Pintadera 2009 – Flashbacks

On a recent snowy night, I hunkered down to clean out a dusty over stuffed plastic tub. You know the kind – large, filled with files and memoribillia you will get to some day, covered with a snap on lid and left to fade in the back of a closet. I opened the tub, pulled out a batch of files when a folded cache of browning papers fell into my lap.  Was it very old love notes from a high school beau?  Or recipes in my beloved zia’s hand.  Giggle, I slowly unfolded the cracked paper and saw the date – January 2009.  Wow, it was a love note of sorts, my notes on an earlier trip to Alghero, Sardegna and Italian lessons at the fabulous Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera.  Walk with me back to January, 2009 and take an armchair voyage.

We were excited to be heading back to Alghero. Never having been there in the winter we didn’t know what to expect. The city juts out into the sea. Walking the sea wall in the summer is bliss. Will it bluster in January?

It did not bluster! I wore a coat but Jack did his daily walk in the noonday sun in only a sweatshirt.

On Saturday, January 3, 2009 – courtesy of air miles we flew Primo Classe on Alitalia from Newark to Rome.  (In those days there were flights out of Newark, New Jersey.) I still use the little grey tweed makeup bags they gave us filled with mini stuff that I probably tossed. .

On Sunday, January 4, tired and still tipsy from all that Primo Classe booze we lugged our suitcases across the terminal to our jumper flight to Sardegna. We had an uneventful but cramped Air One flight to Alghero.  (They went out of business in 2014.) A 25€ cab ride organized by Pintadera brought us directly to the apartment they had found for us. Pintadera co-owner, Nicola, met us with keys in hand.  I looked at the steep staircase from the street leading up to the apartment, muttered bad words and lugged my suitcase up. Gasping for breath I walked in and saw the sea. The steps were worth it. Wow, we have an apartment with an ocean view.  The terrace was tiny but a terrace.   There was a twin bed with pillows in the front room, a chair or two, table and a kitchenette.  The bedroom had a king-sized bed. For the amount of time we planned on staying there it was perfect.

Bella Vista from or terrace!

I love Pintadera.  This was our second trip to the school.  We are so taken with the place and people, that I had organized a group of Italian language students from New Jersey to join us this time.  Starting Monday, January 5, we had classes daily from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM.  The weather was perfect. Staring at the sea, sipping a cappuccino at a bar with a view was heavenly. January in Alghero means very few tourists, sales in the stores and lots of sun.

Every day at 11:OO AM class took a caffè break. This is January – note the sun, smiles and me squinting.
Jack is always teachers pet.

The queen of not doing enough research and just diving into travel, I really lucked out. The first week in January, Alghero was transformed into a cultural Mecca. We had no idea how important Epiphany was nor how involved the arts community would be. That Monday, after class we strolled the tiny cobble stone streets and alleys following the sounds of carolers.  Sparkling arches of holiday lights topped the throngs out for a pre-epiphany passegiata.  Itinerant volunteer actors dressed like La Befana or the three Kings could be found in every small piazza dispensing nuts and fruit to every child. Even us kids in our second acts!

The whole city came out on January 5th and 6th – Epihany – waiting for La Befana, (The gift giving strega.)

Piazza Teatro lived up to its name.  A troupe of wheelchair assisted and developmentally challenged actors costumed beautifully portrayed the manger scene.  The love pouring out from every actor filled the piazza and my heart.  Their focus and passion for the nativity brought the scene to life.

Every one visits the new born baby. This is a fraction of the actors. I bet there were twenty.

After a scrumptious dinner of roasted calamari and l’insalata at a nameless little spot we followed the sounds of six part harmony. Angelic male voices filled the air from Piazza Civica.  The crowed surged there.  It felt and sounded like there were hundreds of men dressed in black with white collared shirts singing in intricate harmonies.  Traditional Sardo and spiritual songs wafted over the crowd as we trailed the singers from piazza to piazza.  Choiristers sang a rousing march as they moved from spot to spot.   I never found out if all of these musical artists were from Alghero.

A phenomenal men’s choir serenades us.

La Befanas scampered about clutching brooms and tossing sweets at children. The the night before Epiphany, La Befana traditionally flies from house to house bringing candy to good children and carbone, coal, to evil monsters. Besides engaging with the crowds La Befana was also plastered on doors or hanging from lamp posts. (The universe must be kicking me. I just had finished yet another rewrite of my play “Mamma Mia – La Befana!??” when I found this picture. Hmm – time to start pitching that work???)

La Befana, the gift giving witch, is a symbol of Epiphany.

Often, other amateur actors appeared dressed as angels or in traditional Sardegna garb to entertain with stories, dance and pageantry.  Music and art was everywhere.

Folklorico Dancers shook the cobblestones. In 2009 I wrote, “Hey USA how about a little more public art?”

After class one day, I saw a sign for a children’s theatre performance at Alghero’s opera house, Teatro Civica di Alghero.  Built in 1829, the space is amazing.  Think a jewel box version of Carnegie Hall with draped box seats surrounding the house.  It is unique because it is the only Italian theater built entirely of wood. Lavish is an understatement. We ventured in and sat down in our box excited to see our first performance in Italy.  It was the worst children’s theatre I have ever experienced in my life.  Disclaimer, in the 1970s I was the director of a touring children’s theater company so I kind of know what works and what doesn’t.  Here are just some of the reasons it was abysmal – for the first fifteen minutes the star – a middle aged curly haired sprightly woman stood on stage directing traffic to seats.  Then the curtain opens – late of course – on an amateur cardboard set.  Add to that bad lighting and a shared microphone and you have all the stuff you need for failure.  I love audience participation and pre -show warm ups but this crew did a warm-up that lasted an hour.  Then there was a brief pause and the scripted piece began and went on and on and on.  The show started at 5:00 PM.  We snuck out with many others at 7:00 PM and the show was still going on.  Do I sound snarky?  I love theater and it pains me to have troupes produce less than professional work for children.  That said, seeing the interior of Teatro Civica was worth the distraction.

Who are the divas in the box???? We didn’t know the women we shared the box with but loved their fur coats.

Early Wednesday mornings I took an early morning jaunt to the covered market. This market is classic.  One whole section is just stall after stall of fish vendors.  Sardegna is an island and Alghero sits right on the sea – perfect location for the freshest of fish.  Fruit and vegetable stalls, ready-made treats and more filled the space.  I love wandering the aisles and discovering what I will be cooking.

Tuna anyone?
Ovella Negra just a staircase away from our apartment.

I love this city!  We also loved the wine and local cheese plates we enjoyed in Ovella Negra, the grotto like bar below the apartment. (We have been back to Alghero many times since and sadly, this bar is no longer there.). The owner was a real foodie. He only served local fare and treated us like visiting royalty.  During our two week stay, we did go there almost every single day so I could see why they treated us well.  This particular night, I must have had an orgasmic food experience – why else would I have written down every morsel.  We tend to share lots of small plates – think tapas style.  First, he served us a fresh, unsalted goat cheese that was so light and creamy it must have been made by angels.  With that, of course we had Cardegna, a dry white wine. Next, some room temperature small plates to warm ones heart of dried tuna and sword fish.  Yup, caught off the coast.  We tasted bottarga, Sardinian cured fish roe, for the first time.  Now, we are bottarga junkies.  Bottarga is cured, air-dried roe from flathead mullets and is a Sardinian staple.  After dinner, we were given a glass of Mirto – a local digestivo.  It is the national drink of Sardegna and made by infusing alcohol with fresh myrtle berries.  Most nights we staggered up the stairs to our apartment. The stairs seem easier when I stagger.

Saturday, January 10th we took the train to Sassari.  The train ticket was 3.80€ roundtrip.  It was a twenty-minute walk to the train station from our center city apartment. The ancient train meandered through a valley and we were surrounded by mountains.  Sheep, sheepdogs and olive groves completed the picture.   They city of Sassari was reminiscent of any neighborhood in any major Italian city.  Cobble stone streets, buildings that were built during the middle ages and – of course – one of the finest restaurants on the island.  We had the best grilled calamari ever at the Trattoria Gesuino.  Seriously, the best ever!  So very tender – I can still taste it.  We visited the Museo Nazionale “Giovanni Antonio Sanna.”  This archeological museum was chock full of great finds – including glass from 200 BC.  We will go back someday.

We hopped the Train to Sassari and visited the museum. That will be 2 euro please.

  Every great day takes longer than you think. Gulp, we missed the last train back.  Thanks to that snafu we experienced even more of the island on the bus. The bus was 3€ – bella vista – we saw hills, small towns and more sheep.  No wonder the local cheese is so fantastic!  The bus meandered through villages the train passed by. We were dropped off in the park by the city wall.  It was a shorter walk back to the apartment. Which of course we didn’t enter, going down to the bar instead.

Life in Alghero for educational tourists like us is magical. We didn’t know what to expect in January – except cheaper prices – and were happily surprised by the temperature, holiday culture and the food. Since I kept that journal in 2009, we have been back to Pintadera at least four additional times. We love the sea, the food, the people and of course Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera. We will return – perhaps we will see you there too.

Ci Vediamo.

Midge

PS: Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo is organizing for 2022. Today we read about travel. Tomorrow we travel.

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Wine Tasting with Giuseppe Izza

Agronomo – in English it is an agronomist – one who studies agriculture. Dr. Giuseppe Izza has indeed developed a career based on the wonderful edibles that grow in Sardegna.  I met him – not talking about slow food or tasting the fresh vegetables brought to Alghero by local farmers – but DRINKING WINE!  The event was organized by my favorite Italian Language School – Centro Meditteraneo Pintadera.

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Dr. Izza conducts an incredible workshop on the wines of Sardegna, wine tasting, wine history, wine glasses, what to eat with wine – well just about everything one needs to know to appreciate a good glass of a beverage that starts in the vineyards of Sardegna. Some of those vines have lineages that go back to the Romans in 238 BC.  For example the white Nuragus goes back 3000 years!!!  Other grapes began their journeys a wee bit later and came with the different peoples who controlled Sardegna during its history. For example – the Vermentino – white – from France or the Torbato from Spain.  These grapes have lineages much more noble  than mine.

We were all chomping at the bit to start tasting the wines that Dr. Izza had brought with him.  But NOOOOOOOOO!  First we had to learn how to really taste – not just gulp down that red for a quick thirst quenching buzz.  Babies, he said, have the best sense of taste.  They don’t think about it – now he was not talking about the 3 year old who wouldn’t eat anything green.  His point was that adults are choosy.  Babies eat with their eyes, hands, noses and mouths.  They explore their food – look at it, smell it, taste it.  He encouraged us to – at the first tasting of something – to exam its look, really smell it, then slowly taste it.

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Look at Jack – he’s all excited.  Dr. Izzo is opening a bottle for us to taste.  What?  We have to wait?  Chill Jack – first one has to pour.  We were told to only fill a wine glass to where the glass starts to get bigger – open wider – that allows the smell to evaporate up.  Hmmm. Next, really visually examine the wine.  What is the color?  If you tilt the glass does that create “unghia” – nails in Italian but we would say legs. What are the color undertones?  Then, rotate the glass and evaluate the fluidity and arches.  We all put our glasses next to our handouts so that we could really see the color – it was hard – some of us were staring at the sunset on the Alghero harbor.

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We went through the process with a number of both red and white wines.  It was interesting how our individual tastes and experiences created diverse perceptions of each wine.  I might think something had undertones of oak and cherry and Jack would laugh and say – not at all.

Dr. Izza is an enjoyable presenter.  He is a great communicator and had us thinking, laughing and of course drinking. The hours whizzed by and we all left the table with a better understanding of not only the heritage of the local wines but also how we can all be more discernible tasters.  I would recommend any of Dr. Giuseppe Izza’s classes.  You can follow his food adventures on his FaceBook Page or e-mail him at g.izza@tiscali.it.  Find out where he is doing a lecture and go!  The easiest way is to work with him is to join me in Alghero, Sardegna this October on the  Nonna’s Mulberry Tree Trip!

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Ci Vediamo!

Come With Me to Sardegna!

Forget the tours. 

Ignore the guide with the raised umbrella. 

Travel Independently With

Nonna’s Mulberry Tree.  

 Why aren't the lights in Flagtown this cute?

Come to Sardegna.

Jack and I like to travel and we are particularly partial to Italy.  Friends enjoy our tales of traveling sans a big bus and a tour guide.  Yes, we find our own hotels – sometimes we can’t fit in the shower.  Yes, we figure out how to get fed – once Jack stared at what he ordered and gulped .  Yes, I make language snafus and am often surrounded by lots of laughing folks who haven’t a clue as to what I am saying.  Those experiences are stories to share and learning adventures to build on.  Join us as we improve our Italian language skills at Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera.  I wrote about the school a few months back – http://wp.me/p3rc2m-oW – and readers have asked me if they could study with us next time.

This October 3rd – October 17th 2015 is the “next time” and we are inviting you along.  The trip is restricted to only 15 adventurous people.  People who want to learn or improve their Italian Language Skills, immerse themselves in Italian Culture, live like a local, shop the market and stroll Alghero’s sea wall.

We’re partnering with Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera, a world class Italian Language school, to facilitate our adventure. Check out their web site. (http://www.pintadera.info/home)

Here’s the deal – You make the Decisions!

Language and Culture      €550  (Time to learn how to convert $ to €)

First night Welcoming Gathering at a local bar.  First glass of wine is on us.

Through shaky lenses we discover it might just be...

Jack is waiting for you!

Sunday – October 4 – Un Pasto e Conversazione at a local restaurant.  We’ll share a meal and plan the week.

Monday – October 5 – You start your 2 weeks of Italian Language Classes with a native speaker. These are full immersion classes and I think the best way to learn.  The first day you will be given a placement test at 8:30 AM.  This insures everyone is grouped appropriately.  Classes run from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM Monday thru Friday with a midmorning coffee break.

Included Cultural Courses:

Alghero – Walled-City walking tour with a local. Discover the ancient city, through the history and architecture of the old town center. (OK, this is the one time you might follow an umbrella – but it’ll be a whimsical one.)

Finding your Family – I’ll tell you my tales of researching my family,  visiting the village my family is from and reconnecting with relatives that I didn’t know I had.  Genealogical short cuts, services and hints will be shared by all.

The Dark Side of Sardinia – Banditry   The origin of banditry in Sardinia from the Spanish colonial period up to the end of ‘classical’ banditry. The link between the isolation of the island and criminality, and the culture of vendetta and kidnapping.

Dolce Vita or Is It?   Ex-pats share their stories of what works for them and what drives them insane.  I will be joined by other ex-pats who spend all or a great deal of the year in Italy.  We will hit topics like health care, daily life, taxes and of course money.

If you want to take even more classes – for an extra fee – you may.  Here is the list: http://www.pintadera.info/course.html#cultural

Travel to Sardegna – You Decide How and How Much

Use your air miles.  Look for the greatest deals.  You book your own transportation to Algerho planning on arriving on Saturday, October 3, 2015.   At the airport you can take a taxi to your apartment  .

Housing and Sustenance 

Pintadera will provide assistance choosing the right housing arrangement for you.  Want to live with a local family? Want your own apartment?  Want to meet new folks and share an apartment. Depending on what you want, the cost will range from about €400 to €600 for two weeks . Check out this link to the service Pintadera offers us. http://www.pintadera.info/accommodation.html#costs

Last time I swim with the dolphins.

Fresh Tuna Tonight?

This is a chance to explore the restaurants and markets of Alghero.  Shop the markets and cook in your apartment!  Or grab another student and hit the local eateries.  You decide where to eat, when and how much to spend or whether you want to stay in and cook your own meal with fresh ingredients purchased at the market.

Registration and Payments

This trip will only happen if a minimum of 10 people register to go.  Send me an e-mail, call me or leave a comment telling me that you are definitely in.

To summarize the cost –  A €550 language classes and cultural actives fee. €400 – €600 housing for two weeks.  Pretty Cheap!

After I am sure we have the minimum of 10 people joining Jack and I, I will then send you the information needed to send a €200 deposit to Pintadera using the easy and inexpensive wire service: https://www.xoom.com/how-to-transfer-money-using-xoom  This deposit is for the Language Classes and Cultural Activities.  On the first day of class you will pay the remaining €350.

Then you coordinate with Pintadera on your housing.  Upon your arrival, the housing cost will be paid in euros.

You will need to have your debit card handy and bring euros with you.  We use our debit cards in every country and have never had a problem.

Any Questions?

Send me an e-mail with your phone number and I’ll give you a call.  As we get our group organized I will be sending additional hints and information.

Buon Viaggio!

Learning Italian in Sardegna – Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera

Learning a language can be an onerous activity – especially if you are in your garret reading your verb lists by candle light.  I studied French for 4 years in high school and can barely buy bread in Paris.  Italian wasn’t spoken to me at all – well pass the mapeen and sta zitta – but that was it.

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My first real brush with the language was after my first trip to Pontelandolfo – in a year when the dinosaurs roared in tongues over the earth.  I was twenty-something and had come to visit the village of my heritage with my Aunt Catherine and two cousins.  We assumed that since Aunt Cat was born here and left when she knew the language well that she would be our translator – NOT.  She spoke the arcane dialect of Pontelandolfo.  I knew we were in trouble when we landed in Milano and she asked a question to be told “we don’t speak Spanish here.”  Thank the Universe I had a trusty Berlitz phrase book with me. 

I played with learning Italian but didn’t get committed until 1999 – the year I returned to Pontelandolfo with my family tree in hand and found my dad’s first cousins.  When I got home,  I went to Brookdale College, Somerset County College and finally Dorothea’s House in Princeton.  All experiences had their pluses and minuses.  Next, to nudge Jack into learning the language I researched immersion schools in Italy.  I would go to websites, send an e-mail and hear nothing.  Or worse, I would call – all saying they were multi-lingual – and no one spoke English and could tell me about the place.  Than I found Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera!  The school is located in Alghero on the magical island of Sardegna.

Love the school. Could I win the lottery and stay here?  I spoke with one of the directors, Nicola, and was assured that the classes were small – which they were capping out at about six people.  She speaks multiple languages flawlessly.  She told me about the teaching staff  – think Ph’ds who aren’t yawners.  The facility was up a flight of stairs in the heart of the old part of the city.  That location puts the school in the middle of the art and culture that makes Alghero fabulous.  It also means you are within walking minutes of the sea.  When she told me the price – I was sold!

On a sunny May day, Jack and I packed a notebook and pens and headed for Sardenga.  The sea surrounds the city, May means fewer tourists and cheaper airfare. We were not disappointed in our choice of schools or the location.  

Why didn’t someone tell me when I was younger that studying language in the place the language was spoken not only makes great academic sense BUT – you meet really cool people.  People who like to travel like we do – sans reservations, sans itinerary.  Just go, explore and do!  The people we met in our classes – Jack and I weren’t together – I was a bluebird and he was – well – on the little bus – anyway the people were GREAT. 

Jack has no idea what Mascha is saying.

Jack is studying – but who – I mean what?

We met two smart pithy women from Germany, a tall handsome Dutchman, and a really interesting guy who lived in Dubai but was from Tasmania!  Instantly, we all bonded over caffè, were forced to speak Italian or – gulp- English.  Since of course, everyone else spoke their language plus English. 

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Caffè and Conversation Between Classes

Since I can’t keep two languages going in my brain at the same time, the small full immersion classes worked for me. The faculty not only had advanced degrees in languages but I swear were all actors.  You have to be a an actor to communicate with six wildly wicked adult students who want to learn your language but really don’t understand a spoken word. 

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Jack gets personal attention from a great and talented teacher.

The classes focused on both grammar and conversation.  The homework did not make me pull out my teeth.  Every moment was very interactive.  No one wanted to put their head down on the desk and snore.

Smile guys the audienc is clapping.

Check Out Who Sings With the Professional Classical Group? – Yup, our teacher!

Not only does the school have a great graded curriculum, but they made all of the living arrangements for us too.  We rented a charming house for the two week course that was right in the heart of the historic center of Alghero.  That meant close to world class bars, restaurants and shops.

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Our New Dutch Pal Cooking Dinner at Our House.

Marion, another Berliner, sows up fo the last pizza party.

In a great local joint with our new found school pals.

Every morning, following the narrow cobblestone streets, we would walk to the school.  Classes ran for about four hours every morning – with a break to speak to the locals and have caffè.  Then we would find a charming place for lunch, Jack would go for a walk and I would sit, stare at the sea, pretend to write and drink Prosecco. The school also ran cultural immersion classes I took a cooking class that was scads of fun.  The hunky chef owns one of the local restaurants.  We started out shopping and then back to his kitchen to prepare a meal that we then ate paired with fabulous local wine.

Last time I swim with the dolphins.

The Tuna Was Really Fresh!

Note our Chef/teacher in the backgound  - cute too.

We Were Shucking and Yucking in the Kitchen.

Jack and I were so in love with the place that I convinced pals from Dorothea’s House to come too.  We went back one January – which means during Epiphany – the city was alive with holiday spirit and the staff of Pintadera made sure we knew what was going on and participated. 

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La Befana Was Everywhere!  Even Lots of Women Dressed as La Befana!

I would love to be in Alghero every January – anybody want to send me?  Huge gangs of men dressed in black and sporting berets moved as one up and down the narrow streets singing in tight harmony.  Children raced from one La Befana to another asking for treats.  The spectacular theatre featured free live entertainment.  The Living Manger Scene really touched me, the actors were all persons with disabilities who took their roles seriously and were applauded by all.

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Living Manger

There was so much to do and experience that sometimes “my dog ate my homework” for the next class at Pintadera.  The extras that the school provided included a wonderful walking tour of the historic center filled with tales of the season.  Another fun filled extra was a class on the use of your hands when speaking Italian.  No – we did not learn how to flip the bird – that is not – OK maybe they do it  – but it is not Italian.

Chiara uses those gestures when we are BAAAAAAAAD.

How About A Class in Italian Hand Speak!

Through shaky lenses we discover it might just be...

Great Bar Beneath January Apartment – All LOCAL Wines and Foods

In May the city is filled with sun and walking on the sea wall is magical.  In January it gets dark a lot sooner but walking on the sea wall is still magical.  I felt like a princess wrapped in a cloak an walking the castle walls looking out to sea, waiting for my prince to return.  There was so much life in the city during the holiday season that it was impossible to feel cold.  Also, it wasn’t as cold in Alghero in January as it was in New Jersey.

Why aren't the lights in Flagtown this cute?

Sea Wall At Night!  During the day I stared and stared.

Go to Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera and create your own story.  http://www.pintadera.info/

Associazione Culturale
Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera
Vicolo Adami 41
07041 Alghero (SS)
Tel: +39 079 917064 / +39 079 983311
Mobile: +39 328 885 7367
Skype: pintaderalgheroP