“But What Do You Do”

If during my stay in Italy, I had a nickel for everyone who has asked me, but seriously what do you do everyday? I’d be able to fly first class. When I’m feeling snarky I quip back, live, put one foot in front of the other and keep on walking. When the nice Midge is available, she might actually describe a day. This morning nice Midge egged on the writing.

Typical day – dash out a comment when you realize your days are equally exciting.

7:30 errrr, groan I got up because my phone reminded me I had a date with our personal trainer.

7:45 Checked e-mail. (Just like you do.) Saw one from my USA Italian teacher, Marina, she was concerned that I may have felt the earthquake that rocked nearby towns. Yesterday, when the earthquake was quaking, it was an Italian holiday. We were having lunch with a group of pals when our host’s phone rang. Her cousin called to see if she was OK. We didn’t know there had been a nearby earthquake. Now, we had been drinking a wee bit of wine but we didn’t feel a thing. We were lucky it was not closer to home. I let Marina know we were fine. The rest of the e-mails could wait.

8:15 I stare into the refrigerator waiting for breakfast to fly into my mouth. Put the kettle on for tea and made an egg and turkey sausage mess in a pot. It was yummy.

8:45 I tossed a load of laundry in the lavatrice. Yawn.

8:50 Jack and I walked out the door to an incredible sunny day. We both paused, stared at the mountains for a nanosecond and got in the car.

8:55 Arrive at the towns aging and almost roofless palestra. Got out of the car and stared at the valley. The views here never get old. For the very first time we both heard the river flowing below.

9:00 Texted our trainer we were there. (Questa è l’Italia.)

9:05 Walked through the dusty moldy basketball style aging gym to the training room.

10:05 Exited training room clutching my aching butt.

10:06 Got a text from the head of the library about what I needed for my middle school theatre class. I’m using theatre to reinforce English language skills and get a chance to keep my theatre chops active. Class starts Friday – do I plan now or …..

10:07 Responded that I just needed the door opened 1/2 hour before the class. (Remember questa è l’Italia.)

10:10 Got home, hung the laundry, poured a glass of water and thought, this is a fairly typical day. Did I mention that hanging the laundry means staring at a mountain range?

Put a second load of laundry in.

11:08 Opened Mango Italian Language Course on my iPad. Thanks to the Somerset County Library System this super good course is free. Whaaaat – I got something wrong. ERRRGGG. “Lontano – far and distante – far away”. Does it really matter which word I use???

Noon Jack left to do what only “mad dogs and Englishmen do in the noon day sun” – walk ! That means I make sure I have an extra battery for my phone and toss the worry beads in my purse. I drove down to the village. First stop – the covered market to get vegetables from the trucks. Rats! It’s Thursday. They don’t come on Thursday. Next stop – our local Conad – the tiny version. I dashed in, stood next to the display of vegetables and waited for the smiling cashier to come over, choose the veggies for me, weigh them and put them in a sack. €3 later I walked out with onions, zucchine, red pepper and a melon. (Prices like these are one of the reasons we live here.) The lady before me went to pay and was €5 short. If that had been me in the USA, I would have fainted dead away and prayed for someone I knew to revive me and give me the cash. Here the cashier laughed and said it bring it later!

12:30 Enter the writers room- OK – I don’t really have a writer’s room. I go to Bar Elimar on Piazza Roma, grab a pot of tea, and set up my IPad mini on an outdoor table. That is what I usually do. Today, my balls were bigger than normal. To sit in the shade, I put my drink on a table filled with men, dragged a chair over and said posso? They said sure and I sat and listened. The dialect still strains my ability to understand. But I tried. They all left 10 minutes later to go home for lunch. This is the perfect time of day for me to sit, stare at the piazza and try to toss a word or two around.

Afternoon

Made and ate salad for lunch.

Prepped dinner. Making Drunken Pork – pour red wine over a pork roast, toss in potatoes, carrots and onions and put on a very low flame. Done.

Worked on material for my first theatre class.

Worked on material for a meeting with one of our Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo translators.

Met with translator.

Evening

Asked Jack if it was time to go to the piazza for an aperitivo. It was. We went. White wine for Jack Campari Spritz for me

Ate Drunken Pork – since we were a little loopy it was perfect.

Read a few more chapters in our Club di Libro book, Uomini o no.

Sipped scotch.

Wrote blog.

Buonanotte.

Our lives are just like your lives. We just live in the cool Sannio Hills of Southern Italy. You could live here too!

Ci vediamo!

You too can come to Pontelandolfo! Join us for Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo events.

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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!

Ponte Simone -Perfetto per Pontelandolfo!

I stared at the defrosted fish, poked at the fresh spinach and then sighed, “I don’t feel like cooking – lets go to Ponte Simone.”  Ponte Simone is Pontelandolfo’s latest new happening spot.  The caffè/bar, tavolo caldo, grocery store, lotto parlor, slot machine parlor and more is the creation of a young and talented duo – Nicola D’Addona and Angela  Varricchio.  They took over a shop located at Ponte Sorgenza – just down the street from the center of town.  Closed the old place for a few months and gave it a make-over. They even made the furniture for the new dining room.

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Since I tasted Angela’s cooking, I have found a million reasons not to cook lunch.  My first experience was a fabulous farro seafood salad. Since Jack and I are trying not to eat wheat or rice, finding a place that cooked with farro was wonderful.  We often wander in, look at Angela and ask what we are eating today.  I’ve had roasted meats, grilled vegetables, caprese salads, green salads, soups – no matter what she cooks I’ll eat it because it is always perfect.  The price point is also perfect – I hate to make my USA pals  jealous by telling them that it costs us less to eat at Ponte Simone than it would to buy the stuff and cook it in New Jersey!

Angela also makes the gelato that is sold here.  Please don’t let my doctor know that I sampled some – how can I not eat sugar when there is home made melon gelato!  She experiments with flavors that are unique and scrumptious.

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Nicola is the bar man, grocery man and everything man.  Even though my Italian is sub par, he smiles figures out what I want and it magically appears.  Sadly, for me, every Campari Spritz I order comes with a tray of little noshes.  I beg, I plead, don’t bring me the snacks.  They still arrive and – gulp – I eat them.  I feel like I’m in a little caffè in any Italian city at cocktail time.  Lucky for me I only have to walk down the hill and stumble back.

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The couple works with other local business and I truly applaud them for that.  In the tiny grocery store I can buy meats from our local butcher, Franco Perugini.  Normally, I go to his shop but if I am in a pinch and he is closed…

Normally, Ponte Simone closes at 8:00 PM.  They put in 14 hour days.  Then there are the nights they produce events – when no one sleeps and everyone parties.  Music, a talent show, ethnic nights – the creative pair are turning this little corner of town into the place to be.  Bravi!

Every Sunday night, I take over a table in the dining room for “English Conversation”.  Whoever is interested in practicing their English that night shows up.  We chat, raise a glass and enjoy the home-town atmosphere of Ponte Simone

The wonders of life in a small town is that everyone knows your name. Growing up in Flagtown meant I couldn’t do anything wrong because everyone knew who I was and would either kick my butt or tell my parents.  Walking into Ponte Simone and hearing “Ciao Midge” reminds me of those days, puts a smile on my face and makes me remember how fortunate I am to be able to spend so much time in a little Southern Italian village.

Ci Vediamo!

Americans Living Abroad Need to VOTE!

Those of us who are able to split our time between an adventure in a foreign country and the United States are incredibly fortunate.  Living in another country, we still need to remember our obligations as American citizens.  Every American living abroad needs to vote!  Vote in the primaries.  Vote for the local candidates.  AND especially vote during the presidential elections.  Those of you who know me and have followed me, know that I was born into a family of staunch Democrats and frankly, have never had a reason to become anything else.  That said, I’m not going to use this platform to tell you who to vote for.  I am going to ask you look at the video provided by Democrats Abroad that tells you just how easy it is to get that absentee ballot and VOTE in this presidential election.

AND MAY THE BEST WOMAN WIN!!!

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

Bravi! 5 Year Old Actors Rock the Stage

Today, I saw a production that had me laughing, literally crying, rocking, smiling and cheering.  I wasn’t anywhere near Broadway or even Rome.  I was in the charming little theatre space below the new church – L’Auditorium Parrocchiale S. Giuseppe Moscati in Pontelandolfo (BN).  Those of you who know me – or worse yet – have gone to the theatre with me know that I have the attention span of a gnat and am critical of anything that doesn’t flow.  Today, my attention was held from the moment I entered the theater.

This morning, however, having been to numerous badly done school plays, overly long boring dance recitals I was not looking forward to the show. “Do I have to go?  Yes, you have to go. You said you would go.  But a preschool and kindergarten play… ”  Putting on my big girl pants I went.    Going down the steps to the theatre, rock and roll children’s music had me energized – wait a minute – a teacher thought to use pre-show music to set the tone!  Right on!  The teachers of the Scuola dell’Infanzia di Pontelandolfo have theater in their bones.  The show, Paese Mio Che Stai Sulla Collina (My Town on the Hill), had all the trappings of really good children’s theater.  Unlike other school events I have seen here, this was a well scripted production.  It dealt with the immigration of Pontelandolfese to America and the traditions they took and those they left behind. The teachers knew how to use the children’s strengths and weaknesses to the best advantage of the overall production.

Now you know that every little 4, 5 & maybe 6 year old waiting backstage was dying to know if their family was there.  They were probably jigging and wiggling with anticipation.  The creative teachers used that wiggle jiggle!  The reason for the pre-show rock and roll was not only to energize the crowd but to give every little actor a chance to check out the crowd.  A little face would appear in the crack in the curtain – the first time it happened I thought “Oh, Oh, that kid is in trouble.”  Then the curtain opened just enough for the little tyke to prance and dance for 20 seconds while his/her relatives cheered.  That hip hopper left and seconds later a different face appeared, looked and danced.  This pre-show was brilliant for the mini actors and the worried parents.  Everybody got to check out everybody else.

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The set was painted by a teacher.  Center stage is the village’s iconic tower and fountain.  The wings on either side represented places that the immigrants travelled to.  (There will not be any pictures of children.  Without a signed release from a parent that would be a yucky no, no.)

What amazed me, is that this is a public nursery, pre-K, K school and the actors memorized lines in Italian, English and the Pontelandolfo Dialect.  Was the English pronunciation perfect – no – did they try their damnedest – yes.  My niece and nephew went to a Waldorf school and children there leaned how to memorize.  This old school method really works and public schools in the USA should think about it.   The show ran about 45 minutes and the dialogue and singing was well disbursed among the 15 or so 5/6 year old actors. The pre-school children were in dances and songs – including the finale sung in English. Again, the teachers worked with the children’s strengths and understood how to capitalize on those strengths.

Traditional dances and songs were woven into the storyline.  Having seen the town’s dance company perform, I knew that the dances had been simplified – again a move by a good arts teacher. There was some side-coaching but generally the production ran smoothly. (No little people stood there frozen in fear scrunching up their skirts.)

The scene that had me rolling on the floor took place in Waterbury, Connecticut.  The immigrants, now living in an American city, were sitting around the breakfast table in robes, curlers and slippers talking about how great the USA was – mostly in English.  Suddenly, they got the itch to travel back to Pontelandolfo and visit.  With a quick change they appeared in Pontelandolfo in sun glasses, shorts, cameras dangling and hoisting suitcases.  They were greeted by locals and stood there looking stunned.  A look I have seen on Pontelandolfese who return to Pontelandolfo speaking the ancient Italian dialect of their grandparents – a dialect that has evolved.  Today, most people speak Italian.

I do not know the names of the faculty.  They all should be commended!  The arts galvanize and unite a community.  Good teachers of the arts give children a gift of a lifetime.  The confidence that has been imbued in these little actors and the visible lack of fear of performing is a gift that will keep on giving throughout their lives.

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)

Festa dell’ Accoglienza – Celebrate School!

The sun was shining and I was walking down the hill to my writer’s room – Bar Elimar. Suddenly a little blue Fiat stopped along side of me. My favorite lawyer, Rossella Mancini, rolled down her window and asked, ” Are you going to the Festa dell’ Accoglienza?” Even though, I hadn’t the foggiest idea what accoglienza meant, I hopped in the car. Hey, a festa is a festa. Rossella explained it was a program to welcome the opening of the school year and sadly she had to get to the courts in Benevento and couldn’t attend the show. Loving the Iacovella kids, I was happy to join her mom, Carmella, in the audience.

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What a Great Opening!

Google translating accoglienza I discovered it meant ” welcome – acceptance.”  What a great theme to start the school year – let us welcome the new students and accept each other!  Our local Scuola Di Infanzia Materna, Scuola di Elementary and Scuola di Media hosted the program in the village’s open air covered market. I  walked down the steep street to the market – note I never talk about walking up the hill.  The interior of the market was filled with smiling little faces dressed in their colorful grembiule – school smocks.

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Ariele Valazolo was excited!

The pink and blue grembiule of the pre-scool kids were swishing with excitement as the little tykes searched the faces of the standing audience for mamma, pappa, nonno and nonna.

A tiny little lad – about 5 years old walked to the front of the space with great aplomb and put the microphone to his mouth.  What an amazing host. Poised, he looked at the audience, smiled, welcomed all – Salutiamo tutti – and then introduced the first song.  I wanted to cheer for him! Oh wow I did!  The bopping and hopping 2.5 to 4 year olds singing their song were terrific.  Little mouths moved to the music. The three and four year olds knew every word the teeny tiny folks got every other. It was wonderful. Next up was a 4 or 5  year old girl who absolutely perfectly introduced a wickedly wild song and dance done with cheerleader style shakers by the oldest of the youngest students. I loved it. The kids were like pink and blue bolts of lighting moving and grooving to the song.

Then my mind snapped –  I could no longer ignore the constant blah, blah blah buzz around me.  I started to get frustrated and angry. Stata zitti – I wanted to scream at the young moms who insisted on gossiping during the entire song. OK, so your kid isn’t singing now does that give you permission to be a talkative asshole. Then I hear Jack’s soothing voice twirling around in my brain. It is a different culture. You don’t come from this culture. Take a breath.

Right, I’m an East Coast woman who built two performing arts high schools and would have gently wended my way through the audience and kindly pulled a talkative mom’s hair out.

Next up were the first year elementary school kids – 6 year olds . They recited an incredibly long story! Memorizing is an integral part of the curriculum. I was impressed.  The show continued with more freaking moms chatting up a bloody storm. Some one brought a baby in a pram and a gaggle of giggling moms had to ooo, ahh and chatter while the 2nd graders were reciting. That is when I couldn’t control my anger and started with my school administrator mean stare and the ugly sounding shushhh.

The show continued with each grade taking a turn at song, reciting and reading. Of course my favorites were the portions done by the kids in my extended family and the wee ones that I know.

Dear children – Keep on singing, memorizing and facing audiences. Please ignore the rude folks who are talking while you are performing. It is a life lesson in facing a tough audience. No matter what you do in life — some days there will be a tough audience.

Auguri to all the performers!