Noooo!!! Don’t Bring FaceBook to Dinner

Full moon, clear skies, linen covered tables, delectable dinners and twinkle lights like little stars flicker over the patio. Traditional concertino music wafted in from the concert down the block. A perfect night at Medusa, one of our favorite seafood restaurants in San Salvo Marino.

Jack, I whispered, look around. Notice anything odd?

Whaaat? Jack bellowed his favorite response to anything I ask. What am I supposed to see?

The evil FaceBook blue light of enticement, addiction and control. That’s what.

Whaaat? Get over the phone on the table fixation.

Maybe, I am fixated on groups of people who don’t talk. The first time I saw a couple eating dinner and each reading a book, I was horrified. Why aren’t they talking? Who could go out to dinner and not talk? It was beyond my comprehension. Now, I see it all the time. At Medusa I saw –

Two 50-something well dressed women sipping wine, sharing a seafood antipasti and each reading FaceBook.

A family of three each eating their own pizza and slopping tomatoes on their Facebook linked phones.

An older elegant couple – like Jack and I – eating cozze, mussels cooked in a touch of white wine, staring at their telephones.

Nonna, nonno, mom, pop and one baby were all staring at cell phones. Yup, the moment they sat down, the mom plopped a hand held device in front of the kid.

I could go on and on and on. There were only three groups – four if you count Jack and I – out of about 20 tables that were not glued to their fakakata phones. There were the two men and their adorable dog who chatted away. The couple with the not so adorable 3 year old who they had to chase all over the patio. Lastly, a young family of mom, dad and two sons. The boys were both under 8 or 9 and were chatting about their day at the beach.

This addiction to FaceBook at Italian dining tables is troublesome on so many levels. The silence is deafening. No one listens to the joys and tribulations of the day because they are commenting on pictures of flowers, food and other people’s babies. Over the past few years the FaceBook ferver has grown and grown. I fear that the stereotypical loud Italian conversations will soon fade to key taps.

When we are in the USA, I don’t notice as many phones out on restaurant tables. Have you seen an increase in diminished conversation and growing table side telephone staring? Am I the only person who finds this FaceBook addiction unnerving?

Frankly, I don’t understand the need for Facebook. Somehow we all got along before the social media pipeline sucked us in.

I hear you. I hear you. Yup, this blog has a FaceBook page. Yup, I use it to let people know about Pontelandolfo and our program Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo. Yup, I post links to The NY Times in hopes that those who suck on the teat of fake news websites will read something a bit more valid. Yup, I spend about 1\2 an hour a day checking my notifications and my pages. Yup, the fact that I too have a FaceBook account makes me culpable.

But it doesn’t make me not stare at the ocean, while dining at an outdoor cafe or ignore the people I’m out to lunch with.

Rant is over. Let me know what you think. Maybe I am fixated.

Ci Vediamo.

Antimo – Keeper of the Keys to a Family’s History

 Chased by the emotions welling from a simple e-mail subject line – Invio Ricerca Famiglie Rinaldi e Solla (Search for Families Rinaldi & Solla), – tears race down my cheeks.   An incredible gift was soaring over the mystical internet highway.  I took a breath, double clicked and read –

Come eravamo rimasti, finalmente posso inviarti la ricerca delle due Famiglie Rinaldi Mariantonia e Solla, spero che il tutto sia soddisfacente.  (As we left it, finally I’m sending you the documents about the Rinaldi and Solla Familes – I hope this is satisfactory.)

Una caro saluto

Antimo Albini

How could it not be satisfactory?  It was so much more than satisfactory!  Attached were two incredible documents – documents tracing my grandmother’s family back to the 1500’s!

Family tree1
Little boxes of wonder! Pages of them waiting to be entered in my Family Tree software. Anyone want to help?

Immediately I sent  PDF’s flying through space to my family.  With a little more digging,  my newly found ancestors will share incredible stories.   But I am getting ahead of myself.  Let me start at the beginning –

One beautiful morning Annarita Mancini and I walked up Via Municipo and stopped in front of a small attached stone row house.  This part of the Pontelandolfo dates back to the 1600’s.  Annarita rang the bell.


The shutter of the second floor window burst open and our guide into the past thrust out his sleepy head. “Beh?” Oops, were we too early?   Annarita explained that we had an appointment to see the church archives.  While he was mulling that over, the beaded curtain in front of the door parted and a middle aged woman peeked out.  Shouts from above moved her.  She ushered us into the front room.  More shouts from above and she ushered us up the stairs.  Annarita and I looked at each other.  Weren’t we supposed to go to the church?  Wasn’t he the dude with the archive room key?  Why are we going up to – well who knows what?  What had my quest for the family’s history gotten us into?  That quest had led us to the true keeper of the keys to knowledge – Antimo Albini!  After a cursory greeting,  Antimo promptly sat down at the computer, lit a cigarette and led me on a four hour journey into my grandmother’s past.

His head of thick grey hair bobbed and weaved as he pulled up database after database.  This passionate historian had decided that the history of Pontelandolfo would be lost if someone didn’t do something.  He decided to be that someone.

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Antimo spent four years of his life meticulously going through all of the church records and putting the information in a Microsoft Access database.  This was an incredible undertaking.  As he digs into my past, the gleam in his eyes  reveals a man filled with passion for both history and the story of Pontelandolfo.   He entered data from books going back to 1607 – separate books for each year of the census.  There were also combined year range books of births, deaths, and baptisms.  That is a heck of a lot of books.  Whoops – he had matrimonial books back to 1505!   He said, ” as the books disappear, their stories will be gone unless people like us who care about our pasts start passing the stories on.”   So get on the stick and start recording your stories!

Imagine reading thousands of pages like this one.

As he created the databases he noted the book name, page number and entry number.  That way if anyone really wanted to see the fragile old books they could just go to the relevant pages.  He also created separate data bases labeled by book.  Damn, he is good.  The organization will help future historians track data.

We learned that until 1903 the priest of each parish was responsible for doing a census.   The census held the tales of the village.  The priests would visit each house in the parish – why am I wondering if they also got donations for the church at the same time – and ask questions.  They noted the names and ages of people living in the house, if the house was owned or rented, what kind of jobs folks had, nicknames and what ever else caught their fancy.  Those notes are now safely ensconced in Antimo’s database.  In 1903 the state took over the job and started to do a census every ten years.  These sure has hell don’t include the interesting notes the priests wrote down.

Book in comune
Birth and death registration book from the 1800’s.

Before 1700 there were four parishes serving this mountain town of peasants and landholders – San Felice, San Angelo, San Piedro and San Salvatore.  So priests from all of those parishes kept records of births, baptisms, deaths, weddings.  These are great old journals with meticulous handwriting on paper so old that it crumbles when touched.  We know that because the Comune has it’s own set of unprotected books that are manhandled, falling apart and not digitized!  Che fa!  Thank God Antimo created a database of the much more complete church records.

In 1688, there was a huge terremoto – earthquake – after which the parishes were forced to merge.  Well. not  exactly forced, but San Felice and San Pietro parishes spent a lot of time fighting over who got to be the cemetery.  In those days that meant holding the bones of the departed in the catacombs of the church – you know that space just below the seats for the congregation.  In the throws of the fight neither church got rebuilt.   That narrowed the playing field and  in 1700 there was only the mother church of San Salvatore.  The church where my grandmother was baptized and twice married.  It still stands and we go to mass there often – not because I’m a good catholic but because I can feel her presence there.

Paolo Collection 2 (38)
San Salvatore
Paolo Collection 2 (47)
The art in San Salvador is awesome.
Paolo Collection 2 (48)
These are shots from the 50’s. Later we will have a blog on the parish and you’ll see glorious color.

As I sit in the piazza writing this, my heart fills and tears start to glide down my cheeks.  What is that about?  How could a middle aged, hard assed woman like me get so sentimental about finding my family?  I haven’t a clue but the universe sent me here and as my dad’s first cousin,  Giusippina, says often – sangue è sangue – blood is blood and I am the first of the family to return looking for those that stayed.

Finding one’s family is a backwards process.  Start with the birth and death certificates of today and work backwards.  Since I had already done a lot of research to gather the documents to become an Italian Citizen, I went to see Antimo with the materials he needed to leap even further back in time. (Read the blog about citizenship for more background.)

Antimo started by finding my grandmother’s birth records.  We had the day, time and name of her parents, Liberantonio Solla and Maria Antonia Rinaldi. (I am dying to know if we are related to the Rinaldi Olio di Oliva folks.)

Rosaria Solla Brith
Every village in Italy will provide you with your family’s documents. There was a very nominal fee for grandma’s birth certificate.

Then he painstakingly worked backwards, creating a new excel data base for me that included everything he could find.  The little details he unearthed painted a picture of the times and the people.  nicknames were used everywhere.  My great-great grandma Solla had the same name as mia nonna – Maria Rosaria.  It was also the same name as her mother.  Her birth certificate was noted as Maria Rosaria D’Addona.

Antimo said that baptisms were very close in date to birth records.  Many children died soon after birth.  Since everyone wanted the babies to go to heaven, people made sure they got those kids to church and baptized immediately.  Often if a child died, the same name was given to the next child of the same sex.  Boy, does that add another database layer of confusion.

Later we paniced – we couldn’t find  my grandma’s grand-mom, Maria Rosaria D’Addona, in any database.  Oh where oh where could my grande bisnonna be!  We only found the unborn (no birth record) Cesare D”Addona in all the family census databases.  Like she fell from the sky.  The brilliant Antimo scanned even more documents and realized that Cesare was Maria Rosaria’s  nonna’s name.  Since there were two Maria Rosarias in the family they  decided to call  my great great grandma – Cesare.  In 1839, Cesare was only 16 years old when she married the widower Felice Solla from Morcone.  I am guessing he didn’t have much cash because they moved in with her mother on Via San Felice (now Via Municipo –  the same street where Antimo currently lives.) That means I have walked past my great – great grandparents first marital home a million times!

I never would have figured that out.  We were blessed to have Antimo,  a focused detective, helping us by constantly  cross checking information from birth, death, marriage and census records.  OK, we found the lineage of my great grandma.  Now let’s talk about great grandpop.

My great grandfather was Liberantonio Solla – family tales are full of his musical ability.  Zia Caterina also remembered his ability to drink the night away and fall down the mountain on the way home to Via Porta Nuova.  On my second visit to Pontelandolfo,  we found my great granddad’s house . The rocks of this small medieval stone cottage – now in  ruins  –  held secrets that we will never know.  Or will we?

rock side wall
Only a few stone walls are left of the house that my young grandmother, grandfather and aunt and uncles shared with grandma’s parents.

What we didn’t know was that Liberantonio wasn’t called Liberantoino by anyone but his mama.  Pitocchio (flea in dialect) was his nickname.  As he played the concertina, villagers shouted Pitocchio .  I’m not quite sure of the name my bisnonna, Maria Antonia Rinaldi,  shouted when he came home dead drunk, having spent all he made singing at the bar.

Oh, I just remembered,  great grandma Maria Antonia Rinaldi  was born in a rented house.  Liberantonio Solla was born on Via San Felice – in the home of his grandma!  How the hell did we discover all this in less than ten hours?  My great grandfather was a “bracciante” – an ancient term for working the land for someone else and getting a piece of what you grew for yourself – yeah serf.  I come from a long line of indentured servants.  Weeoo.  My great-great uncle Nicola Solla (Liberantonio’s bro) worked for the commune.  We discovered that for generations a Nicola Solla worked for the commune.  I can’t wait to find out if one works for the town today.

So much to discover.  So many stories to hear, feel and relive.  So little time to do it all.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you  Antimo Albini for keeping the keys to family history at our fingertips.


Back to School! Learning and Teaching

I know you are staring at me. I’m the new kid.  Everyone stares and whispers about the new kid.  Even though I am a glorious member of the sixth decade club, whenever I am in a new place with new people  I want to scrunch down and get super friendly in the corner behind Mr. Ficus.   “But Midge,” pals say.  “You will talk to anyone.” Yeah, but  first I have to take a deep breath, say, wherever I am God is and all is well, and then give myself an actor’s objective.  Damn, getting up the courage to talk takes a lot of stressful work.  Work!  That always works for me in a strange new situation – work.  Around strangers I have to have a job – back to the actors objective – give me the antipasti to pass around and I can chat up a storm.

Lightning bolts of panic zapped around my brain.  Strangers in a new town, new country, faced with tons of new people to meet and they speak a different language. How will I meet them?  How will I ward off boredom? I need a job!

Before we got to Pontelandolfo, I asked our very own School Board Member (consigliere), Rosella Mancini about volunteering as “madre lingue” in the elementary school.

2012-06-08 03.25.22
The bus travels up the mountain collecting kids. Parents PAY if they want the bus to stop.

Starting in “scuola materna” – pre school – English is taught in the public schools.  At the lower levels, it is the classroom teachers responsibility.  I thought this act of kindness/selfishness would give me something exciting to do and I’d meet a bunch of great kids.  They were truly great kids – they stand when ever a teacher enters the room and say Buon Giorno. NO ONE is staring at their phone!

Here’s a quick overview of the educational system – don’t worry I’ll toss in some pictures.

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Not the prettiest of buildings. Very 1950’s utilitarian.
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I wandered and found this on a back alley door. Yes, I reported it.
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Happier note – they get music and art in every grade. This is a piano keyboard class. Besides English they were studying French too.

All children must stay in school until they are 16 -“Scuola del obligo”.  Gossip from the teachers is that school directors don’t accept kids failing.  If a teacher fails a child, it is the teacher who is the failure.  Whoa – where does that put the responsibility?  How many kids just “pass”?  I gotta say I taught a good number of college students that graduated from high school and couldn’t write a sentence.  Guess some practices are world wide.

TA TA da dum – standardized tests are given by the Italian government during a students third level of la scuola media (students ages 11 to 14).  Tests – another global initiative.

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The primary school was condemned and now those students have a wing in la scuola media.

Those attending una scuola dell’infanzia/materna, ages 3 to 5, and  una scuola primaria/elementare, ages 6-10 get to wear  un grembiulino.  The smocks are adorable.

Clean, cute and practical. Ours were blue.

The “primaria/elementare” and “media” scuole classes I visited had classes of about 15 students – I am told that is the norm.

i went to the end of year show – music, poetry, history – performed on a very small stage that had incredible art around the proscenium.  That great art was covered by pictures the teachers made of fruits and vegetables – REALLY.

NOOOOO! Art Alert! Art Alert!
Staples. They used staples.

Not all things are simply fabulous in Italy – the show was to start at 6:30 – it didn’t.  Parents started lining up to go in at 6:00.  The teachers didn’t open the bloody doors until almost 7:00 and people pushed in to get the limited seats.  They need me to produce their end of year shows.

This performance was also the send off for the students going on to una scuola superiore – 5 year high school.    These 14 year olds must pick a career so that they can pick what secondary school to go to.  Cripes, at 14 I wanted to be something different every day – doctor, lawyer, nun, actor, cabaret star….   (Good link to understand the system –

Secondary School for Public Administration! Do we have one of those? I think not.
Secondary School located in Pontelandolfo – Art and Design of Gold Jewelry! Sadly, since there is not easy public transportation and enrollment is low the school will be closing.

OK, back to me teaching.  To arrange the volunteer commitment,  Rossella and I met with the director of the district.  I took one look at the head of the schools and could barely remember my memorized bio in Italian.  Thank the stars for Rossella who did the commercial for me.  My mind went blank.  I was stifling huge guffaws – because this woman who deals with tween age boys all day had a blouse on that was cut so low her girls must have been freezing.  Geeese Louise – dress for the job.

Worse than not being able to speak was not being able to listen – though Jack says I am a chronic non-listener.  I thought she said, “ how do you like Casalduni?”   I said something like, yes, I like Casalduni (neighboring village).  What she had said was, ” would I mind teaching there too! ” Not being totally fluent got me into tight binds often.  Somehow we managed to ignore that request and just focus on the children in my home town.

Day one approached.  I had looked through all of English text books for the entire spectrum of grades – from ages 5 – 14.  Gulp, they should know more English grammar than I was ever taught.  The sweat was dripping off my brow as I created lesson plans for every grade – did I say every grade.  Yes, I taught in every single classroom in the co-mingled primary and middle school.  A little voice said – “teach what you know.” Kids and creative dramatics are perfect together.  Whew, I should have thought of that sooner.  Not bragging here – but since the classrooms are very traditionally taught and I ain’t traditional – the kids loved my classes.  I started every class with one of the many name games I can pull out of that theatre trunk in my head.  Of course to introduce myself, I did something silly  and wondered about the gasps on my last name – Guerrera – until I heard all of their last names and heard a bunch of them say – Guerrera.  Yikes, more branches on the mulberry tree to explore.

Enough reading – time to go to the video.

Pontelandolfo and Calcio – Perfect Together!

I have to admit, sports and I have never been “Purrrrfect Together”.  In high school I went to football games and walked around flirting with boys – oh was there a game on?  First down – hut – uggh.  When I was a young teacher and recruiting boys to be in my musicals, I discovered that the boys who wrestled moved well and could be taught to dance, hence, I attended wrestling matches.  OK – so for two periods of my life I “went to a game, match, meet.”  Beyond that – niente, nada, nothing.  Then I got to Italy and discovered Calcio Mania in Pontelandolfo.

My introduction to calcio was in  2002.  Italia was in the World Cup!  I pretended I knew what that was – had no clue.  Here is what happened.

Part One:

It was a lazy afternoon in Pontelandolfo.  I was sitting at the kitchen table in our apartment reading when suddenly the piazza became a cacophony of sound.  The air was filled with screams, horns blaring, tears and sobs. Had terrorists bombed the Vatican?  Were the beaches at Anzio breached?  No, my husband calmly informed me.   Italia had tied their last world cup game.  That meant they were holding on to second place in their division.  That couldn’t be it – second place couldn’t cause this chaos.  I raced to the terrace to peer at the piazza.


A parade of almost every motorized vehicle in the village had instantaneously formed in the piazza.  Horns of all pitches and rhythmes – the staccatto beep beep beep of the Ford Pronto –  the  tiny motorini bip bip – and the I must really live in Manhatten keep your hand pressed down on your blaring big horn whaaaaaa.  A wee little boy is leaning out of the passenger window clinging to the pole supporting a full Italian flag as his father/brother roars in a circle around the fountain. Italian flags wave from almost every vehicle.  A motorini whizzed by  –  a girl on the back with both arms raised to support the flag.  It followed behind them like a Jersey shore promotional banner tailing a plane.  One car has not one but four full size flags, bigger than the passengers hanging on to them, flying from each window.    The cars continue to circle and circle. shrieks, screams, tears  –  eeks.  What was it like when the allies landed?  I don’t get the sports thing.  Men in tight shorts touch each others butts and the homophobes think its ok.  Adults visiting a foreign country paint themselves in their country’s team colors and raise angry fists in the air.  Behavior considered pagan any other time becomes ritual allowable drama during high sports celebrations.   The wails and beeps have been going on for 15 minutes now.  When do you think they’ll get bored of and start reading a book or having caffe?

Part two:

I entered my cousins house to find 6 pre-teen girls clutching each other as they stared morosely at the television.  The referees are obviously favoring Korea over Italia – home court advantage and all that.  Tears and angry tirades filled the room.  One girl with tears streaming down her face wailed from the depth of her soul.  The chilling sound had to reach around the world to that evil World Cup referee.  The match was still close.

Rain, like the tears of the young fans slowly glides over an empty field.
Rain, like the tears of the young fans slowly glides over an empty field.

These were the emotions needed to move their team on.  Oh, oh – time – they lost.  I moved as far into the corner as I could because I didn’t know what emotions would erupt.  Heart wrenching sobs erupted from another floor in the house and got closer as the resident 5 year old raced to find the comforting lap of his mother.  His father and cousin were close behind.  With anger plastered on their faces they stormed out of the house and headed out to the rural men only bar.  The girls in the living room frozen in place did not speak.  The wimpers and silent tears said everything.

Part Three:

Now that I have been introduced to the calcio world, I went to a local match on the villages’s impeccable playing field.  Pontelandolfo plays in a five on five league, so the field is shorter.  Makes it easier for the fans to surround the field and see every exciting moment.  The enthusiasm is infectious.  As you’ll see from the video, the upper promenade is packed with fans of all ages.  It feels like the entire village has come together on the field of battle to press it’s warriors on.  How could I not be part of that?  How could I not connect with that passion?  Between Nick Losardo and Jack Huber we have visuals of last weeks game.  It ended in a tie!

Brava Real Five Pontelandolfo!