“But What Do You Do”

If during my stay in Italy, I had a nickel for everyone who has asked me, but seriously what do you do everyday? I’d be able to fly first class. When I’m feeling snarky I quip back, live, put one foot in front of the other and keep on walking. When the nice Midge is available, she might actually describe a day. This morning nice Midge egged on the writing.

Typical day – dash out a comment when you realize your days are equally exciting.

7:30 errrr, groan I got up because my phone reminded me I had a date with our personal trainer.

7:45 Checked e-mail. (Just like you do.) Saw one from my USA Italian teacher, Marina, she was concerned that I may have felt the earthquake that rocked nearby towns. Yesterday, when the earthquake was quaking, it was an Italian holiday. We were having lunch with a group of pals when our host’s phone rang. Her cousin called to see if she was OK. We didn’t know there had been a nearby earthquake. Now, we had been drinking a wee bit of wine but we didn’t feel a thing. We were lucky it was not closer to home. I let Marina know we were fine. The rest of the e-mails could wait.

8:15 I stare into the refrigerator waiting for breakfast to fly into my mouth. Put the kettle on for tea and made an egg and turkey sausage mess in a pot. It was yummy.

8:45 I tossed a load of laundry in the lavatrice. Yawn.

8:50 Jack and I walked out the door to an incredible sunny day. We both paused, stared at the mountains for a nanosecond and got in the car.

8:55 Arrive at the towns aging and almost roofless palestra. Got out of the car and stared at the valley. The views here never get old. For the very first time we both heard the river flowing below.

9:00 Texted our trainer we were there. (Questa è l’Italia.)

9:05 Walked through the dusty moldy basketball style aging gym to the training room.

10:05 Exited training room clutching my aching butt.

10:06 Got a text from the head of the library about what I needed for my middle school theatre class. I’m using theatre to reinforce English language skills and get a chance to keep my theatre chops active. Class starts Friday – do I plan now or …..

10:07 Responded that I just needed the door opened 1/2 hour before the class. (Remember questa è l’Italia.)

10:10 Got home, hung the laundry, poured a glass of water and thought, this is a fairly typical day. Did I mention that hanging the laundry means staring at a mountain range?

Put a second load of laundry in.

11:08 Opened Mango Italian Language Course on my iPad. Thanks to the Somerset County Library System this super good course is free. Whaaaat – I got something wrong. ERRRGGG. “Lontano – far and distante – far away”. Does it really matter which word I use???

Noon Jack left to do what only “mad dogs and Englishmen do in the noon day sun” – walk ! That means I make sure I have an extra battery for my phone and toss the worry beads in my purse. I drove down to the village. First stop – the covered market to get vegetables from the trucks. Rats! It’s Thursday. They don’t come on Thursday. Next stop – our local Conad – the tiny version. I dashed in, stood next to the display of vegetables and waited for the smiling cashier to come over, choose the veggies for me, weigh them and put them in a sack. €3 later I walked out with onions, zucchine, red pepper and a melon. (Prices like these are one of the reasons we live here.) The lady before me went to pay and was €5 short. If that had been me in the USA, I would have fainted dead away and prayed for someone I knew to revive me and give me the cash. Here the cashier laughed and said it bring it later!

12:30 Enter the writers room- OK – I don’t really have a writer’s room. I go to Bar Elimar on Piazza Roma, grab a pot of tea, and set up my IPad mini on an outdoor table. That is what I usually do. Today, my balls were bigger than normal. To sit in the shade, I put my drink on a table filled with men, dragged a chair over and said posso? They said sure and I sat and listened. The dialect still strains my ability to understand. But I tried. They all left 10 minutes later to go home for lunch. This is the perfect time of day for me to sit, stare at the piazza and try to toss a word or two around.

Afternoon

Made and ate salad for lunch.

Prepped dinner. Making Drunken Pork – pour red wine over a pork roast, toss in potatoes, carrots and onions and put on a very low flame. Done.

Worked on material for my first theatre class.

Worked on material for a meeting with one of our Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo translators.

Met with translator.

Evening

Asked Jack if it was time to go to the piazza for an aperitivo. It was. We went. White wine for Jack Campari Spritz for me

Ate Drunken Pork – since we were a little loopy it was perfect.

Read a few more chapters in our Club di Libro book, Uomini o no.

Sipped scotch.

Wrote blog.

Buonanotte.

Our lives are just like your lives. We just live in the cool Sannio Hills of Southern Italy. You could live here too!

Ci vediamo!

You too can come to Pontelandolfo! Join us for Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo events.

Advertisements

Every Day is a Great Day

This morning the buzzzzzzzz sang out on the lavatrice and my first thought was merde. My tea was piping hot and I haven’t finished my collezione. Why did I toss the clothes in the washer before breakfast! Now,if I didn’t take the clothes out of the washer they’d be a wrinkled mess. I went to the washing machine, plopped the clothes in the basket, hipped the door open and headed out to the line. The clothes line faces a mountain that was as green as green could be. I took a breath of clean mountain air, started hanging the clothes, looked up at the sky and said, thank you for this.

My next morning chore was to take a shirt back to the lavanderia. Jack is very particular and only wears cotton dress shirts. Yesterday, when I picked up his shirts one of them wasn’t cotton and definitely wasn’t his. What a drag. (Insert sad face.) Now… (Insert Sigh Sound.) I have to drive back to the next town. Grumbling about why couldn’t Jack speak enough Italian to take his own shirt back, I buckled up and pulled out of the driveway. A few minutes later, I took an even bigger breath – the village of Morcone was a swath of color oozing down a mountain side. The drive there was spectacular. A blue sky over the reservoir, mountains bursting with color, farmers cleaning around their olive trees – how could anyone be pissy surrounded by such amazing beauty.

The entrepreneurial young woman who opened the lavanderia was all smiles and happy to find the right shirt. As a matter of fact every shop I went into this morning was a happy place. What makes it even more special is that everyone knows my name. Living in a teeny tiny village next to a slightly bigger village – making that village just plain tiny – means that in a nano-second everyone knows everyone else. It is kind of special.

Every day, I’ve learned to say thank you to God, Goddesses and the Universe. Cause – no matter what – when you live in the Sannio Hills of Southern Italy- every day is a great day.

Ci vediamo!

Not to late to sign up for 2018 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo!

I Fell in Love on the Hop On, Hop Off Bus

The universe can toss you a curve ball when you least expect it. Certainly, riding a “hop on hop off” bus would be one of those places where you would least expect it. Least expect to fall in love. Least expect to find me. I’ve always striven to be the non-tourist and even thinking about riding the hop on hop off bus would give me hives.  My hip friends, Mike and Lori, insisted that I would truly enjoy it – no matter what city I was in. Well, I didn’t know if I would enjoy it but Jack and I had four hours to kill in Naples. 

Who knew the hop on hop off bus would have such an impact on my life. Maybe it was the Neapolitan songs. Maybe it was the sun shining over the bay of Naples. Maybe it was the 30 children on the upper level of the bus who were excited to be going to an art museum. Maybe it was the architecture or the feelings that the people of Naples sling at your soul.  Who can ever really tell you why you fall in love with someone or something. Love is a strange emotion.  It pieces your heart, turns your brain into mush and forces you to do things you never thought you would.  Today, I fell in love with the turbulent, bad boy city called Naples. 

Historically, I have found Naples crowded, a driving nightmare and the train station full of obnoxious faux cab drivers.  My eyes have been opened to the incredible parks, interesting neighborhoods and wealth of theaters and museums.  Tomorrow, we are going to Teatro San Carlo to see Verdi’s Il Trovatore.  Sigh…my love may deepen.

Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo II

Saturday, September 3 to Saturday, September 10, 2016

Join us for the Second Session of Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo

The May 2016 cooking classes were a smash hit.  The Pontelandolfo women who lovingly opened their homes to American women this spring want to do it again!  They hope women from all over the world will come to love their little village.  Don’t think about it – just come and live the life of a Southern Italian.

The May video says it all better than I can –

Included Highlights:

  • Transportation from the Benevento Train Station to Pontelandolfo
  • 7 nights, single room, with television, refrigerator, morning caffè and coronetto. Five rooms in this cute B&B have private baths.  A two room suite share a bath.  Il Castello
  • Welcoming apertivo and snacks in a local bar. All the cooks will be there!
  • Sunday Pranza (lunch)
  • 5 Cooking Classes with local cooks culminating in eating with the families. Each pranza is complete with first and second courses, local wine, dessert, after dinner drink, coffee and conversation!
  • English Speaking Translator for all classes and events.  Translators in other languages can be made available for a group of 5 or more.
  • Wine and artesian food tasting at a local vintner
  • Pontelandolfo Day – open air market, tasting of locally produced products and other activities.
  • Excursion to Altilia Roman Ruins   http://www.sepino-altilia.it/
  • Walking Tour of Historical Pontelandolfo – http://www.pontelandolfo1861.it/
  • Excursion to the museums and shops of Benevento
  • Transportation to a different local restaurant each night.
  • Apron
  • Written recipes in English. (If a group is not English speaking other translations can be arranged.)

This culinary adventure is limited to 10 people.  We have a 5-person minimum.

This adventure wouldn’t happen without the commitment and support of Pontelandolfo Città Martire Associazione Culturale and il Sindaco Gianfranco Rinaldi.

Air Emirates has had some terrific sales from JFK – New York to Milan!  We booked last year two seats for $900 – $450 a piece!  Keep an eye on their sales.

Air Meridiana flies from JFK directly to Naples!  It is relatively inexpensive.

Contact me via the comments section for particulars and with any questions, thoughts or just to say hi.

Ci Vediamo!

Alex’s Take on Aunt Midge’s World

My talented and delightful niece, Alexandra Rose Niedt, takes her Italian heritage seriously! She was the third person in our immediate family to apply for – Italian Citizenship.  (She would have been second but her mom had to get it first.) The winsome lady also has the wanderlust! Not afraid to travel alone she often pops into Pontelandolfo – when we are here and when we’re not! We had only been in town for three days, when with toothpicks holding open our travel weary eyes, we headed to the Naples airport. She glided into the airport pulling a suitcase bigger than she was and people noticed her.  The kid is a chip off the Guerrera block and carries herself with Una Bella Figura – just like her ancestors.  Shut up Auntie M!  OK, OK, here’s Alex –

IMG_3754

Annarita Mancini fills Alexandra in on the latest gossip.

Dear Readers,

Years ago, I started coming here to see my family, so not too much surprises me when I come to my ancestral home. Though this trip, I did notice something that took me for a slight loop that I wanted to update you all on: my Aunt Midge has become a complete local.

Now let me clarify a few things on this topic-

• I don’t know if it’s because of my roots or because of the bond I have with my family here, but I always feel somewhat like I’ve been here forever. Whether that be all of the familiar faces I see in the piazza, or the friends and family members that make me laugh entirely too hard, it’s difficult to say. All I know is that I always feel a sense of belonging.

• Midge has been spending more and more time here over the past 3 years, from 4-7 months at a time, so granted there has been time for this all to take effect.

• Being considered a local and simply feeling like one are two drastically different things.

Midge arrived back in Pontelandolfo nearly 3 days before I got to our gorgeous little village, so she’d really only had the chance to see our family, go to IKEA to buy some more furnishings for her house and drive to Naples to pick me up at the airport.  (A task which I am always grateful for, as taking the train from Naples in the evening is not on my top 10 list of things I most enjoy.) Because she hadn’t had the chance to fully settle back in to the swing of things I got to bear witness to her complete transition from “that crazy American lady that’s always writing at Bar Elimar” to “one of our own.”

I thought, as my generation is obsessed with them, I would present this to you in list form.

1) Walking through the Piazza random people come rushing over to my aunt saying “Bentornata!” (Welcome back) with hugs and kisses all around and excited conversation. This happens frequently, with people I know and also people I have never seen before. I thought I knew everyone! Dead wrong.

2) While sitting in the Piazza drinking a macchiato, a school bus full of children drives by and the kids lean out of the windows screaming “Hello!  Hello!  Hello!” to their former English teacher. I laugh for a solid minute at the ridiculous nature of little heads popping out the window in Italy shouting hello!

3) We need cheese, so I say why don’t we go to the caseificio in town? My aunt responds with “Oh no, we can’t go to him…” And follows with some story about the inner workings of the politics of the town and our family… Or was it that he sold her bad mozzarella once and she won’t go back? Same thing!

4) When we do make it to the caseificio (the one she frequents a little outside of town) after more hugs and kisses from Nadia, the long time employee, she proceeds to ask for specific cheese. Nadia on the sly tells her what is most fresh and what to stay away from today. Because you know, she’s a regular.

5) Sitting at one of the bars around 9pm Midge is about to leave when one of the women we know stops her. She asks for help making costumes for the town play “Dramma Sacro du Santa Giocondina.” Midge, being the true thespian she is, heartily agrees. This play is so important, it happens once every 4 years and is taken very seriously. Go Midge!

6) We are having a little gathering at Midge’s house the night before I leave for London, so of course we have to go to the pasticceria to buy dolce for after dinner. Upon arrival we begin to talk to the girl behind the counter, when out from the back (having recognized Midge’s voice) comes the owner Nicola, who immediately takes over our order and starts shooting the shit with us. After we’re finished he takes the treats to the register, tells the girl to give us the friends discount and waves goodbye. I mean, what a life?

I love this town, it’s home. It’s beautiful in the morning, and lights up after 10pm- literally and energetically. I hang out with the same people whenever I’m here, and have created really beautiful relationships with friends and family alike. But I’m always just visiting. Sure, I’m from here, sure I feel like a local, but I haven’t put in the time to truly deserve the right to be considered one.

My Aunt Midge has, and is now sitting back and reaping the benefits of a truly loving community. And I am forever impressed.

Questa e l’Italia- La dolce vita.

Ci vediamo la prossima volta,

Alex

(Thanks Alex, I actually cried when I read this.  I love you to pieces!  Auntie M)

Balance

Some things you don’t take photos of. They are too real and hit a visceral button that brings on roll after roll of images.

This Tiny old brown and black birdlike woman with legs as thin as twigs was prancing down the promenade. her arms swinging, the flower print scarf hiding her hair. Balancing on her head – no a part of her – was a white plastic bag of groceries.

I cry. It has been years since my grandmother walked into her house from the yard with a basket of clothes on her head. Thats whose face I saw – Grandma – my nonna – the rock of my childhood.

Why today? What makes today different? Is it because we are leaving Pontelandolfo tomorrow?

The women were total opposites. This woman was tiny, thin and probably only 15 years older than I. The only thing she had in common with my grandma was the ability to balance.

Balance – how does one balance living half a year in one world and half in another?  Tomorrow morning, October 28, we will be heading back to the USA. The six months in Italy flew by.  I am so grounded here that I hate to leave.  This morning I made the rounds saying “Ci vediamo aprile” to so many people.  They all ask the same question – why do you leave?  I don’t really have a good answer.

Balance – I must remain connected to both worlds – no matter where I sleep that night.

Ci vediamo.

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.

IMG_1729

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 –

IMG_1719

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.

IMG_0123

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.

IMG_0116

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.

IMG_1726

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?

I Didn’t… Musings On Returning to the USA

Thursday morning – yikes that’s domani – we will be in Naples starting the first leg of our journey home.  For the past few days my chest has been caving further and further into my core.  Each day the depression and sadness pushes on my heart chakra.  We have been in Pontelandolfo for six months integrating further and further into village life.  Today we are closing up the house and deciding what we leave behind to languish until we  return.  Suddenly,  all the things I didn’t do starting hitting me in the face.  The list I made – what list you ask?  The list that seemed so important in New Jersey.  The list that made me feel like I wasn’t some pensioner with nothing to contribute to the world. 

IMG_0313

The list that made me feel vital to myself.  I didn’t complete the list

I didn’t take the autobus from Piazza Roma to Naples – just for the hell of it.  Folks say it is two hours of curvy mountain roads and worse it leaves at 7:15 AM.  The return bus leaves at 2:00 PM so what could you really do in Naples in 5 hours?  I don’t know because I didn’t take the bus.

I didn’t finish my family tree.  Armed with the latest version of Family Tree Maker and printed reports to share with family and strangers here, I added about  6 things total.  My grandmother’s side goes back to the 1600s – thanks to Antimo Albini.  ( Read that story at – http://wp.me/p3rc2m-9P)  But what of my grandfather’s side?  It was his search that I started 20 years ago and the line only goes back to 1820.  It is bis-nonno, Salvatore Guerrera’s extended family that I spend time with here.  Are there others for me to meet?  I don’t know because I didn’t contact Antimo this year to help me finish the fakakata tree.

I didn’t write a sexy romance novel based on “Divorcing Daddy”, my graduate school thesis screenplay.  Since I couldn’t figure out how to sell a screenplay and have read Nora Roberts entire canon as well as all of Janet Evanovich, I figured I could take my romantic comedy and turn it into a comedic novel.  I even started – came up with the concept and through line – and spent a day musing over the ins and out of novel writing.  I don’t know if I would be successful because I didn’t spend a second day on the project.

I didn’t seriously continue studying Italian.  Oh, I can get us fed, put gas in the car and chat with folks who speak Italian – not dialect – very slowly.  But we had car problems and I didn’t have a clue what the mechanic was saying.  I still don’t completely understand the medical system because my vocabulary ain’t there.  And, frankly, I sound like what I am – a middle aged plus American who isn’t studying everyday to improve.  I don’t know if I can get better because I didn’t hit the books daily or even watch Italian television.

Cazzo – you are probably bored with my rant.  Jack – who I hate when he is right — keeps reminding me that we are in Italy and I don’t have to accomplish shit.  Just live il dolce far niente – the sweet life of doing nothing.  My ever-loving crazy family and friends here, in London, Ecuador and in USA have reminded  me what I have indeed accomplished and suggest I buck the heck up.  Alexandra Rose, my worldly London based niece asked, “Do you realize how unique you are – how many people do you personally know who leave their home towns and live outside of America?”

Well I sputtered you, Marie and Jan, George and, and…  She had me. I bucked up.

I may not have taken the bus to Naples but did explore other parts of Italy that I hadn’t seen before.

I may not have finished the family tree but I did discover and became friends with a cousin and his wife that I hadn’t known.  I hadn’t met them before this year and truly enjoy hanging out with both Dominico and Suzi.

I may not have finished the novel but I did finish two plays – Mamma Mia La Befana and Flagtown Fem-Militia.  During September I committed myself to sending scripts to over thirty theaters and competitions.  One LA theater actually asked for the full version of Flagtown Fem-Militia after reading a ten page sample.  Please send a prayer to the theatre goddess.  (Anyone know any theaters in towns with a high concentration of Italians that would love a play based on La Befana?)

I didn’t, I coulda’, I shoulda’ – hell time to toss those words in the trash and just remember that I’ll return to my Italian home next year.  Today I made the rounds in Pontelandolfo hugging the folks that I love.  Joyfully, tomorrow I will  start hugging the family and friends that I love dearly in New Jersey.

Ci Vediamo a Presto!