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AND TO THINK I THOUGHT A COLONIAL BUILT IN THE 1700’S WAS HISTORICAL!!

Raphael offered to take us to see some ancient ruins IF we could be up and ready by 8:30am on Thursday morning.  Ugh, the thought of being showered and out of the apartment by then was distasteful BUT an opportunity to see something with Raphael, would certainly be interesting.  It was wonderful for us to see Italy through the eyes of an Italian who spoke English.  We knew how lucky we were to find not one, or two but three locals to  whom we could turn to when only English would do and not my fragmented Italian.

So  armed with cups of strong Italian coffee, we took off for parts unknown.  Peter let me sit in the front which was a bonus and a tribulation.  I got to listen to and speak to Raphael easier than if I sat in the back BUT as we careened down the mountain’s curved roads and through some very narrow little villages and more mountain roads, I clung to the armrest on the door of his little Fiat.

We arrived to a time and place that up till now only existed in ancient history books.  It was a beautiful sunny morning and this national landmark was open to all at any time.  No parking lots, no tickets to buy, no lines to stand in – just history in its purest form!

Altilia was an ancient Samnite town in south central Italy.  This area was heavily invaded and within the walls of this town, you can see influence from Romans and Greeks as well.  Although the ruins are not outstanding, it was the most serene place to be on sunny late spring morning.

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Look closely and you can see the image of a bird’s head and beak.

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One of my favorite photos showing the aqueduct system running through the foundations of the houses. Hot water ran under the stone homes to heat them in the winter.

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Some pillars are still standing from one of the two temples in Altilia. Temples to Jupiter and Apollo had been erected there.

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The remains of the town’s amphitheater remain fairly intact.

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Imagine these walls, built so long ago that the town itself was captured by the Romans in 293 BC

I learned so much about Sepino (Altilia formerly) from Raphael – I have to repeat how lucky we were to have his company and expertise guiding us through these ancient ruins.  He is a very intellectual man, a former professor and a student of sociology and philosophy.

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Herb Garden Chicken

I mentioned yesterday that my neighbor has invited me to raid his herb garden anytime I want.  Afraid I might not venture into his backyard and help myself, he showed up at my front door two days ago with three ziploc bags: Fresh oregano, fresh thyme and fresh rosemary.  He freely admits he’s not a cook; the herbs in his garden are there to be available  to his son (who is a great cook), when he visits.  I think because he doesn’t cook, he didn’t realize that I could never use up all these herbs while they’re still fresh – I think they’re destined for the freezer in another day or so.

Ah hah!  I found two recipes online that would utilize all three, at least I could make a dent in my bounty.  Last night I made ROSEMARY BREAD and while it was cooling, I prepped some chicken quarters for today’s recipe;  LEMON and OREGANO CHICKEN.  It uses thyme, oregano and basil.  We had it for dinner tonight and Peter was amazed at how delicious marinated chicken tastes and he prefers chicken breasts not the dark meat quarters.  It’s really easy!

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photo by David Prince

LEMON and OREGANO CHICKEN

1 (3 1/2 -4lb) whole chicken cut up or the equivalent weight in breasts, legs, thighs

Fresh basil torn into pieces

2 garlic cloves minced

1 lemon / zest and juice

1/4 cup of fresh oregano

2 TBS fresh thyme

3 TBS balsamic vinegar

Kosher salt and ground pepper

1 pinch of red pepper flakes

1/4 cup olive oil

Whisk olive oil, vinegar, lemon zest and juice, oregano, thyme, basil, garlic and crushed pepper.  Put the mixture in a large ziploc bag and add the chicken.  Let it marinade 1-2 hours or overnight.  I opted for overnight which also means all the next day.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper and grill breast side down (or skin side) on medium high with lid closed for 10–15 minutes and charred.  Flip over and cook till the chicken registers an internal temperature of 160º.  Let rest 10 minutes.

This recipe is a variation of Martha Stewart’s Grilled Chicken with Lemon and Oregano

PENNE with HEIRLOOM TOMATOES, BASIL, GREEN BEANS and FETA

I haven’t posted a recipe in quite a while, but tonight’s dinner was so damn good, I really want to share it with you.  It was an easy dish to prepare, with a little earlier in the day prep.

Before I post the recipe I just have to extoll the virtues of using fresh ingredients;  Spending some summer time at the Jersey Shore affords me with an unbelievable assortment and supply of fresh vegetables and herbs.  I don’t have a garden in my yard because I’m not here consistently to keep it watered and weeded.  NO PROBLEM!  I have my own basil plants and peppermint and my neighbor who is growing oregano, thyme and rosemary has told me to help myself any time, any day.  And for the vegetables themselves, I love going to Matt’s Farm Stand.  We have been feasting on the corn so sweet, it’s like sugar on a stick, tomatoes so sweet and juicy that adding basil, is like gilding the lily.  Matt grows a lot of his own vegetables and obtains the rest from farmers around the Garden State.

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Penne with Heirloom Tomatoes, Basil, Green Beans and Feta Cheese **

That’s enough about that, here is the recipe.

2 Cups chopped fresh tomatoes (I used regular tomatoes)

6-8 oz. green beans, trimmed, strings removed and cut in half if they are long

2 TBS olive oil

1 TBS balsamic vinegar

1 plump garlic clove, minced

2 TBS slivered basil

Sea salt and ground pepper

3/4 # penne

2 oz. crumbled Feta cheese

Combine olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, basil, vinegar, salt and pepper.  Let sit for up to 4 hours or less (I put it together and went to the beach for a couple of hours).

Put a large pot of salted water to boil.  Add the string beans and boil for about 5 minutes.   Prepare a bowl of ice water.  Remove the string beans with a slotted spoon and put into the ice water.  Once cool, drain and put aside.

Bring the water back to a boil, cook the pasta till al dente per package instructions;  A minute or so before the pasta is done, drop the string beans into the pot with the pasta.

Drain and toss with the tomato mixture, add the Feta, toss to mix and serve either hot or at room temperature.

Easy, delicious, vegetarian, perfect for a summer supper!

** The photo is from the NY Times recipe.  I strongly advise using plump juicy red tomatoes instead of Heirloom which are not as juicy.  I also chopped my tomatoes much smaller so I would get a more sauce-like consistency. I cut the beans in half and slivered the basil.  This photo looks like Food photography and not at all like mine looked.

UNLUCKY #13 – I HAD ONE GREAT MEAL IN ITALY – THIS IS NOT IT!!

Guardia as I mentioned before is no tourist mecca.  A small town with a population of about 5000 people and the average age is 46.  An interesting statistic with possibly no bearing on my next statement;  There are 3 – 3.5 restaurants in Guardia Sanframondi so where to dine out is never a real dilemma, take your pick, 1,2, or 3.  Peter wanted to have dinner at a restaurant that was practically across the street from our apartment- Le Meridiana (The Sundial).  The dining room was very large with a bar area adjacent in the rear.  I think one of the attractions for Peter was that three walls were glass from floor to ceiling.  It was a Thursday evening and we arrived around 8:00pm, not early but perhaps not as late, as we Americans have been led to believe, when Italians eat.  The entire restaurant was EMPTY!  Naturally we chose a table near the windows.  I was flabbergasted that no one was there except for a couple of girls and a guy in the bar.  Well clearly, service wasn’t going to be an issue.

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Lovely, Large and Empty!

I freely admit that I’m not an adventurous eater, I don’t usually put anything in my mouth that I’m not somewhat familiar with (dangling preposition).  However, here I am in the fatherland, so there should be no problem finding a delicious dish.  Also we are in the part of Italy known for their wine, cherries, grapes and fresh meat because as Raphael told us, “We are a people married to the land.”, agriculture is the main industry.

I look forward to using my limited Italian to order for both of us;  Peter order a fish with a name that unrecognizable in any language let alone Italian,  I opt for what I think will be a juicy pork chop-taking advantage of an opportunity to have some pork which is something along with veal and lamb we don’t eat in our home because Peter isn’t comfortable with eating anything as smart as a pig or as young as a calf or lamb.  Hey, it’s his thing, I just go along with it at home, lol.  Of course we must have a prima piatti (first dishes);  I don’t remember what he ordered but I had a very delicious tagliatelle with wild mushrooms.  So good, looking forward to my main course.

The fish arrives with its head and tail on and so I inform the waiter with some Italian and lots of hand gestures that he must remove the head and tail and bring it back hopefully filleted.  My dish is served and there all by itself on a large plate is a very darkly grilled, very thin, not flat piece of meat.  It is obviously a pork cutlet, maybe I didn’t read the menu correctly.  A pork cutlet would be okay but NOT a pork cutlet that has been grilled well beyond well done and is now very tough!  Aha, well, we are not in New York City and there are no vegetables accompanying the cutlet, actually there is no nothing on the plate!

I ordered vino rossa locale which was good but not nearly as good as Pasquale’s father’s wine.  The final disappointment came with dessert.  I ordered their ricotta cheese cake and when it was put in front of me, it was clear that this small triangle of  what did not taste like ricotta and was topped with some strawberry syrup and a blob of Redi-Whip on top, WAS NOT HOMEMADE.

I’m not saying that the food was not good, it just wasn’t great for me, Peter loved his meal.  And why was it empty? Well Thursday night out isn’t a pre-weekend, find a date for the weekend, night.  That and this is a town where if your Mama isn’t cooking you a delicious dinner, then your wife certainly is.

It was definitely time to go home and go to sleep.  We are weary from our busy day and can’t wait to get into bed.  

                                                                                            to be continued….

House Hunting in Italy – A Busman’s Holiday??

I don’t know any real estate agent or broker who doesn’t live their profession pretty  much 24/7.  I don’t mean they are in their office every day or showing properties every day but whether it is meeting new people to expand your network or staying in touch with your circle of friends and those that are in a position to recommend  you or previewing new properties, well that’s the life of a real estate salesperson.  So even on vacation, you can probably rest assured that we (that’s me) will look a the postings in the windows of local real estate firms, read the local real estate magazines and some cases (uh oh now it’s getting personal) will actually engage a local broker to show them some property.  BUT wait, that’s not to mean they would waste another professional’s time by asking to be taken out but have no intention of purchasing,  No, when it’s just real estate curiosity that has taken hold on of oneself, then the appropriate thing to do is just go to some Open Houses,   Well that’s enough about practices here in the United States, don’t forget I’m in Italy (so to speak).

My trip to Italy was predicated on two major ideas; first to discover my roots and see the village my grandfather, Luciano Fantacone was born and raised in and secondly to explore the possibility of buying an inexpensive property in Italy, specifically Guardia Sanframondi.

I intentionally contacted Pasquale Orso about lodging and knew that he had assisted other Americans in finding a home there.   Within the first hour of meeting Pasquale, he spent considerable time explaining to me that he had connections and he could find us the perfect place.  I spent considerable time explaining to him that this was more of an exploratory trip and that I wasn’t planning on buying anything this trip!  The greater gist of this conversation was Pasquale extracting a commitment from me NOT to allow any random person on the street to entice me to look at some house because we were obviously Americans. ( Many Americans have already purchased property in Guardia Sanframondi).  I told him I understood and as a real estate broker would not do that.

That brings us to the afternoon that Pasquale is going to show us two houses;  We all      (literally 5 of us) pack into a small (tiny) Italian car and off we go to some outlying street of the town and one must park the card sort of off road at the top of a small incline.   The house is below in front of us, very sweet ranch like property with no lawn (I didn’t seem much lawn at all anywhere), however a very large patio with a rather make-shift open wall roofed structure off to one side where lots of potted plants were residing.  I thought I heard him say something about keeping the plants out of direct sunlight.  The house itself had a LOT of possibilities although Peter didn’t seem to think so.  There were really only 2 rooms;  A large great room that was the length of the house and featured an open kitchen (not exactly our standards) a fireplace, a kitchen table, a dining room table and chairs and living room furniture.  At the end of the room next to entrance to the bedroom was a very modern bathroom.  The house was not filled with light, not that many windows.  We went to the bedroom which was so big, not to make into two rooms would be a crime.  It was also dark but I believe there was a possibility of creating another window at one end.  Since Pasquale’s english isn’t exactly perfect I wasn’t clear on the configuration of the property as it seemed to be somehow connected to 3 other homes although not visibly.  He was talking about some Count or Prince or some nobility that at one time owned the estate.  The house had two small outbuilding rooms that were connected to the house  and were being used as storage sheds BUT they had two tiny windows that looked out on the mountains AND they could be enlarged.  Peter was not impressed that much and now in retrospect I think it was a shame that we saw this one first.  Cost $35000.  I’m sorry to say I don’t have a photo of the house, but this was the view.  

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I Wonder How Long It Takes Before You Get Tired Of Looking At The Beautiful Mountains?

Secundo – we are now back on one of the two main streets in Guardia and as we head down a hill, Giuseppe, a friend of Pasquale and our new driver, pulls off to the side of the street.  We are in front of a huge 3 story house.  You know using the word house here is a bit of a misnomer.  There are houses as we know them, if not in a recognizable style, they are at least wooden structures with roofs.  This is a tall thin stone structure, with a garage door (be still my heart)!  A house with a garage in the main part of town (not the medieval city).  As we enter, the first thing I see are the stairs, so many of them…But first to our immediate right there is a very large room, freshly painted and with a new floor and huge window looking at…the mountains!  And at the other end of the room, what did we see but the garage door!! Apparently the previous owners decided a first floor room was much more marketable than a garage, NOT!  Maybe they didn’t own a car, because parking on the narrow streets of Guardia is not exactly easy.  OK, so no garage, let’s go up and look.  Very steep stairs to the second floor where there are two bedrooms, nice views.  Up some more stairs, also very steep and lo and behold there’s the kitchen with a Juliet balcony, how clever, NOT.  Aside from my comments and the fact that I climbed the stairs barely breathing, it was clear to Giuseppe that this house was not for us!

                                                                                                     To be continued…

CERRITO SANNITA – THE CERAMIC CITY 

I’VE GOT TO BRING SOMETHING HOME FOR THE MAH JONGG LADIES!!!!

What am I going to bring back for the ladies in my Mah Jongg? Here I am in the middle of beautiful nowhere and as I was told by Pasquale, this is not a tourist mecca, so shorthand for NO SOUVENIRS!  I am determined not to go back home without something for the ladies.  Pasquale and Raphael have a solution – why not take a trip to Cerrito Sannita, a nearby town which is reputed to be The Ceramic City.      That sounded like a plan so we drove with Raphael to the lovely town of Cerrito Sannita.  I was on the hunt for some small ceramic item to bring back to the gang.  Similar maybe to the small dish Lili brought back to us from Israel.  We use it for the pushke.  Time for a bit of a side note!

The pushke is Yiddish for a box or container kept in the household to collect loose change;  The money is to be contributed to charity.  We call our ante up money and the money from wall games our pushke, BUT in our group charity begins at home and we allow someone to win all that money, with none going to charity.  I know that sounds terrible but since we are now in a political era of full disclosure and transparancy, I thought it best to be honest.  

Cerrito Sanita is a lovely town, not so gray like Guardia and not too colorful;  Actually I had the impression that the whole town was shades of yellow and beige.  

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Cerrito Sanita Plaza in front of Church

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Shades Of Gold and Beige

Our first stop was a visit to a museum and gallery.  There was a large exhibtion of local art – carving, casting, painting and design.  It was interesting but I was eager to go looking for some ceramic treasures.   We started walking up what appeared to be the main retail area, there were several ceramic shops – YAY! 

Whoa…first store and it looks like we are in a boutique on Madison Avenue.  Next store, also filled with what is known as antiche arti ceramiche.  All of the pieces were beautiful, lovely, rich in detail and VERY EXPENSIVE not to mention the fact that really these were the kind of pieces your great aunt gave you at your wedding.  You put in the cabinet and there it remains!  I know that sounds terrible but truly these works are very ornate and certainly don’t fit into my lifestyle and there was nothing suitable for the ladies.  

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You See What I Mean!

We walked around this clean and serene town checking out shop and shop, each one  showcasing their own ceramic masterpieces.  Discouraged and tired I was ready to return to Guardia when Raphael suggested we might try a workshop in an adjacent  small village, San Lorenzello.  It turns out that one of Raphael’s former student’s father, Egnello Guista, is a master ceramicist and has his own workshop and showroom in San Lorenzello.  We arrive at the workshop which appears to be empty, but then Raphael shouts out, “Permisso” and Antonio appears from a room on the second floor.  Antonio shows a few items but suggests we follow him to the real showroom.  When we arrived, we were ushered into a semi-underground grotto!  The surroundings were surreal in this cool stone showroom.  Antonio explained that this grotto was the actual workroom of one of the great master ceramicists.   When he died, Antonio’s father bought the workshop and turned it into his own showroom.  Antonio showed us where the clay would slide down a chute into the room and how it would be slapped onto the stone wall to drain before they worked it.   Unfortunately   (for the Mah Jongg ladies), although the designs were much more contemporary and certainly less expensive, still there was nothing there that I could see bringing home for them.   Ahh… but for me and my sister-in-law, Juanita I found the perfect little gift that would hold a lot of meaning for her and me.  A small Nativity set, unusual because it was cast in brown.  The sets I bought were significantly smaller than the one in the photo, lol lol.

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Antonio In The Grotto Showroom.

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Absolutely Beautiful Nativity Set. Hand Carved And A Meer 600 Euros

Although with due respect to the time-honored and revered art and design of the artistic ceramics, aka Neopolitan style, the two sons, now involved in the business have begun experimenting with copper and magnesium to create brightly colorful bowls and other pieces.  What they are creating is along the lines of the ceramics we would find here in the United States, whereas, the replication of the old designs might be found in some shops along Park or Madison Avenue.

We head back to Guardia Sanframondi where Pasquale awaits our arrival and we will be off to see two properties for sale.

To be continued…

FAMOUS FOR FLAGELLATION!!!

Tourists flock to Italy for many different reasons;  To Florence to see David, to Rome for the Coliseum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and more. They travel to Venice for romance of the canals, Naples for the Isle of Capri, and to Milan for the fashion.  And of course there is much more, I could go on and on, for Italy is a treasure trove of medieval history, religious fervor and festivals, mountains, miles of beautiful coastline and fabulous food.

And then there’s Guardia Sanframondi!  Not your every day tourist destination.  However, THOUSANDS of tourists, visitors, and the locals from all over the region and other parts of Italy really do descend upon Guardia once every 7 years!  2017 is one of those years.  

Guardia Sanframondi celebrates a centuries-old religious rite. The following information comes from Wikipedia:  

Guardia hosts a riti settennali di penitenza or penitential rite every seven years. The rite honors the discovery of a Madonna and Child statue found in a field hundreds of years ago. The rite consists of a series of processions the week following the Assumption. Until recently, the rite was only known locally, but as residents moved elsewhere in Italy and abroad, word of the rite has spread. It has become something of a homecoming event. There are four components of the rite:

THE MYSTERIES:  The four quarters of town each form committees to organize a parade of “mysteries” (religious scenes), with volunteers in period costumes from the Old Testament, New Testament, and Lives of Saints. The neighboring towns of San Lorenzo Maggiore and San Lupo join with the committees to stage a few of the mysteries. In 2003 there were about one hundred mysteries in all. During the week each quarter of town has a separate procession through its own neighborhood. On Sunday all the quarters form a grand procession. The participants hold a pose depicting a particular moment of the mystery as they walk through town—they do not act out events. The committees informally compete with each other to put on the finest mysteries.     

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The “Mystery” of Saint Lawrence

CHOIRS:  Each quarter also forms a choir that joins the processions. Traditionally the choirs were formed of unmarried girls, but recently married women, and occasionally men, have joined in. The women wear white clothing, a symbolic crowns of thorns, and braided cords around their shoulders.

PENITENTS:  During the neighborhood processions, several flagellanti (“flagellants”) join in. They gently strike their backs with a metal scourge. On Sunday, the procession is joined by several hundred battenti (“beaters”) who strike their chests with a spugna (literally “sponge,” it is really a disk of cork holding dozens of pins). Designated helpers pour white wine on the sponges during the procession, supposedly to ward off infection. There are a few dozen flagellantiduring the Sunday procession, who also provide crowd control. The flagellanti and battenti are anonymous. They wear white hoods and are not even supposed to tell family members they are participating. Scourges and sponges are not carried openly or displayed in homes after the rite. The battenti are all men, although a few of the flagellanti are women.  Additionally there are a few dozen symbolic child flagellanti. They wear black robes and caps, and very gently swing a small scourge over their shoulders.   

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A Penitent Holding a Piece of Cork Studded with Needles

STATUE: The rite ends with the procession of the Madonna and Child statue through the town. After the mysteries start, the statue is removed from the church, at which point a cannon sounds to announce the event. The procession stops and everyone kneels for a minute. When the statue makes its way to the town center, the battenti walk in front of it on their knees. When the procession continues, the crowds follow the statue, or walk backwards in front of it. The procession ends as the statue is returned to the church. All-night vigils in the Church of the Ave Gratia Plena continue for several day

AND that’s why we are not going back in August!  No, not really but you can’t get a room anywhere for miles and miles around.  This is a BIG DEAL!  Did you read The DaVinci Code?  Remember Silas? The albino monk who not only flagellated himself, he also wore sackcloth and strapped a metal cilice (spiked garter) around his thigh.  

As I previously inferred, religious fervor is a real characteristic in these small villages in south central Italy.  Not only are most of the towns named after saints, each town has a patron saint.  The patron saint of Guardia Sanframondi is Saint Phillip Neri.

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St. Phillip Neri – Patron Saint of Guardia Sanframondi