I Fell in Love on the Hop On, Hop Off Bus

The universe can toss you a curve ball when you least expect it. Certainly, riding a “hop on hop off” bus would be one of those places where you would least expect it. Least expect to fall in love. Least expect to find me. I’ve always striven to be the non-tourist and even thinking about riding the hop on hop off bus would give me hives.  My hip friends, Mike and Lori, insisted that I would truly enjoy it – no matter what city I was in. Well, I didn’t know if I would enjoy it but Jack and I had four hours to kill in Naples. 

Who knew the hop on hop off bus would have such an impact on my life. Maybe it was the Neapolitan songs. Maybe it was the sun shining over the bay of Naples. Maybe it was the 30 children on the upper level of the bus who were excited to be going to an art museum. Maybe it was the architecture or the feelings that the people of Naples sling at your soul.  Who can ever really tell you why you fall in love with someone or something. Love is a strange emotion.  It pieces your heart, turns your brain into mush and forces you to do things you never thought you would.  Today, I fell in love with the turbulent, bad boy city called Naples. 

Historically, I have found Naples crowded, a driving nightmare and the train station full of obnoxious faux cab drivers.  My eyes have been opened to the incredible parks, interesting neighborhoods and wealth of theaters and museums.  Tomorrow, we are going to Teatro San Carlo to see Verdi’s Il Trovatore.  Sigh…my love may deepen.

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Dramma Sacro Di Santa Giocondina

Need an excuse to come to Southern Italy?  Here is a great one – a production of the story of Santa Giocondina.  The play is produced every four years – so if you miss it there is a long wait to see it again.  Every four years, residents of Pontelandolfo come together to share the story of this Christian martyr.  The catalyst for the production is a relic of the Saint that the parish is privileged to own .  It is a huge undertaking!  The cast of twenty six plus people rehearse two nights a week for months in the village’s theatre.  Elaborate costumes are made.  Sets are built and the community gathers to see the life and torture of the Saint.  This year Gabriele Palladino,  the artistic director is putting the cast through their paces.

Rehearsal

I snuck into a rehearsal and was impressed with the caliber of actors I saw on the stage.  They were in the moment, took the roles seriously and we’re obviously committed to bringing realism to the stage.  When I mentioned that to Jack he reminded me where I had been a few weeks ago and why the actors were comfortable on the stage.  You might remember, I went to the Scuola dell Infanzia to see an end of year production called “Paese Mio Che  Stai  Sulla Collina.”   In case you missed the story –  5 Year Old Actors Rock The Stage. The ritual of performing is ongoing throughout all grades.  As are class trips not to theme parks but to wonders of art and architecture.  Residents as young as three years old perform with the folklorico dance company – Ri Ualanegli Di Pontelandolfo.   The arts are a part of life in Pontelandolfo.  (Hmm – maybe that explains my families artistic bent.)

During the rehearsal, I heard actors question Gabriele about their motivation.  Gabriele gently led the actors down the path to the through line of the story.  The narrative places in context the antithesis between good and evil – salvation and damnation. I witnessed characters growing under his guidance.  The cast includes a cross section of the community and all take their roles seriously.  Become their FaceBook pal and see more pictures.

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Eleonora Guerrera (I don’t think we are related) is doing a stellar job portraying Giocondina the tortured Saint.  I asked her how she felt about creating the character –

Quando mi è stato chiesto di recitare nel dramma sacro di Santa Giocondina come protagonista, è stato per me un grande onore accettare la parte, nonostante i miei tentennamenti!! Il gruppo che si è creato è molto affiatato, come una famiglia; lo svolgimento delle prove una boccata d’ossigeno; far parte di un gruppo come questo può solo farmi crescere. Sono felice dell’esperienza che sto vivendo e ringrazio Gabriele Palladino per la fiducia riposta in me e per aver tirato fuori qualcosa che non ero al corrente di avere!

When I was asked to perform the sacred drama of Santa Giocondina as the protagonist, despite my hesitation, it was a great honor to accept the part!!
The group of performers that has been created is very close-knit, like a family. The development of the work as been a breath of fresh air for me. Being part of a group like this can only make me grow as performer. I’m happy that I’m living the experience and thank Gabriele Palladino for the confidence placed in me and for having pulled out something in me that I was not aware of having!

Costumes

The 2016 production features Eleonara Guerrera,  Paolo Tranchini, Michela Delli Veneri, Gianmarco Castaldi, Antonio Addona, Giovanni romano, Gennaro Del Negro, Salvatore Griffini, Davide Cocciolillo and Antonio Silvestre.  Angels are played by Serena Romano, Paula Corbo and Margherita Sforza.  There are countless others in the cast in supporting roles.  The assistant directors is Dolores Del Negro. Director, Gabriele Palladino wrote an article on the back story for Pontelandolfo News – which can be read in English.

The production is slated for the end of July – just before the week long festa of San Salvatore.  Buy that plane ticket and come visit Pontelandolfo in time to see the Dramma Sacro Di Santa Giocondina!

Ci Vediamo.

Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo

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Some of the great people who follow my exploits in Pontelandolfo (BN), have asked why they too can’t experience the life in a little Italian village.  Hmmm, I thought, why can’t you!  From Saturday, May 21 to Saturday, May 28, 2016 a very small group – 5-10 people only – will be up to their elbows in Southern Italian home cooking and up to their ears in village life.

For one week, become part of a very small hill top village. No belching tourist buses unloading hordes of people. No souvenir shops filled with stuff made somewhere else. Instead, discover the heart and soul of Southern Italy through its people and food. The Italy that still rests in the afternoon. The Italy that loves to shop directly from the local butchers, pasticceria, fruit and vegetable trucks and the weekly outdoor market.

Hmmm, the scents of fresh vegetables, herbs, meats and grains waft through the kitchen. Pots simmer, pasta boards are out and a wood fire burns in the oven. Welcome to the kitchens of Pontelandolfo. Experience the Southern Italian cooking perfected by the women of the south. Not in a restaurant, not in a cooking school but in the same kitchens these women use to feed their families. Learn the recipes and techniques that have been passed down for generations. Roll up your sleeves, don your apron and get ready to cook.

A local translator will be available for all classes. Or you can practice your Italian – all the cooks and local shop owners only speak Italian.

Included Highlights:

Transportation from the Benevento Train Station to Pontelandolfo

7 nights, single room, with television, refrigerator, morning caffè and coronetto

Welcoming apertivo in a local bar.

Sunday Pranza (Lunch)

5 morning Cooking Classes with local cooks culminating in lunch.

Excursion to the Festa of St. Rita in Casalduni

Open-air market

Excursion to Roman Ruins – Altilia Ruins

Walking Tour of The City of Martyrs – Pontelandolfo 1861

Wine tasting at a local vintner

Meet the local butchers, baker and cheese makers.

Excursion to the museums and shops of Benevento

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Transportation to a different local restaurant each night.

Leave a comment asking for the particulars and I will e-mail you!

Nonna’s Mulberry Tree’s first Italian excursion to Alghero, Sardinia with great Italian classes at Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera was a smashing success.  A second adventure is scheduled for October 2016!  More to follow!

 

Umbria with Hank and Ellen

Erstwhile travelers Hank and Ellen Sinatra have more stories to tell about their Italian adventures. I adore this cousin of mine, Hank’s life would make a great movie and George Clooney should star.  

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Follow the Sinatra’s to Umbria as they “do it there way.”

Hank: We are on the road to Umbria. It is a more mountainous region that has some interesting views and great food and wine. We were both saddened and excited to leave Pienza and hit the highway.  This road trip features areas both old and new – to us that is!  Our first goal was to reach Spello, a picturesque town that is East of Perugia, by nightfall.  Ellen planned a stop along the way –  in Deruta to tour one of its many pottery factories. I’m so glad she did.  It was stunning. When I think of pottery, I think of small plates and such.

Deruta pottery

Although they had some of these standard items, they also specialized in table tops. We loved them, but couldn’t think of a use for them in Texas. Deruta was South of Perugia on the E-45. We were chasing a storm, and finally caught up with it outside of Spello. What a down-pour. We could hardly see through the rain.

We finally got to our hotel, “Nuovo Albergo Il Portonaccio,” which is just outside of the walls of Spello. It was a nice place to stay and had a very large covered patio where we could sit and watch the rain while I had a cigar.

Spello hotel

The rain finally let up a little, and, since the weather was iffy, we didn’t want to get very adventurous about where to eat our evening meal. We opted for the restaurant next door.  The name of this little gem is “Il Vecchio Opificio Osteria-Pizzeria.” Ellen and I had a great meal and some of their award-winning Olive Oil, which was fantastic. Later, we walked up into Spello to see the church “Santa Maria Maggiore.”  And, when I say UP, I mean UP. It was quite a hike, but worth it.

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Chiesa Santa Maria Maggiore

The hotel had a very nice breakfast to help us on our way. Our next stop was a two-night stay in Norcia. It is South of Spello, then East of Spoleto. We headed to Norcia, a place that specializes in Wild Boar products and truffles. The road from Spoleto to Norcia is a narrow two-lane road that twists and turns. It is also a major thoroughfare used by many trucks, some semis with double trailers. I would not recommend this drive to novices or at night. It rained on us most of the way, but the weather turned on a dime, which is typical of the weather in the Umbrian mountains.

The hotel we stayed in was the “Best Western Hotel Salicone.” It was a clean, comfortable hotel just outside of the Walls of Norcia. It was a nice hotel with an excellent breakfast and is worth another stay.  It did not, however, live up to its advertisement of providing robes and slippers on request. We visited the Piazza Santo Benedetto, which had a statue of their famous son. The Piazza was simple and beautiful, as was the man himself. If you go to Norcia, you have to visit the Grand Piano, which is a great plain area. There is a small town on the mountain just North of the Piano called, Castelluccio. It gives you a wonderful panoramic view.  Can’t wait to go back!

Hank and Ellen – you are terrific travel guides and have shared a ton of wonderful information!  Gracie Tante!

How I Spent My Summer Vacation by Ragazzi Iacovella

The days are getting shorter, the wind is whistling in the mountains – summer is over.  Annalaura, Gabriele and Alessio Iacovella looked at each other and said – what did we do this summer?

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A Rainy September Day – Let’s Talk About the Summer!

After a warm your chilly bones lunch of tortellini soup, roasted chicken, home made french fries, local mushrooms and more at Carmela’s kitchen, her grandchildren eleven year old Gabriele, 12 year old Annalaura and 8 year old Alessio sat me down and told me their summer story –

During the day we stayed with Nonna Carmela – she is a great cook!  At night we went to Casalduni.  Casalduni has – Parco Giochi.  (Their dad, Pasquale,  is Casalduni’s Sindaco – mayor.  The kids burst with pride about that.)

Casalduni

Parco Giochi has a garden, lake with fish, scivolo – slide,  gonfiabili – inflatable houses to jump in,  and campo per pallavolo – volleyball, bocce, small paddle boats –  we know lots of kids in Casalduni.  We had fun every night.

Allessio – a real charmer chimed in – Mi piace mar in Puglia!  I took a long trip to Puglia with my family. In the car we looked at the paesaggio – panorama –  and we saw the flowers, albero d’olvio – olive trees e gira sole – sun flowers .

Gabriele – I was a little bored in the car – the trip was long.

AnnaLaura – No it was short to Puglia – per andare in Calabria il viaggio è lungo.

GabrielePer me è lungo

Annalaura – We stayed at the Orchidea Blu Hotel. (http://www.orchideavillage.it/ – San Menaio, Vico del Gargano (Foggia) Puglia)

Orchieda Blue Hotel

We went to the pool every afternoon!

It had a pool, un animazione – clown – a person to play with us kids. On a typical day – we went to the beach in the morning and in the afternoon to the pool.  That way my mother didn’t have to worry about us so much.

What did you like the best?

GabrieleDolce- dolce ogni giorno.  We ate in the same restaurant in the hotel every day and I ate tanti dolci.

Besides eating dessert what did you do –

Gabriele – I went to the pool to swim.  With the animazione – played darts, calcio in the streets, pallanuoto – water polo and ping pong.  OK, OK giocare con l’animazione è più divertente di mangiare dolci.

Alessio – Ho giocato con i miei nuovi amici nel mare.

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Those are old people in that picture.  I played with my new friends Samuele, Fabrizio, Giusseppe, Niccolo e Raffele.  We built castles in the sand, swam, giocare a pallone – calcio and ….

Gabriele – Rodi Garganico – one night we went there too.  It was like Pontelandolfo with an ocean.

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View from a piazza in Rodi Garganico

AnnalauraTanti negozi e bancharelle – shops and stands.  The ancient buildings – beautiful.  We were sad to leave Puglia.

Alessio – But wait till we tell you about our other trip to Calabria –

It is September – how did you spend your summer vacation?

I hope you got to play calcio too.

Storms Silence This Yapper

Shout out to subscriber Kathy H. who said “I feel a blog about being silenced is in your future.”  Now, Kathy knows I love to chat.  We  Facetime, Viber or Magic Jack call each other a lot.  What do we talk about?  I haven’t a clue, but for about a week the chatting  stopped.

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Run Dorothy Run!

On those chatless days we were plagued with thunder, lighting, whooshing rain and turn  your umbrella inside out wind.  The internet went kaput. No Internet no chatting.

What? No Magic Jack or Viber?
What? No Magic Jack or Viber?

Suddenly I was silenced!

 Yeah, yeah I know – I could still e-mail from my smart phone but it ain’t the same as voice to voice chatting.  For one whole week I couldn’t verbally reach out to family and friends in the USA. WHAT!

It was a great opportunity to read books, sit in the caffè and gossip and maybe even play at writing something.  It also made me realize that my blabbing about our great cheap ways to communicate with folks in other parts of the globe needed a revision.  Here in the hills we have one communication tragic flaw – storms knock out the internet.

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Our internet is provided through an antennae on our house and a signal sent from an even bigger antennae somewhere in the hills.  When the wind is whoooooooooossssshhhhhhhing the signal starts swirling and may be providing internet to Saturn.

NO INTERNET

(Read – https://nonnasmulberrytree.com/2013/09/27/internet-cant-…ome-without-it/ ‎)

No internet means NO Magic Jack.

(Read – https://nonnasmulberrytree.com/2013/07/16/land-line-phone-no-voip-yes/)

No internet means NO Facetime or Skype

(Read – https://nonnasmulberrytree.com/2013/06/05/talking-for-fr…ound-the-world/)

How does one overcome this dilemma?  First, make sure you have a good cellular telephone provider.  We use WIND and pay ten Euro a month for 200 minutes of calls, 200 texts and UNLIMITED data.  Second, make sure you have a phone that can become a wi-fi hotspot.  I have an iPhone 4s that works well as a hotspot.

I will caution you, there were times when the storms also limited our ability to use our cell phones but not often.

To make quick calls to the USA – really quick because the more you use the unlimited data the slower it becomes – I would turn the cell phone into a hot spot and call through my iPad or Macbook Air.  Apple doesn’t send me dime for saying what I’m about to say (though I would gladly accept the latest iPhone.)  Apple products all work incredibly well together.  

I’ve installed Viber and Skype on my iPad.  Facetime comes with the iPad and Macbook.  Magic Jack also now has an application for smart phones a well as your computer.  Our New Jersey phone number is our Magic Jack number so folks can easily call us and/or leave a message. (Though I wish telemarkerters would stop calling at 6:00 PM Eastern Standard Time which is MIDNIGHT here.)

Bottom line – I may not be able to sip Campari Soda and talk about nothing with pals in America for an hour but thanks to a good cellular provider and the hotspot on my iPhone we can still get our words out.

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Thanks Apple for Facetime.

 

 

Missing Those City Lights?

Last night I wended my way over the curvy hill road – checking for the sheep that graze and amble across the road from one field to another.  I decided to go visit Rosella and her great kids – they live in a medieval grotto next to a waterfall and antique water fountain.  The road scares the pajeeeezuz out of me – holes, animals and curves on cliffs.  But visiting the Iacovella house is worth the risks.  I’m thinking a quick game of scopa and a cup of caffè.  That was not in the cards – it was time for city lights.

Who needs Times Square!
Who needs Times Square!

I jumped into the car with Rosella and the kids for a “solo cinque minute” visit to Casalduni.  Rosella’s husband, Pasquale, is running for Sindaco (mayor) and silly me thought we were bopping into the village to pick up campaign stuff.  My first clue was all of the cars parked along the road into Casalduni.  My second clue was the kids opening the windows and sticking their heads out to see something.  Whoa!  That something was this brilliantly lit street leading to the small villages central square.  Tonight was the first night of the festa for Santa Rita!

Of course, when I got back I had to google Saint Rita to find out who she was and what her deal was.  She is the patron saint of Casalduni and the patron saint of impossible causes.

She was married to a brute.  He died, her kids died and she devoted herself to God.
She was married to a brute. He died, her kids died and she devoted herself to God. Also for years after putting on a crown of thorns, she suffered with a terrible gash in her head.  Even carrying all that pain she committed herself to doing good works.

Every Italian village has a patron saint and it looks like that saint’s day – for Rita it’s May 22 – is a good excuse to bring some music, art and history to the village.  Last night the entertainment was Gruppo Folklorico Sannio Antico –  (https://www.facebook.com/pages/GRUPPO-FOLKLORICO-SANNIO-ANTICO/220253154670895) .  These all volunteer dancers told the story of Casalduni through music and movement.  Supplying the music was Il Gruppo Fontanavecchia.  In the hills,  old fountains – a source of water and life – seem to be a recurring theme. One movement piece showed women washing their clothes, gossiping and filling  jugs at the fountain – while the men flirted.  Ah a typical Italian scene. 

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This is the village’s ancient fountain and water source. The water comes from the mountain.

Casalduni is an interesting village.  It only has about 1500 residents but covers a great swath of land.  The village historic center has tons of empty properties.  I’m guessing families immigrated and just deserted their medieval row houses.  The place is charming and would make an easily accessible artists colony or pied a terrè in Italy.  It saddens me to see these historic villages just slowly empty.

Last night, the enthusiasm and energy of the “cittadini”made it a terrific night on the town.  My theory is that people need the arts to survive and if the arts are not close by they will create their own artistic feast.  I grew up in New Jersey, NY’s step-sister.  Our town, Hillsborough Township, was and still is an artistic waste land.  There is the occasional art show and band in the park but mostly if you want action you can visit one of the hundreds of jock filled fields – soccer, baseball, and  well I don’t know what the other jock fields are for but they are there.  Since Hillsborough is so close to New York, Philadelphia and Princeton, we leave town for our art fix.  Here in the hills of Italy, people don’t have a lot of cash, there is limited public transportation and everyone has the soul of a Da Vinci.  They make art!  Dance companies are formed. Theatrical “spectacollos” are staged. Live music is found in piazzas and every child doodles on a sketch pad.  Folks here create the art they crave and a saint’s day is a great opportunity to share it.  Since Saint Rita’s day is May 22, we will go back tonight to see what artistic feast we can munch on.

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Dancers waiting to take the stage, join the audience.

Gruppo Folklorico Sannio Antico wishes –

Con le nostre danze e canti, auguriamo a tutti una serata piacevole e che sia portatrice di pace e serenita.”  Noi devoti di Santa Rita chiediamo la sua protezione.

 With our dances and songs, we wish that every person enjoys the evening.   Also, may this event bring serenity and peace and may Santa Rita protect everyone with many blessings.

Me, I’m just happy to see the city lights.

The night may be over but the lights and St. Rita will follow us home.
The night may be over but the lights and St. Rita will follow us home.

 

Bar Elimar – My “Writer’s Room”

Hemingway had Soppy Joe’s Bar in Key West. F. Scott Fitzgerald had the Ritz Bar in Paris. Dylan Thomas had the White Horse Inn in Manhattan’s West Village,  I have Bar Elimar in Pontelandolfo, Italy.

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Some folks work at Staryucks.  I prefer the joint that makes the 90 cent real cappuccino.

Hey, reality check – I know I am not in the same league as those major writing players but I am willing to learn from them.  The first lesson – find a home away from home that will jump start your creative juices.  Or in my case, provide me with a tribe.  Some folks can work alone – I need the constant buzz of other folks around me.  They don’t even have to talk to me – just be there.

Sure I could sit at my desk, stare out the window at incredible mountains and maybe even pretend to write while I wallow in self pity and loneliness.  Or I could walk down the mountain to Bar Elimar – today I drove- have an incredible cappuccino, whip out my Macbook Air or iPad mini, stare at cool stuff and write about the people places and things I see.  A win win.

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The first thing I see is the cool art Marilina has drawn on my cappuccino foam. Yes, that is blood orange juice.

Some days, when my 6th decade body is dragging, I swear I steal an infusion of energy from the bar’s owners, Marilina Mazzamauro and Elio Di Muraglia.  This duo works from dawn until 4:30 the next morning.  Granted they do take shifts and it is a wee bit slower life in the winter but come warm nights the place is jumping. ( Did you figure out that Bar Elimar is the cute combining of the couple’s names?)  

Most mornings, Marilina makes me that double, taking care to paint a flower, treble clef or fluid design in chocolate on the top of the steaming milky foam.  That art as part of my daily life is all I need to get inspired to slap my fingers on the keys.

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The treble clef is my favorite. Music in the morning!
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Marilina Mazzamauro, the artiste of cappuccino. Notice her writer’s T-shirt!  I just did!

Bar Elimar is about four years old and a fixture of piazza life.  Located on Piazza Roma in Pontelandolfo (BN) it is often filled with pensioners shouting and slapping down cards in frenetic games. Hey – didn’t I write about them?  Yikes, I do steal stories from the bar.

Outside on warm days, the comfortable whicker couches, umbrellas and tables attract all from tweens to adults. 
Outside on warm days, the comfortable whicker couches, umbrellas and tables attract all from tweens to adults.

 What I like about the place, besides the morning coffee art, is that everyone feels welcome and the place is spotless.  I always feel secure enough to leave my MacBook Air on the table inside and go to the bathroom – ain’t no one going to steal my stuff with Marilina behind the counter.  Some days, my new friend Rocco – he’s about 8 years old – will plop next to me and pummel me with questions.  He also likes playing with my iPad – h’mm maybe that’s the attraction.  It is that feeling of inclusion – being part of the community that really resonates with me.

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An afternoon visit by my nephew Nick Losardo – the $.80 prosecco was mine.

 Bar Elimar has music often during the summer.  Marilina, how can you work until 4 a m and open at 7:30?  Children and adults – including this crazy American – sit around, order a drink or thee under the moon and sway to the music.  My question is after they pay the bands, rent the tables, rent the stage and hire the waitstaff do they make any money.  Some times I think that the good life of the village,is more important to the village merchants than the bottom line.  Could that be true?

Since I started back to my writers room, all the projects that I played with while in New Jersey have been percolating in my brain and my keyboard.  The work may not make me a star but writing for a few hours at Bar Elimar sure makes me feel like one.

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