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 sietemancato. Welcome back we missed you.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Ugo Gregoretti died on July 5, 2019 in the city where he began his life. The icon of Italian cinema and film was born on September 28, 1930 in Rome. The death of this pioneer of the new Italian cinema, director, actor, playwright and author was mourned not only by the film and theatre communities but also by the entire Pontelandolfo comunity. Within moments of the announcement of his passing, Pontelandolfesi from around the world paid homage to the man on their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds. Death notice condolences were ordered by individuals, families and community groups. These were posted throughout the village. Here is an example –
A titolo personale e a nome della Redazione del sito www. pontelandolfonews.com porgo sentite condoglianze alla Famiglia Gregoretti per la perdita del caro amico e grande Maestro Ugo Gregoretti.
Ugo Gregoretti loved Pontelandolfo and Pontelandolfo loved him. As a boy, he spent his summers frolicking in the fields and piazzas of Pontelandolfo.
His father once owned the village’s medieval Tower. Saddened when his mother decided to sell the tower, he was often quoted as saying he wanted to set up a foundation for the property and open it to all.
In 2014, he donated his library to the town so that his personal and professional history could be preserved in the village he loved. The collection of scripts, posters, film memorabilia and personal items is held in the newly renovated Piazza Rinaldi. The Ministry of Heritage, Cultural Activities and Tourism noted its importance.
Gregoretti also put his money where his heart was and developed Comicron, an international film festival that is produced in Pontelandolfo.
Comicron, devoted exclusively to one genre – comedy – is a unique experience in the International Festival scene. The films are all shorts and most of the entrants are young filmmakers. Audiences come, watch and leave smiling. Gregoretti’s famous actor and film making pals have also participated which insured that national press covered the event.
Gregoretti could often be seen in Pontelandolfo. He even came to the Club del Libro and entertained us with his tales and writing.
The mayor, members of the city council and citizens went to Rome to say goodbye. His wake was at the famous Casa del Cinema in Rome. On their website they noted:
Noi di Casa del Cinema, insieme a Luca Bergamo, Vicesindaco e Assessore alla Crescita Culturale, ai vertici di Zetema ma soprattutto insieme alla straordinaria platea degli appassionati di cinema, siamo adesso vicini a Orsetta, ai suoi fratelli, alla moglie Fausta, agli amici e compagni di mille avventure. Ciao Ugo, questa rimarrà casa tua.
He will be missed.
(SORRY THE FONTS ARE SQUIRRELLY. WORDPRESS FROM MY IPAD IS HELL TO WORK WITH.)
This morning the buzzzzzzzz sang out on the lavatrice and my first thought was merde. My tea was piping hot and I haven’t finished my collezione. Why did I toss the clothes in the washer before breakfast! Now,if I didn’t take the clothes out of the washer they’d be a wrinkled mess. I went to the washing machine, plopped the clothes in the basket, hipped the door open and headed out to the line. The clothes line faces a mountain that was as green as green could be. I took a breath of clean mountain air, started hanging the clothes, looked up at the sky and said, thank you for this.
My next morning chore was to take a shirt back to the lavanderia. Jack is very particular and only wears cotton dress shirts. Yesterday, when I picked up his shirts one of them wasn’t cotton and definitely wasn’t his. What a drag. (Insert sad face.) Now… (Insert Sigh Sound.) I have to drive back to the next town. Grumbling about why couldn’t Jack speak enough Italian to take his own shirt back, I buckled up and pulled out of the driveway. A few minutes later, I took an even bigger breath – the village of Morcone was a swath of color oozing down a mountain side. The drive there was spectacular. A blue sky over the reservoir, mountains bursting with color, farmers cleaning around their olive trees – how could anyone be pissy surrounded by such amazing beauty.
The entrepreneurial young woman who opened the lavanderia was all smiles and happy to find the right shirt. As a matter of fact every shop I went into this morning was a happy place. What makes it even more special is that everyone knows my name. Living in a teeny tiny village next to a slightly bigger village – making that village just plain tiny – means that in a nano-second everyone knows everyone else. It is kind of special.
Every day, I’ve learned to say thank you to God, Goddesses and the Universe. Cause – no matter what – when you live in the Sannio Hills of Southern Italy- every day is a great day.
Bravo! This February 12th, Forum Giovani di Pontelandolfo produced E Fuori Nevica! The young actors had only planned on one performance – wrong! The show was so well recieved that an encore performance is being presented stasera, tonight, Friday, February 24, 2017.
2’nd Chance to See the Play!
Enthusiasm for the actors, the play and the project has moved beyond the boundaries of Pontelandolfo. The play will also be touring to Casalduni and Fragnetto! Whew – my enthusiasm is leaping ahead. You’re probably wondering who, what, where…
WHO:Forum Giovani di Pontelandolfois the association of young adults that actively endeavors to bring culture, entertainment and a grand good time to the village. Many of them were involved in the July, 2016 collaborative theatrical production of Sacro di Santa Giocondina. The production was so well received and such a positive experience for the young thespians that they wanted to continue to bring quality theater to the community.
“It’s Snowing Outside” presented in Teatro San Rocco
The comedy deals with the familiar theme of family relationships and dealing with a handicapped sibling. The characters include: the burgeoning musician, Enzo, played by Gennaro Santopietro; Cico, suffering from autism, played by Antonio Del Ciampo (President of the Forum); Giovanni Ruggiero plays Stefano, the brother with an excessive sense of responsibility; and Valerio Mancini (my handsome cousin in blue blazer) plays the notary. Paola Corbo and Jonathan Moavero provided technical support.
WHAT: E Fuori Nevica! by Vincenzo Salemme is the tale of three brothers thrust together by their mother’s death. In order for the three men to inherit from mom, they had to live together . That means three incredibly different personalities – including an autistic adult, obsessive, and bopper – find themselves in the same house. The story is hilarious, touching and heartfelt. Author, Salemme, born in Bacoli, Province of Naples, is a familiar comedic actor and writer. He worked with the prestigious company of Eduardo De Filippo and has written and starred in numerous films. You might recognize him from the RAI series Da Nord a Sud… e ho detto tutto!
WHERE: The City Council granted Forum Giovani free use of sala-teatro Papa Giovanni Paolo. The multi purpose room is behind Chiesa San Rocco on Via San Rocco.
I am in New Jersey and this is happening tonight in Pontelandolfo! ERRRRRRRRG.
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.
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.
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!
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!