Friday, July 31, 2015

Some Thoughts

Only in Italy....
As we spend more and more time here I find myself saying "only in Italy" more and more frequently. Only in Italy would they put a traffic signal in front of a boulder that had fallen off a cliff and into the road below, rather than remove the boulder. Only in Italy would there be a town named Masseria di Pidocchio (Plantation of the Louse). And only in Italy would we have received the warm reception we did when we decided to drop in on some long lost cousins. Let me tell you the story. 
We are in Puglia, staying with my husband's cousin, her husband, and one other married couple. It's been real hot here but we decided to go off on a roadtrip along the Ionian coast. We had driven an hour or so when Angelo decides we should drop in on his cousin Issa, whom he hadn't seen in several years. It was 10:30 am. He calls and is told immediately that we should come by. We're only a few minutes away! It'll be great to see you! Pierino will meet you at the church piazza to show you the way to the house!
Fast forward 90 minutes and we finally see Pierino on his bike. After several stops, a few missed turns, and about a dozen phone calls, we are there! Pierino tells us to follow him, which we do, through a series of one way roads. Of course we are going the wrong way up every one of them. No worries. We're in Italy! We get to Issa's house right at lunch time. If I were Issa I wouldn't be happy!
What do we find there? A plumber working on a broken toilet in the courtyard. Two dogs barking manically at the plumber. A houseful of seven people in a space that could comfortably fit maximum four people. A dog throwing up because of his constant barking at the plumber. And an incredibly warm welcome from all the cousins. 
"It's lunchtime. Of course you'll stay for a bite to eat with us."  And so of course we do. 
The bite consists of ziti with zucchini topped with ricotta salata, eggplant parm, salad, mozzarella, fresh bread, a variety of meats and cheeses, melon, ice cream, coffee, shots of homemade cherry liqueur. Only in Italy!
There were twelve of us sitting around a couple of tables cobbled together to accommodate us. The dogs barked, the plumber finished his job, the dog threw up again, and we all had a lovely time. I'm not sure how they did it, and I'm not sure that their inner selves weren't cursing us out, but I know that only in Italy would we have been treated so hospitably in such bad circumstances. It's always fun to have these moments and be on the receiving end of such graciousness. But it's also fun to be on the giving end of it, and being able to reciprocate such kindnesses. Every year we also get that phone call announcing someone's imminent arrival at our doorstep, just in time for lunch. Our response? Come on in! Sit down and relax! Have some of whatever's on the menu! Only in Italy!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

 It was just about a year ago that I wrote a blog post bemoaning the summer that wasn't. I whined about still sleeping in flannel and the rain that came almost every day. Beach operators were wringing their hands in desperation over rainy weekends when no one headed to the lidos. It wasn't until September that some real heat started to show up. 
Well, what a difference a year makes! We have been in the throes of the longest and most intense heatwave in 70 years. Don't get me wrong. You never make it through an Italian summer without lots of days in the 90s. It's just a fact of life. But we are into week two with temperatures approaching 100+ all over the peninsula. Just about every major city has had "bollino rosso" alerts for temperatures over 100 and high humidity. Even the diehard old folks who are convinced that a bit of cool air from an air conditioner will kill them are beginning to admit that it's a "little warm". 
We here in Cervinara are luckier than most. Even when it's beastly hot during the day, by 7 pm the sun has lost its potency and a nice breeze kicks in. The mountain air rarely gets too humid and, if we are content to just lie around like a bunch of beached sea lions, we manage to get through the day. 
We have given up on any excursions that might take us past 11 am. The other day we went to Bricco Casa in search of some light bulbs. The doors were flung wide open and there wasn't a hint of an air conditioner anywhere. We headed over to the Liz Gallery thinking our little shopping center would be cooler. It was at first, but then again Dante's Inferno would have felt like a relief. As we started to wander around we realized again that, as our good friend Brian once said, "Italian air conditioning is like two guys in a corner blowing on a bowl of ice cubes". Yup. That's just about how cool it was at the mall. 
So, now we're getting ready to head into the belly of the beast. We'll be leaving in a few days for Puglia, the lowest point on the heel of the boot. We are hoping for cool sea breezes but are expecting some pretty hot weather there too. We know it won't be perfect and we will miss the cooler mountain evenings, but cabin fever is taking its toll. We will at least be with friends with whom we can commiserate and with any luck we'll find a quiet swimming spot where we can chill out. 
We know that eventually this heat wave will pass. Until then, let it be known that not even mad dogs and Englishmen are going anywhere in the noon day sun!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Non Solo Rock

We knew it was coming. All month we have seen signs around town that this annual music festival was in the works. Last week our neighbor dropped off an invitation to some of the affiliated programs. And last week, mowing and clearing of the vacant lot down the street was begun. 
But now, the evidence is clear. We awoke this morning to the unmistakable sound of construction...metal tubes and reinforcements being put together, hammering of joints and many voices giving instructions to the workers. Even the portapotty is in place. All that is left is for the electricians to complete the installation of miles of cable and we will be ready. For what???
For "Non Solo Rock", a musical weekend that guarantees big crowds and lots of activity in our quiet neighborhood. It also guarantees sleepless nights and cranky mornings for those of us in Ioffredo. 
Don't get me wrong. In theory I am all in favor of anything that can help our neighborhood survive. After the devastating flood of 1999, the heart of Ioffredo was lost. So many homes destroyed and lives lost. Up the hill in Castello, there has been a renaissance with the opening of a great pastry shop, a chocolate and ice cream maker, and even an artisanal beer maker. That little neighborhood is hopping!
Down the hill, the Ferrari section keeps going, unchanged. Anchored by the lovely Piazza Elena and the Palazzo Marchesale, Ferrari thrives. 
It is in the middle, between these two neighborhoods, where Ioffredo is struggling. An aging population and a lack of a common gathering area are making our home almost into a ghost town. So the thought of hundreds of people pouring into Ioffredo fills me with pride. 
However, tomorrow night when the music starts around 10 and keeps going until 2 am Saturday morning, with the same schedule for Saturday into Sunday, well let's just say that I won't be all that happy. I'm not a night owl and I really need my sleep. That obviously won't happen this weekend!  
The stage is basically in our backyard. The amps will blast their music our way and sleep will escape us. We will toss and turn and curse this whole festival. And then when it's over, and people are talking about how many young people discovered our lovely town and our perfect little neighborhood, I will forget our sleepless nights and will celebrate the organizers who every year work so hard to pull this great event together. It is their dedication to Ioffredo that pushes them to undertake this huge project. I thank them and promise to try to endure these "notti bianche" with good humor. Let the music begin!!

Friday, July 3, 2015

With New Eyes

With New Eyes
We’ve been back in Cervinara for a couple of weeks and by now I would usually have posted a blog or two about my impressions upon returning; the weather, the menus, the changes in our little neighborhood.  But this year has been different in that we came over with our daughter, her husband, and our two year old grandson, James.  Then, their friends arrived with their four (count ‘em!) four children, aged 10, 5, 3, and 8 months.  We have had quite the crew!
It’s chaotic, of course.  Kids running back and forth, splashing in our little pool, discovering the deliciousness of cherries picked right off the tree, apricots all sweet and juicy, and watermelon at the ready, and experiencing the freedom that comes with having our own little cortile where they can do crafts, explore and just kick the soccer ball around.  It’s a joy to have a houseful of happy kids, even if our floors may never recover!
But the best part of having these little guests is how we get to revisit old spots and do old activities yet see these things through new eyes.  Our James is enthralled with every new discovery.  A bag of old keys found in the storeroom has provided hours of playtime for our little fellow.  The little plastic wheel barrow and the springy hobby horse, both of which have been here for over 40 years, are sources of delight.  Getting our vegetables from the local vendor who passes by in his truck is a thrill for this guy, as it is for all the children.  They come back from the truck with kilos of fruit, which never lasts very long!
We have taken them to the bakery where they’ve peered into the wood burning ovens and have seen the giant paddles the baker uses to pull the warm loaves from their heat.  We have taken them up to the Mafariello springs where we have grilled burgers and let the kids run through the pine groves and taste the cold, sweet water that is there for the asking.  “Mountain water” has become James’ go-to drink.  We have taken them down to the Villa Communale where there is a merry-go-round, swings and a little play castle.  First we go to Micione for gelato (James always wants fragola (strawberry)), then it’s off to the play area where friendships are made and the gelato sugar rush is run off. 
  When he goes out on the balcony first thing in the morning on his way to the potty, he always looks up and says “Beautiful mountain!” He loves to run down the covered alley way into the back garden, where there is a nice little echo when he yells.  What fun all the kids had at the market, where they were able to see the chicks and ducks, watch the fish being weighed and do a bit of shopping.  Ten year old Julie was so thrilled to have completed her own purchase for a cute little hoody.
We’ve had a huge family dinner up at the Giardino pizzeria around the corner.  It’s so nice to know that even as 8 month old Sammy screeches because of his teething issues, and James and 3 year old Ava want to run around under the trees, no one is judging.  It’s a family place, the food is good, the owners bring out a free Nutella pizza for dessert for the table…it’s not a scene we would readily find back in the States.
I asked James the other day what he liked most about Italy.  Ava said the gelato.  Amelie said the cherries.  James said “Olives”.  Indeed, our olives here are unlike any we can find in the states and we relish them as long as we can.  The fresh ricotta was another source of enjoyment; bought still warm from the cheese vendor’s trunk, it was eaten fresh from the bowl, cooked into crepes with eggs, and mixed with honey and lemon to be served next to grilled peaches.  This latter treat, laced with some Strega, was saved for the adults.

 I have waxed poetic here about the day to day activities that are part of our lives here in Cervinara.  So routine are they that I have forgotten how special they can be.  By having this household of kids, and being able to show them how different things can be, we have all had our eyes opened again to the excitement and beauty of the new.  Our little friends are gone for a few days now, which is why I finally have the time to put these words together.  They are enjoying the sun and sea of Sorrento and Ischia.  They’ll be back for a few days and then are heading back home, to normal lives of air conditioning, TV, and swimming lessons.  I hope that they will remember the freedom they enjoyed here, the joys of kicking a soccer ball around the piazza, drinking from the fountain down in piazza Elena, and slurping up a gelato at the Villa.  I hope that they will remember that there is more than one way to live one’s life and that the world is full of new and wonderful things.  I hope that their time in Cervinara will enrich them for years to come.