And Then It Rained

This past summer crops withered on the vines for lack of water. The olives were the size of olive pits. The only happy farmers
were vintners – I learned that grapes don’t need tons of water to grow and the wine they make tastes great. The ground around our house was literally splitting. Small chasms appeared in the ground. I was beginning to feel like we were living in the dessert not the verdant hills of Campania.

We headed to Sardegna for a two week crash immersion class in Italian at Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera and left the drought behind us. Taking classes and organizing activities for Nonna’s Mulberry Tree’s first group activity didn’t leave me a lot of time to play on Facebook or even read one of the newspapers from Benevento. It wasn’t until we were packing up to leave that I discovered it had finally rained in the province of Benevento.

And when it rained, it rained and rained for over 24 hours. It started Wednesday, 14th of October and didn’t end until almost Friday morning. This was not your happy “I’m singing in the rain” rain but a deluge that wiped out railroad lines, sent mud slides and rock avalanches down the hills into the center of towns, and caused floods that led to deaths. In our over televised and I think desensitized media watching world, it is one thing to see the video of cars floating in streets and another to actually see, smell and feel the devastation.
Having heard from our best friend, Nicola, how bad it was for others and how we were spared. I wasn’t afraid to head for home. Potelandolfo was only without electricity for two days. Other towns are still without. Today, 20 Ottobre, our water is brown. They are flushing the pipes. Other towns do not have any water. Our house and the village center are positioned on the hill in such a way that we didn’t get hit with any mudslides or rocks. 

The periphery of Pontelandolfo wasn’t so lucky. Roads in the outlying contrada washed out and mud found its way where no one wanted it. Neighboring Casalduni was underwater and mud. The roads are still impassable. Casalduni citizens are without electricity, water and the ability to leave. The dedicated mayor, Pasquale Iacovella, has been going in and out via tractor to get things organized and solicit help from the government. Ponte, further down the mountain, has piles of rocks in its streets. Benevento, our provincial capital, was underwater and people died. The state was rebuilding a bridge on the highway between Campobasso and Benevento. I don’t think they will finish anytime soon. The bridge and highway were destroyed. 

Solopaca is home to some of the areas best and largest wine cooperative cantinas. Before we left we saw the parade of farmers bringing grapes to be processed into Falanghina Del Sannio DOP and Algianico DOP. Now the cantinas are ruined. The equipment was under mud and water and the grapes that weren’t harvested are a soggy history. The loss of income for so many people is incredible. Rummo, a pasta manufacture in Benevento was obliterated – that means until they rebuild the jobs are gone too.  # Save Rummo is the social media campaign started by the company and its employees.
Our personal confrontation was nothing compared to the devastation around us. We figured getting home might be a challenge. Trenitalia sent us an e-mail saying our train from Roma to Benevento could only go as far as Caserta. Gulp. We weren’t sure how we would get back to Pontelandolfo but we were going to try. After the 45 minute flight from Alghero to Roma, we began our day long journey home. I went to the information kiosk at the train station ad asked if we should try to go to Boiano – not a good idea. OK, how do we get out of Caserta? “We will have buses to Benevento.” We took a train to Caserta and were herded with those going beyond Benevento to Lecce onto a convoy of 8 giant buses. There was not a place for carry on bags and the undercarriage luggage spot was jammed packed. The bus ride seemed endless. All interior roads were avoided. It seemed like we were going from highway to highway in an endless circle. Eventually, we made it to the Benevento train station where Nicola was waiting for us.
On the slow ride home we travelled roads narrowed to one lane by mud piles on either side. Olive groves were now rock gardens. 

Piles of furniture swayed near the street outside of homes. Water was still slowly receding anywhere there was a depression in the ground. Having lived at the Jersey shore and been horrified by the flooding in places close to the sea. We understood how devastating floods could be. What I didn’t understand was how it could flood in the mountains. Now I have seen it.

The elders tell me that they have never seen weather like this or a flood like this. Yup, the weather belts are changing. Global Warming can do that you know.
It started raining again on Monday. That means we have only been with out rain for 2 days since the flooding. I hope it stops soon. No one is singing.

Ci vediamo.

Complementi Pontelandolfo 1861!

Ponte Old

 Sono orgolioso di “Pontelandolfo 1861”!  Bravo!

(I am proud of “Pontelandolfo 1861”! )

I know that is not an attention grabbing first line but, damn, I am so proud of the my little Italian home town’s latest initiative.

With funding  – finanziamente -from the Unione EuropeaFondo europeo agricolo per lo sviluppo rurale: l’Europe investe nelle zone rurali (European Union – investment program for rural areas), Italian Ministero Delle Politiche Agricole Alementari E Forestali (Italy’s Department of Agriculture, Food and Forests) , and the Regione Campania Assessorato Agricoltura (Region’s Department of Agriculture)  – Pontelandolfo is undergoing a renaissance.

Renato Rinaldi of the Pontelandolfo News ( made sure I got an invitation to the August 26th –

Presentazione progetto “1861 i luoghi dell’eccidio”

Alla manifestazione di presentazione del progetto “1861 i luoghi dell’eccidio”, progetto integrato per la realizzazione di un itinerario storico-turistico alla scoperta della città martire di Pontelandolfo.  (A presentation of the “1861 places of the massacre”,an integrated project designed to attract historical tourism to the martyred city of Pontelandolfo.)

Renato Rinaldi, who has written a complete history of the period, gave an overview of the history.  He has a great voice and engaging presentation.  After the presentation I asked if he had been an actor.

Prof. Renato Rinaldi, Gabriele Palladino, Sindaco Dott. Gianfranco Rinaldi,  l’artista Riccardo Fortuna

This presentation gave the community an overview of the project that will hopefully give a financial boost to Pontelandolfo.  With funding from all levels of government the historic center of the town is undergoing a much needed facelift. Buildings that have crumbled over the last 1,000 years are being restored, a charming park with a great view was just finished and the town council is committed to bringing tourists back – or perhaps here for the first time.

I know, I know this sounds like the dream and plan of every small Italian town – here is why I am SO PROUD.  Pontelandolfo came up with a very specific and chilling historic hook.  On the 14th of August 1861 the town was destroyed – burned to a crisp.  After being forced from their homes, men, women and children were butchered.  Is that date percolating in your brain?  This was during the not so peaceful march to unify Italy – risorgimento.  What – women and children were murdered?  Yup!  Rebels from San Lupo – folks who were content with their Burbone King –   had hidden in Pontelandolfo and popped out to kill a couple of Garibaldi’s soldiers. General Cialdini was in charge with getting Southern Italy to toe the unification line.  He wasn’t pleased with loosing a few men and sent 500 soldiers to Pontelandolfo and Casalduni with the order not to let a rock remain.  Hey – we are talking farmers here – no hidden weapons of mass destruction.  It was one terrifying and troubling night.  The story plays well – believe me – the underdog – rebels for a just cause etc.  It is quite the hook!  Books have been written about it – the most recent a Fumetto sull’eccidio di Pontelandolfo e Casalduni – graphic novel with great art by Riccardo Fortuna. In 2011, the President of Italy actually apologized for the massacre.


Realizzato dallo scultore Mario Ferrante

Wonderful sculpture representing the horror by Mario Ferrante.

Check out this incredible website – the google offer to translate pops up – Pontelandolfo1861.  I hope they continue to grow this site and add more information for tourists – in a variety of languages.

During the presentation we heard from il sindaco Gianfranco Rinaldi – the mayor.   He announced that this was a two pronged program.  First the centro storico would be rehabbed, the website completed and signage describing the medieval history of the town and the night of terror would be placed around the town.  They also printed two pamphlets to describe the towns  history.  They are slick and I hope they will let me help create a set in English.  The art work on the large signs is wonderful and I am sure the Italian descriptions are perfect.  The English translations need some revision.

 Signs at worksites are popping up all over. Thanks EU!

The second phase is to attract tourists to come.  I am not sure how they plan to do that but hope they include an italo-americano in the strategy session.


Just Another Thursday in Casalduni!


One of the questions I get most often is, “Midge but what do you do in a small mountain town?”  Often we head down the hill to Casalduni, a neighboring village. Since the brilliant and progressive mayor, Pasquale Iacovella, is a relative we’re kept in the Casalduni festa loop. 

This particular Thursday we celebrate Saint Rita, the maker of miracles. Tonight is the vigil. People will be in church most of the night. The formal Saint’s Day procession is on Friday .

Music rained over the piazza. Old fashioned rock and roll – a great equalizer – had me embarrassing Jack with my bopping down the street. 

What’s a festa without food. The trucks sold porchetta, candy, panini and more. Muso di Vitello – snout of veal – is served with fresh lemon. There was a line!

The kids enjoy the festa the most. This was a school night and children unencumbered by mommy’s hand raced through the streets in little packs. Kids in Italy don’t go to bed at 7 o’clock or even 8 o’clock on a school night they’re not asleep before 10 or 11. I think that this is the early training that they get to be able to live La Dolce Vita. Th small park full of rides that scared the begeesus out of me was an instant draw for the elementary school set. 

We got home at midnight. Yawn. I need to get back in training for the late night happenings of small mountain towns. It was just another Thursday…

This post was written on the WordPress iPhone application. I’m not sure how it will read on a regular computer. So let me know if this fast and easy format for instant reporting works.

Festa at Terra di Briganti!


Tante Auguri a Jack!

Jack was turning 70 – that meant I had to throw a humongous bash.  The problem is I had thrown Jackstock when he turned 60 and folks are still gazing numbly out from tents in our back yard.  How could I top three nights of music and mayhem?  Hmm, what’s a girl to do when she is in Italy and without the resources of her home team?  1. Make sure her BFF, Janet, is in Italy in time for the party. 2. Sit in the piazza, stare up the the hills and come up with a gimmick.  While staring at the grape vines that range up and down the mountain it hit me – take over a winery – it would be a blast from the past.

My first call was to Tony at our favorite winery, Terra Di Briganti. (Remember the story I did a few months back –  Tony was a tiger and roared out ideas – starting with come on over and let’s pick out the wine.

Tony De Cicco is passionate about eating and drinking local!
Tony De Cicco is passionate about eating and drinking local!

Tony, his dad and his brother were pouring us a glass of Pidirosso. Then a glass of Aglianico.  How about a Falanghina.  Wait did you taste?  We tasted and knew that we would have a cocktail hour with a lovely sparkling – well it doesn’t matter just know it is all good.

Then came the menu.  Tony works with a chef – Gennaro – who by day is a policman!  But Gennaro is a foodie who relishes the dishes of historic Casalduni.  This is what we ate:  Quenelle di baccalà, Risotto al’aglianico e salsiccia profumato al rosmarino, controfiletto di pelatella casertana al Martummè con papacelle al’agro, Zuccotto con ricotta di pecora e ciccolato!  Notice that the Italian sings with the dialect of Casalduni.

Let’s just go to the video and you can see Jack’s 70th birthday at Terra di Briganti!  Click on the link and be sure to sing “tante auguri a jack!”

To find out more about Terra di Briganti visit their website at

How I Spent My Summer Vacation by Ragazzi Iacovella

The days are getting shorter, the wind is whistling in the mountains – summer is over.  Annalaura, Gabriele and Alessio Iacovella looked at each other and said – what did we do this summer?


A Rainy September Day – Let’s Talk About the Summer!

After a warm your chilly bones lunch of tortellini soup, roasted chicken, home made french fries, local mushrooms and more at Carmela’s kitchen, her grandchildren eleven year old Gabriele, 12 year old Annalaura and 8 year old Alessio sat me down and told me their summer story –

During the day we stayed with Nonna Carmela – she is a great cook!  At night we went to Casalduni.  Casalduni has – Parco Giochi.  (Their dad, Pasquale,  is Casalduni’s Sindaco – mayor.  The kids burst with pride about that.)


Parco Giochi has a garden, lake with fish, scivolo – slide,  gonfiabili – inflatable houses to jump in,  and campo per pallavolo – volleyball, bocce, small paddle boats –  we know lots of kids in Casalduni.  We had fun every night.

Allessio – a real charmer chimed in – Mi piace mar in Puglia!  I took a long trip to Puglia with my family. In the car we looked at the paesaggio – panorama –  and we saw the flowers, albero d’olvio – olive trees e gira sole – sun flowers .

Gabriele – I was a little bored in the car – the trip was long.

AnnaLaura – No it was short to Puglia – per andare in Calabria il viaggio è lungo.

GabrielePer me è lungo

Annalaura – We stayed at the Orchidea Blu Hotel. ( – San Menaio, Vico del Gargano (Foggia) Puglia)

Orchieda Blue Hotel

We went to the pool every afternoon!

It had a pool, un animazione – clown – a person to play with us kids. On a typical day – we went to the beach in the morning and in the afternoon to the pool.  That way my mother didn’t have to worry about us so much.

What did you like the best?

GabrieleDolce- dolce ogni giorno.  We ate in the same restaurant in the hotel every day and I ate tanti dolci.

Besides eating dessert what did you do –

Gabriele – I went to the pool to swim.  With the animazione – played darts, calcio in the streets, pallanuoto – water polo and ping pong.  OK, OK giocare con l’animazione è più divertente di mangiare dolci.

Alessio – Ho giocato con i miei nuovi amici nel mare.



Those are old people in that picture.  I played with my new friends Samuele, Fabrizio, Giusseppe, Niccolo e Raffele.  We built castles in the sand, swam, giocare a pallone – calcio and ….

Gabriele – Rodi Garganico – one night we went there too.  It was like Pontelandolfo with an ocean.

Rodi - city in Puglio

View from a piazza in Rodi Garganico

AnnalauraTanti negozi e bancharelle – shops and stands.  The ancient buildings – beautiful.  We were sad to leave Puglia.

Alessio – But wait till we tell you about our other trip to Calabria –

It is September – how did you spend your summer vacation?

I hope you got to play calcio too.

Actors + Olive Oil = Great Night

Wine? No, they are tasting Olive Oil.
Wine? No, they are tasting Olive Oil.
A few nights ago the family phone tree clicked into high gear.  We got a call telling us there would be a evening of theater at this incredible winery – Terra di Briganti in near by Casalduni.  How could we not go.  We love theater and we love all of the organic wines that we have tasted from Terra di Briganti. To get a feel for the space check out their website –
Tony De Cicco is passionate about eating and drinking local!
Tony De Cicco is passionate about eating and drinking local!

 Terra di Briganti

Società Agricola s.a.s.

Contrada Tacceto. 6   Casalduni (BN)

We met the vinyard’s owner, Tony De Cicco, last year and were blown away by his passion for the land, the heritage of the area and sharing the pure goodness that grows in Casalduni.  Terra di Briganti deserves its own blog post, but I will save that for another day and talk about theatre as a marketing tool.
Chairs were set up on a hill above the rows and rows of grape vines and thousands of olive trees.  It was a beautiful night and the audience was packed with folks of all ages.  I’m always amazed at how little tykes are brought to dinner, events, festas – everything that an adult would do in the evening the kids do.  Baby sitters need not apply  – kids are introduced to all manners of culture at a young age.
The moment the four actors entered they captured and kept everyone’s attention.  What really was amazing for me was that I actually understood them!  The “spettacolo” was in Italian and the local dialect but the actors articulation was so incredible that I was able to not only capture the essence of the work but understood the dialogue!  It truly was said “trippingly on the tongue.”
But what was the play about – you ask.  Olive oil!  Who knew that you could work an entire piece about the beauty, taste and uses of olive oil!  I’m wondering if the local agriculture and tourism council underwrote a piece of the program.  The play could absolutely be used to help sell local artiginal oils.  It opened with a wee bit of the history of olive oil and moved into a tasting – one actor in a jacket being the “tastee”.  A personal aside – how come I feel like I know the actor in the jacket?  Anybody else recognize him or did I just bump into one night in a Manhattan bar?  I never got his name.
Who is the guy in the Jacket? Is that my former student Jonathan in the sti
Who is the guy in the Jacket? Is that my former student Jonathan in the cap?  Was I just lonely for people I knew?
Through comedy and music the company stressed that local oils taste best because they are made with the olives of one area.  We learned that many oils that are marked “Made in Italy” are simply pressed here and shipped to places like the USA.  The olives used are a big mystery and could come from Spain, Greece, Turkey…..  You want oil that is grown and pressed in Italy.  That means – when you can go to the source – buy your oil or order directly from the source. If you can’t buy from a vendor you trust.
We were all howling at the varied uses of olive oil.  It only take three (3) drops in blessed water to cure the mal’ochio – evil eye.
The local strega will cure you of anything.
The local strega will cure you of anything.
Other uses of the precious oil?  H’mm any of these guys could have given me the massage they were lampooning.  Open that stuck lock – olive oil.  Fix the crud in your hair – olive oil.  The music really opened up my heart and hunger to pane con olio d’olive.  The singer lovingly – I mean I was wanting some loving – sang a ballad to olive oil on bread.  Be still my heart.
This actor was able to make bread sexy.
This actor was able to make bread sexy.
Foodies and non-foodies were all laughing, engaged and engrossed in the variety of ways to eat bread and olive oil – my favorite was with tomatoes.  Again – how could four actors and a playwright turn olive oil into both an educational and entertaining evening?!  I want to meet the playwright!
The talented quartet was from Solot Compagnia Stabile di Benevento.  It is a theater school and agency.  I wonder if these men are also on the faculty.  it would be great for the students if they were.
Solot Compagnia Stabile di Benevento
As we left the playing area to have some wine we passed Tony’s display of products.  Terra di Briganti has expanded their offerings to include their own olive oil – but you guessed that right?  We can’t wait to try some.  We left happy and with 6 bottles of Tony’s fabulous sulfite free organic Falanghina.  If you are ever in the area or want to buy his products wholesale just visit his web-site.

Missing Those City Lights?

Last night I wended my way over the curvy hill road – checking for the sheep that graze and amble across the road from one field to another.  I decided to go visit Rosella and her great kids – they live in a medieval grotto next to a waterfall and antique water fountain.  The road scares the pajeeeezuz out of me – holes, animals and curves on cliffs.  But visiting the Iacovella house is worth the risks.  I’m thinking a quick game of scopa and a cup of caffè.  That was not in the cards – it was time for city lights.

Who needs Times Square!
Who needs Times Square!

I jumped into the car with Rosella and the kids for a “solo cinque minute” visit to Casalduni.  Rosella’s husband, Pasquale, is running for Sindaco (mayor) and silly me thought we were bopping into the village to pick up campaign stuff.  My first clue was all of the cars parked along the road into Casalduni.  My second clue was the kids opening the windows and sticking their heads out to see something.  Whoa!  That something was this brilliantly lit street leading to the small villages central square.  Tonight was the first night of the festa for Santa Rita!

Of course, when I got back I had to google Saint Rita to find out who she was and what her deal was.  She is the patron saint of Casalduni and the patron saint of impossible causes.

She was married to a brute.  He died, her kids died and she devoted herself to God.
She was married to a brute. He died, her kids died and she devoted herself to God. Also for years after putting on a crown of thorns, she suffered with a terrible gash in her head.  Even carrying all that pain she committed herself to doing good works.

Every Italian village has a patron saint and it looks like that saint’s day – for Rita it’s May 22 – is a good excuse to bring some music, art and history to the village.  Last night the entertainment was Gruppo Folklorico Sannio Antico –  ( .  These all volunteer dancers told the story of Casalduni through music and movement.  Supplying the music was Il Gruppo Fontanavecchia.  In the hills,  old fountains – a source of water and life – seem to be a recurring theme. One movement piece showed women washing their clothes, gossiping and filling  jugs at the fountain – while the men flirted.  Ah a typical Italian scene. 

This is the village’s ancient fountain and water source. The water comes from the mountain.

Casalduni is an interesting village.  It only has about 1500 residents but covers a great swath of land.  The village historic center has tons of empty properties.  I’m guessing families immigrated and just deserted their medieval row houses.  The place is charming and would make an easily accessible artists colony or pied a terrè in Italy.  It saddens me to see these historic villages just slowly empty.

Last night, the enthusiasm and energy of the “cittadini”made it a terrific night on the town.  My theory is that people need the arts to survive and if the arts are not close by they will create their own artistic feast.  I grew up in New Jersey, NY’s step-sister.  Our town, Hillsborough Township, was and still is an artistic waste land.  There is the occasional art show and band in the park but mostly if you want action you can visit one of the hundreds of jock filled fields – soccer, baseball, and  well I don’t know what the other jock fields are for but they are there.  Since Hillsborough is so close to New York, Philadelphia and Princeton, we leave town for our art fix.  Here in the hills of Italy, people don’t have a lot of cash, there is limited public transportation and everyone has the soul of a Da Vinci.  They make art!  Dance companies are formed. Theatrical “spectacollos” are staged. Live music is found in piazzas and every child doodles on a sketch pad.  Folks here create the art they crave and a saint’s day is a great opportunity to share it.  Since Saint Rita’s day is May 22, we will go back tonight to see what artistic feast we can munch on.

Dancers waiting to take the stage, join the audience.

Gruppo Folklorico Sannio Antico wishes –

Con le nostre danze e canti, auguriamo a tutti una serata piacevole e che sia portatrice di pace e serenita.”  Noi devoti di Santa Rita chiediamo la sua protezione.

 With our dances and songs, we wish that every person enjoys the evening.   Also, may this event bring serenity and peace and may Santa Rita protect everyone with many blessings.

Me, I’m just happy to see the city lights.

The night may be over but the lights and St. Rita will follow us home.
The night may be over but the lights and St. Rita will follow us home.