind?”  No one minded – including the musicians who obviously adore him.

Morcone is one of those towns that appear in guide books.  They seem to have been dropped onto the side of a mountain and by some magic of construction defy gravity and don’t slide down.  The historic center is at the very top of the town.  My friend Adele grew up in Morcone and can bound up the steep steps to the top like a gazelle.  “Are we there yet,” I would wine as we wended our way up another flight.  “How do people bring their furniture up here – or groceries?”  Jack poked me and said keep walking.  Suddenly, we were in this incredible piazza.  Piazza San Bernardino sits in front of the municipal theater.  There are stone buildings on three sides and than a view of the valley.  It was beautiful and incredibly well kept.  We walked a wee bit further to the bar – I thought someone picked up a 1970’s West Village NYC bar and dropped it here.  If there weren’t a million steps to get there, I’d become a regular.  The owner was as unique and charming as his space.  After a glass of wine, it was time to secure seats.

Not that many people still live in the historic center of the town, but lots of people came to the concert.  It was a NYC kind of crowd – well dressed people mingling with a younger set in jeans or bermuda shorts.  Aging hippy garb sitting next too a silk suit dress ensemble.  No matter who they were they became one with the music.  Some people even hummed along!  The concert started with a Russian composer – I thought he said Rimsky Korsakov but I could be wrong.  They then played Verdi, Rossini, Bizet and more.  Ending with a rousing tarantella that included the Maestro conducting claps in the audience.  Una Bella Serata!  No one wanted the night to end.  The applause and shouts of bravi insured an encore.

 

Next time someone asks me how we fill our time in a teeny tiny Italian village, I might just say – I put on my glamour rags and go to the symphony.

Ci vediamo.