Visualizing Lecce, with thanks to Kelly Britton

I discovered a wonderful set of photos of the city of Lecce in Apulia on Kelly Britton’s blog, Slave to Taste. She has kindly given me permission to share it with my readers, and I hope you enjoy them as I did!


World Championship In-line skating: Sulmona 2004

We arrived in Sulmona in the fall of 2004 to a scene of celebration. Teams of athletes from countries around the world were gathered there to compete in the summer version of speed-skating, with in-line skates, and we were there for opening night!

A banner announces "World Championships" with Sulmona's iconic medieval aqueduct in the background.

A banner announces “World Championships” with Sulmona’s iconic medieval aqueduct in the background.

We had no idea this event was happening when we planned our visit. Piazza Garibaldi, Sulmona’s enormous main square, was transformed into a racetrack surrounded by bleachers and vendors’ booths.

A parade of nations entering the arena.

A parade of nations entering the arena.

The teams paraded along Corso Ovidio and into the arena in alphabetical order by country (a little trickier in Italian!).

Team USA passing the fountain in Piazza Garibaldi.

Team USA passing the fountain in Piazza Garibaldi.

We found the American team and wished them well.

A young fan cheers his favorites.

A young fan cheers his favorites.

Here are a few photos we snapped while watching the events.

Medics help after a nasty fall.

Medics help after a nasty fall.

It wouldn't be Italy without fireworks!

It wouldn’t be Italy without fireworks!


Planning for (not just dreaming of) a visit to Italy. Please help!

DFRINLPLUAEUKpassportstampsI’m one of those travelers who likes to imagine traveling footloose, but really wants the security of reservations and an itinerary. Hubby is happy to let me make the plans without too much of his opinion, and fortunately our likes are alike enough for that. But I’m a bit overwhelmed with planning this trip–we have a lot going on the home front, soooo…

My readers, can you help me? We will be spending two weeks in Italy this August, with the first six days committed to Venice and surroundings. We will then fly to Rome or Naples, and rent a car. Any suggestions about car rental? We are hoping my brother will join us about this point, so need a car that will suit three adults with light to moderate luggage. And I’m not familiar with the European car types being offered for rent. Lancia? Fiat? Would it be easy to find diesel if we rented a Mercedes?

We will drive to Caserta to spend that night, and plan to visit the palace the next morning. Any recommendations for hotel or palace visit?Calabria-Gonfalone

After seeing the palace (is three hours enough time to allow?) we will drive to Cosenza for a night or two. The next morning we’ll look around Cosenza and the area. Is there a good hotel with car parking? And what sightseeing do you recommend in the area? Maybe we should just go to the beach! (But more of that later.)

We’re planning to spend August 13-16 in my ancestral village, Scigliano, so will celebrate Ferragosto there–hopefully with my Italian cugini. What kind of celebration might we expect for Ferragosto?

Map_of_region_of_Calabria,_Italy,_with_provinces-it.svgFor the next three days we will be “touring the toe”. If you had three days there, how would you spend it? I’d love to hear about your favorite beach, favorite museum, favorite castle–and not just tourist experiences. Is there a great place to hear  Calabrian music? Farm visits? Hiking? I doubt we will stay in a beachfront hotel–but who knows? We’d like to have a look at both coasts of the toe.

On August 19 we’ll turn in our car and fly out of Lamezia Terme to London, so will want to spend the night of the 18th close to there. Recommendations?

I am so looking forward to your suggestions. And hope you are looking forward to coming along via the blog later in the year.

*All images on this post are from Wikimedia Commons.

Remembering Salvatore: Part 3 of 3

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOver the last two weeks, I introduced Salvatore, and shared some of his experience during World War II.

After hearing about the priest, we threaded our way through the streets of Piedimonte Matese, impressed at the pace Salvatore set for us, given he was older than we were by thirty years or more. As he was unlocking the door to his house, I noticed a piece of ancient history built right into the door frame. The lower two or three feet on the left hand door frame was made of a fluted stone column, broken off at an angle. The typical Italian house construction, thick walls with stucco finish, surrounded it.

“Where did you get this?” I asked.

“My father found that column in the river many years ago, and had it in our home. When we were rebuilding the house after the war, we put it in this wall.”

I don’t recall asking what his father was doing when he found it. Fishing, maybe? I’ll bet you’ve never gone fishing and found an ancient Roman marble column! I found a silver dime once when I was digging in the garden, but that marble column has it beat. It must have been found before modern antiquities laws were enacted in Italy, because items like that are no longer considered ‘yours for the taking’ even if found on your own property.

We entered a corridor and climbed to the second floor  balcony to enter his home. (This is called the first floor in Italy, being the first floor above the ground floor.) It was cool and spacious, with dark furniture and nicely framed paintings. Light filtered in from a courtyard filled with plants.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Salvatore introduced us to his wife, who spoke no English. She greeted us kindly, with a knowing resignation that led us to believe we were not the first strangers her husband had brought home for a visit. After a short time she brought a silver tray with small glasses, and three bottles of liqueur with hand-written labels taped to them. After that, she left us to visit, and we didn’t see her again except to say goodbye.

Salvatore told us about his sons. One had followed him into the teaching profession, and the other was handicapped in some way, and required special care.

“Please try the drinks I made,” he urged us, and poured dark liquid from a tall bottle. “It is made from hazelnuts,” he said of the first one. A small taste was enough of that. Next came cherry liqueur, burning a deep red path down our throats. Salvatore set that aside, clearly eager to get to his last offering.

“I make this from my own recipe. It’s like limoncello,” he said.

Mixed citrus--from Wikimedia Commons

Mixed citrus–from Wikimedia Commons

We knew limoncello, and enjoyed it, but his drink was more orange colored than any we had tried. And more delicious! He smiled with satisfaction at our response. “It has not only lemons. I make it with oranges, lemons, and tangerines. My own recipe.” He beamed as we sipped the golden nectar. “I grow the fruit right here,” he said, gesturing toward the verdant courtyard.

“Do you share your recipe?”

“Of course!”

As he went to get paper and pen, I thought to myself, of course he shares his recipe. He is a man who shares his whole life, openhanded and openhearted with friends and strangers alike. He scratched out the recipe, with careful instructions, and we visited some more, went out on the balcony to see the garden, looked at paintings on his walls and photos of his sons.

As the afternoon wore away, we reluctantly excused ourselves to go back to the hotel. Our heads swirled with the stories, but more than that—Salvatore’s life itself was vibrant with generosity, joy, patience.

More than eight years later we still think of him and marvel. Who would have thought that the strongest image of life we encountered in Italy was an elderly, nearly toothless man who earned his living teaching a ‘dead’ language? Salvatore—that name means ‘savior’ and Salvatore’s spirit of vibrant life seems just what the world needs. Someone willing to do good in the face of ridicule, to foster young lives (human as well as plants), to remember the past and look to the future, and to share generously with strangers.

Maybe you are as eager to have Salvatore’s limoncello recipe as I was. I’m sharing it here, just as he wrote it for us.

1. You must take two ripe lemons, two oranges, and two tangerines (six in all);

2. Peel them completely;

3. Clean all the peels from the so called “pane”, that is the “bread” which is the white material between the peel and the fruit;  with your left hand you maintain still the peel by means of a table fork while with your right hand you liberate the peel from the white part, that is the “bread”, till the peel becomes rather transparent;

4. Put all these peels in one liter of liquor-alcohol and leave in a well closed glass container for about one month or more, if you prefer.  The fruit must not be placed in the container:  you eat apart [eat that separately];

5. Dissolve 1 kilo of sugar in one liter of hot water and mix with the alcohol after having taken away the peels.  At last you fill and keep in a well closed bottle.  The liquor is good to drink after two or three months. [Could he have meant “for two or three months”?]


Salvatore and the Priest (Part 2 of 3)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast week’s post introduced Salvatore and our serendipitous meeting.

So how did this 80-something retired Latin teacher from a remote town east of Naples learn English? “I learned from an American priest,” he told us. “The priest who saved Piedimonte Matese!”

We walked along a street that climbed one side of a valley. As we walked, he told us about the priest. As a young man in America, he converted to Roman Catholicism, and was rejected by his Protestant family because of it. They wanted nothing to do with him. But he felt called to the priesthood, and eventually studied in Rome. He was assigned to serve in Piedimonte Matese in the 1930s. His family in America cut him off completely, but he loved his life and work in Italy as a priest, and he taught English to those who wanted to learn, including Salvatore, who was a young teenager at the time.

Then the war came. Mussolini joined the Axis powers in 1937, and as war gradually engulfed Europe, life in Italy became more and more difficult. The German presence in Italy grew to an oppressive level, and life was further disrupted by food shortages and military conscription. With the potential of American involvement in the war, the church and community authorities urged the priest to return to America, but he refused. Italy was his home, and he had no family waiting for him.

Then came Pearl Harbor, and the United States entered the war.

Salvatore paused on the sidewalk and pointed across the valley to another section of the town. “Do you see the palazzo over there, the biggest building? That is where the priest stayed during the war.”

The ducal palace, highest building in this photo.

The ducal palace, largest building in this photo.

Because it wasn’t safe for him to continue his service, the authorities prevailed upon the local duke to take him under his protection. Within the Palazzo Ducale, the priest was safe, but he could not leave the palace without risk of capture and imprisonment as an enemy alien.

Almost two years later, in the fall of 1943, American and British forces began making their way north up the Italian peninsula. The Germans had established a camp west of Piedimonte Matesa, near the Volturno River, and as the Allied forces approached in October, the Germans began a slow retreat, destroying bridges, roads, and supplies in their wake.

American forces continued their approach, shelling locations the Germans had occupied, causing additional damage to the war-ravaged town. The citizens were caught in the crossfire.  The priest knew the Germans had all withdrawn from the town, and wanted to let the approaching Allied forces know.

He attached a white flag to a pole, and set out for the American line, over the protests of the local citizens. When they realized he would not be dissuaded, a couple of them joined him as he walked down the main road directly into the Allied attack, waving the white flag and calling out to them in English. Finally, the shooting stopped.

“He saved our town,” Salvatore told us with tears in his eyes. “He was a hero to us.”

The Allies set up a camp where the Germans had been, and helped restore some order to the area. They needed help communicating with the local officials and citizens, and the priest recommended his young student, Salvatore, as their translator. Each day an army jeep driver picked up Salvatore to help with translation, and he was granted permission to be out after curfew so he could give Italian language lessons to the soldiers in the evenings. His father’s house had been bombed, and the soldiers helped them begin rebuilding.

“You see,” Salvatore said, “we owe a lot to Americans.”

I took photos of the palazzo across the valley, and we started back down the road. “Now, I’d like you to come to my house. I have made some liqueur I would like you to try.”

Come back next week for Part 3!

Meeting Salvatore

I’d never expected to visit Piedimonte Matese, never even heard of it until a couple of days before going there in October of 2004 for a conference related to some research I was doing. On a Saturday afternoon, Vern and I caught the train in Naples, from a platform so far off to one side of the main lines, we thought it might be the railway repair yard. There we boarded a train that must have been retired from main line service years before.  In a third class car with worn upholstery and faded paint, we headed east toward the foot of the mountains, Piedimonte.

Piedimonte Matese

Piedimonte Matese

Late in the evening, after the conference, we inquired about the return train, and learned there was no Sunday rail service. We had a day off, regardless of our plans. So on Sunday morning we wandered on foot into the streets and piazzas of Piedimonte Matese to explore. Leaving the main square, we rounded a corner and literally bumped into an elderly man.

“Excuse me!” Vern said, and the man’s eyes lit up.

“You speak English!?” A smile revealed three or four teeth. He stood a little over five feet tall, with his round belly wrapped in a cardigan, and a thinning frizz of gray hair crowned his head. He exuded the aura of a gnome or a hobbit. And he spoke English quite well.

We were surprised to meet an English speaker in this remote town, too, and after introductions he invited us to come to his home for a visit. Vern and I exchanged a glance and a shrug. Why not? We had nothing else on our schedule, and his enthusiasm charmed us.

“But first,” he said, “I have an errand. Will you walk along with me?” We agreed—after all, we had planned to walk around the city anyway, and with Salvatore, any questions we had could be answered. He showed us a two-liter soda bottle, now filled with water, and began to explain his errand, but changed his mind. “You’ll see. It’s just a short walk.”

Soon we came to a small park, a triangle of green in the dusty city. At one end a couple of small shrubs struggled through the turf. Salvatore opened the soda bottle, knelt, and poured water at the base of the shrubs. “I planted this,” he said, examining the main stalk of the plant, broken off a few inches from the ground. Then he looked across the park. From a bench about 30 yards away, several teenagers watched him, smirking as they talked among themselves. Salvatore sighed. “They laugh at me for taking care of this plant, for wanting something nice here in the park. They broke the stem. But look,” he said, pointing to the base of  broken plant. New growth sprouted near the old stem. “It’s still growing.” He smiled, dismissing the attempted destruction, determined to nurture life, to bring the water and a hope to the broken plants.

Salvatore, surrounded by plants on his balcony.

Salvatore, surrounded by plants on his balcony.

In his eighties when we met, Salvatore had retired some years earlier from teaching Latin in the local school. He had lived in Piedimonte Matese his whole life. But his teaching years were not over. “I have one more small errand,” he told us, “if you don’t mind walking with me. It’s not far.” We walked through a residential area, and as we approached an apartment building he pulled a rolled up newspaper from under his sweater and opened it to reveal rose cuttings from his garden. “My students live here,” he said, “and their garden has some rose varieties I don’t have, so I am planting some of mine for them, and taking some of theirs for my garden at home.”

He rang a buzzer at the gated entry, and exchanged a few words on the intercom, too quick for my ears, with a woman. In just a moment, she appeared on a second floor balcony, a lovely stand-in for Sophia Loren, waving down to him and telling him something. “My students are on their way home,” he told us.

“Your students?”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Yes, her daughter and another girl. I tutor them in Latin every week. I want them to meet you. We’ll wait a few minutes if you don’t mind.” He quickly dealt with his horticultural errand, and then stood with us in the fall sunshine, listening intently. “Here they come!” he said, and we heard the sound of a scooter approaching.

Two teenage girls zoomed into the driveway on a Vespa, giggling with delight as they recognized Salvatore. They met us with shy good manners, but with Salvatore, three generations older than they were, they chattered with excitement. No, these were not the geeks of their school. They were two blossoming Italian beauties in tight jeans and fashion jewelry.

Perhaps nothing could have intrigued us more about Salvatore than the affection these students had for him. We took photos and promised to mail them back when we got home. Eager to know more, as we left the girls behind, we asked him how he had learned English.

“I learned from an American, a priest,” he said. “I’ll tell you about him. Do you mind walking a little farther with me?”

To be continued….

Italian Bagpipers: the Zampognari

A vintage post card image of Zampognari.

Who knew Italy had it’s own version of the bagpipes, and a Christmas tradition surrounding them? I’m referring you today to another article in the British magazine “Italy” online, which explains the history of the zampognari, shepherds who came down from the mountains to spend Christmas with their families, and stopped at shrines and nativity scenes to play their carols.

The instrument itself is strange looking, with the air bag sometimes shaped alarmingly like the lamb or sheep it was probably made from. And like Scottish bagpipe music, a little goes a long way for most people.

Are you ready for a visit from the zampognari? Play the video:

Off the beaten path: Discover Scontrone

The beautiful mountains of central Italy.

Italy has its share of tourist attractions, but don’t be fooled. Out in the countryside, in villages and hamlets, many unsung gems await discovery. Scontrone offered us such a discovery.

During one week of a two-month stay in Italy, my husband and I connected with my brother and his daughter in Abruzzo.

A trusting place–keys in the door!

And on one brilliant August day, we drove south from Sulmona in a loop that took us through Castel di Sangro, Scontrone, Barrea and a bit of the National Park of Abruzzo, then through Scanno and back to Sulmona.

Another reason to stop: to have a cool one.

We stopped at Scontrone to have a look around, attracted mainly because of its connection with Pope Celestine V, who lived there briefly in his early twenties, seeking a place of solitude, and found it in a cave. We did not find the cave, but wandered around the quiet (nearly deserted) village, taking photos, which I share with you today.

We admired the “public art”.

And along with these, I encourage you, when you visit Italy, to leave the line to get into the museum, the stiff neck from staring at grand ceilings, leave all that behind at least for a while, and get off the beaten path, practice your “Buon giorno” in a village piazza or bar, and enjoy what you find there.

A member of the welcoming committee.

RE-blog: About Abruzzo

I recently discovered this great blog ‘About Abruzzo’ which is one of my favorite regions of the Italian south. Written by an Irishman who’s been truly bitten by the bug, the blog is full of great insights about the region. One of my favorite features is the photo section, packed with photos from many different places in Abruzzo, and easy to navigate. But today I’m sharing a snip of a recent post, and if you like what you read, click the link to see more!

Three Days in Loreto Aprutino (from “About Abruzzo”)

In the space of a week I received two emails asking about things to do if you had a few days based in Loreto Aprutino.

Although my answer was specific to options in and around Loreto I think the general theme applies to wherever you find yourself in Abruzzo.

  • Explore what the local town has to offer
  • Relax – you owe it to yourself
  • Try the local restaurants
  • Visit other towns within easy reach by car or public transport
  • Walk a little
  • Local events and markets

What follows are my suggestions for what I consider to be a few excellent but not overly packed days discovering Loreto Aprutino and its surroundings.

Caserta, the Versailles of Italy

My research in Italy in 2004 focused on thirteenth and fourteenth century history. As our visit came to an end, we didn’t want to return our rental car in a city, with all the crazy traffic, so we chose–and I can’t recall why–to drop it off at Caserta, north of Naples, and take the train back to Rome from there. I knew nothing about Caserta, because its major claim to fame developed about 450 years after the history I was most interested in.

File:CasertaNorthernAspect.jpgAcross the street from the train station, a few hundred yards away, we could see a massive building, certainly palatial, and we looked with some curiosity but no spare time, wondering what it might be. Our view was not the one you see above, but from the other side of the building, with no hint of the wonderful canal and park.

Now I know. The Reggia di Caserta, the royal palace built by the Bourbon kings of Naples in the 18th century. In fact, the largest palace contructed during that century, and among the largest buildings built in that period, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With 1200 rooms, it is the largest royal palace in the world.

It is on my itinerary for Italy next year!

The palace was conceived and construction begun by King Charles VII of Naples, but he inherited the throne of Spain in 1759, and ceded Naples to his son Ferdinand who was only eight years old. After a period of rule in Naples through regents until he reached his majority, Ferdinand occasionally lived at Caserta from its completion in 1780 until his death in 1825. This included the turbulent Napoleonic period during which Ferdinand was deposed and restored three times. The Bourbons continued to rule until 1861, when Italian unification dissolved the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

Fast forward to World War II, when the palace again served a prominent purpose as the headquarters of the Supreme Allied Commander. In April of 1945, the German surrender in Italy was signed at Caserta.

In more recent years, the palace has been used as a movie filming site for a couple of Star Wars movies, and for scenes from Angels and Demons. In Mission Impossible III, the square where the Lamborghini is blown up is one of the inner squares of the palace.

Visitors today note that the palace is completely unfurnished, and a bit run down, but it is still a popular tourist stop. The grounds are as much an attraction as the palace itself, with a three mile long “Royal Park” considered by many to be superior to the park at Versailles.

Here’s a video peek at some of the Baroque wonders of the palace and park: