Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Cervinara Roots Around the World

When I started writing this blog, my only goal was to share an interesting lifestyle change with a few friends and relatives.  It's a pretty unusual situation, being able to spend extended time abroad, particularly in a non-touristy town where we would become absorbed into the community and become recognized as permanent residents rather than temporary visitors.
As time has gone on however, it has become apparent that this blog has begun to reach folks from all over the world and when you Google "Cervinara", a link to my essays pops up fairly high on the Google list.  Who could have imagined?  As a result of this phenomenon, I have been in touch with people whose roots reach back to Cervinara, usually a couple of generations back. 
Life was hard in many areas of Italy, and Cervinara was no different.  Many Cervinaresi emigrated to the US, Canada, England, Australia and South America in an attempt to find more opportunities for a good life.  Now,  2nd and 3rd generation Italians are searching for their roots, using the internet to try to reconnect with their ancestors.  A need to know and understand one's origins seems to run deep in the children and grandchildren of immigrants, and now I am trying to help folks whose ancestors were from this area to find their way back to Cervinara.

On Facebook, I have formed a group entitled "Cervinara Roots Around the World".  My idea is to provide information about what Cervinara has to offer the genealogical tourists who might want to spend a bit of time retracing the steps of their ancestors.  It's not always easy to find your way here; it is not on anyone's radar for tourism, there are no hotels in town, no TripAdvisor forums to offer advice.  Even the town and the Chamber of Commerce (Pro Loco) websites are only in Italian.  If you are looking for help in getting to this hill town, you will not find it easy to access, particularly if you don't understand Italian.
Before I left Cervinara this fall, I met with the mayor as well as with a young man, Francesco Viola, who serves as a link between the administration and the Pro Loco.  Francesco  is as ardent in his support of Cervinara as anyone I have ever met and he publishes a well-written blog about day to day life there as well.  My thought was to provide direct links on the town website, in English, where someone trying to research a trip would get some needed guidance.  But as is so often the case, it's difficult to deal with bureaucracies and the response wasn't as enthusiastic as I had hoped. Therefore, rather than attempt to put things directly on links offered on the municipal website, I have decided to try to get the information out to people doing their research by offering the group on Facebook.
So, if you are interested in talking to someone about Cervinara, or are interested in getting nuts and bolts information about how to get to Cervinara, where to stay, what to do, etc., drop me a line or post a question and you will get a quick and speedy response.  My goal is to bring Cervinara to the world, and to bring Cervinara's descendants back there.  I hope to hear from you soon!

Thursday, September 27, 2012


There is something sort of comforting about living according to the seasons, something natural and reassuring in eating what comes from the fields next door rather than across the ocean.  There are times, of course, when it would be nice to be able to eat out of season.  I have missed asparagus (available for only a few weeks in the spring).  I have had way too much of peppers, zucchini and eggplant.  But overall, eating locally and seasonally here in Cervinara has proven to be a healthy and happy way of life.
We know when the seasons change here by what is on our plates.  When we arrived at the end of May, we were able to enjoy the strawberries and cherries that were bursting with juice.  I remember picking strawberries in Connecticut as a child.  Those sweet red gems would stain our hands and lips as we ate as many as we picked.  What a treat to have homemade strawberry shortcake for supper as a reward for our hard work!  I fear that children in Connecticut now have no idea what a real strawberry tastes like; those hard, dry berries from California will never measure up.  I would rather have the real thing for a few weeks than the genetically modified version that we get now.  Well, the strawberries here are like those of my youth; imperfectly shaped, but full of juicy sweetness. 
Come summer, the peaches come into season.  For us, a peach is a peach.  For the folks here, every peach is different and worthy of its own recipes.  There are red peaches, white peaches, and percocche to dunk in a glass of red wine.  There are fuzzless peaches and tiny early peaches that are sweet and satisfy that need for peach flavor before the big ones are available. Then there are the melons.  Oh the melons!  Long watermelon, round watermelon, cantaloupes, yellow wrinkled melons (these have been superb this year), melons that are hung to dry to be consumed at Christmas.  The melons are amazing!
For veggies, we are never lacking.  Green beans in early summer, and then later in the fall the second crop comes in.  In between, they can't be found.  Summer squashes, peppers, and eggplant abound through the hot months of July and August.  Mid-way through September, we start to have broccolini, those bitter greens that go so well with orecchiete and sausage.  Orange squash, similar in color and flavor to our butternuts, but shaped more like a pumpkin show up on the fruit trucks.  Fall is the time for those rich, comfort foods that everyone craves.
But the true sign of the change of seasons, and of the local produce we love, are the mushrooms.  When it rains in September, the mushrooms begin to sprout.  Folks trudge up and down the mountains, wearing Wellies and flannel shirts, carrying baskets for their prizes and special sticks to pry these treats from their hiding places, all in search of the wild mushrooms.  I've never been brave enough to try to identify the good ones from the poisonous ones, so we rely on the generosity of our friends to satisfy our cravings. 
Yesterday, Giovanni Raviele, a distant cousin, came by with a big plate of these treasures.  There were "tuorli" (egg yolks) that look just like a hard boiled egg.  These are best sliced very thin and marinated in lots of fresh lemon juice.  There were porcinis, that are best sauteed up with some garlic and onion.  And there were other kinds, of unknown name but of stupendous flavor, that I have chopped up and frozen so that we will be able to enjoy these treats a bit longer.
Today I made a mushroom risotto that was pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.  Just a bit of onion, a cup or so of the mushrooms, a hot pepper and some broth was all we needed to make a creamy, yummy risotto that really hit the spot. 
I know that in Connecticut we can never really live according to the seasons.  When I go back to my Stop & Shop, I'll be buying asparagus all winter and will enjoy it too.  But living here in Cervinara has given me a sense of how our forbears used to live, how they carefully preserved whatever came from their land and how every season was special.  I appreciate now how the authenticity and origin of our food really do matter.  Buon appetito!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

911, Italian Style

There are so many wonderful things about living in Italy, far too many to mention.  There's the food, the weather, the new friendships, the opportunities for travel and the quirky little things that lurk around every corner.  But, there are some downsides too.
Last week I wrote about my distress with the litter and graffiti that plague much of southern Italy.  It's an eyesore, but in general not life threatening.  I don't think I can say the same about Italy's emergency response system!
In many ways, Italy takes better care of its people than does the United States; it provides good health care at little to no cost, the law requires that a pharmacy be open 24/7 somewhere in every town, there is a "guardia medica" in every town for drop in visits after office hours and on weekends.  The guardia medica office is staffed by local physicians who take turns being there on call.  So, even in a small town like Cervinara, there are lots of options for health care and for emergency services.There are however, serious weaknesses in the emergency response process, and I would like to share a recent event that, while funny, showed up some of the holes in the Italian system of responding to emergency situations.
My sister Mary and her husband Bill were visiting us at the end of June and, on our way home from the market we decided to stop at the cemetery to visit the Salvatore Raviele family chapel.  It's part of our weekly routine to stop in on our way back up the hill to sweep things out and to light a candle for my in-laws and relatives.  On this fateful day, I unlocked the chapel door and left the keys in the keyhole, as is my normal habit.  The four of us entered the chapel.  The door opens in, and it was rather crowded in the small space, so we closed the door.  It latched.  It locked.  We were trapped.
Normally, this wouldn't pose too much of a problem because there are always people around the cemetery, cleaning the graves of their loved ones.  But it was lunch time and everyone was home preparing the big noon meal.  Our cries of "Aiuto!" went unheard.  It was time for more drastic measures.  The day was very hot and the temperature inside the chapel was heading up over 100 degrees.  My husband took out his phone and dialed 118. 
There is not a universal 911 number for all emergencies in Italy.  There is a special number for each need: highway accidents, fire, police, water emergencies, etc.  Since Cervinara is in the province of Avellino, it was that city's emergency squad who answered our call.  "We are trapped in a chapel in Cervinara.  Can you please send someone to get us out?"  We assumed they would contact Cervinara's police department to send a rescue squad....but no!  That's not how it works here.  We were told we would be rescued by the Avellino fire department that is located over an hour away!  And they hung up.
We waited a bit, it got hotter and hotter, and we called back.  "Can't you call Cervinara and have them send someone?  We are getting overheated and are feeling unwell."  No....that's not how it's done, we are told again.  At this point my husband's Italian temper got the better of him and he threatened to sue the town, the region, the province, the country and Jesus Christ himself if someone wasn't here to let us out soon.  No response.
Finally, we asked for the phone number of Cervinara's town hall.  At first they were reluctant to even give us that information, but after some more persuasive words from dear hubby, they relented.  This time I got on the phone.  In my slightly accented Italian, with a voice quivering with false tears, I pleaded my case with the Cervinara phone operator.  "Oh signora, don't be afraid!  Someone will be there soon! Please stay calm!"  It was funny because they were so concerned that I was afraid of being locked in the cemetery, when in reality it was just the heat and frustration that were getting to us all. 
True to their word, within ten minutes a young man was at our chapel letting us out.  All it took was an hour, half a dozen phone calls, some serious threats and a semi-hysterical American to get the job done!  Shortly after we were out, Avellino called again to check on our status.  Told that we had been freed, they radioed their rescue squad to return to their base, they asked me if my husband had calmed down, and then were happy to be rid of us!
I know that ours wasn't a life-threatening situation, although it could have been if we had been forced to stay inside that oven-like chapel for much longer.  We all had a good laugh over our adventure and we now no longer leave the keys in the door.  But I sometimes wonder how  this byzantine bureaucracy survives.  There has got to be a better way! 

Friday, August 31, 2012

Why Italy Makes Me Cry

I love Italy.  I love the people, I love the natural beauty, I love the history, I even love the quirky bureaucracy that drives everyone crazy.  But there is an ugly side to Italy, one that I hate to acknowledge and yet one that is unavoidable, like a huge zit on the nose of a beautiful woman.
Italy is dirty.  And too many Italians contribute to this blight.  Not inside their homes.  No!  It is rare the Italian home that is not so clean one could eat off the floors.  Italian housewives are obsessive with their cleanliness, scrubbing and bleaching, washing windows and dusting...all on a daily basis.  In my world, window washing is a once a year event, if I'm lucky.  Here, it's not unusual to see women washing down windows and walls every week.  If a woman works or is too frail to do the chores herself, there is no shame in bringing in outside help for these jobs.  Seriously, Italian homes are pristine!
But once you step outside your door, all bets are off.  Here in the south particularly, litter and graffiti are blights on the landscape.  Graffiti of the most inane kinds mar the walls of most public buildings, both inside and out.   Schools, train stations, walls, even churches: nothing is immune to an idiot with a spray can.
Good graffiti doesn't bother me so much.  Graffiti can be public art at its best.  Driving into NYC, I always enjoy passing the trains with great graphics and original designs.  But here, it is more in the nature of "Maria and Immo went to Naples on 6/12/12", or "Angela, you are my life!".  Worse is the profanity, much of it American, I fear, with FU becoming part of the lingua franca here.  So, we find lovely buildings, or even not so lovely ones, rendered ugly and marred with ridiculous and pointless phrases.
And then there is the litter and the garbage that have become an unfortunate part of just about every landscape.  Everyone has seen the famous sights of piles of garbage accumulating on streets in Naples.  This is an occasional and unfortunate occurrence that is due to a variety of factors, from lack of landfill areas to the Comorra organized crime families.  That doesn't bother me so much.  Naples is a huge, overcrowded city with hundreds of narrow streets, many too narrow for cars let alone a garbage truck.  The act of collecting the refuse of these millions of people is difficult to say the least.  They are getting it done, and this year there seems to be fewer issues with the garbage.
No, what makes me cry is the litter, the thoughtless dropping of papers, bottles and cigarette butts with nary a thought to finding a bin or waiting until you get home to dispose of the refuse.  Here in Cervinara, there is a campaign to keep the town clean.  Public announcements are placed around the city, reminding us that "If you love your town you will keep it clean".  But they don't work!  People who are our neighbors and friends will drop a wrapper or a paper napkin without a thought.  And the litter stays on the street until the street sweepers come along once a week or so to clean up the mess.  Worse is what is found in the fields and vacant lots.  Street sweepers don't head into those areas, so plastic bottles and bags, papers and boxes all get blown into the grass and there they stay.  When the big mowers come along every couple of months, they just chop the junk into little bits, making it even harder to collect.
We have garbage pick up on a daily basis, with recycling being done by about 75% of the population.  Then why as we are driving along the road do we see bag after bag of garbage that someone has tossed out a car window?  Why can't it be put out with the rest of the trash and be picked up as it should?  And why are tires and mattresses and old appliances left out to blight the landscape when all it takes is a call to town hall to arrange for a pick up of bulky items?
This is not just a Cervinara problem.  Oh no!  Cervinara is pristine and spotless compared to some of the other areas we drive by.  This entire region is known for its cavalier attitude towards public cleanliness and it has got to stop.  It boggles my mind how the same people who maintain such spotless homes are willing to live with such filth outside.
OK, so I have spoken my mind.  If I have offended those of you who love Italy, so be it.  No one loves this country more than I do.  She deserves more respect than what I see around me. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Local girl makes good. Congratulations Ketty!

Cervinara is a town that has sent out its children into the world; if you have followed my blog you know that there are pockets of Cervinaresi all over Italy, into the US and Canada, and down into Australia and South America as well.  As lovely as Cervinara is now, it must have been a very harsh place, back when food was scarce and central heating and plumbing unknown.  But the products of this small town have made great contributions to the world in many venues, from science and research to the arts and literature.  Cervinara has begun a program to honor some of her native sons and daughters and recently we were able to share the joy and pride of this honor with one of our dear friends.
The Onorio Ruotolo award is given every year to a deserving citizen of Cervinara who has met the abovementioned criteria.  Ruotolo was a sculptor who was born and spent part of his childhood in the Ferrari section of town, who then moved away and became recognized as a great artist and poet.  One of his sculptures is found in our Villa Communale.  He spent most of his adult life in the USA, doing many public and private projects in the Hudson River Valley.  It is in his honor that this award is named.
We have become fast friends with our neighbors, Bianca and Lello Valente.  They are with us for only two months of our time here, but July and August are always much more fun when they are around.  We swap recipes, share treats from our kitchens, and enjoy pre-prandial chats every evening.  When we pulled into our courtyard after our 10 days in Puglia, Bianca came running out of her door with her usual energy and joie de vivre.  She grabbed me with a force uncommon in most 80+ year old ladies, hugged me fast around the neck, and then shared her great good news.  Her daughter, and our good friend Caterina (known as Ketty to those who love her), was to be the recipient of the Ruotolo award!
Ketty has had a significant career in the political realm, which wasn’t always easy for a woman to achieve back in the day.  Born in 1952, she has struggled with the same glass ceiling that most women of our generation have faced, and she has done it with grace and class.  She is currently vice-prefect for the region of Isernia, a position of great responsibility and with many demands on her time and energy.  She was originally hesitant to accept this award, and it was only with significant arm-twisting that she agreed to be honored by the town of her birth.
And so, on the evening of August 17, Mike and I, along with about a hundred other friends and family, came together at the town hall to honor Ketty Valente.  There were of course many speeches about her achievements, but the crowning moment of the evening came when Ketty addressed the audience.  Her acknowledgment of her humble beginnings and how she would have been nothing without the hard work and support of her grandparents and parents moved everyone in the audience.  It is so important to recognize that we are not wholly responsible for our own successes, but that we owe the majority of what we achieve to our forebears and the lessons that have been carried down to us. 
For me, the most important part of Ketty’s presentation was a gift she made to each of us in the audience; a parchment with the following quote by Luigi Sturzo.   “Il cittadino deve essere educato non con I favori, ma con la giustizia, non con le pretese di privilegi e vantaggi individuali, ma con l’assistenza nel far valere I propri diritti: non con le raccomandazioni per ottenere quell che non e’ giusto, ma con l’equa valutazione dei bisogni e delle esigenze collettive.”
Roughly translated, this says “The citizen must be educated not with favors, but with justice, not with the claims of privilege and individual advantages, but with assistance in asserting his or her rights: not with recommendations to get that which is not just, but with a fair assessment of the needs of the entire community.”
After the ceremony Mike and I were invited back to the house where we shared a nice supper of pizzas and antipasti, and some great wine provided by our good friend Maurizio Zollo, founder of the Rocca dei Sanniti vineyard.  We were so honored to have been able to share this evening with the whole Valente family and to know that we are recognized as family as well.  Congratulazioni a Ketty! 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


August is vacation month for Italy, and while we had decided that we would never again go touring around in the heat of the summer, we find ourselves in the deep south enjoying beaches, boating and sightseeing.  Puglia is the farthest south of the heel of the Italian boot, and Santa Maria di Leuca is the exact point where two different seas meet.  On the promontory where the Leuca lighthouse is one can see a line with the different colors of water join together.  It is quite a unique experience.
Puglia is very different from the lush, green hills of Cervinara.  As we made our way down from the Benevento region where we live, over the course of the five hour trip we noticed many changes in landscapes and vistas.  Where we have hills, vineyards and fields of green  Puglia has a  harsh soil that manages to produce only prickly pears, olives and figs.  And rocks.  Lots of rocks!  Rocks that end up in countless walls that divide farm from farm and yard from yard.  Rocks that ended up in "trulli", the peculiar traditional structures that are conical in shape and that dot the countryside.  Rocks that are the foundation of almost every home here.
For Italians on vacation however, Puglia is all about the beaches.  There are beaches and swimming opportunities for those who want white sand, for those who want rocky coves, for those who want grottoes to explore, and for those who want cliffs off of which to dive.  We've seen them all and, except for the cliff diving, have enjoyed experiencing all the variety that Puglia has to offer.
But Mike and I have never really been beach people.  I burn way too easily and Mike is not terribly tolerant of heat, so we haven't limited ourselves to seaside relaxing.  As much as we have said that we would not be the crazy tourists traipsing through historic city centers in August, that is exactly what we have become again.
Inspired by our wonderful hosts here we have had visits to a couple of beautiful cities that should be much more of an attraction to people from all over the world.  Lecce is a capital city of this region and it has one of the nicest historical centers I've seen.  The entire area is a treat to the pedestrian sightseer because it is a zone of limited traffic where only residents can bring a car in.  Wandering around both the broad main streets and the tiny back alleys provided us with visual treats and pleasant shopping opportunities.  There were beautiful churches to enjoy although most were closed for the afternoon hours.  When we asked why none of the churches were open, our waiter at our lunch spot chuckled and said that the faithful tend to prefer the beach to the church on hot summer afternoons.
And hot it was!  Even inside the Duomo and down in the crypts of the churches we did get into, there was a tremendous heat that surrounded us and made our touring less than perfect.  We guzzled water by the liter and sweated out as much.  After several hours of walking through this medieval jewel we moved on to Otranto, another lovely spot in Puglia.
Otranto marks the easternmost point of Italy.  It juts out into the Adriatic Sea and is a magnet for swimmers, boaters and sunbathers.  When we got out of our car we were greeted by a blast of heat that was overwhelming.  Mike and his cousin Rita both opted out of a hike up to the castle that dominates the city, but the rest of us decided to give it a try.  We enjoyed the beautiful views along the lungomare, but were more than a little jealous of the folks splashing around in the water.  We trudged through the narrow streets past shops and wine bars until we got up to the Duomo and then the castle.  Enrica and I were the only ones to go through the castle and we were able to enjoy the history of this medieval fortress as well as an exhibit of Andy Warhol and other pop artists.  Quite a contrast in styles, for sure.  By going slowly and keeping hydrated, we were able to check another beautiful town off of our bucket list.
On the way home we decided to go for a swim, so Rita and Angelo took us to an isolated, rocky cove that was sort of a natural swimming pool.  By that late in the afternoon many folks had started to leave but there was still a good crowd of people enjoying the cool water.  A couple of hours there certainly refreshed us and we headed home cool and comfortable.
So, as much as touring around in the summer heat is not what we really want to do anymore, days such as this one are rich and enjoyable and we wouldn't miss them for the world.  We sweated like crazy and dragged our dripping bodies up hills and cobblestone streets.....but it was all worth it.

Puglia is not on the radar of most Americans, but it is truly worthy of a visit.  Keep it in mind when planning your next trip to Italy!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Eat your heart out, Samantha Brown!

Do you ever get Travel Channel envy?  You know, where you are watching some cute young thing prance around visiting gorgeous sites with beautiful views and, even if you have been there, it looks better than anything you have seen?  Where you are watching a movie, like Under the Tuscan Sun, and you are sure that it is impossible to find spots so lovely, just waiting to be discovered?
I often feel that my photos are never truly representative of what we have seen; that they either look way better than what we saw while visiting a place, or that they can never capture the beauty and majesty of what we have seen.  But a couple of weeks ago, while touring around with my sister Mary and her husband Bill, we found some places of such extraordinary beauty and simplicity that we had to pinch ourselves to be sure we were really there.  Some of the photos I am attaching to this piece may give you an idea of what a treat we had.
When Mary and Bill landed at Capodichino Airport after a very long series of flights from the States, we headed immediately down to the Sorrento peninsula.  They wanted to take advantage of every moment they had here in Italy and so we wasted no time in getting them into tourist mode.  We arrived at our hotel, the Ulisse Deluxe Hostel, after an adventurous drive from the airport and were immediately pleased with our accommodations.  For 79E a night, including breakfast, we had lovely rooms with large bathrooms, AC, and free wi-fi. 
Our first meal was memorable in that we prepared it in our bathroom!  Mike and I had stopped at a mozzarella shop on the way to the airport and bought a kilo of the good stuff, some rolls and some tomatoes, that we sliced up and garnished with evoo and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.  Mary and Bill were ready for something to nosh on but were totally unprepared for our little feast.  It really hit the spot.  Our first evening in Sorrento was spent walking through the lovely narrow streets that have been trod upon since the Greeks first came and settled there.  We stopped for photos at the Villa Comunale, a public park with fantastic views of Vesuvius and the beautiful Bay of Naples.  A visit to the cloister of St. Francis and Santa Chiara was restful and restorative.  We finally stopped for drinks on a roof-top garden and then supper sitting in a piazza in the center of town. 
Tuesday morning  found us on a boat to cruise the Amalfi coast.  We were picked up at the hostel and were escorted to our port in Massa Lubrense and were immediately boarded onto a nice boat for our day-long excursion.  We have driven the Amalfi coast highway several times but had never done it from the water.  How lovely it was to be able to relax and enjoy the view without any white-knuckles on a steering wheel!  We stopped in Amalfi for a lunch break where we rented some umbrellas and lettini and enjoyed a nice swim and our sandwiches.  We also had a stop in Positano where we indulged in more sightseeing and some fresh pistachio and peach gelati.  After that it was back to the hotel.
So, where does the travel channel envy come in?  We have seen beautiful coastline views before, we have swum on nicer beaches than we did in Amalfi, we’ve eaten great gelato all over Italy.  Well, of course, it involves food!  And water views!  And great wine! 
La Tavernetta Restaurant was recommended to us by our hotel, and Trip Advisor had a majority of positive reviews, so we decided to give it a try.  We were picked up by their shuttle service at 7:30.  On the website, there is a picture of a modern van with lots of seating, but in reality?  The car that met us was reminiscent of a cab ride we once took in Cairo.  It was none too roomy, no AC, quite rickety and gave me pause.  If this is the ride to the restaurant, what will the place be like?  What will the food be like?
No worries!  I understood the need for the tiny car when we headed down to Marina di Puolo, a seaside section of Massa Lubrense.  There was a series of switchbacks such as I have never seen before.  At one point, even our tiny car was unable to manage the turn, so we just went down that stretch in reverse!  After a 10 minute trip, we arrived at the scene and we knew that every part of the trip was worth it.  There lay in front of us a sheltered little cove with white sandy beaches.  There were several restaurants that fronted up to the lungomare, and la Tavernetta was one of them.  Tables were set up right on the sand by the waterfront, but after some discussion we opted to sit on the terrace where we gazed out at the most beautiful sunset imaginable.  Soft music was playing in the background.  A couple of young boys were frolicking in the water, enjoying the limpid, warm sea at sunset.  It defined perfection.
Toninio, our waiter, was helpful in picking out our choices, which were fresh and delightful.  Whenever  we go to a small, family-run restaurant like this one, we just ask them to bring us what’s good.  And boy, did he ever!  We had sea-food salads with octopus, squid, fried sardines, clams….every kind of seafood imaginable.  We then moved on to a variety of seafood based pastas; every one of them was out of this world.  After desserts, out came the limoncello, homemade of course.  Accompanying the sweet liqueur was a cutting board full of roughly chopped dark chocolate.  This wasn’t a combination that I would have thought of myself, but it was so good!  When my brother-in-law asked to buy a couple of the restaurant’s shot glasses as a souvenir, Toninio presented them to him gladly, at no cost.  He also brought out another round of limoncello and chocolate as we waited for our shuttle home!  We rolled out of there, fat and happy with the choices that we had made.
So often, we watch something on TV and are never able to duplicate what in our mind’s eye must be a perfect spot.  That night, Mary, Bill, Mike and I experienced a spot just this side of heaven, and we will never forget it.  So, when you are in Sorrento, forgo the tourist-area restaurants and search out something out of the way and more interesting.  Make it La Tavernetta for a night you will long remember, and then, as we did, count your blessings that you too were able to have a Travel Channel moment!

Sunday, July 1, 2012


As lovely as it is in Cervinara, we are always happy to have to opportunity to get away to visit new spots or revisit favorites from the past.  This week, with the arrival of my sister and her husband, we were able to get away for a nice time in Sorrento, just south of Napoli.  While I've been to Sorrento many times in the past, it is always a treat to see the beautiful old town, the gorgeous scenery and the lemon trees.
I booked a couple of rooms in the Ulisse Deluxe Hostel, just outside of the old city center.  At our ages, we don't usually consider hostels as an appropriate lodging solution, but I trusted Rick Steves' recommendation and went with it....a very wise decision.  We had lovely rooms (no views, no balconies, but spotlessly clean and comfortable), very large bathrooms, and a good hearty breakfast included for 70 euros per room per night.  Parking was available and we were a very short walk to all the action.
Our first day was spent strolling around this beautiful old town, tasting limoncello samples, gazing across the bay to Vesuvius, and checking out the many vendors of overpriced souvenirs.  We enjoyed some quiet moments in the 12th century St. Francis cloister just off the Villa Communale.  Our first meal consisted of mozzarella di buffala sandwiches made in our bathroom!  Supper was a search for some fresh sardines for the fellows.  After a couple of false starts, the sardine restaurant was located and everyone was happy.
The next day we were picked up at our hotel at 8:30 am and were escorted to a port in Massa Lubrense for a daylong tour along the Amalfi Coast.  We have driven the Amalfi Coast highway a couple of times before, but it's never fun for the driver, so we decided to go for a boat cruise to see the sights from the water.  For 35 Euros we had door to door service, stops in Amalfi and Positano and some lovely views from the boat.  Our stop in Amalfi lasted for 3 hours, time for us to settle in on the beach for a nice long swim, then enjoy the sandwiches we had packed for lunch.  It was very hot, so our rental umbrellas and beach "beds" were most welcome.  For 10 euros we had a changing area, umbrella, two cots, and a shower for as long as we wanted.  The water was warm and limpid, although unfortunately littered with the occasional apple core or cigarette butt.
After a nice time on the beach we moved back onto our boat for the 45 minute trip to Positano.  This is a jewel of a town, with no streets and no cars allowed.  Dropped off at the water front, we walked up and down the alleyways and stairs, window-shopping and looking for gelato shops.  Bill found a great shop where they packed up a nice Styrofoam box for us to enjoy.  Peach and pistachio were an inspired mixture!  We enjoyed a sit-down at a shady spot and made short work of that gelato!
After a couple of hours in Positano, we reboarded the boat and headed back to Massa Lubrense for our trek back to the hotel.  A quick shower to cool off was all that was needed before we headed out again, this time for dinner.  We had made reservations at a little waterfront restaurant and by the time we were back in the hotel lobby the shuttle car was waiting for us.
This little restaurant, called La Tavernetta, was in an idyllic spot.  The shuttle service is necessary because it is near impossible to get to the restaurant without it!  To get from the highland areas of Sorrento down to the waterfront of Marina di Puolo required a hair-raising trip down narrow little streets with very tight switchbacks.  One of the turns is so tight that it was impossible to manoeuvre and we had to go down that stretch in reverse!  The shuttle car was a tiny little Fiat that the four of us could squeeze into, and it certainly wasn't a comfortable ride, but it was a far cry better than trying to get there ourselves!  The ride was worth it, because we shortly found ourselves in a semi-deserted little seaside town, with a couple of restaurants on the beach and a very short board walk.  The food was spectacular, with seafood antipasto, seafood pasta, pear and ricotta desserts, and some very good wine, all for a most reasonable price.  The crowning moment was the limoncello accompanied by a cutting board full of lots of dark chocolate.  The lemon and chocolate combination, while unusual, was surprisingly delicious.  Bill wanted a souvenir of the restaurant and the waiter satisfied him with the gift of two limoncello shot glasses, accompanied by more liqueur and another platter of chocolate!
Our dinner was memorable for so many reasons; the view, the food, the fun chatting with our waiter Tonino, and of course the ride home!  If you find yourselves in Sorrento, you must visit this quaint spot.  It was like something out of a cheesy, romantic movie, complete with pink sunset, little boys splashing in the calm sea, sailboats in the distance, and Italian music playing softly in the background.

So, if we hadn't had the opportunity to share this spot with my sister, we never would have found this quiet corner of very busy Sorrento, and we wouldn't have these wonderful memories to stay with us.  I am looking forward to the possibility of bringing other folks here, and am glad to have been able to share this with Mary and Bill.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

We're Havin' a Heat Wave.....A Tropical Heat Wave...

Well, summer has come to Cervinara, and the rest of the Italian peninsula as well.  We have been hearing about the Scipione Africanus for days now, the hot air mass that comes over from north Africa.  Every day gets a bit warmer, but even if we were closed off in an air conditioned house we would know changes were in the air because of so many other subtle differences in the way life unfolds in Cervinara.
I don't want to come across as obsessed with sounds this year, but that is the first thing that I notice as the temperature rises.  When it's mild and lovely out, the air is filled with the sounds of people in the streets and work being done in yards and gardens.  Even after lunch during the siesta time, chain saws buzz, weed whackers whine, and workers holler at one another to bring more stone for a wall under construction.   Now, in the post-prandial break time, it is deathly quiet.  No dogs bark, no neighbors chat together, no workers try to capitalize on a couple of extra hours of work.  No one braves the mid-day sun, not even mad dogs and Englishmen....and certainly no Italians!
There is a torpor in the atmosphere that effects everyone.  Our morning cappuccino is taken out on the little terrace where we can capture a bit of shade.  Once the sun hits that spot everyone is quick to take his leave.  The ladies who usually scurry out at the sound of the fruit and vegetable truck take their time to saunter up the hill.  No one is in a rush to go back into the hot kitchens.
Attendance at mass is lighter than usual.  So many of the septuagenarians and octogenarians who make the trek every day from up in the Castello neighborhood don't come when it's hot like this.  The 17:00 call to rosary is  still too early in the day for a long walk; the sun still too "massacrante" to be able to handle, so many of the usual suspects will listen to mass on the TV or will say their rosary in the privacy and comfort of their homes.
Around 20:00, things start to get comfortable again.  This is when it's nice to go for a stroll down to the Piazza Elena, sit on a bench and watch life unfold.  It's still light enough to enjoy visiting with friends, but the sun has lost its power and is ceding its strength to the night.  When normally things are quieting down, the pent up energy from the long, hot day is finally released.  Now the sounds are of kids kicking soccer balls in the piazza, the card players yelling about their bad luck and the splash of water as plants get a much needed drink.
Summer in Cervinara is like summer in so many places, yet with its own flavor and charm.  Tonight things probably won't quiet down outside until close to midnight and early risers will be up even earlier to take advantage of the morning chill.  But that's OK.  The 14:00 siesta will be quiet and everyone will have a chance to catch up on much needed rest and relaxation.  That's the rhythm of life in my small Italian town.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

God and Mammon

God and Mammon
There was a dilemma this week in Cervinara, a clash between the earthly and the spiritual, between God and Mammon. 
This past Sunday marked the beginning of the “Festa” season with the feast of Corpus Domini or the Body of Christ.  It includes a procession through the streets of the town with stops at little shrines set up along the way.  Lovely linens are displayed in front of many homes, hanging off the balconies or makeshift clothes lines.  Children precede the procession, carrying baskets of rose petals that are strewn in the street, to be walked on by the priest, those carrying his canopy, and all the faithful. 
At the 11:30 mass, Don Giorgio Carbone spoke at length about the importance of this festa, because it celebrates the most important dogma of the church, that of the transubstantiation that turns the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus.  He announced that the Corpus Domini would be brought out of the church at 7:30 0r 7:45 pm, rather than the usual 6:45-7:00.  Sighs of relief were heard from the congregation.  Why?
This Sunday also marked the first game for Italy in the European Cup competition.  Italian flags have been draped across the streets and hung from every balcony in anticipation.  The game time?  Six pm.  This represented a major dilemma for everyone here.  No one can ignore the Corpus Domini…..but neither could the game be ignored!  What to do?  Don Giorgio and the procession committee, not wanting to miss the game either, decided to delay the start of the procession until after the game was over.  Fortunately, there was no overtime!  The final whistle blew, and the church bells started ringing, calling the faithful to the piazza to await the start of the procession.  Then cannon fire announced the exiting of the Corpus Domini from the church, the prayers started and the procession was on its way.
In a way it was nice having things unroll later than usual.  There was a chill in the air as we wended our way through the narrow streets and alleys.  Then, as the sun started to set behind our hills, the sky turned lovely shades of pink and  violet and finally darkness fell.  We accompanied the Corpus Domini back to the church, secure in our knowledge that just respect had been paid to both traditions, celebrating both the start of the festa season and Italy’s tie with Spain. 
Sometimes it is possible to serve both God and Mammon, I guess!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

New Friends

When I started writing this blog three years ago, it was a way for me to keep in touch with a few friends and family who might be interested in this new life experiment I was undergoing.  Posting it on my Facebook page allowed for those people to get quick updates on what was happening in our little corner of Italy.  It was also a way for me to remember events that might get lost in the shuffle otherwise.  My brain, never known for its grasp on details, has gotten more and more like the "scolapasta" that drains our macaroni every day...full of holes!
As time has gone on, I have come to realize that Italian-Americans are very interested in their roots here in the boot, and that there is no small number of folks who can trace their lineage to Cervinara.  It was a hard life here a hundred years ago, and many families decided to pull up roots and head to the greener pastures of the USA, Canada, South America or Australia.  Many left to find work and eventually came back to their home, but more left and never returned.  I am finding that this blog has some interest for the descendants of those immigrants and it has put me in touch with many people who want to read and learn about the home of their ancestors.
Today, I met some of these folks and, for the first time, I realize that maybe my writings have some value besides some simple updates. 
We were upstairs doing some chores this morning when we heard a loud knocking on our metal "portone", the big gate that closes our compound off from the street.  There was Virginia Raviele, a neighbor from around the corner, obviously somehow related to us but certainly not a close relative.  She had received a phone call from a hotel in Sorrento where one of my blog followers was staying.  They were leaving Sorrento today and planned to come up to Cervinara to look around.  They new my name, had the hotel concierge look in the phone book to find us and Virginia was as close as they could get.
Thank goodness for GPS, because we aren't easy to find, but around 11 am, there they were!  JoAnn, Phil, Donny and Cheryl....whom I had been in touch with via email but had never met.  Phil's dad left Cervinara with his parents in 1918 when he was seven years old.  From that time until this, none of the family had ever been back!  Almost 100 years had passed since his dad, who passed away three years ago at the age of 98, had walked these streets!
We were thrilled to meet them.  Mike took them down to the cemetery (closed, unfortunately) to look around for familiar names, then up the mountain to the chestnut groves and the Mafariello Springs.  I stayed behind and whipped up some lunch  that we enjoyed under the arches of our courtyard.  Word spread very quickly throughout the neighborhood that new folks had arrived.  Pasqualino, one of our neighbors, stopped by with two bottles of very tasty wine.  Cousin Antonietta came over to meet our new friends.  We showed her the documents that Phil had brought, including birth certificates and marriage certificates of his grandparents and his father and mother.  She didn't know the names but said she would get her circle of friends to start checking around to try to find any distant cousins.  Bertuccio stopped by to share a glass of beer as he took a break from clearing the field next door. 
At church this evening, everyone was abuzz, wanting to know who had come and what they thought of the town.  I was so pleased to have been able to show these lovely folks even a bit of the charm of this town, and all the ladies were happy to know that their neighborhood had "passed inspection". 
Phil and the rest of the group left after lunch, on their way north for more sightseeing and visiting.  But I think that their day in Cervinara will be a memorable one.  I know it will be for Mike and me.  We have already started talking about next year when I hope that the gang will have a little more time to explore and enjoy this place we love so much. 
So now, I feel that my little blog has done something besides keep our friends updated on our lives here.  I feel that perhaps it has helped to change some lives, and that makes me very happy. 
Phil, JoAnn, Donny and Cheryl....Thanks for a great day!  Happy travels!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Sounds of Cervinara

In Il Postino, one of my all-time favorite films, Mario Ruopolo, the main character played by the late Massimo Troisi, is a mailman for Pablo Neruda, the Chilean poet who was living in exile on a small island off the coast of Naples.  Mario, an uneducated yet sensitive soul, is befriended by Neruda, and this friendship awakens Mario's need to express himself both poetically and metaphorically.  When trying to explain what his island home means to him, Mario takes Neruda's tape recorder out to record the sounds of his island; the waves crashing on the rocks, the wind blowing through the shrubs...
This scene came to mind yesterday morning, our first here in Cervinara, as I stood on the balcony, closed my eyes and listened.  Birds were chirping in the nearby trees, singing a welcoming good morning call.  There was a soft breeze that rustled through the leaves of the chestnut trees.  The gentle ringing of the bells on the herd of goats coming off the mountain blended with the din of a chain saw.  These are the sounds of Cervinara.
Later in the day as we wandered through the market, there was the call of the vendors pointing out their produce or their special sales.  There was the clucking of the chickens near the stand of the bird vendor.  There was the chatter of the ladies as they dickered over prices and gossiped among themselves.  These are the sounds of Cervinara.
The church bells that awaken the baker's dogs at 6 am and set them to howling, the whine of the weed whackers as they clear the vacant lot next door, the cheerful greetings as the bar regulars appear for their morning shot of espresso, the intonation of the faithful as they say their daily Ave Marias.  These are the sounds of Cervinara.
If I could record for you the way Mario Ruopolo did for Pablo Neruda, these are the sounds that would be saved.  If I could share with you the peace that comes with these routine noises, both pleasant and annoying, you would know why I keep coming back to this nondescript corner of Italy. If you could join me on my balcony early in the morning, feel the breeze on your face and hear the sounds of my town coming to life, you would understand  what pulls me back here, year after year.  Until then, my friends, I hope that you all have sounds in your lives that give you that same peace and pleasure, wherever you may be.