Italy Writers Rock!

Now Midge, shouldn’t that be “Italian Writers Rock?” Hmm, well it could be but then it wouldn’t be the creation of the energetic Wendy Ridolini. Wendy lives in Bisenti, Abruzzo and is committed to helping authors find their voices, get published and market their work. She is the visionary behind the September Creative Writing Retreat in Abruzzo and Sunflower Publishing which provides editorial and business publishing solutions. Her by-line as a book critic can be found in a variety of English language Italian magazines. How come I didn’t know about these magazines! Why haven’t I been subscribing to Italy Inside and Out, Abruzzissimo magazine or Lucca news.org?

Wendy Ridolini looks easy to talk to, I thought, and she was!

Wendy goes out of her way to identify authors who live in Italy and/or write stories set in Italy. Are you wondering how we met? She found me! WHAT? How can a critic and podcaster just find you? Gulp, I guess that means I am an author who lives in Italy, writes stories set in Italy and blatantly self promotes anywhere I can! One day I received an email from this women, Wendy Ridolini, I didn’t know telling me about herself. She produces the video podcast Italy Writes and was asking if she could interview me about my book Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos. Wow! I googled her and saw all she did and who she wrote for and sent back a resounding YES! The “Harriet the Spy” in me had to know why me. The easiest thing to do is just ask. So I asked Wendy how she found me. This is what she said,

“Things just appear in my Facebook feed, you just somehow popped in there. What worked for me was the title Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos. This must be a crazy woman who wrote a crazy book because it had a crazy title. I had to meet her.”

I guess all those totally silly TikTok videos and instagram posts really worked! The evening before the interview my PR pal Kathy, via FaceTime from New Jersey, made sure my room was set up, the lights were good and the large poster of my book cover was prominently placed. Being anal, I refreshed my aged brain with the answers to questions that I thought Wendy might ask and went to sleep feeling prepared. BOOM! RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR! CRASH! Cripes what is happening to our house? Those were the sounds that woke me up at seven A.M. the next morning. The destruction workers that my landlord had contracted to pull down the tottering garage attached to our house and more specifically my office had started.

“TODAY!: I shrieked, “it has been months and they are starting today??” My theatre head kicked in and almost overcame my memoirist panicking head. I raced all over the house searching for a small space that didn’t rumble and tremble. Pal George in the Netherlands got the hysterical FaceTime call – “Does this room work – how does it look – &^^%#,” I said before I said hello. We settled on a small closet sized space with no electricity. The only light on my soon to be made up face was from a window. It had to do. Finish reading, then watch the video and tell me what you think.

Turn about is fair play so a week or so after that interview, I called Wendy to get more information about her writer’s workshop. I love the camaraderie of being around other writers and was trying to figure out if I could go. (Sadly, when I saw the dates I realized I was already booked on a Viking River Cruise.) The all inclusive price for the workshop was so cheap, that I have to keep my eyes open for next year. Rates are based on the room size in the lovely Casa delle Rondinelle in Bisenti, Abruzzo. The cheapest price for single occupancy is £1150 or if two people share the room £625 each. That’s $1403 and $762 dollars – for room, food transfer from the Pescara airport, workshops with super authors, yoga classes, Italian language class, one on one sessions with editor Amy Scott and more goodies.

Wendy has assembled a sterling group of authors to conduct master classes. She said, “There is nothing like talking to someone else who has been on a journey and discovering it may have taken months and years to get that book out there – and that could be inspiring”. Quoting the distinguished author Sue Morecraft, “Forty years to become an overnight success!”

Some of the featured authors include memoirist Cathy Rentzenbrink and short story author Katherine Mezzacappa – shh don’t tell – she writes under a bunch of names – including erotic fiction – then again, why shouldn’t she! Midweek, Angela Petch will do a workshop on research for a historical fiction novel. Elizabeth Buchan, who has worked both sides of the table – first for publishers and then as an author – will share her unique experience. I give up! There will be numerous guest authors in different genres. What a fabulous week and I can’t go. To find out more –

I asked Wendy for her back story. How did she get into the author business. Turns out is it the family business. She and her husband Duncan Watts moved to Abruzzo in 2009. Wendy taught English and life was lovely. Then Boom Crash snd Shake the enormous earthquake that leveled Bisenti totally destroyed their home. Her husband wrote an account about the destruction of houses during an earthquake in Bisenti. They put a caravan in the olive grove and lived there for several years. It was there Watts wrote his first book, Olives and Earthquakes.

Wattspeare, as Wendy calls Duncan, writing away in the caravan.

Wendy edited the book and got it ready to launch. Duncan loved writing so much that he kept writing, under the nome di plume – Jack Lench. Zap, Wendy was pulled into the publishing business. I love this so much and I have so much experience now on self publishing, I wanted to do this for a job! A career was launched! Things are working out, the Caravan may feel lonely because they left it behind an moved into a fabulous home.

Wendy’s next interview is with Rhys Bowen! I am soooo jealous! I’ve read everyone of Bowen’s book. Wendy will be talking to Bowen (Janet Quin-Hardin) about “the Tuscan Child” and “The Venice Sketchbook.” Can’t wait to hear that interview.

Ci Vediamo!

Midge Guerrera

PS. Speaking of authors – check out what I’ve published this past year. Plays published by Next Stage Press (a new one comes out in July) and Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos by Read Furiously. Happy reading.

Cinghiale, Wild Boar, in my Kitchen.

“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth!” Or in this case a cinghiale – wild boar – with tusks. With the horse, the proverb meant – don’t start looking at his teeth to see how old it is. With the wild boar – I didn’t give a tinker’s damn how old it was as long as I can cook it. (Notice I slipped in another anachronistic saying. I’m in a literary frame of mind.) Wild boar is one of my favorite carnivoristic treats. (I just made the word up.) What is she rambling on and on about? Anybody heard from Jack? He needs to make her a martini.

I had a great day! A pal who is an ace hunter brought me a precious gift. Il collo parte del corpo del un cinghiale! The huge neck of a wild boar, cut up into precious meaty neck bones. Determined to make a sugo that would make my nonna proud, I went to work. Did I know what I was doing? I didn’t have a clue. When one doesn’t have a clue, it makes sense to ask a professional. Our local butcher, who makes great porta via, take away and cook at home pre-spiced and prepped meats, was just the person to ask. I asked him how to cook this monster neck. He looked at me quizicaly. “Do you really think you will like it?” I know I will like it. Every time I eat cinghiale at someone’s home or in a restaurant, I adore it, love it, want more of it.

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

Cripes, some of you are now sobbing for the poor wild boar whose life ended so abruptly. Here is the reality. Cinghiale are now becoming so prevalent that they are traveling through the streets of Rome waiting to take a bite out of a vegan tourist. The poor member of the pig family are mean buggers and seem to love to chase you off your own property. They no longer have many natural predators – I haven’t a clue why – and are over running Italy. My Texas cousins just told me they have the same problem there! If it were up to me, entrepreneurial young hunters would work out a deal with the country to hunt them, create great sausages, dried meats and meals with them and sell them to folks like me. Or if being benevolent, give the meat to the poor.

OK, we no longer feel badly. This particular cinghiale was observed harassing a family’s dogs, cats and young children. Now his neck is mine to cook. I was told, and being an A type personality, also read at The NY Times Food website, that I must marinate the boar in red wine and mirepoix. (That is a very fancy word that I always forget and ask my chef friend Kathy for. )

I chopped up in my food processor a very large onion, two fat carrots, two stalks of celery and celery greens – mirepoix. Into the largest stainless steel bowl I had that would fit in the now empty refrigerator went two bottles of really cheap local red wine and the mirepoix. (Actually, Annarita and Jack drank some of the wine and said it wasn’t bad. It cost €1, so a buck a bottle and not bad is a good deal. No one told me to fine chop the vegetables but it made sense to me.) I stirred it, added fresh ground salt and pepper to the mix and pored it gently over the cinghiale waiting to bath in another equally large stainless steel bowl. Why did she use a stainless steel bowl, you ask? My grandmother used stainless steel bowls for everything. There must be a reason. If you know, please leave a comment. The very drunk refrigerated boar languished in the marinade for about 14 hours.

The next day, I rough chopped onions and garlic. This was tossed in EVO – local olive oil of course – and sautéed. Wait, I forgot a step. The butcher said brown the bones first in a separate frying pan. Brown them until there was no liquid coming out of them. This really happened. Maybe wild boar drink a lot of water or like sponges soak up the wine. It took a while to brown them and a lot of liquid was released. When it stopped running, I added them to the big sauce pot and sort of browned them again with the onions and garlic.

Looking at all that red wine, rich with blended mirepoix, I had an epiphany – that was quickly collaborated by The NY Times cooking app. I tossed some of the wine blend into the pot and continued to turn the meat filled neck bones until that liquid had dissipated. then I just started making my grandmother’s sauce.

Yes, sauce – rich tomato sauce. In Flagtown, New Jersey it was sugo – sauce. (In case “gravy” insisters look it up on Word Reference, sugo also means gravy made with drippings from meat – NOT SPAGHETTI SAUCE.)

After cutting my hand manually smashing a can of peeled whole tomatoes into a mush, I tossed them in the pot. Not my hands, the squished tomatoes. Don’t worry, I switched hands and bled on the side until the tomatoes were in the pot. I used two giant cans of whole tomatoes, two big bottles of plain tomato sauce, and three normal sized cans of crushed tomatoes. As my grandmother did, I rinsed out each can with about a half of can of water and tossed that water in the pot too. Boing, it hit me – I had been saving the rinds from the great local cheese. Why not throw that in too? So I did. Also floating in the pot was diced basil, oregano, salt, a pinch of hot pepper flakes, and a big handful of fresh parsley. In honor of my Aunt Cat, I didn’t chop it up. She always left it untied and whole.

The enormous pot simmered on the stove for approximately 6 hours. I cooked it until the meat was falling off the bones. The odor wafting through the house made me sing, dance and think about a play based on spaghetti sauce. When I couldn’t stand waiting another nano-second. I turned off the flame and using a spider – not the insect – that basket thing on a long handle – pulled up all the bones. To visually enjoy these delicious morsels, I gently laid the succulent meat encrusted bones on a white platter.

Waited four minutes and then burnt my fingers pulling the meat off the bones. YUMMMMY! The meat now shredded, I set aside to top the pasta.

Time for a reward! The spider crawled back into the sauce pot and retrieved the parsley! Like my Aunt Cat, I ate each green piece reverently and with joy! Parsley’s vitamin K is important because it helps blood to clot so my cut finger would stop dripping and contributes to bone health. Ironic hey? I’ll be eating those boar bones next.

I can honestly say, this was the best sauce that I have ever made. There are no pictures of the tagliatelle pasta doused in sauce and topped with strips of meat. There are definitely no pictures of my guests smiling as they slowly chewed, tasted and sighed. I always remember the picture after we have scoffed down everything on the table. If you can’t get wild boar, think pork neck bones! Enjoy.

Ci vediamo

MIDGE

Looking for places to present readings this November!

Shopping is Social

We have only been back for a few days and the larder was more than bare. Thursdays the shops are only open half a day so I was up at dawn – well, 8:00 – to start foraging. Not being totally insane my first stop was Bar Elimar for a cappuccino and brioche.

Dov’è Jack? Where’s Jack? Repeated the chorus at the bar.

Let us get the “where’s Jack” part of the story over. Cripes, without Jack at my side I am chopped liver. After my coffee, I went to the hardware store. “Where’s Jack?”. Next I stopped at Conad, our little local supermarket. “You’re solo today? Where’s Jack?” The fruits and vegetable store, the place to buy agricultural stuff, the butcher. “Dov’è Jack!” I have that phrase memorized. Thank you merry questioners for today’s basic lesson in how important Jack is to the village. Well, I always knew that, but it was kind of cool to have it reinforced. He is the smiling part of this couple. Actually, the queries about Jack reinforce today’s theme. Shopping is social.

The check out people at the super supermarkets where I shop in New Jersey smile and are courteous but never ask me “where’s Jack?” No one leans over the counter or comes around the counter just to gossip about the weather, life or what is happening in the world.

Today’s foraging had me socially interacting, entertained and paying prices that were so low that I had a hard time not saying they were a mistake. At the Ferramenta, hardware store, the owner and I had a nice chat while he spent time adjusting, cleaning and putting a battery in the remote control for our giant electric gate. We talked about a friends cruise, laughed at the electrical tape that held my remote together, and spent time as neighbors. Repaired remote plus battery – €1.50.

Next stop, Fresh Fruits, for incredible Italian oranges, lettuce, cucumbers, red onions, peppers and I don’t know what else I spent €5.50. Nicola, The young woman who owns the store is always working alone, spends time chatting with each customer and puts a smile on my face.

Jack calls Conad, “the supermarket that time forgot.” Actually, if you didn’t know it was hidden down an alley you wouldn’t know it was there. No sign, not a flag, nothing, niente to let you know it exists. Trucks are constantly unloading supplies for this tiny full service grocery store. It may not have a sign but the three women who work there, make the experience so pleasant that people visit once a day. Imagine, the manager today asked me if I wanted “un buon caffè.” She was going to make me a coffee. I spent about €50 but bought three bottles of Prosecco, a bottle of Jack Daniels, butter, eggs, tuna, canned tomatoes – three bags full of stuff. After dragging the stuff to the car, I was off to the baker, agricultural store and butcher. Each place made me feel like family.

My last stop was a tiny little wooden building in neighboring Morcone. Pecorino Del Sannio only makes and sells cheeses made with sheep’s milk. I had only been there twice four months ago and yet the owner asked,”How did my cheese carry to New Jersey?” We tasted her latest creation, lemon flavored sheep’s milk aged cheese soaked in Aglianico ( a red local wine.) Delish. I bought a hunk. I wanted my cousin Carmella to try the cheese so I bought her a pound. Then I bought a lot more. Before I got the bill she asked if I wanted to taste her sweets. Who could say no? She then proceeded to gift me a huge pecora ricotta and pistachio dessert. This enjoyable outing cost me €31.

Pecorino Del Sannio in Morcone

To some, shopping in small shops on a daily basis may seem like a throwback to 1950. It may be, or it may be that a life style that rewards conversation, personal service and inclusion is worth keeping.

Ci Vediamo.

Midge

To read more about my life in Pontelandolfo buy my book, Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos.

Published by Read Furiously

Masks Unmasked

Jack and I came home to Pontelandolfo to find a bag of scrumptious fava beans on our door step. Our neighbor, Lina, had left them for us. (You’ve heard me talk about the ever growing and traveling fava bean before. Click if you haven’t.) The beans themselves are nestled in a furry lined pod. I sat down to clean them and realized I was “unmasking” the hidden delights.

As I unmasked the raw beans, I saw each little bean as a person who had been safely ensconced and came home to me unharmed. On May 4th, we arrived in Italy from the unmasked state of New Jersey. Frankly, since Covid was still active, I never felt particularly safe with the unmasking edict. Prior to boarding our flight to Rome, I was thrilled to read that Italy still had some stringent masking travel rules in place. The FFP2 masks remain mandatory on airplanes – as well as other methods of travel. (FFP2 is similar to N95 or KN95 masks.). Every passenger on our United Flight should have read all the Covid rules and regulations.

Of course, there is always someone who doesn’t read, doesn’t care or obviously knows better and can be a pain in the butt about it. “Why do I have to put on a mask?” shrieked the woman boarding the plane a few people behind me. The United employee at the gate was very calm and tried to explain that it was a rule. The loud mouth continued screaming, “we don’t have to wear masks anymore – didn’t you get the message?”

You who know me, know what is coming. I couldn’t bear it another nanosecond and pulling my school administrator stop the riot voice of authority out of my ass turned and bellowed – “It is an Italian law. We are taking a plane to Italy and Italian law supersedes whatever it is you are talking about.” Jack grabbed my arm and pulled me forward.

I mean what is the big deal about a mask? Since we arrived in Pontelandolfo, we have been surrounded by masks. The day we got here, after a short nap – OK from noon until 7:30 PM – we tossed on some clothes and went to dinner at our favorite seafood restaurant, Sesto Senso. Everyone working there was wearing a mask. Patrons wore masks until they got beverages. Tables were more that ten feet apart. No one complained. Masks in the grocery store, masks in the pharmacy, masks at the butchers, masks anywhere groups of people were congregating and no one was bitching.

Back to the fava beans. The little pods protect the beans until they are big, strong and scrumptious. I enjoy being protected by my mask and look forward to the end of Covid and being strong and scrumptious too.

Ci Vediamo

Midge

Laugh at my antics in Pontelandolfo and Southern Italy. Get a copy of my book, wherever books are sold.

Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos

Published by Read Furiously

I Just Gave Birth!

Thanks to my publisher – Read Furiously!

Ten years is a long gestation period. I hate to admit it to you my favorite blog readers, but, some of the stories in my baby I started working on ten years ago. Maybe they weren’t on the page but they were circling my brain. Pinging and panging and causing my fingers to hover over the keyboard and then WHAM start typing. It is because of each of you that this book is now on bookstore shelves. Thank you. Why? Can we be truthful?

Ten years ago, we sold my family’s Flagtown farmette. Got rid of all of our furniture, cars, books, pots and pans. Took a deep breath and came to Pontelandolfo. After one week of La Dolce Vita, I thought I would poke out my eyes and rent my garb. I need to work! Sitting idly, sipping Prosecco and chatting in the piazza is great – for an hour. I need to work! Someone asked if the energizer bunny felt threatened by me. I need to work. But what would I do here in the Sannio Hills? I volunteered in the school, organized arts events but – what was I doing for my creative spirit? That is where you came in. I decided to start a blog that would – a. be sort of a journal for me. b. be a way to promote my new village and c. give me deadlines!

Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos grew out of Nonna’s Mulberry Tree. Some of you will recognize a few of the tales. They have been expanded and humorized! Your audience for my ramblings made this book possible. From the bottom of my heart I thank you. Read Furiously is a great publisher and I am so thankful that they decided to have me join their library of publications and make even more stories available to you. Grazie mille a tutti!

I saw the finished book for the first time Tuesday. It came to my condo in a plain brown envelope???? Hmm

Those of you who already bought the book – I WILL LOVE YOU FOREVER. Those of you who are going to buy it tomorrow – DITTO. Oh, where can you buy it? Wherever books are sold. On line, in person – you may have to order it. Your local bookstore will love you if you go in and buy it there. I will love you if they would like me to do a reading!

Speaking of readings. The world is a small place. Zoom, FaceTime, Facebook Live makes it easy for me to visit your book club, library, store from anywhere in the world. Think about it! Have award winning acting skills and will travel – digitally anywhere.

Enjoy my travel memoir meets tour guide book! Have I told you yet today that I love you? Well, I do. Vi amo!

Ci vediamo,

Midge

Award winning actor hails from Pontelandolfo

Maybe it is something in the water or the mountain air that has made our small Southern Italian village, Pontelandolfo, a breeding ground for talented artists, musicians, writers and actors. Michele Albini, a successful actor is a case in point. Pontelandolfese have cheered their native son as he appeared in numerous films, television shows and on professional stages.

Pontelandolfo’s Michele Albini

Albini was born to be a performer. At the age of six, he was playing the piano. By seventeen he was acting. He even served as a young artistic director of Gruppo Teatrale Folk Ri Ualanegli. (Our folkloric dance and theatre company.) Yes, it is true, for decades we have had an incredible folkloric dance company in Pontelandolfo.

In 2001, after a three-year stint as an Air Force  Officer, Albini decided  to move to Rome and study theatre and music. Soon we were seeing him on posters, playbills and of course in theaters.  2012 found him accepting “Il Premio Massimo Troisi” award in the New Generation category. (This is a huge deal.) He has been on stage in such theaters in  Rome as the Elysée, Teatro dell’Opera, Cometa Off, Teatro Due, as well as, at the Teatro Massimo in Benevento and at the Cimarosa in Aversa.  Flicking around the television dial, we have caught him acting in shows like  Gente di mare, Don Matteo, Il mostro di Firenze, Donna Detective 2, I Cesaroni, and La vita che corre. Instead of me prattling on about his talent – check out his Showreel!

Sadly, I’m in New Jersey this month so I couldn’t dash over to Rome and see Albini in his latest professional production, “L’Amico Ritrovato.”

Featuring Michele Albini

Based on the internationally successful book, L’ Amico Ritrovato shares the story of two boyhood friends, Hans (played by Michele Albini) and Konradin whose friendship, was suddenly interrupted in 1935 by Hitler’s racial laws. The bond between a Jewish boy and a German boy is broken by episodes that will forever divide their lives. Many years after his separation from Konradin, Hans receives a letter that unexpectedly rewrites a part of their history.

Director, Alessandro Sena, using an adaptation written in collaboration with Marco Tassotti has created a moving work where the word, the movement and the music, create a strong scenic impact. The characters move in different historical moments from the 70s to the 30s recounting the horrors caused by Nazism and friendships that will always unite us.

When he is not acting, Albini is a writer and a musician. This past August, Jack and I were lucky to see him perform with his talented brother, Romeo in a musical biography of the Beatles, “In Spite of All The Danger”. Michele Albini wrote, performed and directed the piece. The production, produced by Egeria, was held in the village’s mini amphitheater. It was a perfect summer night filled with music, wine and the talented Albini family.

I am sure there will be more creative projects in store for Michele Albini and I hope we are on the right side of the Atlantic to see the next one.

Ci Vediamo!

Midge Guerrera

Buy a book of mine!

Keep checking the Buy a Book page and be one of the first to read my new collection of short Italian tales – Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos.

Thanksgiving Dinosaur

It all started quite simply. Thanksgiving, the fourth Thursday in November, is not an Italian holiday. We had doctor appointments that day and a dinner reservation at Sesto Senso. Sure, I love my USA family and friends but did I need a Thanksgiving dinner to speak to them? Nope. That is what FaceTime is for. The day moved smoothly along until we were sitting down at Sesto Senso. We always make a reservation for 8:00 PM and are usually one of the first couples in the place but something felt wrong. It was Thanksgiving and we are surrounded by …

Empty tables made this a sad Thanksgiving.

Chaos! That is what one has on Thanksgiving! Too much food, screams of laughter, sighs of stuffed tummies and general mayhem. I had tuna tartare and no bloat. This night just felt wrong. I had to do something in a hurry. Without thinking it through I contacted my cousin Carmella and invited her and my extended Italian family for a real American taste of Thanksgiving. Since it was going to be on Sunday, I stole a moniker from my friend Janet. Same food, same chaos, different date equals Fakesgiving.

Friday Morning. Fifteen people are coming on Sunday. Where do I find a turkey? Do they sell stuffing in a bag? The mayhem I craved roared into my life. Take a breath Jack intoned. Grabbing a piece of paper I made a menu – my mom’s 1960s menu. Appetizers and cocktails – deviled eggs, doctored cream cheese stuffed celery sticks, cute pitted olives and cheese cube on a toothpick. Main – turkey, stuffing, garlic mashed potatoes, green vegetable, three bean salad and succotash. Dessert – pumpkin pie, apple pie and whipped cream. Feeling so much calmer now that I had a plan, I leaped in the car. First stop the Marcelleria. Butcher, Stefano, said sure he could order a turkey breast and a turkey leg/thigh for Saturday. It would be enough for 15 people. Whew. One check on my list. Knowing I wouldn’t find canned broth for the stuffing or gravy, I bought about 3 pounds of chicken wings. Next, on to the vegetable store. Nicole found me apples, celery, onions, potatoes and joy of joy – broccoli. Lima beans, fava beans – any small green bean for succotash was out of the question. I grabbed a bag of dried white beans. At Diglio Forno I bought two loaves of bread. Next stop – Conad – pumpkin puree in a can – WHAT this is the land of homemade. My mind flashed to our veranda. My landlord had decorated with giant pumpkins. I could roast one and make my own puree. I decided to cheat and buy refrigerated pasta sfoglia for pie crusts. Heavy cream came in these little boxes on the shelf and required no refrigeration – hmmm. Cream cheese, of course they had Philadelphia. I loaded my cart with everything else I could think of. We had tons of olives processed after the harvest, so I didn’t need those. My last stop was a quick run to the cheese store. Check, check and check. Did I mention it has been raining for five days. Every time I went into a store I got drenched. Drenched and more drenched. The very dry Jack and I unloaded the car and I grabbed a pumpkin. The stock pot was loaded with the chicken wings and what ever vegetables were turning in my refrigerator. The chicken stock would slow cook over night. Sigh… What was I thinking.

Friday Afternoon. Desserts. Today, I will simply focus on making dessert. “Jack,” I bellowed, “Can you cut his fahkackatah pumpkin in half?” Jack ambled into the kitchen and pulled out a big knife. He looked at me. I looked at him. I left the room. A few hacks and curses later the pumpkin was halved and seeded. It was so large, I put the oven tray on the lowest rack and only roasted one half at a time. While the roasting was happening I commandeered Jack to start peeling apples for the apple pie. I was madly toasting bread – two cuts at a time – to get dried bread for stuffing. Other cuts of bread were stuffed in the oven around the pumpkin.

Ok. Now I have roasted pumpkin. What I do not have in Pontelandolfo is a food processor to turn the roasted pumpkin into puree. I call Carmella. She has something called a Vorwerk Bimby – food processor, cooker and fairy godmother. We dumped in the still warm pumpkin and out poured puree. So much puree. I mean buckets of puree. Soup! I’ll add pumpkin soup to the menu! Yeah, Midge why not just make more work for yourself. Chaos! I craved the chaos. Apple and pumpkin pies were made. The chicken stock was simmering. The ugly white dried beans I would use for the succotash were soaking. The table cloth and napkins were on the table. Broccoli was prepped. Vodka was poured.

Saturday. Rats. It is raining – AGAIN. Another drenched to the skin trip to the butcher. Mancini Marcelleria was packed. What are all these people doing standing outside in the rain waiting to buy meat? Covid rules – only two at a time in the store. From under my umbrella and with wet feet, I texted Jack. “This sucks.” Stefano knew I was there for the turkey parts. He went in the back and groaned under the weight of the package. The thigh and leg was so freakin’ large I started laughing. Is that from a dinosaur I asked? No, I was told a “tacchino maschio.” Man those Toms sure grow up here in the hills. If I were a hen turkey I’d be running the other way. The breast had to be ten pounds. I figured I had twenty pounds of turkey pieces. I lugged them home, hand rubbed them with herbs. Since they were sadly skinless, I layered pancetta over all of the pieces and squished them in the fridge. Saturday was a blur. My eyes were tearing from all the onions chopped. Eggs were cooked, three bean salad tossed, stuffing made, potatoes peeled, celery sliced, cheese cubed, beans cooked, pumpkin soup recipes searched, table partially set. Vodka poured.

Sunday – Fakesgiving. Like everyone who makes a turkey that weighs more than most cars here, I was up early. The turkey was weighing down the counter and the oven was preheating. I figured it would take five hours. I was wrong. I have a great convection oven and the turkey was in parts! It only took 2.5 hours and was done in advance. NOOOOOO! That wasn’t the only drama.

“Jack,” I queried, “where are the rest of the wine glasses?”

“Broken.”

“Why didn’t I know that?”

“You didn’t break them.”

Breathe. Not everyone drinks wine and a little mix and match is charming. I found a great recipe for pumpkin soup. Since I made the incredible chicken broth for the stuffing and I had puree all I needed was heavy cream. Plop. Yes, plop. The heavy cream that comes in the little boxes and don’t require refrigeration literally plop out of the box in one big disgusting white plop. Making the pumpkin pies, I had experienced this the day before, but it seemed grosser plopping into the orange soup. Tons of sage later, the soup was bubbling away. To add color to the cooked white bean and corn succotash, I diced jarred roasted pepper and tossed in some red. Potatoes were mashed. Broccoli started to steam. People arrived. We ate every bit of that menu. Giggles turned into guffaws over the 1960-esq appetizers – but I noticed all the stuffed celery was eaten.

Roasted walnuts and Parmesan – to make up for the lack of sour cream to drizzle.

My pumpkin soup was a smash. They adored the stuffing, vegetables and turkey. Antonio said, “Do this again next year.”

I looked around the table at the smiling faces. Remembered I had missed the chaos and said, “Certo.”

Vodka was poured.

Ci vedaimo!

Midge

Give the gift of theatre and order my play “E-mail: 9/12” for the book lover in your family. Find it at Next Stage Press.

Keep on the lookout for ” Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos” my book of short stories about life in Italy.

It comes out in March from publisher Read Furiously.

Thank you!

Mi Voglio Bene – I Love Myself

Sitting in the piazza on November 1st, my heart was full and tears slowly slid down my face. Across from my table, parked in Piazza Roma was a portable – fully operational – medical unit. They were here not because there was an earthquake or flood or any other tragedy. They were here to prevent the tragedy of families loosing wives, mothers, sisters and daughters to cancer. Cancers that can be cured or held in remission with adequate warning. This was a portable screening center for female centered cancers. Pap tests, mammograms and colon screening tests were available. The set up was in the piazza all day, from 9:00 AM until 6:00 PM. The posters and social media posts all touted “ Campagna di Prevenzione Oncologica Gratuita.” This was a free health project of the Region of Campania. The medical unit was stopping in small towns all over the region. It was so simple for people to access this service. Women only had to call Pontelandolfo’s city hall to make an appointment for Pap tests or mammograms. The colon test kit was available by simply walking up and asking for it.

The sun was shining on the outdoor waiting area. From my seat, sipping my cappuccino I could hear “numero 25 mammografia.”The medical team welcomed people as they ventured near the area. I noticed that men have also gone in to pick up the colon cancer test.

 

The set up was slick. The front had video projections “Mi Voglio Bene” talking about each of the available tests. This campaign urging women to love themselves and get screening is fabulous. Imagine, something like this pulling into small towns all over America! Actually, I would love to imagine it but sadly I don’t know if it would ever happen. I mean, politicians don’t seem to give a tinker about women’s health issues and too many voters don’t understand the validity of universal healthcare.

Ima

I first found out about the testing center on FaceBook – which is the major news vehicle here. Later, the posters in stores, on walls and in the newspapers reminded me to find out what I was eligible for. At first, the snarky Midge giggled at the thought of joining a line of woman, without underpants, waiting for their internal exams and pap smears. Crude of me, I know. Then I started to think about my mom dying of breast cancer because the diagnosis was too late and I stopped giggling. I started appreciating what was happening not only in Pontelandolfo but all over Campania.

The – has to be invented by a mean man- mammogram machine has its own room.

 

When I first got to the piazza at 9:00 AM, there weren’t any people waiting for services. I was one of the first women up the steps. Everyone was warm and friendly. I stoped at the reception desk and jokingly said I knew I was too old for everything but a colon test. Why did they limit mammography to women between the ages of 50 to 69, I asked. Younger women get ultrasounds. Both tests are given if something is found on one. I always wondered why we don’t use ultrasounds more in the USA. Believing on earring on the side of caution, I have been know to tell a tale to get an ultrasound. My breasts are dense and since my mom died of breast cancer, I often come up with some strange complaint to get one.

Then, I asked about the other age restrictions. Just like the USA’s medicare and other insurances, the national health care system restricts tests based on some data or another. For a Pap test the age range is 25 to 64. Every year a I beg for a pap-test. Medicare doesn’t cover them for old ladies either. Don’t old women get utero cancer??? A mammography is available for women between the ages of 50 and 69. I was obviously too old for that too. Though, when I talked about my mother dying of breast cancer, I discovered that they of course make exceptions. The Colon Cancer Screening kit was for folks between 50 and 74. It was the only test I hadn’t aged out of. The receptionist, who was charming and answered all my questions, asked for my health card and phone number. She then, just like at the deli, she gave me a number. I’ve noticed that in Italy, numbers are given out in medical waiting rooms. As part of their privacy laws, the nurses can’t bellow “Guerrera.”

Is it my imagination or is the signage upside down?

My test — – Since I was the only one there, I didn’t really need the number. I was immediately ushered into a private room and asked for my particulars – name, address, phone number, my health insurance card had pulled up my residency and date of birth information. A second nurse came into the room and explained the test. Simple – take sample from – no I will not describe how to take a stool sample. The important thing was after the sample is in the glass holder, I had to take it to the analysis center in Morcone. I wondered why people couldn’t just run home, do what they had to do and bring the sample back to the portable center. Morcone is only five minutes away so it will be no big deal. If I don’t hear anything in ten days, the test was negative. I wish they would tell you either way. I think I’ll ask. 

Sadly, for the three hours I sat at Bar Elimar I didn’t see hordes of women going to the center. November 1st, Festa di Tutti i Santi – All Saints Day, and a national holiday so it should have been easy for people to come. They are constantly coming but there is not a surge or a long line. Gulp, I just remembered women made appointments! Perhaps they are staggered appropriately.

 For fun, when I got home I googled the ranking of the United States on health care issues. Every list I found from the World Health Organization to independent foundations ranked the USA – well not well. Never in the top 20. Just another reason to rethink the system of providing health care for not only women but all Americans.

Ci Vediamo!

Midge

 

My play, “E-mail: 9/12” is available at Next Stage Press

The 9/11 based play is perfect for a Book Club and a History Class.

In March “Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos” will be available from Read Furiously.

Thank you in advance for buying my play
and in March my book of short Italian stories.