It’s All Happening at the Zoo

Like a lioness roaring at her cubs, I announced in una voce forte, “hop in the car we have places to go and animals to see.”

“What,” queried Jack, “sheep in the mountain? Stop bellowing like a lion. Where do you want to go?”

“Lions and tigers and bears -oh my – to the Zoo Delle Maitine in Pesca Sannita!”

Spending a lot of time in Pontelandolfo BN, we are always looking for day trips. Since lots of folks come to visit us or are culinary tourists in our Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo program, I think of it as research for our guests. Actually that is just an easy excuse. I love to explore. Life is short and there are lots of places to see. I have an old Visit Campania book – which I love. It is much more complete than the website and includes little towns. I looked up the Provincia di Benevento. Pesca Sannita had a fairly good write up. Hmm, I bet their administration understands PR and sent something in when they were asked. I googled the town, expecting to get the droll web-site template that Pontelandolfo and other towns use. Whoa – Pesca Sannita has a website dedicated to tourism. The blurb included a photo of a parrot and an invitation to visit Zoo Delle Maitine. That impressed me enough to get in the car and point driver Jack towards Pesca Sannita.

Besides, who knew there was a zoo? Perhaps the gnu knew, and now I’m telling you. A scant trip over the mountain to Pesco Sannita and we came upon a darling well thought out little zoo.

There was a sign saying “paid parking”. We pulled in and an older man pointed out where to park. I had a €5 bill in my hand – huge mistake – and asked him how much? He took the 5 and scampered off. I found out from the ticket taker that you just tip the person in the lot – like €1. Oops. For a well organized place, the zoo needs to get some “Parker Beware” signage up in the parking lot.

Our €6 each senior citizen tickets made up for the scammer in the parking lot.

What struck me at first was how clean the zoo was. Every animal encampment was pristine and large. For example, only two lions are in the huge lion park. It had a little lake, trees and lots of grass – very plain like. Next to the lake, the lioness was reposing in the shade. The man with the mane was posing for the cameras.

My zoo experiences are urban – Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo. And I remembered as a kid holding my nose against the smell – I was a wee bit obnoxious – thinking it was stinky and the animals were squished. We visited the Zoo Delle Maitine on a hot summer day and there wasn’t any odor. OK, that is a lie, it was a hot summer day and there were lots of sweaty kids. I will rephrase that – there wasn’t any overt odor from the animal habitats.

Signage near each grouping of animals talked about extinction. There were charts showing how endangered the animals were and why. I hope the signs are a catalyst for family discussions.

Most of the visitors had small children with them and some of the viewing areas had glass partial walls that permitted small faces to get up close and personal with the monkeys and other animals. One part of the zoo, that my “child” particularly liked was the fattoria, farm. They had really miniature goats and sheep. A perfect size for little people to look at and play with. It was an open area – still clean. We walked in and the farm yard animals obviously used to guests, ambled over to play. I had on a white skirt and bolted, but I’m told there were all kinds of food bearing animals.

Here is my wee companion playing in the farm yard.

Did they have every animal in the universe? No, but what they did have seemed well cared for and a joy to look at. Also, for the nonni who were bringing kids, there were lots of benches placed in shady nooks. One of the things I appreciated was that, unlike urban zoos, they didn’t gouge us at the refreshment stands. A bottle of water was the same €1 we would pay in a local bar. They even had a picnic area for folks who carried their own grub.

Jack and I spent half a day there and really enjoyed ourselves. Granted, people looked at us strangely because we didn’t have any kids with us. Occasionally, I remedied that by looking at groups of kids and saying things like Salvatore, sta attento!

Salvatore didn’t listen but this guy came over to say hi.

Next time you come to visit Provincia di Benevento, add Zoo Delle Maitine to your list!

Ci Vediamo!

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We are now signing up culinary adventurers for our May 2019 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo. Check out our website.

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From Bridgeport, Connecticut back to Castelfranco in Miscano

 A few weeks ago, I got a call from Nicola – one of the directors of Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera that world class language school in Alghero, Sardinia – she asked if she could give my phone number to a current student at the school.  He too was searching for his family and they were from a village not far from me.  Of course I said yes! I love the community of people who are as passionate as I am about finding their heritage. Kevin Monks and I played phone tags for a day and finally connected.  We met for coffee in Benevento and swapped family stories.  Kevin now lives in Cremorne, Tasmania – Australia!  Talk about a long trek to find your roots.
This is Kevin’s Story:
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Italian Mom and aunts in Connecticut (early 1950s)
My name is Kevin, son of an English father and US born Italian mother. My childhood memories of my Italy-born grandfather are as snapshots….just a few really, oh and one scent.
Walking up a dark hallway toward the kitchen light in Bridgeport, Connecticut. I must have escaped my bed to visit the happy sounds coming from the kitchen where adults were talking and laughing late into the night. “Pops” Gabriele stood with a smile on his face as the little boy entered into the light.
The scent that I remember is my grandfather’s pasta e fagoli soup wafting through the house. I’ve identified that precise scent only 1-2 times, both time  while visiting Italy.
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Antonio Tito Gabriele (nonno)
My mother didn’t really tell us much about Pops Gabriel (dropped the ‘e’ after immigrated to US). All she said was that he immigrated to US. (Ellis Island, then Bridgeport) when he was nine years old. His US Italian wife (Mary Ann Vertucci) died when my mother was 16 years old. Pops was born in a town called Castelfranco but she didn’t know where it was and never looked into it.
Both of my parents are gone now, but I wanted to look deeper into those few facts left to me. Starting at the usual places,/ I discovered my Nonno’s fathers name (bis nonno) and my great-great grandfathers name ( bis bis nonno). Along with the names came the point of origin – Castelfranco in Miscano.
I wanted to go see this place. Why did they leave? Adventure, poverty, famine, war? Who were they…what did they do? Well, I booked the tickets and set out from Tasmania to visit this place.
Setting out from Benevento, Campania I boarded the only once-a-day 12 seat autobus to go to my destination. The route left the flat rural farmland and snaked upwards through hilltop villages and finally stopped in the little town of Castelfranco in Miscano.
Midge had given me the best places to look, who to enquire of…so I set out for the Municipio…not a long walk (100m….double that and I would be out of town). It was an old style building with a serious looking clerk who looked at me as if I’d beamed down. “Sono Australiano…Italiano nonno”. She had that look of “great, another balmy touristico seeking truth and identity”. Well, another clerk helped with my very limited Italiano and calmly took action when the elder clerk’s expression became dark and aggravated. All good…I thanked them for a photocopy of the records they found. Bis bis nonno was a shepherd….and bis nonno was a labourer, one of seven brothers.  They gave me their email address to formally request an in-depth search. I don’t know where they were going to look…maybe out the back door and raid the church records.
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Donato (bis nonno – born 1877) Fedele and Maria Gabriele 
I popped into the chiesa to see if I could corner a padre on the matter…nobody home. Midge said to check out the al bar/ cafe in town. While grabbing an espresso I went through my basic spiel again and Lo and Behold she said someone from her family was currently in Bridgeport CT visiting family. “What? That’s my birthplace. As it turns out, almost all from Castelfranco went to Bridgeport CT. Midge, at my post trip aperitivi debrief in Benevento said it happened a lot. One goes out, writes a letter back, and the others follow the bread crumbs.
Well, I walked around the small village, snapped a few photos and headed back to the town centre. Approaching the Al Bar, I over heard the distinct accent of an Australian (am I surprised? Aussies are everywhere you least expect them). They were hanging around to see if I showed up…word had gotten around the village.  The two sisters in the bar had passed the word…relatives. Had a good chat and I learned more about Castelfranco as their nonna, a charming elderly woman, sat with us. She was born there and had lived in Melbourne for 26 years. Once her Italian husband had died she returned to Castelfranco. The Australian families had driven up to pick her up for a huge family reunion to be held in New Jersey. They were leaving to go at that moment down to Napoli to fly out to the U.S. That was a rich experience.
I wasn’t  prepared for the physical emotional effect when I first approached the little town. There must be something connecting our brain with our heart as we get close to our roots, heritage and Land-Place. It was worth the effort. I encourage anyone to take the journey! Do it while you can relay your findings and stories to loved ones still with you!

Corpus Domini Needs Your Explanations!

Baptized Lutheran and raised in the Dutch Reformed Church, I am not well versed in Catholic Liturgical ritual – I need you and your comments to round this out for me.  What!? You said – how could this nice Italian girl not be Catholic?  Mio nonno refused to let anyone go to the Catholic Church because the priest was boinking the area wives.  Grandpa conducted mass in the house!    Enough about me, let’s talk about Corpus Domini!  it was 9:00 PM and the sounds of bombs bursting in the air still surrounded us.  No need to duck and cover this is the end of the Corpus Domini Processione.  Hundreds of Pontelandolfese went to mass at 6:00 PM and at 7:20 started processing through the hilly streets –  stopping at small alters around the town.

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Thanks to http://www.duomofirenze.it/feste/corpusdomini_eng.htm:

Every year, sixty days after Easter, the Church celebrates “Corpus Domini”: a religious solemnity in honor of the Eucharist (the ‘body’ – corpus – of Christ in the sacramental sign of bread): an observance that first developed in Italy the thirteenth century and in 1263 was extended by Pope Urban IV to all of Christian Europe. In Florence as elsewhere, from that period the feast has been celebrated in solemn fashion, with a majestic procession in which the Eucharistic bread is borne through the city streets in a glass container know as a ‘monstrance’, which allows people to see the consecrated bread wafer. This procession acquired ever greater importance with the passage of time.

Here is what I saw that was so interesting – these are the rituals I want you to talk about!!

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Note the Satin Drapes.

1. Driving down to the piazza we saw women hanging out what looked like their best lace tablecloths, satin bedspreads, fancy linen sheets etc.  Check out the first photo – see some on the right.  These things were waving like banners in the wind. At first we thought it was laundry but Jack remembered reading that when Henry the 8th came to a village everyone had to hang out their best fabrics to honor his coming.  In Bar Elimar I asked our friend Gennaio why the piazza was festooned with lace and he said it was an ancient ritual to celebrate the king – in this case Jesus.  What do you know???

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Flowers on EVERY Street Light, Column, Pole.

2. We also saw that yellow wild flowers were tied in bunches on every single upright thing leading into town.  Wild flowers – yellow – ANY IDEAS?  This morning I asked my favorite barista, Marilina, and she said because they are wild and always in bloom this time of year.  That makes them free.  What is YOUR TAKE??

3. All of the children who last week celebrated their first communion were leading the procession.  The boys were tossing rose petals and the girls were sporting flower crowns and looked like the promised vestal virgins.  Since this event celebrates communion it makes sense that the children were involved – but how come the tossed flower petals????    4. Are exterior alters set up in American towns?  A big one was set up in front of the cemetery – which I thought made sense – tombs – rising up – celebration of second coming etc.  Is the cemetery always part of the procession?

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This is outside the cemetery.

5. Is this celebrated in the USA with processions etc?  Are there the sounds of bombs bursting and fireworks?? Today’s regional newspapers were full of pictures and stories of the processions in towns all over Compania.

Come on folks – fill in the blanks for me and everyone else that doesn’t know.  Let us have popping comment conversations.  THE FIRST PERSON TO POST A COMMENT GETS A BIG VIRTUAL HUG FROM ME!

Feeling like a Queen at Queensley Country Resort

I was staring out my dining room window this morning and thought, how magical the snow covered trees look – like the setting for a Russian love story.  Then I walked outside the door to smell the clean winter air – it’s freakin’ freezing.  Dashing back into the house I knew I had to think summer thoughts.

Winter blahs getting to you too?  Tired of snow, sleet and brr?  Take a breath – close your eyes – NO – I mean pretend you’re closing your eyes.  Imagine sitting in the bottom of a salad bowl and looking up at every color green in the spectrum. Green to the right of you. Lighter green to the left of you. Cascading greens floating down the side. That is what it feels like to be floating in the pool on a hot summer day at Queensley Country Resort in Morcone (BN).  Ahhhhhhhh.

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When one of my Pontelondolfesi pals told me about the swimming pool in Morcone, I thought they were exaggerating about how gorgeous it was. We are in the hills of Southern Italy – not on the Amalfi Coast at a swank resort. Under duress, I took a ride one afternoon to see this really “elegant” swimming hole. Yawn, could we go for gelato yet? We road around the whirly gigs of hill roads, came to a tired sign and made a left up the longish driveway. Holy Shit! How did I get to the Beverly Hills Hilton? Were we beamed up to some super chic spa in Tuscany?

No my friends you can find this ten minutes from our little village –

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Private Spots with a Great View!

Ten euros gives you a full day of feeling like a princess.  The price include a lettino – a lounge chair.  It is more to reserve the Prive Bellavista – 4 spots for 100€.  The club like resort opens from 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM.  The youngsters tell me it is open at night for the restaurant, bar and general partying. In July they had a Toga Party – free admission with a DJ!  It started at 10:00 PM.  We never made it.

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My first trip was with my worldly London-living niece, Alessandra Rosaria,  she quickly grabbed up one of the brown circular lounges, globbed on the sun screen and declared she had found sunbathing heaven.  That day, not knowing what to expect, we packed our lunch and dragged bottles of water.  We noticed the more urbane folks getting incredible looking sandwiches getting delivered to them – wait – this place has a restaurant?  Yup – to eat at the restaurant one needs a reservation.

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Caffè or Campari????

To munch pool side you can order food from the “bar” – even caffè, campari soda and all the wonderful drinks that go to my italo-americana brain.  The locals tell me that the restaurant is top drawer – of course one goes for dinner at 9 or 10.  We vow to nap one day next trip and try the restaurant out.

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Elegant outdoor dining.

We did see people shedding bathing suits for dressier attire and lunching here.

Perhaps someday I’ll drag a bag with a breezy summer dress and change for lunch….  One visit, we ordered panini from the bar.  They were huge and OK but for a scant 1€ in Pontelandolfo we could have gotten the same thing to go.  We decided to buy our lunches to go for the next visits.  Still, of course, availing ourselves of the Queensely Bar.

The folks that we saw poolside were a mixture of working class woman with a day off – we met a few from a local factory, moms with their children – though the price point makes that difficult for most, Americans visiting their families and lots of gorgeous young men and women.  I particularly loved watching the gorgeous young men oiling themselves.  Whew it got hotter.

When by BFF, Janet, came to visit she instantly chatted up everyone and discovered folks I didn’t know from Pontelandolfo.  Other days I bumped into my English students and women from town.  This is the place to ward off the heat of summer and luxuriate in surroundings found in tonier towns.  I am so glad I was introduced to Queensley Country Resort.

Here is their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/pages/Queensley-Country-Resort/496928613745805

Hmmmm, summer will soon be here.  There now – don’t you feel warmer?

Christmas Menu – Franco Perugini’s Savory Porchetta

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Perugini Franco Macelleria – A Yummy Place to Shop

Hey Babbo Natale – Listen up La Befana – All I want for Christmas is…..

My God, my God, I kept repeating as I slowly slid more into my mouth.  Every part of my being was tingling with the sensation.  I groaned and stared at the ceiling.  Everyone in the macelleria looked at me like I was crazy, had sprouted a second head and would soon be banished to hell.  Nicla, whispered to her father the butcher,  Lei ha detto, “il mio dio.”

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Franco Perugini – Master of Porchetta

This incredible taste bud experience was literally the best one I had during the frenetic August Festa di San Donato.  San Donato had blessed me by sending me into Perugini Franco Macelleria and introducing  my taste buds to this heavenly porchetta made in Pontelandolfo (BN).   Now, as I think about Christmas dinner, I don’t lust for goose, I don’t lust for beef, I want porchetta!!!!  Oh, you’re wondering, what the heck is porchetta?

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No I Never Bought the Whole One!  I Wish I Did.

It is a boneless loin of pork that has been butterflied – cut in half so it opens like a book – filled with a herb mixture, wrapped in pork belly – skin side out and meat side seasoned- rolled like a log and tied with string.  I think Franco also seasons the outside.  It is roasted at a high heat and the outside gets crispy while the inside is tender and flavorful.  (Most of what I have tasted at festas and in bars is not.) When it is sliced you see ring inside ring of good tastes.

According to Wkipedia –

 Porchetta has been selected by the Italian Ministero delle Politiche Agricole, Alimentari e Forestali as a prodotto agroalimentare tradizionale(“traditional agricultural-alimentary product”, one of a list of traditional Italian foods held to have cultural relevance).

Now that I have tasted the porchetta made by the Perugini family, I can understand why it is honored as a cultural tradition.  Franco tells me that folks buy it from him and he vacuum packs it to take back to America.  Napolitans, who have weekend houses here, buy it to take back to Naples.  Next time I have a party in Pontelandolfo, I intend to buy one, show it to my guests and not share.

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Nicla Perugini proudly follows in her Dad’s footsteps making incredible pork products.

After discovering this family’s porchetta and sausages, I must admit we ate them often.  The porchetta was great reheated in a covered skillet with barely any water covering the bottom.  We also ate it room temperature on wonderful crusty bread.  The sausages – particularly the hot ones – could be found on our table regularly.

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Next time you are in Italy, I challenge you to try the best porchetta anywhere.  Stop by Perugini Franco Macelleria Moderna,  Via Nazionale Sud, Pontelandolfo (BN).  I wish they had a web site and shipped to to the USA.  If they did, I know what we would be having for Christmas Dinner.

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Cozy Entrance Features Produce

Next year before we head back to the states, I’m getting some vacuum packed to go – a lot of it!

Buon Natale and enjoy whatever you decide to make for Christmas dinner!

PS – send a letter to Babbo Natale – http://www.babbo-natale.it

Diglio Panificio – Keeps Me Sane

Have you ever been surrounded by people and yet still felt so lonely that your heart chakra ached?  That is how I felt this morning. I am in sunny Ecuador, met a super  italo-ecuadoriana, am staying with great friends but feel a gaping hole in my heart.  At first I thought I was home sick – I never get home sick.  Than I thought it was because my zia in Flagtown had a stroke yesterday and I am a continent away.  Shazaam – it hit me -I was feeling lonely because I didn’t have a sense of community here.  No “tribe” to connect with.  All that depressive thinking made me hunger for comfort – comfort food – bread like I can only find at Diglio Panificio in Pontelandolfo!  Diglio’s not only kept us in thick crusty bread but also was one of my connections to the community – it was a place I didn’t feel like a stranger or alone.

Some mornings I would walk down the hill just to buy a round of bread and if the Panificio wasn’t busy, I would talk to the owner, Nicola Diglio.  My Italian isn’t the best but we would talk about the village, economy, USA, whatever.  Nicola never made fun of my attempts to pronounce the pastries or how long it took me to decide which pizza slices to bring home in the morning for our night time snacks.  That bakery was one of the anchors of the community for me.

Some Wednesdays after strolling through the market, my cousin Carmella and I would take a shopping break by going to Diglio’s for a cappuccino, a little nosh and a lot of laughter.  Carmella is a bright star in my universe and of course she introduced me to this pasticceria.

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Cousins/Sisters having a laugh.

According to their brochure, Diglio opened its doors in 1983 with a commitment to use recipes handed down form generation to generation.   When you visit Italy, you can find the shop at 2, Via Eglido Gentile, 82027 Pontelandolfo (BN).  It truly is a pasticceria artigiana – when you watch the video you’ll agree with me.

While selecting pictures for the video I saw one of the Diglio’s little sandwiches on scrumptious rolls and got a little misty.  Zap – flash back to my dad’s first cousin, Giuseppina, insisting we stop at Diglio’s so she could buy the sandwiches before l’avventura.  Jack and I take Giussipina and her sister Paulina on road trip adventures.  They pick the place to go – it’s always a shrine – there are tons in our area. Since we never saw a shrine and loved listening to the two of them chatter and laugh at us, we would go to shrines – with bags of Diglio yummy mini sandwiches.

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Giuseppina, Paulina & Jack 2013 adventure

Then I flashed back to 1995. when I first knocked on Giussipina’s door, pointed at my family tree and said in pidgin Italian “tu sei il cugino di mio padre?”.  That timid knock resulted in finding my extended family and celebrating with what – pastries from Diglio.

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1995 Giuseppina & Paulina – note the pastries.

Whenever I bought pastries I would marvel at the way they are presented – perched on a golden cardboard tray and gingerly wrapped in pretty paper.  The presentation always made any day that you bought a pastry feel like a special day. Some days I just need a special day and a sfogliatella prettily wrapped can be just the medicine it takes to turn the grey sky into blue.

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One bite is better than a happy pill.

This past June was the first time I had Il Rusticacio – a small bread puff made with cheese, egg and salame.  When I bit into one I swear I felt my grandmother hugging me.  People have been eating – what we call artigianale – dough filled things for generations.  The connection I feel in Pontelandolfo to my family is intense and eating food made with ancient recipes makes the connection even tighter. Is that my grandmother pinching my cheeks?

One day I went into the shop and Nicola’s son, Antonio, who is a super creative part of the artistic bakery team was behind the counter. The door opened and his daughter  came in from school – she looked at me, I looked at her and recognition twinkled in both our eyes.  She said “Good Morning – How are You?”  The secret phrase I told the kids in the public school that I worked with to say to me whenever they saw me.  Boom – an even bigger connection to the bakery.

Community – that is what I need in order to feel secure, happy and healthy.  When I am in Pontelandolfo – we go back May 1st – walking into Diglio Panificio yields more than just a loaf of bread.   Enjoy the video!