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YOU CAN’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER

But you can judge the attitude and culture of a small Italian town by the number of Churches it has!!!  Yup, that’s what Raphael told us;  He described in very broad generalizations what various surrounding towns were known as and exactly how many Churches are there.  “We have 4” he proudly said, and then amended his remark with the fact that really only 1 or 2 were actually active and functioning,  He took us to the largest and most beautiful one located in the walled city: Santuario basilica dell’Assunta – Basilica of the Assumption.  It was beautiful, an understatement.  

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One Of The Many Side Altars in the Basilica. Photo by Gianfranco Vitolo from Sarno Italy

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Gloriously Detailed European Craftsmanship. Just Beautiful.  Photo by Gionfranco Vitolo from Sarno Italy

We wended our way through the sometimes narrow passages, passed areas where re-construction is being done in the Medieval city, the benefit of a recent grant of     of a large sum of money to repair the structures within the walled city. 

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Evidence of Repairs in the Walled city

There are extraordinary contrasts in the medieval town between the old and abandoned and the refurbished and renovated properties being bought up by Americans and other foreigners.  

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A Bit Eerie! The Door on the Left Might Have Been for the Donkey

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A Lovely Restoration

The other churches in Guardia are:  Chiesa di San Rocco – presently not an active parish.  I particularly  love the area of the medieval city where this church is located.  

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Photo Does Not Do Justice to the Edifice. La chiesa di San Rocco

We did not go into the chiesa di San Sebastiano but admired its spire every day!  Look at the influence in the architecture (from the East).  

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We Also Saw This Green/Yellow Tile Pattern in Other Surrounding Towns.  Photo by Gianfranco Vitolo

Raphael also took us into the chiesa dell’Annunicata, also beautiful  and also had the other magnificent bell tower in the medieval town.  The campaniles are outstanding against the landscape of the city.  As you approach Guardia Sanframondi  you can see these architectural beauties in the distance.  

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A Startling Standout in the Landscape.  Campanile dell’Annunicata

 

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EXPLORING THE MEDIEVAL CITY

Finally we were going to explore the medieval city and we are so lucky that a relative of Pasquale, Raphael will guide us.  He is a very learned gentleman who is a professor and someone who has an extensive knowledge of history and a keen interest in philosophy.

Raphael actually lived in the walled city when he was growing up.  His memories are vivid as he pointed out where he lived and where his grandmother lived.  He shared an immense amount of historic facts with us as we wended our way through alleys (which at one time were streets) and up and down steps.  The doorways were particularly interesting to me (as you will see from the photos).  

The history of the medieval city and its evolvement begins with the fact that much of South Central Italy was heavily invaded.  Throughout the early centuries, Etruscans, Romans, Greeks, Samnites, as well as a Gallic invasion.  Thus a walled city, often with a castle, became the prevalent manner of establishing and protecting a village.  Raphael told us that EVERYBODY  lived within the walls of the city.  They were a people married to the land, agriculture was the main industry.  He pointed out where interior houses were, those that did not have a lot of light and no view of the mountains.  Their homes were not houses in the sense we know – they were more like apartments contained in the stone structures which make up the medieval city.   He showed us where the farmers would come back from the fields with their donkeys and that the donkeys spent the night within the walls also.  Many of the ground floor doors were actually gates for the stables that housed everyone’s donkey.

As we traverse the stairs and steps, I feel late afternoon jet lag beginning to take hold.  But we’re not done yet.  We visited the beautiful Church of the Ascension and  then….   To be continued…..

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View of Guardia Sanframondi. You can clearly see the old town and parts of the new town built around it.

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Most Of The Medieval City Has Been Abandoned.

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These Doors Do Have Character

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Steps, Stairs and Arches of the Medieval City.

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Beautiful restoration. Doors to one of the newly-renovated and inhabited property in the Medieval city

 

The following article was an OP-ED piece in the New York Times Monday, July 3rd.  It was written by Charles M. Blow who clearly is not faint of heart or one to mince words.

EVERY NOW AND THEN we are going to have to do this:  Step back from the daily onslaughts of insanity emanating from Donald Trump’s parasitic presidency and remind ourselves of the obscenity of it all, registering its magnitude in its full, devastating truth.

There is something insidious and corrosive about trying to evaluate the severity of every offense, trying to give each an individual grade on the scale of absurdity.  Trump himself is the offense.  Everything that springs from him, every person who supports him, every legislator who shields him is an offense.  Every partisan who uses him – against all he or she has ever claimed to champion – to advance a political agenda and, in doing so, places party over country, is an offense.

We must remind ourselves that Trump’s very presence in the White House defiles it and the very institution of the presidency.  Rather than rising to the honor of the office, Trump has lowered the office with his whiny, fragile, vindictive pettiness.

The presidency has been hijacked.                                                                                                        

Last week when Donald Trump attacked two MSNBC hosts, people were aghast.  The condemnation came quickly and from all quarters.

But his words shouldn’t have shocked.  His tweet was just another pebble the mountain of vulgarities.  This act of coarseness was in fact an act of continuity.  Trump was being Trump:  the grossest of the gross, a profanity against propriety.

This latest episode is simply part of a body of work demonstrating the man’s utter contempt for decency.  We all know what it will add up to: nothing.

Republicans have bound themselves up with Trump.  His fate is their fate.  They have surrendered any moral authority to which they once laid claim – rightly or not.  If Trump goes down they all do.

It’s all quite odd, this moral impotence, this cowering before the belligerent, would-be king.  A madman and his legislative minions are holding America hostage.

There are  no new words to express it; there is no new and novel way to catalog it.  It is what it is and has been from day one:  The most extraordinary and profound electoral mistake America has made in our lifetimes and possibly ever.  

We must say without ceasing and without growing weary by the redundancy, that what we are witnessing is not normal and cannot go unchallenged.  We must reaffirm our commitment to resistance.  We must always remember that although individual Americans made the choice to vote affirmatively for him or actively withhold their support from his opponent, those decisions were influenced in ways we cannot calculate by Russian interference in our election, designed to privilege Trump.

We must remember that we now have a president exerting  power to which he may only have access due to a foreign power, he has proven mysteriously avert to condemning them or even acknowledge their meddling.

We must remember that there are multiple investigations ongoing about the degree of that interference in our election – including a criminal investigation – and that those investigations are not constrained to collusion and are far from fake news.  These investigations are deadly serious, are about protecting the integrity of our elections and the sovereignty of our country and are about a genuine quest for truth and desire for justice.

Every action by this administration is an effort to push forward the appearance of normality, to squelch scrutiny, to diminish the authority and credibility of the ongoing investigations.

Last week, after a growing number of states refused to hand over sensitive voter information to Trump’s ironic and quixotic election integrity commission, White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders blasted the pushback as a “political stunt”.

But in fact, the commission itself is the political stunt.  The committee is searching for an illegal voting problem that doesn’t exist.  Trump simply lied when he said he would have won the popular vote were it not for millions of illegal votes.   And then he established this bogus commission  – using taxpayer money – to search for a truth that doesn’t exist, to try to prove right a lie he should have never told.

This commission is classic Trump projection:  There is a real problem with the integrity of our last election  because the Russians helped power his win, but rather than deal with that very real attack on this country, he is tilting at windmills concerning in-person voter fraud.

Last week CNN reported: “The Trump administration has taken no public steps to punish Russia for interfering in the 2016 election.  Multiple senior officials said there are few signs the president is devoting  time or attention to the ongoing election-related cyber threat from Russia.

Donald Trump is depending on people’s fatigue.  He is banking on your becoming overwhelmed by his never-ending antics.  He is counting on his capacity to wear down the resistance by sheer force.

We must be adamant that that will never come to pass.  Trump is an abomination, and a cancer on the country, and none of us can rest until he is no longer holding the reins of power.                                                   

 BEST LAID PLANS

By the way, that wine deserves an encore praise, so let me say after two glasses there was no headache, no buzz and no red marks (hives or welts?) on my cheeks.  Oh yeah, give me that bicchiere di vino rosso locale any day and so ended our first day in Italy.  Dario contacted us and wanted to meet for coffee the next morning.  However, Pasquale said he wanted us to come for breakfast and the go and see the town.  So I postponed our coffee date till Thursday morning.

Although we had been exhausted, we woke up at 7:15 am – where did those 6 hours time difference go?  We got ourselves dressed and went down the road to the B & B for some coffee and a brioche.  

La Tana dell"Orso

When you ask for a large cup of coffee, you get a large cup but a small amount of coffee

I quickly learned that trying to make a plan with Pasquale would be difficult-either he has changed the plan or we didn’t understand.   Last night the plan was for us to have breakfast and then go on a tour of the medieval city and maybe see some property.  NOT happening – Instead we should come back at 4:30 and he will show us some property. ( Now here’s a bit of back story;  Several times already, Pasquale has spoken to me about other people, maybe Americans who will come up to us and ask us if we want to see property. He wants to show us property, he says he has many, many contacts and he goes directly to the “people”.  Last night I assured him I understood and had no intention of doing such a thing.  After all, I am in real estate, I understand. We also told Pasquale about Dario and showed him his card.  Pasquale said he didn’t know him, are we sure he lives in Guardia Sanframondi?  Yes we are sure and are going to have coffee with him tomorrow morning.  Immediately Pasquale tells us to have Dario meet us at his cafe.  I didn’t feel comfortable with that and said no we would meet him at Dolci Delizie as planned.)

With no particular plans we walked up the main road stopping along the way to admire the lush foliage of roses, cherry trees and fig trees.  

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Feeling very artistic this morning – the Fig Tree and the Rusty Sink

As we walked, we saw small stairwells, vacant courtyards, lots of shuttered stores and a treat – Il Gatto!  

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Oh look! Il gatto

You soon know you are in another world from New York City.  I loved taking photos of some of the old buildings, trying for an artsy shot.  Guardia Sanframondi                                                      Sun-Dappled Ancient Art

Where were all the townspeople?  I don’t think we passed anyone as we wended our way up the hill.  I thought this would be a good time to do some shopping but alas, every store was shuttered with those same accordion-type aluminum grates we see in Manhattan.  The only place open was a small stationery store which was perfect because I decided to begin writing my blog in long hand, remember I left my iPad home   I bought a notebook and pen and some postcards -just in time as they were about to close.  The woman behind the counter inquired where we from and I got to say my standard line;    “Sono Americano di New York.”  And then she gave me a booklet about the ancient history of the area, in Italian of course!

We spent the rest of the early afternoon in Orso’s Garden, a lovely terrace set down from the road, filled with tables, chairs, pots of flowers and shaded by cherry and fig trees.   I had found a peaceful, sunny writer’s haven.

Pasquale arranged for a relative of his, Raphael to take us on a tour of the medieval city.  We were in for a treat;  Raphael had lived within the walls of the medieval city as a child in the 50’s and he was a professor and spoke perfect English.  We took off towards the castle and the walled inner city.

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There Are 4 Gates/Entrances Into The Medieval City

                                                                                                                         to be continued… 

 

STAY ON THE STRAIGHT AND NARROW

It took a few more twists and turns but eventually the road widened and was paved.      We saw the sign informing us we were entering Guardia and I quickly entered the address of La Tana dell ‘Orso into the GPS where we would meet up with Pasquale.  I was fairly sure that the main street in Guardia was also known as Corso Umberto and that the Bed & Breakfast was located on that main road.  

We slowly climbed the slight hill of the main road and I didn’t see a sign for the inn nor the the name of the wine bar above which we would find our apartment.   The road narrowed and I mean really narrowed to the point where we came upon a red light.  It was an alternating stop light.  We stopped, they came down, they stopped, we continued up.  And once past the stop light the buildings looked really old and gray.  We kept on driving along the road while the house numbers grew higher.  We need to turn around but this is not East 86th Street where Peter can easily make a U-Turn or a K-Turn, we have to practically go to the end of the village before we can turn around easily.  So now we’re heading down the street, stopping at the light to let the other vehicles go by.  I noticed all the other cars were really small compared to our Ford Focus (which I thought was at least a compact car).  We did this ridiculous redundant routine at least 3 more times.  By the way, our Italian GPS kept telling us we had arrived but where?  I said,” stop the car and let me out to ask someone”,  someone who only spoke Italian where the B & B was.  I made myself understood and she pointed down the street to a large yellow building. We drove down past it and turned around again this time as we passed it a small group of people were all waving to us.  I waved back and once again we had to get to the other end of town to turn around and head back to them.  We discovered parking was only on the other side of the street and made no difference what direction your car was facing!

Corso Umberto

Stay On The Straight (NOT) And Narrow

The whole famiglia plus some patrons of the bar greeted us with hugs and kisses.  Finally we are here!  I had a present for Pasquale’s mother, Anna and I tried really hard to explain what it was to her.  I enlisted Pasquale’s translation but I truly believe she didn’t get it.  I had purchased a clever Joseph Joseph hand soap dispenser.  It was encased in some metal and the purpose of this gadget was that when you have been peeling and chopping garlic or onion, the metal would work some molecular magic and remove the odor from your hands.

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A Very Clever Device

We had no idea what New York item to bring to Pasquale, so in the end we opted for several take-out menus from Italian restaurants in our neighborhood.  We thought he might find interesting to compare to what he served in his small cafe.

Pasquale took us to our apartment so we could rest a bit; we have been up for a very long time.  The apartment is wonderful!  It is bright and light with skylights, the kitchen is open to the great room with a large TV screen and also a dining room table that easily sat 6.  The bedroom was certainly fine with a queen size bed and huge closet and another TV.  The bathroom was clearly new and very European, meaning the shower stall was the size of a phone booth with door that closed magnetically at a right angle and there was a bidet.   I couldn’t keep my OCD need to unpack in check so while Peter laid on the bed, I unpacked EVERYTHING and set up my toiletries.

Thinking ahead to what I hoped would be a late morning, I knew we needed to go to the grocery store and get at least milk, cereal,orange juice and bananas and some cheese and crackers. Pasquale told us to come to the cafe any morning we wanted to for breakfast, all included.  We found the DECO Supermarket and with carriage in tote I walked in and went to the left because that’s the way I have always shopped in  Wegman’s.  The few aisles ( I think 2 1/2) were narrow, and of course I had to go back and forth looking for a few things and mulling over every decision.  When I checked out the manager said something to me and pointed to a clearly visible arrow sign that said Entrada.  Not even in town for 2 hours and already I’m an ugly American.  Next time I say, la prossimo volta.

It’s time to go to B&B to get a glass of homemade wine, (it seems everyone grows grapes) and some dinner.  Peter wants to go to a restaurant across the street from our apartment but I think I might fall asleep at the table.  We hadn’t eaten all day and on the small front porch of the B&B was a tall metal roaster with chickens slow cooking for hours.  God, does that chicken look good!  Pasquale served us a salad, the chicken and the most delicious chewy Italian bread.  The wine was spectacular with a clear flavor, slightly redolent fruit taste and so smooth it was like drinking ice cream.  I know that seems like a weird analogy but if you know me, you know my favorite food is ice cream and how I feel about it is aptly described in the post linked here:  https://pbenjay.wordpress.com/2014/07/15/its-not-sex/ . I loved the wine so much I had to photograph it and send to my friend, Alice with whom I share a love of Pinot Noir.  BUT THIS, this is exquisite!  

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                                                        Un Bicchiere di vino rosso locale

 

to be continued….

DO WE GO LEFT OR RIGHT? Gauche or Droit?

Finally I’m at the counter and luckily my agents speaks English.  Oh! Some other agent assigned our car to someone else.  No problem, she promises us a better car, an upgrade!  And to our pleasant surprise it has automatic transmission, not the standard shift we paid for,  it’s a Ford Focus.  Now we have to travel to another part of the airport that is a giant parking garage.  Following signs for Hertz, we go down and down to the lowest level in the garage.  There is a short line to enter into the Hertz office and it’s now 11:30am.  Whatever happened to my plan of arriving in Rome early in the morning, having a leisurely breakfast and then toodling off to a picturesque drive to the mountains?

We signed lots of papers and received the keys and now we just have to find the car in space 501.  You know, I have no idea what a Ford Focus looks like or any other car for that matter unless it’s a Jeep, a VW Bug or a Corvette because after those they pretty much all look alike.  Well what do you know, we found the car without too much tsuris.  I unlock the car, we load it up and get in, it’s really quite comfortable.  That’s going to be a bonus for the long ride.  Any millennial readers out there?  You’re going to love this part!

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How Do You Turn This Damn Car On?

We couldn’t start the car!!!! Yes it was a keyless starter, we figured that part out.  Peter pressed the button several times and nothing happened.  By now the car is hot, I’m hot and tired so I open the doors.  I looked all through the glove box and all the papers they gave me and I can’t find any manual.  This is JUST GREAT!  After many attempts, I suggest we find someone because this getting ridiculous.   I spied a young girl who had a name tag so I went to her and asked for her assistance and she spoke English.   She got in the car, pressed the button and the car started! Geez- us!  She then proceeded to explain about the automatic transmission settings and where the lights were WHEN I stopped her, we know how to drive, we just couldn’t start the car so what did you do?  Well, I’m sure everyone else knows, she put her foot on the brake when she pressed the button.

Let’s just get the hell out of here…. The car rental agent gave me a map to get onto the autostrada and it was  not as bad as I thought it would be, perhaps the Guardian Angel on the roof helped, although Peter denies their existence.  We are on our way!  Half the day is long gone, and we have a 3 hour trip ahead of us.  Meantime, Pasquale has been messaging me to find out if we landed and are we on our way.  We are, but when he asks me where we are, I haven’t a clue.  The journey was not as picturesque as I had hoped. I had mapped out two routes, one went south along the coast till we would have turn inland and east to reach Guardia.  That route would take a least 4 hours, so now that we are so late in leaving Rome I have to abandon the thought of stopping along the way in little seaside towns.  We are on the autostrada which is Italy’s equivalent to driving on I-95 😦 .  At least it’s sunny and clear and Peter can drive faster than if we were on I-95.  

I keep checking Dario’s hand-drawn map directing us to follow signs for Naples and to turn off when we see the signs for Caianello.  Getting closer because we’re now heading north and east.  The map isn’t so clear at this point and we have come to the end of a road.  DO WE GO LEFT OR RIGHT?   To the right, there is one sign indicating Telese, a town I knew to be close to Guardia Sanframondi from my research.  To the left, there are multiple signs for restaurants, stores etc.  I say we should to right, Peter says we should go left.  We went LEFT.  At this point, there’s nothing on Dario’s map that is either clear or that we can understand.  I turn on the GPS, a feature we have finally come to appreciate after a few trips to Florida.  OMG!!! She is SPEAKING IN ITALIAN!   Peter reminds me that there must be a way to change languages, so I locate that feature and THE ONLY OTHER LANGUAGE AVAILABLE IS FRENCH!  We’re f____d for sure.  

 fullsizeoutput_f46    NO PASSING – NO KIDDING!    fullsizeoutput_f45 WHO GOES FIRST?

The road which looked so paved and normal soon turned into gravel roads and then dirt roads.  I am frantically searching the online map to see where we are twisting and turning  and she is now spewing out directions in French (Peter’s choice).  We go à gauche, we turn maintenant (now) when she commands.  We are on roads, if you can call them that, that have the universal road sign noting that the road is only passable by one car at a time.  We are really nervous, driving in never-ending twists and turns, olive groves and cherry orchards all around us.  I think we are on someone’s land!  Although we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, way off in the distance to the right I saw the remains of a castle and I knew it was Guardia from all the photos I looked at but the way to get there was not at all apparent.  

                                                                                                          to be continued….

DID THE STARS ALIGN OR WAS IT JUST COINCIDENCE?

 

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The Stars Aligned                              Photo credit Wikipedia

I left the plane before Peter because I had my carry-on luggage nearby.  I was waiting for him beyond the gate when so easy on the eyes Dario came by. As he was passing by, he said, “Enjoy your stay in Rome”.  To which I replied, “We’re not staying in Rome”.  He slowed down and asked me where were we going.  I told him we were going into south central Italy, in the mountains to a small village.  HE STOPPED.  He asked me what village were we going to. “Guardia Sanframondi”.  His hand hit his forehead and he shouted, “NO! That’s my village, this is not possible, this is too much”.  We hug and kiss cheeks as if we were old time paisans. He was literally in shock as we both sort of reviewed the sequence of events;  He was sitting behind me next to an empty seat on a plane that was 3 rows wide holding more than 225 passengers.  I spoke to him, he smiled and agreed to a seat switch.  He boarded in NYC because he had been looking into an opportunity with the United Nations, he flew to Rome rather than Naples so he could look in on his mother (so Italian), who lived just outside of Rome. He casually stopped and wished me well for my stay in Rome and then THE STARS ALIGNED.  We both considered what the odds could possibly be-if he sat on the other side of the plane I would have never met him,  So many ifs and ands….

Dario asks me how I happened to pick Guardia Sanframondi, so I relate how I saw an episode or clip from an International House Hunters show about the village where Americans were buying homes and that I planned to go to my grandfather’s birth village which I believed was nearby.  He wants to talk more, but he must go because he also has to be back in Guardia to pick his daughter up from school,  (I saw the ring earlier, I knew he was married) so we should have coffee.  YES, we should have coffee. Dario gives me his card and we exchange WHATS APP information – you have to love technology! Apparently he is Agronomist, he studies plant pathology and works for a company that has developed a viable pesticide without side effects that are dangerous to both humans and animals.  Dario kindly draws us a map of how to get out of the airport and to Guardia (remember my map is still in NYC ).

After retrieving luggage we decide to eat a panini (so Italian) and have a coffee before our 3 hour drive.  It literally took us 20 minutes to find where the car rentals were located – Signs were confusing.  Finally we found the area and see 10 couples lined up with huge amounts of luggage and all of them have golf clubs in tow.  I didn’t think Rome had a golf course, lol.  And there were lots of other people all gathered in the Hertz/Thrifty/Dollar area.  I stand and stand and wait and wait some more – 25 minutes to be exact and as I try to position myself closer to a counter, a woman behind me says, “You have to get a number”.  OMG!!! It’s now 10:30 in the morning and we landed at 7:45am.  We are not making much progress BUT we for sure know we are no longer in NYC – where things can take place in a New York minute.

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to be continued…..