Bentornati! Welcome Back!

Pontelandolfo – our favorite place.

The hills were alive with the sounds of music!  Just not the song you are thinking of.  For the past few days, our village has serenaded us with the sounds of welcome, love and joy featuring that musical word that means so much – bentornati!  Bentornati is the melodious way to say welcome back – but really more than just welcome back.  I am so happy to see you!  We are glad you are back!

We are glad to be back in pontelandolfo!

After our quarantine period was over, Jack and I donned our masks and made our way down to Pontelandolfo’s village center.  It was the first time we had been to the piazza since covid shut us down and trapped us so very far away.  Wow!  So many changes!  The weekly market wasn’t in Piazza Roma – but we could see the vendors trucks behind the school in Piazza Its Been So Long I don’t Remember the Name.  Look, I shouted, a new outdoor bar is open on the promenade.  What a great place for a quick pick me up during the pre-dinner passegiata or after dinner night out.  All of the bars have a much bigger outdoor presence. Newer tables, umbrellas – wow – so urbane!  Those changes were brought about because outdoor seating was the only way the bars could eke out a living during the height of the pandemic.

We continued to drive around and noted that everyone was wearing a mask.  Shoppers were carrying their bags of goodies and wearing masks.  Venders were wearing masks. Bar staff were all masked up.  We parked the car, put on our masks and got hit with the welcoming sounds of Bentornati!   

Bentornati from the owner and customers at Bar Elimar.  Bentornati and conversation with a man we barely know who told us to sit in the shade with him.  Bentornati and fist bumps from people we knew and passed in the streets.  Bentornati and invitations to come over for coffee from folks we haven’t seen in pandemic ages.  Bentornati and tell us everything you have been doing – from the pharmacists.  Bentornati, from the staff at the grocery store.  Bentornati and what vaccines did you get – from the florist. People knocked on our car window to say Bentornati!  Bentornati and come for dinner – an invitation we promptly accepted.

This simple welcome back phrase made us feel immediately right at home.  We felt surrounded by the affection and friendship that one is blessed to feel in a small town.  Bentornati, ci siete mancato.  Welcome back we missed you.

Ci vediamo!

Midge

Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo is organizing adventures for 2022! Cook, explore, taste, create and live like a Southern Italian

Cooking – Live From Pontelandolfo

The sky outside was grey, but my kitchen was bright and filled with the laughter and joy of Pontelandolfo’s Carmela Fusco. Disclaimer – Carmela is my talented cooking cousin. Was Carmela literally in my kitchen?  Nope, we were testing the concept of a virtual cooking class.  From sunny Italy, Carmela led students thousands of miles away through the process of making bignè, the airy pastry you need for profiteroles!  

I felt like a cooking idiot when, during the process, I realized that profiteroles – I had only ever seen stacked in a pyramid and covered with dripped chocolate – were literally the favorite dessert of my youth.  Chocolate covered cream puffs!  My mother, bless her soul, used to make them for special occasions.  I never tried, but when I needed a mom hug, I would buy a box of Boston Cream Pie mix and get almost the same creamy taste. It wasn’t the same but I could feel the love.

Something else I learned, was that bignè is also called choux pastry.  There isn’t any yeast or raising agent in the dough.  It has a high moisture content that creates steam and that puffs the pastry.  Isn’t the science of food grand?

Carmela’s daughter Annarita Mancini, as she does for our Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo program, was there to translate.  Those of us gathered around our tablets trying to make bignè study Italian with Annarita and vowed not to ask for her help. Gulp, I needed her help. I mean, I have only been trying to learn Italian for twenty years, cut me a break.  This wasn’t just a cooking class. This was a chance to use the Italian we had been studying in a real-world situation.  What could be a better place to practice our language skills than Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo? (Admission – when we obviously didn’t quite get what Carmela was saying, Annarita jumped in.)

I am only going to talk about the first step towards the light, cream filled profiteroles – making the bignè. This is the small pastry of a cream puff.  Carmela told me that the neat thing about her bignè is that you can stuff it with sweet or savory fillings.  She doesn’t add sugar, as I think my mom did, into the pastry.  The ingredients are:

150 grams acqua – water

80 grams burro – butter

150 grams farina – flour

5 – 6 uova – eggs

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius .

Prep a cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper.

Even though we got the ingredient list sent to us, there was a wee dilemma changing the metric measures into the British Imperial System on the fly.  Correct, I had no idea that cups, ounces and pounds were part of something called the British Imperial System.  Cripes, it even sounds like empire building. One learns something new every day.  Time to work on my math skills or have the conversion app open on my phone.

We put the water in a big pot on the unlit stove and added all the butter.  Then we turned the heat on high and melted the butter.  It takes a long time to melt that much butter.  When it finally melted and had little boiling bubbles we added the flour a little at a time. (Other recipes on line said dump all the flour in at once – Carmela was meticulous about drizzling the flour in.) KEEP STIRRING.  This part requires a strong arm.  Who needs a gym – you have a kitchen!  When the dough started to cling together in a ball and no longer stuck to the pot, we turned off the heat.  We stirred the dough a bit more – with Carmela warning us, “not too much we don’t want it to cool.  Now, crush it so it isn’t a ball.”  What?? We just stirred until our arms ached and made the bloody ball – now I have to crush it? We smooshed our balls.

This next part was kind of magical and required eyes that saw the nuances of color.  We added an egg and blended it into the dough until the color of the dough was the color it was before we added the egg.  When your arm starts to scream, get someone else to take a turn stirring.  Finally, the color will be same as it was.  Then add the second egg and repeat the process.  Yup, it is a long process but the results – delicious.  Once again, when the color was the same as it was before the second egg we tossed in egg number three.  

No, you are crying not again!  Why didn’t we just toss all the eggs in at once?  Carmela pointed out it might seem easier to add all the eggs at once but the secret for a cloud like bignè is to do it this way.  The dough needs time to absorb each egg. I think this should be a team sport – like a relay with someone else there to take a stirring turn. They could also keep the Prosecco glasses full.

We were laughing out loud as we tried to show Carmella our dough by tilting our iPads and phones towards our pots without dropping them in.  Stop laughing!  Add egg number four!  We repeated the process and then added the fifth and final egg.

Whew, this was the hardest part.  Where is that prosecco? 

Using a spatula we cleaned the sides of the pot by drawing all the sticky dough to the center in a ball like pile.  Now, taking two tablespoons,  we attempted to drop the dough in cute balls on the prepared cookie sheet.  Carmela is a master at this, she rolled the dough back and forth and created balls.  She pointed out they didn’t have to be perfect.  Misshapen was fine – except all of hers were perfect and all of mine looked a lot less than perfect.

Carmela said, “Make sure you leave space between the globs.  With all those eggs the pastry will rise. When our nonnas made this pasta they used their hands to mix the dough – even though it was really hot.”  Hmmm, maybe that is where I got my asbestos hands.

Almost done. Put the tray of bignè into the pre-heated oven for about 20 minutes.  They will grow and get a warm toasty color. They really do grow! Well not everyone’s grew we did have a batch that kind of looked like tasty hockey pucks.

When you take these lovelies out of the oven and they have cooled you can slice them and use them for light little tea sandwiches or invite me over because you are filling them with a decadent cream and topping them with chocolate.  Yummy.

Carmela’s Bignè – Perfetto!

We all had a great time giggling, groaning and cooking with Carmela. Can’t wait until the pandemic is over and we can really be with her in her kitchen!

Ci Vediamo.

Midge

Organizing 2022 Now. Click here for more information.

Pontelandolfo’s Movie Makers

Ever notice that in some communities the arts just flourish? Kids enjoy not only sports but making art too. Towns comes together and theatrical/musical magic happens. Pontelandolfo, a teeny tiny Southern Italian village, is one of those artistic Petri dishes spawning talented artists, dancers, writers, musicians and filmmakers. Older posts have talked about our dance company, the visual artists, village wide theatrical productions etc. Is something in the air? Is it in the nature or nurturing of our young people? Or an enchanted coupling of both? I think it is a combination.

During the holiday season, I discovered yet another group of young people making art – filmmakers under the moniker Nonna Anna Film Group. Spearheaded by Gianluca De Michele, the bourgeoning company is committed to not only telling original tales but shooting their films in Pontelandolfo. According to De Michele, “The short films we shoot are set in Pontelandolfo, because I believe that there is a reality to be re-examined here, not only from a historical and traditional perspective, but also from a visual point of view.

Meet Igor Rinaldi, Francesco Mancini, Gianluca De Michele,
Federico Mancini and Nicola Colesanti

De Michele studied directing and screenwriting in Bologna at the Accademia Nazionale del Cinema. (Check out the website, I think Gianluca is in the cover photo!). He has always been in love with using media to tell a story but is quick to say that Nonna Anna Film Group was not something that he created alone. The company was developed with his friends Igor Rinaldi, Nicola Colesanti and Federico Mancini. I asked him – why call it Nonna Anna – you are all in your twenties. This brings us back to the nature and nurture question. When the company was producing their first film Oro nel Torrente – Gold in the Stream – his grandmother, Anna, who provided the locations and support was instrumental. As was his father and brother who provided all of the video equipment. It was their second film, Il Regalo di Natale – The Christmas Gift, that I saw.

According to De Michele, ” In The Christmas Gift,” I emphasized the inner conflict of a father who knows that he will disappoint his son by not being able to buy him the gift he wants, precisely during the period when children dream the most. Pirandello believes that comedy works with tragedy. The message of our short film lies in the fact that, paradoxical as some situations are, the seriousness of a topic is developed on the basis of a comic intention. The film is the mirror of a dream that must not be broken and of the deep love that inspires every parent…” Take a peak and let’s discuss it –

The setting will make you all want to visit Pontelandolfo.

It took the film crew one full work week to shoot what we just watched in a few minutes. I am delighted to have discovered yet another group of dedicated artists living and working in Pontelandolfo.

Ci vediamo!

MIDGE

Join us – Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo

Io Resto A Casa Pontelandolfo & NJ

io resta

Days have passed and it seems that in our New Jersey home one day folds into another.  Yes, we remain indoors.  Yes, we only leave to go to the pharmacy and vegetable store. Yes, household supples, meat and dairy get delivered.  Yes, I am anal about wiping down all deliveries and hand washing. Yes, after returning home from an outside trek, I insist that Jack or I immediately strip, shower and wash the outdoor clothes. Yes, besides contacting family and friends here and in Pontelandolfo, I have been a binge watching, novel reading full time layabout.

My “what have you done for me lately” brain got a spurt of energy and sent me to my computer.  It is time to tell you the story of Pontelandolfo (BN) and the Coronavirus.  My cousin Annarita came to visit us at the end of February expecting to stay for a month and a half.  Then the Coronavirus hit Italy and she decided to stay with us.  Then the Coronavirus hit the USA and the three of us realized we had to hunker-down in New Jersey for the duration.  With her here, we get daily updates on the life of our Pontelandolfo family and friends.

What I realized is that the Italians in Southern Italy do everything with resolve and passion.  When Giuseppe Conte, Prime Minister of Italy, said the quarantine would be extended until April 30 people execepted it.  Unlike the ridiculous stories I read in the New Jersey papers no one had a wedding,  birthday party, or state house protest with hordes of people.  They stayed home.  Because they stayed home, only one person in our small Southern Italian village has tested positive for the Coronavirus. The person who tested positive is a nurse in an out of town rehabilitation center. She is isolated in her home and will stay there until she tests negative. The virus has not spread in our village. However, there is a flour and yeast shortage.

Schools were closed and teachers are providing home based lessons.  The high schools seem to be giving final exams on line.  All the elementary school kids were encouraged to create a rainbow to hang in their windows.  The activity was an opportunity for parents to explain how working together by staying home is for the good of everyone.

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I can only talk about what is happening in Pontelandolfo. From my family I have gotten first hand information – it helps to have politicos in the family who have an information main line.

Information distribution is key during a crisis.  Starting early in March, the country went to the mattresses to stop the onslaught.  #iorestoacasa. Pontelandolfo uses signage, e-mails, facebook and its Pontelandolfo 2.0 app to get the word out.

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The municipality of Pontelandolfo gave each family one washable mask to use.  Why only one?  Because only one person per family may leave the house to go the grocery store, butcher, or Farmacia.  That person must print out and fill out a “self-certifying traveling for proven needs” form.  (Folks titter that every time Premiere Conte speaks there is a new form to fill out.) The police stop all cars coming into town and ask to see the form.  They stop you on the way out too.  There better not just be a jug of wine and no groceries!  Yes, you can get a ticket.  The police presence is excepted as necessary and a reminder to stay home.

The sense of community is amazing.  The three levels of government, social service agencies and individuals are all working together for the greater good. The men and women who volunteer to be part of Protezione Civile Pontelandolfo, have been instrumental in providing information and assistance.  Idea Bellezza, a local company, donated food and hygiene products to distribute.  For Easter, the municipality brought Easter Baskets to every child. Tina Perone of Farmacia Perone made hand sanitizer for every customer.   The Region of Campania also bought masks for the pharmacies to give away.

Vincenzo De Luca, the president of the Region of Campania announced the following assistance.  The region allocated fourteen million euro for a fund called Bando con la Famiglie. Social Service agencies got funding early for problems in the community. Funding was put in place to get food from the producers to the distribution sites. Students who can’t afford to buy their school books and supplies would be helped.  Money is also available for families with children under the age of 15 and need financial assistance. Since all children are at home, €500 per month is available to help families that work in essential services pay for babysitting. That said, when the fund is depleted the funding stops unless there is something else in the pipeline.

Conte’s Italy, is providing additional help. INPS, think social security agency, is providing assistance. Anyone receiving a INPS check of less than €1,000 gets up to €500 from the government to insure they receive a monthly pension check of at least €1,000. Since all students are learning from home, there is money available to buy poor students computers and get their homes hooked up to the internet. Funding is available to distribute food to families in economic difficulty. Self – employed persons and those with small companies are also being assisted.

My first thought was could someone double dip – get funding for the same sort of thing from all levels of government. My cousin looked at me and raised an eyebrow. I guess the answer is no.

Families are spending time together. Music is being made.  Songs are sung.  No one disobeys the rule to stay home and don’t go beyond two hundred feet of your home. Nationally, Coronavirus numbers are falling.  In Pontelandolfo the number remains one.

I think there are lessons to be learned here.  The government jumped in and tested tons of people.  Rules were put in place and the people listened. Everyone understood that one helps oneself and the world by staying home.

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Ci vediamo prossima volta.

Midge

When is Buffalo not Buffalo?

When “buffalo” means Buffalo Mozzarella! Who knew that the creamiest of mozzarella cheeses came from a water buffalo? I didn’t. Did I just admit a lack of knowledge on something edible and Italian?

About 20 years ago, Jack, my Aunt Cat and I drove through the valleys of Compania searching for buffalo. Silly me imaging the bison that ruled the plains were nestled in the Sannio Hills. Oooops – classic mistake. Can you imagine milking a two-story tall mammoth bison? Thanks to Martenette Farms, a group of ten farm to table foodies will see the buffalo for themselves.

Fattoria al Tavolo With Martenette Farms*

Ace organic farmers Andrea and Tony of Martenette Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey wanted to share their love of farming and good eating with others. They created a super culinary and farm adventure that takes place in my home town, Pontelandolfo, from October 17 – 24, 2020. Guess what it includes? A visit to a buffalo farm!

Participants will explore, eat and live in a small southern Italian village. Becoming part of village life, they will gain a cultural understanding of what lies behind great Southern Italian dishes. This farm to table experience is for those of you who want to see a part of Italy that is off the crowded tourist trail, see where the local food comes from and taste dishes that go back generations.

For example, the group will eat in private homes and at agriturismos – farms that serve food. Visit working farms, hear lectures on herbs, look for edibles in the Sannio Hills, learn the ancient sport of cheese rolling – La Ruzzula, and of course visit olive groves and taste great wine after trekking through vineyards.

Check out their website for details – Martenette Farms

I can’t wait to meet this group of culinary adventurers! Ci vediamo!

*Regretfully, there are no special dietary considerations. Since you will eating in people’s homes, not restaurants, accommodations cannot be made for allergies or preferences. This medieval village has charming cobblestone streets, but it is not handicapped accessible. The adventure and experience in the home of local families requires the ability to climb stairs, walk on uneven streets and feel comfortable in a hilly mountain environment. The calendar of events may change but will be similar.

How Much? Don’t Worry!

I have always been really afraid of being somewhere and not having enough money to pay the bill. Maybe it is because when we were little, we really didn’t have enough money. In my earlier lean adult years, I would count my cash down to the penny and search the car seats for more. The thought of getting to the cash register cashless was one of those nightmares I never wanted to have, but often did. To this day, I check my purse and make sure my wallet is there. Then I check my wallet to make sure the money that was there last night is still there this morning. Minutes before entering a store, I again open my wallet to triple check for money. Maybe it is paranoia. Maybe I’m horrified of once again tossing stuff on the supermarket belt, watching the prices cha ching into the cash register, realizing I don’t have enough money and yanking things off the belt. This ever happen to you? Did you sink down below the counter? Frantically start pulling things off the belt? Or do what I have done, drop my head down in shame and slither away?

In Pontelandolfo, where everybody knows your name, not only is that not something for me to worry about, but I have had a hard time getting people to let me pay them. Trust and sense of community are important aspects of life in our little village.

True examples –

Jack went to our supermarket, Gran Risparmio, and filled the cart with things we needed. He never checks to see if his wallet is there or if someone picked his pocket. Oops, maybe he should have. He went to pay and was €20 short. Did he sink below the counter? Nope, the man at the register packed up the groceries, handed them to Jack and said pay me later. I was so embarrassed and ran back to pay. They were shocked to see us so soon.

Another day, I was behind an older woman in Conad, another miniature supermarket, she was mildly confused about what she was buying, what she was cooking for pranza and where her wallet was. Mariagrazia, the super nice cashier, looked at her smiled and said, “I know you will be back and you will have your wallet then.” It took all my actor training to remain uninvolved in the story. I wanted to A. Pay for her. B. Leap over the counter and kiss Mariagrazia. It was such a gentle moment and obviously one that has been repeated. My gut reaction was that someone else would be in later to pay for her.

One night, I bought a large group to Sesto Senso, my favorite local eatery. We had a fabulous seafood meal, enjoyed bottles of wine and sipped digestivos. I walked up to the cash register with a credit card in hand. Claudio swiped it in the machine. Then he swiped it again. I started to sweat. Shit, had I forgotten to pay the bill? Claudio, looked at me and said the machine doesn’t work. It has been happening all day. Pay us next time you come.

During the festa to end all festas – my 7 events for 7 decades birthday week – I booked a number of people to work with me, ordered all kinds of food and booze, hired musicians, a theater company, caterers and more. Getting prices was difficult. Creating a budget became such a nightmare that I soon tossed it into the nightmare trash barrel. Questa é Italia! Go with the flow.

We have an exceptional bakery, Diglio Forno, I ordered a carload of stuff for my British Tea Party. When I asked if they wanted a deposit they looked at me like I was crazy.

We have a talented guy, Vittorio, who provides theatrical lighting and sound for many of the major events in the region. I asked him to handle the technical aspects of my birthday weeks two public events. Getting a price was hard but getting him to take the money during the show was even harder. He too looked at me like I was from another planet. I found out that it often takes him months to be paid by the towns that hire him. I was an anomaly. Could I get one person to instantly accept the cash I had for them in an envelope? Don’t worry. Pay me later. Pay me after the show. Pay me next time I see you. Don’t worry!

During our Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo events we book hotel rooms for our guests and are never asked for a deposit. Actually, we end up paying after our group has left. The vineyards we visit for a food and wine parings, the agriturismo that hosts our welcoming luncheon and other collaborators never give us a bill but trust us to pay them. Trust. I think that is what living in a small village generates. Trust.

When I am not in town and need to send flowers for a funeral or birthday, I call Nella at her flower shop. She doesn’t ask for a credit card. She doesn’t tell me what it will cost. She simply creates an arrangement and delivers the flowers. When I am back, I pay her.

It isn’t that folks don’t want to be paid or don’t feel they deserve their stipend. I believe it has to do with a real sense of community. More than community, it is a sense of family. Those of us who live here are part of the familial fabric of the village. Family who treats each other like family. I’m guessing strangers in our midst might not be extended the same courtesy.

People who provide services, own shops or restaurants know their community. They know were their clients live. Know is the operative word. Knowing your neighbor and knowing who you can trust. Sadly, shop keepers tell me, that also means knowing who you can’t trust.

I think one of the reasons I feel so connected to Pontelandolfo – besides the fact that I can feel my nonna here – is that the life style and sense of community reminds me of the Flagtown, New Jersey. Growing up in Flagtown,when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, I spent my youth knowing everyone in that village and not worrying about falling off my bike because someone would pick me up. There was the same sense of familial community that I am blessed with in Pontelandolfo.

Just another reason to Visit Pontelandolfo!

Ci vediamo

Midge

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.

midge

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!