Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I hate earworms.  You know, the little snippets of music that replay themselves constantly in your brain, that you wake up humming and go to sleep listening to in the dark?  Earworms are the worst.  For the last couple of days I have been living with "Should I stay or should I go".  It's a forgettable song brought to mind only because of an ad campaign this year.  I don't remember what product or service was being hawked, but the tagline was this lyric.  So why is it my constant companion?

This summer, the sun never left.  For over two months there was not a drop of rain, and nary a cloud in the sky.  Temperatures routinely went into triple digits for days on end and there was no one in the streets or at the market.  Cervinara, and all of Europe for that matter, was stuck in a horrible heat wave.  I know this only second hand of course, because we just got here a couple of weeks ago.  We've enjoyed mostly cool and comfortable weather, thank goodness.  If we had had to suffer through what the local residents did, I don't know that we would have stayed.

However, the sun has become a little bit touchy lately.  It comes, it goes, it rains, it clears up, it's pleasant, it pours.  I think the sun has been listening to the same earworm as I have!  In fact, our house has a microclimate all its own.  I took two pictures this morning, not 10 seconds apart.  In one I was facing north, then I turned around 180 degrees and took another shot.  Here's what it's like in Cervinara today:
This was the sky to the north. 
This was the view to the south. 

I did three loads of laundry this morning, thinking all would be well and I would take advantage of a nice breeze and sunny skies.  By the time I was ready to schlep them all upstairs to the line, it was clear that I could not trust Mr. Sun and I resorted to using my indoor racks to get the drying process started.  Who knows how long it will take, but it's better than trying to outguess the weather gods in this game of "Should I stay or should I go?"  Pazienza!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Nature's Surprises

Today we took advantage of an absolutely gorgeous day to take a walk up into the hills.  This is always one of my favorite ways to spend a couple of hours in Cervinara and today's excursion was no exception.
The rocky cliffs provide an awesome entrance to the hill region and we certainly don't try to venture up there, but it's always an impressive sight that gives me pause. 
We started up at the Mafariello Park area.  Driving through winding roads, the vegetation changes from chestnut and walnut trees to pine trees and low shrubs.  It's very reminiscent of driving into Maine, with the sweet smell of the pine trees redolent in the air.  We always bring jugs up to Mafariello to bring home some of the icy, spring water that is usually in abundant supply.  Today however, things were different.  It must be due to the very hot and dry weather that everyone here suffered through this summer, but the pipe that brings the spring water to the surface brought just a dribble.  Usually water comes pouring out at a couple of liters a second.  I've never seen it with such a pitiful trickle, and I've been coming here since 1973.  But we filled one jug and enjoyed splashing our faces and drinking from the pipe regardless.

The next stop was to take Maria Elena and Josh to the family property where we have part of a mountain with chestnut groves on it.  Again, things looked good, but dry.  Even the notorious spot that always has a pool of muddy water in it (notorious because we got our car stuck there in 2010 and had to call in the troops to pull us out) was just a bit mucky rather than full of water. 

As we stepped out of our car, our noses were met with the unmistakable scent of sheep poop.  Before we heard the bells of the herd, we smelled their contributions to the ecosystem....and it was all over the place!  I was anxious to see those beauties and so we headed down another path to find their grazing area.
They were so sweet and cute, I had to take some pictures.  The shepherd over in the background waved and must have thought that I was one crazy city lady, but it reminded me so much of my time in Greece where we were able to roam around with the sheep and goats, before they got served to us for lunch!
These are moments that make every day enjoyable.  They may seem silly to some, but I find such joy roaming in the hills, dodging the sheep poop, admiring the majesty of our hills and looking forward to tasting our chestnuts.  If we keep our eyes and minds open, we can all find beauty in Nature's gifts. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Adventures in Training

One of our favorite things about spending time in Italy is being able to take friends and family around to spots we love, or to use them as an excuse to visit new sites.  Today, I was lucky enough to take daughter Maria Elena and her hubby Josh out to Herculaneum, a site very similar to Pompeii, but smaller and more manageable.  Maria had been there about 15 years ago, but I had never been to these excavations, always opting for the more well known Pompeii.  Today I was thrilled with what I saw and don't think Pompeii will be on my radar in the future!

As always, the best way to get into Naples is on our little train.  Our ticket agent was on the job and suggested we buy a TIC (Ticket Integrato Campania).  Turns out for under 5E per person we could get from Cervinara to Naples and from Naples to Herculaneum on one ticket.  What a deal!  Of course our train was 15 minutes late and quite crowded, but we were able to find seats right next to the bathroom....fun.  Seats on our old little train our pretty tight, and not meant for anyone over 4'10 or 80 pounds, both benchmarks I passed at about six years of age...but I digress.

We arrived at Napoli Centrale and went immediately down to the lower level to pick up the Circumvesuviano train that takes you out past Herculaneum, Pompeii, and all the way to Sorrento.  The line at the ticket window was very long but we scooted right through the gate with our prepaid ticket.  Felt very smug!  The platform was teeming with people, both natives and tourists alike and we were shocked when our train arrived already filled to overflowing.  But we jammed in and managed to find a spot where we could grab onto a handhold.  Seriously, I haven't been this close to strange men in many a moon!  No secrets between us, believe you me!  But 15 minutes later and we were set free to start our explorations. 

A pleasant 10 minute walk down Via IV Novembre (with a quick stop for a sfogliatella!) and we were in line at the scavi di Ercolano.  This is an amazing site, much more manageable than Pompeii.  It doesn't extend for miles, but it gives the visitor every bit of what Pompeii offers, minus the arenas.  There are the taverns, luxurious homes, brothels, and tragic remains of the victims of Vesuvius' wrath.  This is all easily accessible in a visit of 2 hours or so.  It's now my place of choice for Roman excavations!

On our return trip, again the craziness of southern Italy and its train system came to the surface.  First, as I was putting my return ticket into the slot and waiting for the gates to open, I was pushed from behind by a group of three teenage boys.  They successfully managed to push me and the three of them through the gates on my one ticket!  They were so proud of their ability to game the system that I had to chuckle, but I did want to give them a swift kick in the behind too!

Then, we climb up three flights of stairs to get to the binario where the train to Naples was scheduled to leave in 15 minutes.  An announcement comes on, and suddenly there's movement among all those waiting on the platform.  People are leaping over the fence separating the platform from the rails, jumping onto the tracks and running across three sets of tracks to get to binario 3.  That announcement that we missed had just said that there was a change in program and the train would no longer leave from binario 1 but would now leave from binario 3.  So....do we schlep down three flights of stairs, do the underground tunnel to cross under the tracks and then schlep up three more flights to get to the correct binario....or do we jump the tracks like everyone else?  We jump the tracks, of course!

Somehow I manage to squeeze myself through the fence, jump down onto the tracks, stumble across the gravel and rails, and then pull myself up onto the platform, just in time to get on the train.  I must say, this was not one of my finer moments of grace and coordination, but thanks to Maria and Josh I made it in one piece and we were all on our way back to Cervinara, via Naples. 

The rest of the trip was quite uneventful and we were even lucky enough to find a train with air conditioning for the last leg of our trip, but I don't think any of us will forget our laughing in the face of danger and becoming railroad scofflaws!  It's all in a day's life here in southern Italy!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Broken Bones and Broken Hearts

We're baaaack!

After a very prolonged absence, we have finally made it back to our little home in the hills.  It's been so nice to see everyone, and I'm in my usual spot at the bar.  The guys here are so nice and immediately cleaned off a table in the back room for me to set up my computer station.  I'll be depending on them more than usual this year because we're only here for five weeks and it's not really worth it to take out an internet service contract for a month.  My access will be limited to bar time unless we're off to visit with family that have Wi-Fi connections.  I guess we're really roughing it this year!

As in years past, our first activities have involved getting the old place inhabitable again.  While not as bad as last year's mold disaster, this year has seemed to take a lot out of us.  We filled two wheelbarrows with dirt, weeds, sand, and fallen stucco chunks from the courtyard yesterday.  It is amazing this house is still standing with the amount of building material we cart away every year! 

After that clean up we started tackling the inside of the house.  Believe me, it was a yeoman's job!  Cobwebbing the ceilings, wiping a year's worth of grit off of every piece of furniture, sweeping up more grit and sand from every floor....by the fourth hour, I was really hurting.  I'm not one to shy away from tough jobs, and I try not to be a complainer, but by yesterday evening I felt that every bone in my body had been beaten or broken.  The Advil helped, but I was out of commission until well into the evening. Add to that the two runs to the grocery store to restock our larder, and a visit to the hardware store to make some extra keys for our new portone lock and I was ready to crash by 9:00.  I'm getting too old for this!

Today, was two loads of laundry, swabbing out the bathrooms, washing floors and hosing down the courtyard and our beautiful antique stone stairs.  And that is when I saw the broken hearts. 

For years, we have enjoyed a beautiful plant called "cuore del professore" or "teacher's heart".  My husband has no memories of Cervinara without these plants strategically placed in pots by our entry way. Its green foliage is speckled with white spots, the leaves are vaguely heart shaped and lovely to see.  But it is this plant's strength in adversity that gives it its name, I am sure.   They live through bitter cold and dry spells, through neglect and abuse, just the way a teacher's heart survives rejection, abuse and neglect.  We could always count on these plants welcoming us home.  But apparently, this year's record breaking heat and drought proved too much for the hearts.  Every pot we had was filled with desiccated, brown leaves with nary a green sprout to give us hope that something might have survived.  We have usually been able to count on our courtyard families to water things when we are gone, but I'm afraid that the years have taken their toll on our friends and their time here has been very limited to non-existent.  I'm not sure if we will see them at all this year, and that also breaks my heart.

The years catch up to us all, I guess.  I'm not willing to give up the ghost just yet, but I do know that I'm reaching a point where things just get harder and take longer than they used to.  Moderation and 'hired help' are the watch words from now on.  As for our cuore del professore....I have found a couple of survivors in the courtyard garden.  After the weeds were cleared away a single plant appeared.  It seems to be in pretty good health and maybe I'll be able to transplant some cuttings to those empty pots.  Keeping fingers crossed that next year we'll have those hearts back by our door, greeting all who come our way. 

Here is a photo of our lovely plants in happier times!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Cheap eats!

We all know that it's pretty hard to get a bad meal in Italy.  At highway rest areas, at little sidewalk stands, at food trucks....they all serve up some pretty decent food at pretty decent prices.  Lately we've had a few opportunities to check out some more of the local (and nearby) dining opportunities and I must say, we haven't been disappointed.
First begin with dessert.  That's always been my philosophy....you may have a heart attack before you get to the best part of the meal so let's start with that!  In Cervinara there are several gelaterias but in my humble opinion you can't beat Micione, the ice cream stand that is right by the Villa Communale.  It's made fresh every day, and in summer twice a day!  You know the ingredients because you can see the detritus waiting to be picked up in the trash.   Is gelato di fragola (strawberry) on the menu? Then it's probably late spring and you will see empty strawberry flats in the trash pile.  Mid summer finds lots of melon, lemon and cherry flavors.  Of course there's always the season-less flavors of hazelnut, coffee, chocolate and Nutella.  Can't go wrong there!  And seriously, I have eaten gelato all over the peninsula and I think we in Cervinara have some of the best there is.  And I'm not the only one who feels this way.  We have taken friends and family here for delicious cones and cups and invariably they come away fat and happy with their choices!  Plus a "small" cone which is huge by American standards is only 2 euros.  How can you go wrong?

I'm not a huge fan of other desserts in Italy.  They tend to be very dense and heavy on pastry cream or soaked in rum.  Not that I turn them down....it's just that I don't think they're worth the calories for the most part.  But up in Castello we have the Bar and Pasticceria Castello, a tiny hole in the wall spot with some excellent sweets.  My favorites are the mignons, mini versions of bigger pastries.  It's nice to have the small ones because you can have several different tastes for the price of one!  They also make gelato, but I'm really partial to Micione so I don't indulge there.  I do like their little mini pre-made cones that are coated in chocolate.  They are just enough for a sweet finish to a meal without going overboard.  Their fancy cakes are works of art as well; whether for a party or a wedding, they are as beautiful as they are tasty.

Now on to the main courses!  We recently celebrated our 43 anniversary and were trying to decide where to go for a nice lunch.  We decided on a restaurant called Antana in neighboring Montesarchio.  This place had been recommended by friends and we had an advertising card that claimed they were open for lunch with ample parking.  After finding our way onto a street that was no wider than our car we discovered that neither of these was true!  I went in to a darkened room and was told that they weren't open for lunch, that the advertisement I had was out of date.  If we had been a party of six or so they would have opened for us and put together a meal, but for just two it wasn't worth their effort, so we moved on.
There was a new restaurant that had opened last year on the main highway that leads to Cervinara.  It's called KM237 and we decided to give that a go.  This was an inspired choice.  We were able to have some tasty Neapolitan tempura style veggies, and two plates of very good pasta for a most reasonable 23 euros.  My orecchiette with eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes was excellent, as with dh's fusilli with sausage.  We also discovered that they have weekly special events such as BBQ in the garden, karaoke nights and special happy hour events.  The d├ęcor is lovely and the air conditioning worked perfectly!  That's no small feat here in Italy, where the AC is usually the equivalent of two guys blowing on an ice cube!  We know we'll be back for more good meals in the future.

Today we decided to head up towards Benevento to a mall where we have shopped in the past.  We needed to get out of the house and just have a walk around but somewhere not in the sun.  We also wanted to do another lunch out.  So, we did a bit of shopping and then headed over to the Buonvento Mall Food Court.  This is not your usual mall food court, by any means.  There is a pizza place with wood burning oven that will get you a custom made pizza in 5-10 minutes for 5 euros.  But we decided to go with something more nutritious, so we made our way through the regular dinner line. 
We picked up our trays along with silverware and bread...very good bread and as much as we wanted.  Then we picked our meals.  Mike had the baccala with clams and mussels along with roasted potatoes and zucchini.  I had a farro salad (farro with diced carrots, zucchini and white beans), steamed escarole and pepperoni impanate (roasted peppers with bread crumbs).  OMG, it was so good.  And the bill?  Grand total of 19 euros, including a big bottle of water.  We've eaten here before and never been disappointed, and I'm sure we'll be back.  It's not worth it to cook when you can have healthy options like that at the food court.

Image result for buonvento centro commerciale
There are so many places to get a good meal in a town like Cervinara, whether you are in the mood for an Aperol Spritz and some finger foods for happy hour or want an elegant dinner in a sophisticated ambiance.  We haven't been to all of them...far from it.  But it's nice to know that there's always going to be a spot for a nice meal at reasonable prices when it's too hot to cook.  Buon appetito!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Sounds of Silence

It was getting on towards midnight when I closed my eyes just for a moment as the game went into penalty kicks, knowing that when we made the winning goal the boys in the bar would wake up the entire neighborhood with their air horns, shouts of joy, and their careening through the streets with flags flying proudly from their antennas.  Sadly, I woke up to silence two hours later only to learn that Germany had beaten Italy in the UEFA cup quarter final game.  Overtime, PKs, a loss.  Alas, Italy has a dismal record when it comes to important games decided by PKs.  The TV was still on with commentators dissecting the game, saying how our boys had played nobly, how they went further than anyone thought they would, how they had made us proud.
And boys they are.  With the exception of Buffon, who at almost 40 could be the father of many of these young men, this was a very young team.  In the aftermath of the game, during an interview one of the players broke down in tears, because of the loss of course, but also because he was convinced that these boys would not be remembered because they didn't win, that they would be a forgotten footnote in the history of this sport.  I think most of us would disagree, that these boys will hold a place in the hearts of Italy for many years to come.

The hearts of Italy are hurting for more than just the loss of this game.  This was the day when she lost nine of her citizens, nine hard-working, loving men and women who were brutally killed because they were unable to cite quotations from the Koran.  Parents of young children, a husband and wife, a young woman pregnant with her first child.....all victims of irrational hatred.  People from all over Italy, most involved in the textile industry, in Bangladesh either on business trips or living there permanently, people who had gathered in a restaurant for a celebratory dinner, anxiously awaiting their return home.  The sadness here, the anger, the sense of loss are palpable.
 The national soccer team will be returning from France in defeat.  Nine Italian citizens will be returning from Bangladesh in coffins.  We are sad at the outcome of the game.  We are devastated at the senseless loss of life. There are still flags flying, but they are at half mast. And so, there is silence here today.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Boys in the Bar

We knew last year that there would be big changes in our neighborhood with the departure of our local barista Adriana.  She was giving up the bar in October and when we left we weren't sure what we would find upon our return.  Well, we needn't have worried.  Our local watering hole is back up and running and by all appearances is doing great! 

A group of young men have gotten together and have made this spot the place to be for youngsters and old folks alike.  They painted, cleaned and spruced things up, making for a welcoming and friendly atmosphere.  Even the bathroom, which I never dared enter, has been redone and is clean and pleasant.  There are new high top stools and tables, a flat screen TV that broadcasts sports from morning to night, a selection of newspapers and, of course, bottles and bottles of Peroni beer! 

For me, the best part is the free Wi-Fi.  How nice it is to come in and sit down at a comfortable table, buy a Coke Zero for 1E and then spend an hour or so catching up on all the news and putting some thoughts together for family and friends back home.  Later in the evening, the old guys gather for a game of cards, the local kids come in for bags of chips or ice creams, and the millennials visit with each other all while checking their iPhones. 

It's a different atmosphere from what it used to be.  There's definitely a younger vibe to this spot now, and that's all to the good.  Whenever I despair that Ioffredo  is aging and we're losing too many people, I realize that there's a whole new generation of young folks who are keeping the neighborhood vital and lively.  And for those who are coming to visit....rest easy.  There's a friendly spot where you can get a drink and check on the Red Sox, all in one place.