Not Just an Ordinary Kid’s Camp

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.

65924045_1348443452000030_7179875912232468480_n

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 Scuola 2019.

tent
This coed camp had all the cool out door experiences.

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.

kid injury
Nope, not injured. Just learning how to carry an injured person.

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.

classkids

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!.

66397211_10219462435534222_1286931493628674048_n
How many stories up is this??

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.

firekid
Team effort of numerous Protezione Civile groups.

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…….

Complimenti!  Bravi!

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.

Ci vediamo.

Impromptu Adventures!

When you live in the beautiful hills of Southern Italy, any excuse for a drive on a beautiful day is a good excuse. I was looking in my journal and found my notes from this particular drive on a beautiful day.  I think was the excuse was I didn’t want to wash the breakfast dishes. My adventuresome niece Alex was visiting us.  It is even more fun to go explore new places when you have great company – or in this case a “you can do it” cheerleader.  The sun was shining, the clouds were floating over the rolling hilltops and there was gas in the car.  This crisp clear wonderful day also happened to be the second Sunday in September, the one day a year they hold a mass in the little church in the mountains, Santa Maria degli Angeli. Alex and I were in the car, deciding if we should go left or right out of the driveway, looked at each other and both said the church in the hills – al’ avventura!  We went to find that 16th Century Church and as many unplanned excursions are – it was the beginning of an incredible adventure.

Here is a little back story about the church. Many Pontelandolfesi, including my ancestors, were contadini,- farmers and more often than not share croppers farming the mountains for a piece of the vegetable pie. Others were shepherds, alone high in the hills, minding the flocks of cows, sheep and goats.  Stone rifugi, shelters that were little more than huts were and still are scattered in the hills.  One dark night from the doorway of a rifugi, the face of a single shepherd, staring out at his flock, was suddenly filled with fear.  The air around him began to twirl and spin, spin and twirl until he was sucked up into the vortex of a giant tornado.  His flock of sheep whirled around him.  Panicked he did the only thing he knew might save him.  He prayed to the Madonna.  Pledging to build a church in her honor wherever he landed, he prayed to be put down safely.  He prayed and prayed and prayed.   Until Vroomp bang, he hit the ground.  Dazed but committed to the Madonna, he looked around to memorize the spot.  It took a few years but he made sure that the chapel got built.

 IMG_2304.JPG

Photo by Nephew Nick of the Chapel – through a window

That is the tale that I have been told by many of the folks in my village.  Being a skeptic, I’ve done a little research and discovered other versions of the creation of the chapel – something about the Brotherhood, Pope Orsini, earthquakes, priests, nuns and well stuff that a Dan Brown novel are made of.  However, the Wizard of Oz-esq legend suits my sense of drama.

 The church was used a lot in the 17th and 18th centuries.  The contadini, working and living in the mountains, made it their religious home.  Times change, and people moved on to bigger houses of worship.  Now, the charming little space is only open one day a year, this was that day and Alex and I were going to find it.

 Have I ever mentioned the irony of living in a Southern Italian Mountain village and hating roads that were based on goat and donkey trails?  Narrow roads without guardrails that, like that tornado, whirl up the mountain, twisting and turning, scare the hell out of me. When Jack drives, I clutch the old lady hand grabber, scream, moan and refuse to look at the beautiful valley hundreds of feet below that is calling me to a sure death in a twisted heap of metal. The views are incredible!  So, I’m told.

 Was I going to admit my phobia to a young niece that has toured the world alone, decided to go to university in a foreign country and has been fearless since birth?   Alex and I got directions to the church from pal Nicola and started driving up a mountain.

 Gulp, I wasn’t kidding about the whirling and twirling narrow roads.  Shit, I had to keep smiling while what seemed like a cow path was taking us up higher and higher.  We followed the directions – I swear we did – but somehow were climbing closer to our celestial forbearers than I was super comfortable with.  Alex was the force that kept me going.  I was scared shitless to be wending my way up and up to certain death by careening around a curve and off a cliff.  She kept saying “I feel it – we are almost there – this is right”. We kept peering left – Nicola said we couldn’t miss it – on the left just past the old fountain.  Which old fountain – we passed a ton of old fountains.

 Stop the car. Stop the car. Alex shouted.  I see horses.  Maybe some people role-play contadini and ride their horses up here.

 What a great and charming idea.  Then I noticed that further up there was a line of parked cars. We must be Here!  Remembering that Nicola said to flip the car around and park pointed down the hill, I held my breath, closed my eyes and managed to turn around without falling off the cliff.

 We walked up the mountain closer to the tethered horses. Lots of people were gathering around and heading up towards a tent. Aunt Midge you said it was a cute church, said Alex, this looks like a revival tentMaybe they put a tent up for overflow?  I opined.

 Then we saw the cows – lots of cows.  Big giant white cows festooned with bells were mooing and eating.  Suddenly it hit us – it was a pagan cow worshipping ritual, or a country cow show and sale.  Actually, it was more like a cow beauty pageant and I must admit the announcers were better than the one who annually appears in Pontelandolfo for the Miss Mondo competition. The set up reminded us of a horse show. The show ring was near an announcer’s platform.  There were ribbons and trophies everywhere.   These giant white cows, I’m thinking they were the ones that graze in the mountains, were brushed and dressed for success.  The owners, or trainers, moved them along like champions. Sadly, we were so enamored with our find that I didn’t pull out my handy pad and take important notes – like who sponsored it and where were we.

 White cow

Alex scrambled up and sat on a fence to get closer to the action.  I wandered around and could feel the sense of community.  This whirling road may have landed us where that lonely shepherd had started his air borne journey. We were definitely in grazing country. These farm families were proud of what they do, and this event was an opportunity to share that pride together.  My language skills weren’t quite sufficient to ask a lot of dairy questions.  I have no idea what kind of cattle – white – they were big and white.  It is amazing what you can find when you aren’t looking!  Who would imagine that high in the Sannio Hills a festival celebrating bovine would occur.  Did I just say that?  This is cow country – what better place to celebrate them. Gaily festooned stalls had been created along a path.  People were wandering and admiring le mucche. The back drop was this incredible mountain vista.  With my feet firmly planted on the ground, I took the time to enjoy the mountain views. Walking further around, I realized that we were just above a valley sprinkled with medieval villages.   Wow!

We never did find that church but this – this was an impromptu experience I won’t forget.  After we watched the action for a while, cheering as loudly as everyone else, I did ask if there was an easier way down the mountain.  Oh yeah there was.  We were close to Cerreto and could follow a road down to Telese and the highway.  I knew that road!  It was a road for sane people.  Whew, I didn’t mention to Alex how happy I was there was an alternative route. I did tell her we would get to see new vistas, new cities and continue our adventure on the road.

Ci Vediamo!

_________________________________________________________________________________

img_0039

Russian Symphony in Sannio Hills

More than one person has asked me what Jack and I do in a teeny, tiny Southern Italian village.  The implication being that we must be bored to tears.  Usually, I give a snarky response like – the laundry or pick tomatoes.  The reality is, we are involved in more cultural activities here than we are in New Jersey.  Italians have a passion for and a commitment to the arts.  The arts are part of the fabric of who they are and their lives.  Yesterday, after doing the laundry – no – not really, I got a text from my friend Adele.  She alerted me to the free symphony orchestra concert in neighboring Morcone.  Jack and I were absolutely in!  We love classical music and until we got there didn’t know or care who we were hearing.

I expected students from the music conservatory and was surprised to see the Grande Orchestra Sinfonica Russa della Repubblica di Udmurtia. ( I just googled Udmurtia to see what part of Russia it was – they breed great musicians!)  Their conductor, Leornardo Quadrini, is not only Italian but is committed to sharing the music of the world with the people in our Sannio Mountains.  I found out that some how he donated the concert to Morcone!  He has been recognized with a load of awards for his commitment to the Province of Benevento.  The maestro has conducted for places like La Scala and a variety of other opera houses.  Not too shabby!  Maestro Quadrini is also gorgeous and has a larger than life personality.  The orchestra entered in dress black, he bounded into the space on his cell phone giving directions to someone.  Folks in the audience were yelling out additions to the directions.  When they were finalized – all applauded!  He beamed and then looked down at his clothes – “it’s hot and I didn’t have time to change – do you mind?”  No one minded – including the musicians who obviously adore him.

Morcone is one of those towns that appear in guide books.  They seem to have been dropped onto the side of a mountain and by some magic of construction defy gravity and don’t slide down.  The historic center is at the very top of the town.  My friend Adele grew up in Morcone and can bound up the steep steps to the top like a gazelle.  “Are we there yet,” I would wine as we wended our way up another flight.  “How do people bring their furniture up here – or groceries?”  Jack poked me and said keep walking.  Suddenly, we were in this incredible piazza.  Piazza San Bernardino sits in front of the municipal theater.  There are stone buildings on three sides and than a view of the valley.  It was beautiful and incredibly well kept.  We walked a wee bit further to the bar – I thought someone picked up a 1970’s West Village NYC bar and dropped it here.  If there weren’t a million steps to get there, I’d become a regular.  The owner was as unique and charming as his space.  After a glass of wine, it was time to secure seats.

Not that many people still live in the historic center of the town, but lots of people came to the concert.  It was a NYC kind of crowd – well dressed people mingling with a younger set in jeans or bermuda shorts.  Aging hippy garb sitting next too a silk suit dress ensemble.  No matter who they were they became one with the music.  Some people even hummed along!  The concert started with a Russian composer – I thought he said Rimsky Korsakov but I could be wrong.  They then played Verdi, Rossini, Bizet and more.  Ending with a rousing tarantella that included the Maestro conducting claps in the audience.  Una Bella Serata!  No one wanted the night to end.  The applause and shouts of bravi insured an encore.

 

Next time someone asks me how we fill our time in a teeny tiny Italian village, I might just say – I put on my glamour rags and go to the symphony.

Ci vediamo.