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!