Thursday, December 22, 2011


I've been running around like my hair is on fire - and unfortunately with the humidity and million things to do it sort of *looks* like it is, too.  I'm heading out too bright and early to catch a bus to Roma and the airport.  We'll be spending the holidays in the US with la famiglia.  Judging from the photo my sister sent, it looks like it might be a white Christmas in Ohio this year. 

Wishing you a beautiful holiday and a new year filled with blessings and joy.

Buone Feste!  Happy Hanukkah!  Merry Christmas! Buon Anno!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Gifts of the Heart

I don't know about you but I've been enjoying the monthly posts by the great gals of the Italy Blogging Roundtable.  It's interesting to see how each writer explores the monthly theme.  I know some of them and admire all of them.  So when they opened up the topic for anyone to participate this time around I couldn't resist.  The theme is gifts (or presents).

I like presents.  I mean, really...who doesn't?  It means someone is thinking of you, right?  And as much as I like to rip open the wrapping paper, it's just as much a pleasure (if not more so) to make or choose a gift, tie it up with a bow and present it to someone I care about. 

I was thinking about gifts I've received through the years.  Sure there were some great surprises - the hand-woven wool coat from Chimayo, New Mexico that Bryan gave me one year, a gorgeous and warm wrap that was made in the centuries-old Spanish tradition.  Beautiful, because he had seen me admire it and went back to get it for me without ever letting the secret slip.  I was speechless when I opened it (and if you know me, you know I'm rarely without words!)  The downpayment on our first house from Bryan's parents; the airline tickets for our first trip to Italy from mine - generous and indelibly memorable presents.

But the ones I think are most imprinted are the simple ones.  Every year my grandmother gave us fresh grapefruit from Florida, for instance.  Not a major expense, but when you live in frigid northern Ohio, the taste of fresh citrus imported from the sunny south is fabulous.  I remember one year she wrapped three grapefruit in white tissue paper and formed a snowman, complete with cut-out paper hat, little pieces of charcoal glued on for eyes and a pipe-cleaner smile. 

Simple pleasures, simple me they mean a lot.  And the past year in this village we've received many amazing gifts.  There have been warm invitations for coffee or a meal.  There was the asparagus hunting lesson (with cooking tips thrown in for good measure).  We've been gifted with countless bottles of homemade wine, so many fresh vegetables and orchard fruit that I didn't have to go to the fruttivendolo for weeks, farm fresh eggs, local honey, hand-made pasta, and home-cured salami and pancetta, and enough caffe' to keep us caffeinated for months.  Our neighbors made a lovely fireplace broom - which sits proudly next to our caminetto but is much to pretty to dirty.  And of course there was the wonderful furry surprise that has become part of the family.  (Lucano is on my lap with his head resting on my arm as I type this.  He doesn't seem to mind the rhymic tapping.) 

People have opened their larders wide and shared the bounty of their lands and their skills, which has deeply touched us.  But as much as we enjoy being invited to partake, we have also been invited to participate, giving us the gift of community and feeling like we've become a part of it. 

I wasn't here long when the local community center asked if I'd organize English classes; some of those students have become true friends.  We've lent a helping hand in local festas, and have given free translation when asked as a way of giving back.  We like being involved.  I love the local word for that - "inserire".  Several people commented that we've "inserito" into the village.  Literally it means "inserted" but they're really saying we've joined in and become a part of it.  Without their knowing it, those little words were a gift, too, making us realize we're accepted. 

People here have given from their gardens, but many given from the heart in the form of friendship and a sense of belonging.  And who could ask for more than that? 

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Be sure to check out the wonderful writings of the cool chicks who make up Italy Blogging Roundtable :

Friday, November 11, 2011

Comfort Food

It's something that was already on my mind, but it seems everywhere I look this week it's all about comfort food.  The grand dames of the blogging roundtable have been posting about it.  The Food Network site has a page devoted to it.  And someone reminded me of a post I'd penned some time back talking about my grandmother's kitchen.  It's been one of those seasons, that I crave comfort. 

Italy is all about the food.  You know that.  Here you find fabulously fresh foods, prepared simply but with great end results.  When not cooking or consuming food, they talk about food.  Seriously.  Very few conversations don't take a culinary turn at some point.  And many of the foods in this region are familiar, family recipes.  I just didn't know it growing up.  I assumed the dishes I ate as a child were generic "Italian" as passed down from my paternal grandmother.  I didn't know that they were specifically "Lucani" as passed down to her from her mother, who came from a village less than 25 kilometers from where I live.  That knowledge itself is comforting, it makes me feel even more connected here.

As for specific foods that I crave when feeling moody or needing a soul surge, I return to recipes of the various periods and places of my life.  Sometimes it's the aromas of my grandma's house.  Sense of smell quickly takes me there.  In fact, today I made applesauce, just like Grams used to make it.  The apple-cinnamon scent filled the air and lifted my spirits.  Sometimes it's my nana's kitchen, in the form of meatballs and sausage simmering in sauce.  When I'm not feeling so hot, I turn to pastina with butter and parmigiano, the classic comfort food in our house when we had the flu or a trembly tummy.  And sometimes it's a breakfast burrito smothered in green chile sauce, one of my preferred plates in New Mexico.  Yesterday I made good ol' mac and cheese, which is sort of a melding of my American and Italian palates (pasta, cheesey, saucey...good!)  Tomorrow I'm thinking chicken pot pie.

I tend to have more comfort cravings in the late fall, when winter is on its way, when the days are shortening, when there's a chill in the air and a lowness of heart at the encroaching coldness and darkness of winter.  Even though inverno really isn't severe here, it's just the loss of summer and the diminishing sunshine that lays me a little low.  But a whiff of applesauce, the scent of sauce, and a bite of burrito help.  A lot.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

My Bella Basilicata

Well, did you see it?  How was it?  The big episode of House Hunters International featuring our home search in Trivigno aired last night, but it's not transmitted over here to the bel paese.  I hope it showed our beautiful region in a positive light.  To see more about Basilicata, check out our website!

My Bella Basilicata

A friend sent a screen shot from the TV

Did you see House Hunters International and think you might want to find a house in Trivigno, too?  We have listed homes for sale on our web site to help you start your search! 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

News and Tidbits

So lest you think I'd given up blogging, I'm back with a hint of red on my cheeks - a bit of embarrassment that I've been too busy to blog, along with a flush of rosso from rushing back across the ocean, then careening down the length of the boot to get back home.  I'm a tad tired.

We were back in the New World to revisit la famiglia and celebrate our wedding anniversary.  We went back to the beginning, so to speak, to my hometown in Ohio where we were wed 25 years ago.  Yes, boys and girls, we feel officially old now that we're talking silver anniversary, but we take consolation in the fact that we were mere babes when we got married. 

We enjoyed a romantic little getaway to Amish country, and had a fabulous organic farm-fresh meal at Malabar Farm, the lovely spot where Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Becall were married.  We also spent several days eating nothing but ethnic cuisine.  (In our house, Italian doesn't count as ethnic.)  Turkish, Indian, all went down well.  There are few ethnic eaties around Italia, even fewer down here in the south.

It was a quick trip filled with lots of running around to see family.  Unfortunately, we didn't have the beautiful autumnal weather we enjoyed 25 years ago.  It rained 9 days out of 10, not a good weather ratio, but so goes the luck of the draw in northern Ohio.

In other news...

*Remember the film crew that came to follow us around in May?  We received news on our anniversary that we have an air date!  Tune in to HGTV on November 4 (10:00 pm eastern time) to see Basilicata (and yours truly) in living color.  For the record, we're not too thrilled with the episode title.  A life of leisure?  Magari!  (We wish.)  You'll have to let me know how it turns out.  We can't watch it over here; we have to wait until they send us a DVD.  Here's hoping we don't embarrass ourselves in front of 50 million people!
House Hunters International in Trivigno, Italy

*Have you heard about the Pizza Pilgrims?  They're a pair of young Brits who are crossing Italy from toe to top in a Piaggio Ape', a 3-wheeled utility truck, in search of the perfect pizza.  They're a hoot!  You can follow their journey and their culinary adventures as they chug along at about 35 miles per hour.
Pizza Pilgrims

*Speaking of pizza, I won a cute little pizza charm, thanks to Cibando, a fabulous foodie site (in italiano) that includes my bubbly blogging buddy, Eleanora Baldwin.  I rarely win anything, so it was kind of thrilling to get the honor of a trinket in the shape of Italy's favorite food.  It was here waiting for me when I got home.  Well, it was at the bar, because the postina leaves my mail there for me to collect when I get my morning cappuccino.  Not a bad system, really.

So that's the news from here.  How has your Fall been?

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Just in Time

I knew it would end sooner or later, but the summery autumn we'd been enjoying could have held lasted a little longer.  A few days ago I was in a denim skirt and sleeveless top.  Today I'm sporting a mock turtleneck with a cardigan swaddled around me.  The wind blew in a cold downpour last night, right on schedule according to predictions, which had everyone scrambling in their campagna to finish the grape harvests while they could.  The grapes were already dismal, they wailed; can't lose what little we have to the cold and rain.

Thankfully our new heat source was installed just in time.  Last year we were still in camping mode, surviving with the likes of the caminetto and a space heater.  A few months of day-in and day-out fire-building grew a little wearisome, especially for the girl of the house who had to tend the homefires each evening while her Eagle Scout hubby was teaching in Potenza.  Not that she wasn't grateful for a fireplace that worked well, mind you.  But interrupting my writing thought stream or students to poke the coals and throw on logs every half-hour left a lot to be desired.  An alternative needed to be found.

Mom warming up near the fire

There was much discussion about this - between us and our engineer who advises us on all manner of work and maintenance for a 300-year old stone building, as well as among everyone of our acquaintance who felt the need to weigh in.  Because a side note of village life is that nothing goes unnoticed and so everyone is pretty much up everyone's business (but this also means that there is no crime and they know approximately when you'll need to obtain more firewood based on your last delivery date and the ensuing number of cold days and will then huddle you into the truck to go load up said firewood and help you carry it through the pedestrian lanes to your house.) 

So round about the time that neighbors started asking how much wood we'd need this year- because dry wood must be ordered well in advance- we started looking at options.  A gas-powered heater was gifted to us, its owner saying we could hook it up to the natural gas line or to a bombola tank.  It puts out good heat, he said, and would be a simple solution until we decided on future renovations.  Seemed sensible.  Until the guy who would need to install it started talking about busting a hole into the fireplace flue for the exhaust pipe (an idea I wasn't too keen on), but then the fireplace buco would need to be filled in, but then since there's no draw with the buco closed a fan might be needed to ensure gas exhaust doesn't get trapped between the pipe and the former openening, and then...

Eyes glazed over as our ears strained to catch all of this in heavily-accented Italian that tended toward the dialect variety, which we don't understand.  A few other exhaust pipe options were discussed, which would be even more complicated given the thickness of the walls and proximity of other habitations.  I escaped the overload with a trip to Potenza, where, still enjoying a tank top and cotton capris with brilliant sunshine, I savored a gelato to regain equilibrium, then hauled myself off to Eldo, an electronics store, to explore my options.  I found a heat pump, a quality one, which happened to be on sale for half price.  I ran home and consulted the engineer.  He was so impressed with my find that he called to have it held for me, along with two for himself for his studio tecnico.

The electrician came to install it two days ago.  It was more of an ordeal than I'd imagined - not so easy as just tapping into drywall and mounting the sucker - because trenching in the stone had to be done for the electrical lines as well as the drain tubes from the compressor unit.  They arrived at 8:30 and left at 3:30, but when the dust cleared I beheld my shiny new heater with awe.  And just in time.  It looks like it's going to be put to good use very soon.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Day at the Sea

Do you remember the three months we spent in the Cilento?  Before we returned to the US?  The sunsets, the seafood, the stunning villa?  We enjoyed exploring that part of Campania, but it was in the winter, when the sea was spunky and Cilentani were sleepy.

I returned yesterday for a day.  I went for work-related research.  Sometimes great sacrifices must be made in the name of duty and so I suffered the hardship and went to the sea.  It was still summery with a hazy diffused light from the humidity and a glittery gloss to the water from the sun and heat.

Santa Maria is a different town than the one we saw two years ago, partly owing to the warm weather, with tourists still laying on the beach and filling the waterfront restaurants.  But it is also more discovered than before, thanks to the movie Benvenuti al Sud that was filmed there and shed Santa Maria, along her uphill sister, Castellabate, in a very positive light.  We loved watching the DVD and recognizing all the film locations. 

Even though the high season of August is gone there was still an atmsophere of festa in the air and lots of northern European (read, very white) tourists sunning themselves and wandering the Corso.  I asked the beachside barista about the increase in tourism and she said they've seen a lot more stranieri this summer. When I asked where they came from she responded that the "foreigners" had come from mainly Milan and Torino. 

I did my research then had a nice seafood lunch, a real treat because up here in the mountains we don't get a lot of fish, apart from the dreaded baccala.  After, I whipped into my swimsuit and spent about an hour on the golden sand beach that fronts the castello, dipping regularly into the placid water to cool off.  The sea here gets deep quickly, which I like, unlike the Ionian, where you have to walk about a kilometer to reach water above your kneecaps.  I bronzed up nicely in short-order under the Cilento sun.

I drove the road towards Battipaglia that used to terrorize me because of the crazy drivers who make a two-lane road into a three-lane highway as they brazenly streak down the middle while cars on either side have to careen over to avoid them - and it seemed *almost* normal, so familiar was it.

My looks, I vainly admit, were pretty bad, being sticky from the salt water and my hair having gone all frizz-and-boing from the humidity, but I stopped off at Vannulo for *the* best gelato.  I know, it's a bold statement to make, but if you haven't tried gelato di bufala you don't know what you're missing. It was bold-flavored and so-amazingly-creamy, just like I remembered, a nice way to top off the day.  Because work deserves its rewards afterwards, right?

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Five Regional Words

Remember a while back when I posted my five favorite Italian words?  And then I discussed my five least favorite Italian words?  Bryan and I were recently pondering some of the regional peculiarities of the language.  There are some expressions we hear down in these parts that we hadn't encountered in Ascoli Piceno or Roma, so today I'm giving you a lesson in southern speak - Five Southern Words:

Mo'.  This one sounds just like it looks, with a nice round O pronunciation.  Mo' means "now," as in: 
"When is the meeting?"
"Mo', mo'!"
To ask E' mo'? is a nice way of questioning, now what the hell do we do?  Then there's my favorite: fino a mo' - up til now.  I was too busy to call fino a mo'.  My friend Maria has an old Abruzzese saying, 'A mo' stavi buon'" (fino a mo' stavi bene), meaning you were doing fine up until now.

Fare acqua.  Literally "to make water," this expression is used by many of the older folks to talk about rain.  Mamma mia, quant'acqua ha fatto!  Good grief, it rained so hard!  Or for the forecast they say, sto pomeriggio fa acqua.  It's going to rain this afternoon.  Fare acqua always make me smile a little, it just sounds so old-style and quaint to my ears.

Voi.  I'd learned in language school that voi - the plural form of 'you' - is used for extreme courtesy when meeting someone important, but they never clued me in that it's used down here as a normal address when talking to someone you don't know, replacing the "Lei" form (formal 'you').  The first time I heard voi when I wasn't with Bryan (and it was clear they weren't addressing both of us) it took me a few seconds to figure out they were talking to me.  Here in the village we all pass quickly to the "tu" - informal 'you' - but out and about the voi usage pops up often.  It always makes me feel a little awkward, but I've gotten used to it.

Servizi.  While in other places servizio means service, be it customer or military, here it means "errands".  Faccio dei servizi, I'm running some errands.  It can also means "appointment" (ho un servizio alle 10:00).  When I ask my friend Antonietta what she did yesterday she'll say, "ho fatto i servizi," meaning she cleaned her house.

Passeggiata.  OK, I know, this is a common Italian word.  People everywhere take a passeggiata in the evening, strolling around the piazzas to meet up with friends and have a little exercise.  But around here to go for a walk is a camminata, while friends in the countryside will ask if we want to fare una passeggiata, meaning take a little excursion to go out and visit them.  It was a bit confusing at first because I really didn't want to walk the six kilometers to their farm.  If we say we went to Matera for the day, friends will ask, "Ah, did you have a bella passeggiata?"  Did you have a nice outing?

Then there's the local dialect, but that's a whole other language and another discussion for another time. 

So there you have 'em, a few words of Lucano-style Italian.  What are your region?  Do you have regional pecularities?

Watch a southern language lesson from the film, Benvenuti al Sud.

Other Five Lists:

My Five Favorite Towns in Italy

My Five List for Foodies

Friday, August 19, 2011

Basilicata Coast to Coast

Ours is a mountainous region.  The majority of the landscape is dominated by peaks and crags, which makes for great hiking, dramatic views, and beautiful sunsets.  The hill towns were, historically,  kept fairly isolated and so they still maintain their centuries- (or millenia-) old traditions, thanks to the rugged topography. 

What is less known about Basilicata is that it jealously cradles two little slices of coastline to give the mountain folk a break from the altitude every now and then.  Yesterday we dipped our toes in two seas on different sides of the shoe.

Maratea is Basilicata's more popular seaside resort, but it's hardly what you'd call famous.  But it should be.  Really.  It is very reminiscent of the Amalfi Coast, further north:  mountains tumbling to the crystalline Mediterranean with pastel houses clutching the cliffs; breathtaking views from insanely narrow and windy roads; fishing boats and slices of beaches.  Bougainvillea and hibiscus explode in bloom.  In a word: stunning.  But in mid-August when every strip of sand to the north of Basilicata is occupied and every hotel and restaurant is jammed, Maratea had some room to move.  It was crowded - enough to be lively and festive - but not over-run.  We found parking without circling and idling.  We found a table at a port-side restaurant without a reservation.  We even found some space on the beach to spread out our towels.

The beaches are mostly of honey-colored sand, but we went to the more exotic black beach to the south of the port.  Rather than sand, it's sprinkled with teensy black pebbles, bold against the blue water but scorching to the feet.  The reflected heat was incredible and we didn't last nearly as long as we would have if we'd chosen the more traditional beach.  However, the hillside along the water was pocked with grottoes, and you could swim in one and out another, which was fun.  Too bad we didn't have snorkel gear.

We explored the lovely centro storico, plonked down on the hill above, which is a pretty maze of pedestrian alleys and churches with vibrantly-tiled floors.  It has an air of sophistication but without feeling fussy or pretentious.  We kept ooh-ing and aah-ing as we walked about, impressed by it all.

Then Bryan wanted to take a cue from the film that was released last year and cross over to the other seaside of Lucania.  The movie, Basilicata Coast to Coast, followed a group of musicians who walked across the region to a music festival.  It was cute but thin on plot.  We drove the Val Sinni, skirting the peaks of the Pollino National Park and zipping past the rounded erosion formations around Aliano, and arrived in Scanzano just in time for sunset.

The Ionian Sea is stark contrast to Maratea.  It is a coastal plain, flat and unremarkable.  Scanzano is perhaps the ugliest of the less-than-attractive towns along the beachfront with concrete apartment blocks and nothing to distinguish itself.  Most of the towns on this stretch are unfortunately rather unsightly.  But the beaches are long and wide with softer sand, and some are flanked by nature preserves with welcome woods for shade.

We got our feet wet and took photos of the red-orbed sun as it slowly set to the west...towards Maratea.  On the other side of the country.  One day.  Two seas.  With mountains in between.  A beautiful day in Basilicata, from coast to coast.

Friday, August 05, 2011

The 7 Links Project in a Pinon Tree

Y'all know that I like me a good meme now and then, but this one is a little special - first, because I was tagged by lovely Laura, a friend on the Amalfi Coast, who had very sweet words when she named me; and second because it is sponsored by Tripbase, which had previously given me an honored spot on their List of European bloggers.  How could I resist this one?

My 7 Links Project aims to "unite bloggers in a joint endeavor to share lessons learned and create a bank of long but not forgotten blog posts that deserve to see the light of day again."  Fabulous!  It was fun to go though the ol' archives of posts past and peruse them again.  There were a lot of things I'd forgotten about, so a little trip down memory lane is always nice.

So here we go...My 7 Links in the categories selected by Tripbase:

1.  My Most Beautiful Post

The first one to jump forward in my memory bank was the tribute I wrote for my maternal grandfather when he passed away.  I don't mind telling you that re-reading Farewell Old Fart brought tears to my eyes all over again.

2.  Most Popular Post

Far and away the most popular is the Nutella Day contribution I made back in 2007.  I still get lots of hits on that Nutella Birthday Cake.  Note to self:  get your rear in gear to participate in World Nutella Day next time around!

3.  Most Controversial Post

Hmm, I've never really taken on anything controversial, though I did get a couple of kinda gentle 'dissenters' with my post, To Be a Paesana.  That's about as controversial as it's gotten around the Pinon Tree.  Maybe I need the rattle the nest a bit more?

4.  Most Helpful Post

I can't decide if my most helpful post was Pricey Post:  How To Mail Stuff to Italy, which is important for those of you who love us and want to give us gifts.  Or, Are You Dreaming of Italy, which is helpful for those who...well, dream of living here.  So I'm naming both because, 1) they are both helpful, and 2) I've been writing this blog for a long time and think I should be able to name two if I want to.  (Am I stirring up controversy yet?)

5.  A Post Whose Success Surprised Me

I'd have to say that the number of hits and comments on Wanted: New Residents did take me by surprise.  For those of you still dreaming, read the article mentioned above...then come visit.  They're still asking for some new blood around here!

6.  A Post Which Didn't Get the Attention it Deserved

One that I would have considered "important" and that didn't seem to generate much interest was A Day of Remembrance.  I thought the link to Dear Davide would have illicited more emotion (it sure left me bawling).  I think with the frantic pace of newsbytes and the insanity of celebrity "news," the real tragedies and lives that need attention get pushed aside.  It's just sad.

7.  The Post I'm Most Proud Of

 Hard choice.  I'm going with The Last Mule of Anzi, partly because it shows the continuity of tradition that is still alive here in the south, and partly because famiglia and friends in Anzi enjoyed it and were proud of it, too. 

I'm not tagging anyone specific because, looking at the impressive list, I think everyone I know has already been included!  If not, I don't want you to feel left out!  Play along - and let me know that you've posted!

Friday, July 22, 2011

I'm in Demand!

First there was the filming with the crew from House Hunters International.  Then came an email from a Milan-based photographer who wanted to meet us and see our village.  Now I've been interviewed by two really cool sites.  I feel so *wanted*!

If you aren't already a regular listener to the Eye on Italy podcast, you should be!  It's a great show with insights into the politics and culture of Italy, always with interesting guests.  It was fun talking about Basilicata with Michelle, Sara and Jessica.  Thanks for having me on the show, girls!  Hop over and have a listen to me in all my Ohio-accentedness (I *really* hate listening to my own voice!)
Eye on Italy podcast

Italian Reflections is kind of like a general store - there's a little bit of everything.  Travel links, news and tidbits about all things Italy, interesting guest posts, and of course, food and wine.  It's a cool place to peruse.  But one section that sets it apart is dedicated to expats and expat-wannabes.  There you'll find links to blogs and websites and info on where to procure products from home.  There are also interviews with expats, which is great; when we were planning our move it was very helpful to hear from others about the joys and pitfalls of such a transition.  They emailed the questions and compiled my responses.
Italian Reflections Interview

Go.  Listen.  Read.  Report back.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

It's a Boy!

My family has a long history of naming cars.  I don't know how it got started, really.  It's just something we've always done.  As a kid I remember Blanca, the white Chrysler that happily toted us and the hibachi to the beach.  My mom kept that hibachi in the trunk all summer long, to be ready whenever the opportunity struck for an improntu picnic.  There was a Buick, whose name I can't recall.  Then there was the lemon of a Dodge Caravelle, whose name quickly became P.O.S.  It was a real rattle-trap, but did manage to transport my sister safely to New Mexico before dying an inglorious death.

I've told you about my cars before.  My first car was the Chrysler Cordoba, a gas-draining behometh that could easily take ten of my friends cruising.  He was named Juan, because of course a Cordoba deserved a Spanish name.  We had a Suzuki Samurai (Suzy- very original, no?)  that was a lot of fun in the mountains and for tootling around town in summer with the bikini top (on the car, not me).  And of course, you know all about Arnold and his unfortunate mishaps

Here in Italia we become the parents of Guido, a dependable little Fiesta who was miraculously resurrected from the dead to serve us well for another year.  But he is now good and truly infirm and we can't expect him to live much longer.  His doctor even said costs will outweigh the effort. 

And so we went in search of another car- something reliable, economical, with good gas mileage.  Bryan will fill you in on the search and procure mission.  I didn't have much of an opinion on make and model.  My only stipulation was that it not be gray.  The vast majority of cars in Italy are gray, for some strange reason.  It makes it difficult to find the sucker in a parking lot.  And it's just so...boring.

We went to Rome to pick it up, catch up with our dear friends, Giorgio and Francesca and see their son (my fratello Romano) Valerio perform in an open-air venue.  All the way back to Basilicata I tried to identify the personality of the car and give it a name. 

Like my parents when they named me, it took three days to decide.  It just didn't look like a girl to me, so we at least decided on gender.  But then the names...well, Italian names often have a way of sounding kind of elegant, noble even.  This car is a working-stiff kind of car; an average Joe.  I also couldn't give it any of the widely diffused names of the region.  There are just too many Antonios and Micheles already, and besides, someone might take offense.  They already think I'm a little weird for naming the car in the first place.  There was a bit of debate, most of it in my own head because Bryan tends to not give a dang.  His family has no such tradition.

In the end, we decided on Enrico.  Here he is - the new kid on the block.  He's kinda cute, don'tcha think? 

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Weddings, Southern Italian Style

So if you have visions of My Big Fat Greek Wedding when you think of southern Italy and matrimonial festivities, you'd be pretty much right on.  Which sort of makes sense since this part of Italy was, once upon a time, part of Magna Grecia.  There are bound to be genetic traces and traditions still floating about these villages. 

It all started back in November at our festa di ringraziamento when Elisa and Giuseppe told us to mark July 2 on our calendars as we'd be invited to their wedding.  Elisa was the first to befriend me and introduce me into her circle of amiche.  Giuseppe did the same for Bryan, so his little gang of guys that meets at the bar for a beer is now Bryan's posse.

The festivities started just over a week prior to the matrimonio with the pre-wedding parties, one for the guys (a meat fest) and one for the girls (a little raunchier, with an {ahem} anatomical theme running through the evening).  No dancers, just good (mostly) clean fun to embarrass the bride and groom respectively and give everyone an excuse to get together and eat (like they need an excuse for that, this being Italy).

A wonderful tradition here is the serenata.  On the eve of the wedding, the groom and his guys gather in the piazza and, accompanied by musical friends, stroll through the village to the bride's house while playing folk music and gathering friends along the way.  The groom calls for the bride to come down and accept his hand, but she plays coy, while the band plays and sings to coax her.  Our lovely bride gave in easily and came down quickly; others aren't so merciful, we're told.  We heard of one sposa whose mother threw water on the groom, not a very noble beginning, I'd say.  Music, dancing in the street and - a nice touch by Giuseppe, fireworks - rounded out the serenata.

Bright and early, when I went for my cappuccino, the guys were dressed in their suits and on the street taking pictures.  Okay, maybe not that early, since I'm not a real prima mattina kind of girl, but you know what I mean.  About a half-hour before the ceremony, Bryan hung with the boys while I went to the bride's house where a crowd was gathering to accompany her to the church.  We all followed the beautiful Elisa in her bridely glory, walking through the village to the church.  Just like in a movie.  No one enters the church until the bride arrives, then the big doors are opened and everyone streams inside. 

The ceremony was like most wedding Masses.  Vows were exchanged, joyful tears were shed, rice was thrown.  The guests flowed down to the piazza to wait while pictures were being taken.  Nobody goes to the reception until the bride and groom are ready, then they follow along, forming a snake-like parade down the hill.  The couple stopped at the cemetery to lay flowers on their fathers' graves, as both padri had passed away, a lovely gesture, but the parade didn't want to pass them and so the windy road that leads to our town was completely blocked, a line-up of cars backed up about a mile of the hairpin curves. 

The reception hall in the next town over is rather fancy-like.  They  have ceremonies down to a science, and served up gorgeous plates in synchronated rhythm.  It was as well orchestrated as a Broadway production, but tastier.  Truly impressive.  We sat down to eat at 2:00 p.m.  We got from the table to dance at about 8:00 p.m.  But the food wasn't finished; because why stop at 3 plates of antipasti, 3 primi, 2 secondi and cake when you can also roll out eleborate tables of sweets and fruit and gelato?  After a couple of hours of dancing, they brought out pizza and porchetta. 

Everyone asked if "this is how you do weddings in America?"  Yeah, right.  None that we've attended, though some of the music and the old ladies dancing together did remind me of some of my cousins' receptions that I remember attending when I was a kid.

We departed at about midnight, but not before the happy couple presented us with a gift.  That's right; in Italy, the bride and groom give gifts to the guests.  We're not talking about kitchy party favors, folks.  We're talking a really nice pair of china espresso cups and saucers.    

It was a fabulous party, one that we're told is pretty typical for this part of the country.  The bride and groom will be departing for their honeymoon America.  Nice; a couple of Americans celebrated their vows, and now they're off to America to celebrate their bliss.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fame at Last!

I know, you've been hearing cricket noises around the Pinon Tree lately.  Sorry about that.  I've been a bit occupied becoming a TV star.

Yeah, okay.  Stardom may be too strong a word, but I've had microphone wires down my back and a bulky, professional video camera in my face for the past week, which sure goes a long way to making one feel like a star.  A film crew from House Hunters International, the popular show that airs on HGTV, was here to follow us around and tape our story.

I watched the show a few times while we were in the States but didn't realize just how popular it is until I posted on Facebook that we'd be participating.  Everyone of my acquaintance wrote to say that they are absolutely fanatical for that show.  That's really cool to hear.  You will be able to get an up-close glimpse of our town and our friends, and of course our little casa.  I think they even managed to get our kitty into one scene.

We clumped around the village and showed the crew the beauties of our area.  They are fantastic guys, and the whole town welcomed them warmly and made them feel like part of the place.  Friends even threw a barbecue one night.  Then it was off to our former home of Ascoli Piceno for some more filming and fun, where they got to taste arrosticini and enjoy a street party after the filming wrapped up.

I have to say it was a really fun experience.  I have no delusions of becoming the next Audrey Hepburn, but I had a great time hamming it up in front of the camera, and the guys were relaxed and fun to hang out with.  The tapes have been sent off for editing and I'll keep you posted about an air date.  Meanwhile, you can enjoy a little taste in my Flip video.  And if you're looking for an actress in southern Italy, have your people call my people.  I'm ready for more fame and filming.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Sweet Little Gifts

Our little casa is a bit off the main path, so to speak.  It's not on a street as Americans would think of one.  To get here you have to walk a stone pedestrian lane - which is considered a sort of main artery despite the lack of vehicular traffic.  But then you go under an arch, down some steps, under another archway, down more steps, and you basically dead-end where our terrazzo opens up to the sun and view.  It's encircled on three sides by buildings yet it feels sort of secluded.  Anyone coming down here has to be coming for a reason - to see us.

The openness of the view to the hills and mountains, coupled with the sound of the sheep bells and the chirpy birds, almost makes it feel like it's in the country. Because of that, during my first weeks here, I felt like the place was hidden away and was surprised when the first person came knocking on my door.  It was a neighbor bearing produce and I was mightly surprised yet pleased.  Since then, several people have come a'knocking, some to ask for English lessons, others to bring us gifts of home-grown or home-made goods.  None go unappreciated, I can tell you.

This week, though, we got some sweet little gifts.  Several of my students completed their catechism and were confirmed.  Such an occasion warrants a party, of course (we were invited to two).  And a party for such an occasion means bombonieri, pretty little packages of party favors filled with confetti, the sugared almond candies we like so much.  Since Italians like bling and style, the bombonieri are always as pretty as the treats they contain.  One even came with a little sachet of potpourri tied to the top. 

We had no sooner broken into those goodies when Sandro came by with a bowlful of cherries and a sack of strawberries.  Fresh-picked and still warm from the field.  I made shortcake for the berries and have nearly polished off the cherries.

Whenever someone rang our doorbell in Virginia, it was almost always a salesman or someone looking for donation.  Here they knock on my door bearing fruits and candies - how sweet it is!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Cantine Aperte: Wine, Beauty and Song

We probably should have been more culturally minded yesterday.  After all, it was the biggest festa day that Potenza has to offer - the feast day of their saint, San Gerardo.  It is celebrated with a big costumed re-enactment known as the Parata dei Turchi (parade of the Turks) to commemorate a Saracen invasion and the saint's intervention on behalf of the citizenry to save them from the marauding invaders.

The problem is, we end up spending more time in the city than we'd like.  I was there all day Thursday acting as an interpreter for a food-related convention, and Bryan is there every weekday teaching.  We also make trips for various and sundry services and products that we can't find in the village.  We get a little tired of Potenza.  Couple that with the fact that Bryan hates crowds - which were guaranteed to be thick and pressing at this event- and the beautiful weather that had us craving some time in the countryside, and we ditched any hint of a thought of culture and headed for the low, rolling hills instead.

It was the Sunday of the Open Doors - an annual event known as “cantine aperte,” a nationwide day of wine promotion when about 1000 wineries throughout Italy throw open their doors for tours, tastings, and a bit of “neighborliness”.  While there are lots of wineries in Basilicata, only five were participating in the event, sponsored by the rather grandiose-sounding organization Movimento Turismo del Vino (movement for tourism of wine).  We had participated in the Piceno areas and enjoyed the chance to see the process up-close and meet the vitners.  And taste the vino, of course.  It's nice to know which ones are great...and which ones aren't worth plonking down dollars for.

The first cantina was gated, despite being listed on the line-up.  Hmph.  The second was one of the more famous in the region, located in Rionero in the shadow of Monte Vulture, famous for its previous volcanic activity that now gives us fantastic mineral water and the most noted wine from Basilicata, Aglianico del Vulture.  This cantina was fabulous with historic underground chambers where the wines are aged.  The stone-hewn corridors wend underneath the town's streets.  Really cool!  The pretty tasting room was decked out with snacks and little tables for relaxing and sipping.

Winery Number Three was in lovely Venosa, an enormous, industrial-type cooperative that offers decent wines at good prices but zero atmosphere and even less cordiality from the wine expert on hand, who resolutely ignored us while we toured the facility and he directed all his comments and blabbery dry information at the two young woman who accompanied us. 

But the final winery -just outside Venosa- redeemed the day.  They had a gorgeous hedge-rowed estate with a picture-perfect villa as the centerpiece.  An arbored terrazzo provided tables, and local food producers handed out samples of their yummy goods.  A musical group pumped out energetic folk songs which got people dancing the tarantella and other typically southern folk dances.  The cantina produces only a few wines, all excellent (in our non-expert opinions).

We tasted, then sat in the sun with the generous food plates they handed out and enjoyed the warmth, the music and scenery.  Beats the crowded streets of the city any day!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Full Disclosure

I suppose it was inevitable.  I mean, I live in a small village.  Everyone knows everyone.  Nothing passes unnoticed.  Word gets around town faster than a teen on a scooter.  Everyone knows everything that is happening - or at least some snippets of it.  Like when a couple announced their wedding date and within minutes the whole town marked their calendars, or when the barber's girlfriend gave him a black eye and he couldn't try to pass it off as a sports injury or a respectable drunken, manly brawl.

Small town life is like that.  They know if you're out and about - but that also means they want to offer you a caffe or have a chat with you in the piazza.  And they know when you might need help with a project or procuring something like, oh let's say firewood.  They watch what transpires around them - and everything is done in full sight.  The entire town has seen my bed and they're still talking about the day it was delivered; how the fools from the furniture store sent a big truck that couldn't make it up the medieval street to the upper piazza.  How they sent only one guy (che scemi!) and how friends had to be tracked down and enlisted to help carry it, because it had to be toted from the main piazza to my house along the pedestrian lanes.

So it was probably inevitable that someone would read my blog and notice that I never mentioned the name of the town outright.  "Ma che cavolo e' questa Lucanella? Perche' non scrivi il nome del nostro paese?" I was asked.  (What the heck is with this Lucanella business?  Why don't you write the real name of our village?)  I explained my reasoning.  It was quickly shot down with a loud and firm "MAH!"  Of course we want you to tell people where you live.  We don't think you're patronizing.  We know you love living here and we want others to know why you love it, too.  Remember, we want new residents!"

Okay, okay.  Trivigno.  We live in Trivigno.  The rest you already know (or can learn by reading the archives).  It's a special place -not because it's a cultural or architectural city like Ascoli Piceno was for us-  but because of the people who live here and the traditions they maintain.  What makes it special is the hospitality, the genuine, honest-to-goodness food, and the natural beauty.  The sheep bells and the church bells and the bird calls.  Trivigno is home.

It was also inevitable that with our first American visitors people started asking if our visitors would be buying property and moving here, too.  Several folks approached us to tell us they have homes for sale, in case perchance we know anyone interested.  We started accumulating a mental list, which turned into an actual list - which turned into a business idea.  We started collaborating with a friend, who used to be mayor and who happens to know every resident, every stradina, and every house in the village.

My Bella Basilicata is our new website, offering property listings for our fellow townsfolk who have houses for sale, with some homes in neighboring villages, as well.  We also offer trip planning assistance and fantastic activities that will enrich a visit to our beautiful region.  And because we were drawn here by family ties and heartstrings, I'm thrilled to be able to help others who are on a genealogical quest, too. 

So there you have it...true confessions and full disclosure.  My life has been a pretty open book since I started this blog, so it feels good to release the secret.  I had good intentions towards the town, but it turns out they didn't want to be kept secret in the first place.

Please visit My Bella Basilicata and help spread the word!  We're open for business!

Travel Consulting and Property Listings in Beautiful Basilicata Italy

Monday, May 09, 2011

Home Again

Yesterday we went back to Ascoli Piceno.  We didn't plan to, but we were sort of in the neighborhood. 

We got up very early and went to Abruzzo for a tourism trade show that ended up being smaller than anticipated.  It was a long drive for a bust, but we were only an hour from our former home.  It was nearing lunch time.  We debated a bit; there is a Japanese restaurant in Pescara- and there is precious little opportunity to eat ethnic food in Italy, especially southern Italy.  It was very tempting.  Then we talked about whether we should revisit Ascoli on a whim, if we'd feel emotional or wistful afterwards.  In the end we decided we were only an hour away, we'd go and have lunch and see if we could find some friends.

It was a gorgeous day.  The sun warmed the travertine of the piazza and buildings, and everything had that honey glow that we love so much.  We strolled the narrow alleyways to a restaurant we used to frequent and were embraced by the enthusiastic owner.  He remembered our preferred plates and prepared them just as we like them.  He sat down at our table for a chat. 

We found our friend Gianluca who was exuberantly surprised to see us.  We had a caffe' together, caught up on news and happenings, laughed like always.  When we parted he teared up a bit, sorry to see us go away so soon.

We walked the familiar streets, smiling at the kids playing in the piazzas, meandered past our former apartments, looked around to see what had changed.  We were happy to see that some new shops had opened, and were shocked to see that the stalwart and elegant Caffe' Meletti had closed.  We had gelato from our favorite gelateria and drank from the fountain.  Just like always. 

Ascoli Piceno is as beautiful as ever.  We remembered why we loved it; the atmosphere and architecture, the spots we all reconfirmed that Ascoli is a very special place.  We remembered special moments, special friends as we strolled around.

While teaching English I've had to explain to my students the meaning of the word "home".  In Italian "casa" means both "house" and "home," and they're always confused by the difference.  I tell them that home is more than a dwelling.  It has an emotional context; it's the place where you are secure, happy, embraced. 

Yesterday I went back to Ascoli Piceno, a city I love.  And then I came home.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Blogger News and Announcements

If you think my blog posting has been somewhat sporadic, you can imagine that my blog reading has been even less frequent lately.  It's not that I don't want to keep up with my friends and fellow expats, it's just that sometimes life gets in the way.  Like when you sit down to finally type out that email you've been meaning to write and the phone rings, then the coffee pot bubbles over leaving an oozing mess all over the stove.

Just about the time you've cleaned that up there is a knock on the door from a very sweet neighbor who has thought enough about you to show up with freshly-made cheese and so the only right thing to do is invite her in for a tazzina of that caffe' you just made (and fortunately cleaned up the explosive evidence of your inattention to the moka pot).  When she leaves the phone rings again and you're summoned to the piazza to pick up a package that has been left for you at the bar, which means you encounter five or six people who want to chat.  When you finally get home and sit down at the computer again you've forgotten what the heck you were planning to do in the first place and turn your attention (at last) to work.

At least that's how my world has operated recently.  Not that I'm complaining, really.  But yesterday I finally sat down and dedicated some time to blogs and sites that I like, but that I haven't had time to read.  There are some pretty cool things happening among my acquaintance that I think are worth sharing.

  • Arlene Gibbs, aka NYC/Caribbean Ragazza, who has been seen around the Pinon Tree from time to time, is making her screenwriting debut this weekend.  Woohoo Arlene!  Way to go, girl!  Her wedding movie, Jumping The Broom, opens in theatres this weekend, so get out there and see it.  It looks like a funny flick (and who doesn't need a laugh right about now?)

  • Dianne Hales, the brilliant author of La Bella Lingua and the fabulous Becoming Italian Word by Word blog, was knighted by the Italian government with the beautiful title of Knight of the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity in recognition of La Bella Lingua as "an invaluable tool for promoting the Italian language."  Bravissima! 

  • Cherrye Moore, the energetic writer of My Bella Vita (and who also runs a B&B in Catanzaro) has put together a week-long foodie tour of Calabria; reading the description made me want to lick the computer screen and pack my bag.  If you love food and are planning a trip to Italy in October, check it out.

  • One of my new favorite blogs is Come Inside The Villa, sponsored by the villa agency, Trust and Travel.  The unique format takes you into the parts of the house- for example The Garden or The Kitchen- to share stories, travel tips, history and interesting tidbits about the villas, their owners, and the locations (Tuscany or Venice, anyone?) 

  • Dario Castagno, the tour-guide author of Too Much Tuscan Sun and Too Much Tuscan Wine has turned out his fourth book, An Osteria in Chianti, which recounts the tale of Ultimo, a vespa-tossing character who embodies pre-war Tuscany and the changes that take place thereafter.  Sounds fascinating!

Phew, I feel better.  Now back to that email I've been meaning to write all week.

Monday, May 02, 2011

You've Come a Long Way, Baby!

Remember back when we got our little car, affectionately dubbed Guido because my family has a tradition of naming cars?  How we learned all about car buying in Italy, way back when we first arrived and had little Italian language experience under our belts?  How I was fearful to drive the newly-purchased macchina, especially anywhere within an hour of Rome because it was chaotic and stressful with cars coming from every-which-way, motorini buzzing around, and traffic lanes spontaneously appearing where no lines deemed them possible?

Sure I drove around Ascoli Piceno, learned to parallel park in ridiculously narrow streets while maneuvering into amazingly tight spaces, and took to the hills of the Piceno like nobody's business.  But I still had a fear of Roma and let Bryan drive whenever we went anywhere near the capital city.

That was then.  I've come a long way.  I went to Rome to meet my sister who had arrived with severe jetlag and a desire to get south for some R&R in our little village.  She wanted to do some jaunts around the region and a car is the only way, so she booked a rental.  Trouble is, she doesn't drive a stick shift and had no desire to drive in any town bigger than ours.  I signed up as a "second" driver, but was to be, in actuality, the primary guida for this trip. 

I'd driven the outskirts of Rome once or twice before when visiting Giorgio and Francesca.  While traffico there is crazy, it's not like the narrow lanes of the historic center where everything is magnified and signage is nonexistant.  We picked up the car at Termini, Rome's bustling train station, smack in the centro of all traffic horror possible, where one-way streets start, stop, turn back on each other and create a grid of confusion that even locals have a hard time getting themselves out of.  We buckled in and squealed the tires down the seven levels of insanely-tight turns in the parking garage, turned out onto the streets, gave one last cursory glance in the rear-view mirror and set off.

I gotta say - I rocked!  I clutched like a pro, slid seemlessly between second and third as traffic allowed while bumping over cobbles and dodging the scooters that buzz around all sides of the cars like swarms of wasps (which is why they're so appropriately called vespas, wasps).  I skirted slowpokes, passed delivery vans while avoiding oncoming whizzing drivers, and braked for pedestrians that suddenly appeared from nowhere.  I got us to the GRA, the eternally-clogged ring road that circles the Eternal City and found my way to the A-1, dubbed the Autostrada del Sole (the highway of the sun) that transported us towards Naples and points south.  During high-traffic Easter week when everyone was fleeing Rome for a long weekend away.  And I didn't bat an eye or feel a hint of a heart palpitation while doing it!

The sister was mightily impressed.  So was I.  I'm not ready for Napoli where red lights mean absolutely nothing, but it's a lot different from when we first bought little Guido and I didn't want to drive the narrow streets at all.  I've come a long way, baby!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

What's In a Name?

As you already know, my name is Valerie.  My parents chose this name after much debate; they finally drew the name out of a hat, while I and the doctor awaited their decision...three days after I was born.  It's not a bad name, and according to baby name books, it means "strong," which I like. 

I'm the only Valerie in the village.  In Ascoli Piceno, all my friends immediately took to calling me Valeria, the Italian pronunciation, which was fine with me.  The name is the same, after all; just a little more musical.  Here in Basilicata, though, I have found that they prefer to say my name as it is spelled and pronounced in English (or French, as they say it dervies from that language).  "Your name is your identity, we want to say it properly," they tell me.  I think it's sweet.

Bryan has a little more difficulty.  Whereas Valerie at least has an Italian equivalent, his name is completely unfamiliar and takes a little more explaining.  They want to know the Italian version as a point of reference, which doesn't exist.  The closest we mustered during our residence in Ascoli was Bruno, which was a little fortuitous because the saint day for San Bruno also happens to be Bryan's birthday.  Here, Bryan is often given the French pronunciation "Bree-an". 

The local name base is rather limited.  There is a strong tradition in Italy, particularly in the south, to name the firstborn child after the paternal grandfather (or maternal grandmother for the girls) and then the second child after the maternal grandfather (or paternal grandmother).  Therefore, names get recycled generation after generation so that you have un sacco di gente (a ton of people) with the same names.  In our village, for example, the vast majority of males are named Antonio, Giuseppe or Michele (and are called by derivitives thereof, such as Tonino, Anton, Peppe, or Peppino).  The women are mostly named Antonietta, Maria and Carmella.  This leads to a lot of confusion in conversations, which go something like this: 
"So I was talking to Giuseppe the other day..."
"Which Giuseppe?"
"Giuseppe Russo."
"The son of Rocco or the son of Maria?"
"The son of Rocco."
"Ah, Peppe, you mean."
"Yeah, like I was saying..."

For those of us not born and raised here, who don't yet know all the intricacies of familial ties and interconnections, we frequently don't know the qualifying parents to understand which Giuseppe (or Michele or Antonio) they are referring to.  The qualifiers are a bit of a hassle for locals, too, which is why almost everyone has a sopranome, or nickname.  Hence, there is a Michele known as Michelino (little Mike) because, in humorous irony, he's a really big guy.  Then there's a Giuseppe who is nicknamed Champagne, but haven't been able to figure out why.  Our friend Sandro (one of the few original names in the village) is nicknamed Micino (little kitten) because his dad (Michele) is nicknamed Gattone (big cat). 

Piano piano we're learning the sopranomi of our friends and neighbors and the stories behind them.  We are also figuring out how they are all connected, because everyone but everyone is related- either directly, through marriage, or in a long-distance lineage- somehow to everyone else.  Even me.  We discovered that I am a distant cousin of a certain Maria, connected through our paternal lines to my ancestral village of Anzi.  She couldn't be more thrilled and calls me Cugina.

While I'm sometimes referred to as la professoressa, the sopranome most commonly heard in reference to us is, naturally, gli americaniVa buo', can't change that big qualifier; we're the only ones here.  At least we've never heard of any negative far!

Interestingly, while other regions lend the regional name to the people - Toscani (Tuscany), Abruzzese (Abruzzo) or Siciliani (Sicily), the residents of Basilicata are not called Basilicatesi...they are Lucani.  The ancient name for this region was Lucania and there is a still a very strong bond and identity in that history.  A person is una Lucana or un Lucano- proudly and maybe a bit defiantly, staking their roots to the ancient people who predated the Romans and Magna Grecia.

I was reminded of the beauty of names and nicknames yesterday at a book signing.  A local writer, who is also one of my English students, signed my copy - To the Americana with a Lucana soul.  I think that pretty much sums it up.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

L'Aquila - Two Years Later

It doesn't seem possible that two years have passed since we were rattled awake in the night by the terrible earthquake that shattered the city of L'Aquila.  We were fortunate; we only felt the tremor and not the devastion that it left behind.  Our hearts broke for the Aquilani as they buried their beloved, looked upon the ravages and ruins with tears streaming down their faces, and said proudly through their pain that they wanted to rebuild their historic and beautiful city.

Two years.   730 days.  Life interrupted and in suspense.  I wondered if progress has been made and my search was less than encouraging.  The once-aristocratic centro storico is still closed off, a dark and silent ghost town with spectrals of past splendor amid the still-present debris and rubble.  Only a handful of businesses have reopened. 

The residents are scattered.  According to the Struttura per la Gestione dell'Emergenza, 38,000 people were displaced from their homes. Some still live in the temporary structures known as MAPS, which aren't much more than a glorified Tuff-Shed.  Others are in the quickly-constructed pre-fab apartments - both are far from the city core.   More than a thousand are still in hotels along the Abruzzo coast.  250 people are "living" in the barracks of the Guardia di Finanza.  More than 15,000 people have left the the area; they've given up and gone off to rebuild a life elsewhere, far from home. 

It's sad; the soul and identity of the city is still in rubble, two years later.  Apathy and lack of funds and commitment have stalled the reconstruction efforts while the Aquilani continue to cry out, "Rebuild our city!"  I hope their voices will be heard.
* * * * * * *

Il Centro newspaper site features a two-year then and now photo stream of L'Aquila as it was just after the quake, a year ago, and today.
Read last year's tribute and accompanying links, A Day of Remembrance.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Thrill of the Hunt

Yes, we have become hunters.  We've prowled the woods, scrambled in the underbrush, and tracked through a river in seach of our prey.  We sustained scratches from thorns and sore backs from bending down, along with wet, muddy feet from the marshy areas, all in search of the wild edible known as aspargi

Before yesterday, I'd never seen an asparago in the wild.  I bought the neatly-rowed bundles at the supermercato, each of similar diameter and length, tied up neatly with string.  Aspargus that are coltivato, said my barista, have no taste.  She was explaining how her husband woke her up extraordinarily early the other day as he was preparing to go off on an aparagus-finding expedition.  I pleaded my ignorance publicly, asking where one would go to find the little critters.  Everyone went a little mum, each protective of their hunting grounds.

That's when Osvaldo chimed in.  A sometimes-resident of our village, he was in town for the weekend and was more than willing to talk stalks.  He started describing tracts along the Basento River: take the dirt path on the north side, keep going and you'll find the tell-tale plants.  Our blank looks led him to ask, "Uh, but you do know what the plant looks like, right?"  Well....yeah, it's the pointy green thing that you eat, isn't it?  "Mah!  What?!  You really have never seen a wild asparagus plant before?  Mah!  Andiamo!"

That's how it often happens here.  An off-hand comment results in an invitation or an offer of assistance.  And just like that, we were in his car heading downhill to his childhood home (now abandoned) and known foraging fields.  He led us along the paths, showed us the preferred hiding places of the creatures we were seeking, and how to identify their habitat - the sinewy and prickery tendrils that scream out:  Asparagus grow here.  At our elevation, it is still a bit early in the season and after about an hour of tramping around we were ready to give up when he spotted one of the hunted and called us over to show us the shoot poking up through the ground.  After that we located a few more and I felt positively triumphant when I caught my first all by myself.  All told, it wasn't a big take - 15 stalks.  Not enough for a lunch, but abbastanza for a taste.

From those few, however, many have multiplied.  As we recounted our tale of the hunt, our neighbors and another acquaintance brought bouquets of green stalks to our door.  They were more than willing to share their bounty with us - but not their hunting grounds.  Some secrets remain tightly kept.  But at least we know one place to go and what to look for.  Given a little more time (and some sturdy shoes and protective gloves) we'll become real hunters ourselves.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy Birthday, Italia...Sort of

Today marks the 150th anniversary of uniting this here peninsula from fractions and kingdoms into a nation .  You'd think it would draw major celebrations, national pride, fireworks even.  In some cities that is true, but much of Italy seems uninterested, even downright indifferent.  While the schools are closed and politicians will no doubt give windy speeches, there are no major celebrations planned in our area.

The risorgimento created a unified political entity but didn't fully succeed in unifying the nation culturally (or even linguistically, as many regions hold tight to their distinct dialects).  Down here, they viewed the unification as trading one foreign ruler (the Bourbon king) for another (the Savoy king, Vittorio Emanuele, who didn't speak Italian), which, they say, resulted only in territorial expansion and continued exploitation, rather than a united nation.  Loyalty stays with the region - or better to say, with the province or localized area around your town and with your famiglia; politicians and national entities can't be trusted to hold the people's interests at heart.  Campanilismo, is devotion to one's town - only people within earshot of your campanile (bell tower) can be truly trusted.'s complicated.  As with all things political in Italia.  Rather than celebrating the unification, we're told that the festa della repubblica is a more worthy celebration, when a post-war popular vote sent the king into exile and the constitution was established.  But even better than the festa della repubblica, says our barista, is the festa di Sant'Antuon or a nice sagra della salsiccia.  Local celebrations, those are the ones that are most important, he says.  Unity stays within sight of the campanile.

Read Other Bloggers' Views of the 150th Anniverary of Italy's Unification:

Happy Birthday, Italy - Rob at Windrose Hotel

150th Anniversario dell'Unita' d'Italia - Bryan at 2 Italy

Crostini Tricolore - Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino's recipe tribute

Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of Italy and the Italian Language - Becoming Italian Word by Word

150 Unita' d'Italia - News From Italy blog

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Celebrate Womanhood!

Auguri!  Today is International Women's Day, or la festa delle donne as they call it in Italy.  Unfortunately, my mom left Basilicata yesterday afternoon so we're not able to celebrate it together.  I can't find mimosa blossoms in our village; at our elevation they haven't opened yet.  They'd have snow on them anyway, as we received another dose of white last night.

Even though we can't go our for a cena speciale together, as is the tradition, I'm still dedicating Women's Day to my mamma, who made many sacrifices, worked her hiney off, and dealt with many obstacles to raise her three children on her own.  She had help and a can-do-attitude role model in her mother, of course.  I am proud to descend from some amazing woman.  So, buona festa to mamma...and to all you wonderful women reading my blog.  Auguri!

Read about the history of Women's Day in this post from a few years ago.

Read some of the Biographies of Notable Women, which offers countless examples of awesome, touching, or odds-defying women.  Famous Female Firsts is a slide-show presentation of ground-breaking gals.

Sunday, February 27, 2011


Life has certain inevitabilities.  I'm sure you already know that.  Death and taxes are, of course, the most famous.  Living in Italy inevitably means bureaucracy must be mucked through, or that the one time something busts is the one day that the ferramenta (hardware store) is closed.

If you're from Cleveland, it's inevitable that you'll root for a losing team.  Oh sure, you'll get your hopes up at the start of the season, but in the back of your mind you know it's all for naught.  You just get used to annual sports disappointments.  Washingtonians know that traffic is as sure as death and taxes, especially if the President is out and about.  For me, monthly chocolate cravings are inevitable. Not just a little desire for a piece of chocolate, but a ravenous *need* for cioccolato (the darker the better). 

And in my family it is inevitable that the minute my mom steps foot on an airplane to travel away from the cold, snowy, frigid winter of northern Ohio for a milder clime, the weather in said clime will go to pot.  Every.  Time.
Cleveland Lighthouse encased in ice

We had been enjoying sunny, spring-like weather for a weeks.  The almond tree in the garden below us was in full blossom.  The barista had a nice spray of mimosa, the traditional flower for the upcoming festa della donna.  We were taking walks in the countryside and went so far as to have a picnic one Sunday, with gelato afterwards. 

Then.  Mom arrived at Cleveland airport, and at the exact moment that she crosssed from the jetway into the plane the weather went to hell in a handbasket and a frigid cold descended.  We had a nice dusting of snow with a thin, slick layer of ice crystals nested on top.  In fact, some of the white stuff even sprinkled its cold fairy dust on Naples, a nearly unheard-of happening.

It's now windy and finger-numbing cold.  Not the kind of lake-effect, bone-penetrating cold of northern Ohio, I'll grant you.  But enough to make Mom an unhappy camper. 
Snow on the village

But what can you do with the weather and Murphy's Law?  We'll muddle through it, see the splendors of Matera, the unusual formations of Aliano, and some other unknown hill towns.  We're sure to eat some wonderful local fare to give her a sampling of our region.  We'll just have to indulge in cioccolata calda instead of gelato as a daily treat.  And, as is our tradition whenever we get together, we're sure to go shoe shopping.  Because, after all, some things are inevitable.

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Want to know more about beautiful Basilicata?  Read the posts in Basilicata Recap.