Last week Italy played England in the UEFA EURO 2020 match. Until last week, I didn’t know there was a UEFA or that it stood for the Union of European Football Associations. I also didn’t understand why this was the 2020 match – duhhhhh – the pandemic squashed last year’s. As our entire village started preparing for this event, I realized I better do some research or would be a really stupid Italian – American.
AHEM, said the professoressa with rich but boring academic tones, Italy has been in 10 major tournament finals – 6 world cup, 4 EURO. Among the European nations, only Germany has played in more. The not so staid English have never been in the finals of a European Championship. This was their first try at a major tournament since winning the 1966 World cup. Sadly, for them, but not for us THEY LOST!
The night of Italy’s win, I finally began to understand calico. Don’t be silly, I still don’t understand the rules or why a sport that is supposed to take 90 minutes takes a lot more than 90 minutes. What I finally began to understand was that the game wasn’t as important as the opportunity for neighbors, friends, soon to be friends and outright enemies to have a communal focus. Joining the majority of the village in the Piazza that night, I saw everyone from infants to people older than Jack staring at movie screens and holding their collective breaths at the same time. Cries of alarm went up when goals were missed. Chairs were knocked over as the crowd leapt to its feet when a goal was made. In-between these specific moments people were talking to not only those at their table but those around them.
All the bars in town, who had starved during lockdown, had prepared for the onslaught of customers – who were more than customers. Surrounding each bar, staring at television and movie style screens, were people who had been trapped in their homes for over a year and were now not only supporting their country’s team but supporting each other. Babies were passed from person to person, drinks and food were bought and sent to different tables, bar owners were assisted by family and friends who are like family, strangers and “the local Americans” were embraced. (There was no embracing but lots of elbow touching.)
For one night, no one was worrying about the latest designer version of Covid or what would happen when the region moved from Covid White status to yellow or worse. The angst of the past year was lost as a team of Italian men chased a ball across the pitch. (That is what they call the playing field – don’t ask me why I haven’t a clue.)
At the beginning of the match, as fireworks filed the air, all stood and sang the Italian national anthem. Italians were coming together with one focus – winning. We won the match and we in Italy will beat this pandemic.
The hills were alive with the sounds of music! Just not the song you are thinking of. For the past few days, our village has serenaded us with the sounds of welcome, love and joy featuring that musical word that means so much – bentornati! Bentornati is the melodious way to say welcome back – but really more than just welcome back. I am so happy to see you! We are glad you are back!
We are glad to be back in pontelandolfo!
After our quarantine period was over, Jack and I donned our masks and made our way down to Pontelandolfo’s village center. It was the first time we had been to the piazza since covid shut us down and trapped us so very far away. Wow! So many changes! The weekly market wasn’t in Piazza Roma – but we could see the vendors trucks behind the school in Piazza Its Been So Long I don’t Remember the Name. Look, I shouted, a new outdoor bar is open on the promenade. What a great place for a quick pick me up during the pre-dinner passegiata or after dinner night out. All of the bars have a much bigger outdoor presence. Newer tables, umbrellas – wow – so urbane! Those changes were brought about because outdoor seating was the only way the bars could eke out a living during the height of the pandemic.
We continued to drive around and noted that everyone was wearing a mask. Shoppers were carrying their bags of goodies and wearing masks. Venders were wearing masks. Bar staff were all masked up. We parked the car, put on our masks and got hit with the welcoming sounds of Bentornati!
Bentornati from the owner and customers at Bar Elimar. Bentornati and conversation with a man we barely know who told us to sit in the shade with him. Bentornati and fist bumps from people we knew and passed in the streets. Bentornati and invitations to come over for coffee from folks we haven’t seen in pandemic ages. Bentornati and tell us everything you have been doing – from the pharmacists. Bentornati, from the staff at the grocery store. Bentornati and what vaccines did you get – from the florist. People knocked on our car window to say Bentornati! Bentornati and come for dinner – an invitation we promptly accepted.
This simple welcome back phrase made us feel immediately right at home. We felt surrounded by the affection and friendship that one is blessed to feel in a small town. Bentornati, ci sietemancato. Welcome back we missed you.
At least I’m not wearing an ankle monitor! How do Jack and I manage not to kill each other during our latest quarantine in Pontelandolfo? He reads, feeds the chickens and stares at the mountain. I ramble up and down the stairs of our chilly stone house, cook, stare at the mountain and remind myself it is only for ten days. Lets back up a wee bit. How did we get here? Why are we quarantining when tourists from the USA can take quarantine free flights?
After dealing with health issues and the Covid Crisis for what seemed like an eternity in New Jersey, we finally felt secure enough to travel back to our Pontelandolfo home. I knew I didn’t want to visit more than one airport and risk seething at wackadoos who refuse to wear masks in crowded spaces. That meant finding a flight directly to Rome and ordering a car service to drive us from one region to another. Finding the flight was easy. We bought tickets on United from Newark to Rome. Their website was incredibly helpful as were the reminder emails to do everything on the pre-boarding list. Besides the usual chaos promulgated by the TSA, everything at Newark Airport went smoothly. The mask mandate was followed by our fellow travelers. This brought joy to Jack since he wouldn’t be embarrassed by me giving the evil eye and a tongue lashing to anyone who was non-compliant. People were courteous and spatially conscious. Here is a look at that pre-boarding list –
Vaccines?Check – we both had our two doses of Moderna. They didn’t ask to see them but we had our cards ready. Actually, we provided the data in advance to United and the EU-PLF.
EU-PLF? Check – sounds like peeeyyuuuu stinky feet but it is the Passenger Locator Form that you have to keep on you. Passenger Locator Forms (PLFs) are digital and will help public health authorities do contact tracing. That means if someone on my flight had some infectious disease, the European Union/Italy could find me. The idea is to prevent the spread of disease. In Newark they just wanted to see the piece of paper with the bar code but no one scanned it. When we got to Rome no one scanned it either. I’ll keep the bar code in my wallet with the vaccine card.
Covid-19 Test 48 Hours Before Landing – Check – for $85 each we got our noses swabbed the afternoon before we left. I carried our negative test results and a United representative barely glanced at them.
Digital Health Pass Reservation – Check– we made appointments to get our noses tickled again by a doctor administrating a covid swab test in Rome. In Rome’s Fiumincino Airport this was really well organized and it only cost € 20 each. Why did it cost so much more in New Jersey? We were swabbed, waited about twenty minutes and given a certificate of a negative test. Hmm – what happens if the test is positive? I’m glad I didn’t have to find out.
Self-Declaration Form for Travel to Italy From Abroad– Check. Double Check and Tripple Check. I completed this form in English and in Italian. It states that I am not a denier – I get that there is Covid -19 and haven’t tested positive, took the swab test, will take a swab test in Rome, will self isolate and where you can find me climbing the walls during self isolation. NO ONE took the form! United staff glanced at it. On the plane they gave us another one to fill out. NO ONE took that form either. I tried to give it to the car service driver. He didn’t want it. I thought maybe Pontelandolfo wanted it. They wanted something different…
After going through Border Control, we went out front and found our driver. He waived a sign with our names on it, helped lug the luggage and made us comfortable in his clean Mercedes sedan. Anybody need a lift from Rome – www.autonoleggiocerrato.it! In a three hour super highway and winding hill road journey, we made it back to Pontelandolfo. Our masked family and friends who are like family, were waving at us from the other side of the street. Think parade of one car with social distancing. When we got in the house, our cupboard and refrigerator were both jammed packed with fresh vegetables, meat and the cheeses you can only get in the Sannio hills. Wine from the local vintner was peeking at us from a shelf. Thank you! Grazie a tutti!
We settled in, I couldn’t wait to go see the piazza! What, we can’t go see the piazza? Jack looked at me – “quarantine remember.” But we took the covid quarantine free plane? “Tough – the village expects it.”
It has been eight days. Only eight days. Soon it will be ten days. Quarantining is the right thing to do. We care too much about this village to be the bearers of evil infectious yuck. Besides, quarantining isn’t so bad when you have a view like this.
On a recent snowy night, I hunkered down to clean out a dusty over stuffed plastic tub. You know the kind – large, filled with files and memoribillia you will get to some day, covered with a snap on lid and left to fade in the back of a closet. I opened the tub, pulled out a batch of files when a folded cache of browning papers fell into my lap. Was it very old love notes from a high school beau? Or recipes in my beloved zia’s hand. Giggle, I slowly unfolded the cracked paper and saw the date – January 2009. Wow, it was a love note of sorts, my notes on an earlier trip to Alghero, Sardegna and Italian lessons at the fabulous Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera. Walk with me back to January, 2009 and take an armchair voyage.
We were excited to be heading back to Alghero. Never having been there in the winter we didn’t know what to expect. The city juts out into the sea. Walking the sea wall in the summer is bliss. Will it bluster in January?
On Saturday, January 3, 2009 – courtesy of air miles we flew Primo Classe on Alitalia from Newark to Rome. (In those days there were flights out of Newark, New Jersey.) I still use the little grey tweed makeup bags they gave us filled with mini stuff that I probably tossed. .
On Sunday, January 4, tired and still tipsy from all that Primo Classe booze we lugged our suitcases across the terminal to our jumper flight to Sardegna. We had an uneventful but cramped Air One flight to Alghero. (They went out of business in 2014.) A 25€ cab ride organized by Pintadera brought us directly to the apartment they had found for us. Pintadera co-owner, Nicola, met us with keys in hand. I looked at the steep staircase from the street leading up to the apartment, muttered bad words and lugged my suitcase up. Gasping for breath I walked in and saw the sea. The steps were worth it. Wow, we have an apartment with an ocean view. The terrace was tiny but a terrace. There was a twin bed with pillows in the front room, a chair or two, table and a kitchenette. The bedroom had a king-sized bed. For the amount of time we planned on staying there it was perfect.
I love Pintadera. This was our second trip to the school. We are so taken with the place and people, that I had organized a group of Italian language students from New Jersey to join us this time. Starting Monday, January 5, we had classes daily from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM. The weather was perfect. Staring at the sea, sipping a cappuccino at a bar with a view was heavenly. January in Alghero means very few tourists, sales in the stores and lots of sun.
The queen of not doing enough research and just diving into travel, I really lucked out. The first week in January, Alghero was transformed into a cultural Mecca. We had no idea how important Epiphany was nor how involved the arts community would be. That Monday, after class we strolled the tiny cobble stone streets and alleys following the sounds of carolers. Sparkling arches of holiday lights topped the throngs out for a pre-epiphany passegiata. Itinerant volunteer actors dressed like La Befana or the three Kings could be found in every small piazza dispensing nuts and fruit to every child. Even us kids in our second acts!
Piazza Teatro lived up to its name. A troupe of wheelchair assisted and developmentally challenged actors costumed beautifully portrayed the manger scene. The love pouring out from every actor filled the piazza and my heart. Their focus and passion for the nativity brought the scene to life.
After a scrumptious dinner of roasted calamari and l’insalata at a nameless little spot we followed the sounds of six part harmony. Angelic male voices filled the air from Piazza Civica. The crowed surged there. It felt and sounded like there were hundreds of men dressed in black with white collared shirts singing in intricate harmonies. Traditional Sardo and spiritual songs wafted over the crowd as we trailed the singers from piazza to piazza. Choiristers sang a rousing march as they moved from spot to spot. I never found out if all of these musical artists were from Alghero.
La Befanas scampered about clutching brooms and tossing sweets at children. The the night before Epiphany, La Befana traditionally flies from house to house bringing candy to good children and carbone, coal, to evil monsters. Besides engaging with the crowds La Befana was also plastered on doors or hanging from lamp posts. (The universe must be kicking me. I just had finished yet another rewrite of my play “Mamma Mia – La Befana!??” when I found this picture. Hmm – time to start pitching that work???)
Often, other amateur actors appeared dressed as angels or in traditional Sardegna garb to entertain with stories, dance and pageantry. Music and art was everywhere.
After class one day, I saw a sign for a children’s theatre performance at Alghero’s opera house, Teatro Civica di Alghero. Built in 1829, the space is amazing. Think a jewel box version of Carnegie Hall with draped box seats surrounding the house. It is unique because it is the only Italian theater built entirely of wood. Lavish is an understatement. We ventured in and sat down in our box excited to see our first performance in Italy. It was the worst children’s theatre I have ever experienced in my life. Disclaimer, in the 1970s I was the director of a touring children’s theater company so I kind of know what works and what doesn’t. Here are just some of the reasons it was abysmal – for the first fifteen minutes the star – a middle aged curly haired sprightly woman stood on stage directing traffic to seats. Then the curtain opens – late of course – on an amateur cardboard set. Add to that bad lighting and a shared microphone and you have all the stuff you need for failure. I love audience participation and pre -show warm ups but this crew did a warm-up that lasted an hour. Then there was a brief pause and the scripted piece began and went on and on and on. The show started at 5:00 PM. We snuck out with many others at 7:00 PM and the show was still going on. Do I sound snarky? I love theater and it pains me to have troupes produce less than professional work for children. That said, seeing the interior of Teatro Civica was worth the distraction.
Early Wednesday mornings I took an early morning jaunt to the covered market. This market is classic. One whole section is just stall after stall of fish vendors. Sardegna is an island and Alghero sits right on the sea – perfect location for the freshest of fish. Fruit and vegetable stalls, ready-made treats and more filled the space. I love wandering the aisles and discovering what I will be cooking.
I love this city! We also loved the wine and local cheese plates we enjoyed in Ovella Negra, the grotto like bar below the apartment. (We have been back to Alghero many times since and sadly, this bar is no longer there.). The owner was a real foodie. He only served local fare and treated us like visiting royalty. During our two week stay, we did go there almost every single day so I could see why they treated us well. This particular night, I must have had an orgasmic food experience – why else would I have written down every morsel. We tend to share lots of small plates – think tapas style. First, he served us a fresh, unsalted goat cheese that was so light and creamy it must have been made by angels. With that, of course we had Cardegna, a dry white wine. Next, some room temperature small plates to warm ones heart of dried tuna and sword fish. Yup, caught off the coast. We tasted bottarga, Sardinian cured fish roe, for the first time. Now, we are bottarga junkies. Bottarga is cured, air-dried roe from flathead mullets and is a Sardinian staple. After dinner, we were given a glass of Mirto – a local digestivo. It is the national drink of Sardegna and made by infusing alcohol with fresh myrtle berries. Most nights we staggered up the stairs to our apartment. The stairs seem easier when I stagger.
Saturday, January 10th we took the train to Sassari. The train ticket was 3.80€ roundtrip. It was a twenty-minute walk to the train station from our center city apartment. The ancient train meandered through a valley and we were surrounded by mountains. Sheep, sheepdogs and olive groves completed the picture. They city of Sassari was reminiscent of any neighborhood in any major Italian city. Cobble stone streets, buildings that were built during the middle ages and – of course – one of the finest restaurants on the island. We had the best grilled calamari ever at the Trattoria Gesuino. Seriously, the best ever! So very tender – I can still taste it. We visited the Museo Nazionale “Giovanni Antonio Sanna.” This archeological museum was chock full of great finds – including glass from 200 BC. We will go back someday.
Every great day takes longer than you think. Gulp, we missed the last train back. Thanks to that snafu we experienced even more of the island on the bus. The bus was 3€ – bella vista – we saw hills, small towns and more sheep. No wonder the local cheese is so fantastic! The bus meandered through villages the train passed by. We were dropped off in the park by the city wall. It was a shorter walk back to the apartment. Which of course we didn’t enter, going down to the bar instead.
Life in Alghero for educational tourists like us is magical. We didn’t know what to expect in January – except cheaper prices – and were happily surprised by the temperature, holiday culture and the food. Since I kept that journal in 2009, we have been back to Pintadera at least four additional times. We love the sea, the food, the people and of course Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera. We will return – perhaps we will see you there too.
Spring may have sprung and gone, but my Fava memories deserve sharing. I’ve told you the tales of the roving basket of fava beans. I didn’t enjoy as many fava dishes this year as I have in the past, but did discover something worth shucking a bean pod about. Normally, after shucking a basked of bean pods, I cook the beans in their shells. Frankly, the thought of adding another step to the cooking process seemed like a pain in the pattooty. Then one fava craving day, I googled FAVA BEANS. I was surfing for any interesting recipes. Each one I found said shell the beans. NOOO! I am not going to boil a pot of water, toss in the beans, pull the beans out and burn my hands just to shell them. Shucking them from the pods is work enough.
Apparently, some other cooks didn’t want to deal with the heat of the boil either. They froze the beans instead. I couldn’t believe it when I read that and googled fava some more. Quite a few sources said freeze the beans and the shells practically pop off the bean. Hmmm. Of course, I read all the instructions and then realized I didn’t have a small sheet pan that would fit in my freezer and guarantee a single layer of beans. Also, I wasn’t going to hang around and time the beans for 30 minutes.
I shucked the beans and tossed them into a nine inch square baking dish – it is what I had that would fit in the little freezer. Were the beans in rigid little rows not touching? Nope, I tossed them in the dish. Yup, they were on top of each other. Then I put the dish in the freezer and forgot about it. Later that night, I remembered and went to visit them. They had turned whitish and looked cold. I stirred them so the ones on the top could cuddle up on the bottom. Then I went to bed.
The next night, I wanted to use the beans. I remembered reading they should be allowed to thaw for at least 15 minutes. Of course, that meant I was not going to get dinner done in time so I didn’t wait. WRONG. This was a classic “Midge doesn’t listen” mistake.
When I first tried to pop the beans out, all I did was freeze my fingers and ultimately peel the shell layer off. As the beans began to thaw it became a flim flam thank you ma’am.
Notice how the beans in this picture look whiter and wrinkled. They were thawing. It actually works! But you really have to wait at least 15 minutes.
It does take time to shell the beans and frankly, I don’t know if my palate is refined enough to really taste the difference. They do feel smoother when I eat them, but taste better? Jack said they tasted different but he wasn’t sure either if it was better. What do you think?
How did I cook them? Hmm – what did I do? We just chopped up bacon and let it sizzle. Then snuck in a little olive oil and a grossly chopped onion. When the onion started to look translucent, I tossed in the beans and enough lamb bone broth to cover them. The usual seasonings were added to the pot – salt, pepper, bay leaf and (please don’t tell my nonna) garlic powder. I also added some thick chunked potatoes. Slowly they cooked.
They were tasty. Coupled with some crusty rye bread, they were dipping great. Would I peel the shells in the future? Hmmm.
What am I freakin’ birthday crazy? When I turned sixty, I tried to accomplish 60 things in one year – including finding old boyfriends. Sigh… I failed. As I recall, I only accomplished about 35 things on my original list. For 70 great years of living, I figured it would be a no brainer to create over the span of 7 days 7 super memorable activities. I announced my idea to my friends on both sides of the Atlantic. Everyone was excited and so was I. No one said I was pazzo – although there were a few raised eyebrows.
BOINGGGGGGG – BOINGGGGG – BAANNNGGG – Then it hit me. Seven events in one week? How was I going to produce seven events in a Southern Italian village – one for each decade of my existence? Seven events communicated with my totally non-intelligible Italian. Taking a breath, I remembered that I love living in the little village of Pontelandolfo and wanted to share the things I love with the people I love. Plus between body language and my limited vocabulary, I can be understood – most times. Easy Peasy! I’ve produced lots of theater and community wide events – albeit in a country where I speak the language well. This was going to be fun. I mean who wouldn’t love the things I love? Here is the list – 1. Catered British Afternoon Tea complete with hats. Lemon curd anyone? 2. Garden Cocktail Party featuring a harpist and a cool converted mini truck bar. One Campari spritz please. 3. A professional theatrical production by a great company. Wine liberally served. 4. Sfogliatelle and Mimosa Breakfast – really who wouldn’t rush to that. 5. Fancy dress up dinner for my 22 best friends at my favorite seafood restaurant. 6. Wizard of Oz film and sing-a-long in English for school kids assisted by costumed characters. 7. Dancing Friday Night Away at Bar George’s Revolution. After I made the list of what I wanted to do and wrote my arts administrationesq plan, the angst started.
Who would I invite? Would people hate me for inviting them to one event and not the other? If I forgot someone, how would I show my face in the Piazza again? Damn, the angst was zapping me. This May I was 70 and I wanted to party like there was no tomorrow. A weeklong party designed to leave me hugging my mattress the moment it was over. I needed to un-angst my angst. Luckily, I had a posse. My Pontelandolfo team of sisters Rossella and Annarita, neighbor Nicola and pal Melissa kept me sane by reminding me Questa è l‘italia. The land of the Bella Figura and a slower paced place than I’m used to. They also know just about everyone I needed to find to make this weeklong festa happen. My off-shore pals Janet and George kept reminding me that I knew how to do this stuff – plus they did too. My friend Marie told me to call when I felt crazy. The ever-smiling Elena became my major duomo. The angst never really vanished – how could it I’m a Jersey girl – but everything fell into place and the week was a smash.
Those of you who are imagining how much a week of debauchery must cost and that I must be a trust fund baby – BZZZT. WRONG. No trust fund here or sugar daddy – though I am open to the idea. The cost of living in Pontelandolfo makes doing a party like this possible. You too can stage one week of incredible artsy stuff here in Pontelandolfo and still have plane fare back to the USA. Not only was the cost for everything I did low, the professionalism of each of the folks I contracted was incredibly high. Low cost. High Quality. This is just one of the reasons I love where we live. Remember, a cappuccino here is less than $1.00 and tastes a hell of a lot better than one from Starbucks. The first thing that smacked me in my planning ahead head, was that all the vendors told me a. not to worry about the price and b. didn’t require a deposit and c. would trust me to pay them whenever… WHAT??? If I don’t know what the gorgeous tea sandwiches, pastries and scones cost how do I send someone to pick them up?? Midge, breathe, this is Pontelandolfo everyone trusts you to pay them later. Being Midge, I made sure I had cash to pay everyone and then was astounded at how little everything cost. (Don’t ask cause I ain’t telling – this is a cash society.)
Some of the things I wanted to do were a wee bit tricky to pull off without advance planning. I mean, where would I buy a fascinator to wear to the formal afternoon tea? Worse, where would I get 4 to 8 teapots??? Answer – Mercatino Usato. In Benevento, there is this great place that sells used stuff. My teapots cost less than the tea – average $4 each and they are gorgeous. The fascinator and hats flew over from New Jersey. My good pal, Orietta, brought a box of tea from London and the ever creative Jack found interesting teas on Amazon.it.
Getting a karaoke version of the Wizard of OZ seemed easy -Amazon.it of course. Panic attack – Gennaro, my ace Tech Director, noted that the CD was Blue Ray and no-one had one of those players. But being the ACE TD, he figured it out and somehow loaded it onto something and projected it for the kids of all ages who sang and danced to my favorite movie. Here my pals and I are stopping traffic.
Hmmm, how do I present a professional theatre company in a village with no theater? Job it all in! My East Coast USA peeps know how much it costs to bring in lights, sound, set the space and get it all to happen on time. Imagine a price that is so incredible that normal folks like you and me can afford to bring top shelf theater to our home towns. I am probably boring you with all this talk about how cheap it is to live here. You have heard it all before – wise up – come hang out here too! Let me think – what have I missed??
My incredible dinner party, complete with the Midge menu, had everyone opening their belts and groaning. Sesto Senso, a great seafood restaurant, is used to “putting on the Ritz” for folks who want things a little fancy schmanzy. The memory cake was made by a local baker – you can’t tell but it was a yellow brick road with me prancing all over it. Yikes, in retrospect this was incredibly egocentric. But then, I am 70! Finally, I just remembered that I also scheduled a night of dancing so the we could dance off all the pounds from everything else we did. Sadly, I also ordered the dripping cheese man –
Happy birthday to me! Happy Birthday to you! The folks who flew in for my birthday – Jan and Marie from Ecuador, George from Holland, Karen and Al from Canada and Janet from New Jersey – I applaud you for putting up with me for all these years and living through the 7 days of Midge. Pontelandolfese – I applaud you for putting up with me now! Thank you to everyone who helped me make this the best birthday party ever! Anyone want to stage an event in a magical place in Southern Italy? Call me and let us make the magic happen for you.
PS. This blog explains why I haven’t written anything for a month!
What is it about holidays that makes me leap back decades in time? Four year old Midge races around her grandma’s kitchen until big hands pick her up and plop her on top of a sears catalogue on a chair. Aunt Julie is at Nonna’s stuffing a pie crust with rice, chopped up dried sausage, pepperoni, other pork parts, cheese and a bowl of scrambled eggs. Aunt Cat sits rolling mountains of meatballs. Nonna, grandma, punching a bowl of dough down tells me to help with the meatballs. Uncle Sal grins from ear to ear as he wanders around the kitchen holding a recently cleaned chicken by the feet. Little girl me sitting and getting meatball yuck between my little fingers feels loved, safe and happy. My meatballs have a particularly odd shape – quite artistic. I knew that a bunch of people would be coming, the kitchen table would be made bigger and anything we could sit on would be dragged into the room. All the food piled in the middle of the table will disappear in a nano second and the talking, laughing and shouting will roar out into the street. Many Easters later, Jack and I would be living in that old Flagtown farm house. On Easter I wanted to reclaim those feelings. Truthfully, ever Sunday I wanted to be back in that kitchen. I still wanted to be surrounded by – well everyone. To make that happen, what does the woman with the organizer gene do every Easter until the once wee ones rolled their now adult eyes —
The tykes who gathered eggs now have babies of their own. Time marches on and yet, somedays I actually feel myself back in the white farm house. Last week, the olive branches that were being hung all over Pontelandolfo reminded me that it would soon be Palm Sunday. That triggered a visceral need to reminisce and question myself. Why did Aunt Julie put rice in that egg and meat pie? She called it pizzagaina – gain a million pounds when you eat it. The pizzagaina I find in Pontelandolfo doesn’t have rice. It is kind of a quiche with a pie crust top. Pastieradi grano – a sweet ricotta, wheat berries and dried fruit pie delish dish – kind of looks like it has rice. Then it hit me! Zap! Aunt Julie used the rice to stretch the filling. My elders lived through the depression and when I was a child were still on the lower end of the financial spectrum. They taught us to use every piece of every animal, mineral or vegetable. Then again Aunt Julie was Sicilian. Maybe where she grew up the savory pie was made with wheat berries and in Somerset County NJ in the 1950s you weren’t going to find them. Sadly, I should have asked the question sooner.
It is spring in Pontelandolfo and the lambs, baby bunnies and baby goats are dashing about happily. Soon, lots of folks in the village will be happily eating them. As a kid in Flagtown, I don’t ever remember eating lamb or goat for Easter or any day. I think it was because it would have made Aunt Cat go ballistic. She often told the story of her parents raising goats. Actually, some Flagtownians called the Guerrera subsistence farm “Goat Patch.” PiccolaCaterina loved those goats. They would follow her about, play tag and give her big kid hugs. Every year just before Easter Italians from the “big city” – you know places like Patterson, Jersey City or Newark – would come to Flagtown and buy their Easter meat. As soon as the cars pulled up the baby goats started to panic. Aunt Cat would get as far away as she could but said she still heard the cries that every spring broke her heart. She swore that those kids knew their time was up and cried all the way to the back of the barn. She hoped those city people choked on their dinner. So no goat meat for us.
Easter Sunday, mom would have always figured out a way to get us new hats and outfits. We went to the South Branch Reformed Church. WHOA you weren’t Catholic?? Shhhh, don’t tell anyone. My grandfather caught a Catholic Priest flirting with my nonna and wooooosssshhh the Catholic Church became off limits. Besides, the South Branch Reformed Church was right down the road in the little village of South Branch. The village sat on the banks of the South Branch of the Raritan River and way back then still had the homes of famous folks like opera singer Anna Case, New Jersey Governor Peter Dumont Vroom and Diamond Jim Brady. For me it was a metropolis – there was an apartment house from the 1800s, Amy’s store and Post Office and lots of cute farm boys who came to buy soda or go to church. I still remember Sunday school, Easter Dawn Services and sitting on the front steps of the church because my mother forgot to pick me up. Sadly, the state was going to dam the river to build a reservoir so they condemned houses, Amy’s store and more. They never built the reservoir – errrrrg. Just f&*^ed up the area. Hmm, perhaps I should stop thinking about yesterday and look out the window at the Sannio Hills and start telling you all about the Easter Traditions in Pontelandolfo. I will – next week. I need to spend a few more moments in the past.
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.
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.
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.
Our lives are just like your lives. We just live in the cool Sannio Hills of Southern Italy. You could live here too!