Every Day is a Great Day

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.

Ci vediamo!

Not to late to sign up for 2018 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo!

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Christmas Lessons

Christmas Ponte

Buon Natale a Tutti! 

May the Christmas Spirit be with you all year long.

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.)

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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.

Ci Vediamo.

“Hello” – The English Teacher

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Last year I volunteered to be lingua madre instructor in the public schools. It was a great way to fill my day, meet cute kids and insure that little voices would say “hello” when ever they passed me in the piazza or during passeggiata.  You can read about the schools and that experience by flashing back to this earlier post  http://wp.me/p3rc2m-8Y.

What I really wanted to do during this year’s time in Pontelandolfo was organize a summer theater camp – free – in English for kids. Every student here has to pass an English proficiency exam and theater is a great way to get a grip on speaking. Unfortunately, I wrote my proposal to the town in a timely manner but was remiss in getting it translated in a timely manner. Che fa! Now its translated but we’ll save the proposal for next year.  That brilliant idea thwarted by il dolce far niente, I needed a something else to keep my brain and body occupied.

Idea numero due! In July I printed up fliers that said, ” lingua madre Midge is offering free English conversation classes.” I figured maybe four people would want to hang out in a salon like atmosphere and practice speaking English. WRONG!

The first people to reach out to me was a group of four middle school girls. We talked about refreshing skills before they went back to school. Four turned into six including one adult!  What I find interesting was that their text book had them reading and writing at a really advanced level – I mean I don’t know these grammar rules. But no one can speak!  Worse, some didn’t remember the simple concepts. The schools are between a rock and a hard place – everyone has to take English but there is no money to put native English speaking teachers in the schools. Imagine if every elementary school teacher in the USA suddenly had to teach Chinese. The same type of instruction would happen – videos, worksheets and books. I had a great time with them but will admit that after a few weeks only one girl and the adult kept coming. Something about homework in the summer…

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Talk about learning on the job – Marilina from my favorite morning writing room – Bar Elimar – wanted to learn enough English to talk to tourists. Hell, I didn’t know what half of the words on the bar menu meant and thought where do I begin?  I know, I’ll play the ugly American, DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH and provide her with a variety of responses. Then I thought of every question I’ve ever had about the stuff she sells. To make it fun for media loving me, I created a power point and made sure to include pictures of her behind the bar. So the up side is I’ve had to learn all the phrases in Italian in order to insure she understood them in English. Festival season happened and she was too busy to keep coming.  But I still have the power point!

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I Cuochi Antonio e Nicola.

Then, two great young men studying to be chefs at the vocational cooking high school knocked on my door. Help, we got internships in a restaurant in England – we need to speak English!  How do we meet people?  What if no one in the kitchen speaks Italian?  Whew – who knew there were so many cooking verbs to translate.  We toured my kitchen pointing and laughing as they identified every cooking tool I had.  Now, I have cooking study guides up the wazoo.

The two adult conversation classes were the most fun. One class had two butchers, a plumber and OK I don’t remember. They didn’t speak English at all so it was really ESL. Oops, Festa season and that class ended.

The other class had an attorney, pharmacist, shop keeper and florist. They do speak English and just needed an outlet to practice. It made me not feel so stupid when they admitted they knew vocabulary but were afraid to speak.  That is exactly how I feel about Italian!  We are still reading and discussing short stories and newspaper articles. Festa season didn’t impact them. Sigh – perfect.

Guess what also happened?  Strangers not in the classes are now giggling and saying “Good Morning” when they see me sitting and writing at the bar!  What a wonderful gift.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation by Ragazzi Iacovella

The days are getting shorter, the wind is whistling in the mountains – summer is over.  Annalaura, Gabriele and Alessio Iacovella looked at each other and said – what did we do this summer?

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A Rainy September Day – Let’s Talk About the Summer!

After a warm your chilly bones lunch of tortellini soup, roasted chicken, home made french fries, local mushrooms and more at Carmela’s kitchen, her grandchildren eleven year old Gabriele, 12 year old Annalaura and 8 year old Alessio sat me down and told me their summer story –

During the day we stayed with Nonna Carmela – she is a great cook!  At night we went to Casalduni.  Casalduni has – Parco Giochi.  (Their dad, Pasquale,  is Casalduni’s Sindaco – mayor.  The kids burst with pride about that.)

Casalduni

Parco Giochi has a garden, lake with fish, scivolo – slide,  gonfiabili – inflatable houses to jump in,  and campo per pallavolo – volleyball, bocce, small paddle boats –  we know lots of kids in Casalduni.  We had fun every night.

Allessio – a real charmer chimed in – Mi piace mar in Puglia!  I took a long trip to Puglia with my family. In the car we looked at the paesaggio – panorama –  and we saw the flowers, albero d’olvio – olive trees e gira sole – sun flowers .

Gabriele – I was a little bored in the car – the trip was long.

AnnaLaura – No it was short to Puglia – per andare in Calabria il viaggio è lungo.

GabrielePer me è lungo

Annalaura – We stayed at the Orchidea Blu Hotel. (http://www.orchideavillage.it/ – San Menaio, Vico del Gargano (Foggia) Puglia)

Orchieda Blue Hotel

We went to the pool every afternoon!

It had a pool, un animazione – clown – a person to play with us kids. On a typical day – we went to the beach in the morning and in the afternoon to the pool.  That way my mother didn’t have to worry about us so much.

What did you like the best?

GabrieleDolce- dolce ogni giorno.  We ate in the same restaurant in the hotel every day and I ate tanti dolci.

Besides eating dessert what did you do –

Gabriele – I went to the pool to swim.  With the animazione – played darts, calcio in the streets, pallanuoto – water polo and ping pong.  OK, OK giocare con l’animazione è più divertente di mangiare dolci.

Alessio – Ho giocato con i miei nuovi amici nel mare.

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Those are old people in that picture.  I played with my new friends Samuele, Fabrizio, Giusseppe, Niccolo e Raffele.  We built castles in the sand, swam, giocare a pallone – calcio and ….

Gabriele – Rodi Garganico – one night we went there too.  It was like Pontelandolfo with an ocean.

Rodi - city in Puglio

View from a piazza in Rodi Garganico

AnnalauraTanti negozi e bancharelle – shops and stands.  The ancient buildings – beautiful.  We were sad to leave Puglia.

Alessio – But wait till we tell you about our other trip to Calabria –

It is September – how did you spend your summer vacation?

I hope you got to play calcio too.

Missing Those City Lights?

Last night I wended my way over the curvy hill road – checking for the sheep that graze and amble across the road from one field to another.  I decided to go visit Rosella and her great kids – they live in a medieval grotto next to a waterfall and antique water fountain.  The road scares the pajeeeezuz out of me – holes, animals and curves on cliffs.  But visiting the Iacovella house is worth the risks.  I’m thinking a quick game of scopa and a cup of caffè.  That was not in the cards – it was time for city lights.

Who needs Times Square!
Who needs Times Square!

I jumped into the car with Rosella and the kids for a “solo cinque minute” visit to Casalduni.  Rosella’s husband, Pasquale, is running for Sindaco (mayor) and silly me thought we were bopping into the village to pick up campaign stuff.  My first clue was all of the cars parked along the road into Casalduni.  My second clue was the kids opening the windows and sticking their heads out to see something.  Whoa!  That something was this brilliantly lit street leading to the small villages central square.  Tonight was the first night of the festa for Santa Rita!

Of course, when I got back I had to google Saint Rita to find out who she was and what her deal was.  She is the patron saint of Casalduni and the patron saint of impossible causes.

She was married to a brute.  He died, her kids died and she devoted herself to God.
She was married to a brute. He died, her kids died and she devoted herself to God. Also for years after putting on a crown of thorns, she suffered with a terrible gash in her head.  Even carrying all that pain she committed herself to doing good works.

Every Italian village has a patron saint and it looks like that saint’s day – for Rita it’s May 22 – is a good excuse to bring some music, art and history to the village.  Last night the entertainment was Gruppo Folklorico Sannio Antico –  (https://www.facebook.com/pages/GRUPPO-FOLKLORICO-SANNIO-ANTICO/220253154670895) .  These all volunteer dancers told the story of Casalduni through music and movement.  Supplying the music was Il Gruppo Fontanavecchia.  In the hills,  old fountains – a source of water and life – seem to be a recurring theme. One movement piece showed women washing their clothes, gossiping and filling  jugs at the fountain – while the men flirted.  Ah a typical Italian scene. 

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This is the village’s ancient fountain and water source. The water comes from the mountain.

Casalduni is an interesting village.  It only has about 1500 residents but covers a great swath of land.  The village historic center has tons of empty properties.  I’m guessing families immigrated and just deserted their medieval row houses.  The place is charming and would make an easily accessible artists colony or pied a terrè in Italy.  It saddens me to see these historic villages just slowly empty.

Last night, the enthusiasm and energy of the “cittadini”made it a terrific night on the town.  My theory is that people need the arts to survive and if the arts are not close by they will create their own artistic feast.  I grew up in New Jersey, NY’s step-sister.  Our town, Hillsborough Township, was and still is an artistic waste land.  There is the occasional art show and band in the park but mostly if you want action you can visit one of the hundreds of jock filled fields – soccer, baseball, and  well I don’t know what the other jock fields are for but they are there.  Since Hillsborough is so close to New York, Philadelphia and Princeton, we leave town for our art fix.  Here in the hills of Italy, people don’t have a lot of cash, there is limited public transportation and everyone has the soul of a Da Vinci.  They make art!  Dance companies are formed. Theatrical “spectacollos” are staged. Live music is found in piazzas and every child doodles on a sketch pad.  Folks here create the art they crave and a saint’s day is a great opportunity to share it.  Since Saint Rita’s day is May 22, we will go back tonight to see what artistic feast we can munch on.

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Dancers waiting to take the stage, join the audience.

Gruppo Folklorico Sannio Antico wishes –

Con le nostre danze e canti, auguriamo a tutti una serata piacevole e che sia portatrice di pace e serenita.”  Noi devoti di Santa Rita chiediamo la sua protezione.

 With our dances and songs, we wish that every person enjoys the evening.   Also, may this event bring serenity and peace and may Santa Rita protect everyone with many blessings.

Me, I’m just happy to see the city lights.

The night may be over but the lights and St. Rita will follow us home.
The night may be over but the lights and St. Rita will follow us home.

 

Internet – Can’t Have A Home Without it!

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Full Disclosure: I HATE THAT WE ARE BEHOLDEN TO COMCAST CABLE TO PROVIDE INTERNET SERVICE IN FLAGTOWN, NJ.  Verizon never wired our street for FIOS – that makes Comcast/Xfinity the only show in town.  What happened to choice?  Oh yeah, we don’t have it.

Before we left for Italy I called Comcast to downgrade our account – we had the famous triple play package.  Our monthly bill was close to $200.  Since we wouldn’t be watching TV or using the phone I wanted to downgrade to simply internet.  Easy.  NOT.

Why is it that in this day of technology a kid at a computer can send a drone to pin point a target thousands of miles away, yet you still have to repeat all of your contact information a minimum of three times when you call the cable company?

Robot:     

 Please say or type into your keypad your cable account number or telephone number.

Me:

CCXXXXXXX – I had put on my good speech voice and said it slowly.

Robot:     

Please say or type into your keypad your cable account number or telephone number.

Me:   (Using the non-pretentious voice)

 CCXXXXXXX

Robot:

Please say or type into your keypad your cable account number or telephone number.

Me: (With my hand over the phone.)

 BITE ME!

I type the number into my keypad.

Robot:    

  Please say your address

Me:          

 Can’t you see that from my account number?

Robot:

 Can’t you see is an unknown address.  Please say your address.

I slowly said the my address.

Robot:

Please say the last four digits of your social security number.

Me:

  Uugggggxx*&^%!

I carefully say the last four digits of my social security number and think I should play the number in the next big lottery.

Robot:     

Please wait while we connect you to the next available operator

Operator:

Hello this is wp0e85rbv (name impossible to understand) may I have your Comcast account number or phone number please?

Me:        

Excuse Me?!

Finally, I make her understand that I do not want to talk to anyone about another type of plan or upgrading my service or adding the ESPN package.  All I want is internet – I can’t get it from anyone else.  Just internet now costs us $52.48  that equals 38.81€.  Remember that number!

After rehashing Comcast for you, I took some deep cleansing breaths and am now able to talk serenely about our Internet connectivity in Pontelandolfo.

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 We didn’t know how to begin.  My family members use wireless USB devices.  Jack and I thought that we needed something more permanent with unlimited access.  The wonderful Annarita Mancini and I went on a search for alternative services.  Annarita discovered LCR System and  Emilio (the contact for Pontelandolflo.)  She did the calling for me and asked all the right questions.  Putting her hand over her phone she asked, “Is 25€ a month too much?  I think it is too much – it is usually less but you are only here for 3 months and he doesn’t want to do it for 3 months.”

Do I think it is too much?  That is 13.81€ less than I pay Comcast normally.  Yes, yes, have them come, I shouted.  (I don’t know what their normal rate is but I think it is 20€ per month.)

The system is incredibly brilliant.  They have a  WiFi tower somewhere in Pontelandolfo and installed an antennae on top of our house.  The antennae was hard wired into a router that they placed in a room on the second floor.  That means – without cable or FIos – you can have internet access even on the top of a mountain!  They charged me 75€ for the installation. Comcast also charges for set-up and activation.   I haven’t been able to do a price comparison.  Some smart folks will note that we needed to amortize the fee over three months which shot our charges up.  We are going back for 6 months in May and I am hoping the antennae is still on the roof.

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Annarita blogging over our WiFi.

To get the techie – I didn’t understand anything but “flat fee” –  information about the service click on: http://www.lcrsystem.it/reti-wireless

Bottom line:

They don’t drop cables!

Speed was fast  We never had a problem!  Jack seamlessly uploaded library books to his iPad.

 I could upload and download video and pix easily.  We also used it for our Magic Jack phone and iPhones.

In our thick stone wall house it worked best on the second floor and the dining room/living room which was directly below the router.  It also worked outside on both our upper terrace and patio.

 IT COST LESS AND WORKED ALL THE TIME!  I swear when all the kids are home from school the Comcast internet is a traffic jam of bits and bity bits.

Yes, you can leave home, move to Italy and still be wired!

Lufthansa – The Comfortable Way to Napoli

This is for my New Jersey Pals – Alitalia doesn’t fly directly to Italy from Newark Liberty Airport.  Remember, I told you the  owner of Il Re restaurant, who is from NJ, said that the easiest way for  his family to get to Naples was on Lufthansa airlines?  (https://midgeguerrera.wordpress.com/2013/05/20/il-re-ghiotto-yummy-surprise-in-rotondi-av/)   You have to change planes somewhere to get to Naples, why not Germany and avoid the hassle of driving across the river to JFK.  He seemed like a smart and nice guy so I thought we would give Lufthansa a try.

Auntie Midge and Uncle Jack needed to get to London for Alexandra Rose’s graduation from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts.  We could have flown from Naples to Milan or Rome and then transferred on to London but thought – hey, let’s use Star Alliance miles and test out Lufthansa.  We’re hooked!  Even in steerage the plane was comfortable.  My butt, like a beautiful redwood tree has gotten broader with age. When I delicately cram it into the normal economy class seat I am pinched, prodded and damn – it ain’t pleasant.  These seats were wide and there was ample leg room for Jack.  Who knew that some airlines actually give a shit about the comfort of their passengers?  Flying to London the vegetarian sandwich snack was on great multi grain dark bread.  Returning we were served tasty little sausages.  The hostesses were multi lingual and gracious.  Plus the beer….

However, it was the airport in Munich that initially really sold me.  Great signage in German and English, as well as, helpful folks who were not pouting.  After we got off the plane in the Lufthansa hub, we were greeted with free coffee and cold drink stations.  The floor plan of the airport was open and we didn’t  feel like herded sheep.  The electronic walks zoomed us along.  At one point, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing – a Work, Sleep, Rest zone!

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Sleep – Work or Rest!

I started walking backwards to keep the Work, Sleep, Rest station in sight.  Jack put his carry-on in my back and encouraged me forward.   I got off the bloody people mover and raced back to check this out.

1. There were individual desks or a communal counter for work.

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Got a few minutes between flights? just lie back and relaxxxxxzzzzzz….

2. There were these really slick reclining chairs to read, nap or contemplate life on.

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“Million mile club”? Midge, clean up that mind.

3. There were private sleeping rooms!  There was a fee for those and a cute couple was sizing one up.

Winston and Camel smoking rooms!  How continental. Cough cough. Honk honk,ugh hack.  These lovely glass enclosed comfort zones for the nicotine addict were conveniently placed around the airport.

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Hmmmm, an airy room crowed with hackers.

Each had signage that dully noted ” cigarette smoking is hazardous to your health or smoking cigarettes will kill you.”  The young professionals who packed the places couldn’t read or didn’t care.

I gotta say, almost all the college graduates in Pontelandolfo smoke.  The old men playing cards smoke.  The kids in high school smoke.  Che fa?  Bo!

We got to our clearly marked gate and found comfy seats at the gate.  They were leather covered cushioned seats with ample room for a well endowed derrière and a gap between seats.

The rave review now turns to shit.  Our flight to London included the British swim team, a British senior tour group and just us regular gotta get to London folks. I knew something was amiss when a young mom asked about what to do with her stroller and the Lufthansa employee  said ,”well they will stow it below but there are some steps you know.  In a moment you and the baby may go first.”  Time for general boarding was announced and we moved out the door to be faced with “some steps you know” – that translated to a million cazillianan  steps down.  I counted eight freakin’ flights when I was out of breath and couldn’t count anymore. The swim team took them with youthful vigor – as did the senior group. Those women must have been on a mountain hiking tour.  I refused to whine and crept down, down, down the stairs only to face a bus to the plane that this short Italian needed a ladder to enter.  Ally oop, I climbed up.  Shit, we got to the plane and I had to jump off. Ouch.  Now lets climb up that flight to enter the cabin.

“Stop whining – or was that bitching,” said Jack.  The plane was again comfortable, the staff delightful and oh yeah we left on time.

The flight back was seamless.  We were joined in London by a very large group of Italian  high school kids.  The plane from London to Munich was jam packed. Normally, all announcements are done in the language of the airline and sometimes the language of the country they are departing from – even Lufthansa on our flights over made announcements only in German and English.  This flight, the Lufthansa stewards did something I have never heard before – they gave the usual welcome, safety and other speeches in not just German, not just the added English but also in Italian!  The Italian students cheered and clapped.  What fun and what courtesy to recognize that half of a plane from London to Munich was full of Italians.

I dreaded the thought of that bloody bus.  We came down the exterior steps from the plane and the first thing I saw was a five year old on his hands and knees climbing on the bus.  Jack gently shoved me to the front of the bus where the  step met the ground.  This was the handicapped, short people entrance and exit of the bus.  So I really didn’t have to fear for my life jumping off the bus and that little kid didn’t have to crawl on.  LUFTHANSA – add some bloody signs to the bus so that people know you have thought about short people!

We have decided that Lufthansa from Newark will be our preferred method of getting back home to Pontelandolfo. Danke!  Grazie!

Cell Phones – Can’t Leave Home Without Them!

The cell phone. Remember life without a cell phone?  I do!  One day on my way to work in Red Bank, NJ, I got a flat tire.  Hey, of course I KNEW how to change a tire but I was in a suit and didn’t WANT to change the tire.  So how did I get help?  In my high heels, I tottered down the street to the first house  and at 7:30 in the morning banged on the door.  Yup, I wasn’t afraid, serial killers didn’t enter my mind and obviously didn’t enter the mind of the woman who answered the door and called a gas station for me.  Then I got a cell phone.  Now, I realize that I can’t possibly navigate life’s curvy roads without a cell phone.

Photo on 6-26-13 at 3.45 PM

Three months in Italy with out a cell phone was out of the question. We weighed the options.  One was to buy a cheap – no data  – phone and a local pay-for-minutes plan.  Nah!  Impossible! Truth be told we are addicted to our iPhones.  Want a restaurant?  Turn to the Yelp app.  On the road and need a hotel?  Turn to Hotel.com.  Lost? Pull out the google map and chart your way. All my contacts, Facebook friends,  Dropbox folders and more are on my iPhone.  What to do?  How much will it cost for a data plan?  The one thing we knew was that we were not going to buy the president of Verizon Wireless a new yacht by enrolling in their “cost you your first born child” international plan.  We had done that for short trips and relied on wi-fi zones to call each other through the free Viber  interface.  We also know lots of folks with iPads and iPhones that use Apple’s FaceTime.  Verizon had been notorious about not unlocking phones on contract so that you could install a pay-as-you go sim card.  I was ready to go the mattresses with the Verizon Global folks to demand a more equitable plan for our three month stay.  Was I surprised and delighted  to discover that Verizon had changed its policy and would unlock our iPhones.  I put our Verizon account on hold for three months and we left the country with unlocked phones.

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We raise a glass of thanks to our able guide in all things Italian – Annarita.

Meanwhile, Annarita Mancini, the best and most efficient person a traveler could have on their side, investigated pay-as-you go cell phone services.  Sit down  – you are not going to believe this.  For ten, not one hundred, but ten euros a month per phone,  Jack and I were able to have unlimited 3G, 400 texts (I am not an avid texter so this is enough for a life time) and 400 minutes of talk time.  So, for about $26 a month we get approximately the same bloody service for which we now pay Verizon $170 a month!  How can that be?!

Don’t  believe me?  Check out the web site:

http://www.wind.it/it/privati/ricaricabile/chiamate_messaggi_e_internet/all_inclusive_big/?gclid=CJ3bmbfTgbgCFc1e3godcmUA0Q

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Sym card is the size of my pointer finger nail.

Our service is through a company called Wind.  Now there have been some snafooos.  When we bought our new sim cards and swapped out the Verizon card we weren’t sure what to do next.  Jack always says, when in doubt hard reboot!  We did that by sticking a paper clip in the tiny iPhone reset hole. I bit my lip and did some good luck incantations.  Unnerving.  We turned the phones back on and one worked perfectly.  Jacks phone was in pazzo land.  My Italian wasn’t good enough to understand Wind support.  Annarita!!!

Morcone - built into the mountain.
Morcone – built into the mountain.

Over lunch in Morcone,  the nearby village that requires the legs of a goat to walk through, Annarita stayed on hold with Wind, made pushy noises and got Jack’s phone functioning.  The one annoying Wind security thing is that every time you shutdown your phone or runout of battery you have to re-enter your million number Wind security code.  Jack says I’m lying it isn’t a million numbers only four.  OK, he wins but I didn’t pick the four and I don’t remember the four.  The first month the service was great.  There were only a few spots on the mountain where we didn’t have ‘bars’.  We also don’t get service in our kitchen. Of course the bones of the house are medieval and all thick rock. The kitchen is an all rock internal room. I don’t think Verizon or AT&T could sneak through those thick walls either.

Month two arrived and we had to pay for the second months service.  We tried to do it online. It couldn’t be done by us.  To set up an on-line account, you need a Codice Fiscale number – think social security.  Annarita bought our sim cards before we got here.   Thinking my Codice Fiscale was bad or I had someone else’s, I kept cursing at the computer and the Italian government.  Later, we discovered that  Annarita had registered the sim card with her name and number.  Not a big deal.  You can go to almost any Tobacchi (cigarette and assorted stuff shop) or Edicolo (newspapers and magazine shop)  and top off your account.  We did that and all was well – we thought.  Jacks service continued,  mine stopped.  Eeeeeeh.  Annarita!!! She came and rebooted my phone.  Now why didn’t I think of that!   Once again all is brilliant in cell phone land.

Question – why is it so much cheaper here for cell phone usage?  All I could think of was, this is a smaller country and we only bought service for Italy not all of Europe.     But hey, I ain’t calling anyone in Greece.  Wait a second!  Jack and I are going to London for five days.  My brilliant niece Alexandra Rose is graduating from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts.  We are hopping over to see her in a play and graduation review.  How much more than our ten euros will Wind charge for calls outside of Italy?  Two Euros a day ($2.60) that is how much more.  For that we get 30 minutes of call time, 30 text messages and 30 MB of internet data.  That extended plan is good for all of the European Union and the United States.  We have learned to turn off the data on our iPhones when traveling and just use wi-fi zones so the 30 MB won’t be an issue.

IMG_0842Next time you travel to Italy, unlock that phone and let you voice fly with Wind!