I Fell in Love on the Hop On, Hop Off Bus

The universe can toss you a curve ball when you least expect it. Certainly, riding a “hop on hop off” bus would be one of those places where you would least expect it. Least expect to fall in love. Least expect to find me. I’ve always striven to be the non-tourist and even thinking about riding the hop on hop off bus would give me hives.  My hip friends, Mike and Lori, insisted that I would truly enjoy it – no matter what city I was in. Well, I didn’t know if I would enjoy it but Jack and I had four hours to kill in Naples. 

Who knew the hop on hop off bus would have such an impact on my life. Maybe it was the Neapolitan songs. Maybe it was the sun shining over the bay of Naples. Maybe it was the 30 children on the upper level of the bus who were excited to be going to an art museum. Maybe it was the architecture or the feelings that the people of Naples sling at your soul.  Who can ever really tell you why you fall in love with someone or something. Love is a strange emotion.  It pieces your heart, turns your brain into mush and forces you to do things you never thought you would.  Today, I fell in love with the turbulent, bad boy city called Naples. 

Historically, I have found Naples crowded, a driving nightmare and the train station full of obnoxious faux cab drivers.  My eyes have been opened to the incredible parks, interesting neighborhoods and wealth of theaters and museums.  Tomorrow, we are going to Teatro San Carlo to see Verdi’s Il Trovatore.  Sigh…my love may deepen.

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La Torre Mini Market

What? Has Midge gone daft? Is she writing a story about a grocery store – a mini market?  You can bet your pjeeeze I am!  La Torre Mini Market is the creation of a young married couple – Luigi Silvestri and Mariavittoria Stringile.

It is energizing to see young people get in touch with their entrepreneurial spirits and take the idea of alimentari to a new level.  Before they opened, they did something I am so impressed with.  They sat down with Pierino Di Angeles who had the Alimentari that I adored and asked her where she used to buy  her out of this world mortadella !  I bet they asked her other well founded questions too.

This little grocery store and deli – with the stress on the deli – not only carries all the stuff you need but ran out of just as you needed it.  But also stocks things that are a wee bit exotic like – truffle oil, goat’s milk, unusual spices and baked goods including real dark  – think those old Brooklyn bakeries – healthy rye bread!


The deli meats never looked dried out and dying in the case.  Salamis, prosciutto crudo or cotto, tacchino, all have been noshed on in our house to great satisfaction.  Even though we enjoy going to the local Caseficio – place that makes cheese – for our cheese quotas,  I’m glad to see that Luigi and Maria Vittoria stock mozzarella di buffalo made a wee bit up the road. l Casolare di Alvignano has won the 2016 “Oscar” for best mozzarella in Italy.

I asked them why they decided to take the plunge and work 24 hours a day building a little mom and pop community store.  Mariavittoria explained that her family moved to Germany and she and Luigi could have gone there to look for work.  Something held them back – their absolute love for Pontelandolfo and Pontelandolfese!   They chose to open a mini-market because they realized that after Pierina retired, there was no place in the historic center to buy what she used to sell.  They wanted to fill that void.

They more than fill the void!  I was super impressed during Pontelandolfo’s August week-long Festa  to see them open almost 24 hours a day.  They put a table in their doorway and sold canned beverages and panini to late night revelers.  Daily, construction workers dash in to pick up sandwiches to carry for lunch.  Frantic Midge runs in – because no one else is open on Sunday – to see what she can route up for Sunday pranza.

The couple have a son and are expecting another member of the family this winter.  Soon two little tykes will be running around and asking if I want some delicious mortadella!

Ci vediamo!

Festa Della Trebbiatura 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ci vediamo!

Midge

Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo II

Saturday, September 3 to Saturday, September 10, 2016

Join us for the Second Session of Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo

The May 2016 cooking classes were a smash hit.  The Pontelandolfo women who lovingly opened their homes to American women this spring want to do it again!  They hope women from all over the world will come to love their little village.  Don’t think about it – just come and live the life of a Southern Italian.

The May video says it all better than I can –

Included Highlights:

  • Transportation from the Benevento Train Station to Pontelandolfo
  • 7 nights, single room, with television, refrigerator, morning caffè and coronetto. Five rooms in this cute B&B have private baths.  A two room suite share a bath.  Il Castello
  • Welcoming apertivo and snacks in a local bar. All the cooks will be there!
  • Sunday Pranza (lunch)
  • 5 Cooking Classes with local cooks culminating in eating with the families. Each pranza is complete with first and second courses, local wine, dessert, after dinner drink, coffee and conversation!
  • English Speaking Translator for all classes and events.  Translators in other languages can be made available for a group of 5 or more.
  • Wine and artesian food tasting at a local vintner
  • Pontelandolfo Day – open air market, tasting of locally produced products and other activities.
  • Excursion to Altilia Roman Ruins   http://www.sepino-altilia.it/
  • Walking Tour of Historical Pontelandolfo – http://www.pontelandolfo1861.it/
  • Excursion to the museums and shops of Benevento
  • Transportation to a different local restaurant each night.
  • Apron
  • Written recipes in English. (If a group is not English speaking other translations can be arranged.)

This culinary adventure is limited to 10 people.  We have a 5-person minimum.

This adventure wouldn’t happen without the commitment and support of Pontelandolfo Città Martire Associazione Culturale and il Sindaco Gianfranco Rinaldi.

Air Emirates has had some terrific sales from JFK – New York to Milan!  We booked last year two seats for $900 – $450 a piece!  Keep an eye on their sales.

Air Meridiana flies from JFK directly to Naples!  It is relatively inexpensive.

Contact me via the comments section for particulars and with any questions, thoughts or just to say hi.

Ci Vediamo!

25 Aprile- Festa Della Liberazione

It started with me looking out the window, and wondering if the post office was open today. Why am I wondering? Because it is a national holiday here – Festa Della Liberazione.  Over the weekend, Jack and I both voted absentee in the June 2016 New Jersey State Presidential Primary. After emailing a PDF of the ballot to New Jersey, the rules say we must immediately  airmail copies of said ballad. (Does that mean I’m voting twice?)

Since things close here when there are no holidays and some are open when there are holidays – no I haven’t figured out the system yet – I wondered if the Ufficio Postale would be open. It was freaking pouring buckets of freezing rain and I didn’t want to go to the post office if it was closed. The Ufficio Postale web site didn’t have a list of hours or holidays.  Many Italian websites are difficult for me to explore – it isn’t the language barrier – it is the – who the hell designed this – barrier.  Maybe the hours are buried somewhere – or maybe the hours change from region to region or province to province.  The province of Milan had its own easy to use website and list of post office hours. La Provincia di Benevento did not.  Bo!

The temperature dropped to close to freezing, the rain turned to slush and I decided it would be more interesting to find out what Festa Della Liberazione was all about then to walk down the hill to the post office in the pouring rain to find out if it was closed.

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Men and Women Partisans – We Honor You!

Thanks to Giorni-Festivi.it, I got the story –

L’anniversario della Liberazione, conosciuto anche come Festa della Liberazione, è un giorno festivo italiano nonché festa nazionale. Essa è conosciuta anche come anniversario della Resistenza, o semplicemente “25 aprile”. 

The anniversary of the Liberazione, also known as the Liberation Day is an Italian public and national holiday. It is also known as the anniversary of Resistance, or simply “25 April”. The day honors those partisans  who, during World War II, opposed the fascist government of Mussolini and German occupation by Hitler’s Nazis.  It is a symbolic date.

My favorite source of information, The Pontelandolfo News, has a full story and you can – on my computer anyway – read it in English.

There are celebrations in big cities – particularly the north where citizens eagerly joined the partisans to help kick out the Nazis.  Jack and I celebrated by going to Don Peppino in Campolattara.  When I think about it – we were thinking and talking about partisans (including the briganti)  who suffered for freedom – while we gorged on great artigianale food – hmmmmm.  Is that like having a beer blast at the beach on Memorial Day?  Our hats are off to all those brave men and women who fought for freedom then and continue to fight for freedom now.

PS – we drove to the piazza and the Ufficio Postale was closed.  So was the bank, edicolo, tabacchi etc.  Guess what was open???

Ci Vediamo!

 

 

Alex’s Take on Aunt Midge’s World

My talented and delightful niece, Alexandra Rose Niedt, takes her Italian heritage seriously! She was the third person in our immediate family to apply for – Italian Citizenship.  (She would have been second but her mom had to get it first.) The winsome lady also has the wanderlust! Not afraid to travel alone she often pops into Pontelandolfo – when we are here and when we’re not! We had only been in town for three days, when with toothpicks holding open our travel weary eyes, we headed to the Naples airport. She glided into the airport pulling a suitcase bigger than she was and people noticed her.  The kid is a chip off the Guerrera block and carries herself with Una Bella Figura – just like her ancestors.  Shut up Auntie M!  OK, OK, here’s Alex –

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Annarita Mancini fills Alexandra in on the latest gossip.

Dear Readers,

Years ago, I started coming here to see my family, so not too much surprises me when I come to my ancestral home. Though this trip, I did notice something that took me for a slight loop that I wanted to update you all on: my Aunt Midge has become a complete local.

Now let me clarify a few things on this topic-

• I don’t know if it’s because of my roots or because of the bond I have with my family here, but I always feel somewhat like I’ve been here forever. Whether that be all of the familiar faces I see in the piazza, or the friends and family members that make me laugh entirely too hard, it’s difficult to say. All I know is that I always feel a sense of belonging.

• Midge has been spending more and more time here over the past 3 years, from 4-7 months at a time, so granted there has been time for this all to take effect.

• Being considered a local and simply feeling like one are two drastically different things.

Midge arrived back in Pontelandolfo nearly 3 days before I got to our gorgeous little village, so she’d really only had the chance to see our family, go to IKEA to buy some more furnishings for her house and drive to Naples to pick me up at the airport.  (A task which I am always grateful for, as taking the train from Naples in the evening is not on my top 10 list of things I most enjoy.) Because she hadn’t had the chance to fully settle back in to the swing of things I got to bear witness to her complete transition from “that crazy American lady that’s always writing at Bar Elimar” to “one of our own.”

I thought, as my generation is obsessed with them, I would present this to you in list form.

1) Walking through the Piazza random people come rushing over to my aunt saying “Bentornata!” (Welcome back) with hugs and kisses all around and excited conversation. This happens frequently, with people I know and also people I have never seen before. I thought I knew everyone! Dead wrong.

2) While sitting in the Piazza drinking a macchiato, a school bus full of children drives by and the kids lean out of the windows screaming “Hello!  Hello!  Hello!” to their former English teacher. I laugh for a solid minute at the ridiculous nature of little heads popping out the window in Italy shouting hello!

3) We need cheese, so I say why don’t we go to the caseificio in town? My aunt responds with “Oh no, we can’t go to him…” And follows with some story about the inner workings of the politics of the town and our family… Or was it that he sold her bad mozzarella once and she won’t go back? Same thing!

4) When we do make it to the caseificio (the one she frequents a little outside of town) after more hugs and kisses from Nadia, the long time employee, she proceeds to ask for specific cheese. Nadia on the sly tells her what is most fresh and what to stay away from today. Because you know, she’s a regular.

5) Sitting at one of the bars around 9pm Midge is about to leave when one of the women we know stops her. She asks for help making costumes for the town play “Dramma Sacro du Santa Giocondina.” Midge, being the true thespian she is, heartily agrees. This play is so important, it happens once every 4 years and is taken very seriously. Go Midge!

6) We are having a little gathering at Midge’s house the night before I leave for London, so of course we have to go to the pasticceria to buy dolce for after dinner. Upon arrival we begin to talk to the girl behind the counter, when out from the back (having recognized Midge’s voice) comes the owner Nicola, who immediately takes over our order and starts shooting the shit with us. After we’re finished he takes the treats to the register, tells the girl to give us the friends discount and waves goodbye. I mean, what a life?

I love this town, it’s home. It’s beautiful in the morning, and lights up after 10pm- literally and energetically. I hang out with the same people whenever I’m here, and have created really beautiful relationships with friends and family alike. But I’m always just visiting. Sure, I’m from here, sure I feel like a local, but I haven’t put in the time to truly deserve the right to be considered one.

My Aunt Midge has, and is now sitting back and reaping the benefits of a truly loving community. And I am forever impressed.

Questa e l’Italia- La dolce vita.

Ci vediamo la prossima volta,

Alex

(Thanks Alex, I actually cried when I read this.  I love you to pieces!  Auntie M)

Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo

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Some of the great people who follow my exploits in Pontelandolfo (BN), have asked why they too can’t experience the life in a little Italian village.  Hmmm, I thought, why can’t you!  From Saturday, May 21 to Saturday, May 28, 2016 a very small group – 5-10 people only – will be up to their elbows in Southern Italian home cooking and up to their ears in village life.

For one week, become part of a very small hill top village. No belching tourist buses unloading hordes of people. No souvenir shops filled with stuff made somewhere else. Instead, discover the heart and soul of Southern Italy through its people and food. The Italy that still rests in the afternoon. The Italy that loves to shop directly from the local butchers, pasticceria, fruit and vegetable trucks and the weekly outdoor market.

Hmmm, the scents of fresh vegetables, herbs, meats and grains waft through the kitchen. Pots simmer, pasta boards are out and a wood fire burns in the oven. Welcome to the kitchens of Pontelandolfo. Experience the Southern Italian cooking perfected by the women of the south. Not in a restaurant, not in a cooking school but in the same kitchens these women use to feed their families. Learn the recipes and techniques that have been passed down for generations. Roll up your sleeves, don your apron and get ready to cook.

A local translator will be available for all classes. Or you can practice your Italian – all the cooks and local shop owners only speak Italian.

Included Highlights:

Transportation from the Benevento Train Station to Pontelandolfo

7 nights, single room, with television, refrigerator, morning caffè and coronetto

Welcoming apertivo in a local bar.

Sunday Pranza (Lunch)

5 morning Cooking Classes with local cooks culminating in lunch.

Excursion to the Festa of St. Rita in Casalduni

Open-air market

Excursion to Roman Ruins – Altilia Ruins

Walking Tour of The City of Martyrs – Pontelandolfo 1861

Wine tasting at a local vintner

Meet the local butchers, baker and cheese makers.

Excursion to the museums and shops of Benevento

Translator

Transportation to a different local restaurant each night.

Leave a comment asking for the particulars and I will e-mail you!

Nonna’s Mulberry Tree’s first Italian excursion to Alghero, Sardinia with great Italian classes at Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera was a smashing success.  A second adventure is scheduled for October 2016!  More to follow!

 

I Didn’t… Musings On Returning to the USA

Thursday morning – yikes that’s domani – we will be in Naples starting the first leg of our journey home.  For the past few days my chest has been caving further and further into my core.  Each day the depression and sadness pushes on my heart chakra.  We have been in Pontelandolfo for six months integrating further and further into village life.  Today we are closing up the house and deciding what we leave behind to languish until we  return.  Suddenly,  all the things I didn’t do starting hitting me in the face.  The list I made – what list you ask?  The list that seemed so important in New Jersey.  The list that made me feel like I wasn’t some pensioner with nothing to contribute to the world. 

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The list that made me feel vital to myself.  I didn’t complete the list

I didn’t take the autobus from Piazza Roma to Naples – just for the hell of it.  Folks say it is two hours of curvy mountain roads and worse it leaves at 7:15 AM.  The return bus leaves at 2:00 PM so what could you really do in Naples in 5 hours?  I don’t know because I didn’t take the bus.

I didn’t finish my family tree.  Armed with the latest version of Family Tree Maker and printed reports to share with family and strangers here, I added about  6 things total.  My grandmother’s side goes back to the 1600s – thanks to Antimo Albini.  ( Read that story at – http://wp.me/p3rc2m-9P)  But what of my grandfather’s side?  It was his search that I started 20 years ago and the line only goes back to 1820.  It is bis-nonno, Salvatore Guerrera’s extended family that I spend time with here.  Are there others for me to meet?  I don’t know because I didn’t contact Antimo this year to help me finish the fakakata tree.

I didn’t write a sexy romance novel based on “Divorcing Daddy”, my graduate school thesis screenplay.  Since I couldn’t figure out how to sell a screenplay and have read Nora Roberts entire canon as well as all of Janet Evanovich, I figured I could take my romantic comedy and turn it into a comedic novel.  I even started – came up with the concept and through line – and spent a day musing over the ins and out of novel writing.  I don’t know if I would be successful because I didn’t spend a second day on the project.

I didn’t seriously continue studying Italian.  Oh, I can get us fed, put gas in the car and chat with folks who speak Italian – not dialect – very slowly.  But we had car problems and I didn’t have a clue what the mechanic was saying.  I still don’t completely understand the medical system because my vocabulary ain’t there.  And, frankly, I sound like what I am – a middle aged plus American who isn’t studying everyday to improve.  I don’t know if I can get better because I didn’t hit the books daily or even watch Italian television.

Cazzo – you are probably bored with my rant.  Jack – who I hate when he is right — keeps reminding me that we are in Italy and I don’t have to accomplish shit.  Just live il dolce far niente – the sweet life of doing nothing.  My ever-loving crazy family and friends here, in London, Ecuador and in USA have reminded  me what I have indeed accomplished and suggest I buck the heck up.  Alexandra Rose, my worldly London based niece asked, “Do you realize how unique you are – how many people do you personally know who leave their home towns and live outside of America?”

Well I sputtered you, Marie and Jan, George and, and…  She had me. I bucked up.

I may not have taken the bus to Naples but did explore other parts of Italy that I hadn’t seen before.

I may not have finished the family tree but I did discover and became friends with a cousin and his wife that I hadn’t known.  I hadn’t met them before this year and truly enjoy hanging out with both Dominico and Suzi.

I may not have finished the novel but I did finish two plays – Mamma Mia La Befana and Flagtown Fem-Militia.  During September I committed myself to sending scripts to over thirty theaters and competitions.  One LA theater actually asked for the full version of Flagtown Fem-Militia after reading a ten page sample.  Please send a prayer to the theatre goddess.  (Anyone know any theaters in towns with a high concentration of Italians that would love a play based on La Befana?)

I didn’t, I coulda’, I shoulda’ – hell time to toss those words in the trash and just remember that I’ll return to my Italian home next year.  Today I made the rounds in Pontelandolfo hugging the folks that I love.  Joyfully, tomorrow I will  start hugging the family and friends that I love dearly in New Jersey.

Ci Vediamo a Presto!