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.

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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