Transitions

It has been a month since you have heard from me.  Yikes? What have I been doing?  Well for the first week after the USA election I stayed in bed with a bottle of scotch and Italian candies.  Baci, baci!!

It has taken a while for me to make the transition from a citizen of Southern Italy to a citizen of the USA. Every November I find myself back in New Jersey.  I am happy to be in the clutches of my family and friends.  Ecstatic to see how much the wee ones have grown into interesting young adults.  After the frenzy of “welcome backs,” the happy hugs that make the emotional bubble in my chest burst with love, I look around and think “where am I?”  I had a teacher once who said that Europe didn’t exist – you got on a plane and flew around and then landed at a place like Disney Land where the pretend Europe was built.  He was kidding and trying to get us to think about the explorers who thought the world was flat.  He wanted us to realize that you have to get out of your comfort zone and see the world in order to understand not only the breadth of the world’s society – but who you are. But where am I?

The transition from the woman who lives in a small Southern Italian village to the woman who lives in the buzzing metropolitan area has always been difficult.  The culture shock of prices – $10 for two cappuccinos and one brioche makes my blood boil.  Hey, I get great cappuccinos for €1 and a FRESH brioche that tastes GREAT for €1.  Errrggg.  But more than prices, it is my difficulty accepting the changing cultural climate of my motherland.  I don’t need to harp on it – those of you who marched for equal rights understand that now we appear to be sinking into the quicksand of — well I can’t even talk about it.  If I do, I’m sure my “file” will just get thicker.

Transitions.  How do I transition from a life that includes a daily walk down the hill to the village piazza for a cappuccino and conversation to a life that means driving for an anything?  Everyone I pass in Pontelandolfo says buongiorno.  People I pass in my car flip their middle fingers because I drive to slow, fast or freaky. The fruits and vegetables I buy from Antonio’s truck in Italy haven’t been sprayed with stuff that could kill me.  The meat at the macelleria hasn’t been shot up with hormones.  Yes, I am lucky to have found a circle of local organic farmers in NJ so I am not forced to shop at giant super-markets.  I think about those that can’t.

Transition – my credit card is leaping out of my wallet. Don’t get me started on big pharma and the fact that the USA does not have a single payer health care system and is ranked under my feet on most studies.  Bloomberg News , Bloomberg Health-Care Efficiency Index, on September 26, 2016 ranked Italy 6th and the USA 50th.  My co-pay in Italy for my high blood pressure medicine is €2 – in NJ it was $46. How could this be?

I am a child of the 60’s.  During my university and young adult years, I was part of the politically active force of women who helped insure that reproductive rights belonged to women.  Who marched and voted for equality for all.  Who forced curriculums to include literary works by more than dead white men.  Who tossed boulders at glass ceilings. Who organized communities to improve the lives of those less fortunate than ourselves.  Who worked to bring arts experiences to children from all socio-economic strata.  Who –

Who now wonder “where have all the flowers gone – long time passing.” (Lyric by Pete Seeger.)  That is who I am.

Transitions.

Don’t despair, dear readers, don’t despair.  In a day or so the transition will be done and I will be back to my funny sardonic self.

Ci Vediamo.

 

 

Categories: Any Day in Pontelandolfo | 4 Comments

Melanzane -Eggplant- Sandwiches

Sitting on the train between Naples and Milan, I was feeling sad about leaving Pontelandolfo when the elfin face of Zia Vittoria flashed across the screen of my brain. She was waving a plate of stuffed melanzane in front of my 8:00 AM – been on the road since 5:30 AM – hungry face. Now I see the train staff coming down the aisle with our early morning caffe and snacks so I know Zia Vittoria is a mirage. Since train food – even in prima class is even worse than airplane food, let’s go with my mirage. Melanzana – eggplant – is one of my “go to” comfort foods.   All of you arm chair psychologists will opine that I’m having this mirage – that includes scent – to get me out of my doldrums.

When the eggplants were in season in Pontelandolfo every home was chock full of the black-purple wonders. With a basket of them sitting on my kitchen table and my brain directing Sean Connery in a romantic comedy instead of focusing on eggplant – though it was one eggplant that made me thing of Connery – I hadn’t come up with a recipe.  Then the angel of cooking appeared with what looked like a hot panini and said  assaggiarlo – taste it. 


 I did. I let the soft flesh of the melanzana coupled with the great salty cream of a local sheep milk cheese roll around all the taste buds of my tongue. It was wonderful. Think grilled cheese without the bread! I followed my cooking muse out to the work kitchen near her gardens.

Peel only two sides of the eggplant.  Buccia pieno di vitamine.  The skin is full of vitamins.  Then make three or four really thick slices with the buccia on the outside of the slice. It is the crust of our eggplant bread. The slices need to be thick enough to partially split in half. Leave a “hinge” at the bottom. When I slice a pita bread I also leave a closed bottom so the goodies don’t leak out. 


 Vittoria uses a simple filing of fresh basil, eggs and sheep’s milk cheese.  She thick grated the cheese – which was fairly soft or new cheese.  Tons of cheese were added to 6 whipped eggs.  She tossed in a pinch of flour and chopped basil. The mixture looks like lumpy cream cheese when it is stirred and melded together.  It does not drip!  It is super thick.    You can see it in the above photo.

Finally fry both sides of the eggplant sandwhich in olive oil and keep Midge out of the kitchen or they will all be gone and you won’t have any to freeze. Did she say freeze? Many families in Pontelandolfo conserve their fresh products either by canning, drying or freezing. Zia Vittoria has a chest freezer that is always crammed full at the end of the summer.

I like to eat the stuffed eggplant literally like a sandwich. She puts then in aluminum pans and covers them with what she calls sughetto and freezes them. They will be brought out in the winter, baked and eaten like – you guessed it – a vegetarian lasagna!
Her sughetto is simply chopped tomatoes sautéed in olive oil with a smattering of salt and pepper.

Hmmmmmmmm. I can still smell them frying.

 What’s that?  You want my ticket? Oh that’s right I’m on the train to Milan.

Next summer I will be back and so will the eggplant grilled cheese sandwiches. 

Ci Vediamo!!

Categories: Food - Eating In and Out! | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Seeing Pontelandolfo for the First Time – Again

It is almost time for us to leave the one place where I can feel my grandmother in every corner – and I am depressed.  This is not an unusual state – every year as I start to close up the house in Pontelandolfo and make arrangements to be picked up at JFK in New York, I get depressed.  Pontelandolfo, village of my grandparents, aunts and uncles resonates to my very soul.

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Maria Rosaria Solla and Francesco Guerrera – Happy Owners of 221 South Branch Road

Why do we leave?  That question smacks my soul at the Mini Market, Marcelleria, Pasticceria, Farmacia – as I tell folks we are about to depart yet again, everyone asks the same question.  Why not just stay here?   Because Flagtown – the village where my Pontelandofese family settled, where my dad was il Sindaco, mayor, and where we even have a street named after my family  – resonates with me too.  The pull in both directions is so very strong that at times I feel my heart being ripped apart. Giusippina Guerrera – my dad’s first cousin – reminded me that 20 years ago I was the first one from America to return and search for those left behind.  She constantly tells me that blood attracts blood – like a magnet finding its way to those who are part of who we are.   Sitting outside of Kaleb’s bar looking out over the Piazza, thinking about Giusippina, my family and friends in the USA and my trips to Italy over the past 40 years made me really think about the first time I saw Pontelandolfo. Saw it, left it quickly, but felt the incredible pull to return.

Twenty-one, knowing everything there was to know in the world – but being far from worldly, I was blessed to have my Aunt Catherine offer to take my younger cousins Bobby, Maryellen and I to Italy for the first time.  Thank God, it was 1971 and I’m glad I was able to score happy pills. We landed in Milano and the first thing I discovered was that no one could understand Aunt Cat’s Italian. Never having heard anyone in my family speak Italian, but knowing that Aunt Cat spent her formative years in Italy, I just figured we’d be OK.  I didn’t realize that she spoke the ancient dialect she grew up with in Pontelandolfo.  Actually, Northern Italians were rude and said things like “we don’t speak Spanish here.”  The official checking passports at the airport said it first.  Aunt Cat’s face dropped and she refused to speak again – until we reached Campania.  Luckily, I had taken a year of Italian at Montclair State, carried a Berlitz phrase book and could get us to the car rental agency and put gas in the car.  Bobby and I drove the car – when we got back we told everyone it was a Ferrari – but I haven’t a clue what it was.  That trip was like a rapid fire slide show –  100 towns in 100 minutes.  Zip there went the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Zap, I think that was the Amalfi Coast – shit – the curves – how did we get here. Wham – Grosetto and a film crew shooting a spaghetti western.

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After the whirl wind but frustrating tour, we got to Pontelandolfo late one morning.  The village looked like a movie set – it was pristine.  We discovered that the powers that be -I think the Communist party was in power then – rehabbed the city to promote tourism.  (Boy, did I hear that line over and over again in the next 30 years.)

On the stone city walls were funeral announcements. A number of them said Guerrera.  That was kind of freaky – realizing that people with my last name really did live and die in this place so far away from Flagtown.  I wondered if my nonna or nonno knew them – had played with them as children – gone to their weddings.

Aunt Cat started acted skittish the moment we got to Piazza Roma and looked at Pontelandolfo’s iconic tower. I didn’t understand why.  (When I was older and wiser I figured it out – she was having flashbacks to being the crippled kid that the local priest kept insisting should be institutionalized.  Here is an earlier blog – Nonna Comes to America.)

As we wandered the tiny medieval streets, Aunt Cat told us tales about coming to the village for market day.  She tried to point out where they lived on a little hill outside the village center.  It had to be a long walk for a little girl with polio.  Coming from modern New Jersey, it was hard to imagine her walking to a communal fountain for water or helping her mom wash clothes in the communal laundry trough. Her grandfather, my bis-nonno Liberantonio Solla, played the concertina in the piazza, for weddings, parties – and often drank his fee away.  After aimlessly wandering and not really talking to anyone – we sure as hell weren’t invisible but must have had a don’t talk to me wall up – we realized we were starving.

Great roasting over an open fire smells spilled onto the piazza.  We followed our noses. There was a beaded doorway and a smiling face beckoning us closer.  No one understood the sign but we figured out it was a tiny osteria – local restaurant.  The three of us went in and ate what ever the owner was serving that day and listened to more of Aunt Cat’s stories.  I don’t remember what we ate but I do remember it triggered a visceral response and my heart got bigger and bigger in my chest.

Leaving the three of them sitting in the sun and digesting lunch, I whipped out the Berlitz, wandered the narrow alleys and tried to introduce myself to older people I met to see if anyone remembered my grandmother or grandfather. One older gent with a gleam in his eye remembered Maria Rosaria Solla!  He took me to meet a woman he said was a relative.  She promptly wanted us to come back for cena later and meet everyone.

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I raced back and told Aunt Cat.  She was horrified.  “Absolutely not! They know we’re  from America and want our money.” Bobby and Maryellen were bored and wanted to go back to civilization.  Being 21 and ornery I stomped off. Not knowing where I was going, I ended walking up a cobblestoned hill to get as far away from my chicken shit family as I could.  I found myself on  the steps of the church where my Grandmother was married, my aunts and uncles were baptized.  High on a hill, I looked out over the alley, popped a happy pill and while tears streamed down my eyes, I vowed to come back.

As long as there is a wind in my sail, I will return.

Ci vediamo.

Categories: Finding My Family | Tags: , | 4 Comments

#&*#! I Don’t Have My Passport – Travel Trials

We hugged our pals Nicola and Dolores goodbye and entered the Naples airport. The cue for the Alitalia desk was long but we bravely entered.  My jaw dropped, my colon cramped, and my heart started pounding.  Barely a whisper came out of my mouth as I turned to Jack and said, “I don’t have a passport.” He turned towards the glass doors looking for Nicola – maybe they could race back before our flight. My chest tightened, we were due to leave in 2 hours and I needed to get to Sardegna.  Suddenly my fingers felt a wee bit of plastic in my purse.  My Carta Identità – every Italian citizen has one – I turned back to Jack. “We are just going from one Italian city to another right. I mean we don’t stop in I don’t know – Switzerland?”  He looked at me like I was pazzo. Right? Right, Naples to Rome and Rome to Alghero.

We were surrounded in the line by two tour groups – Canadian and Australian.  All of the happy lemmings were holding up their blue passports.  Question – Do all former British colonies have blue passports???  The line slowly moved when speaking Italian – noting I’m guessing my Carta Identità – a representative moved Jack and I up to the ticket counter.  Nice!  When we got to the gate, I noticed well dressed men and women holding up their Carta Identitàs.  It hit me – I’m part of the in crowd!  Weeeooooo.  So glad that passport is still sitting on the counter.

When we got to Rome the disorganized crush was uncomfortable.  The running from changed gate to changed gate and then standing there for almost an hour was tortuous.  Paying airport prices for a lousy panini was insulting in a country that prides itself on its cuisine.  Grrrrrrr.  Remember when it was glamorous to fly?  If you are over 60 you do!!

Working with ones the best Italian language schools, Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera, means we get to go to Alghero, Sardegna once a year.  When we landed the ace school administrator, texted me that a member of my group’s bags never made it to Alghero from Rome.  #&*#!  The bloody bags are tagged.  How hard is this to keep straight.  I breathed a sigh of relief when our bags came down the chute.

Pintadera’s trusty taxi driver, Fredrico, greeted us like long lost pals and shepherded us to our little house. The concierge opened the door and I started gagging and grabbed my inhaler. What the heck is that obnoxious whore house smell?  Did the perfume counter at Bloomingdales explode?  The concierge raced around and opened all the windows.  Jack found the disgusting plug in make fake smell devices and tossed them.  Apparently, the house had been shut up for a while and this was the crews way of refreshing the air.  GAGG. 

Travel, just another joyous way to spend the day.

PS.  Once we got settled everything was actually joyous – well except for paying double what we spend in Pontelandolfo for our morning cappuccino.

Ci Vediamo

Categories: Any Day in Pontelandolfo | 2 Comments

Prosciutto Crudo – Cooking in Pontelandolfo

After last May’s Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo event, I was talking food with one of the cooks who opened their homes to that first group – the wood fire pizza making guru – Nicolo Ciarlo.  Note the meats hanging in the background –

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What?  Are you serious, I demanded.  Your parents make prosciutto crudo in Connecticut?  Do they buy a whole pig?  “Midge”, he looked at me like I was stupid, “they go to Costco.”  Dimmi, I replied – tell me and tell me all!  He did – here is just one of the type of things you can learn if you come to Cook in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo May 20 – 27th 2017!

Prosciutto Crudo – Made and Eaten by YOU!

First of all don’t go running out today to start the process.  The best time to make prosciutto crudo is from December to March.  AND – you really need to live in a place with an unheated garage.  Talk to the meat manager at Costco and find out when the fresh meat arrives.  Go on that day and buy fresh ham – a pigs upper leg. Make sure it is on the bone – it is the butt and part of leg bone.  While you are there buy a ton – I mean a real ton of large grain salt.

Location, location – bring home the hog and head for the garage. Get out your large wooden pasta board or just use a wooden table – now I do not know why it has to be a wooden table.  This is not exact science here – but hearsay and traditional methods. Put a table cloth on the board or table first and cover it with lots of salt – so much salt that you can’t see the tablecloth.  Put the hunk of pig on the salt and pour more sale all over the pork. Rub that salt in!  Get that salt in every crevice.  Now, wrap the meat in the table cloth and raise one side of the board or the table to a pretty good angle.  Stick a large plastic tub on the floor near the low end.  The tub will catch the salt, blood and liquids that will run off the meat.  Yum.  You do not want the meat to freeze!  A cold garage but not a freezing garage is best.  Keep the dog out of the garage!  The meat stays in this position for 40 days.

After 40 days take cloth off the meat.  You can press the meat down to insure that all the liquid is gone. To remove the salt wash the meat thoroughly in red wine.  You may drink a glass of red wine during this process.  Next tie a sturdy cord around the bone and hang it from a rafter for one day – that plastic tub comes in handy now too.  You need the wine to dry out.  When you wash the hog with red wine you see the meat become red.

After the meat is dry, absolutely cover it with red pepper, black pepper and garlic.  Rub those peppercorns in and cover the meat with a light cotton fabric so that bugs can’t get in.  Now hang the processed meat for one or two years – depending on the weight in an area that is always cool.  You may have to move it from garage to the basement etc.  Wait a second?  Did you think you were going to get immediate gratification?  Traditional fare takes time and is worth the wait.  After the meat hangs for the requisite years you clean off the conserving spices.  Next slice off hunks, put them in vacuum pack bags and enjoy.

Speaking of enjoying – why not come to my little village next May and Cook in the Kitchen’s of Pontelandolfo! 

Saturday, May 20, 2017 To Saturday, May 27, 2017   Limited to 8 People

For more information leave a comment!

Categories: Food - Eating In and Out! | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Writers Retreat Coming to Pontelandolfo!

HUZZAH!  YEAH!  WOOO!  WOOO!  Massachusetts based, Shape & Nature Press is organizing a June 2017 writers’ retreat for women in Pontelandolfo!  Why?  Why not!  Our green mountains, incredible history and welcoming residents could provide American writers with tons of inspiration.  Shape & Nature’s founder, Maria Williams, is a grad school buddy of mine.

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Maria explores Altilia – an archeological site nearby.

This past August, she came to hang out in the Sannio Hills with us and enjoy the village’s week long Festa.  Maria loved our medieval village.  One afternoon with pals George and Evert Ben from Holland, we had a four-hour lunch at my favorite agriturismo, Borgo di Cerquelle. I entertained the table with tales of the successful May 2016 “Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo” event.   Maria had a weird look in her eye and I realized later, I had given her an eureka moment!

That night as we sipped our Campari Spritzes, Maria looked at me and said, “why don’t I do a writer’s retreat for women here – in Pontelandolfo.”  Why NOT!!!!! I screeched – lets get started.  That is how this was born –

Out of the Castle
Writing Conference & Retreat – June 3-10, 2017

The first decision was where – that was a no brainer.  The Agriturismo Borgo di Cerquelle is set in the mountain, has loving owners and is committed to farm-to-table cooking.  The views from the bedrooms will inspire a novel or force the harried writer to take a moment and appreciate the beauty one finds in the Province of Benevento.

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The next hurdle was finding an Italian female author to be the keynote speaker.  The universe always provides – thanks to my New Jersey pal – another Maria – who introduced me to her pals Salvatore and Rosanna – I was introduced to Anna Santaliquido.  I spent 3 days in Bari as the guests of Salvatore and Rosanna and had the opportunity to hang out with Anna, one of Italy’s most respected and greatly published poets.  She is also the founder of  the women’s poetry organization, Movimento Internazionale “Donne e Poesia”!  Perfect!  She is amazing and was excited to help.

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Anna and I in Bari

Anna was not only enthusiastic about the writers’ retreat for women, but gave me tons of suggestions on how to integrate the community into the project.  We will be organizing programs for middle school students and recent English speaking refugee immigrants.  Public readings will be held and open to all.

Women writers of fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry are invited to participate in Out of the Castle, a writing conference and retreat. The conference is named in honor of 16th century Italian poet, Isabella di Morro, who was locked in her family castle by her tyrannical brothers but still managed to create a canon of work. So get out of your castle and come write in Pontelandolfo.  For the details – here is the link to the Shape & Nature Conference Information.

Share the information with your literary pals!

Ci Vediamo

Categories: Any Day in Pontelandolfo, Stops Along the Journey - Sites Off the Tourist Track | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

La Torre Mini Market

What? Has Midge gone daft? Is she writing a story about a grocery store – a mini market?  You can bet your pjeeeze I am!  La Torre Mini Market is the creation of a young married couple – Luigi Silvestri and Mariavittoria Stringile.

It is energizing to see young people get in touch with their entrepreneurial spirits and take the idea of alimentari to a new level.  Before they opened, they did something I am so impressed with.  They sat down with Pierino Di Angeles who had the Alimentari that I adored and asked her where she used to buy  her out of this world mortadella !  I bet they asked her other well founded questions too.

This little grocery store and deli – with the stress on the deli – not only carries all the stuff you need but ran out of just as you needed it.  But also stocks things that are a wee bit exotic like – truffle oil, goat’s milk, unusual spices and baked goods including real dark  – think those old Brooklyn bakeries – healthy rye bread!


The deli meats never looked dried out and dying in the case.  Salamis, prosciutto crudo or cotto, tacchino, all have been noshed on in our house to great satisfaction.  Even though we enjoy going to the local Caseficio – place that makes cheese – for our cheese quotas,  I’m glad to see that Luigi and Maria Vittoria stock mozzarella di buffalo made a wee bit up the road. l Casolare di Alvignano has won the 2016 “Oscar” for best mozzarella in Italy.

I asked them why they decided to take the plunge and work 24 hours a day building a little mom and pop community store.  Mariavittoria explained that her family moved to Germany and she and Luigi could have gone there to look for work.  Something held them back – their absolute love for Pontelandolfo and Pontelandolfese!   They chose to open a mini-market because they realized that after Pierina retired, there was no place in the historic center to buy what she used to sell.  They wanted to fill that void.

They more than fill the void!  I was super impressed during Pontelandolfo’s August week-long Festa  to see them open almost 24 hours a day.  They put a table in their doorway and sold canned beverages and panini to late night revelers.  Daily, construction workers dash in to pick up sandwiches to carry for lunch.  Frantic Midge runs in – because no one else is open on Sunday – to see what she can route up for Sunday pranza.

The couple have a son and are expecting another member of the family this winter.  Soon two little tykes will be running around and asking if I want some delicious mortadella!

Ci vediamo!

Categories: Any Day in Pontelandolfo, Local Businesses | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Ponte Simone -Perfetto per Pontelandolfo!

I stared at the defrosted fish, poked at the fresh spinach and then sighed, “I don’t feel like cooking – lets go to Ponte Simone.”  Ponte Simone is Pontelandolfo’s latest new happening spot.  The caffè/bar, tavolo caldo, grocery store, lotto parlor, slot machine parlor and more is the creation of a young and talented duo – Nicola D’Addona and Angela  Varricchio.  They took over a shop located at Ponte Sorgenza – just down the street from the center of town.  Closed the old place for a few months and gave it a make-over. They even made the furniture for the new dining room.

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Since I tasted Angela’s cooking, I have found a million reasons not to cook lunch.  My first experience was a fabulous farro seafood salad. Since Jack and I are trying not to eat wheat or rice, finding a place that cooked with farro was wonderful.  We often wander in, look at Angela and ask what we are eating today.  I’ve had roasted meats, grilled vegetables, caprese salads, green salads, soups – no matter what she cooks I’ll eat it because it is always perfect.  The price point is also perfect – I hate to make my USA pals  jealous by telling them that it costs us less to eat at Ponte Simone than it would to buy the stuff and cook it in New Jersey!

Angela also makes the gelato that is sold here.  Please don’t let my doctor know that I sampled some – how can I not eat sugar when there is home made melon gelato!  She experiments with flavors that are unique and scrumptious.

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Nicola is the bar man, grocery man and everything man.  Even though my Italian is sub par, he smiles figures out what I want and it magically appears.  Sadly, for me, every Campari Spritz I order comes with a tray of little noshes.  I beg, I plead, don’t bring me the snacks.  They still arrive and – gulp – I eat them.  I feel like I’m in a little caffè in any Italian city at cocktail time.  Lucky for me I only have to walk down the hill and stumble back.

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The couple works with other local business and I truly applaud them for that.  In the tiny grocery store I can buy meats from our local butcher, Franco Perugini.  Normally, I go to his shop but if I am in a pinch and he is closed…

Normally, Ponte Simone closes at 8:00 PM.  They put in 14 hour days.  Then there are the nights they produce events – when no one sleeps and everyone parties.  Music, a talent show, ethnic nights – the creative pair are turning this little corner of town into the place to be.  Bravi!

Every Sunday night, I take over a table in the dining room for “English Conversation”.  Whoever is interested in practicing their English that night shows up.  We chat, raise a glass and enjoy the home-town atmosphere of Ponte Simone

The wonders of life in a small town is that everyone knows your name. Growing up in Flagtown meant I couldn’t do anything wrong because everyone knew who I was and would either kick my butt or tell my parents.  Walking into Ponte Simone and hearing “Ciao Midge” reminds me of those days, puts a smile on my face and makes me remember how fortunate I am to be able to spend so much time in a little Southern Italian village.

Ci Vediamo!

Categories: Any Day in Pontelandolfo, Local Businesses | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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