Save Those Bottles for Sott’olio!

Spring sprang or is that sprung or had sprung ? Pontelandolfese were springing over hill and dale hunting for spring vegetables. The favorite being wild asparagi! Thin, supple, dancing in the breeze – just like my fantasy of me – these delicious wild asparagus are prized among the gatherers. When I spy a smiling forager, I know that they have filled their baskets with asparagus. Some people just seem to know where to look.

I’ve spotted pokey amounts along the side of the road. Local wisdom has it that you shouldn’t pick stuff close to the roads – unless you’re starving. Makes sense to me – exhaust fumes cough, cough – have coated the wild sprigs. Real gatherers head for the hills. Fresh air, healthy hike and yummy finds make those a great experience.

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Did I go? Seriously? It sounds lovely but I had to wash my hair. Actually, having had Lyme Disese twice, I am afraid of ticks and don’t forage in tick land. The other reason I didn’t go was simply, my lovely neighbors and friends fear that since I am always off doing something, Jack will starve. If baskets of greens aren’t dropped near my door, they will find poor Jack on the veranda writhing with hunger. I love this myth!

My friend Nunzia appeared with not only a basket of wild asparagus picked by her charming husband, Amedeo, but also some in bottles covered in oil – sott’olio. Canning to me sounds complicated. I am afraid that I will kill people with tasty botulism or something equally gruesome. What everyone does here is not really canning but oiling. WHAT. Sounds like a spa gone wrong. This is so easy and so right that even I can do it. Folks in Pontelandolfo jar eggplant, asparagus, artichokes, sun dried zucchine and more sott’olio. I asked a couple of people to tell me how they do it. Everyone starts with uber fresh vegetables.  I mean picked today or last night.  All are washed, cleaned and chopped into little pieces. After talking to my friends and tasting what they jar, I realized there seems to be the only a few differences in the methods.

Thank you Nunzia for the jar of asparagus! Jack scoffed them down – he will not starve this week. Here is how she does it.  This technique can be used for a variety of produce including artichokes, eggplant and zucchini.  After you have prepped the asparagus, pour one liter of vinegar, half liter of water and a teaspoon of salt into a big pot.  Bring it to a boil and dump in the asparagus. Cook them for a scant 4 or 5 minutes. Drain them and them lay them out on a clean dishtowel and thoroughly dry them.  When they are dry put them in your recycled but clean jars. Leave a wee bit of room at the top.  Cover them completely with olive oil.  Then bang the jar – don’t break it – so that the vegetables move and mush down a bit.  Or with a clean fork push them down.  Make sure they are all totally covered in olive oil.  Then put the clean lid back on and put them in the cupboard until you need them.

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Cousin Carmella is my go to person for cooking questions.  She is one of the home cooks that the culinary adventurers for our September 7 – 14 2019 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo will get to cook, laugh and eat with.  Her sott’olio method for asparagus was a little different from Nunzia’s.  The prep is the same.  In a big pot bring to a boil two parts water and two parts vinegar with enough added salt to your taste.  When it is boiling, add the asparagus and push them down to the bottom.  They will rise up to the top.  When they do push them down to the bottom again.  Do this three times and drain them in a colander.  When they are cool, put them in a bowl and toss them with olive oil.  Next, put them in the jars and push them down lightly before covering them with olive oil.  Carmella’s husband Mario forages for mushrooms and she does the same process for them.  She noted that mushroom and asparagus cook in just a few minutes.  Other types of vegetables need to boil longer.  She feels that the vinegar is a better conservation method than using wine.  Wine make give it a better taste but you have to eat the items sooner

Besides the fact that we buy wine by the  five liter jug, you may be wondering why I asked her about using wine in the process.  Another great cook and lover of eating out in new restaurants with me, is my pharmacist pal, Adele.  One day she brought over a jar of artichoke hearts sott’olio.  Ha! She thought Jack would add them to his lunch time salad.  I ate every last one, they were delicious.  When the baby artichokes are plentiful in the market, she buys a bunch to put away and use in future dishes.  She had us over for her homemade ravioli stuffed with artichokes and we both loved them. Her technique for sott’olio is a different. Remember she makes a huge batch!  The first thing I noticed is that she strips away virtually all of the outer part of the artichoke and is left with the small center.  Prep for artichokes includes soaking them in water an lemon for at least an hour.  This is too keep them looking pale green and lovely. After the lemon soak, place each one upside down on a clean dish towel to drain. Her canning formula mixes 1 liter of vinegar with 1 liter of white wine and a half liter of water.  She tosses in some salt and brings it to a boil. When the liquid begins to boil again, time the cooking.  Boil the artichokes for only 5 minutes and using an colander promptly drain them.  Then put each one upside down on a clean dishtowel so that all of the liquid drains out.  Dry them too.  When they are completely cold put them in clean, sterilized glass jars and cover them with – not olive – sunflower seed oil!  Adele uses sunflower seed oil which makes her process really different.  She too uses the same process for different vegetables but alters the time.

I have been so fortunate to have met people who want to feed me.  All of the vegetables I have tasted processed like this have been a little crunchy, tangy and wonderful.  Try it this summer and let me know how it works out for you!

SPECIAL COOKING IN THE KITCHENS OF PONTELANDOLFO DEAL ALERT!!!!

We have room for two more culinary adventurers for our  September 7 – 14, 2019 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo session.  I want to see the session filled so I am doing something we have never done – HAVING A SALE! Send me an e-mail ASAP to be one of the two and receive a delightful discount!  HOW DELIGHTFUL?  10% OFF DELIGHTFUL! THAT IS A €€€€ SAVING! Contact me to find out just how great it is.

Info@nonnasmulberrytree.com. Do it today and have the cooking time of your life this fall. 

Ci vediamo!

 

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.

The Pizzagaina Caper

Dum da dum dum. Dum da dum dum. (Opening music to a Bond film).

The first one turned up Friday morning. Could its humble crust and crescent shape hide a nefarious role? It was warm to the touch – ah ha! Warm made it even more inviting.  Do we dare cut it open and see what the flaky crust contains?

Looks safe enough – is that a quiche like filling?  I decide to investigate the mysterious arrival of unrequested pizzagaina further and head over to ace cook and my bestie cugina, Carmela Fusco’s house. Was bringing pizzagaina to a pals house a holiday custom?  Do they just magically appear?  As I climbed the steps, this incredible odor wafted down.  I picked up the pace and raced up the stairs.  From the exercise or the thought of tasting whatever food was causing that heavenly scent, my tongue was hanging out of my mouth.  I pushed open the door.

Permesso, I bellowed practically pushing Carmela aside before she could say, avanti.

There on her kitchen table were a stack of the crescents, hot from the oven and screaming to be eaten. 

I lunged for one.  She smacked my hand and explained, it was Good Friday, the day everyone makes the traditional Easter stuffed pastry, pizzagaina. But since they contain meat no one may eat them. 

What???  I thought the Catholic Church said it was OK to eat meat on Friday. Carmela looked at me and said, questo è il venerdì Santo.  Holy Friday, hmmm.  Diverting my attention from the great look and smell of the pastries, I asked how she made them.  She looked at me sternly and told me she made them the same way her grandmother made them and her grandmother wouldn’t let anyone eat them on Good Friday either.

The heart of the crust was not the flour – in today’s case whole wheat flour.  Nor was it the eggs, wee bit of salt and pepper.  The way to get a crunchy flakey crust is too make sure you have a pal who just butchered one of their hogs and gives you fresh lard. (Growing up in Flagtown my mom and nonna swore by lard too.) . Carmela had more than a liter of lard.  I could just imagine all the great crusts she would be making and hoped I’d get invited.

 

Like most of the great cooks in Pontelandolfo, Carmela doesn’t measure. She just knows how much flour, lard, egg, salt and pepper will work well together. The creamy filling I saw oozing out of the top of one of the pastries was egg, diced dried sausage (pepperoni), parmesan cheese and a local aged – stagionato – cheese. She said everyone made them the same way – with a wee bit of personalization. I had a deja vu moment when she told me her secret ingredient was an addition of a little cooked white rice. Shazaam, my Aunt Julie’s had added rice too. One of Carmela’s neighbors adds raisons another cooked fresh sausage.

Now, I am thinking quiche and runny egg so I demanded further information and asked how she got the egg goo not to run all over the table. By then her daughter, Annarita, had arrived and they both looked at me like I was stupider than a chicken. Actually, I think one of might have asked me if I was stupider than a chicken. You beat the eggs, add the diced sausage and then add so much cheese that you get a super thick filling that you can spread. OOOOHHHHH! Circles of dough are rolled. The filling is spread on half the circle – leaving about an inch margin. Then the unfilled half is folded over and the crescent is sealed by pinching the edges together.

Now can we taste one? I asked again with a winsome smile on my face. NO! they both shouted at me. If Jesus could suffer on the cross, we can spend one day without meat! With that they wrapped one up for me to take home and sent me out the door.

Wait, they wrapped one up for me to take home! It was still warm. The odor was so strong I wanted to shove the whole thing in my mouth. But I didn’t. I drove home. Only to find two more pizzagaina on my door step. Easter gifts from neighbors. Apparently, it is a custom. This is torture. I now have a counter full of delicious things that I am not allowed to eat! Then I got it! It was an evil plot to torture me and get the enticing things out of other people’s homes! Errrrrgggg. After pouring a finger of scotch, I started to rethink this caper. Was it really nefarious? Or was it an Easter lesson learned. I finally got it. Lesson learned and remembered.

Ci vediamo a presto! Buona Pasqua!

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Carmela is one of the ace cooks you can visit and learn from. There are still 2 spots left in the September 7-14 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo session.

Click here for more information! Or email info@nonnasmulberrytree.com

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!

Snow Shut-ins

Can we talk? Sometimes life in my charming little Italian village makes me want to scream! Or if not scream, shake the powers that be until sense falls into place. It snowed. This is an anomaly here – especially in December. Last December it felt like fall. Those weather belts do keep changing. No one expects snow in December – maybe that is why I should have a kinder gentler feeling about… errrrrgggg.. that scream is bubbling up again.

We knew it would snow because I received numerous alerts from the town that said it might snow for three days – “make sure you have fuel for heat, food and something to keep you from going stir crazy.” Being from the North East of America where we scoff at snow, plows are out instantly and we drive in anything, I thought the alerts were a little over the top. NOT!

We had a house full of holiday guests and plans to go out and do holiday centered stuff – then it snowed. Day one – snow – about an inch – no one plowed or salted the local streets. OK, not a big deal. I know money is tight and we can drive over this. Downtown, no one had shoveled the sidewalks either. Hmmm, aren’t building owners responsible for that? Not a big deal – again only an inch. Local holiday events were cancelled and even worse news – restaurants were closed – hey, it was only an inch but still coming down.

A Gorgeous Inch of Snow Frosted the Mountains.

Day two – more snow – a lot more snow and we had to get my niece to the train station in Boiano. We heard the state highway was closed going west. Luckily, we had to go east. The local roads were not plowed or salted. Ice reigned supreme. We slowly left town and got to the highway. Now this is interesting. The highway in Campania was fairly clean and salted. The minute we crossed the regional line to Molise the highway had only been given one earlier pass with a plow, however the exit ramps were clean. Don’t the regions coordinate this stuff? We got to Boiano and back and cruised our village piazza. Nope, the sidewalks still had snow and ice and the piazza hadn’t been cleared. Shops were closed – I’m glad we had the necessities of life in the house – eggs, bread and wine.

Day three – lots more snow. I mean tons of snow. How would we get the last of our guests to their train in Benevento? Yesterday, the road was closed. First step, dig out the car. Done. Second step, dig out the top of the driveway near the unplowed road. Done. Third step – do we have to freakin’ dig out the street???? The train was due late in the afternoon, we figured we had some options. Sleds pulled by snow sheep sounded like the best idea. It stopped snowing – that was a good sign. Before the top of my head blew off, a back hoe started ambling up our road tossing snow off the middle of the street. Note, I said back hoe not a plow. He made a narrow path up the center of the road. We – OK not WE – Jack dug us to the center. We got in the car and wondered what we would find. Again, the state highway was pristine. The views were fabulous and since Benevento is at a much lower altitude it was an easy snowless drive.

Clean Highway and Luscious View

Later that afternoon when we got back to Pontelandolfo, we noted that the piazza still hadn’t been cleared and the sidewalks were awful. I asked about that and found out that building owners don’t have to clean in front of their buildings. So, obviously they don’t. Store owners only shoveled the boots width necessary to get into their shops. Don’t ya think it is time for a new piece of local legislation? The cobblestone piazza isn’t plowed, I investigated and discovered, one can’t plow on cobblestone – how about a snow blower or a shovel??? I don’t know the science but couldn’t they at least spread salt??? I do understand not plowing local mountain roads until it absolutely stops snowing – fiscal constraints and all that. BLEH, I really don’t but questa è la nostra vita.

There are somethings towns in Southern Italy do well. There are other things – not so well. The snow – well now I know – when you get the alert make sure you have heating fuel, food and lots of booze in the house. Jack just read this and pointed out – we did get wherever we needed to go. Get over it. Take a breath, look at the snow capped mountains and sigh at the beauty. Questa è Italia!

Ci vediamo!

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Click here for a direct link!

Buon Anno da Sesto Senso!

Buon Anno!  Happy New Year!   2018 seems to have galloped along the road of life bringing lots of good news, great friends and new vistas to explore.   Now, 2019 is guaranteed to be incredible – granting all of us health, happiness and good cheer.

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Jack and Midge glad to be part of the New Year’s party.

We greeted 2019 with family, friends, a bazillion courses of seafood, music, dancing and fireworks at Sesto Senso!  This great local restaurant tucked in a corner of Campolattaro (BN) tossed a rocking party.  Unlike the New Year’s Eve parties we have gone to in the states, the crowd featured party goers of literally all ages.  Babes in strollers to great grandparents danced to traditional music and rock and roll.  No one seemed to mind the wee ones giggling in their flouncy finery, twirling throughout the tables.

This is the first time we have ventured out on New Year’s Eve.  Last year we dined with family and friends too, but in our house and then raced to the Pontelandolfo Piazza to see the requisite midnight fireworks.  Not knowing what to expect, I encouraged our house guests Cindy and Les, my LA niece Alessandra and Pontelandolfo niece Annarita to come along for the ride.

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Alex and Annarita kept the wine and the laughter flowing.

 

The first hint that this was going to be a party that required our due diligence and staying power was the menu –

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The second hint included countless wine bottles that arrived full and seemed to empty and get replaced in nano-seconds.  Thank God we got to dance between courses.

The apertivo plates – lots of different fish but of course but I can’t remember what – were brought in to a musical fanfare!  Damn, this is just the apertivo tasting?  How will we get through all the courses?  We put on our big girl appetites and somehow we did.

Everything was presented so beautifully that for a scant moment we just stared, not wanting a fork to damage the look.

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Croccheta di Baccala – Almost too cute to eat.

At midnight we hadn’t quite made it through the menu, but that didn’t stop the bottles of prosecco from popping and the fireworks to start blaring.  We all raced out side to see the display.  Oooing and aaaahhhhhing I realized that the restaurant had organized the pyrotechnics. What a button to put on a great evening. But wait, we have more to eat – the night isn’t over!

Cotechino a pork based sausage and lentils are a traditional Italian New Year’s Eve course.  The lentils represent money that will be coming your way in the upcoming year.  We scarfed down those lentils – I actually made more the next day.  I wonder how many pounds of lentils I need to eat to get the cash for first class plane tickets??

2019 is firmly ensconced in our lives.  For each of us, that means it is time for a new adventure.  In 2019  I’ll be entering my seventh decade – gulp – my second act needs to be upgraded to include a chorus of triple threat actors to help me pull off my ongoing later scenes.  Hit me with my light – I’m ready for it!

Buona Fortuna!

Ci vediamo

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Secret Tomb Found!!!

Rinvenimento Tomba Sepolcrale – Discovery – Sepulchral Tomb

That was the headline on a statement circulated by the Comune di Pontelandolfo.  Italians have a great vocabulary. I had to use the Miriam Webster Dictionary for kids to understand the translation of Sepolcrale – Sepulchral – “relating to the burial of the dead – gloomy”– I would think being buried in an ancient tomb would be pretty dark and gloomy.  What is not so gloomy is why they issued a statement.  It was the precursor of some pretty exciting news.

On 21 Augusto 2018, in the Pontelandolfo section of Sorgenza, ScaPollici (the company putting mammoth wind turbines on our pristine hills) needed to bury conduits and began digging. I can almost see and hear the scene.

Vroom Vrrom VRRRRRRoooom, roared the backhoe.

“Che fa???? Whoa, what is that – a skull,” queried one of the guys watching the work.

“Cripes, whose it is,” asked the other guy standing and watching the work.

“Stop digging. Turn off the excavator. STOP. STOP. STOP DIGGING,” screamed the head guy standing and watching the work.

Someone alerted the police and the town. Our mayor promptly called the office of the Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio for the province of Caserta and Benevento. This office of the superintendent is the local office of the Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Cultualli e de Turismo (Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Activities and Tourism.)  Quickly, State sanctioned archaeologists raced to Pontelandolfo and supervised the work at the location.  Immediately, the front loaders were silenced, and manual excavation began. Our diligent municipal administration was not only updated by archaeologists constantly, but also repeatedly checked out the on-site activity themselves.

The archaeologists dashed off a report to the superintendent.  Wham bam, work was suspended in the area and the local Carabinieri were dispatched to guard the location.

I had no idea this was going on and being a gossip hound, I am glad I didn’t. Our Mayor and Council, supporting the requests of the archeologists, kept the information about the site a wee bit secret. During the excavation, the mayor, with the press pressing for information and locals gossiping up a storm did as he was asked and zita, kept his mouth shut. The professionals feared that if a lot of publicity was blasted about the site unauthorized “Raiders of the Lost Ark” type folks might start digging. Historically, artifacts have been looted from the village.

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Now the site is secured.  Who was this little Roman baby? What were her parents like? Can’t wait to hear the rest of the story.

Now the word is officially out and it is incredible news.  A 90 cm by 120 cm tomb, presumably from the Roman era, containing the skeleton of an infant was uncovered.  The skeleton was subsequently preserved in a safe place.  The tomb was covered with steel plates and secured.  More archeological sanctioned excavation will occur later.

Why is this great news?  Where there was an infant there was a group of people!  The importance of this discovery not only brings a sense of historic pride to the community of Pontelandolfo, but also the archeologists confirm what we all thought – there was a presence here of an ancient civilization. This unleashes scores of opportunities!

According to city spokesperson Gabriele Palladino in Pontelandolfo News –

…in the pleasant and spacious plain there was once a prosperous and laughing Pag: The Pagus Herculaneus, or village of Hercules. This rural district of the ancient Roman territory, embellished with marble, glass, mosaics of frescoes, statues, temples, aqueduct, fountains and spas, had life in the Piana…

Now our administration is considering all of the possible opportunities this gives us.  Imagine the collaborations with major universities to create an archeological zone!  Or the development of a museum to exhibit newly uncovered artifacts and the items already available to us!  This is incredibly exciting to me.  I envision, yet another reason to visit Pontelandolfo.

Yes, this poor baby’s bones, kept hidden for hundreds of years, could represent a new beginning for a small village in the Sannio Hills

Ci Vediamo.

 

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.

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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

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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.