7 Events for 7 Decades

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.

70? Who Me?

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 litalia. 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.

Prosecco, tea, and funky hats!

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 –

Great cheese melted over coals onto toasted bread and enhanced with truffles!

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!

PPS. We still have 2 spots left for the September Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo! Message me ASAP. Visit Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo.

Easter Memories

I Miss the Crowded Table.

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 —

Family and Friends Like Family Annually Raced for Eggs.

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. Pastiera di 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.” Piccola Caterina 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.

Buona Pasqua from the Guerrera Girls.
Ci Vediamo

It is not too late to plan your September 7 – 14th Trip to Pontelandolfo! We still have 2 spots open for the incredible culinary and cultural experience – COOKING IN THE KITCHENS OF PONTELANDOLFO!

“But What Do You Do”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10:05 Exited training room clutching my aching butt.

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

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

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

Put a second load of laundry in.

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

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

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

Afternoon

Made and ate salad for lunch.

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

Worked on material for my first theatre class.

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

Met with translator.

Evening

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

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

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

Sipped scotch.

Wrote blog.

Buonanotte.

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

Ci vediamo!

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

Every Day is a Great Day

This morning the buzzzzzzzz sang out on the lavatrice and my first thought was merde. My tea was piping hot and I haven’t finished my collezione. Why did I toss the clothes in the washer before breakfast! Now,if I didn’t take the clothes out of the washer they’d be a wrinkled mess. I went to the washing machine, plopped the clothes in the basket, hipped the door open and headed out to the line. The clothes line faces a mountain that was as green as green could be. I took a breath of clean mountain air, started hanging the clothes, looked up at the sky and said, thank you for this.

My next morning chore was to take a shirt back to the lavanderia. Jack is very particular and only wears cotton dress shirts. Yesterday, when I picked up his shirts one of them wasn’t cotton and definitely wasn’t his. What a drag. (Insert sad face.) Now… (Insert Sigh Sound.) I have to drive back to the next town. Grumbling about why couldn’t Jack speak enough Italian to take his own shirt back, I buckled up and pulled out of the driveway. A few minutes later, I took an even bigger breath – the village of Morcone was a swath of color oozing down a mountain side. The drive there was spectacular. A blue sky over the reservoir, mountains bursting with color, farmers cleaning around their olive trees – how could anyone be pissy surrounded by such amazing beauty.

The entrepreneurial young woman who opened the lavanderia was all smiles and happy to find the right shirt. As a matter of fact every shop I went into this morning was a happy place. What makes it even more special is that everyone knows my name. Living in a teeny tiny village next to a slightly bigger village – making that village just plain tiny – means that in a nano-second everyone knows everyone else. It is kind of special.

Every day, I’ve learned to say thank you to God, Goddesses and the Universe. Cause – no matter what – when you live in the Sannio Hills of Southern Italy- every day is a great day.

Ci vediamo!

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

I Fell in Love on the Hop On, Hop Off Bus

The universe can toss you a curve ball when you least expect it. Certainly, riding a “hop on hop off” bus would be one of those places where you would least expect it. Least expect to fall in love. Least expect to find me. I’ve always striven to be the non-tourist and even thinking about riding the hop on hop off bus would give me hives.  My hip friends, Mike and Lori, insisted that I would truly enjoy it – no matter what city I was in. Well, I didn’t know if I would enjoy it but Jack and I had four hours to kill in Naples. 

Who knew the hop on hop off bus would have such an impact on my life. Maybe it was the Neapolitan songs. Maybe it was the sun shining over the bay of Naples. Maybe it was the 30 children on the upper level of the bus who were excited to be going to an art museum. Maybe it was the architecture or the feelings that the people of Naples sling at your soul.  Who can ever really tell you why you fall in love with someone or something. Love is a strange emotion.  It pieces your heart, turns your brain into mush and forces you to do things you never thought you would.  Today, I fell in love with the turbulent, bad boy city called Naples. 

Historically, I have found Naples crowded, a driving nightmare and the train station full of obnoxious faux cab drivers.  My eyes have been opened to the incredible parks, interesting neighborhoods and wealth of theaters and museums.  Tomorrow, we are going to Teatro San Carlo to see Verdi’s Il Trovatore.  Sigh…my love may deepen.

I’ve Been Blogged!

Che cosa?  What?  Non puo essere vero? That can’t be true.  My pal Angela whipped out her cell phone and showed me the blog that had been written about the night Jack and I danced the night away in a tiny local bar surrounded by thirty-somethings.  Note, I said written about –  not by me!  All these years I’ve written about other people, places and things and I hadn’t really thought about how they might have felt seeing themselves revealed.  Actually, I don’t give a tinkers damn how Verizon Wireless feels when I write what a terrible corporation it is.  Or don’t feel sad when I bash politicos.  Perhaps I should.  Perhaps, I too need to think before I pound a keyboard.  I mean, is it fair of me to decide that a certain village isn’t worth stopping in or that I wouldn’t let a wild dog eat in a certain restaurant?

In today’s world of instant access via Instagram, Facebook and all the other “wheeeee I can send something out to stratosphere sites,” I feel compelled to never leave home without full makeup, my hair done and ready for my closeup.  Compelled but often, yawn, don’t bother and then WHAM a fugly photo of me shows up on FaceBook.  ERRRRRRGGGGG.  If you are going to take my picture – stand on a chair and shoot down – I look thinner.

Midge & Jack Party 2017

I didn’t post this picture.  But it isn’t bad. The person who did, likes us.

Back to the blog –  the author didn’t use our names, so why did I think she was writing about us?  Because people who weren’t there told me they recognized our personalities and young folks who were there told me it was obvious. We were the only “old” couple there. GRRRRRRRR.

Ad un tratto li vedo, ballano bene, conoscono i passi, ma non è quello che mi colpisce: sono una coppia di mezza età, ballano stretti stretti, si guardano negli occhi, si amano con la tenerezza e la complicità di chi attraversa la vita insieme…

Suddenly I see them, (Guess who?) they dance well, know the steps, but that is not what strikes me: they are a middle-aged couple, (Bless you darling)  dancing closely together, looking at each other with love, tenderness and the complicity of those who go through life together.

There is more but I would need permission to re-post it.

Discovering that tons of people in Pontelandolfo knew exactly who this particular blogger was writing about – even though she didn’t use our names – felt a little bit squirrely.  Then I read the article.  OK,  it still feels a little bit strange, but since all press is good press, what the hey – I’ll enjoy the moment.  Especially since the story was touching, positive, a wee bit sad and reinforces the good life we have here in Pontelandolfo.  It was also very well written.  I would like to have coffee with the author. PS – if it isn’t about us – gulp –

PS – if it isn’t about us – gulp – I WILL FEEL REALLY STUPID.  Even if it wasn’t about us, it served to make me rethink – or remember – that old adage – “Think before you speak.”

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt. Abraham Lincoln

Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/speak.html

 Ci Vediamo

Seeing Pontelandolfo for the First Time – Again

It is almost time for us to leave the one place where I can feel my grandmother in every corner – and I am depressed.  This is not an unusual state – every year as I start to close up the house in Pontelandolfo and make arrangements to be picked up at JFK in New York, I get depressed.  Pontelandolfo, village of my grandparents, aunts and uncles resonates to my very soul.

86950-PH-GFB1-034

Maria Rosaria Solla and Francesco Guerrera – Happy Owners of 221 South Branch Road

Why do we leave?  That question smacks my soul at the Mini Market, Marcelleria, Pasticceria, Farmacia – as I tell folks we are about to depart yet again, everyone asks the same question.  Why not just stay here?   Because Flagtown – the village where my Pontelandofese family settled, where my dad was il Sindaco, mayor, and where we even have a street named after my family  – resonates with me too.  The pull in both directions is so very strong that at times I feel my heart being ripped apart. Giusippina Guerrera – my dad’s first cousin – reminded me that 20 years ago I was the first one from America to return and search for those left behind.  She constantly tells me that blood attracts blood – like a magnet finding its way to those who are part of who we are.   Sitting outside of Kaleb’s bar looking out over the Piazza, thinking about Giusippina, my family and friends in the USA and my trips to Italy over the past 40 years made me really think about the first time I saw Pontelandolfo. Saw it, left it quickly, but felt the incredible pull to return.

Twenty-one, knowing everything there was to know in the world – but being far from worldly, I was blessed to have my Aunt Catherine offer to take my younger cousins Bobby, Maryellen and I to Italy for the first time.  Thank God, it was 1971 and I’m glad I was able to score happy pills. We landed in Milano and the first thing I discovered was that no one could understand Aunt Cat’s Italian. Never having heard anyone in my family speak Italian, but knowing that Aunt Cat spent her formative years in Italy, I just figured we’d be OK.  I didn’t realize that she spoke the ancient dialect she grew up with in Pontelandolfo.  Actually, Northern Italians were rude and said things like “we don’t speak Spanish here.”  The official checking passports at the airport said it first.  Aunt Cat’s face dropped and she refused to speak again – until we reached Campania.  Luckily, I had taken a year of Italian at Montclair State, carried a Berlitz phrase book and could get us to the car rental agency and put gas in the car.  Bobby and I drove the car – when we got back we told everyone it was a Ferrari – but I haven’t a clue what it was.  That trip was like a rapid fire slide show –  100 towns in 100 minutes.  Zip there went the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Zap, I think that was the Amalfi Coast – shit – the curves – how did we get here. Wham – Grosetto and a film crew shooting a spaghetti western.

ponte-2-rose-house2.jpg

After the whirl wind but frustrating tour, we got to Pontelandolfo late one morning.  The village looked like a movie set – it was pristine.  We discovered that the powers that be -I think the Communist party was in power then – rehabbed the city to promote tourism.  (Boy, did I hear that line over and over again in the next 30 years.)

On the stone city walls were funeral announcements. A number of them said Guerrera.  That was kind of freaky – realizing that people with my last name really did live and die in this place so far away from Flagtown.  I wondered if my nonna or nonno knew them – had played with them as children – gone to their weddings.

Aunt Cat started acted skittish the moment we got to Piazza Roma and looked at Pontelandolfo’s iconic tower. I didn’t understand why.  (When I was older and wiser I figured it out – she was having flashbacks to being the crippled kid that the local priest kept insisting should be institutionalized.  Here is an earlier blog – Nonna Comes to America.)

As we wandered the tiny medieval streets, Aunt Cat told us tales about coming to the village for market day.  She tried to point out where they lived on a little hill outside the village center.  It had to be a long walk for a little girl with polio.  Coming from modern New Jersey, it was hard to imagine her walking to a communal fountain for water or helping her mom wash clothes in the communal laundry trough. Her grandfather, my bis-nonno Liberantonio Solla, played the concertina in the piazza, for weddings, parties – and often drank his fee away.  After aimlessly wandering and not really talking to anyone – we sure as hell weren’t invisible but must have had a don’t talk to me wall up – we realized we were starving.

Great roasting over an open fire smells spilled onto the piazza.  We followed our noses. There was a beaded doorway and a smiling face beckoning us closer.  No one understood the sign but we figured out it was a tiny osteria – local restaurant.  The three of us went in and ate what ever the owner was serving that day and listened to more of Aunt Cat’s stories.  I don’t remember what we ate but I do remember it triggered a visceral response and my heart got bigger and bigger in my chest.

Leaving the three of them sitting in the sun and digesting lunch, I whipped out the Berlitz, wandered the narrow alleys and tried to introduce myself to older people I met to see if anyone remembered my grandmother or grandfather. One older gent with a gleam in his eye remembered Maria Rosaria Solla!  He took me to meet a woman he said was a relative.  She promptly wanted us to come back for cena later and meet everyone.

Paolo Collection (33)

I raced back and told Aunt Cat.  She was horrified.  “Absolutely not! They know we’re  from America and want our money.” Bobby and Maryellen were bored and wanted to go back to civilization.  Being 21 and ornery I stomped off. Not knowing where I was going, I ended walking up a cobblestoned hill to get as far away from my chicken shit family as I could.  I found myself on  the steps of the church where my Grandmother was married, my aunts and uncles were baptized.  High on a hill, I looked out over the alley, popped a happy pill and while tears streamed down my eyes, I vowed to come back.

As long as there is a wind in my sail, I will return.

Ci vediamo.

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.