He who knows the arts….

Cripes, look at the time, I bellowed.  Sweat was pouring off my brow and my clothes were frankly disgusting.  Rossella Mancini and I were setting up an art exhibit and had been collecting and cataloguing pieces all day.  The show would run for seven days and the opening was gulp – in two days.  We were juggling artigianale items – incredible hand loomed fabrics, straw woven into sculptures, wood carvings – with paintings by contemporary artists.  Our idea was to demonstrate how the traditional crafts of a community had a direct impact on the work of younger artists.

No, I screeched, leave her sitting at a table – wait, I’ll add one of the purses.

A painting, waiting to be placed, had been sitting on a little table and propped up on a column. With a little swatch of red cloth, a handmade purse and an empty chair, the painting of a young women in a bikini by Angelo Palladino became one of the “scenes” in the gallery.  Rossella and I were both racing around madly trying to get it all pulled together.  The program booklet?!  We need to design and write something and get it to the printer tonight.

I looked at my watch again.  We had seconds to run down the street to the book launch produced by a group of young friends.  As we raced down the block, from the opposite direction we could hear the tech crew setting up an outdoor stage.  Tomorrow night an International Folk Dance Festival opened.  

Good, there is a line to get in – No one will know we are late.  Cripes, I hope no one I know is here.

Looking like something the proverbial cat dragged in, I said hi to folks I knew and dropped into a seat.  Wow, I thought, the glitterati is out tonight. Not only was the audience well dressed, they all had come early – that must mean something “hot” is happening tonight. The performance space looked incredible – from the comfortable overstuffed turquise couch and coffee table on the stage, to the display of art photos by the incredible Salvatore Griffini, to the piano and guitarist primed to play – the tone was set for an interesting evening.  Taking a breath and hoping no one sat too close to me, I was hit in the head with the boing boing of an epiphany.  This very second, we could be anywhere the arts flourish – in a swank artsy neighborhood in Brooklyn or Downtown Manhattan or Chicago or Austin – BUT WE WEREN’T.  We were in a tiny little southern Italian village – Pontelandolfo.  A place where the young and the old make art.


The evening was produced by “Liberia Tutti”, a group of young writers, actors, artists and musicians.  They had joined forces to produce the book launch in support of photographer, Salvatore Griffini, whose work was in the book. The evening hummed as Liberi Tutti embraced all art forms from vocals supported by piano or guitar, a Brechtian monologue superbly preformed by Gianmarco Castaldi, to a wonderful reading by the talented author Martina del Negro.  Frankly, the editor of the self-published book being launched spoke and I had to suppress my yawns.  Professor Renato Rinaldi, the driving force of the Pontelandolfo News was one of the highlights for me.  What he said reached into my heart and moved me to tears. I hope it will move you.

Chi sa musica, chi sa arte, che sa danza, chi sa teatro, chi sa letteratura, chi sa poesia, sa Pontelandolfo. He who knows music, he who knows dance, he who knows theatre, he who knows literature, he who knows poetry, knows Pontelandolfo.

The art show opened, dance companies from throughout Europe performed, bands

Here I am moments before the opening.  I cleaned up pretty well.

played and the first week of August – Festival Week – tired us aging second actors out but reinforced the words of Renato.  He who knows the arts understands our little corner of the world.

Ci Vediamo.



Concetta Biondi

Ponte Old

On August 13, 1861, Pontelandolfo, home to 18 year old Concetta Biondi, was a quiet little mountain village.  Contadini were farming the land, children were seeking shady places to play and women were doing the million chores that women did daily.  Concetta may have been doing laundry in the common fountain trough.



Concetta Biondi was collateral damage in a battle – massacre – during the unification of Italy.  “Collateral damage,” that sounds so much better than raped and … I’m getting ahead of myself. Pontelandolfo is famous, along with neighboring Casalduni, for being destroyed by the Italian army.

In 1861, some partisans captured and killed a small number of Italian soldiers in nearby Casalduni. Seeking revenge, Italian Colonel Pier Eleonoro Negri directed his men to launch an attack.  “Leave no stone left standing,” he cried.  (Cfr. Nicolina Vallillo: L’incendio di Pontelandolfo in Rivista storica del Sannio. 1919.)

Entering Pontelandolfo smack in the middle of the night, Negri’s oafs butchered and burned the village . Oops, husband Jack just read over my shoulder and said, “oafs is not fair.  They were soldiers obeying orders.”

Ok, OK, I’ll fix it.  Soldiers obeying orders butchered and burned the village. Within moments, the countryside was in turmoil. Families leaped out of bed to the ringing of the church bells, rapid discharge of rifles and the crunch of boots pounding on the cobblestones. Clutching their drowsy children, adults wondered what the hell was going on. Racing to windows, balconies and doors, the Pontelandolfese were shocked to see soldiers running through their streets. The Italian Army had arrived and they didn’t look like happy campers.

The soldiers, kicked in doors, leaped up stairs, raced into homes killing men, women and children. Those that tried to fight back were dragged under the tilia tree in Piazza Roma and shot. Flames soared as the village burned.   I’m guessing my ancestors were lucky to live in an outlying Contrada or I wouldn’t be here.

“The conduct was horrible and immoral.  The looting and arson is infamous.” (Historian G.De Sivo, The Story of the Two Sicilies, Vol.II).

Concetta Biondi’s story has come to represent the disdain the mercenaries and the Italian army had for women.  Hmm, hot night, testosterone high men, sleeping women dragged out of bed wearing who knows what…  The bastards, as history has told us happened countless times, passed the women around like bowls of candy waiting to be munched.  Children were tossed aside like garbage and trampled.  In the name of Italy, dads and husbands were held by the barbarians and forced to watch the madness.

As the marauders plundered the city, Concetta Biondi, hid in her basement behind some barrels of wine . When she was discovered by the mercenaries, she fainted. I can imagine them tossing her around like a sack of potatoes, copping feels and stripping her.  Her father, Nicholas Biondi charged down the steps to save her. Tied to a chair, he was forced to witness the depravity.  When they were sated, the pigs killed Concetta and tossed her aside.  Wine poured out of the tapped barrels mingling with Concetta’s blood. Nicholas Biondi was executed by a firing squad.

StatueThis giant sculpture near Piazza Roma reminds us never to forget 14 Agosto 1861.  We even have a walking trail for tourists who want to learn more about the atrocities and walk where the dead walked.  Gruesome, but interesting. Lots of books have been written about the incident, including a graphic novel!  IMG_0004

Professor Renato Rinaldi of the Pontelandolfo News is one of our resident experts. He has documented much of what happened.

Can we get back to Concetta Biondi please?  Certainly.  Saturday, for the first time I realized she was an actual human being.  Not just a fable representing war crimes.  But a real young woman who hadn’t done a thing to deserve dying like she did.  Il Club del Libro di Pontelandolfo hosted Italian genealogist Domenico Carriero for the day.  Many of us tagged along.  We went to the parish archives and watched as Domenico started researching Concetta Biondi.  The books – held in a area that is anything but climate controlled – though it was hot and a window was open – go back to the 1600s!  Our guide to the archive was Antimo Albini. ( This is the link to a story about him researching my family.). When this book was opened –


I began to feel the spirit of Concetta Biondi.  Her existence was noted in the parish records.  She once had walked the same cobblestone streets that I have explored.  She might have known my great grandfather or great grandmother.  Seeing the registry brought tears to my eyes and frankly, created an “ah ha” moment.


As mankind continues allowing violence to occur in villages around the globe, I’m glad Concetta Biondi reminded me that atrocities leveled in the name of nationalism are often heinous deeds perpetrated on innocents.

Ci Vediamo.


 Announcing the 2019 Session

May 18 – 25, 2019

Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo


25 Aprile- Festa Della Liberazione

It started with me looking out the window, and wondering if the post office was open today. Why am I wondering? Because it is a national holiday here – Festa Della Liberazione.  Over the weekend, Jack and I both voted absentee in the June 2016 New Jersey State Presidential Primary. After emailing a PDF of the ballot to New Jersey, the rules say we must immediately  airmail copies of said ballad. (Does that mean I’m voting twice?)

Since things close here when there are no holidays and some are open when there are holidays – no I haven’t figured out the system yet – I wondered if the Ufficio Postale would be open. It was freaking pouring buckets of freezing rain and I didn’t want to go to the post office if it was closed. The Ufficio Postale web site didn’t have a list of hours or holidays.  Many Italian websites are difficult for me to explore – it isn’t the language barrier – it is the – who the hell designed this – barrier.  Maybe the hours are buried somewhere – or maybe the hours change from region to region or province to province.  The province of Milan had its own easy to use website and list of post office hours. La Provincia di Benevento did not.  Bo!

The temperature dropped to close to freezing, the rain turned to slush and I decided it would be more interesting to find out what Festa Della Liberazione was all about then to walk down the hill to the post office in the pouring rain to find out if it was closed.


Men and Women Partisans – We Honor You!

Thanks to Giorni-Festivi.it, I got the story –

L’anniversario della Liberazione, conosciuto anche come Festa della Liberazione, è un giorno festivo italiano nonché festa nazionale. Essa è conosciuta anche come anniversario della Resistenza, o semplicemente “25 aprile”. 

The anniversary of the Liberazione, also known as the Liberation Day is an Italian public and national holiday. It is also known as the anniversary of Resistance, or simply “25 April”. The day honors those partisans  who, during World War II, opposed the fascist government of Mussolini and German occupation by Hitler’s Nazis.  It is a symbolic date.

My favorite source of information, The Pontelandolfo News, has a full story and you can – on my computer anyway – read it in English.

There are celebrations in big cities – particularly the north where citizens eagerly joined the partisans to help kick out the Nazis.  Jack and I celebrated by going to Don Peppino in Campolattara.  When I think about it – we were thinking and talking about partisans (including the briganti)  who suffered for freedom – while we gorged on great artigianale food – hmmmmm.  Is that like having a beer blast at the beach on Memorial Day?  Our hats are off to all those brave men and women who fought for freedom then and continue to fight for freedom now.

PS – we drove to the piazza and the Ufficio Postale was closed.  So was the bank, edicolo, tabacchi etc.  Guess what was open???

Ci Vediamo!



Per Ricordare E Non Dimenticare

Those of you that know me, know that my command of the Italian language is mediocre at best.  No, no, no, do not try to suck up to me by telling me I can do more than get a room in a hotel, food in a restaurant and make little kids laugh.

What I can do is weave a story. When Renato Rinaldi, the editor of Pontelandolfo News, asked me to translate the stories behind the historic sites in town I gasped. “Me?”  Was he kidding?  Everyone in town has to help me with my Italian.

He wasn’t kidding.  What he was looking for was an English speaker with a passion for the history of our village and the ability to tell the story of one of the most horrific incidents in the history of Italy’s reunification – the burning and pillage of Pontelandolfo in 1861.


Renato has written articles about this period, spoken at events and edited incredible books that shed light on Pontelandolfo’s role during the reunification of Italy.  His most recent compilation is Pontelandolfo 14 agosto 1861 – PER RICORDARE E NON DIMENTICARE 

This past summer, I immersed myself in this story.  Renato, like a brilliant actor, told me bits and pieces that stoked my imagination.  I am thankful for the opportunity to help him share this story with English speakers.  Follow the link – touch the name of the historic site in town and when it opens touch English for the translation.

Itinerario Storico dell’ Eccidio del 1861

Ci vediamo!

Festa Di San Donato – Pre Show

Pontelandolfo’s major festa is TOMORROW!  The Festa di San Donato is the cornerstone of our little town’s tourism drive.  July 31 is the kick off and we will all be exhausted when the festa is over on August 7th.  The finale is a concert with a headliner act and fireworks. The week long event has historically brought tourists and an infusion of cash into the town.  I’m told that years past, buses of American tourists searching for their roots would roll in. The oldest church would be open – not with vendors but with artisans and purveyors of local wines and food products. This year, no one that I’ve asked as been able to tell me if that is happening. I’ve only been in the ancient church once, many years ago and would love to see the inside again.

My favorite Pontelandolfo web-site, Pontelandolfo News, has a story on the church and the man.  Practice you Italian and check it out http://www.pontelandolfonews.com/index.php?id=230.

This is a religious festival but I can’t find a thing on any poster or web-site about when there is a mass or the procession.  As a matter of fact, the town web-site doesn’t even list the churches.  How could that be?

I’m thinking that as much as I love this town, it is hard to attract tourists looking to “see something” – you know to check it off their list.  Like the millions do that race through the museums in Florence and take a selfie with David.  Due to lack of funds – everyone blames “i crisi” – the small local museum is closed. The library is closed.  And listen to this travesty – years ago, one mayor sold the commune’s one major historic attraction – La Torre – for hardly any money to some out of towner. Now that is closed to tourists and it’s secret garden  – well no one knows because you can’t get to it – but I’m betting weeds.  The tower is the iconic image of the town.  Good old Prince Landolfi probably lived there.  Now, no one sees it.  Uggg

Our famous tower – a vacation home for some out of towner who is never here. Want to see if we can buy it?

This year, it looks like the town is prettying itself up for the week. I noticed men chopping down the weeds along the side of roads, the cement ditches are being cleaned.

Thank you to all who are working so hard!
Thank you to all who are working so hard!

Normally every morning men clean the streets and the piazzas but  this week I sensed a new bounce in their steps.

Every cobblestone is solid thanks to this man.  No tripping in our town!
Every cobblestone is solid thanks to this man. No tripping in our town!

There was a crew in front of Bar Mix Fantasy sculpting shrubs. I noticed new plants set up around the out door tables at Nonsolo Pizza. The portable tables and chairs are stacked by all the bars. The sun is shining and all hope it will shine from July 31 through August 7.

Tomorrow, happy revelers will be sitting at tables!

The other night we drove to Circello – a village about 30 minutes away and saw posters for the headlining acts plastered on walls. Every night of the celebration of San Donato there is something.  (Could any of you good Catholics out there tell me what he is the special saint for?  I spent an hour searching and couldn’t find anything related to this part of the world.  One of the elders said that he was instrumental in stopping the plague here but that is all I got.)  Here is this year’s line up. IMG_1752 IMG_1753 Tourists are already trickling in.  Yesterday, I was standing at a bar having a caffè when a woman speaking the ancient dialect of the village – the first clue that it is an out of towner who had elders from here – picked up a candy and asked me if it had sugar.  She couldn’t read the Italian.  I asked her in English if she was American.  She said, oh you don’t speak Italian.  I responded in Italian that one candy didn’t have sugar and could I read the other. Are you proud of me?  She and her husband were from Buenos Aires, Argentina.  A good number of Pontelandolfesi immigrated to Argentina.

Today is Wednesday – market day – and I noticed a good number of folks I hadn’t seen before.  One visitor, who was driving and staring at the vendors ran smack into a parked truck.  Ooops!  I’m told that many people come during festa time to visit their relatives.  Not a bad idea!  I tried to convince mine to come but didn’t have any takers.

With help from the producers and production companies that are providing the shows, Pontelandolfo is really trying to promote the events.  Last  Monday, July 28th, as part of the television program “UNOMATTINA Summer” on Raiuno the hosts  interviewed the artistic director of the Award program “Hugh Gregory – Landulf d’Oro” (scheduled for July 31) and “Comicron”, the first international festival of short comedic films scheduled on August 4 and 5. That my friends, brings this year’s festa national attention.  I’m hoping tons of people come and all of the businesses make a little extra money.

In this time of economic struggling, I kept asking folks who the hell was paying for all this.  Everyone said, we are!  I didn’t quite get it until two business owners explained it to me.  A committee went door to door asking every citizen for a donation.  Hey, as I used to tell my Arts Management students, it doesn’t hurt to ask.  Folks are so proud of the festa that the majority gave what they could and were rewarded with a flier that listed the events.  To be a sponsor and hang a banner cost about €200 per business. In other years, I’m told, it cost €500.  Bottom line, everyone contributed to the best of their ability.

Putting the finishing touches on the huge stage.
Putting the finishing touches on the huge stage.

I’m excited to see and hear everything that will be going on.  Of course nothing starts before 9:30 PM so a nap is important.  Keep your eyes peeled because everyday, unless the late night partying is just too much for me, I’ll write a post about the event of the day.  Please, please send me energy so I can send you stories!

If you can’t make it to Pontelandolfo, but can get to Connecticut, why not check out the next best thing San Donato Festival in the USA – Waterbury Connecticut  http://www.ponteclub.com/festa-di-san-donato-2013/

See you at the Festa!

Grazie Prof. Renato Rinaldi!

I had been coughing for three days – you know that deep you can’t sleep barely move kind of coughing. The ever wonderful Carmela Fusco insisted I visit the doctor. Last Wednesday morning she pushed me up the stairs to the doctor’s office. After the visit and a trip to the farmacia to pick up antibiotics etc, we sat down at Bar Mix Fantasy for a cappuccino and a cornetto – I needed food in my stomach in order to take the pill. I looked like hell, red nose, dirty hair, don’t touch me I’ll kill you look on my haggard face. OK, you got the back story?

As I sat staring, my head so congested I can barely hear, breaking through the clogged head barrier comes “Sei tu Midge?.” I glance over my right shoulder to spy a tall distinguished gentleman looking down at me. “Si” I reply, “Sono Midge.” Carmella smiled at him and said “Ciao Renato”, so I knew we were OK.  

Prof. Renato Rinaldi had wanted to meet me and recognized me sitting there – I’m not sure how – and introduced himself to me. “Buon Giorno,” I say – delighted to meet the esteemed gentleman but also embarrassed at how I looked and felt.  You see, I had contacted him a while back to let him know about this blog. http://www.nonnasmulberrytree.com and wanted to meet him.   Prof. Rinaldi is the creator and editor of Pontelandolfo’s local on-line news magazine – Pontelandolfo News. He is a Pontelandolfo activist and advocate.  Check out his web-site at http://www.pontelandolfonews.com/

I often read the Pontelandolfo News to find out what is going on locally – from politics to real estate. It contains link to news articles on other sites, info on local businesses, reports on government and well, lots of material on Pontelandolfo.

After chatting for a while, Prof. Rinaldi made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, he said that I had his permission to use content from his website for this blog! Grazie mille! I will absolutely take him up on his generous offer.  But more than that, he said he had a gift for me and popped back to his car to get this –

By Prof Renato Rinaldi
By Prof Renato Rinaldi

I was incredibly flattered and touched to receive this huge book.  It represents years of research and editing.  As the editor, Prof. Rinaldi has created the ultimate compilation of documents that recount the heinous burning and mass murder of Pontelandolfesi on August 14, 1861.  Last year the young theater folks of Pontelandolfo staged a venue specific theater piece and frankly, that was the first time I truly understood the story of Il Brigante.

Poster from last year's show.  The work included more than just the massacre story.
Poster from last year’s show. The work included more than just the massacre story.


Not all parts of Italy welcomed the idea of “risorgimento” – unification as one country.  Frankly, the south wasn’t all that interested and it was only the heavy handed military actions that induced their cooperation.  One such incident occurred on August 14, 1861.  Pontelandolfo and the neighboring Casalduni were attacked – some bad folks had killed a few members of the army and the army took its revenge.  The citizens of Casalduni had a little warning and fled.  The attack on Pontelandolfo occurred in the dead of night.  Gun bursts and fires waking up the town.  It is said that about 3,000 men, women and children were mutilated, raped and murdered.  The entire town was burned to the ground.  We will do a full story on this when I’ve had a chance to read Rinaldi’s thorough collection of essays and historic documents.

Prof. Rinaldi was sharing his insight into this history with me, but I was having a difficult time understanding.  My head still spinning with the bronchitis.  He gave me his card and offered to meet with me again.  He also said he would share some historic photos with me.  I can’t wait to sit down with him.

Prof. Rinaldi took my miserable morning and turned it into a wonderful Pontelandolfo experience.  I thank him for that and his generosity.

IMG_0942                      IMG_0943