Names – Connections to our Past.

As I move from continent to continent, I often tap into my philosophical self.  Maybe the air pressure in the plane makes my head woozy doozy or maybe, just maybe, flying from New Jersey to Italy provides me with the quiet time to reflect on what is important or not.  A few years back, I lobbied to get a street in Flagtown, NJ named after my family.  Some folks looked askance at the concept and told me that sticking your name on something was pretentious.  Actually, they said it was *&^%! stupid.  I beg to differ. Who we are and what we have become is based on those who came before us.  What better way to help those who come after us to discover their heritage than with a named place and all it connotes.  It becomes a visible touchstone to the past.

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A year or so ago, my friend Dr. Adele Gentile, invited me to an event that was a link to her past and the history of Morcone – the village next door to Pontelandolfo.  We went to the dedication of a Morcone Library section named for her dad, Dr. Girolamo Gentile.  I was touched to be invited and honored to go.  Also, I had seen her dad’s and her last name on streets and buildings in both Morcone and Pontelandolfo and wondered just who this man was. Her father, as you can see by his name on the  walk-in clinic wall,  was incredibly loved and respected as a doctor by the citizens of Morcone and the area.  People tell me he was a “doctor of the past.”  The Doc who went out in a blizzard to make  house calls and took care of everyone equally.  I also discovered that night that Dr. Gentile was intuitive and did everything he could to help his patients. If that meant find them shoes to go to school or wood for their stove, he would do that too. An avid reader and perpetual student he left a huge collection of books dealing with medicine, science, fiction, non-fiction etc. Adele and her brothers donated them to the Morcone Library.  It made sense to name a section of the library after Girolamo Gentile, not only because of the wealth of information shared in the books but because he was an incredible force in a community and should be remembered.  Justifiably, the library was packed the night of the dedication. People swapped tales about Dr. Gentile. We hope that medical professionals of the future will ask who he was and take a lesson in going the extra mile for a patient.

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All over Pontelandolfo there are streets named after people.

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OK, my great grandmother’s surname was Rinaldi, but that is not why I chose this picture. The Rinaldi brothers were massacred during that heinous night, August 14, 1861, when in the name of Italian unification,  hundreds of Pontelandofese  were killed in their sleep.  We hope that when visitors see the names of the streets in Centro Storico they might ask a question or too.  Before becoming involved in my little village I had no idea that Southern Italy wasn’t enthralled with unification. The mass slaughtering could be a reason.  That sure as heck wasn’t in my American history books.

At this point you might be wondering why I felt it was important to get at minimum a street in Flagtown named after my family – Guerrera.  The specific location is particularly meaningful because my grandparent’s subsistence farm was just a spit away.  Actually, I grew up on a piece of their property across the street.

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May 4, 2015 Ribbon Cutting and Opening of Guerrera Court, Flagtown, NJ 2015

Guerrera Court is specifically named in honor of my pop, former Hillsborough Township Democratic Mayor, John F. Guerrera and Flagtown Postmistress, my life saving aunt, Catherine Guerrera.  To me that sign honors all of us Guerreras who lived, worked and contributed to our community.

I orchestrated that the ribbon be cut by former Republican Mayor, Bill Jamieson.  During the 1960’s, Jamieson and my dad served the township from different sides of the political aisle, often arguing vociferously at meetings and then heading  to Farley’s Tavern in Flagtown to share a drink and strategize for the good of the community.  According to Jamieson, “John was a progressive leader who moved boulders to bring Hillsborough into the 21st century.”

My dad was a powerful force and cut a bella figura!  A Democratic operative, he was active in county, state and national campaigns.  He is credited with starting our community police force, seeing that sewers were installed, a Municipal Utilities Commission  formed, zoning  updated and lots more.

Born in Pontelandolfo, Italy, my resilient aunt, Catherine Guerrera, had contracted polio at 2.  She, my grandparents and uncles immigrated to America. In 1926 they bought a 15-acre subsistence farm in Flagtown.  After graduating from Somerville High School in 1933, Aunt Cat discovered that jobs for the handicapped were limited. My ballsy aunt sat down and penned a letter to then First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. Zap!  The letter was answered. The Roosevelt Administration assisted in her having numerous operations done by the famous Dr. Kessler himself. She was later appointed the first postmaster of Flagtown and paid only a commission. Her tenacity and work ethic built the post office to first class status.

Now as folks buy a house on that street or drive by they might just wonder who that family was.  It is a visible link to our community’s past. They might ask the who, what, where and why.  I know I would.

Ci Vediamo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Presepe Vivente Morcone 2018

When I first heard about the Presepe Vivente presentation in Morcone – the town that clings to the mountain just down the road from Pontelandolfo.  I thought – a theatre or film crew couldn’t find a more perfect location to stage the Christmas story.  This ancient village dominated by the Rocca  (ancient rock fortress) has all the elements of a characteristic Neapolitan nativity scene.

My theatre brain imagined a 21st Century Location Scout: I’m tellin’ you this place is freakin’ perfect.  It could be Bethlehem. Sits on a high mountain ridge.  Surrounding hills terraced, covered with grape vines, fig trees, olives.  Cave and grotto waiting to host the couple. The buildings – man they are so old we would barely have to spend a shekel on set construction.  Settled 5th or 6th century BC – way before the big day.  (Pause – he is listening.)  I’m not lying!  Morcone – a hill top town in Compania –  is the perfect place to stage a reenactment of  the birth of Jesus!

This year, I was blessed to be able to see the 34th Annual Presepe Vivente Morcone.  Every January close to Epiphany, the entire community comes together to create a site specific theatre piece in two acts.   Hundreds of volunteers donned period costumes, dressed the sets staged in ancient buildings, hung lights, wired the city for sound and  produced an incredible living history theatrical work.

The well organized event begins in centro storico, the historic center.  We climbed ancient stone steps, crossed small alleys, stopped in the tiniest of piazzas and witnessed daily life as it may have been lived thousands of years ago. Ancient crafters, washerwomen, children racing through lanes, merchants, tax collectors, Roman soldiers, housewives, fishermen in the stream – all in period dress go on with their lives as we wend our way on the guided path.

The second act is staged in a huge field outside Porta San Marco.  At the far end was the illuminated grotto serving as a stable.  Not knowing what to expect, I only had my iPhone – next year telephoto lens and binoculars. A great sound system kicked into high gear with music and a narrator.  Suddenly lights came up far off  in the woods to our right. In a small room, Gabriele talks to Mary. Each segment of the Christmas story is staged in a different part of the woods – perfectly lit for its brief moment.  On donkey, Mary and Joseph begin their journey to Bethlehem.  Shepherds arrive illuminated by hundreds of torches. Of course the spectacle ends in the manager with a blinding pyrotechnic flash that is the star leading the Magi on horseback to Jesus.  It was incredible!  I have the attention span of a gnat and there wasn’t one moment when I wasn’t engaged.

For next year’s details visit their website – Presepe Nel Presepe.   For a glimpse of what I enjoyed this year, click on the video!

I hope to see you in Pontelandolfo!  Visit us this May – we still have a few spots left in our Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo.  Or contact me and set up your January adventure and visit Morcone!

Ci Vediamo.

Young Entrepreneurs – Arochiosco

We read about it, hear the stories and see young people with advanced degrees in architecture, engineering, and literature sitting in the piazza bar letting the days pass them by.  The economic crisis that has racked Italy has had a profound effect on young people.  If one lives in a little village like Pontelandolfo and loves living here than finding a job is nigh impossible.  This is southern Italy – it doesn’t have the manufacturing found in the north.  Nor, does it appear to have regional governments that do something about the problem.  What’s a young person to do?  Sit and stare?  Polish your friends nails while slowing sipping your €.80 bicchiere di prosecco in the bar?  After university, some twenty-five to thirty-five year olds do just that.  Others like Elena Baldini and Jean Luca Diglio create their own prosperity!

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I wanted to call this story “Entrepreneurial Elena” but alliteration seemed just a wee bit lighthearted for what I hope will be a series on the young entrepreneurs who are making their own employment opportunities.  Architect, Elena Baldini – who I did first meet years ago in Bar Mixed Fantasy – has the passion and drive to be successful at whatever she puts her mind to.  Last summer, she joined forces with Gianluca Diglio – who grew up in an entrepreneurial family – get his family’s back story here – http://wp.me/p3rc2m-fd.

They created Arochiosco, a neat summer time bar perched on the side of a mountain.  Found in Morcone’s Piazza M. Giuseppe Manente, the charming outdoor space features wooden gazebos with a birds eye view of Pontelandolfo, Lago Campolattaro and incredible valleys.  Sitting there was like sitting in a magical tree house.  Last summer, Jack and I originally went to Arochiosco to be supportive of the two young Pontelandolfesi.  It was so delightful, we went back just to go back.  Sitting there writing, I was reminded of afternoons spent in Fieosole – sipping prosecco and staring out over the rooftops of Firenze.  There was one HUGE difference – price point and lack of tourists!  For €3 we got a bag of chips, bowl of nuts, Campari Soda and white wine.  We also got to sit comfortably and watch the river of life that flows through Morcone.

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Gianluca

Wait a minute?  How could two kids start a bar?  That takes cash for inventory, tables, chairs – who built the wooden structures? What is the real back story here?  Well folks – networking 101!  There is a bar in Morcone – directly across the street from the piazza.  The owner after talking to Elena and Gianluca made an offer that the two hardworking youngsters couldn’t refuse.  Network?  Si!  The owner was the uncle of Gianluca’s wife and he often thought of expanding to outdoor tables on the piazza.  Since his bar was a one person shop, he couldn’t do it.  Gianluca alone couldn’t help him but the incomparable duo – Gianluca and Elena could and did.

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Elena

Elena had the bar experience – having bar tended and Jean Luca had the contact.  They worked out a percentage deal – did the hard work and created great seasonal jobs.  Networking 101!

Arochiosco open again this summer.  We will be there.  I applaud their drive and ability.  I also applaud the other young people of Pontelandolfo who are creating their own futures.  Congratulazioni!

Feeling like a Queen at Queensley Country Resort

I was staring out my dining room window this morning and thought, how magical the snow covered trees look – like the setting for a Russian love story.  Then I walked outside the door to smell the clean winter air – it’s freakin’ freezing.  Dashing back into the house I knew I had to think summer thoughts.

Winter blahs getting to you too?  Tired of snow, sleet and brr?  Take a breath – close your eyes – NO – I mean pretend you’re closing your eyes.  Imagine sitting in the bottom of a salad bowl and looking up at every color green in the spectrum. Green to the right of you. Lighter green to the left of you. Cascading greens floating down the side. That is what it feels like to be floating in the pool on a hot summer day at Queensley Country Resort in Morcone (BN).  Ahhhhhhhh.

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When one of my Pontelondolfesi pals told me about the swimming pool in Morcone, I thought they were exaggerating about how gorgeous it was. We are in the hills of Southern Italy – not on the Amalfi Coast at a swank resort. Under duress, I took a ride one afternoon to see this really “elegant” swimming hole. Yawn, could we go for gelato yet? We road around the whirly gigs of hill roads, came to a tired sign and made a left up the longish driveway. Holy Shit! How did I get to the Beverly Hills Hilton? Were we beamed up to some super chic spa in Tuscany?

No my friends you can find this ten minutes from our little village –

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Private Spots with a Great View!

Ten euros gives you a full day of feeling like a princess.  The price include a lettino – a lounge chair.  It is more to reserve the Prive Bellavista – 4 spots for 100€.  The club like resort opens from 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM.  The youngsters tell me it is open at night for the restaurant, bar and general partying. In July they had a Toga Party – free admission with a DJ!  It started at 10:00 PM.  We never made it.

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My first trip was with my worldly London-living niece, Alessandra Rosaria,  she quickly grabbed up one of the brown circular lounges, globbed on the sun screen and declared she had found sunbathing heaven.  That day, not knowing what to expect, we packed our lunch and dragged bottles of water.  We noticed the more urbane folks getting incredible looking sandwiches getting delivered to them – wait – this place has a restaurant?  Yup – to eat at the restaurant one needs a reservation.

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Caffè or Campari????

To munch pool side you can order food from the “bar” – even caffè, campari soda and all the wonderful drinks that go to my italo-americana brain.  The locals tell me that the restaurant is top drawer – of course one goes for dinner at 9 or 10.  We vow to nap one day next trip and try the restaurant out.

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Elegant outdoor dining.

We did see people shedding bathing suits for dressier attire and lunching here.

Perhaps someday I’ll drag a bag with a breezy summer dress and change for lunch….  One visit, we ordered panini from the bar.  They were huge and OK but for a scant 1€ in Pontelandolfo we could have gotten the same thing to go.  We decided to buy our lunches to go for the next visits.  Still, of course, availing ourselves of the Queensely Bar.

The folks that we saw poolside were a mixture of working class woman with a day off – we met a few from a local factory, moms with their children – though the price point makes that difficult for most, Americans visiting their families and lots of gorgeous young men and women.  I particularly loved watching the gorgeous young men oiling themselves.  Whew it got hotter.

When by BFF, Janet, came to visit she instantly chatted up everyone and discovered folks I didn’t know from Pontelandolfo.  Other days I bumped into my English students and women from town.  This is the place to ward off the heat of summer and luxuriate in surroundings found in tonier towns.  I am so glad I was introduced to Queensley Country Resort.

Here is their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/pages/Queensley-Country-Resort/496928613745805

Hmmmm, summer will soon be here.  There now – don’t you feel warmer?