Have a wonderful 2020!
May this year be full of good health, happiness and grand adventures.
I hope we will see you in Pontelandolfo.
Have a wonderful 2020!
May this year be full of good health, happiness and grand adventures.
I hope we will see you in Pontelandolfo.
What? I queried. You went where to buy wheat?
The well heeled Italian businessman replied, Texas.
Jack and I love to travel on Italian trains. Age brings its perks – deep discounts on business or first class tickets. I like the “four-top” set up. Four comfortable seats surround a table. There are places to plug in your “God Forbid I forget my iPad,” and interesting folks to chat with. For example, the two businessmen who sat across from Jack and I. After ten seconds, they realized immediately that we were Americans and proudly proclaimed that they had just come back from Texas.
Charming gabby girl said, Texas – that is a great place to visit.
We were on business.
Jack was immersed in his book when I said, What do you do?
We buy grain. We import Texas wheat to Italy.
My mind said “what the duck” but my mouth politely spit out, Why?
For the pasta industry.
Hands started flying and words were soaring over the four-top. Now I was not, as Jack said, being SNARKY when I bellowed – Texas! They make Italian pasta with wheat from Texas! I wouldn’t eat anything grown in pesticide ridden Texas. That is when Jack kicked me under the table. OUCH! (Don’t you kick me too – Texas does restrict some use of pesticides – I looked it up.)
The men, being politicians at heart, explained that Italy doesn’t grow enough wheat to make all the international pasta lovers happy. Italian companies need to import wheat to satisfy the market need. They have been buying wheat from the USA and Canada for years.
According to an October 2019 article in Worlds Top Exports, in 2018, Italy ranked 4th in wheat importing. They imported $1.82 billion of the heavenly grain. The USA sold them 28.1% less than the previous year but still raked in $146.2 million. Canada sold 81.1% less than the year before. Why you might ask? The answer is simple – pesticides. I discovered an article on i-politics that talked about Barilla Pasta Company speaking to Canadian growers and explaining Italians don’t want to eat what they perceive as poison. Italians lobbied and marched for locally sourced grains.
Italy, like other countries, legislated Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for food. That means you have to say where the wheat was grown and were it was processed. That gives consumers an option. They can decide where they want their dinner’s ingredients to hail from. I believe in eating local and shopping local. What happens to wheat when it is shipped in big containers across the seas? Errrrggg – I can’t imagine the creepy critters that have stowed away.
In 1846 Antonio Rummo started making Rummo Pasta in Benevento. The wheat he used was only from the Italian regions of Puglia and Campania. I was sad to see that they too had to import wheat to satisfy their global customers. Rummo is a local company so I do support them – but I also always read the label.
La Molisano Pasta is from Campobasso, also close to Pontelandolfo. Some of their products proudly proclaim on the front of the bag “Solo Grano Italiano.”
Other packages I have to turn over and put on my glasses to discover where the wheat was from. Happily, I have only found La Molisana in our local supermarket made with Italian grain.
The USA does have COOL legislation. Those “made in China” labels are everywhere. Are we equally concerned about food? We have all seen the labels in supermarkets that told us where the produce was fun. Are those signs still there? Let me know. In February, 2016 the United States Department of Agriculture repealed the COOL requirements for Beef and Pork. I stopped reading their website after I saw that…
Those of you are shopping in any country but Italy, please let me know if COOL is in effect on pasta, rice and dry goods. Are the labels there? I am really curious.
It is amazing what you can learn traveling by train.
An amusing tale of pain, angst, laughter and the emergency medical system in a tourist town –
Pintadera is the fabulous Italian Language school in Alghero, Sardegna. Pintadera and I have a love-hate relationship. I love Alghero. I love Nicola – my first Italian friend and the ace administrator. I love the teachers. I love organizing groups of American students for the school. I hate studying. Maybe that is why after studying Italian for a pazillion years, I still sound – well – not very Italian.
Sometimes our subconscious gives us what we want – just not the way we would want it. Just as I was thinking, do I have to go back to class, pop went my ankle and I fell on my ass. Actually, I was dashing around the historic center of Alghero solving some of my groups housing issues when I fell off of a step. DUUCK! I screamed! A waiter came running. A darling gas delivery man came running. Nicola came running. I looked at all of them and simply said, my ankle is broken. One, two three – heft – the beached whale was now balancing on one fin.
Everyone sprang into action. Cars are’t allowed into Alghero’s old town. Nicola raced to bring hers a bit closer. The darling delivery man tossed me like a canister of gas into his L’api three wheeled mini delivery truck and whisked me along with the other canisters to where Nicola was parked. With lots of help, I hopped into the car and off we went to an orthopedic emergency room. I had never heard of an emergency room just for broken body parts – though Jack who skied said there were lots of those near the mountains.
Nicola procured a wheel chair, I crawled into it and she wheeled me into the waiting room. There was a sign on the door to the medical team that said “ring when you arrive.” Nicola pressed the buzzer. A nurse came out and Nicola pointed to me, told her I was part of the Italian Healthcare System and that I had probably broken an ankle. The nurse nodded and closed the door. Nicola went back to work. I plopped the wheelchair near the door and turned to the people waiting. Like I would in the doctor’s waiting room in Pontelandolfo, I asked Chi è l’ultimo? The person who came in before me raised a broken arm. I settled in the wheelchair and waited. And waited. And waited. The nurse would come out and yell a name. That person would drag a broken body part to the door. Ambulances with tourists speaking a variety of languages and writhing on stretchers went straight into magic door. After two hours of folks seeming to get called randomly, I asked the nurse if there was a list. She said, si. Anybody guess where this story is going? What did I not ask the nurse?
Three plus hours later Nicola comes back with my husband, Jack. You haven’t been seen yet! She rang the bell and berated the nurse who then asked for my tessera sanitaria – health insurance card and went back in. OK – I should know better. What did I not ask the nurse an hour or so earlier? Am I on the list????? Duh!
They whisked me in to see a doctor who looked at my ankle and ordered an X-Ray. Jack wheeled me to X-Ray. There was a paper over on the pillow but not the whole table and as I climbed up to be scanned I wondered how many pairs of dirty shoes had preceded me. Next stop a second doctor and a nurse. They looked at the scan and said the ankle was broken. Did I want a plaster cast or a boot? The boot of course. They explained that the system paid for plaster but not a boot. I said I’d pay for it and could they put it on. Nope they couldn’t put it on because they only do plaster casts. I asked if I could get copy of the X-Ray. Jack whisked me back to X-Ray and I was told I had to pay €7 for a CD. Not a problem. Off we went to the counter to pay – which was closed until the following morning. Again, I didn’t ask the right questions.
God Bless Nicola who was my Florence Nightingale and drove us to a medical supply house. The owner was putting up an “out for coffee” sign when she saw Nicola and asked if she wanted to join her. Nicola pointed at me and explained we needed a boot. The store was up a giant curb and then 5 steps. Italy isn’t the most handicap accessible place to visit. The owner brought out a wheelchair. I squeezed into it and Jack pushed me around the block to a second door that was quasi ramped. Boot on and bought. Now I needed a wheelchair. There was no way in hell that I could manage crutches on uneven cobblestoned streets. The store would take a week to get one in, but the Sisters of Misericordia loaned hospital equipment to people. Next stop Misericordia! Problem – American sized butt and Italian sized wheel chairs. Again, I squeezed into one and Jack and Nicola were able to wheel me back to our rented house in the historic part of town. The cobble stones are rocks of a variety of shapes – not smooth pavers. That meant Jack was probably herniating himself pushing me up to our house. DUUUCK – the very step I fell off of guarded the entrance to the house’s courtyard. Somehow without me tipping over onto my head they managed to hoist me and the chair up to the terrace.
I now became a prisoner in the house. Not able to get out of the place without lots of help and certainly not able to wheel myself on the streets.
Guess I won’t be dashing over to Central Mediterraneo Pintadera for those Italian Language classes. Be careful what you wish for or even think!
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.
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.
When I first heard about the Presepe Vivente presentation in Morcone – the town that clings to the mountain just down the road from Pontelandolfo. I thought – a theatre or film crew couldn’t find a more perfect location to stage the Christmas story. This ancient village dominated by the Rocca (ancient rock fortress) has all the elements of a characteristic Neapolitan nativity scene.
My theatre brain imagined a 21st Century Location Scout: I’m tellin’ you this place is freakin’ perfect. It could be Bethlehem. Sits on a high mountain ridge. Surrounding hills terraced, covered with grape vines, fig trees, olives. Cave and grotto waiting to host the couple. The buildings – man they are so old we would barely have to spend a shekel on set construction. Settled 5th or 6th century BC – way before the big day. (Pause – he is listening.) I’m not lying! Morcone – a hill top town in Compania – is the perfect place to stage a reenactment of the birth of Jesus!
This year, I was blessed to be able to see the 34th Annual Presepe Vivente Morcone. Every January close to Epiphany, the entire community comes together to create a site specific theatre piece in two acts. Hundreds of volunteers donned period costumes, dressed the sets staged in ancient buildings, hung lights, wired the city for sound and produced an incredible living history theatrical work.
The well organized event begins in centro storico, the historic center. We climbed ancient stone steps, crossed small alleys, stopped in the tiniest of piazzas and witnessed daily life as it may have been lived thousands of years ago. Ancient crafters, washerwomen, children racing through lanes, merchants, tax collectors, Roman soldiers, housewives, fishermen in the stream – all in period dress go on with their lives as we wend our way on the guided path.
The second act is staged in a huge field outside Porta San Marco. At the far end was the illuminated grotto serving as a stable. Not knowing what to expect, I only had my iPhone – next year telephoto lens and binoculars. A great sound system kicked into high gear with music and a narrator. Suddenly lights came up far off in the woods to our right. In a small room, Gabriele talks to Mary. Each segment of the Christmas story is staged in a different part of the woods – perfectly lit for its brief moment. On donkey, Mary and Joseph begin their journey to Bethlehem. Shepherds arrive illuminated by hundreds of torches. Of course the spectacle ends in the manager with a blinding pyrotechnic flash that is the star leading the Magi on horseback to Jesus. It was incredible! I have the attention span of a gnat and there wasn’t one moment when I wasn’t engaged.
For next year’s details visit their website – Presepe Nel Presepe. For a glimpse of what I enjoyed this year, click on the video!
I hope to see you in Pontelandolfo! Visit us this May – we still have a few spots left in our Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo. Or contact me and set up your January adventure and visit Morcone!
Tonight, Pontelandolfo is hosting Concerto di Natale by the chorus from Liceo Musicale G. Guacci. When I saw the poster of young singers in their tuxedos and black dresses, I flashed back to my teaching time at Westminster Choir College and my first evening of “Lessons and Carols.” Teaching at Westminster was one of the most rewarding and special times of my life. Surrounded by music and students who were accepted because they had great musical talent, academic ability and drive, I formed relationships that mean a lot to me today. As my brain twirled, racing from those young musicians singing their hearts out during a Christmas Lessons and Carols to our life today, I realized there was a lesson that I should have learned then but really hit me now.
This year, Jack and I decided to to try on a different holiday experience and spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Italy. The Christmas lessons began in Milano, continued in Vienna and seeing the lights in Piazza Roma were reinforced in Pontelandolfo.
Thanks to Stefania, Nina, Kristie and Silvia, Non importa dove vai, importa chi incontri, became so evident to me. It is not important where you go but who you meet along the way. Strangers become reflections of who we are and where we are going. That first night, tired and hungry we walked a scant few blocks from our favorite B&B – Il Girasole – to Tony’s, a jam packed local eatery. We were given a deuce next to a woman eating alone. When I say next to, I mean our elbows touched. What could I do but say, buona sera. Stefania, was no longer eating alone, and we had a great conversation about her early life as a dancer with the Royal Ballet in England and now in a government office here in Milano. Politics, political appointments, the problems facing Milano and the rush from hearing the sound of applause wafted from table to table. The back story that stayed with me is one we have all known – a young woman with a promising career as a dancer comes home to attend to the elders in her family. Family is so central to the soul of Italy and central to me. Eating and connecting with a local woman who was as interested in us as we were in her made the night magical.
One morning, our eyes finally no longer glued shut, we wended our way to breakfast. There were only three of us in the room. What else could I do but say buon giorno? Nina replied in perfect English, Good Morning. A German international political science Ph.D who had spent a year working for a major California university, Nina provided a European view of world events and the plight of academics. Munching our corentti and sipping our cappuccini, I found interesting her perspective of the rise of fascism in the United States. What really smacked me was just how spot on the old men in Pontelandolfo’s bars where when they warned us that candidate Trump would lead the USA in a goose step toward a fascist regime. Too bad they didn’t get a chance to manipulate FaceBook! When Nina explained the hiring process in German and other European universities, I responded on how I had been F*&!ed by an institute of higher learning. We were sisters under the adjunct banner. While we did not agree on all global issues, we had a robust discussion that helped me understand even more clearly european perspectives. If you never leave your hometown you miss the opportunity.
The universe always provides – even sweets and prosecco after a day of exploring. Arriving back at the hotel and wanting to anty up our bill, we went into the breakfast room to find our hosts. There we met Silvia Pitoni whose goal in life is to open a pasticceria in her home town of Rieti (suburb of Rome.)
I’ve been graced with impeccable timing. Silvia had just gotten back to the hotel from a master class with a famous Milanese pastry maker and was laden with samples of the delights she created. While munching away, we listened to Silvia talk about the Roma Academia Italiana. She is studying for a professional diploma as a chef. More importantly, we listened to Silvia’s dreams of having a pastry shop that features both sweet and apertivo style treats. Silvia’s enthusiasm for baking and her love of local, natural ingredients gave me an “Ah Ha” moment. Maybe the universe sent her to add a Roman dimension to Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo? (Check out our groovy new web-site.) Perhaps the adventuresome foodies that come to cook in Pontelandolfo homes could do a pastry add on in Rieti!
Jack and I headed off to Vienna – I really wanted to hear the music and see the Christmas bling. We did do that but coming full circle – we ate dinner in a crowded local restaurant and were fortunate to be squished next to a couple from North Carolina. Kristie, a realtor, and her husband were great dinner companions. We talked about politics, living abroad, places one should visit, lack of travel leading to limited vision, life in a red state when you have blue politics, the state of the nation and the world. None of us wanted to relinquish our tables to waiting diners. We enjoyed the company and the conversation.
When we finally, got home to Pontelandolfo and became immersed in conversations in the bars, library, restaurant, I knew the the journey we’ve taken to become part of a different community has been a blessed one.
These encounters may not seem like much. However, hearing, listening, responding and understanding the places that people come from and the journeys they have taken enhances our journey. As our pal Nicola from Il Girasole Hotel said, Non è importante la destinazione ma il viaggio. The destination is not important – it is the journey.
Buon Natale, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year. May 2018 bring you joy, laughter, health and incredible journeys.
Ri Ualanegli knows how to produce a Folk Dance Festival! If you can’t get to Pontelandolfo – and I encourage you to get here – you can see the festival streamed live on Pontelandolfonews.com and on FaceBook Ri Ualanegli Pontelandolfo. Save those links! Save the dates – July 31, August 1 & 2. At the end of the blog there is a complete schedule of events – don’t forget the time difference if you want to catch the live stream. The commercial will wet your appetite for folk dance and if that doesn’t work, read on about the two other Italian companies that will be in the festival – Urbanitas and La Pacchianella.
Based in the town of Apiro, Urbanitas, formed in 1933, shares the rural traditions and culture of the 19th-century Marches. This was a period of abject poverty. There were rare occasions for festivals. Because they were rare, the festivals were incredibly unique and intense. The peasants of the Marches, accompanied by sprightly music enjoyed themselves dancing that bordered on the phrenetic.
The company was included in the filming of Dino Risi’s Straziami ma di Baci Saziami, starring Nino Manfredi. They have also been seen on both regional and national television.
Since the 1970s, Urbanitas has collaborated with the town of Apiro and produced an annual international folkloric festival, Terranostra Apiro.
This folk group claims to be one of the oldest – founded in 1923 – and most famous Italian group. They come from Monte Sant’Angelo in Foggia – noted for the white line of terraced houses and in the Christian world for its ancient rocky shrine where in 490 The Archangel Michael appeared. I thought it was interesting that their costumes hint of Spain and reflect the Spanish rule of the area. Lots of color, tons of gold – bling personified – is fun to watch and adds panache to the dances. They have toured the world and made a number of films including one by Disney on folk lore. This video has them dancing in front of the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower!
Thank you Associazione Culturale Ri Ualanegli Pontelandolfo for bringing an international Folk Dance Festival to Pontelandolfo! Timing in life is everything, and I am incredibly lucky to be here this summer. Ri Ualanegli is bringing some of the best folk dance companies in the world to our corner of the universe on August 31, July 1 and July 2. Since, Ruth St. Denis invaded my body (mother of modern dance in America) 40 years ago, I have been a dance junky. As such, I couldn’t just write about the festival – I had to – needed to – felt compelled to write about each of the companies that will be performing. No matter what your heritage, you will appreciate feeling the music, spirit and passion of these companies.
The Polish Folk Dance Group Przygoda was created in 1972 and has been on the road ever since. Their home is Rybnik city in the Upper Silesia. Like many folkloric companies, they strive to encourage not only youth but the world at large to understand and appreciate the traditions and culture of Poland. One might think pierogis seem a lot like ravioli but they are as unique in their flavor as this company is to the Italian folk companies that will be performing. The Polish dance company has shared its heritage in places like Canada, Denmark, Peru, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, South Africa and now Pontelandolfo!
Przygoda performs the dances and the folklore of Poland’s different regions. As is important to the Polish tradition, the company sings and dances, maintaining a balance between the two. The musicians play violins, violas, flutes, clarinets, bass and of course – the accordion. To enhance the regionalisms and make sure the dancers fully understand their heritage, all participate in making the costumes. The costumes are all handmade -including the embroidery. Natural materials, appropriate to the given region, are a must.
Just because they have been winning international awards from Chile to Romania, isn’t the only reason you should come to Pontelandolfo to see Przygoda perform. You should come, because the opportunity to see companies of this caliber performing in the same festival is something that doesn’t happen often. You should also come because this dance junky wants to see a huge audience for this festival! Be there – I’m taking attendance.
Ci Vediamo – July 31, August 1 and August 2 in Piazzo Roma, Pontelandolfo (BN).