Ever notice that in some communities the arts just flourish? Kids enjoy not only sports but making art too. Towns comes together and theatrical/musical magic happens. Pontelandolfo, a teeny tiny Southern Italian village, is one of those artistic Petri dishes spawning talented artists, dancers, writers, musicians and filmmakers. Older posts have talked about our dance company, the visual artists, village wide theatrical productions etc. Is something in the air? Is it in the nature or nurturing of our young people? Or an enchanted coupling of both? I think it is a combination.
During the holiday season, I discovered yet another group of young people making art – filmmakers under the moniker Nonna Anna Film Group. Spearheaded by Gianluca De Michele, the bourgeoning company is committed to not only telling original tales but shooting their films in Pontelandolfo. According to De Michele, “The short films we shoot are set in Pontelandolfo, because I believe that there is a reality to be re-examined here, not only from a historical and traditional perspective, but also from a visual point of view.“
De Michele studied directing and screenwriting in Bologna at the Accademia Nazionale del Cinema. (Check out the website, I think Gianluca is in the cover photo!). He has always been in love with using media to tell a story but is quick to say that Nonna Anna Film Group was not something that he created alone. The company was developed with his friends Igor Rinaldi, Nicola Colesanti and Federico Mancini. I asked him – why call it Nonna Anna – you are all in your twenties. This brings us back to the nature and nurture question. When the company was producing their first film Oro nel Torrente – Gold in the Stream – his grandmother, Anna, who provided the locations and support was instrumental. As was his father and brother who provided all of the video equipment. It was their second film, Il Regalo di Natale – The Christmas Gift, that I saw.
According to De Michele, ” In The Christmas Gift,” I emphasized the inner conflict of a father who knows that he will disappoint his son by not being able to buy him the gift he wants, precisely during the period when children dream the most. Pirandello believes that comedy works with tragedy. The message of our short film lies in the fact that, paradoxical as some situations are, the seriousness of a topic is developed on the basis of a comic intention. The film is the mirror of a dream that must not be broken and of the deep love that inspires every parent…” Take a peak and let’s discuss it –
It took the film crew one full work week to shoot what we just watched in a few minutes. I am delighted to have discovered yet another group of dedicated artists living and working in Pontelandolfo.
Listen up! Italy has a nation wide policy on Covid that includes a Rapid Response Team. Wouldn’t it be cool if the USA did too? The health care system, under the Ministero della Salute – Ministry of Health – remember, Italy has national health care – Il Servizio Sanitario Nazionale – is administered by each region. What follows is a true tale of fast contact tracing and testing in Southern Italy. The country and regions are working together for the greater good –
It all started in the Sannio Hills with the renovation of the medieval castle below. Man the battlements!
On a Saturday at the end of August, the village of Reino in the province of Benevento held an event to celebrate the grand opening of their restored medieval castle. They got great press and hoped the castle would become a tourism anchor. (That link has a video of this grand edifice designed to ward off all war mongering enemies.) The sun was shining and people, including Pontelandolfo’s own mayor, Gianfranco Rinaldi, enjoyed exploring the space. The following Monday, the warm memories turned cold with fear. The mayor of Reino tested positive for Covid 19. Immediately the town and the Azienda Sanitaria Locale (ASL) – the local health agency leaped into action.
The town immediately activated it notification system. Masks were made mandatory everywhere in the town of Reino. With outdoor social distancing they had previously eased up on the wearing of masks.
Everyone who was at the grand opening was contacted. Those contacted helped spread the word. Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and local media all were full of the news.
For example, our Mayor quickly posted his possible Covid contact on Facebook and went into isolation quarantine. Facebook in Pontelandolfo is read by the majority of the citizens. The town uses it to let people know about everything from new laws to weather alerts. The Mayor is a Facebook Friend with just about everyone.
Just how did the town of Reino know who was at the event? How were people contacted so rapidly? How did the Ministry of Health do something that we haven’t been able to do In the USA? One answer is that the majority of citizens in our little corner of Italy have loaded the App Immuni on their smart phones. The idea is simple and doesn’t sacrifice privacy. Immuni doesn’t collect names, dates of birth, addresses, telephone numbers or email addresses. It cannot determine someone’s identity or the identity of those that they come in contact with. It doesn’t save GPS or geolocation data. The data is saved on your smartphone and the connections to the server are encrypted.
Simply put – the App notes where you are, the date and time of the day. That information is saved to your smart phone. If someone else who was in that same place at that same time is tested positive for Covid, you will immediately be contacted through the app. Yeah, yeah all you folks who are afraid of themknowing where you are need to remember that if you have a smart phone, use social media and don’t have an spy quality encrypted phone they probably already do. I realize that not all Italians have a a smart phone and that not all Italians have downloaded the App. What I do know is purely anecdotal from my very politically active sources in the Region of Campania that tell me everyone they know has the App and shares information with elder family members who may not have a phone.
3. Besides the alarm on the App sounding, phones ringing, town websites putting up notices and social media being loaded with information, the province’s Rapid Response Team left the bat cave. The ASL Rapid Response Testing Team set up a mobile voluntary testing site across the piazza from Reino’s castle. Folks got quick blood tests to see if they had Covid antibodies hard at work in their systems. Everyone cooperated. Out of the 746 people in this tiny village who took this quick test 15 people tested positive for the antibodies and went to take the yucky nasal-pharyngeal Covid test. In reality anyone who wanted to could also make an appointment for the full Covid test. Happily Pontelandolfo’s mayor tested negative but remained in quarantine for fourteen days.
4. To control the pandemic, people entering Italy register with the town they are going to and remain in isolation quarantine for two weeks. The police will stop by and check on you. We know that because my cousin, returning from New Jersey to Pontelandolfo, made the mistake of sitting outside on her veranda during her isolation. The police arrived and sent her back inside. We are so blessed in Pontelandolfo that everyone working together for the greater good has kept us Covid free.
Obviously it is much easier with National Health Care and a national plan. I wondered about App use in the USA. Jack insisted he read about Apps were available in the USA but that people were hesitant to use them. Are any connected to government Departments of Health? I wondered if New Jersey’s Department of Health recommended an App. Just for fun, I searched at NJ.gov and then called the General Covid Questions hot line to find out. The gentleman who answered the phone was very nice and put me on hold to investigate. Nope, nada, niente. Unlike Italy, New Jersey residents don’t have access to a tracing application that is coordinated by a government health agency. I asked the call center person to please forward my suggestion that New Jersey needs an App – we can’t wait for the Federal Government – and if there were to be an App it should be mandated. The states I found that have asked citizens to voluntarily use Apps haven’t been successful. North Dakota was the first state. At the end of August, Nevada launched an App. Let us hope that Nevadians sign up. I haven’t been successful in finding many more. Wooo Wooo fear of Big Brother watching seems to be the problem. I’m a theatre kid – I don’t care who watches me, where, doing what or when. Seriously, I don’t care. If tracking where I go can help stem the pandemic, I am all for it. The New York Times just had an article about Apple and Google creating software. Click Here to read the article. If it is coordinated by our home states, I hope we are encouraged to use the software.
As those who follow this blog know, I am not afraid to point out things that don’t work in Italy. We hate to admit it but not everything in Southern Italy is absolutely amazing. This commitment to keeping the population safe, however, is incredible and something that one would hope other bigger countries would copy.
How did September get here? What happened to August? The pandemic – duh – no wonder I have no stories to tell of the annual August festa. Remember the year I tried to write about each of the seven events and slept through the last two? August in Pontelandolfo is usually jam-packed with concerts, art exhibits, processions, remembrance celebrations, Feragosto picnics and house parties. Pontelandolfesi from all over the world return home to eat, drink and reminisce with family seen only once every few years. This year, thanks to the pandemic, the monthlong whirlwind didn’t happen.
No stage was set up in Piazza Roma.
Performing artists weren’t contracted or were cancelled.
Ri Ualanegli, our internationally acclaimed folk dance company, didn’t host a 2020 dance festival.
What did happen in August? Gardens were tended. Crops harvested. Produce canned. Bars opened. Cards were shuffled. People strolled the piazza. Families ate, drank and enjoyed each other. Trekking, forest foraging and picnics took place in the mountain. Beaches were visited. Kids started thinking about school starting on September 14th. Some folks did the usual August thing and went on vacations. Returning vacationers caused a surge in Covid-19 cases.
Pontelandolfo is a microcosm of good health. During the pandemic, there has only been one case of Covid. Perhaps it is the mountain air and great wine. I will start thinking about next August and what a joy the annual festa will be.
Spring may have sprung and gone, but my Fava memories deserve sharing. I’ve told you the tales of the roving basket of fava beans. I didn’t enjoy as many fava dishes this year as I have in the past, but did discover something worth shucking a bean pod about. Normally, after shucking a basked of bean pods, I cook the beans in their shells. Frankly, the thought of adding another step to the cooking process seemed like a pain in the pattooty. Then one fava craving day, I googled FAVA BEANS. I was surfing for any interesting recipes. Each one I found said shell the beans. NOOO! I am not going to boil a pot of water, toss in the beans, pull the beans out and burn my hands just to shell them. Shucking them from the pods is work enough.
Apparently, some other cooks didn’t want to deal with the heat of the boil either. They froze the beans instead. I couldn’t believe it when I read that and googled fava some more. Quite a few sources said freeze the beans and the shells practically pop off the bean. Hmmm. Of course, I read all the instructions and then realized I didn’t have a small sheet pan that would fit in my freezer and guarantee a single layer of beans. Also, I wasn’t going to hang around and time the beans for 30 minutes.
I shucked the beans and tossed them into a nine inch square baking dish – it is what I had that would fit in the little freezer. Were the beans in rigid little rows not touching? Nope, I tossed them in the dish. Yup, they were on top of each other. Then I put the dish in the freezer and forgot about it. Later that night, I remembered and went to visit them. They had turned whitish and looked cold. I stirred them so the ones on the top could cuddle up on the bottom. Then I went to bed.
The next night, I wanted to use the beans. I remembered reading they should be allowed to thaw for at least 15 minutes. Of course, that meant I was not going to get dinner done in time so I didn’t wait. WRONG. This was a classic “Midge doesn’t listen” mistake.
When I first tried to pop the beans out, all I did was freeze my fingers and ultimately peel the shell layer off. As the beans began to thaw it became a flim flam thank you ma’am.
Notice how the beans in this picture look whiter and wrinkled. They were thawing. It actually works! But you really have to wait at least 15 minutes.
It does take time to shell the beans and frankly, I don’t know if my palate is refined enough to really taste the difference. They do feel smoother when I eat them, but taste better? Jack said they tasted different but he wasn’t sure either if it was better. What do you think?
How did I cook them? Hmm – what did I do? We just chopped up bacon and let it sizzle. Then snuck in a little olive oil and a grossly chopped onion. When the onion started to look translucent, I tossed in the beans and enough lamb bone broth to cover them. The usual seasonings were added to the pot – salt, pepper, bay leaf and (please don’t tell my nonna) garlic powder. I also added some thick chunked potatoes. Slowly they cooked.
They were tasty. Coupled with some crusty rye bread, they were dipping great. Would I peel the shells in the future? Hmmm.
When “buffalo” means Buffalo Mozzarella! Who knew that the creamiest of mozzarella cheeses came from a water buffalo? I didn’t. Did I just admit a lack of knowledge on something edible and Italian?
About 20 years ago, Jack, my Aunt Cat and I drove through the valleys of Compania searching for buffalo. Silly me imaging the bison that ruled the plains were nestled in the Sannio Hills. Oooops – classic mistake. Can you imagine milking a two-story tall mammoth bison? Thanks to Martenette Farms, a group of ten farm to table foodies will see the buffalo for themselves.
Fattoria al Tavolo With Martenette Farms*
Ace organic farmers Andrea and Tony of Martenette Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey wanted to share their love of farming and good eating with others. They created a super culinary and farm adventure that takes place in my home town, Pontelandolfo, from October 17 – 24, 2020. Guess what it includes? A visit to a buffalo farm!
Participants will explore, eat and live in a small southern Italian village. Becoming part of village life, they will gain a cultural understanding of what lies behind great Southern Italian dishes. This farm to table experience is for those of you who want to see a part of Italy that is off the crowded tourist trail, see where the local food comes from and taste dishes that go back generations.
For example, the group will eat in private homes and at agriturismos – farms that serve food. Visit working farms, hear lectures on herbs, look for edibles in the Sannio Hills, learn the ancient sport of cheese rolling – La Ruzzula, and of course visit olive groves and taste great wine after trekking through vineyards.
I can’t wait to meet this group of culinary adventurers! Ci vediamo!
*Regretfully, there are no special dietary considerations. Since you will eating in people’s homes, not restaurants, accommodations cannot be made for allergies or preferences. This medieval village has charming cobblestone streets, but it is not handicapped accessible. The adventure and experience in the home of local families requires the ability to climb stairs, walk on uneven streets and feel comfortable in a hilly mountain environment. The calendar of events may change but will be similar.
Molise, the region that is a scant few minutes down the road from Pontelandolfo was listed as number 37. I was leaping around the breakfast table when I read this. Why? Because the New York Times said something about our little piece of Italian heaven that I’ve been saying for years about the Sannio Hills.
Molise, Italy. If you’re in search of untrammeled traditional Italy, you’ve found it.
Jack and I have visited beaches on the Adriatic, driven up to the ski slopes – I stayed in the car with a book, gone out to dinner and enjoyed performing arts events in Campobasso, climbed hills to look at ancient towers – Jack climbed, I went up in the car- all in the region of Molise. All short drives from Pontelandolfo.
The article also mentions Altilia – Saepinum, an archeological site that every guest to our home is required to explore. I also ensure that every culinary or cultural adventurer who registers for our Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo programs has a visit to this historic site on their calendar.
The New York Times writer, Ondine Cohane, said of the Roman Settlement Saepinum, that it was “a complex of baths and a forum that rival those in Italy’s capital, but without the crowds.”
Take note of what was written, “without the crowds.” Exactly why Jack and I love Pontelandolfo and neighboring places. It is beautiful, full of culture and off the back packing tourist trail. One can enjoy Italy – Literally Italy.
Kids fighting fires. Kids finding lost kids in the woods. Kids rappelling down from a building. Kids assessing environmental risks. KIDS??? Thirty-eight lucky children between the ages of ten and thirteen got to explore exactly what it means to be part of Italy’s volunteer safety net, Protezione Civile. They also got an adrenal rush and I’m sure will consider becoming future volunteers.
Volunteers are a cornerstone of Pontelandolfo life. They organize arts activities, social events, parish festivals and most important of all ensure that Pontelandolfese are safe, secure and assisted in time of need. On call 24 hours a day, Protezione Civile Pontelandolfo, Civil Protection, is an organization of a highly trained and committed residents who are willing to leap into the fray whenever there is an emergency. On the news, you have seen volunteers like them, in their yellow trimmed uniforms, helping with search and rescue after earthquakes, floods etc. In Pontelandolfo, I have watched them do traffic control, handle snow emergencies, guide people to safety, assist the Italian Red Cross and essentially intervene whenever it was necessary. Click here for an example of their role with a 2015 flood and wind that knocked more than our sox off.
Italians have big hearts and have always had a willingness to lend a hand. After citizens mobilized independently to assist with the huge disasters that hit Italy in a fifty-year period, like the floods of Florence in 1966 and the Friuli and Irpinia earthquakes, it was recognized that an organized public system of deployment was necessary. In 1992, Protezione Civile, the National Service of Civil Protection, by law became an integral part of the public system.
This is serious business. The region organizes drills which simulate real risk situations. Since we live in an earthquake zone, our village hosted an earthquake drill.
It is so serious, that future leaders and volunteers are fostered through an annual exceptional week long summer camp. With the support of the National Department of Civil Protection, the Comune of Pontelandolfo and in collaboration with Protezione Civile di Fragneto L’Abate, Gruppo Comunale di Protezione Civile di Bisaccia, and Protezione Civile Irpinia di San Potito Ultra, Stefano Baldini, the head of our local Protezione Civile, and his team of volunteers organized Il Campo Scuola2019.
From July 1 through July 7 this year, kids did the usual camp stuff like setting up and sleeping in a tent, they also were immersed in theoretical and practical civil protection training courses. What school in the summer??? Who would want to do that?? These kids certainly did. Besides it wasn’t all work and no play. Some of the work looked pretty exciting. The young trainees had to apply for admittance. The program was totally free! Participants came from Pontelandolfo, Morcone, Fragneto Monforte, Bisaccia, Sant’Angelo A Cupolo, San Potito, Aquilonia and Flumeri. Bringing kids from a variety of towns together makes sense. All of the individual Protezione Civile groups often work with each other. If it is an emergency or a giant festa that needs crowd control, we see uniforms from a variety of places. The kids working together at this age starts the collaboration ball rolling.
I remember being forced to go to Camp Speers ripping my forearm with a bow string and belly crawling with a 22 rifle. I hated every minute of it. If there had been some academic portion or if the firing a rifle was being taught for a real purpose I might not have fought tooth and nail not to go.
These campers got lots of physical activity and real-world experiences. Here is a quick overview – set up a field operation – yup put up the tents, rig electrical system etc.; over view of the National Civil Protection system; municipal contingency plans – what?? I have to pause here and tell Jack. My husband spent most of his adult career working in emergency preparedness planning. I bet after this camp some of these kids could write better municipal contingency plans than some of the town plans Jack read when he was with the State Police.
OK, back to the grueling week – they had a lesson on cartography ( I had to look the word up – science of drawing maps); figuring out territory orientation; using a map and a single compass figuring out a path through Mountain Cavello to lunch! No one got lost!!! I would have been found weeks later sitting on a log begging to go home. These kids were GREAT!.
After a lesson on the seismic conditions of our region and what to do if an earthquake hits, these kids leaped to another disaster. What do you do if someone is trapped high up on a hill with a broken leg or in a burning building? You use a safety harness, zip wire or rappel.
I’m exhausted just writing about all that they accomplished. And the list goes on – fire safety and protection, hydroeological risks (looked this up too – distribution and movement of groundwater in the soil and rocks of the Earth’s crust), use of radios for communication, working with canine units, forest fire rescues, searching for missing people, working with people with disabilities and…….
The kids who will be the leaders of tomorrow deserve a big round of applause and so do the volunteers of Protezione Civile Pontelandolfo who give their time, energy and love to our little village.