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!

“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.

Festa at Terra di Briganti!

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Tante Auguri a Jack!

Jack was turning 70 – that meant I had to throw a humongous bash.  The problem is I had thrown Jackstock when he turned 60 and folks are still gazing numbly out from tents in our back yard.  How could I top three nights of music and mayhem?  Hmm, what’s a girl to do when she is in Italy and without the resources of her home team?  1. Make sure her BFF, Janet, is in Italy in time for the party. 2. Sit in the piazza, stare up the the hills and come up with a gimmick.  While staring at the grape vines that range up and down the mountain it hit me – take over a winery – it would be a blast from the past.

My first call was to Tony at our favorite winery, Terra Di Briganti. (Remember the story I did a few months back – http://wp.me/p3rc2m-ji)  Tony was a tiger and roared out ideas – starting with come on over and let’s pick out the wine.

Tony De Cicco is passionate about eating and drinking local!
Tony De Cicco is passionate about eating and drinking local!

Tony, his dad and his brother were pouring us a glass of Pidirosso. Then a glass of Aglianico.  How about a Falanghina.  Wait did you taste?  We tasted and knew that we would have a cocktail hour with a lovely sparkling – well it doesn’t matter just know it is all good.

Then came the menu.  Tony works with a chef – Gennaro – who by day is a policman!  But Gennaro is a foodie who relishes the dishes of historic Casalduni.  This is what we ate:  Quenelle di baccalà, Risotto al’aglianico e salsiccia profumato al rosmarino, controfiletto di pelatella casertana al Martummè con papacelle al’agro, Zuccotto con ricotta di pecora e ciccolato!  Notice that the Italian sings with the dialect of Casalduni.

Let’s just go to the video and you can see Jack’s 70th birthday at Terra di Briganti!  Click on the link and be sure to sing “tante auguri a jack!”

https://vimeo.com/107592027

To find out more about Terra di Briganti visit their website at www.terradibriganti.it