Friday, December 14, 2012


In my youth I’d heard about panettone, the traditional Italian fruitcake proffered only at Christmastime. I had pined for a taste but had never laid eyes on what I imagined to be a refined-tasting confection of golden-hued beauty. The weighty whole-fruit- and liquor-filled fruitcakes which Americans consume seemed coarse and common in comparison.

Then I moved to Italy and received a hefty number of panettone, handed out like Christmas cards by each and every acquaintance. Huge slices were presented in every home we entered, every restaurant in which we dined. I thought, ‘Wow, they really like their panettone!’ After a few years of this ritual, I came to realize that rather than devouring great quantities of the stuff, everyone was, in actuality, trying to unload their extras, re-gifting them to the next friend or stranger they happened upon in a desperate attempt to lighten their own fruitcake burden. While my friends would sing the praises of it - “e' tradizionale, molto buono,” they kept repeating - most of them would then admit that they didn’t really like more than a couple of slices a year themselves. Because, while the taste is not offensive, nor is it exactly a sensory experience. A few candied fruits and raisins in a high-rise, bread-like, sweetened airy loaf. Kinda boring, really. And the trouble is, everyone keeps giving them to everyone they know, creating a glut in every household.

The other holiday sweet-bread that is available, Pandoro, is better, because you don't have to dodge the candied fruit pieces, and the addition of butter gives it a bit better taste.  But personally?  I'd prefer a Poundcake.  Buttery goodness, real cake texture, and...well, it just tastes darn good despite the cholesterol-raising ingredients (which is, of course, what makes it yummy).  But that's the Americana in me.

I do find panettone more edible when made into French toast or slathered with Nutella, because as everyone knows, just about anything tastes better with Nutella. But still; there is only so much of it you can take, and because of the ridiculous, sheer excess we tried to figure out what to do with it, besides actually eating it. Sure, we could resort to feeding it to the pigeons, but we feel a sort of moral obligation to not encourage the flying rats to remain in the centro storico.

One evening, with nothing better to do than contemplate our panettone overload, we came up with a few brainstorms to have a little fun with the stuff, in case you ever find yourself in a similar position.

*Ding Dong Ditch It. You can relive your childhood games while spreading Christmas joy far and wide by leaving your unwanted boxes on the doorsteps of unsuspecting souls, ringing the doorbell and running away as fast as you can. This may best be played in a neighborhood other than your own if you don’t want to run the risk of your friends returning the gifts to your own front porch.

*Flame Them. Cut into rectangular sticks and let them sit out to dry. Then dip them in strong booze and use them as fire-starter sticks.

*Have a Treasure Hunt. Gather the little ones around the table and cut the panettone into as many wedges are there are kids. Then let them dig in and get their hands dirty, picking out all the raisins and fruit pieces. The one to find the most treasures wins a prize.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Adriatic

My first glimpse of the Adriatic was many years ago during one of our early trips to Italy.  We were heading to Urbino from Treviso and stopped off at Rimini to have a look at the sea.  Big mistake.  The industrial zone, the huge port and the ugly concrete apartment blocks didn't cast it in a golden light.  Granted, the overcast, damp and cold weather didn't help any either, but we weren't impressed.

Later, when we lived in Ascoli Piceno we frequented the nearby beaches of Porto d'Ascoli, San Benedetto del Tronto and Grottammare.  They were easy to reach with long stands of sand and some good restaurants, but with the railway line rumbling right along the shore and the overall modern feel of the area, we went to splash and get tanned but didn't really take to it as "our type" of beach atmosphere.

Then we discovered the Costa dei Trabocchi, down south of Pescara in Abruzzo.  This is the shoreline that has the charming fishing platforms, the locale of our now-storied seafood lottery feast.  The part of the Adriatic where you can find hidden coves with few people and pebbled beaches where the water is truly crystalline and where hills with stone villages rise above the waters.  It's where there is an appeal; where you can enjoy the water and the sun in tranquility.  And where my sister dipped her toes for the third sea of the Coast to Coast tour.

It happened sort of by accident.  We were traveling from Basilicata to Ascoli Piceno to spend a few days with friends.  Hunger hit.  We got off the autostrada to meander along the coast road and find a place to eat that didn't involve Autogrill panini (not to diss the blessed Autogrills, mind you; you know how much I love them).  But we had time, and we wanted a real meal.  And Sis wanted to see the third sea.

And so, as often happens when you're hungry in a place that you don't while traveling, you happen into a joint hoping for the best and expecting the worst.  We happened to find a surprise - Ristorante Zi Nicola, outside Vasto.  Zio Nicola was in the kitchen and lovely aromas were wafting out of it.  We ran for a table that overlooked the water, with the ruins of a trabocco below.  The guys at the table next to us heard us speaking in English and piped in a few words, asking Cara where she's from.  When she said, "Ohio," all broke into excited exclamations; they work for a company that is based in Toledo!  Ma come mai!  Che coincidenza!  And we had companionable chatter through the rest of our lunch.

Our lovely, delectable lunch.  I swear that Abruzzese cooking is some of the best in the country, and it holds true in their seafood dishes, too.  Unbelievably delicious stuff came our way.  Plate after plate of antipasto.  Then heaping helpings of homemade chitarra pasta with fishy-things.  And.  Well, we had to stop, much to the dismay of our new lunch-mates who hoped we'd keep pace through the next pasta and main course with them.  Alas, the girls had to give in and go.

But during the meal we watched the boats passing in the distance, and eventually saw a man and his son arrive at the fishing craft below.  He was showing the boy how to repair nets.  They saw us eyeing them and shyly waved.  I snapped a photo discretely.  It was such a tender scene, watching the man pass his knowledge on to his figlio.

After we ate, the restaurant owner showed us the path that leads to the water.  We scrambled down, past the fishermen, who greeted us warmly, and Cara peeled off her sandals to dip her toes in the water.  Colder than she expected, following our swim in Maratea.  I can't find her foot photo, now; sorry.  We got back in the car to reach our destination.

In the following days we visited Grottammare with my friend, Cinzia, walking along the Lungomare and looking at the Liberty style villas, but Sis agreed that the Adriatic's Costa dei Trabocchi is a special place.  A coast of enduring traditions, warm people, and fantastic food.

Me with dear friend Cinzia in Grottammare

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Med

Second up on the Coast to Coast to Coast tour was the Mediterranean.  The fabled sea that laps the shores of southern Europe and northern Africa, and flows out the Straights of Gibralter.  It is on the opposite side of Basilicata from the Ionian, and is opposite in character, too. 

Where the Ionian is shallow and limpid, the Med is deep and moody.  Steep hills tumble down to it, like they want to jump into the sapphire depths themselves for a splash in the surf.  The waves roll in with more force - the Mediterranean is felt

We actually made two forays to its shore - once in Agropoli, south of Salerno, where long golden sand beaches curve out from the town.  Here we parked ourselves for an aperitivo of local white wine while watching the sunset and listening to the water rhythmically make landfall.  Cara of course submerged her feet for a photo.

Cara at the Mediterranean in Agropoli
Later, we went to Maratea, the gem of Basilicata's coast, with its pastel houses, dramatic cliffs, pretty port, and unique black beaches.  Teensy opal-like pebbles -that are actually smaller than pebbles but bigger than sand grains- carpet the coves and make the water appear even bluer than blue. 

Beaches are wedged in between rock formations, involving a descent to reach them.  As such, they're pretty uncrowded.  We sunned ourselves, took a swim, and enjoyed a warm morning of beach-time in mid-September, a nice treat for my northern Ohio sister who knows that her hometown has only two seasons - Winter and Non-Winter.  September turns the tide on the interval between them.

Sunset from the hotel terrace

We spent the night in a gorgeous hotel above the sea, where the meal was memorable and the gourmet bath goodies made us swoon like the girly-girls we are.  We roamed around the delightful historic center, popped around the port (where the best gelato in Maratea is found), and took in the breathtaking views from the hilltop above.

The Mediterranean is my favorite, and the Cilento area, from Agropoli to Sapri, is the my favored destination.  Maratea is, in my Lucana-biased opinion, the loveliest resort on the coastline, with all the dramatic scenery you'd see on the more famous Amalfi Coast, without the crowds and high prices.  The road isn't quite as scary to drive, either.  My sister agreed it was the highlight beach for her, as well.

Black sand beach in Maratea

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

From Coast to Coast

Summer is over, regretably.  No, I didn't spend more than a month on vacation, as much as I'd have loved that.  I returned from the US to a full onslaught of work, bureaucracy, and travel planning for an upcoming family reunion as well as a visit from my sorella.

My sister is a fearful flyer.  Not just mildly bothered, but full-out aggitated, stresses herself, cringes at every bump of turbulence kind of fearful.  Despite that, her love of Italy, desire for some sister time and need of a vacation drove her to stuff a suitcase, zonk down Xanax, and board a plane across the ocean.

She didn't have many things on her sightseeing program but was decisive about a few things:  meals she wanted to eat and beaches she wanted to visit.  Having come mostly in spring or autumn, she hadn't really been able to see Italy's coast in sunny, warm weather before.

This turned out to the be Trip of the Three Seas.  She dipped her feet into all three of Italy's surrounding bodies of water in her two-week trip.

The first was the Ionian, which flows into the instep of Italy's boot.  Located an hour from my village, it's the closest sea to us but is -I hate to admit- a fairly unimpressive flat plain flanked by concrete block towns.  The redeeming value is that there are some natural beaches backed by pines and dunes where only a few of the beach establishments are allowed, where few tourists flock, and where you can relax to the sound of the surf. 

If you head to the Ionian Sea, bypass the squalor of Scanzano and the low-class mediocrity of Metaponto and park yourself at Marina di Pisticci.  Here you'll find better exposure to breezes, long stretches of sand, and stands of woods to break the beach monotony.  Our favorite parking place is the Riva dei Ginepri, a summer vendor with thatch umbrellas, lounge chairs and a snack bar that also serves up decent lunches.  I figure if it's good enough for the guests of Francis Ford Coppola's swanky hotel, then it's good enough for me.  Or, at least, they don't turn me away.  Granted I don't get to garner one of the luxurious curtained cabanas that are set aside for the Coppola crowd, but it's a nice place to spend a day at the beach.

Dazzling white legs of sister Cara in the Ionian Sea

Cara didn't want to swim, so we strolled the shoreline, evading several medusas (jellyfish) that were washed up on the sand, and she snapped a photo of her feet in the water to prove she was at the Ionian, the soemtimes forgotten of Italy's seas.

We headed uphill afterwards to Bernalda, home of the hotel that is gaining fame to have an aperitivo in Coppola's Cinecitta' Bar, where we were warmly welcomed and graciously served by a top-notch barkeep who chose a great local white for us to try.

A piece of local gossip that we heard is that the Palazzo Margherita will soon be the site of the big-splashy wedding between Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel (next week, they say).  We'll see if the Bernalda rumor mill turns out to have credence.

Next time...the Mediterranean.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Like the rest of Italy, I'm heading off for August vacation.  Buone vacanze, tutti!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Summertime Fun

There are a few sure ways to know that summer in Italy has kicked into full gear.  One, of course, is the heat.  While that's kind of a no-brainer, it seems that we don't really have a spring to speak of.  It just goes from cool and maybe a little damp to hot and dry in the blink of an eye.  And the heat has been rather unrelenting throughout July.  Having spent 20 years in the desert, I'm certainly used to it, and since the winter was long and snowy, I'm not complaining a bit.  But my compaesani are lamenting endlessly and thus putting themselves into the second sure way of knowing it's summer - the beach.

Everyone seeks relief at the beach.  Which means they're swarming and sweltering, especially on the weekends.  If you want to snag a spot at one of the seaside lidos that lay out ordered rows of chairs and umbrellas on a Sunday, you have to call and reserve in advance.  Trying to swim is a fruitless endeavor as there are too many people sitting in and floating on the water.  The town sort of empties out on Saturday or Sunday morning, then the beleagered sea-goers come home hotter than when they started.  Unfortunately, the Ionian coast is the closest sea to us, but its shallow water and flat plains means its hotter than other beaches.  The water is like a hot spring instead of a cool plunge in the ocean.  For that, we'd head to Maratea, a gorgeous town on the Mediterranean side of Basilicata.  But it's just far enough away to make it logistically more difficult for a day trip.  But what a world away it is from the other side!

The third sure thing in summer is that wedding season kicks in.  We were invited to a wonderful wedding in July, a sort of replay of the one we attended last year, as the respective brides are sisters.  The Angeli, as the couple is known because their names are Angelo and Angela, tied the knot in a traditional way with a fun festa to follow up the ceremony that lasted until midnight.  We're always really touched to be included in these festivities, being the newcomers to this town.

And then there's the general busyness that happens, with people coming back for visits, hanging out in the piazza until the wee hours (le piccole ore, as they say here), and sagras and festivals and concerts and theatrical productions crowding the calendar.  While it's true that August brings a work shut-down in Italy, it also brings a jam-packed line-up of events to enjoy.

I'll be missing out on some of the more merry happenings here, as I'll be traveling to the US soon.  Like the predictable Italian schedule, I'm taking my vacation in August- something I never used to do.  But when in Rome...
Buone vacanze!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Staged...Or On Stage?

Sometimes you need a change of venue to recharge, so last weekend I took a quick trip to Ascoli Piceno.  A friend offered her guest room, other friends emailed about a festa, and the lure of a couple of days back in the city of travertino was more than enough to pull me away from the computer.

My old "hometown" glistened in the sunlight, all geared up for summer and decked out with the mercato antiquariato.  I perused the stands and even bought a little rustic side table at a decent price.  Not as decent as it probably should have been - I suck at bargaining - but still, it's cute.  I hung out with friends, sipped aperitivi on the piazza and enjoyed surprising people I know with my un-unannounced presence.  It was while I was at the Festa of the Holy Thorn laughing with friends and munching on arrosticini that it hit me - it was exactly one year since I was there last...when we went while filming our episode of House Hunters International.  Time is a funny thing, my friends.  A year already?

Anyway.  It was also pointed out during that same week that a participant in the show had gone public and let loose the secret - that house purchases are already a done deal when the show is filmed.  She lamented that the producers wouldn't accept them until they closed on the house, and that the other two homes were actually friends' houses and not really homes for sale.

First of all, I'm sure you're shocked (shocked!) to learn that "reality TV" isn't totally "real".  But you already knew that, since you'd read all about our house buying adventure and *then* about the filming. I didn't reveal secrets, but those who follow the blog knew the order of things.

However.  I gotta say, I don't get her motivation.  She knew the ins and outs ahead of time; they talk you through the process before you sign the contract, so why did she participate if it bothered her?  Why didn't her realtor want to line up other listings to show?  Most of them clamor to be on it, as it gives them publicity. 

After it went all over the web, the headlines went from "staged" to "fake" as the buzzword for the show.  I'd like to chime in, having participated.  It's not "fake".  We went through a house hunting experience in a foreign country.  They contacted us about it, asking detailed questions to get our story.  And then once they ascertained that we were decent, upstanding and literate people, they asked us to recreate our story for the show.  I don't know about that participant, but our episode was a snapshot of our experience.  We tramped around town with the (then) mayor because there are no realtors in the villages (as seen on TV).  We saw a few other homes besides the one we chose (as seen on TV).  We debated the pros and cons of each (as seen on TV).  We were "on stage," if you will.  See the difference between "staged" or "faked" and "recreated"?

I don't know about your adventures in house hunting, but ours took months and we saw dozens of homes in two different regions.  I'm sorry, but no TV crew is going to follow us around for that length of time; a little *too* reality (and boring) for that.  It only made sense to us that the field had to be narrowed and that it was done; it would be a waste of everyone's time if the deal fell through at the last minute or the buyers didn't choose any of the homes. 

As for lining up the other two homes, yes, we had to do that part as the production company comes in just for the filming.  They don't know which homes you've spent the last several months viewing; you do.  So yep, we lined up the homes.  Both of which we had really seen; one of which we considered fairly seriously (it's still on the market, by the way, just in case you're looking). 

We had a great time during the filming, and while they cut out lots of great scenes of our area and friends, we realized they had to cut 4 days of filming into 23 minutes.  Our one complaint:  somewhere in the editing they mixed up some scenes, so some locations were labled as "Trivigno" when they were shot in Ascoli Piceno; some said "Ascoli Piceno" when they were streets in my ancestral village of Anzi.  Not sure if that happened after the guys had knocked back a few beers, or someone in the editing room got the notes mixed up.  But overall, speaking from our filming, it was a positive experience, we had fun, and everyone who saw our episode said it was entertaining.  And in the end, isn't that TV is supposed to be?

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Our Impact in the Digital Age

I've been thinking lately about the impact a person can make on others.  I've written before how my grandparents' quiet, every-day actions helped the people around them.  A word, a card, a pie, a hand - little things that touched their neighbors and their world.

But in the digital era, it can go even farther.  Something I say online can help (or hurt) a person I've never met.  I've been touched by others' blog posts or comments and have forged friendships with other bloggers, even if we don't know each other in person. You exchange comments, emails and laughs.  You get to know a person through their posts and pictures.

This struck me with force this past week when I heard about the death of an online acquaintance.  I knew Robert Rainey through the Slow Travel forums.  We bantered on the same topics often, and shared views or dissented travel options over the past several years.  We had friends in common, so while I hadn't met Robert, I knew him.  We'd interacted.  I knew his tastes and opinions on several subjects, as well as his sense of humor.

So it came as a shock to hear that Robert had been brutally murdered in his office in Los Angeles.  He was a chiropractor, a nice guy, full of energy and enthusiasm.  And yet he was senselessly beaten to death.  Perhaps for money; maybe a drug-crazed creep.  Who knows.  I hope they find out; I hope they find the person who did this to a 54-year old caring individual. 

I read the news on Facebook in the morning, and it stayed with me all day.  I had that gut-wrenching feeling in my stomach; I shook my head at the thought, the unbelievable thought that this happened to a person I knew.  Even if I didn't know him.  I felt sorrow for his family and for those at Slow Travel who will miss his presence and his input.  I felt despair; I felt sad.

And it struck me again how we touch people's lives without even realizing it.  So I want to tell you, my friends, how much I appreciate you.  Your words, your comments, your jokes, your emails, your phone calls.  Even if we haven't met in person, you've been here with me through the adventures and trials.  And I thank you.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Open Mic - More Responses

So we're back at the microphone with the questions from the crowd.  Diane just threw out the query about the strangest custom we've experienced.  Hmmm.  My first impulse is to say the way no lines exist, everyone just groups up in a human blob at whatever counter or office they need to line and wait for.  But that's may be more of a *lack* of a custom than a strange custom in itself!  I'd say the display of saints' parts in churches is a strange custom.  I still have a hard time understanding the appeal of seeing the finger of St. Whoever or other bits and pieces of the bodies of venerated saints.  Boh!

So're a curious dude tonight!  Let's see...Ndrangheta, never seen them.  No shake downs, no shady deals, nothing that looks like the mob in action.  Mammismo is prevalent all over Italy, also down here in the south.  Sometimes it's for economic necessity; other times, well, life is just too good with mamma, so why leave?  (They say.)  Purses aren't quite so popular down here, though you see them.  And Bryan carries one, but will quickly point out that it's "a man's bag, not a purse."  Yeah.  Okay.  And, wow.  You're a direct kind of guy, I like that.  So...ball grabbing to ward off bad luck is something I've heard about but never personally seen.  It may be more of a Calabrian thing, but gotta say I've not been a witness to it here.  And finally, yes, I've ordered a cappuccino after 10:00 am.  Nothing was said and no strange looks given.  After 11:30 am however will get a discussion of your colon's health and the dangers of milk before or after a meal.  Get Ed another birra and give him a round of applause!

Louise.  Hey!  Thanks for coming by!  Thanks for the comments about the house.  We think it's pretty cute.  And everyone who comes says it's cozy and nice.  The dream kitchen is still in the dreaming phase.  It's a little complicated to move it and will involve trenching the floor and new drains, which aren't so easy to do in a 300-year old building.  But as soon as we have the money, we'll get 'er done!  The plaster hasn't been stripped off the stone in the bedroom yet, either.  Our mason slipped a disc and wasn't able to work for a good six months.  Piano, piano.  And the cantina is behind the bedroom and a portion of a living room, so we'll be able to bust open a doorway someday to make another big rustic space, though we're still undecided about what we'll do with it yet.

Italia in 2015 posed a good practical question about moving - what to bring.  That's a tough one as it depends on each individual and what you can't live without.  I shipped a load of books, because English language tomes are hard to come by, but...alas, they never arrived.  The post offices on both ends blamed the other, but the sad result was about a thousand dollars' worth of books that I'd never see again.  I brought mostly clothing, a few personal items to decorate the house (Nambe' ware from New Mexico, mostly), and a few kitchen items that I'm addicted to (potato peeler, microplane grater, and a cross-cultural measuring vase that is invaluable for those of us that easily convert from cups to grams or mililiters.  And yes, it's made in Italy but I've never seen one anywhere.  Oh, the irony!  Electronics cost less in the States, so bring your tablet, laptop, and video camera gear.  Plus, you'll want that English language keyboard instead of the Italian one (unless you're doing lots of translations into Italian).  Anything else with a plug that isn't dual voltage adapted can be left behind.  The rest...well, it depends on you!  I do import green chile whenever possible to get a taste from home, and am hopelessly addicted to the dark chocolate peanut butter cups from Trader's Joes, so I ask everyone who comes to visit to bring me a bag, but otherwise, I don't really miss to much in the way of food items.  Oh, except for spices.  I do bring bottles of Cajun Spice and Chili Powder back, which friends appreciate when I cook some good ol' American stuff for them.

Well...there you have it.  Feel free to holler out questions, chime in, or sing a song in the comments sections any ol' time.  See you later folks!

Monday, May 07, 2012

Open Mic - The Responses

So Janine kicked things off with a bang when she stepped up to the microphone and asked the deep, philosophical head-scratcher:  What is the biggest/most important lesson that Italy has taught me?  Well.  We've come so far from those early months when we felt like toddlers learning to walk.  We've learned a language, learned to adapt, learned to laugh at ourselves.  But I think the biggest thing we had to learn was patience.  Yes, it's the virtue that I've always lacked; but it's the most important one when living in a foreign country in general and Italy in particular.

Patience with ourselves as we spit out disjointed words; patience with others as they tried to make things clear or when the "be nice to the dumb foreigners" look wafted across their faces; and patience...oh Lord lots and lots of patience....with the burocrazia.  Investing days of circling offices, calling and being "disconnected", finding the right person who knew what we needed to do (and when and how we needed to do it) can really wear you down.  But perseverance and patience are what you need in those circumstances.
Good question, Janine!

Jennifer - cuz!  I know you're not the shy type, so glad to see you right there in the front row!  Even if you don't have a wonderful cousin who lives in Italy, you can travel around Italy without much trouble.  Yep, even if you don't speak the language.  As long as you have a phrase book, learn a few of the important phrases before you arrive, and have a sense of adventure, you're good to go!  Okay, I gotta say that down here in our parts, it can be more challenging as a lot of the smaller town are a bit thin in the English department.  But you'll always be able to get fed, find a bagno, and wander around the sights even if you don't speak the language.  Get a guidebook and go, has been our mantra from our first trip.  But definitely read up a bit before hitting the ground, so you know how things operate.  And of course, in the tourism-heavy areas like Rome, Florence, Venice, Tuscany and Amalfi Coast, you'll always find people who speak English.  (I hope this means you're planning a trip?!) shy one in the back.  The economy sucks all over, unfortunately.  Not just here.  Problem is, for us it's a bit more challenging because we're not EU citizens and can't take a regular job (no proverbial green card for us).  We can do freelance work, and that's it.  So while the cost of living is low and we don't have a mortgage to pay, there are taxes and living expenses.  And at the moment we're not filling the tank as fast as we're driving.  Yeah, the cost of gas is through the roof here.  We decided to keep going forward on our projects while bouncing back and forth to the US for bank account fill-ups.  The retirement fund is untouchable, so "si arrangia" as they say here, while hoping the economy picks up, work brings some rewards, and we can stay put and live happily, peacefully here in our village.

Thanks, you've been great!  Open Mic Night continues next time with the other find folks, and a couple of questions I get all the time...

See you then!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Open Mic Night

My first year of college was spent in Columbus, Ohio, which is where I met my husband.  We married, moved west, and I graduated from the University of New Mexico ("Everyone's a Lobo woof woof woof!") but have fond, if somewhat hazy, memories of that year living two blocks from Ohio State's party central, High Street (appropriately named for a college campus party avenue, dontcha think?) 

Anyway.  There was a low-key bar that we hung out at sometimes, a brick tavern type of place that occasionally hosted an open mic night, where they turned over the stage to whoever wanted to say something, as long as it wasn't a senseless or poisonous rant.  There were some who did poetry readings, others told jokes, or posed questions to the crowd.  It was always a fun time, and I learned stuff each time - sometimes as simple as a new punchline or something more profound, like...say, the meaning of the song American Pie.  No question was ridiculed and everyone left feeling a little high on the cameraderie that it inspired (the cheap beer didn't hurt, either).

So I'm turning the spotlight out to you sitting there in the shadows, and hosting an open mic night here at the Pinon Tree.  Throw out your questions (or your comments, your insights) and I'll answer them.  I've received lots of queries through the years, so don't let stage-fright hold you back.  (One person wrote to ask me if there are spiders in Italy.  Answer: Yes, there are.)

Are there things you've always wanted to know about living or traveling in Italy?  Anything you've been wanting to ask but was afraid to send an email?  Post your burning questions in the comments! 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Time Flies

That old song by the Steve Miller Band with the line, "Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future" has been rolling around my brain lately.  Time really has slipped away from me the past couple of months. 

You'd think living in a village would free up more time.  I mean, let's face it, you can walk the length and breadth of it in fifteen minutes, and all told there's not a whole heckuva lot to do as far as entertainment options to distract you.  But chats on the street and insistences of un caffe' can turn a quick trip to the fruttivendolo into an hour-long diversion. 

I've been busy with lots of projects, which leaves my eyes burning from the computer screen, so I've neglected some emails and blogging in an attempt to stay caught up with work.  In short, it's been all work and little play lately.

But, a few weeks back we did have a fun day of filming (again!) when a RAI television crew came to interview us.  I met the giornalista when she came to town to cover the big festa di Sant'Antonio.  She thought our tale of moving from America to small-town southern Italy was interesting and asked if we'd mind being interviewed for the regional weekend news segment.  She and a camera man came and spent about five hours with us and talking to friends in the piazza and the local agriturismo. 

It aired on Saturday, with the whole village tuned in to see it.  They were happy with the outcome and so were we.  It turned out quite nice, and gives a glimpse of our little village to others, through the eyes of the Americans.  Kinda cool!

It was a lot harder than the last filming, despite it being much shorter - it was all done in Italian!  But we muddled through without embarrassing ourselves (linguistically speaking) too terribly.

Give it a look!
RAI Regionale Basilicata

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mo' Basta!

That's a great phrase I learned when I moved to the south.  You might remember 'mo' from my Five Regional Words list.  I'd never heard it while living in Ascoli Piceno, but it's very common here, as I mentioned.  I often hear "mo' basta!" or "basta mo'!" uttered by frustrated mothers who are telling their kids, "knock it off".  It also means, "enough already!"

So after ten days of snow that accumulated and continued to accumulate; that basically isolated the village because the roads weren't passable; that brought cold wind and a non-stop week-long streak of steady flurries, I'm uttering in exasperation, "MO' BASTA!"

At first it was pretty.  A nice fluffy coating that brought all the kids out to play, make snowmen, and slide down a hill.  I even got into the fray of a snowball fight with some of my students.  Che bello! we all uttered.  That was Day Two.  Then it wouldn't quit.

The lovely landscape on Day Two

They're saying it hasn't snowed like this in thirty years; I can tell you I feel very fortunate to witness first-hand this momentous occasion.  Not.  After twenty years as a desert dweller, I prefer my snow to fall on a ski slope. We didn't give the merest thought to our charming pedestrian lanes being packed up tight with snow and ice when we bought the house.  And naturally we didn't think to invest in a snow shovel at any point in the past year and a half, either.

So.  Here I am, while Bryan is in the US at the moment.  Ten days of snow.  No shovel.  Tunnel-like streets of amassed white stuff with a layer of ice underneath.  And still it squalls (a good Ohio snow word).  I resorted to cleaning the stairs that lead to the house with a broom and a dustpan.  That worked for about a day, then it piled up too fast and deep for the Fuller brush method to keep up.  I borrowed my neighbor's shovel.  But it's not a snow shovel, it's a heavy iron pointy shovel that is very good at breaking up ice, but not so effective at moving piles of snow.  They don't show this stuff on House Hunters International, folks!

A friend took pity on me and showed up with his actual, real, heavy-duty snow shovel and went to work.  I was liberated to move about without worry of slipping and breaking my neck (or ankle).  But then the mother-lovin' squalls wouldn't stop.  I trudged about in my boots to get provisions from the shops, which thankfully are reachable in a small village.  But now the shelves are starting to get a bit bare and we're all getting a bit worried.

It's getting a little old.  And boring.  And dangerous.

Yesterday it stopped just long enough to go out and re-clear the path that had previously been shoveled.  It warmed up a bit so that it was fairly easy and things were getting slushy.  I was congratulating myself on having invested in the waterproof rubber boots that everyone wears when they do their vendemmia or work in campagna, albeit a cuter version.  They served me well in the puddles and slosh.  I slopped the mess off to one side of the walkway to keep a pathway open and came back in the house, peeled off the wet layers and the boots, and turned on the computer.  Then I heard an astounding crash.  I yanked open the door to find that a great mass of snow had fallen off the roof of the building behind ours and crashed down - right on the path I'd just cleared.

Mamma mia!  Two minutes sooner and I'd have been one crushed chickadee.  Neighbors came running out to see what was amuck, to ascertain that the americana hadn't gotten herself killed, and to point out (a little too late) the dangers of falling, heavy, wet snow from tile roofs.  Valiant friend returned with the snow shovel to dig me out, because it mounded up and blocked the street.

The terrace on Day Three

All of Italy is experiencing the same problem.  Parts of the country were without power for several days.  Some towns are completely cut off and several people have died.  In the grand scheme of things, we've been okay - electricity works, we still have food, the bakery is still making fresh bread every day, and we can basically move about the village, though some of the narrow lanes are impassable.  How glad am I that we installed that condizionatore heat pump in September?  Not having to keep a fire going 24-7 has lessened the hassle of it all.

I repayed my snow shovel-bearing friend by hosting him and his family for a chili and cornbread dinner last night, which they enjoyed.  Other friends have invited me to pranzo today.  Bryan gets back next week.  So it's not all bad.

However.  All this white and cold and wet is wearing me down.  My broom ain't cutting it, my clothes aren't drying, and I'm getting cabin fever.  MO' BASTA!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Yummy Treat for World Nutella Day

I know; my entry is early.  But I just couldn't wait!  It's a momentous occasion, an annual decadent event.  A chance to gorge on chocolate-hazelnut goodness for an entire day, and look through inspiring recipes and read emotional or funny tributes to the simple spread that brings smiles and soothes the soul.  As I've said before, it's the little things in life...

Anyway.  I'm posting early for a few reasons.  One, it's been cold here and there's not much else to do but sit inside and think about ways to stay warm.  Which starts with hot chocolate made with Nutella, which naturally turns thoughts to other ways to use the yummy stuff.  I kind of a have a Nutella dossier compiled now, with scribbles of possible combos and concoctions for future reference.

Second, as a contientious blogger I feel I should participate in good will efforts such as this, and so I offer a reminder to those of you who may have forgotten about World Nutella Day on February 5.  (Says she who forgot last year.)  Join up with Michelle of Bleeding Espresso and Sara of Ms. Adventures in Italy to participate.

Then there's the Mom factor.  My mother's birthday is February 6 and, being a good mother, she deserves the best darn Nutella-infused treat possible for her special day.  But I'm not there to make it so the chocolatey task falls to my sister.  Who is (she freely admits) the "non-cook" in the family.  She used to refer to the kitchen as "the room you walk through to get to the back door."  While she's come a long way in the cooking department, she still utterly refuses to bake.  Anything. 

So.  I devised a cake-like treat that even my sister can make easily, without fuss, and without turning on the oven.  And I'm getting the recipe to her well in advance so she can prepare herself.  I'm pretty sure that the first jar of Nutella is going to go down with a spoon before she starts the recipe.  In any case, I know that Mom will be happy with the results of our collaborative efforts, and I think you'll enjoy the orangey-chocolatey combo, too.  It was a bit hit with my taste-testers.

Orange-Nutella Tiramisu
1 container mascarpone cheese
2 4-oz. cups vanilla yogurt
2 TBSP sugar
zest of 1 orange
Blend everything together until smooth.

1 cup orange juice
1/3 cup rum
Combine and set aside.

3 to 4 oranges, peeled and sliced crosswise
1 cup Nutella, warmed to soften
Savoiardi (ladyfingers)


Soak the savoiardi in the orange juice/rum and layer in a pan.  Spread on half the mascarpone mixture to cover the cookies.  Arrange orange slices on top.  Drizzle generously with Nutella.  Repeat the layers.  Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight.  Tiramisu is always tastier the day after it's made when the ladyfingers have softened to a cake-like texture and the flavors have melded together nicely.

Happy Nutella Day!

Friday, January 06, 2012

Farewell 2011 Meme

It seems the older I get the more the years takes a roller coaster approach.  There seem to be more ups and downs than I remember in previous periods of my life, and sometimes those rocky patches of road can take an emotional toll.  I sometimes get wrapped up in the worries and wranglings to make things work out and forget to relax and enjoy the small, good things of each day.  It may be the economy and the overall changes in the world, along with personal losses and setbacks over the past few years, but it seems that previous periods were more steady, more even.  When I'm starting to stress myself out I need to remind myself that I like riding roller coasters!

2011 had more ups than the past two years, and some wonderful experiences in our new home.  We're so happy with our house, our village, and the new friends we've made.  We closed the year celebrating Christmas and ringing in the New Year with family back in Ohio. 

It's always good to take a look back before putting your face and feet forward to march into the new year, so here's my meme to recap 2011 and jump full-on into 2012.  Felice anno nuovo to you!

(If you want to play along and post the meme let me know and I'll link to you.)

Best new experience of 2011:  I'd have to say getting in front of the camera and learning a bit of "movie magic" while filming with House Hunters International was a great new experience.  I was in Drama Club in high school so I enjoyed getting ham it up to film our story for HGTV.  (By the way, the episode is airing again on January 10 and February 3, in case you missed it the first time!)

Worst experience:  Looking into the bank account and calculating the dollar-to-euro exchange rate.  A rather horrifying experience.  A close second was flipping through the channels while I was in the US and landing on Fox News by accident.  {shudder}

Most fun moment of the year:  Attending our first southern Italian wedding.  We sat down to the reception lunch at 2:00 pm and didn't finish eating until 9:00 pm.  There was dancing and more food after that, and we shimmied to folk tunes, bopped to the pop beats, and even did the limbo until about 2:00 am.  And we were among the first wave of guests to leave!

Saddest moment:  Receiving the news that my grandfather had passed away and realizing that I wouldn't be able to make it to the funeral.

Biggest regret:  Not flying like an angel on the Volo dell'Angelo zipline.  Next summer for sure!

I'm really glad I.... :  Put in that condizionatore heating unit.  It's really nice to not have to build fires every single night.

Favorite new food or drink:  I like to make liqueuers and have to say that the best one I made this year is a rum cream inspired from a sampling we had in Jamaica last year during the New Year's family cruise.  My experiment gone awry was the strawberry liqueur - it ended up tasting like cough syrup.

Something I wish I hadn't eaten or drank:  Airline food.  When will I learn to say no and pack snacks?

Goal for 2012:  Plunge forward with a few professional projects I want to do.  I need to get over the fears and the worries of not being qualified and just get started.

In keeping with my annual tradition to choose a soundtrack for the year, I've selected the song This is Your Gift by John Tesh, to help me remember that every day really is a gift and to make what I can of each new day.  Enjoy the scenery of Positano while you watch the video.  What about you?  What is your soundtrack or resolution for 2012? 

Related Links:

Bryan's video of the wedding party

Previous New Year's Soundtracks:

2011:  Back to Life by Giovanni Allevi

2010:  Go With the Flow (also by Giovanni Allevi)