An Accidental Visit to Basilica di S. Ambrogio

The sun was shining, the air was clear and we were energized to take the Metropolitana to the Duomo. Every time we come to Milano, like tourist lemmings we head for the Piazza Duomo, gawk at the Gothic marvel constructed of pink veined white marble and enjoy the energy of the crowd.

The outside is amazing. The facade features more than 3,200 statues. We have stared and created narratives to go with some of them. Today, we were determined to see the inside of this incredible house of worship.

Have I ever mentioned that I run from hordes of tourists? That backpacks attack me? That lines that go on forever are not enticing? Now, we knew it might be crowded. It was after all a glorious December day but we had no idea…

First clue – the armed guards at every door. Second clue – long lines waiting to get into the church. I asked when the next mass was and if you had to stand in line for that. The guard put his hand on his gun and looked at me. We went to the back of the line and discovered that to go inside the Duomo you had to buy a ticket. Ok. Ok. We can do that. Where the hell is the ticket booth? We wandered around the gigantic exterior and across a side street finally saw the ticket and Duomo souvenirs store. Upon entering I was handed a number – 40. I was number 40 in the longissimo queue to buy a ticket to stand in a two hour line to wander with a pazillion people in the duomo. NOT!

I remembered reading about the quality of art and architecture of Basilica di Sant’ Ambrogio, pulled out my map and dragged Jack in that direction. Boy, am I glad I did! It wasn’t a short walk but it got us out of the tourist crunch and into a neighborhood. The amount of graffiti I see in Milano confounds me. We were in, what appeared to be, an upper middle class neighborhood and there were graffiti tags everywhere. Tired of walking and ready for wine and sustenance, we happened upon Caffe’ Della Pusterla (Via De Amicis, 22). Yummy, friendly and full of local folks who were happy to help us on our journey to Sant’Ambrogio. We both had Stinco e Patate – pork shin, think ham hock braised to perfection and served with lemon roasted potatoes. I flashed back to my grandmother’s Sunday dinners. Ahhhh. After a great meal, wine and the local digestivo – Fernet – we set off to the Basilica.

Coming upon the complex, I felt like I was stepping back centuries. Saint Ambrose (Sant’ Ambrogio) is the patron saint of Milan and was the driving force behind getting the building done. The church, originally built between 379-386 A.D., is a great example of Romanesque Style.

For great pictures – CLICK HERE. The Basilica’s website has a super surround view gallery.

Today, the Basilica of Saint Ambrose’s crypt is the final resting place of the patron saint. It is below the main church, in an area called the “Tesoro di Sant’Ambrogio”. Numerous martyrs from Roman times have also been buried there. For €2 you can head down to the Tesoro see the Basilica’s artifacts. We walked through the iron gate, paid our €2 and slowly walked through the exhibit of gold and silver artifacts and other objects of high artistic and religious value from the 13th to 19th centuries. The works of art that had the greatest impact on me, were not made of gold, silver, silk or jewels but of found objects, scraps of cloth and stolen pieces of wood.

In 1944, Italian soldiers who were held at Wietzendorf, a German Concentration Camp, created this nativity scene. Determined not to compromise on their religion, these brave men created something special with a Boy Scout knife, small pair of scissors and door hinge as a hammer. We joined another couple staring at the installation, soon tears were sliding down all our cheeks.

Leave Piazza Duomo behind and visit the Basilica di S. Ambrogio located at Piazza S. Ambrogio 15. You don’t need a ticket and there aren’t any lines. All you will find is a pleasant opportunity to explore a historic venue in a great neighborhood.

Ci Vediamo!

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Baci, Baci! Irregular Regulars

Baci, baci! Grand abbraccio! Kiss, kiss, big hugs. Within half an hour after landing at Malpensa in Milano, Jack and I were embraced by Milanese warmth and passion. Right off the plane we were welcomed back with gusto. For us, the hugs started at the Taxi queue. Since we were traveling with four – count them 4 – giant bags, we wanted the next mini van in line. Bentornati, welcome back, echoed from the cache of drivers waiting for fares. Three helped our driver put the hernia inducing bags in his van. One stole his keys, which – after a bit of kibitzing about why does he always get the bella gente, nice people – were returned. Bentornati? Who did they think we were? How could they know us? My kind husband smirked and noted that I chat up everyone, how could they not remember us? The standard fare from Malpensa to the city center is €95. After the driver belly lugged our bags to the door of the hotel, I handed him €100. He thanked me profusely and gave me a big hug. Bentornati!

We rang the bell at Il Girasole High Quality Inn’s portone (humongous door blocking the complex from the street) and announced ourselves. Midge, Jack Bentornati! The words rang out before the door was fully open. Nicola Negruzzi, one of the vivacious owners of our favorite little hotel, pulled open the door and wrapped me in a cocoon like embrace. Next, Jack’s turn for a huge hug. Whenever we come to Milano – which is about once a year – we stay at Il Girasole. Co-owner, Matteo Negruzzi came in – saw us – and….. Bentornati! Baci, baci, grande abbraccio. Big hugs and kisses to both of us. Matteo reminded us that Il Girasole is our Milanese home away from home.

Jack and Matteo

We always truck over to Mail Boxes ETC and ship our suitcases to Pontelandolfo. If we are arriving from the states and off on other adventures, it makes sense to off load some of the baggage. Jack schlepped the bags over the threshold of the store and the owner joined the Bentornati chorus. He knew exactly why we were there, whipped out the right forms, asked where we were off too and guaranteed our luggage would make it home before we did.

Up the street and around the corner is Tony’s, an inexpensive restaurant that serves pretty good fish and just about anything else you could find in a higher end local place. We walked in, asked for a table for two, took off our coats and whomp – heard Bentornati! The waiter looked at us and said – New Jersey right? Glad you’re back – but you always come back!

I could give you two more examples – Vineria San Giovanni and the Restaurant Mamma Lina – but you get the drift.

Wow – I must look like someone famous! In high school I could pass for Sally Fields in her flying nun phase and once in an airport Jack was confused for Tom Wilkenson (British actor). Maybe we give off a famous person auro? Baaammm – then it hit me. We are irregular regulars! There is no schedule. No one knows when we will return to Quartiere Villa San Giovanni, this friendly Milanese neighborhood. We are absolutely irregular regulars!

Except to see the sites, listen to music and window shop, we avoid the tourist packed historic center of Milan. A few years ago, thanks to Nonna’s Mulberry Tree subscriber Lynn Y., we got turned on to Il Girasole. Located at Via Doberdò 19, close to Metro stop Villa San Giovanni, the hotel has all the bells and whistles of the big guys – free wi-fi, parking, more than continental breakfast and incredible staff. Every time we fly to Italy through Milan or venture north with our car, we stop and stay in this neighborhood populated by real people and featuring non tourist prices in restaurants and shops. At il Girasole, my favorite room is somehow always available for us. The afternoon registration ritual turns into aperitivo e spuntino and we like the local eateries. Bam – irregular regulars.

Becoming an irregular regular sort of comes naturally to me. I like things that are familiar and good. If the service, price and goods are great – why not go back?! Are you wondering how folks remember us? The former mayor of Princeton, Barbara Sigmund, taught me a great politicians trick – stick out your hand and say your name. Then make sure you get the waiters, store owners, etc. name and use it a few times while you are there. Of course, ten minutes later don’t ask me their names but I’m good while I’m in the place. Also, name badges and writing on uniforms help a lot. Why not joke, laugh and chat with folks where ever you are? It feels good, makes the time pass pleasantly and BONUS – you too can become an irregular regular and hear that pleasant bentornato – welcome back!

Ci Vediamo!

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.

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

Translator

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.  

Hank

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.

Rodi - city in Puglio

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.