(Nearly) a Month in the (Old) Country

Monday, May 22, 2017 | Category: Travel Stories, Travel Tips, Travel Writing

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I am not a great cook, I am not a great artist. But I love art and I love food, so I am the perfect traveler — Michael Palin

 

It keeps getting better, Italy. And I’m pretty sure that’s not just a comparison to what’s been going on in the good ol’ USA these days. No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, it’s hard to argue the fact that we are of late an enormously divided people who wake up to unsettling news each and every morning.

Celano, en route from Fiumicino to Sulmona

For a little more than three weeks, Tim and I have been back in Italy, answering endless questions (“Is it really true?”, “Did you learn nothing from us with Berlusconi?”) and trying to focus on showing our travelers a good time and enjoying the food, wine, vistas and slower pace that rural Italy offers.

And our travelers! Every tour has its own special ambience, and this year was no exception. Our “Taste of the Mezzogiorno” group was seven enthusiastic people strong and included one fellow who had never even been to Italy before. I love the fact that he was introduced to the South first, before being overwhelmed by Rome, Florence and Venice. Now he understands about the “forte e gentile” Abruzzese people . . . about the strategic importance of the beautiful blue Adriatic . . . and about the rugged communal life of the interior.

Un trabocco, along the Ortona coast

On this tour we tried to show off three ways of life in three different regions: small city life in Sulmona (Abruzzo), a jewel of a port city in Trani (Puglia), and the remarkable sassi settlement of Matera (Basilicata). Along the way we stopped in Ortona, saw trabocchi along the coast, were wowed by Polignare a Mare and got a close-up look at the trulli houses of Alberobello. It was a lot of driving and, once again, my eternal gratitude extends to my husband, Tim, for driving a nine-person van up and around the surreal switchbacks of southern Italy.

In each region we ate local food, visited local wineries and learned about history and culture from knowledgeable local tour guides. I think it’s a great way to experience the authentic (an overused word, I know) Italy. Our small groups receive warm welcomes, hear good stories, make friends and even get an occasional invitation to someone’s home. It cannot be beat.

Trulli in Alberobello

This fall we are doing something a little different. By popular demand from former travelers, we are going to Venice. I said I would do it only if they agreed to see Vicenza, as well. So we go off on a non-driving tour of two great Northern cities, and then Tim and I will return to Sulmona, where our hearts are.

Ciao from bella italia!

 

 

 

 

Our next tour of the Abruzzo region (and who knows where else?) will be in May 2018. Think about it if you’re up for a small group experience like no other. Watch this space and my Facebook page for more details.

Tim and I go back to Salem, Massachusetts in a few days, where we know a thing or two about witch hunts. We’re looking forward to Venice in the fall . . .

 

Buon viaggio!

In Abruzzo: Arrosticini on the Range

Tuesday, April 18, 2017 | Category: Travel Stories, Travel Tips, Travel Writing

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This article first appeared in DreamofItaly.com

 

If you’re a fan of spaghetti westerns, you might recognize the location of Ristoro Mucciante, a barbecue-delipicnic spot on Campo Imperatore in the region of Abruzzo. This is the area Italians call “Little Tibet” because of its similar mountainous terrain, but also because of the geography of spirit that the area invokes.

In 1970, Campo Imperatore was the site for a series of westerns, including one called They Call Me Trinity whose star, Bud Spencer, just died this past June. For those who are too young to remember, “spaghetti westerns” were a genre popular in the 1960s thanks to director Sergio Leone’s film-making style. The term was coined by American film critics because most of these westerns were produced on limited budgets and directed by Italians. Think A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

Today, what’s left from this era is a log cabin rising out of nowhere, nearly 5,000 feet above sea level at the foot of the Gran Sasso mountain, and there are always scads of cars and motorcycles in the parking lot. And that parking lot? Filled with BBQ grills and coals ready for cooking the local favorite, arrosticini (lamb skewers) that you can buy inside. What’s going on here?

This is the home of the freshest Abruzzese farm-to-table street food imaginable — and the locals make regular pilgrimages out here, hauling their salads, side dishes, tablecloths and kids for a picnic experience like no other. On sale besides the lamb skewers: a variety of sweet and hot pork sausages, gorgeous thick beef filets, three or four different kinds of local cheese (Pecorino is my favorite), homemade bread and an assortment of chips, cookies, sodas, beer, wine and soft drinks. Just add the ambiance — and cook your own meat!

And because it’s well situated between Castel del Monte and the resort at the top of Campo Imperatore, a lot of tourist traffic passes by this curious place as well. Why? For film buffs, this area is famous, having provided backdrops for films like The American, The Name of the Rose, and Ladyhawke. As for Campo Imperatore, its historical claim to fame is that from August 28 to September 12, 1943, the local hotel served as the prison of Benito Mussolini until he was liberated by the German armed forces.

Today, the Campo’s Rifugio Campo Imperatore (www.refugiocampoimperatore.com) is the main accommodation of its namesake ski resort and is a good starting point for hiking on the western slope of the Gran Sasso. There’s even a notable observatory here which, since 2001, has been home to the international program that led to the discovery of some 61,000 asteroids.

Back to the Ristoro Mucciante: it is owned by brothers Rodolofo,

Rodolfo at work!

Roberto and Gianni, who grew up in nearby Castel del Monte, the grandsons of a butcher. They still raise some 500 sheep in the area and their next project is working to earn a “biologic” (organic) designation and complete the vertical integration by raising all the plants their sheep need to eat.

Rodolfo and his brothers do not do this fulltime; in fact, Rodolfo is an accountant by profession. But they are very happy to work with their parents, keeping this unique tradition alive. Their enthusiasm is contagious, and it’s clear they do this as much for love as for profit.

“This is the best work in the world,” says Rodolfo, with a grin. “When people ask me what they should see in Abruzzo I tell them Castel del Monte, Calascio and Santo Stefano di Sessanio. But first, see Ristoro Mucciante.”

Ristoro Mucciante

Localita Madonnina

Castel del Monte

(39) 0862 938357

Open daily from May 1 to October 31, 9:00 a.m. –

8:00 p.m. Open on weekends during the rest of

the year, weather permitting.

— Linda Dini Jenkins

And here’s a video I shot with Rodolfo last May, in a raging wind storm. Thanks to Melissa Vice and Cucillo Conad for their hard work!

https://www.dropbox.com/s/gwqr5mejaxb5y9j/Ristoro_Mucciante_2016.mov?dl=0

 

Buon viaggio

 

 

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Happy National Poetry Month!

Monday, April 3, 2017 | Category: Salem Stories, Travel Stories, Uncategorized

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Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash — Leonard Cohen

 

I’m always excited when April comes around, because I can officially come out as a poet.

People who know me well know that I teach poetry at Explorers (Lifelong Learning Institute) at least once a year and that I always offer the option to facilitate journal writing on our tours. Introducing the poetry of travel, and encouraging travelers to make poetry from their travel journaling are favorite activities of mine.

I was lucky enough to be asked to participate in a program at the Salem Athenaeum last month called The Writers in Your Neighborhood and, unbeknownst to me, Tim filmed my part of the program. The first :10 is missing, but the rest of the 7 minute reading is captured here for your enjoyment.

Herewith: a few poems derived from travel and the places that travel and memory take you.

Bon viaggio!

https://youtu.be/koF1cQmXg_E

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Italia in 2018! Who’s in?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017 | Category: Travel Tips, Travel Writing

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I spent a college semester in a small town in Italy — and that is where I truly tasted food for the first time. — Alton Brown

 

Just a quick blast so you can start planning your 2018 Italian adventure with Travel the Write Way!

We are planning two tours next year — as always, one in the Spring and one in the Fall. Both will feature optional journal writing exercises for those who want to better capture their travel experiences.

While dates and details are not available yet (but will be forthcoming by the summer), here’s something to think about:

May 2018

Roma!

Rome & Abruzzo in the Springtime

Spend 4 nights in Rome, the Caput Mundi, the center of the universe. We’ll enjoy at least one food tour, a wine tasting experience and lots of time to see the city of Fellini. Be transformed by this place that is both ancient and modern, sacred and profane.

Then we’ll drive east, to the city of Ovid — Sulmona — where we’ll spend 4 nights in the heart of the Abruzzo region. We’ll have wine tastings, an olive oil experience, a cooking class, and visits to several nearby hill towns. We will eat and drink exceedingly well here in the heart of the Valle Peligna, and you’ll feel like a local by the time you leave.

 

 

October 2018

Piazza Garibaldi: Sulmona among the mountains

Le Marche & Abruzzo Food & Harvest Tour

We’ll begin with a 3-night stay at a secluded (and now very famous) agriturismo near Urbania in the Marche, about 4 hours from Rome. Private cooking class and truffle hunting included. It’s a great introduction to this wild and wonderful part of bella italia. Heck, you might even see a cinghiale!

Then we’ll head down to the Abruzzo, where the beautiful city of Sulmona will be our base for 5 nights. After visiting the highest ruined castle in the Apennines, walking through the town where Madonna’s family hails from, checking out the silver filigree in a city made prosperous by the wool trade and touring and tasting at the oldest winery in Abruzzo, you’ll still have time to relax, eat well and bring home lots of memories. And don’t forget the confetti!

 

There’s something for all Italophiles, foodies and wine lovers on these trips — punctuated (no pun intended) by an optional opportunity to do some writing to capture the moments.

Think about Italy in 2018 and join us!

Buon viaggio!

 

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Happy Anniversary, Cucina Abruzzese!

Thursday, March 2, 2017 | Category: Reflections, Travel Stories, Travel Writing

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It was one year ago this month . . .

First, a huge box arrived. It took two of us to drag it into the kitchen. Like the “important award” box in A Christmas Story, the box said in bold letters: FRAGILE. Only this box really was from Italy.

Inside was a cornucopia of all things Abruzzese. There were wheels of pecorino cheese, and there was grated pecorino cheese. There was a well-used chittara and an antique rolling pin. There were many kilos of Pelino confetti. There was salumi — sliced and whole — of every description. Prosciutto, guanciale, mortadella. There were the famed protein-packed lentils of Santo Stefano. There were books and brochures and CDs and recipe cards and display pieces galore.

We already had the wine: a gift from Pietrantonj of their fabulous Montepulciano. We filled in the selection with Trebbiano and Pecorino and our favorite: the piquant and rosy Cerasuola. Of course, Prosecco was involved as well.

Novelia with her chitarra

Vicky and I went shopping in Revere for the right “OO” flour for the pasta, bread crumbs for the shepherd’s balls, and passito for the sauce. We bought many pounds of sausages. We bought garlic and carrots and celery and olive oil and dozens and dozens of eggs. And Novelia gave us orders about what to buy so she could make her famous chocolate cake. We found the secret ingredient (no, I’m not going to tell you) in the North End.

A few days later, armed with pots and pans and serving dishes, we headed off to the first of four cooking classes.

Participants snapped this opportunity up faster than we ever imagined. And four

Amalia Cardelli, all the way from Santo Stefano

friends offered their rather large kitchens and dining rooms for the events. Two in Salem, one in Winchester and one in Danvers. Men and women, old friends and new, came from all over the North Shore — even one from Rhode Island, one from Pennsylvania and one from California — and were delighted. And boy, did we eat well! Mangiamo bene!

And to top it all off, Marco Malvestuto, filmmaker and man about town in Sulmona, was here to capture the moments on video. Herewith, I give you Cucina Abruzzese a la Marco.

Enjoy! And let me know if you want to do it again in 2018!!

Buon viaggio!

 

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