Curbside Service Pontelandolfo Style

There aren’t many things I’m afraid of.  Needles, however, turn my tummy to jello, make my teeth clench and my hands sweat.  Imagine the wave of fear that washed over me when the orthopedic doctor in Alghero, Sardegna said “everyday for thirty days you have to give yourself a needle in the stomach.” I screamed NO.  The nurse said, “or die from a blood clot.”  Oh, I mused – die or get a needle in the stomach everyday for thirty days.  Thirty days ways the length of time I was to wear the cast/boot on my broken ankle and repose.  Gulp, I’ll take the needle but I can’t give it to myself.  The nurse showed my husband Jack how to jab a needle in my gut.  Jack did it – I think happily and with a malicious grin – for three weeks.  Then he left for Venice.  Catzzo, now what do I do?  No way I can shoot myself up with blood thinners – eeeeeuuuuuchh.

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Wheelchair and Booze! One way to get through this.

Curbside Service at La Farmacia!  Annarita, my resourceful personal assistant, brought me to Pontelandolfo’s pharmacy.  Since I wasn’t supposed to put pressure on my foot and wasn’t about to hop on cobblestones, I couldn’t get out of the car.  Dottoressa Tina Perone raced to the rescue!  Pharmacists here can give needles and will – even it that means watching me tremble in my car.  Tina opened my car door, I pulled my dress over my head, pulled down my panties and closed my eyes.  Hey, did you give me the shot?  She had and I hadn’t felt a thing.  We went to the pharmacy for the entire week that Jack was gone and I almost happily got my daily needle.  Thank you Perone family!

Curbside service didn’t just happen at the pharmacy.  Small town life is wonderful.  Shop owners helped me, laughed with me and made sure I kept rolling along.

Curbside Service at La Feramenta!  I had a new sink installed and needed to buy a faucet.  No way could I handle the uneven street with my hop-along walker.  The owner of our local hardware store sent out selections for me to choose from.  The transaction happened at the car.  Thank you Nicola!

Curbside Service at Da Tiziana!  Since I was now sleeping in the dining room and folks kept stopping buy to visit and stare at my broken ankle, I needed nightgowns that weren’t tattered and stained.  Off we went to our local clothing shop.  The owner dashed out with nightgowns.  Then, in the street, she and Annarita helped me balance on one foot while I tried them on.  Of course, I did that over my clothes!  My mamma taught me not to stand naked in the street.  We visited her a few times to buy knee socks and other stuff.  All carried to the car. Thank you Tiziana!

Curbside Service at Bar Elimar and Bar 2000!  Wheelchair in tow, the ever powerful Annarita decided I needed to get out of the house.  I sighed. She threw me in the car.  We arrived at Bar Elimar and barista, Annette, moved tables around outside so I could easily toss my sorry butt in a chair from the car.  Ahhhhh- Campari Spritz please.  Another time we went to Bar 2000 and owner, Ghaleb, went out of his way to make me comfortable.  Thank you both!

It pays to be a local!  Thank you to all those kind and generous Pontelandolfese who fed me, laughed with me and made my thirty days of staying off my foot bearable.

Ci Vediamo!

Milan’s Museo Poldi Pezzoli

Everyone has visited Milan’s Duomo – everyone but me. I will not wait in Disneyland-esq long lines to see the inside of the what is one of the most incredibly grand cathedrals in the world. I will spend time marveling at the sculptures and freezes on the exterior and then race away from the tourist infested Piazza Duomo neighborhood and seek out tourist group ignored gems, like Museo Poldi Pezzoli.

Museo Poldi Pezzoli is tucked away on on Via Manzoni, 12. The museum was the home of a 19th Century Milanese nobleman, Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli. Tickets are 10 euro unless you are ageless anziani like Jack and I then tickets are 8.50. I couldn’t  remember ever seeing a senior citizen discount at New York museums and thank blog follower Mike for reminding me that there are! Also, he pointed out that many cities have free museums.

They were filming something in the historic center of Milan and we couldn’t walk past Teatro San Carlo. That meant we couldn’t follow the directions on my phone to find the museum. We tried my friend Marta’s phone. Errrggg. Road blocks everywhere in the historic center. We tried the map. Errrgg.

Getting lost has benefits! Chocolate shoes and purses!

Jack said follow me. We did. He found it. By now we were growling with hunger. Entering the museum doors, I asked the charming men working the desk if they had a restaurant. They didn’t but sent us up the street to the fabulous Ristorante Don Lisander.

It was elegant and the perfect way to transition from contemporary Milan to the glamour of the 19th century. We spent €166 for the for of us – New York prices. We started with wonderful appetizers of Pugliese Burrata cheese, Red Tuna tartar and ended with scrumptious Risotto Milanese, Oso Buco and crisp salads. Did I mention the local wine? That was incredible too. Sigh.

Off to the museum! (I wondered if the staff thought we would really come back.) We bought our discounted tickets, turned to enter and gasped. An incredible neo-baroque fountain is nestled at the beginning of a grand staircase. The staircase guides folks to the rooms were Gian Giacomo lived.

The apartment is full of works by Botticelli, Bellini, Mantegna, Pollaiolo and others. The art just drew us all in. I spent quite a bit of time wondering who modeled for Sandro Botticelli’s Madonna of the Book. Girlfriend, neighbor, courtesan? Twilight diffused light is kind of romantic. Hmmm. Midge, it isn’t too late to study a wee bit of art history.

The Murano Glass rooms, where you can also find portraits of our host, are chock full of Murano glass dating from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Unlike, the faux Murano trinkets made in China one finds in Venice today, these were the real deal and glorious.

Want to skip a century or two? Giovani Battista Tiepolo’s Death of Saint Jerome is worth some introspection.

In case you are running late and wonder what time it is. Like the Mad Hatter you can dash into the Clock Room and check out the clocks dating from the 16th to 19th centuries. I wonder if Gian Giacomo was always on time or late for that important date?

Did you ever wonder why people collect what they collect?

Join us in our search for places off the beaten track. Leave the backpack infested rat packs and follow folks like Jack, my pal Marta and I – visit small museums, gardens and other hidden treasures.

Ci vediamo!

Noooo!!! Don’t Bring FaceBook to Dinner

Full moon, clear skies, linen covered tables, delectable dinners and twinkle lights like little stars flicker over the patio. Traditional concertino music wafted in from the concert down the block. A perfect night at Medusa, one of our favorite seafood restaurants in San Salvo Marino.

Jack, I whispered, look around. Notice anything odd?

Whaaat? Jack bellowed his favorite response to anything I ask. What am I supposed to see?

The evil FaceBook blue light of enticement, addiction and control. That’s what.

Whaaat? Get over the phone on the table fixation.

Maybe, I am fixated on groups of people who don’t talk. The first time I saw a couple eating dinner and each reading a book, I was horrified. Why aren’t they talking? Who could go out to dinner and not talk? It was beyond my comprehension. Now, I see it all the time. At Medusa I saw –

Two 50-something well dressed women sipping wine, sharing a seafood antipasti and each reading FaceBook.

A family of three each eating their own pizza and slopping tomatoes on their Facebook linked phones.

An older elegant couple – like Jack and I – eating cozze, mussels cooked in a touch of white wine, staring at their telephones.

Nonna, nonno, mom, pop and one baby were all staring at cell phones. Yup, the moment they sat down, the mom plopped a hand held device in front of the kid.

I could go on and on and on. There were only three groups – four if you count Jack and I – out of about 20 tables that were not glued to their fakakata phones. There were the two men and their adorable dog who chatted away. The couple with the not so adorable 3 year old who they had to chase all over the patio. Lastly, a young family of mom, dad and two sons. The boys were both under 8 or 9 and were chatting about their day at the beach.

This addiction to FaceBook at Italian dining tables is troublesome on so many levels. The silence is deafening. No one listens to the joys and tribulations of the day because they are commenting on pictures of flowers, food and other people’s babies. Over the past few years the FaceBook ferver has grown and grown. I fear that the stereotypical loud Italian conversations will soon fade to key taps.

When we are in the USA, I don’t notice as many phones out on restaurant tables. Have you seen an increase in diminished conversation and growing table side telephone staring? Am I the only person who finds this FaceBook addiction unnerving?

Frankly, I don’t understand the need for Facebook. Somehow we all got along before the social media pipeline sucked us in.

I hear you. I hear you. Yup, this blog has a FaceBook page. Yup, I use it to let people know about Pontelandolfo and our program Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo. Yup, I post links to The NY Times in hopes that those who suck on the teat of fake news websites will read something a bit more valid. Yup, I spend about 1\2 an hour a day checking my notifications and my pages. Yup, the fact that I too have a FaceBook account makes me culpable.

But it doesn’t make me not stare at the ocean, while dining at an outdoor cafe or ignore the people I’m out to lunch with.

Rant is over. Let me know what you think. Maybe I am fixated.

Ci Vediamo.

Impromptu Adventures!

When you live in the beautiful hills of Southern Italy, any excuse for a drive on a beautiful day is a good excuse. I was looking in my journal and found my notes from this particular drive on a beautiful day.  I think was the excuse was I didn’t want to wash the breakfast dishes. My adventuresome niece Alex was visiting us.  It is even more fun to go explore new places when you have great company – or in this case a “you can do it” cheerleader.  The sun was shining, the clouds were floating over the rolling hilltops and there was gas in the car.  This crisp clear wonderful day also happened to be the second Sunday in September, the one day a year they hold a mass in the little church in the mountains, Santa Maria degli Angeli. Alex and I were in the car, deciding if we should go left or right out of the driveway, looked at each other and both said the church in the hills – al’ avventura!  We went to find that 16th Century Church and as many unplanned excursions are – it was the beginning of an incredible adventure.

Here is a little back story about the church. Many Pontelandolfesi, including my ancestors, were contadini,- farmers and more often than not share croppers farming the mountains for a piece of the vegetable pie. Others were shepherds, alone high in the hills, minding the flocks of cows, sheep and goats.  Stone rifugi, shelters that were little more than huts were and still are scattered in the hills.  One dark night from the doorway of a rifugi, the face of a single shepherd, staring out at his flock, was suddenly filled with fear.  The air around him began to twirl and spin, spin and twirl until he was sucked up into the vortex of a giant tornado.  His flock of sheep whirled around him.  Panicked he did the only thing he knew might save him.  He prayed to the Madonna.  Pledging to build a church in her honor wherever he landed, he prayed to be put down safely.  He prayed and prayed and prayed.   Until Vroomp bang, he hit the ground.  Dazed but committed to the Madonna, he looked around to memorize the spot.  It took a few years but he made sure that the chapel got built.

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Photo by Nephew Nick of the Chapel – through a window

That is the tale that I have been told by many of the folks in my village.  Being a skeptic, I’ve done a little research and discovered other versions of the creation of the chapel – something about the Brotherhood, Pope Orsini, earthquakes, priests, nuns and well stuff that a Dan Brown novel are made of.  However, the Wizard of Oz-esq legend suits my sense of drama.

 The church was used a lot in the 17th and 18th centuries.  The contadini, working and living in the mountains, made it their religious home.  Times change, and people moved on to bigger houses of worship.  Now, the charming little space is only open one day a year, this was that day and Alex and I were going to find it.

 Have I ever mentioned the irony of living in a Southern Italian Mountain village and hating roads that were based on goat and donkey trails?  Narrow roads without guardrails that, like that tornado, whirl up the mountain, twisting and turning, scare the hell out of me. When Jack drives, I clutch the old lady hand grabber, scream, moan and refuse to look at the beautiful valley hundreds of feet below that is calling me to a sure death in a twisted heap of metal. The views are incredible!  So, I’m told.

 Was I going to admit my phobia to a young niece that has toured the world alone, decided to go to university in a foreign country and has been fearless since birth?   Alex and I got directions to the church from pal Nicola and started driving up a mountain.

 Gulp, I wasn’t kidding about the whirling and twirling narrow roads.  Shit, I had to keep smiling while what seemed like a cow path was taking us up higher and higher.  We followed the directions – I swear we did – but somehow were climbing closer to our celestial forbearers than I was super comfortable with.  Alex was the force that kept me going.  I was scared shitless to be wending my way up and up to certain death by careening around a curve and off a cliff.  She kept saying “I feel it – we are almost there – this is right”. We kept peering left – Nicola said we couldn’t miss it – on the left just past the old fountain.  Which old fountain – we passed a ton of old fountains.

 Stop the car. Stop the car. Alex shouted.  I see horses.  Maybe some people role-play contadini and ride their horses up here.

 What a great and charming idea.  Then I noticed that further up there was a line of parked cars. We must be Here!  Remembering that Nicola said to flip the car around and park pointed down the hill, I held my breath, closed my eyes and managed to turn around without falling off the cliff.

 We walked up the mountain closer to the tethered horses. Lots of people were gathering around and heading up towards a tent. Aunt Midge you said it was a cute church, said Alex, this looks like a revival tentMaybe they put a tent up for overflow?  I opined.

 Then we saw the cows – lots of cows.  Big giant white cows festooned with bells were mooing and eating.  Suddenly it hit us – it was a pagan cow worshipping ritual, or a country cow show and sale.  Actually, it was more like a cow beauty pageant and I must admit the announcers were better than the one who annually appears in Pontelandolfo for the Miss Mondo competition. The set up reminded us of a horse show. The show ring was near an announcer’s platform.  There were ribbons and trophies everywhere.   These giant white cows, I’m thinking they were the ones that graze in the mountains, were brushed and dressed for success.  The owners, or trainers, moved them along like champions. Sadly, we were so enamored with our find that I didn’t pull out my handy pad and take important notes – like who sponsored it and where were we.

 White cow

Alex scrambled up and sat on a fence to get closer to the action.  I wandered around and could feel the sense of community.  This whirling road may have landed us where that lonely shepherd had started his air borne journey. We were definitely in grazing country. These farm families were proud of what they do, and this event was an opportunity to share that pride together.  My language skills weren’t quite sufficient to ask a lot of dairy questions.  I have no idea what kind of cattle – white – they were big and white.  It is amazing what you can find when you aren’t looking!  Who would imagine that high in the Sannio Hills a festival celebrating bovine would occur.  Did I just say that?  This is cow country – what better place to celebrate them. Gaily festooned stalls had been created along a path.  People were wandering and admiring le mucche. The back drop was this incredible mountain vista.  With my feet firmly planted on the ground, I took the time to enjoy the mountain views. Walking further around, I realized that we were just above a valley sprinkled with medieval villages.   Wow!

We never did find that church but this – this was an impromptu experience I won’t forget.  After we watched the action for a while, cheering as loudly as everyone else, I did ask if there was an easier way down the mountain.  Oh yeah there was.  We were close to Cerreto and could follow a road down to Telese and the highway.  I knew that road!  It was a road for sane people.  Whew, I didn’t mention to Alex how happy I was there was an alternative route. I did tell her we would get to see new vistas, new cities and continue our adventure on the road.

Ci Vediamo!

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They Came to Cook and Conquered a Village

In a small town, like Pontelandolfo, everybody knows your name. Tweens in a dark alley getting into something that they shouldn’t, don’t think it is such a good thing. “Second act’rs” like Jack and I living in a new place, find it magical. Whenever we go into the piazza we know we’re home. Folks say salve – hi, come stai – how are you, smile and wave. When we first started staying long-term in Pontelandolfo, going to the piazza was kind of like going to the high school cafeteria on the first day of school.  Who would I sit with?  Who would talk to me?  I don’t know how it happened but we too became part of the fabric of life here.   What struck me this past Saturday, was that every time a group of adventuresome cooks come to Pontelandolfo to be part of Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo they too quickly become part of our village’s life.

For three years the homes, citizens and businesses of Pontelandolfo have opened their doors and hearts to strangers looking for a different tourism experience. These strangers aren’t strangers very long.  Relationships are formed in nanoseconds. I know that the relationships are strong because I see the tears when folks depart. I read the FaceBook posts as connections are kept.  Love – the feeling of love is everywhere.

This latest group jumped right into village life with that first night “bar crawl.” They met bar owners, bar goers, politicos and curious folks. Pontelandolfese out for their evening passeggiata got a look at them. What troupers, having snacks and drinks at not one but all three bars on our piazza. It was obvious to all who met them that they were really interested in Pontelandolfo, our home town.

Tourists often pop in and out of Piazza Roma, take a picture of the iconic tower and dash off. The seven day commitment that both these latest and our past Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo participants made,  meant that the visitors wanted to have a meaningful encounter with not only the food of Pontelandolfo but also the community. They became regulars at the bars, chatted up everyone, played with the children, cooked and ate with families, visited with our baker, cheesemaker, butcher, listened intently as an elder craftsman talked about weaving fabrics as his great grandfather did – all this endeared them to the community.

Now if you know me, you know I wear my emotions on my sleeve and tear up often. When something really touches my heart, I not only tear up but am speechless – cause talking is impossible. There were many times during our cooking programs when I couldn’t speak. I have seen love crossing economic lines, ignoring politics and breaking down cultural barriers.

Some of our guests have had a root of their family tree here in Pontelandolfo.  They came not only to learn traditional Pontelandolfo cooking but to discover more about their past.  Our first group, three years ago, visited the Contrada (little village) of their ancestors and felt the connection that only blood returning to its source can bring. One of this past week’s women had ancestors from Pontelandolfo.  At the B&B she discovered a couple that knew her  distant cousin.  They embraced her and took her to see where her family was from. She was full of stories and felt the spirit of Pontelandolfo.

The women who open their homes to these strangers are so warm and loving that it is impossible not to feel welcome.  They have been touched as these strangers, who are strangers no more, have bought them gifts from their home states or made them something special.  A young female ship’s captain just presented each teaching cook with little dream catchers she knotted and wove from one long piece of ship’s string. Those little catchers will be holding a lot of love.

Everyone always pitches in as meals are being created, parties started or excursions planned.  I can see men and women of all ages flicking tablecloths, setting places and carrying dishes.  I also saw them carry wood from outside for wood burning ovens, making brooms from the sambuca tree and washing hundreds of dishes. This May, a female Broadway sound engineer, even fixed the butcher’s sound system. That meant that music flowed during our last night party. All of these actions felt like the actions of family members not recent strangers or guests.

Some of our visitors have even made sure that children’s books in English were added to our community library.  Since everyone must study and pass an English proficiency test this was a fabulous and thoughtful gift.

Children, twittering with stage fright,  who in traditional dress, performed stories from the town in English, have been cheered like movie stars.  Our guests have loved the challenge and work that these little actors put into sharing stories about their town.

I thank all the culinary tourists over the years, for bringing a tear to my eyes and silence to my mouth. I thank them for being willing to experience a small southern Italian village. I thank them for accepting us for who we are. I thank them for being who they are. I thank them for making me understand that love and food break down barriers!

Huzzah to those who came, cooked and conquered our hearts!

Cooks 4 sessions

Festa Della Trebbiatura 2016

This past Sunday, I had a perfect day.  Jack and I went to an event that I not only loved – but drew me back to my childhood.  Growing up in Somerset County, New Jersey when it was still pretty rural agrarian, I experienced lots of farm life.  4-H introduced me to kids who grew or raised just about anything America ate.  Sunday, I thought of my childhood, how much growing up in a farming community shaped me and the work my grandmother did on her subsistence farm.  Festa Della Trebbiatura in the Contrada Montagna in Morcone harkened back to farm days of old and celebrated the contadini – farmers – of the Matese Mountains.  The type of people my ancestors were.

Did I mention mountains?  Those of you that know me, know I clutch the death grip in our Fiat whenever the wicked Jack drives like an Italian around the S curves sans safety rails on mountain roads.  This trip around those curves was worth it.  The views were incredible.

I need to take a moment to praise my Jack a wee bit.  From the town center of Morcone – which is literally clinging to a mountain – we made a left at the Auto School and drove up.  We didn’t know which way to go when the road split.  We opted for the one that looked steeper on the left.  It was really su, su, up, up.  Shit, I screamed as Jack hit the breaks.  The cobblestone street narrow to begin with had cars parked on both sides and didn’t go anywhere.  Jack backed our large car down the hill and didn’t take the mirror off one single parked car. Hugs to him.

Back to the Festa.  We found out about it from Antonella Lombardi, owner of Bar Mix Fantasy, and a member of the Lombardi family that produced the event.  Thank you Antonella for making sure that I knew about what turned out to be a wonderful day.  When we got to the farm and I saw the rows of seats under the trees and the Priest ready to start mass, I smiled and sat down.  Hearing this great speaker do the mass surrounded by mountains, fields of grain, a clear blue sky and floating cotton clouds started the day beautifully.  After mass children went for “hay” rides on the farm wagon festooned with shafts of wheat.  We walked through the exhibition set up by the Museo del Contadino and I kept pointing at stuff that had been in my grandfather’s barn.  Since we sold the family property and all the relics two years ago, it got a little painful to see  the artifacts.

During the day, people could wander through the World Wildlife Federation Preserve in the mountain, watch demonstrations and eat country fare. One of the featured foods was pecora interrata.  Interrata means underground.  Of course that is what I had!  In the evening there was music and dancing.  Since the zanzare, mosquitoes, and I have a love/hate relationship, they love to eat me and I hate them.  We left before it got dark.

The word trebbiatura  means threshing the grain.  There were glorious fields of wheat in this part of the mountain.  We were celebrating the harvest and the people that make sure we have bread and pasta on the table – the farmers.  The first threshing methods involved beating grain by hand with a flail, or trampling it by animal hooves.  The demonstrations included women doing this.  Women were doing lots of the heavy work – this is still not unusual in our little village of subsistence farms.  What was even more fun to watch was the early threshing machine!

(Uggggg – Jack just told me I have a typo in a caption in the video.  Sorry.)

Ci vediamo!

Midge

Dramma Sacro Di Santa Giocondina

Need an excuse to come to Southern Italy?  Here is a great one – a production of the story of Santa Giocondina.  The play is produced every four years – so if you miss it there is a long wait to see it again.  Every four years, residents of Pontelandolfo come together to share the story of this Christian martyr.  The catalyst for the production is a relic of the Saint that the parish is privileged to own .  It is a huge undertaking!  The cast of twenty six plus people rehearse two nights a week for months in the village’s theatre.  Elaborate costumes are made.  Sets are built and the community gathers to see the life and torture of the Saint.  This year Gabriele Palladino,  the artistic director is putting the cast through their paces.

Rehearsal

I snuck into a rehearsal and was impressed with the caliber of actors I saw on the stage.  They were in the moment, took the roles seriously and we’re obviously committed to bringing realism to the stage.  When I mentioned that to Jack he reminded me where I had been a few weeks ago and why the actors were comfortable on the stage.  You might remember, I went to the Scuola dell Infanzia to see an end of year production called “Paese Mio Che  Stai  Sulla Collina.”   In case you missed the story –  5 Year Old Actors Rock The Stage. The ritual of performing is ongoing throughout all grades.  As are class trips not to theme parks but to wonders of art and architecture.  Residents as young as three years old perform with the folklorico dance company – Ri Ualanegli Di Pontelandolfo.   The arts are a part of life in Pontelandolfo.  (Hmm – maybe that explains my families artistic bent.)

During the rehearsal, I heard actors question Gabriele about their motivation.  Gabriele gently led the actors down the path to the through line of the story.  The narrative places in context the antithesis between good and evil – salvation and damnation. I witnessed characters growing under his guidance.  The cast includes a cross section of the community and all take their roles seriously.  Become their FaceBook pal and see more pictures.

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Eleonora Guerrera (I don’t think we are related) is doing a stellar job portraying Giocondina the tortured Saint.  I asked her how she felt about creating the character –

Quando mi è stato chiesto di recitare nel dramma sacro di Santa Giocondina come protagonista, è stato per me un grande onore accettare la parte, nonostante i miei tentennamenti!! Il gruppo che si è creato è molto affiatato, come una famiglia; lo svolgimento delle prove una boccata d’ossigeno; far parte di un gruppo come questo può solo farmi crescere. Sono felice dell’esperienza che sto vivendo e ringrazio Gabriele Palladino per la fiducia riposta in me e per aver tirato fuori qualcosa che non ero al corrente di avere!

When I was asked to perform the sacred drama of Santa Giocondina as the protagonist, despite my hesitation, it was a great honor to accept the part!!
The group of performers that has been created is very close-knit, like a family. The development of the work as been a breath of fresh air for me. Being part of a group like this can only make me grow as performer. I’m happy that I’m living the experience and thank Gabriele Palladino for the confidence placed in me and for having pulled out something in me that I was not aware of having!

Costumes

The 2016 production features Eleonara Guerrera,  Paolo Tranchini, Michela Delli Veneri, Gianmarco Castaldi, Antonio Addona, Giovanni romano, Gennaro Del Negro, Salvatore Griffini, Davide Cocciolillo and Antonio Silvestre.  Angels are played by Serena Romano, Paula Corbo and Margherita Sforza.  There are countless others in the cast in supporting roles.  The assistant directors is Dolores Del Negro. Director, Gabriele Palladino wrote an article on the back story for Pontelandolfo News – which can be read in English.

The production is slated for the end of July – just before the week long festa of San Salvatore.  Buy that plane ticket and come visit Pontelandolfo in time to see the Dramma Sacro Di Santa Giocondina!

Ci Vediamo.

Bravi! 5 Year Old Actors Rock the Stage

Today, I saw a production that had me laughing, literally crying, rocking, smiling and cheering.  I wasn’t anywhere near Broadway or even Rome.  I was in the charming little theatre space below the new church – L’Auditorium Parrocchiale S. Giuseppe Moscati in Pontelandolfo (BN).  Those of you who know me – or worse yet – have gone to the theatre with me know that I have the attention span of a gnat and am critical of anything that doesn’t flow.  Today, my attention was held from the moment I entered the theater.

This morning, however, having been to numerous badly done school plays, overly long boring dance recitals I was not looking forward to the show. “Do I have to go?  Yes, you have to go. You said you would go.  But a preschool and kindergarten play… ”  Putting on my big girl pants I went.    Going down the steps to the theatre, rock and roll children’s music had me energized – wait a minute – a teacher thought to use pre-show music to set the tone!  Right on!  The teachers of the Scuola dell’Infanzia di Pontelandolfo have theater in their bones.  The show, Paese Mio Che Stai Sulla Collina (My Town on the Hill), had all the trappings of really good children’s theater.  Unlike other school events I have seen here, this was a well scripted production.  It dealt with the immigration of Pontelandolfese to America and the traditions they took and those they left behind. The teachers knew how to use the children’s strengths and weaknesses to the best advantage of the overall production.

Now you know that every little 4, 5 & maybe 6 year old waiting backstage was dying to know if their family was there.  They were probably jigging and wiggling with anticipation.  The creative teachers used that wiggle jiggle!  The reason for the pre-show rock and roll was not only to energize the crowd but to give every little actor a chance to check out the crowd.  A little face would appear in the crack in the curtain – the first time it happened I thought “Oh, Oh, that kid is in trouble.”  Then the curtain opened just enough for the little tyke to prance and dance for 20 seconds while his/her relatives cheered.  That hip hopper left and seconds later a different face appeared, looked and danced.  This pre-show was brilliant for the mini actors and the worried parents.  Everybody got to check out everybody else.

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The set was painted by a teacher.  Center stage is the village’s iconic tower and fountain.  The wings on either side represented places that the immigrants travelled to.  (There will not be any pictures of children.  Without a signed release from a parent that would be a yucky no, no.)

What amazed me, is that this is a public nursery, pre-K, K school and the actors memorized lines in Italian, English and the Pontelandolfo Dialect.  Was the English pronunciation perfect – no – did they try their damnedest – yes.  My niece and nephew went to a Waldorf school and children there leaned how to memorize.  This old school method really works and public schools in the USA should think about it.   The show ran about 45 minutes and the dialogue and singing was well disbursed among the 15 or so 5/6 year old actors. The pre-school children were in dances and songs – including the finale sung in English. Again, the teachers worked with the children’s strengths and understood how to capitalize on those strengths.

Traditional dances and songs were woven into the storyline.  Having seen the town’s dance company perform, I knew that the dances had been simplified – again a move by a good arts teacher. There was some side-coaching but generally the production ran smoothly. (No little people stood there frozen in fear scrunching up their skirts.)

The scene that had me rolling on the floor took place in Waterbury, Connecticut.  The immigrants, now living in an American city, were sitting around the breakfast table in robes, curlers and slippers talking about how great the USA was – mostly in English.  Suddenly, they got the itch to travel back to Pontelandolfo and visit.  With a quick change they appeared in Pontelandolfo in sun glasses, shorts, cameras dangling and hoisting suitcases.  They were greeted by locals and stood there looking stunned.  A look I have seen on Pontelandolfese who return to Pontelandolfo speaking the ancient Italian dialect of their grandparents – a dialect that has evolved.  Today, most people speak Italian.

I do not know the names of the faculty.  They all should be commended!  The arts galvanize and unite a community.  Good teachers of the arts give children a gift of a lifetime.  The confidence that has been imbued in these little actors and the visible lack of fear of performing is a gift that will keep on giving throughout their lives.

Ci Vediamo.