Italy: Here I Go Again!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016 | Category: Travel Tips


I love places that have an incredible history. I love the Italian way of life. I love the food. I love the people. I love the attitudes of Italians. – Elton John 


A good friend of mine has traveled to Italy with me a lot. A few years ago, when she announced to her co-workers that she was going to be on holiday soon, they asked where she was going. She replied excitedly, “Italy.” The group was silent for a few uncomfortable moments, and then one of them asked, “But didn’t you go there last year?” Yes, she had. Last year, and the year before that, and probably the year before that. They were a little dumbfounded.

Like me, my friend gets it. She understands that a 6-night three-city whirlwind tour of Italy is not really Italy. You have to leave the big cities eventually and drive off into the mountains, up to the hill towns, down onto the plains — and unpack and stay there for a while.

You have to find ways to interact with the locals: eat where they eat; be curious about them and engage in a little conversation, no matter how bad your Italian is; buy them a drink or a caffe; shop at the mercato with them. You have to try to not be so obviously American: easy on the short shorts, tank tops, flip flops and OUTDOOR VOICES ALL THE TIME.

You have to not be upset when you can’t get a PB&J for lunch or a Denny’s-style pig-out for breakfast. You have to patient and not complain that you can’t eat dinner at 6:00 in most restaurants. You can’t get upset when the restaurant won’t write individual checks (the phrase doesn’t even exist in Italian) or when too many people want to share plates and rush out in 30 minutes. Dining is an art form, to be savored and enjoyed slowly.

You shouldn’t be surprised to still find the odd “squatter” bathroom in public places . . . and you should learn to always carry tissues for just such an event. You mustn’t be afraid of the drivers in Italy: sure they go fast, but are generally pretty good drivers. On the other hand, if you drive, you shouldn’t be surprised to receive a ticket for some kind of allegedly egregious automotive violation six months after you’ve come home. Consider it a luxury tax on your trip.

I advise travelers to learn a few words before they go: ciao, grazie, prego, arrivederci, piacere . . . dove? Che? Quando? Quanto costa? Dove il bagno? A little attempt is much appreciated, especially once you’re out of the major cities. Heck, you might even enjoy it. I love the sound of Italian and hope to be stranded there long enough one year to really know what I’m doing. But I consider it something of a victory that I have convinced my friend that my favorite Italian word is also hers: cucchiaio (spoon). Don’t ask me why, the word just cracks me up.

So where is all this going? I don’t know. To bella italia, I suppose. Back again, with an open heart and a suitcase full of piccoli regali for old friends and new. And a just-in-time sense of needing an infusion of good Abruzzese food and wine, with a few days in Rome first to get acclimated (and to appreciate the slower pace of Sulmona when we arrive).

It’s always a stunner to drive from Fiumicino to Sulmona — at one point (even if you haven’t been paying attention), you cross into Abruzzo and know that you’ve arrived. You’re somewhere different. Greener, more mountainous, rustic, and that the eyes of 1,000 nonne are probably on you already. And sheep. Lots of sheep.

This New York City girl never thought she’d be this close to where her grandparents hailed from (Siena and Salerno), living a schizophrenic life between two cultures. But here I am. And here I go again.

I would be delighted to escort you some time to meet my friends and see how they make their way in this gorgeous part of the world where food has always been slow and the land is entirely important and la famiglia rules. Think about it.



Buon viaggio!








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A Taste of La Cucina Abruzzese

Monday, April 4, 2016 | Category: Salem Stories, Travel Writing


The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you’re hungry again — George Miller


It all started with a crazy idea back in Sulmona in the fall: What if we brought over our two chef friends and did a few cooking classes? Would Americans go for it? Would Novelia really board a plane for the first time in 40 years? Could Amalia pull herself away from her busy life in Santo Stefano di Sessanio and leave everything to Nonna Aida? What if we asked Marco at ONDA-TV to come, too, and film it all? Was there a germ of an idea here?

Amalia leading, Tim and Betsy following

Amalia leading, Tim and Betsy following

A few weeks later, back stateside, Vicky and I sent out a “Save the Date” e-mail for a couple of classes that would be scheduled over a two-week period in March. Novelia and Amalia had said yes, and so the gears were set in motion. Within 48 hours, we were more than fully booked. Oversubscribed. People on waiting lists for the one Sunday class. And three classes soon became four. And then the gang down in the North End got involved, and we were happily ensconced in the whirlwind of activities of the Frattaroli family which has deep roots in Sulmona and owns several Boston area restaurants, among them Filippo on Causeway Street.

Marco was there to film it all. And SATV was there for the first installment, so watch for a show some time in April. Even the Boston Globe got into the act with a lovely article about the series.

Word of mouth grew and we were turning people down every day, right up until the last class. Amazing!

Jim rolls while Novelia explains

Jim rolls while Novelia explains

John, with Barbara in the background, really getting into it!

John, with Barbara in the background, really getting into it!

The first obstacle was that our friends don’t consider themselves chefs. They say they’re only “casalinge” (housewives) who learned how to cook from their mothers and grandmothers. Horsefeathers. In addition to working for the Italian government, Novelia runs a B&B and frequently cooks for her guests. And Amalia runs an inn where the kitchen is the centerpiece of the experience. Besides, who needs grumpy Gordon Ramsey when you can have two attractive, enthusiastic Italians who are devoted to preserving the traditions of their native region?

And what traditions they are! In Abruzzo, they include lenticche

Novelia with her chitarra

Novelia with her chitarra

(lentils), miele (honey) and zafferano (saffron) from Santo Stefano, red garlic from Sulmona, pecorino cheese from L’Aquila, wines from nearby Vittorito and the machine that pulls it all together: la chitarra, the traditional guitar-stringed pasta maker of Abruzzo.

The belle donne created a menu that included a soup of lentichhe and volarelle (a small square-shaped cut fetuccini); pasta alla chitarra with white truffle sauce and also classic tomato sauce; grilled sausage with either cabbage or peas; shepherd’s cheese balls; and a torta della spossa (bride’s cake) with marvelous cream in and on it and sprinkled to look like the Italian flag.

Bello Montepulciano!

Bello Montepulciano!

Wines included (thanks to our favorite winery, Pietrantonj), Trebbiano and Cerasuolo with our appetizers and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo with dinner. The appetizers were flown in from Abruzzo: a hearty salumi selection from Pingue and rich pecorino cheese from Castel del Monte And of course, no Abruzzese event is complete without confetti — the candy coated Sicilian almonds (and many newer variations) — graciously donated by Pelino, Sulmona’s star producer.

I will tell you that this was a lot of work on everybody’s part. Possibly the Invasion of Normandy took less planning. In the end, though, our 40+ participants went home happy and sated and delighted that they had made pasta this new (old) way. And our chefs, who were admittedly a little nervous about doing this, saw that they had used their magic to charm even more people on yet another continent.

We were blessed by the welcome given by the four couples who opened

STate Senator Joan Lovely sampling Novelia and Amalia's aperitivi

State Senator Joan Lovely sampling Novelia and Amalia’s aperitivi

their homes and kitchens and pots and pans to us and we will never be able to repay them. We were gobsmacked by the generosity of Pingue, Pelino, Pietrantonj and Sr. Petronio who donated much of the food and wine. We were thrilled by our two videographers, one from Sulmona and one from Salem, who have recorded this for posterity. And we were honored to be recognized by State Senator Joan Lovely and State Representative Paul Tucker, who have declared their intention to work towards making Sulmona and Salem sister cities, thereby beginning an annual exchange based on food and friendship.

Things don’t get any better than that.

Me and my co-conspirator, Vicky Sirianni, with State Representative Paul Tucker

Me and my co-conspirator, Vicky Sirianni, with State Representative Paul Tucker


Vicky and I are on a mission to introduce Americans to Abruzzo — to its food, to its warm and wonderful people and to its beauty (stunningly showcased by videos created by Marco and shown at every event). We achieved that here for sure, and it’s only the beginning. We both hope that you will want to come to Abruzzo with us and share in the magic of this region.

So come on a tour with us or stay in Casa Linda, Casa del Cuore or Le Case della Posta. Just come.


You won’t regret it and you’ll eat better than you ever have!






Buon appetito e Buon viaggio!



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The Best Good Girl

Wednesday, March 2, 2016 | Category: Reflections


If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went — Will Rogers


The rain on my window was hard one day last week. It pounded in a rhythm of threes — tap, tap, tap — that gave me pause. I stopped what I was doing and listened. Tap, tap, tap. It sounded exactly like our dog drinking water. Maxine always drank in threes. We thought it was a bit odd, but figured, as with all references to three, that there must be some Biblical significance to it. Not.


On her favorite chair, thanks to Auntie Sharon

On her favorite chair, thanks to Auntie Sharon

But of course, it couldn’t be Maxine. Maxine left us on February 4th at 11:30 p.m. at Angell Memorial in Jamaica Plain. She straddled both our laps and crossed over. Lots of sobbing. Massive headaches. General shitiness all around.

That’s why you haven’t heard from me in a few weeks. We are still grieving the loss of our little girl and plan to be doing so for a number of months or more. We had her for 15 years and she was our only child. A very special furry child who was alternately loving and maddening, amusing and aloof, needy and independent. It was our job to figure out her mood each day and act accordingly. We were very well trained.

The lobsters never had a chance . . .

The lobsters never had a chance . . .

Our friends have been wonderful, sending cards and making calls, and installing many hugs on our sad frames. This too shall pass, I know, and a new puppy will help at some point. Our friend Jim says it’s really hard to grieve for your old dog when you’re watching a new puppy doing stupid stuff. I know we’ll experience that, but not right now.

Maxine had aliases. Her formal name was Lady Maxine of the Ozarks, but she was also known as Beanie, Varmsky, Lady Maxine, Lady Meatloaf, Varmit, Waldo Puppercorn, The Bean, Maxeenie Dini Beanie, and to her grandmother — Her Ladyship. She seldom answered to any of them. She was her own dog, for sure.

The Best Good Girl and her staff

The Best Good Girl and her staff

I know a lot of you have experienced the same thing and I’m sorry for your loss, no matter how long ago it was, because I know nobody ever gets over this. Not really.

At least I’ve got Italy to look forward to. Maybe there’ll be a new addition when we get back. You’ll be the first to know.


Buon viaggio!



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New York City and a Blizzard Named Jonas

Saturday, January 30, 2016 | Category: Travel Stories, Travel Tips, Travel Writing, Uncategorized



The snow doesn’t give a soft white damn whom it touches —  e.e.cummings


TimesSquareI came to New York for a writing and theater weekend and got a blizzard named Jonas instead.

The writing went pretty well, actually, but Broadway was shut down Saturday night, along with the tunnels, the subways and buses, the airports and then George Washington Bridge. If you wanted to get here you couldn’t and if you were here and wanted to get out, you’d better find a friend or a hotel room.

Do I like it because it means "apple" in Italian?

Do I like it because it means “apple” in Italian?

I’d gotten a great deal on my favorite little hotel in New York, so I was well taken care of. And right across the street is one of my favorite places to eat. I am sitting at a table there as I begin to write this.

I have been coming here to the Café Un Deux Trois since the 1970s when I lived another life in the advertising business. Few things have changed except that there is a still little shot glass holding crayons on each table, but no paper tablecloths anymore — at least not at breakfast. But the B&W French vintage photos are still here (even in the ladies’ room), as are the graceful  Corinthian columns and large pitted mismatched mirrors. The crystal chandeliers and polished wooden bar are as wonderfully tawdry as they ever were, and the place is still largely frequented — and staffed — by foreigners.

As a traveler, I love that. I’m listening to Castilian Spanish on my left and plummy

Audrey, in the ladies' room!

Audrey, in the ladies’ room!

British on my right. Yesterday my neighbors were Polish and French. And we’re all here in the blizzard together, a little anxious, but still laughing and sipping Cafe Au Lait. Magic.

I never did get to see Allegiance or George Takei (apologies, Mr. Sulu). But I did get to go out on Saturday afternoon and revel in Times Square with dozens of other exuberant folks. There’s nothing quite like New York City in the snow . . . even if I didn’t get up to Central Park to see the 30 inches coming down, the action on Broadway and 44th was invigorating. Flash snowball fights, lots of picture taking, window shopping and an overwhelming sense of being in this thing together. The last time I experienced this was in the ‘80s and I remember people cross country skiing up Madison Avenue (never mind the park) and just how wonderfully calm the city was with no beeping horns or air brakes scaring the hell out of you.

West44thOn Sunday the city came back to life, the way it always does. Museums re-opened, the TKTS booth was mobbed with eager theater-goers and the sun came out to make it all kind of sparkle. I did manage to get to my second show, the wildly creative Fun Home, the brainchild of Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori that is based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. The show was staged at the Circle in the Square, which is such an intimate theatre that you feel a mad part of everything. Add to that the fact that I was sitting on the aisle in the very first row next to the orchestra and you can imagine . . . I had a nice chat with Sunita, one of the ushers, who is as avid a travel fan as I am.



After the show, I walked back toward the hotel and stopped at a small restaurant just down the street. As I was reading the menu outside, a man came over and said, “It’s terrific. My wife and I ate here last night. Don’t miss it.” So I went in, and was ushered to a seat along the banquette in the back, next to two women a little younger than I am. Soon, a couple about the same age sat down on the other side.

Gentle reader, the thing about New York City is that when disaster or discomfort strikes, its people get real. They talk, they joke, they watch out for each other. And so it was at Osteria al Doge, a long-time fixture in the pre-theatre restaurant business in Times Square, although this was my first time there. The very experienced waitress, Ella, has apparently been there for a while and served us all with insight and humor.

I started, as I usually do, with a glass of crisp Prosecco. Then I ordered the Insalata Tricolore, a wonderful plate of fresh arugula, radicchio and endive with a very nice dressing and delicate sheets of shaved parmesan on top. On the recommendation of the ladies at the next table. I ordered the Mezzelune alle Melanzane, a gorgeous homemade ravioli filled with roasted baby eggplant, goat cheese and fresh tomatoes. They thought that a nice glass of Valpolicella should accompany my portion, as it had theirs, and so they quickly asked for another glass and shared their bottle of wine with me.

When it came time for dessert (Ella is evil; she brought each of us the dessert cart, holding all kinds of unspeakable choices), the folks on the other side opted for special Chocolate Mousse, and so did I. Not my usual choice for an Italian restaurant dolce, but I am very glad that I tried it. With a coating of dark semi-sweet chocolate, and topped with blackberries and fresh whipped cream, it was one of the highlights of this crazy weekend. As such, I returned the favor of the Valpolicella ladies and offered them some of the mousse, which they happily accepted. I left the restaurant well fed and feeling good about life, even though trains were bring cancelled for the next day.


The next day I made it out of the city, just about two hours late, which wasn’t so bad. Another New York City adventure behind me, another new folio of poems, another Playbill for my collection and more good feelings about my home town. If you’ve never been, go. If you have been, go back. The Bronx is still up and the Battery’s still down. But there’s no place like Manhattan.

Buon viaggio!


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Italy Bucket List

Tuesday, December 22, 2015 | Category: Reflections, Travel Stories, Travel Tips


The holidays stress people out so much. I suggest you keep it simple and try to have as much fun as you can. —Giada De Laurentis 

Hah! — LD Jenkins


‘Tis the season of distress. Too much to do, too many people wanting a piece of your time, and this damned upcoming holiday week, which has become so far removed from what it should be that it makes me weep.

I’ve advised friends to never make important decisions between Thanksgiving and the day after Valentine’s Day because we’re all so unstable during these days. This year is no different. I, who am usually pretty darn centered and easy going, find myself bursting into tears at odd moments, experiencing more pain than I have in years, sleeping almost not at all and just generally being a cranky and miserable person to be around. Ho. Ho. Ho. Poor Tim. Poor Maxine.

That said, I always have Italy. Just thinking about it makes me smile and, thanks to the Internet, I have so many Italian friends on Facebook and Twitter that I can pretty much always know what’s going on in the places that I love, as long as the language isn’t too much in the vernacular.

So how will I get through this season? By making an Italy bucket list for 2016.

Here goes:

One of the things I’m most interested in doing is to go to Italy during the holidays to see the Christmas markets. I’m not sure what goes on in Piazza Garibaldi in Sulmona, but I guess I can stand a side trip. Besides, Sulmona does the best Easter celebration by far, so it can’t be expected to do both!

I want to make a trip to the region of Basiicata in May after my tour is over to visit the city of caves, Matera. See? Didn’t that video make you smile? (Yle, are you ready for us?)  Puglia is also on my list, but that may have to wait until 2017.*

IMG_6502More cooking classes are a must, and I’d love to start with the wonderful Simone Proietti and see his brand new ristorante, Le Delize del Borgo, in Bevagna in nearby Umbria. And of course there’s Carmine in nearby Pacentro (the Abruzzese home town of Madonna’s relatives). Carmine’s spectacular taverna, Caldora, is not to be missed.

IMG_7419And I’m always up to meeting new vineyards and new wines, so bring them on! In 2015, we discovered the Pietronatonj and Masciarelli wineries. Bene! What’s not to like with a tasting in a castle, which is just what you get with Masciarelli!?

I want to learn to better appreciate Rome when I go in May. I’m a New York City girl, so am a bit partial to the big city of my youth, but I’m willing to go with an open heart this time.

I would love to get to see Castelli in 2016, which is the Deruta (ceramic center) of Abruzzo.

Trabocchio002And I want to finally get to the Adriatic’s Costa dei Trabocchi to see the trabucco fishing piers and try some local fresh fish.


My adopted region of Abruzzo has such an amazing food history and suchIMG_7812 culinary opportunities that I want to learn more about their sources and uses: the red garlic, saffron, truffles, lentils, grapes, olives and cheeses. This item will probably cost me 10 pounds, but it will be worth it!

Mostly, I want to keep meeting the wonderful Abruzzese people — the natives as well as the stranieri who have come to settle there and now call it home. We are a colorful bunch, I tell you, and I hope that you’ll join me on one of our twice-yearly tours or will venture here on a self-catering holiday. Casa Linda awaits!

I feel better already . . .

Buon Natale e Buon Capodanno!


N.B. Some of you have asked for a trip to Venice in 2017. Sounds good to me. But you’ll also have to see Verona and Vicenza, because I can’t be that far north and not see two of my other favorite cities and introduce you to some new friends there. Let me know if you’re interested . . .