Sunday, December 9, 2012

Time As Tyrant

The Clock/L’orogolio, part of the No Escape series, written by Dino Buzzati, directed by Laura Caporroti, produced by Kairos Italy Theater (KIT), at Cherry Lane Theater, New York City, November, 2012.

Tick, tock, tick, tock.  The relentless clock marks the seconds as they pass. Tick, tock. Measured, pitiless, unflinching, unforgiving. Its mechanical beat underlies the jagged, raw emotion that unfolds onstage.  One woman whose twisted, terrifying character is split between two actresses, is both delighted and compelled to murder her hateful husband.  She succeeds, but so does he.  Upon his death his soul inhabits the clock whose constant tick tock traps his widow in a miserable, other-worldly existence.  She is doomed to constantly relive her own darkest moments of hating him, devising his murder and carrying it out.

The set is sparse: two simple chairs face the audience on the right side and the left.  Between the chairs are several clocks on the bare wooden floor.  The two actresses keep to their respective sides of the stage, except at the very end of the play when their characters seem to have switched bodies.  Throughout the play, they each hold a telephone receiver with a long cord, connected to nothing.

The Clock poses questions without answers and presents confusion without clarity.  We know that the wife hates the husband enough to kill him, but we don’t know why.  We know that the power of the merciless clock is enough to drive her insane, but we don’t know if she was insane already.  We don’t know if his manipulating soul in the clock is proof of his malevolent nature, or a strange justice for the death of an innocent man.

Such a story walks invisible lines and forces the audience to follow and at times, run ahead, searching for sure footing.  Of course, surety never comes.  And isn’t that a mark of great storytelling?

For a story like this to be absorbing, the actresses need to be fearless and in total command of the material.   Here, Lucia Grillo and Amy Frances Quint mesmerized us as two sides of the same woman: Grillo embodied the aggression of anger and sexuality while Quint spiraled in fear.  Despite these differences, both sides of the character agreed that murder was the only solution.

Lucia Grillo, Photo by D. Condonesu

Grillo’s aggression sported many colors: an almost predatory sexuality and the deep misery that creates spitting anger.  She played with the phone receiver and cord almost as a cat plays with mouse.  The schemes brewing in her mind were almost palpable as she slowly poisoned her husband while encouraging him to have more.   At one point she screamed at her husband with such vehemence and repulsion that every head in the audience snapped to attention.   Grillo was all powerful, until the soul in the clock overtook her.

Amy Quint, Photo by D. Condonesu
Quint’s portrayal of the terrified aspect of the woman was such a thorough examination of fear that she actually came out the other side: her terror made her terrifying.  Pale and quivering, the phone cord wrapped ever more tightly around her neck.  We half expected a suicide at any moment.  Quint even crawled on her belly under her chair, trying to increase the distance between her and her husband.  The moment she understood that she would kill him rang like a bell.

As the woman’s character was split between two actresses, either of these portrayals in less capable hands could have been a one-note performance.  But each actress brought such nuanced understanding to their roles that neither personality was truncated.  Each was richly layered as they spiraled downward, deeper into madness and powerlessness.

The Clock/L’orogolio was directed by KIT founder and driving force Laura Caporroti.  She developed the material at World Wide Lab: A Director’s Feast, held in Brooklyn this summer.  “This is the most difficult and challenging piece by Buzzati,” says Caporroti. “It is impossible to perform it in a traditional way. At the World Wide Lab, we started with different exercises on the play’s words and objects and it became clear that the clocks and the phone were the focus of the play. Initially, the play was done separately in English and Italian. However, we improvised and tried to unify the two languages, and it worked much better.”

Who is Dino Buzzati?

Dino Buzzati (1906-1972) was a multi-faceted talent and leading figure in 20th century Italian literature.  He was a painter, poet and, from the age of 22 until his death, a journalist and crime news reporter for Corriere della Sera.  He wrote novels, plays for theater and radio, opera librettos, short stories, children’s books and was known as the Italian Kafka.  Perhaps his most famous work was the novel Il Deserto dei Tartari (The Tartar Steppe).

His writing style is often described as magical realism.  In his own words, Buzzatti understood that the “effectiveness of a fantastic story will depend on its being told in the most simple and practical terms.”

In the 1950’s Buzzatti created No Escape, a compilation of four works, each exploring women unable to control their own lives.  The works include The Clock, Striptease, The Switchboard Operator and Alone At Home.

What is KIT?

KIT is Kairos Italy Theater and is the preeminent Italian theater company in NYC.  Its mission is to create artistic exchanges between Italy, the US and the rest of the world.  KIT specializes in bringing works to New York stages that have never before been presented in the US.  Appreciation of these works is designed for everyone through KIT’s Double Theater Experience: one act performed in English and then in Italian.

KIT founder, actress, producer and director Laura Caporroti is always striving to expand KIT’s reach and deepen its relationship with the community.  To that end, KIT sponsors Italian cultural events such as the Italian Theater Festival and presents classes in Italian & Theater for children and adults. It is the theater company in residence at Casa Italiana Zerrilli-Marimo’ at NYU.

KIT productions are unexpected, thought- provoking and literate.  New York  is lucky to have KIT.

To learn more about KIT, click here.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Italian Silent Films Give Voice to the Immigrant Experience

A frightened 13 year old boy, pretending to be brave, kisses his father good-bye before climbing, alone, onto a steamship in the Genoa harbor.  His father whispers, “Remember, you are on a mission from God” just before leaving his last embrace.  The child climbs onto the ship with his small bag of belongings, wondering what Argentina will be like and how long it will take to find his mother, last known to be working as a maid for a wealthy Argentinean family.

This is the opening scene of the Italian silent film, Dagli Appennini alle Ande (From the Apennines to the Andes) by Umberto Paradisi (1916).  The film is adapted from the classic short story Cuore (Heart) by Edmondo De Amicis, written in 1886.  I viewed this rare, restored film at Leshowitz Hall, Cali School of Music, Montclair State University.  An original score was performed live by Marco Cappelli and Chris Opperman.  The film was provided by the Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna.

Although the film was richly emotional and engrossing on its own, it appeared within a larger context of Italian silent filmmaking.  This information was provided by Dr. Teresa Fiore who holds Inserra Endowed Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies at MSU, and Prof. Jacqueline Reich of Cinema and Cultural Studies from Stony Brook University.  From both of their talks, a more detailed understanding emerged.

The short story upon which the film was based.

Prof. Reich opened her talk with film clips of two iconic representations of Italian immigration.  The first was from The Godfather Part II showing the young Vito Andolini (later Vito Corleone) smuggled out of Sicily and into America for his safety.  This film doesn’t tell the tale of the sea voyage itself, but focuses instead on his departure and emotional arrival in America.  The second clip was from 2006’s Nuovomondo (The Golden Door) which gives a rather detailed description of life aboard ship as it crosses the ocean, complete with its indignities and uncertainties.  Dagli Appennini alle Ande, made many decades before either of these examples, showed the loneliness and desolation of the young boy during his 27-day voyage.  However, his arrival in Argentina was not highlighted as a meaningful moment, perhaps because the rest of film followed the tortured search for his mother.

In Italy during the silent film era, venues for watching films were shared with other activities.  The phrase cinema ambulante (walking film) described the portability of these works, which were shown in a variety of places.  Opera houses, music halls, fair grounds and even churches (depending on the film) were quickly transformed into temporary movie theaters.

There were several genres popular with moviegoers at the time. Travelogues were often shown, allowing viewers who may have never left their villages with the chance to see what other countries might look like.  Films of natural disasters were also popular, such as the eruption of Vesuvius in 1906 and the earthquake of Messina in 1908.  During WWI, film was used to document many battles and general destruction.  Around 1916, a genre known as Diva Films emerged, featuring popular actresses in plots involving high fashion and high society.  Religious themes were also frequent celluloid topics.   

Meanwhile, across the ocean, New York was the center of American filmmaking and the city most densely populated with Italian immigrants.  This guaranteed an eager audience for immigrant-themed stories.  Many new Italian arrivals used these films as behavioral guides or cautionary tales. Either way, they were learning how to be American.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Alto Jonio Dance 2012

What do NYC’s Martha Graham School, Peridance Capezio Center, Steps on Broadway, Essence of Italy, Key West’s Modern Dance, Milan’s Centro Studi Coreografici Carcano and Calabria’s AAJ-TV have in common?  We all joined forces to sponsor Alto Jonio Dance 2012 Festival (AJD 2012) in Villapiana, Calabria, Italy

AJD 2012 was an international, week-long dance school and competition held at the end of July in Calabria’s seaside town of Villapiana.  It brought together high-caliber choreographers, performers and students from around the world.  Antonio Pio Fini, a professional dancer and Villapiana native who splits his time between Italy and Manhattan, envisioned a dance event that would invigorate the local state of the art.  Calling upon contacts made throughout his career, Fini brought together a wide array of professionals to teach multiple dance styles.  From NYC, Michael Mao of Michael Mao Dance Company, Megumi Nakayama, hip hop choreographer, and Nicola Iervasi, Artistic Director of Mare Nostrum Elements; from Philadelphia, Christopher Fleming of Ballet Fleming; from Japan, Rebecca Imaizumi, hip hop choreographer; from Milan, Elena Albano, choreographer and teacher of Martha Graham technique; from Turin, Davide Accossato, tap dance teacher and from nearby Lattarico, Gianlucca Blandi taught Pilates while also serving as AJD’s Producer. 

Students chose from a wide variety of movement styles, including ballet, hip hop, tarantella, Pilates, yoga, Martha Graham technique, modern, repertory, Latin and tap.  The students were from the local area plus Milan and Vienna.  For many of them, this was the first time they would be exposed to such a variety of styles taught by such accomplished teachers.  As the week progressed, the students became more of a family; taking classes, sharing meals, going to the beach and enduring the heat (it was about 113 degrees Fahrenheit).  When the competition arrived on July 31, they enthusiastically cheered each other on from the stands.  Among the scholarship winners were Stefania Coloru, who will study for a semester at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance in New York and Marco Belsito who will study at the Centro Studi Coreografici "Teatro Carcano" in Milan.

The night of the competition was hosted by Milan TV broadcasters Tabata Caldironi and Francesco Mogol.  The audience was treated to beautiful performances by AJD winners from prior years: Filipo Stabile, who was the 2011 winner from Villapiana and Jonathan Campbell, the winner of the 2011 Emerging Choreographer award in NYC.   Campbell, along with Austin Diaz, performed the works that won the 2011 prize along with a stunning new composition.

Michael Mao received an award honoring his outstanding career and contributions to the world of dance. Nicola Iervasi joined the stage along with his Mare Nostrum Elements dancers for a joyous tarantella, to the celebratory rhythms of QuartAumentata, a Calabrian musical group who just signed with Sony Classical.

The winner of the Prize for Choreographic Composition, Antonella Perazzo (center) hugs Artistic Director Antonio Pio Fini, to his right, Gianlucca Blandi, Producer.

Response of the town of Villapiana

Villapiana is the small seaside town where AJD’s Artistic Director, Antonio Pio Fini, was raised.  Although surely a wonderful place to grow up, it has limited opportunities for anyone dreaming of a career in dance.  Fini wanted to present the next generation of dancers in his town with better experiences, so he created this summer school and competition.

The town responded by warmly welcoming the teachers, students, journalists and tourists who arrived for AJD 2012.  A poetry contest was held for local school students, the winner being Rosa Maria Galluzzi for her entry, “La Danza” (The Dance).  She received her award on stage, along with her proud parents, on the night of the AJD competition. 

Rosa Maria is the daughter of Celestina and Vincenzo, owners of Hotel Celestina where I had the good fortune to stay.  It has a two-star rating but it acts like a three-star.  The rooms are spacious and full of light, with comfortable beds and modern, large bathrooms. Celestina and Vincenzo are the kind of warm, hospitable people that you hope to meet to meet in a small, foreign place. 

A continental breakfast is included at Il Pirata, a festive cafĂ© at the end of the street.  Il Pirata was built by Celestina’s father, who calls himself the Pirate of Gelato.  (He also built the hotel and named it for his daughter.)  I sampled as many gelato flavors as possible during my stay and I want to return and try them again. And again.

The hotel is within walking distance of the dance studio, grocery stores, restaurants and the beach.  Our chosen beach was Lido Verde, which provided lounges and umbrellas, changing rooms and showers.  We ate many lunches and dinners at Lido Verde, which served luscious spaghetti al mare with lemon and olive oil (one of my favorites).  I enjoyed all of the fish dishes, which were simply prepared with fresh fish caught nearby.  My personal favorite was a thick slice of sword fish drizzled with olive oil and topped with chopped fresh parsley.  Lido Verde also serves its own selection of wines that went perfectly with lunch and dinner.

Villapiana threw a party for the staff and dancers of AJD in the town square on a crystal clear moonlit night.  Organized by Mayor Roberto Rizzuto and Cultural Attache’ Felicia Favale, the piazza was closed to all vehicle traffic while tables were spread with homemade local dishes of pork, eggplant, artichokes and beans, wine and desserts.  Delicious aromas filled the air.  Local families reached into their personal histories and brought out the handiwork that thrived in Villapiana in the past: delicately detailed needlework.  Bed linens and table cloths painstakingly embellished by the women from prior generations were proudly brought out to be admired and appreciated by this group of foreign visitors.  A young girl, dressed in the traditional Villapianese costume of centuries ago agreed to pose with me for a photograph.

Soon, the music started.  Young men who are local musicians played the frame drum and fisarmonica, inviting us all to dance to the rhythms of the tarantellas and pizzicas that rang for centuries in this region.  The next surprise was Antonio Fini performing his ritualistic fire dance on the cool piazza pavement.  I’ve watched him perform these fluid movements with flaming metal bolas on multiple New York stages, but the spontaneity and earthiness of this performance was truly special.  Antonio was joined by Gianlucca Blandi who, up to this moment, had been practicing with only unlit bolas.  He chose this night to be his fiery debut.  The combination of both dancers created a spectacle of strength and wonder.

It seemed to me that this is where all of the dances were meant to be done; in the dark, hot summer air.  Everything around us was ancient; the moon, the piazza, the songs.  We all danced, some barefoot, some not, under the beneficent light of the full moon.  In the midst of it all, my wonderful friend Tabata Caldironi danced up to me and said, “This is a perfect southern night.  Don’t ever forget this.”  Believe me, I never will.

To learn more and to join us for AJD 2013, visit

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Unlocking the Secrets of Campania

  The beautiful town of Agerola, province of Naples.

 The region of Campania includes some very famous places: the Amalfi Coast, the island of Capri and the cities of Naples and Sorrento. Not only are they beautiful and the favored destination of generations of celebrities, but even songs are written about them. Yet in some ways, they are victims of their popularity. They are quite crowded at certain times of the year and, to one extent or another, certain shops and restaurants can have a ‘touristy’ feel. But there is another side to Campania, a gentler, more spacious side. Small towns with their own traditions, cuisine and wine are nestled in the region’s hills and valleys. Many of these areas were the birthplaces of our Italian-American ancestors in the provinces of Avellino, Benevento, Caserta and Salerno. For example, in Salerno you can discover Roscigno Vecchio, locally referred to as ‘the town that walks’. Landslides have hit Roscigno Vecchio many times during its history, forcing the complete evacuation of its historical center to alternative locations. But its inhabitants moved en masse and rebuilt, while striving to preserve as many structures as possible. The latest evacuation occurred in the 20th century. The town is now considered an eco-museum dedicated to Italian life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is located within a National Park and the Cilento World Heritage Site.

Stopping for a drink in Roscigno Vecchio. 

While you’re in Salerno, be sure to taste the soppressata, the tasty local salami and Mozzarella nella Mortella cheese. Primarily made in the small rural village of Novi Velia, it is made of cow’s milk flavored with myrtle leaves. You can always venture into the town of Agerola in the Province of Naples. Agerola is part of a nature reserve, the Latteri Mountains Park, and the starting point of the Trail of the Gods (Sentiero Degli Dei). This route affords uninterrupted, spectacular views of Praiano, Positano, Capri and Cilento. On the way, snack on Vesuvius Piennolo Tomatoes, grown on the foothills of the famous volcano. These small cherry tomatoes are some of the oldest agricultural products in Campania. You can often see them reproduced in woven baskets in the classic Neapolitan presepi. Of course, you’ll need cheese for your journey, so why not try Fiordilatte or Provolone del Monaco, two of Campania’s best cheese varieties? And what about the wine? The province of Benevento boasts the playful Falanghina, while Caserta offers Pallangrello and Casavecchia grapes, both harvested from the oldest cultivated indigenous vines in the region. Round out your impromptu picnic with chestnuts, honey, cherries and olive oil. No wonder Italians eat dinner so late in the day.

                                              Campolattaro, province of Benevento.

 These are only a few of the discoveries waiting to be uncovered in the quietly beautiful towns of Campania. And the Region of Campania would like to help you get the most out of your experience. Visit for more highlights and suggested itineraries. Buon viaggio!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Edible Treasures of Ascoli Piceno

Ascoli Piceno is the southernmost province of Italy’s Marche region, about 2 hours north of Rome. It borders the region of Abruzzo to the south, is caressed by the Adriatic Sea to the east and protected by the Apennine Mountains to the west. This little-known province is home to some wonderful delicacies. Food historian and author, Francine Segan, educated us all at a recent event held in NYC’s Princeton Club. For instance, Olive all’Ascolane is a taste sensation. These olives were already famous during Roman times for their pleasing, mild flavor. Start with the tender, succulent green olives that grow only in Ascoli Piceno. Knife peel each one by hand. Simmer 3 types of meat together and season to taste. Squeeze the meat into a small ball and wrap an olive around each one. Tap this stuffing into the olive 10 times. Dip each rotund olive into egg, flour and bread crumbs, then fry in hot olive oil. Yes, it takes hours. Yes, it’s worth it. Perfect for an antipasto or side dish, you’ll never think about olives the same way again. An unassuming little town in Ascoli Picenco, called Offida, is home to Cantina del Picchio, a restaurant where Francine swears she had the best meals of her life. The Cantina has an outstanding chef, Emilio Pasqualini, who serves up heavenly dishes on a daily basis in this out of the way place. Chef Pasqualini recently spent some time in NYC and, just before returning to Italy, prepared the olive all’ascolane for our Princeton Club event. According to Francine, he made 800 of them. Delicious.
Olive all'Ascolane ready for tasting. An award-winning egg pasta also comes from this region, Spinosi Pasta. Made with fresh eggs, superfine flour, salt and Spinosi’s own full-bodied olive oil, this pasta is rich in protein, Omega 3 and Vitamin E. It cooks in 3-4 minutes and is very porous, meaning that a little goes a long way and it quickly soaks up any sauce you serve with it. The flavor of this dry pasta rivals that of fresh pasta from other brands. You can find Spinosi Pasta at Di Paolo’s in NYC’s Little Italy or online. Ascoli Piceno not only offers food, but it is also a great source for wine. The Ciu’ Ciu’ Winery produces Kurni, which Joe Bastianich lovingly describes in his new book, Grandi Vini, An Opinionated Tour of Italy’s 89 Finest Wineries. I haven’t tasted that particular wine, but I have tried Oppidum from the same winery, and it has become a favorite of mine. It’s a smooth red with just the right amount of body. This winery is an organic operation and the reds have extremely low sulphite levels. If you prefer white wine, I highly recommend the Ciu’ Ciu’ Pecorino. It tastes like apricots, dandelion and honey, and I loved it. Ascoli Piceno has a colorful Carnevale in February and a Renaissance Faire in August that has the whole town dressed in period costumes. One of its landmarks is Caffe Meletti, voted among the Most Important Cafes in Italy. Not only is it an architectural masterpiece, but its guest list includes Ernest Hemingway and Jean-Paul Satre. To order from DiPaolo’s, visit For the wine, visit To learn more about Ascoli Piceno, visit

Sunday, March 18, 2012

America's Cup in Naples, Italy

America’s Cup World Series, the world’s premier yacht race and a magnet for the world’s top sailors, will take place in Naples, Italy in the spring of 2012 and 2013.

The AC World Series features tight, short race courses designed to deliver close racing for the fans on shore. The innovative regatta format includes a mix of speed trials, head-to-head match racing, and all-out fleet racing. These events provide the fans the only opportunity to see all of the America’s Cup competitors racing together. The first event in Naples occurs April 7-15, 2012 and the second event is in May 11-29, 2013. The champion of the 2012-2013 AC World Series season will be crowned in Naples, after which the teams will move to San Francisco for the Louis Vuitton Cup and the America’s Cup Finals.

At the Naples events, sailors will compete in state-of-the-art AC45 wing-sailed catamarans. The AC45 is the official boat of the AC World Series and the forerunner to the next generation of America’s Cup boats. While capable of closing speeds over 35 mph, the AC45 remains nimble enough to handle the tight, tactical race courses. The April event will be the first time these high-tech boats will be raced in Italy.

The AC45 was designed by the ORACLE Racing design and engineering team, which developed the catamaran on behalf of the America’s Cup community. A high-tech, grand prix race boat, it’s powered by a wing that towers over 20 meters above the deck and has already demonstrated excellent performance in winds from 5 to 30 knots in early sea trials. ORACLE Racing skipper Jimmy Spithill, the test pilot, described the boat this way after just one sail, "The wing is big and the boat powers up quickly. It’s easy to sail and maneuverability is not a problem.”

The challenge was to design a boat that not only met the racing and performance criteria, but also fits inside a 40-foot container, which is the shipping method for the America’s Cup World Series.

“The boat was designed for all-around performance so it can be sailed under a wide range of conditions,” said Ian Burns, ORACLE Racing design coordinator. “Plus it’s a regatta boat, meant for lots of racing, so quick assembly and disassembly was a must to accommodate an active competition schedule.”

The race village will be in Bagnoli, a seaside district of Naples. Hotel San Francesco al Monte, a former 16th century monastery and now a beautiful four star hotel, has special packages available for the event. To learn more, visit

Other recommended hotels: Grand Hotel Santa Lucia, Royal Continental Hotel, Grand Hotel Parker’s and Hotel Naples.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Cuisine From Abruzzo Romances New York

In the midst of a cold, blustery, New York City winter comes a warm breeze from Abruzzo, Italy in the form of Rosanna Di Michele. Full of joy and a sincere desire to share her region’s cuisine, Rosanna’s dream is to make her mark on the Big Apple, one plate at a time.

The Abruzzo region lies in central Italy, east of Rome. It includes the Apennine Mountains and the Adriatic Sea, with 3 national parks and 30 nature reserves. This wild landscape with its varied climates gives rise to a hearty cuisine full of simple, satisfying flavors from land and sea. Caciocavallo and Scamorza cheeses, truffles, saffron and spicy peppers, along with ventricina (salami), soppressate and mortadelle are all typical products of Abruzzo.

Rosanna comes from Vasto, an ancient coastal city of art and lively festivals celebrating food and culture. It was here that Rosanna was inspired to create Abruzzo in Tavola, an organization dedicated to the preservation and enjoyment of Abruzzo cuisine. According to Rosanna, “The basis of everything - health, culture, happiness, of life itself - starts at the table.” Rosanna understands that the best meals come from a cook with an open heart. “I put love in everything I make. The best thing for me is to cook from morning until night for people who appreciate what I make.”

She has not had a problem finding people who appreciate her talents. It was standing room only at Di Palo’s Enoteca in New York’s Little Italy recently where Rosanna made a hearty, steaming bowl of trafilata al bronzo pasta, an Abruzzese favorite. For me, the highlight was a scoop of finely chopped hot green peppers marinated in olive oil and poured over the pasta. It added such a wonderful kick to the dish that I decided then and there to add this to my own kitchen repertoire. Of course, the food at Di Palo’s was paired with Abruzzo wines, like Montepulciano, Cerasuolo and Trebbiano. The event was so well received that Di Palo’s invited her back a few weeks later to delight its customers with her delectable cuisine.

Rosanna’s talent was a favorite at a recent fundraising auction at Marymount School. The lucky winner had Rosanna in her own kitchen, cooking an amazing multi-course meal of eggplant ripiene, polpette della nonna on a bed of oven baked potatoes, risotto with mushroom and pecorino cheese and seafood pasta. It was such a success that she has been invited back to participate in the 2012 fundraiser. She was also invited to dish out the delicacies at Whole Foods on Columbus Circle on Valentine’s Day.

She is also in demand outside of Manhattan. She shared her cuisine at the Original Arthur Avenue Italian Deli in the Bronx and at Gourmet 2 Go Marketplace and Catering in Bronxville.

Rosanna is so taken by the enthusiastic reception she has received in NYC that she wants to create something special in return. In May of this year she will hold Abruzzo Week in New York. Events will be held at various locations throughout the city featuring dishes made with genuine Abruzzese ingredients.

A wonderful dolce from Abuzzo is tarallucci, small pockets of dough filled with a combination of white wine, concentrated grape, almond and chocolate. This dessert is so popular that it has its own festival. Tarallucci & Vino is held annually during the second week of August in Casalbordino, Italy.

Another wonderful dish is scrippelle ‘mbusse, an ancient recipe from the city of Teramo. It is a kind of crepe made with flour, water and eggs, rolled and bathed in broth and sprinkled with cheese. But I have to tell you, this description hardly does it justice.

Rosanna will soon return to Italy, but we await her arrival in New York in May, when the city is blossoming in Springtime, for her presentation of Abruzzo Week. I know I’ll be ready.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Skiing Novice Hits the Italian Alps

When I say novice, I mean novice. Allow me to explain. I tend to hibernate all winter, much like a bear. But once the warm weather arrives, it’s a different story. I’ve never met a beach I didn’t like. Packing for my ideal vacation involves bathing suits, flip flops, sun dresses and tanning lotion. The hotter the weather, the better. I notice humidity, but it doesn’t interfere with my day.

However, none of this stopped me from joining a ski trip to the Italian Alps.

First thing was a call to my Sister the Skier to borrow her clothes. “Sure!” she said, “come right over.” So I did. She was thrilled to share her skiing excitement. There was long thermal underwear, ski pants and a shirt with

Maybe I can't ski, but I can pose.

sleeves that hooked over my thumbs to prevent wind from whipping up my arm. It was here that trepidation started to creep into my tropical soul. There were special socks with padding designed for comfort in ski boots. (I was warned not to wear these in regular shoes; I have no idea why.) There was a hooded ski jacket with special interior pockets for money & ID. “Why would I need ID?” I wanted to ask. But when visions flashed through my mind of being lost among the Italian Alpine trees, freezing and waiting for a Saint Bernard with a cask of brandy, too cold to move my jaw and say my name, I decided not to ask.

The wardrobe extravaganza wasn’t done. There were special gloves with compartments to slip something called a ski pass. There were little squares of hand warmers wrapped in gold foil in case the gloves weren’t warm enough. There was a knit woolen hat that fit snugly on my head, guaranteed to produce hours of hat hair. Then there was the gator. This wide circle of fleece slips over the head and rests around the neck. Yes, this is on top of the special shirt, turtleneck, jacket and hood. “In case it’s really cold, damp and windy, this comes in handy!” said my Sister the Skier, in a joyful tone more appropriate to lending me a diamond necklace for the Oscars than spending an afternoon in the blinding cold. But this kind of baffling enthusiasm, I would soon learn, is typical of ski lovers. She offered her goggles. I declined, saying that my wrap-around style sun glasses should work just fine. Of course, I had no idea. I just needed to say ‘no’ to something. I was being buried in bad news.

Arrival in Italy: I meet my compatriots and I’m desperately seeking other novices. I meet two beginners, but no novices. Instead, I mostly meet dyed in the wool veteran ski club members. Their individual and collective enthusiasm is contagious, although I have no idea why. I find myself looking forward to cold and snow. I wonder if I’ve gone insane.

Not very convincing, is it?

Day One of Skiing: It’s early morning when I amble to our communal breakfast in my Suit of Many Layers. It’s an effort to bend my elbow to feed myself. “Are you skiing today?” Several people ask me. “Of course!” I answer, under the heady effects of ski-loving Kool-Aid. It seems foggy outside to me, but no one else mentions it. I conclude that it must not be an issue.

We make our way to the ski shop where I hang behind and watch the veterans navigate the equipment. Everyone knows what they want. Everyone knows what to do with what they get. Everyone can’t get out of the shop fast enough and onto the slopes, which are increasingly obscured by the fog. I watch their smiling faces as one by one they hoist a pair of skis onto one shoulder, an arm casually thrown over the front for counter-balance, both poles in the other hand. It all looks easy, smooth and cool. I’m excited because soon, I will look just like them.

I wait until everyone in my group has their equipment, as I am in no hurry. I enter the shop and catch the eye of an unsuspecting staff member. He naturally expects me to be as knowledgeable as everyone else in my group. He is in denial when I am not. He has a hard time believing how clueless I am. His denial prolongs the process and makes me irritable. I keep asking for help anyway, as I have no option. Finally, he gets it. He helps me into the ski boots and locks me in. I can’t believe how uncomfortable they feel. “They’re really tight; is this normal?” I ask. “Yes.” I stand. “I can’t straighten my legs; is this normal?” “Yes.” But I instinctively try to straighten them anyway, and feel a shooting pain up the back of my calves with every step. I look out the window and the fog is now so thick that I can’t see the mountain, which as I recall is about 100 steps away and straight up. I can’t imagine 100 steps in the fog with this pain shooting up the back of my leg. In this moment, I can’t imagine why anybody skis.

He hands me the skis and poles and is happy to see me go. I slowly and painfully make my way outside. Someone takes pity on me and says “If you walk heel-toe, it’s easier.” I try it and it is easier. Not easy; easier. Not painless; easier. I decide to take what I can get.

Now it’s time to throw the skis over my shoulder and look cool. But like every other aspect of this experience, it’s harder than it looks. The skis are heavy and slippery; traits you want on the slopes but not on your shoulder. (This may explain why skis are worn and not carried during the skiing experience.) The skis are held together back-to-back at the bindings, so the bindings are facing out. And they’re uncomfortable. And they’re smack in the middle of the skis, so I slide them in front of my shoulder. This is more comfortable but now I’m struggling to balance them. I finally get them set and step out with my first heel-toe and the skis slip completely off my shoulder. But that’s OK, I can catch them with my other hand. Oh, no I can’t. I have a pair of poles in that hand. Now skis and poles crash to the ground. I decide the shoulder-carry is too cool for me right now. Instead, I hold the skis vertically in one hand, poles in the other. I am mystified why anyone would consider this a good time.

I slowly make my way toward what I hope is the bunny slope. I can’t really tell because the fog is now so thick that the mountain has disappeared. I just travel haltingly in the direction of other skiers. Finally, I can make out a kiosk and the other 2 “beginners” in my group. I catch up to within shouting distance of them. They are above me on an incline and I can’t imagine how I’ll get there. I’m now off the pavement and on the snow, where I believe the skis were meant to be. So I drop them and realize I have no idea how to get them on. My friend Cindy, who thinks she’s a beginner but is soon revealed to be an intermediate, shouts instructions on how to attach the skis.

Me with my intrepid skiing friends: Cindy Bigras, Susan Van Allen & Lisa del Percio.

Riccardo, our instructor, shouts in my direction and demonstrates the horizontal, incremental creep one performs to move up a small incline. I imitate him and snail my way up. It’s then that I notice individual drops of blood in the snow. I am horrified. Who is bleeding? How were they injured? My eyes follow the crimson drops that lead to a man lying on his side, propped up on his elbow, looking more like he’s on a couch across from a TV than losing vital life fluids in the frozen earth. I realize he’s had a nose bleed and is collecting himself. His skis are still on and he looks OK, certainly calmer than me. It’s another example of the ever-optimistic skier. No need to get off the slopes; just wait until the bleeding stops, pop back up and swoosh down the mountain.

Dear Lord, take me to the beach.