“Hit the road Midge and don’t ya come back no more, no more.” I have been persecuting Jack and my PR pal George by bellowing out those lyrics whenever I talk about setting up an East Coast USA reading tour for my book about life in Italy, Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos. George lives in the Netherlands and has been pimping me off to bookstores, Italian Clubs, women’s clubs and just about anyone he can think of. Jack, just raised an eyebrow at “pimping.” Hey, that is a PR vocabulary word – isn’t it? I will be in New Jersey for six months beginning in November and George has me hitting the road. I love the theatre of it all. At first, I wanted to do a November reading tour – a gig a day for 30 days. Jack explained that I might need to spend the whole day after a reading, sipping wine and being social sleeping.
What! I cried. I’ve done two shows a day for six days. Reading for an hour and schmoozing is a piece of cake.
How old were you when you did two shows a day?
Well – oh – ugggg.
One show, I mean reading, a day with a minimum of one day off in-between is now the plan. Except for the first week. Jack hadn’t made up the well thought out though yucky rule yet and we have bookings.
Janet Cantore Watson, the books illustrator, has already started taking her artistic show on the road. During the spring she did a signing at Commonplace Reader Bookstore in Yardly, PA. Before that, together we did a reading at Cafe Brio in Hillsborough and Rossi’s Restuarant and Bar in Hamilton. (We love all types of venues.) This past week Janet did one show a day for three days at the Somerset County 4-H Fair. (I did tell Jack that if Janet could do it so could I. He pointed out the age difference. The creep.) She came up with a great concept. She reads a story from Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos and then has the audience create illustrations for that tale. Clever, creative and encourages listening. Check out the video –
Janet is an amazing woman and puts fun into everything she does. We have gotten lots of positive feedback from her workshops. Sadly, I can’t draw a stick figure so I need to stick to entertaining. Here are the gigs I have so far. If you want more information email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
November 9 – Newtown Bookshop in Newtown, PA. 6:30PM
November 10 – Frenchtown Bookstore in Frenchtown, NJ. 7:00 PM
November 11 – Unico District X Kenilworth in Kenilworth, NJ 2:00 PM (Reservations please)
November 16 – Women’s Group of the Pontelandolfo Club. Waterbury, CT 6:30 PM
December 4 – Booked on Germantown Ave, Philadelphia, PA. 4:00 PM
December 13 – Horizons at Woodland Second Tuesday Book Club Lakewood, NJ
Let Me Entertain You! If I am not doing something creative and fun, I will be bored silly. During my six months in New Jersey, if you find me places to read, you will be keeping me sane. I will be forever grateful and Jack will thank you because I will not be driving him pazzo. I’m free, funny and won’t embarrass you – well maybe a little. Seriously, I would love to come and share stories from Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos (this is the international link) with your club, organization, condo complex etc. Just contact me and I’ll put it in the calendar.
Time to head down to Bar Elimar and have a Compari Spritz and people watch. Thanks for always being there for me.
Some folks have their names blazoned in the tabloids, trotting across banners on news shows and plastered on posters. My name – maybe someday will be tabloid fodder – but meantime can be found in a new novel by Casey Dawes. When dinosaurs roamed the earth, Casey and I went to Montclair State College together. She texted me one day and asked if she could use my name and be a character in her latest book, Spring in Promise Cove. Honey Moely, her books sell like hotcakes ! How could I say no to being immortalized in a novel.
Casey Dawes writes non-steamy contemporary romance and inspirational women’s fiction with romantic elements. Her latest series is set in a small fictional town on Montana’s Whitefish Lake. Kelly, Maggie, and Alex, all in their mid-forties, reclaim their friendship, embrace their community, and find a second chance at love along the way.
No, I’m not Maggie but I’m in the same book! “Midge,” a writer, attends a spa/rejuvenation retreat with her old college buddies. Indeed, the other women at the retreat were friends of mine from my MSC days too. When I read the book, I realized that Casey captured all of our personalities spot on. I will not reveal the plot – just know romance is in the air and problems can always be solved with support of pals.
Casey has lived a varied life, some by choice, some by circumstance. According to Casey, “My master’s degree in theater didn’t prepare me for anything practical, so I’ve been a teacher, stage hand, secretary, database guru, manager in Corporate America, business coach, book shepherd, and writer.” (Sounds pretty practical to me – we all learned how improvise and create something out of nothing.)
She inherited an itchy foot from her grandfather, traveling to Europe and Australia and many towns and cities across the US while in business. She’s lived in towns with a population as small as 379 and in an apartment complex on 42nd Street and 9th Avenue in Manhattan. She’s dragged her belongings from New Jersey to Massachusetts, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, California, and Montana. (Hmm, I think we have lots in common.)
She and her husband are now traveling the US in a small trailer with the cat who owns them. When not writing or editing, she is exploring national parks, haunting independent bookstores, and lurking in spinning and yarn stores trying not to get caught fondling the fiber!
A few days ago my second 15 seconds happened totally out of the blue. We adore WHYY, the Philadelphia National Public Radio station. Even when we are in Italy, I always listen and contribute during their fund drives. I was in my office, heard the pitch for $$, went to the website sent a gift and wrote a paragraph about how important WHYY was to me – particularly when we are abroad. Less than 15 seconds later, I leaped out of my chair as the WHYY personality said “Midge gives even when she is out of the country!” For the next few minutes, “Midge” was the example for giving. I was soooo proud! I promptly texted my family in the USA and said, send money to WHYY! I don’t know if my diminutive name made a difference in their fundraising efforts but boy was I proud to help.
Yesterday, my sister sent me this headline from the local Ewing NJ paper, Ewing Community News. Cripes, my 15 minutes of fame just hit the trifecta!
Now Midge, shouldn’t that be “Italian Writers Rock?” Hmm, well it could be but then it wouldn’t be the creation of the energetic Wendy Ridolini. Wendy lives in Bisenti, Abruzzo and is committed to helping authors find their voices, get published and market their work. She is the visionary behind the September Creative Writing Retreat in Abruzzo and Sunflower Publishing which provides editorial and business publishing solutions. Her by-line as a book critic can be found in a variety of English language Italian magazines. How come I didn’t know about these magazines! Why haven’t I been subscribing to Italy Inside and Out, Abruzzissimo magazine or Lucca news.org?
Wendy goes out of her way to identify authors who live in Italy and/or write stories set in Italy. Are you wondering how we met? She found me! WHAT? How can a critic and podcaster just find you? Gulp, I guess that means I am an author who lives in Italy, writes stories set in Italy and blatantly self promotes anywhere I can! One day I received an email from this women, Wendy Ridolini, I didn’t know telling me about herself. She produces the video podcast Italy Writes and was asking if she could interview me about my book Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos. Wow! I googled her and saw all she did and who she wrote for and sent back a resounding YES! The “Harriet the Spy” in me had to know why me. The easiest thing to do is just ask. So I asked Wendy how she found me. This is what she said,
“Things just appear in my Facebook feed, you just somehow popped in there. What worked for me was the title Cars, Castles, Cows and Chaos. This must be a crazy woman who wrote a crazy book because it had a crazy title. I had to meet her.”
I guess all those totally silly TikTok videos and instagram posts really worked! The evening before the interview my PR pal Kathy, via FaceTime from New Jersey, made sure my room was set up, the lights were good and the large poster of my book cover was prominently placed. Being anal, I refreshed my aged brain with the answers to questions that I thought Wendy might ask and went to sleep feeling prepared. BOOM! RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR! CRASH! Cripes what is happening to our house? Those were the sounds that woke me up at seven A.M. the next morning. The destruction workers that my landlord had contracted to pull down the tottering garage attached to our house and more specifically my office had started.
“TODAY!: I shrieked, “it has been months and they are starting today??” My theatre head kicked in and almost overcame my memoirist panicking head. I raced all over the house searching for a small space that didn’t rumble and tremble. Pal George in the Netherlands got the hysterical FaceTime call – “Does this room work – how does it look – &^^%#,” I said before I said hello. We settled on a small closet sized space with no electricity. The only light on my soon to be made up face was from a window. It had to do. Finish reading, then watch the video and tell me what you think.
Turn about is fair play so a week or so after that interview, I called Wendy to get more information about her writer’s workshop. I love the camaraderie of being around other writers and was trying to figure out if I could go. (Sadly, when I saw the dates I realized I was already booked on a Viking River Cruise.) The all inclusive price for the workshop was so cheap, that I have to keep my eyes open for next year. Rates are based on the room size in the lovely Casa delle Rondinelle in Bisenti, Abruzzo. The cheapest price for single occupancy is £1150 or if two people share the room £625 each. That’s $1403 and $762 dollars – for room, food transfer from the Pescara airport, workshops with super authors, yoga classes, Italian language class, one on one sessions with editor Amy Scott and more goodies.
Wendy has assembled a sterling group of authors to conduct master classes. She said, “There is nothing like talking to someone else who has been on a journey and discovering it may have taken months and years to get that book out there – and that could be inspiring”. Quoting the distinguished author Sue Morecraft, “Forty years to become an overnight success!”
Some of the featured authors include memoirist Cathy Rentzenbrink and short story author Katherine Mezzacappa – shh don’t tell – she writes under a bunch of names – including erotic fiction – then again, why shouldn’t she! Midweek, Angela Petch will do a workshop on research for a historical fiction novel. Elizabeth Buchan, who has worked both sides of the table – first for publishers and then as an author – will share her unique experience. I give up! There will be numerous guest authors in different genres. What a fabulous week and I can’t go. To find out more –
I asked Wendy for her back story. How did she get into the author business. Turns out is it the family business. She and her husband Duncan Watts moved to Abruzzo in 2009. Wendy taught English and life was lovely. Then Boom Crash snd Shake the enormous earthquake that leveled Bisenti totally destroyed their home. Her husband wrote an account about the destruction of houses during an earthquake in Bisenti. They put a caravan in the olive grove and lived there for several years. It was there Watts wrote his first book, Olives and Earthquakes.
Wendy edited the book and got it ready to launch. Duncan loved writing so much that he kept writing, under the nome di plume – Jack Lench. Zap, Wendy was pulled into the publishing business. I love this so much and I have so much experience now on self publishing, I wanted to do this for a job! A career was launched! Things are working out, the Caravan may feel lonely because they left it behind an moved into a fabulous home.
Wendy’s next interview is with Rhys Bowen! I am soooo jealous! I’ve read everyone of Bowen’s book. Wendy will be talking to Bowen (Janet Quin-Hardin) about “the Tuscan Child” and “The Venice Sketchbook.” Can’t wait to hear that interview.
At least I’m not wearing an ankle monitor! How do Jack and I manage not to kill each other during our latest quarantine in Pontelandolfo? He reads, feeds the chickens and stares at the mountain. I ramble up and down the stairs of our chilly stone house, cook, stare at the mountain and remind myself it is only for ten days. Lets back up a wee bit. How did we get here? Why are we quarantining when tourists from the USA can take quarantine free flights?
After dealing with health issues and the Covid Crisis for what seemed like an eternity in New Jersey, we finally felt secure enough to travel back to our Pontelandolfo home. I knew I didn’t want to visit more than one airport and risk seething at wackadoos who refuse to wear masks in crowded spaces. That meant finding a flight directly to Rome and ordering a car service to drive us from one region to another. Finding the flight was easy. We bought tickets on United from Newark to Rome. Their website was incredibly helpful as were the reminder emails to do everything on the pre-boarding list. Besides the usual chaos promulgated by the TSA, everything at Newark Airport went smoothly. The mask mandate was followed by our fellow travelers. This brought joy to Jack since he wouldn’t be embarrassed by me giving the evil eye and a tongue lashing to anyone who was non-compliant. People were courteous and spatially conscious. Here is a look at that pre-boarding list –
Vaccines?Check – we both had our two doses of Moderna. They didn’t ask to see them but we had our cards ready. Actually, we provided the data in advance to United and the EU-PLF.
EU-PLF? Check – sounds like peeeyyuuuu stinky feet but it is the Passenger Locator Form that you have to keep on you. Passenger Locator Forms (PLFs) are digital and will help public health authorities do contact tracing. That means if someone on my flight had some infectious disease, the European Union/Italy could find me. The idea is to prevent the spread of disease. In Newark they just wanted to see the piece of paper with the bar code but no one scanned it. When we got to Rome no one scanned it either. I’ll keep the bar code in my wallet with the vaccine card.
Covid-19 Test 48 Hours Before Landing – Check – for $85 each we got our noses swabbed the afternoon before we left. I carried our negative test results and a United representative barely glanced at them.
Digital Health Pass Reservation – Check– we made appointments to get our noses tickled again by a doctor administrating a covid swab test in Rome. In Rome’s Fiumincino Airport this was really well organized and it only cost € 20 each. Why did it cost so much more in New Jersey? We were swabbed, waited about twenty minutes and given a certificate of a negative test. Hmm – what happens if the test is positive? I’m glad I didn’t have to find out.
Self-Declaration Form for Travel to Italy From Abroad– Check. Double Check and Tripple Check. I completed this form in English and in Italian. It states that I am not a denier – I get that there is Covid -19 and haven’t tested positive, took the swab test, will take a swab test in Rome, will self isolate and where you can find me climbing the walls during self isolation. NO ONE took the form! United staff glanced at it. On the plane they gave us another one to fill out. NO ONE took that form either. I tried to give it to the car service driver. He didn’t want it. I thought maybe Pontelandolfo wanted it. They wanted something different…
After going through Border Control, we went out front and found our driver. He waived a sign with our names on it, helped lug the luggage and made us comfortable in his clean Mercedes sedan. Anybody need a lift from Rome – www.autonoleggiocerrato.it! In a three hour super highway and winding hill road journey, we made it back to Pontelandolfo. Our masked family and friends who are like family, were waving at us from the other side of the street. Think parade of one car with social distancing. When we got in the house, our cupboard and refrigerator were both jammed packed with fresh vegetables, meat and the cheeses you can only get in the Sannio hills. Wine from the local vintner was peeking at us from a shelf. Thank you! Grazie a tutti!
We settled in, I couldn’t wait to go see the piazza! What, we can’t go see the piazza? Jack looked at me – “quarantine remember.” But we took the covid quarantine free plane? “Tough – the village expects it.”
It has been eight days. Only eight days. Soon it will be ten days. Quarantining is the right thing to do. We care too much about this village to be the bearers of evil infectious yuck. Besides, quarantining isn’t so bad when you have a view like this.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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???)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Like a lioness roaring at her cubs, I announced in una voce forte, “hop in the car we have places to go and animals to see.”
“What,” queried Jack, “sheep in the mountain? Stop bellowing like a lion. Where do you want to go?”
“Lions and tigers and bears -oh my – to the Zoo Delle Maitine in Pesca Sannita!”
Spending a lot of time in Pontelandolfo BN, we are always looking for day trips. Since lots of folks come to visit us or are culinary tourists in our Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo program, I think of it as research for our guests. Actually that is just an easy excuse. I love to explore. Life is short and there are lots of places to see. I have an old Visit Campania book – which I love. It is much more complete than the website and includes little towns. I looked up the Provincia di Benevento. Pesca Sannita had a fairly good write up. Hmm, I bet their administration understands PR and sent something in when they were asked. I googled the town, expecting to get the droll web-site template that Pontelandolfo and other towns use. Whoa – Pesca Sannita has a website dedicated to tourism. The blurb included a photo of a parrot and an invitation to visit Zoo Delle Maitine. That impressed me enough to get in the car and point driver Jack towards Pesca Sannita.
Besides, who knew there was a zoo? Perhaps the gnu knew, and now I’m telling you. A scant trip over the mountain to Pesco Sannita and we came upon a darling well thought out little zoo.
There was a sign saying “paid parking”. We pulled in and an older man pointed out where to park. I had a €5 bill in my hand – huge mistake – and asked him how much? He took the 5 and scampered off. I found out from the ticket taker that you just tip the person in the lot – like €1. Oops. For a well organized place, the zoo needs to get some “Parker Beware” signage up in the parking lot.
Our €6 each senior citizen tickets made up for the scammer in the parking lot.
What struck me at first was how clean the zoo was. Every animal encampment was pristine and large. For example, only two lions are in the huge lion park. It had a little lake, trees and lots of grass – very plain like. Next to the lake, the lioness was reposing in the shade. The man with the mane was posing for the cameras.
My zoo experiences are urban – Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo. And I remembered as a kid holding my nose against the smell – I was a wee bit obnoxious – thinking it was stinky and the animals were squished. We visited the Zoo Delle Maitine on a hot summer day and there wasn’t any odor. OK, that is a lie, it was a hot summer day and there were lots of sweaty kids. I will rephrase that – there wasn’t any overt odor from the animal habitats.
Signage near each grouping of animals talked about extinction. There were charts showing how endangered the animals were and why. I hope the signs are a catalyst for family discussions.
Most of the visitors had small children with them and some of the viewing areas had glass partial walls that permitted small faces to get up close and personal with the monkeys and other animals. One part of the zoo, that my “child” particularly liked was the fattoria, farm. They had really miniature goats and sheep. A perfect size for little people to look at and play with. It was an open area – still clean. We walked in and the farm yard animals obviously used to guests, ambled over to play. I had on a white skirt and bolted, but I’m told there were all kinds of food bearing animals.
Did they have every animal in the universe? No, but what they did have seemed well cared for and a joy to look at. Also, for the nonni who were bringing kids, there were lots of benches placed in shady nooks. One of the things I appreciated was that, unlike urban zoos, they didn’t gouge us at the refreshment stands. A bottle of water was the same €1 we would pay in a local bar. They even had a picnic area for folks who carried their own grub.
Jack and I spent half a day there and really enjoyed ourselves. Granted, people looked at us strangely because we didn’t have any kids with us. Occasionally, I remedied that by looking at groups of kids and saying things like Salvatore, sta attento!
Next time you come to visit Provincia di Benevento, add Zoo Delle Maitine to your list!
We are now signing up culinary adventurers for our May 2019 Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo. Check out our website.
The magic of being the only person swimming in the clear Adriatic Sea is not lost on me. I feel like I’ve found a secret place that allows me to be me, frolicking like a dolphin under the noonday sun. Standing in the warm water, I look west past the ancient hilltop towns to snow capped mountains touching the clouds. The only sound I hear is water lapping on the shore. Welcome to San Salvo Marina at lunch time!
For the last 4 years, always in June, Jack and I have rented apartments here. We have now rented for the second time a two bedroom apartment – the kitchen is the only other room -with a large 3rd story balcony that gives us a wedge of a sea view and all modern appliances for €550 a week. (About $645.) We take advantage of off season rates, great summer weather and very few beach goers. Once school is out, this place will be packed and prices will escalate. The second week in June is perfect. Noon until 3:00’ish, when the few families who are here have left for lunch and a snooze, it is even more perfect.
I must admit, living in low costing Pontelandolfo has caused me to get shell shocked at even off season beach town prices. What, I bellowed one night after staring at the ocean and drinking at Beat Cafe, €7 for one glass of house wine and an aperol spritz? It would be less than half that at home. Jack reminded me that we would pay double that at the Jersey Shore. Oh, I sulked, OK I will try not to whine about prices MUCH.
Why San Salvo Marina? It is only about an hour and a half away from Pontelandolfo – which makes going to the beach an easy drive. If I am in a car for more than 2 hours, I become meaner than the wicked witch of the west. Having lived in Asbury Park and known the Jersey Shore intimately, I can say unequivocally that I loathed the honky took of places like Seaside Heights and loved the kinder gentler feeling of Ocean Grove or Sea Girt. San Salvo Marina has a wonderful lungomare – seafront promenade that includes closing off the adjacent street to vehicular traffic. It is a great place to stroll after dinner. The beachfront is full of medium rise condos that look like they have been built in the last 15 or so years. New ones keep popping up. That said, it doesn’t feel cramped and crowded. There is green space between buildings and a park between the buildings and the seafront.
We walk about 5 blocks from our apartment to the beach front stand we like. This year I GULPED when it cost me €75 to rent our spot near the sea for 7 days – yeah, yeah it was less than €13 a day but still. We got our two lounge chairs, table and giant umbrella set up by the attendant and nestled in for a seaside view and ahhhhh moment. €13 pppfffew – is niente, nada, nothing for this.
Being foodies, we also like San Salvo for its restaurants and proximity to our very favorite seafood restaurant – Il Corsaro Della Baia Azzurra in Porto Vasto. When we arrived this week, the first thing we did after lugging all the crap from the car and getting organized was walk the half block toward, Ristorante Al Metro. We were salivating as we thought of their riffs on local Abruzzo food and their industrial style modern and elegant dining room. As we started to cross the street this teeny tiny little girl – I found out later she was 6 but soon to be 7 – stopped Jack and was prattling away. Sensing he didn’t have a clue about what she was saying, I walked up to them. She had handed him a flier for Risto Pizza da Bocconcino, the corner joint we had just passed, and was delivering a marketing pitch that was freakin’ perfect. We thanked her, I put the flier in my purse and we continued on to Al Metro – which was now closed!!!!! We went back, found the girl and let her guide us into her dad’s Risto Pizza da Bocconcino. After praising her to her pop we took seats outdoors in a comfortable space and had a pretty decent but €40 lunch. OK, I’LL STOP WHINING SOON ABOUT PRICES. I had grilled cod, pickled onions and sautéed spinach. Jack had – I don’t remember – but we did share a bottle of a great Abruzzese white wine and mineral water. Since we were late eaters, the place was cleared out by the time we finished. Out came the home made limoncello, caffè and conversation. The owner sat with us and we argued about politics. He was the first Italian I have ever met that didn’t think the current president of the USA was a putz. He liked his brazen style! Let the arguments begin! Putting politics aside, we enjoyed ourselves and will go back.
One night we decided to drive the strip and look for a new place to dine. We discovered Medusa Ristorante Pizzeria on the very active Via Magellano. We agreed – an anomaly – that we had eaten the best mussels we have ever had. Their Cozze Marinate was full a chunks of garlic and parsely that added to the perfectly braised mussels. Yummy. We each had a fresh fish dish, side of veggies, mineral water and coffee for €54 – oh yeah there was that bottle of Abruzzese wine too.
Can we talk about gelato??? Ai 3 Scalini makes and serves the best gelato I have had in forever. It is fortuitous that it is a short half block from Medusa Ristorante! We had no choice – really Jack made me go there kicking and screaming down the street. The strawberry gelato reminds me of the wild strawberries of my youth. OMG – the chocolate is so full of chocolate that Belgium chocolates pale by comparison. We vowed we would only go once this week. But I’m thinking if I don’t eat breakfast or lunch…
I’ve got to stop talking about food. Time to stare at the sea, thank Vodafone for the cheap data plan that lets me turn my phone into a hot spot, and hmm it’s 6:30 PM here maybe walk to a seaside bar for an overpriced Aperol Spritz.