La Mia Casa Ancestrale

The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) is proud to have the Sant’Anna Institute – a study abroad and language course program in Sorrento, Italy – as a corporate sponsor of our foundation. Read on for an incredible story from one of Sant’Anna’s Italian American students, Tristan Curnow, who attended their spring 2017 program. 

During the first semester of my sophomore year of college, I decided that I wanted to study abroad. I had heard the amazing stories of study abroad experiences through my friends and school administrators, so I figured it was time for me to experience the world, considering I had never left the continent that I was born and raised on.

As I began to research different study abroad locations around the world, I realized that something in my heart was calling me to study in Italy. My grandmother (or as I call her, Nonna) was born and raised in Naples, Italy and didn’t immigrate to the United States until she married an American sailor stationed in Naples (my grandfather) when she was in her twenties.

Once I had settled on Italy, I began to search for the perfect city that would fit my personality and academic credit needs. I didn’t want to study in Rome or Florence because I am not much of a city person. I have grown up my whole life loving the ocean, so when I discovered Sant’Anna Institute in Sorrento, I realized it was perfect. I could study right next to the ocean in a beautiful town that I knew wouldn’t have too many other American influences and to top it off, it was only thirty minutes away from my ancestral home, Napoli.

Once the decision was final, I broke the news of where I was going to be studying to my Nonna. She was so happy and proud of me that I was going to be studying Italian and learning about our culture first hand and she couldn’t believe that I would be studying in Sorrento. She was so excited to tell her entire family that I would be coming to meet them in Napoli. She then preceded to tell me a story I had heard many times about her childhood:

When she was a girl, after World War II, her mother died and her father was too poor to support her and her two siblings. He had to send them to live in an orphanage for some time so they could be fed and taken care of. She was sent to live in an orphanage and girl’s school in Sorrento, Italy! I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten that small detail, which I had heard a hundred times. I immediately looked up orphanages in Sorrento and what I discovered sent shivers down my spine.

The only orphanage and girl’s school open in Sorrento at the time of my Nonna’s childhood had since closed, but the building still stood to this day. It had since been converted into a small institute for study abroad students: Sant’Anna Institute. I could hardly believe what I found and where fate was about to lead me.

During my time at Sant’Anna Institute, every day I would look out of the classroom window overlooking the bay of Napoli and Mt. Vesuvio. I would think about how my Nonna had also once looked out the very same window wondering if her life would get any better, if she would every have money or opportunities, and if she would every have a place to call her home. Two generations later, I realized that those questions had been answered. My Nonna, through hard work and determination had come to America and built a life and home for herself. She struggled to provide for her own children but raised them well to pull themselves out of poverty and two generations later, her first grandson was attending college classes in the same room that she once lived at the lowest point in her life. I have never felt such gratitude as I did when standing in those rooms.

My time spent in Sorrento at Sant’Anna Institute changed my life. I learned to speak Italian, which I now use when talking to my Nonna on a regular basis. My experiences traveling and seeing the world changed my career path and led me to want to become an international lawyer. But most importantly, Sorrento became my home in a way that I never thought was possible. Now, when people ask me where I am from, I have a greater understanding for that which I came than I ever have before. I am Italian.

 

Tristan Curnow
Spring 2017

To learn more about the Sant’Anna Institute and its study abroad programs, click here. NIAF student members receive a 20 percent discount on spring or fall semester study abroad programs, as well as a 20 percent discount on five-week long study abroad programs. Also, five NIAF Student Members will receive 50 percent off on Sant’Anna Institute’s two- or four-week long language course and a 10 percent discount on their accommodations during the program. You can learn all about NIAF Student Memberships here!

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NIAF on Capitol Hill: Vol. 4

At the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), we believe strongly in supporting future generations of the Italian American community. This is why we created the NIAF Congressional Fellowship; with it, we place outstanding Italian American college students, graduate students and recent graduates in the offices of members of the Italian American Congressional Delegation (IACD) on Capitol Hill to encourage and support the next generation of Italian American leadership.

Below, you’ll find the experience of Natalie Wulderk, one of our NIAF Congressional Fellows, and what she gained from her fellowship in American government.

Standing in the rotunda with my head tilted upwards to see the dome of the United States Capitol, I am astounded by the breathtaking fresco on the ceiling. Congress commissioned the Italian painter, Constantino Brumidi, to create the Apotheosis of Washington in 1865, which required him to be painting while suspended 180 feet in the air for 11 months until the project was complete. Brumidi’s masterpiece is by far my favorite and I cannot lead a tour of the Capitol without taking a moment to myself to look up and admire the detail, symbolism, and beauty of what lies in the heart of the United States Capitol. Not just as an American, but as an Italian American, I am reminded of my heritage and what Italians through the generations have contributed to the United States of America.

I am honored to have interned for Congressman Bill Pascrell Jr. As a chairman to the Italian American Caucus and the representative from the 9th District of New Jersey, Congressman Pascrell is a leader in the Italian American Community. During my internship, I had the opportunity to attend briefings recognizing the intimate cooperation for NATO operations and business ventures between the US and Italy today, as well as attend events appreciating the Italian American culture and their noteworthy contributions to the United States.

Furthermore, I was able to witness firsthand Congressman Pascrell’s values at work in his office. Congressman Pascrell says that his parents and his Italian-immigrant grandparents instilled in him the value of being a “bridge builder,” one who seeks to bring together diverse peoples in the community to make a better society. Being mindful of all of the constituents’ experiences and backgrounds who called the office, the staff and I treated them with dignity and respect. Constituents voices and opinions matter, which lead me to write briefing memorandums for Congressman Pascrell for legislation that his constituents supported.

The American fundamental value of diversity is carried forward by Congressman Pascrell and my Italian relatives who made the uncertain journey to a new country to make a better life for themselves and their family. It is alive in our consciences and continually advocated for in the work Congressman Pascrell and others are doing on Capitol Hill. Witnessing that effort and taking part of representing a diverse constituent base as an intern was an invaluable experience that I will hold dear for the rest of my life.

Natalie Wulderk
Elliott School of International Affairs
The George Washington University Class of 2018

___________________________________________________________

NIAF is currently accepting applications for the 2018 NIAF Congressional Fellowship, taking place this fall. Deadline to apply is April 30, 2018. For more information, click here.

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Finding Your Roots

Words cannot adequately describe the experience that our family had with Roots ’n Tours during our visit to Sicily.

We had asked Rosario and his team to help us do some research on our family prior to our trip. Through his team’s diligence and efforts, combined with some sheer luck, we were able to locate the direct descendants of my grandfather’s sister, who had stayed behind in Sicily when her three brothers immigrated to the United States.

When we met our family, they simply said, “Welcome Home.” It truly felt as if we were, indeed, home. We were treated to a parade – complete with a band – along with Italian feasts over multiple days, which were prepared by our family for us at their homes.

The most touching moment for us was being able to see our grandfather’s birth announcement, which was kept in the local records.

It was wonderful to share this experience with my brother, sister, and our spouses.
Exploring our heritage and finding this link to our past has allowed us to feel completed.

We now better understand the love of family, faith, and food that our parents and grandparents shared with us. Most importantly, we now better appreciate the chance our grandparents took by leaving the land and ones they loved to make a better life for themselves and us in the United States.

Roots ‘n Tours

Italy is, without a doubt, a land of history and culture. However, one of the main draws to Italy are the family roots and the origin of millions of people who left Italy in the past, but have maintained a solid connection to the land, its products and tales of their ancestry. That is, descendants of Italian immigrants, and the inexplicable pull they feel towards their ancestral homeland.

Rather than a simple list of tourist sights, new ways of travel are now highlighting this connection to ancestry and family, with a field of tourism based on family traditions, a way of life, and the strength of our “roots.”

In this kind of travel, the journey becomes an experience, and the experience becomes an emotion. The key elements of this travel format are the communities in the territory of the traveler’s journey, especially in the lesser-known parts of Italy, where the emigrants left from in the past.

Today, there are 80 million descendants in the world from the 30 million compatriots who left Italy in the late 1800’s until the 1970’s. This enormous population is united by their Italian origins and their desire to keep the legacies of their personal histories alive. Italy has an incredible opportunity with these descendants of Italian immigrants to solidify its role of excellence in tourism.

Roots ‘n Tours was created to connect travelers with their distant Italian families, while also expanding their knowledge of their Italian heritage and how it relates to Italian culture and history as a whole. Want to learn more? Click here and book your tour to Italy today!

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Preserving Traditions

Preserving traditions – choosing a simpler life close to home

In this week’s #NIAFblog, our guest blogger, Jenifer Landor – founder of Live and Learn Italian  offers an inside look into a typical day on her company’s travel program, which focus on learning about Italian language and culture. 

Filippo learned how to work copper as a kid, playing beside his grandfather, in the workshop of his grandfather. In the 1900’s, the D’Aloise workshop made specialist instruments for measuring and weighing, gradually introducing copper, iron and brass-work. Agnone’s economy was very strong, and its hand-finished copper was much sought after due to the strict standards of its local guilds.

Today, Filippo continues to work in copper, brass and iron. Many of the shop’s articles are decorative, but there are plenty who really appreciate a copper casserole with a tight-fitting lid. Prepared in the copper casserole, the food is perfectly cooked thanks to the surrounding heat keeping the things completely uniform. They are truly little works of art.

Restoration work also keeps Filippo busy; there’s a current trend for taking inherited copper pots off the chimney breast and using them again, for cooking and making wine. Many of these items had been previously discarded – too bitter a reminder of poverty and struggle. Now, with a bit more distance, the beauty and craft of these hand-made objects are once again being appreciated. Local people are coming into the shop asking for ‘la tina di nonna’ to be repaired and polished.

This part of Italy has seen a long economic decline, and with the copper trade disappearing, Filippo went off to Rome to study engineering. He lasted two years.

His destiny was to be a ramai. No longer in higher education, he first had to complete military service, but he completed that in time to get back and work through his apprenticeship while his nonno was still alive. For the next 11 years, they worked side by side.

Over time, Filippo’s confidence grew, and he started to take the initiative, exploring new ways to keep the business healthy – building a website, for example. He did have to explain to his grandfather that no, he was not playing computer games, he was working – and taking orders from Japan! When nonno passed away in 2008, Filippo was ready to take the reins.

He is one of several young entrepreneurs in this small town finding a way to stay put. They know they are blessed to have inherited a artisan trade, and a family business spanning generations. Their children are growing up in a tight knit community with grandparents and cousins part of their lives. The beauty of their land and the pride they take in their history is keenly felt. To nurture and preserve these things for the next generation is their privilege.

___________________________________________________

  LIVE AND LEARN ITALIAN offers language and culture holidays in the small historic town of Agnone, Alto Molise, far from tourism. Mature students of Italian come to live among a friendly community to practice, improve, listen and engage.  Cook with the locals, visit family businesses, and discover the culture and history of a beautiful region.

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Carnival of Viareggio: Italy’s Annual Floating Theater

A special, featured blog by NIAF’s Board of Directors Member and Executive Vice President of Scholarships, Grants and Youth Activities, Robert V. Allegrini.

It’s cold and dark, but – fortunately – hairless inside the left nostril of Hillary Clinton as I pop my head in it while examining a giant paper-mâché replica of her head, which is seemingly discarded outside one of the enormous hangers at the Cittadella del Carnevale.  The “Citadel of the Carnival” serves as a workshop where magnificent floats are assembled for Italy’s best-loved carnival, the Carnival of Viareggio – a lovely seaside town in Tuscany that is less than an hour from Lucca.

The Italians have always known how to throw a good party. After all, the very term bacchanalian comes from the debauchery of Roman “bacchanalia.” So when it comes to Carnival, it is no surprise that Italy need not take a backseat to Rio De Janiero nor New Orleans. In fact, the Italians boast numerous noteworthy Carnival celebrations, from the elegant masked parties in Venice, to the raucous Carnival of the Oranges in Ivrea. But it’s the Carnival in Viareggio which truly captures the Italian spirit.

That’s because the main event of the Carnival of Viareggio is its parades showcasing huge paper-mâché floats that are marvelously unique in terms of their size, movement, choreography and sensational subject matter. Each float, which can be 5 or 6 stories tall, portrays a satiric vignette featuring caricatures of Italy’s, and indeed the world’s, most newsworthy personalities and events. These floats play on many Italian sensibilities – an affinity for irreverence and Fellini-esque absurdity as well as an admiration for great creativity, artistry and design. There is also an appreciation for the liberating sense that comes from mocking the rich and famous – literally in effigy. The effect is breathtaking travelling theater set amidst the backdrop of a seaside promenade, flanked by gorgeous liberty-style buildings and extraordinary squares overlooking the beach.

Many elements of this theater were on display as I toured the Citadella del Carnevale and its unique museum, which is open to the public. Simultaneously whimsical, creepy and informative, the museum gives one the sensation of being in the midst of a dream world of giant Jack-In-The-Boxes, where paper-mâché heads all littered around each turn. Amidst the heads, the story of this unique carnival unfolds.

I learned that the Carnival dates back to 1873 and that the addition of paper-mâché floats dates back to 1925, when the Viareggio-born painter and builder Antonio D’Arliano perfected the technique of casted and molded paper. Since that time, the parades have evolved into highly organized affairs governed by the Fondazione Carnevale, or Carnival Foundation, which each year provides grants for the top float designs to be built and provides prizes for the winner. Funding comes largely from a modest spectator admission fee for the parades. The floats are built by different teams in strict secrecy in the various hangers of the Cittadella del Carnevale. They are unveiled over the course of five carnival parades leading up to Fat Tuesday that take place over several weekends.

Spread among the heads and the history at the museum are the beautiful, original artists sketches of some of the more famous floats along with photos of the finished products. I laughed aloud at a photo of the clever and witty float entitled “Mad Donald Trump” which played off the similar sounding “McDonald Trump” and featured a menacing President Trump dressed as Ronald McDonald.

 

President Trump also featured into one of the principle floats of last year’s parades entitled “Bang Bang,” which showcased a typically European perspective on the defense of firearms in Trump’s America by hearkening back to the lawless days of a western saloon. Italian politicians are certainly not spared either. In one of last year’s floats entitled “Such a Great Love,” Italy was portrayed as a beautiful woman sitting atop a pile of silver framed pictures of her past suitors, such as prime ministers Giulio Andreotti and Bettino Craxi. The implication was that some of her suitors have exploited the beautiful woman for their own interests.

From the museum, visitors can go to a special area at the Cittadella del Carnevale to see how the paper-mâché process works and to test out your own skills in the technique. The area resembles a graveyard of skeletal parts with frames and casts for fabricating everything from hands and feet to eyes and ears. Here, you can see how some old newspaper and a simple paste of flower and water can be transformed into a work of art that inspires and entertains.

Each year, the Carnival of Viareggio draws over 600,000 attendees, making it one of the most important carnival celebrations in the world. For the forty days and nights of Lent, Viareggio becomes, as the local tourist authorities put it, “the Italian factory of merriment and fun.” For the entire month of February, Viareggio offers visitors an extraordinary program of events, which includes an array of concerts and jam sessions in the city’s different districts, masked dancing balls, fireworks, theatrical performances, cultural events and sporting competitions.

But the most longed-for and anxiously-awaited moments are those of the parades of gargantuan floats – the Corsi Mascherati. Here, you have five extraordinary opportunities to admire the outstanding allegorical machines created and built by artists from Viareggio up close while allowing yourself to be swept up in the vibrancy of the masks, of the music, and by the beauty of the largest show of its kind in the world.

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Encounters: Learning Italian in Molise, a Hidden Gem

In this week’s #NIAFblog, our guest blogger, Jenifer Landor – founder of Live and Learn Italian  offers an inside look into a typical day on her company’s travel program, which focus on learning about Italian language and culture. 

First things first: learn how to order coffee. We get down to basics in Caffè Letterario where the owner, Pasquale, greets our new arrivals, putting them at ease.  It’s caffè (never espresso!), cappuccino – just like English, but say latte and you’ll get milk, so ask for caffè latte, or even, latte macchiato – milk with a dash of coffee, or un macchiato – coffee with a dash of milk. And on it goes…

Caffeinated- up, we cross to Palazzo Bonanni for a morning of Italian with Alessandro and Giovanna, both fully qualified to teach Italian to stranieri. Lessons in very small groups allow them to structure learning pretty individually.

At break, in the piazza, Francesco the butcher is interested to know where we have come from, and why? He interrupts his sausage making to sell us a picnic lunch to have on the terrace after class with un bicchiere di vino – the softest prosciutto and local cheeses, and it’s easy to engage in conversation.  After lunch, a refreshing siesta is followed by some pronomi revision and, when the town wakes up again, half of the group walks over to the bell foundry to find Ivo, well-versed in talking piano, piano, and getting us to speak by prompting questions.

The foundry really hasn’t changed since the Middle Ages, each unique bell hand crafted over three months. The casting is a dramatic and emotional event, attended by a priest or bishop, who recites prayers. It’s quite an experience to be in the oldest bell foundry in the world – making the bells for the Pope!

Maria then invites the rest of us into her home to cook simple, seasonal food. We start by making pasta from scratch, and there’s always someone who takes to the kneading like a pro. While the dough rests, a quick batter is made – we stuff zucchini flowers with mozzarella and anchovies, dip them in the batter, and then fry them.  How much flour? Quanto basta, Maria says – as much as you need.

Creating fresh ravioli with ricotta and spinach turns out to be a breeze with Maria at the helm, and the tomatoes we stuff them with were picked today. Later, we admire the tablecloth she’s embroidering and watch as she makes lace on the tombolo. There is no end to her skills – le mani di Maria non hanno prezzoMaria’s hands are priceless, her daughter-in-law says.

Cooking together helps loosen inhibitions, and Maria and her family don’t speak English anyway, so we all have a glass of wine and join in on the conversation. We share dinner around a big table in the garden, joined now by the bell foundry visitors, and it is simply delicious. Just when you can’t eat another thing, out comes a crostata Maria made earlier with home-made apricot jam. Although we are all full, we are offered different digestivi (laurel, amarena, mint….), and we all manage to eat a piece of the crostata.

No two weeks are the same at Live and Learn Italian – the program is structured, but there’s plenty of flexibility to explore. Events depend to an extent on what’s going on at the time. We meet whoever’s interesting, do whatever helps us learn and practice Italian, and go wherever engaging people draw us in for a stimulating and sociable convivial program.

I first visited the historic town of Agnone to trace my family’s roots and learn the language. Inspired to share this unique experience, I founded Live and Learn Italian; with a rich cultural history, world-class artisans, and exceptional local produce – Agnone is the perfect place to learn Italian!

___________________________________________________

  LIVE AND LEARN ITALIAN offers language and culture holidays in the small historic town of Agnone, Alto Molise, far from tourism. Mature students of Italian come to live among a friendly community to practice, improve, listen and engage.  Cook with the locals, visit family businesses, and discover the culture and history of a beautiful region.

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Traditional Grape Harvest: La Vendemmia

In this week’s #NIAFblog, our guest blogger, Jenifer Landor – founder of Live and Learn Italian  offers a fascinating look into the culture and traditions of small Italian towns in the Apennine hills.

Adapted from a post by Marco Cacciavillani, owner of Azienda Agricola, A.M.A. Green

The origins of today’s wine harvest date from the early 1900’s, but a lot of the traditions go even farther back. Well before the birth of Christ, the Romans used rudimentary techniques to ferment the juice of grapes, which even then were a much-prized fruit on every banquet table.

Every casa has its own particular methods for making wine, but the basic process is pretty much the same. We start pressing as soon as the grapes are harvested, which in our vineyard takes all day.

To discover and re-live these traditions is a fundamental part of l’Azienda A.M.A. Green and this year, thanks to the Angelo Marinelli family, it was an incredible experience. We lived a traditional Agnonese Vendemmia, using the 18th century stone vat, preserved in the cantina for all these years, and pressing the grapes by hand – or rather, by foot! This is how it was done before mechanization and has its advantages – the stalks remain intact, keeping the slightly bitter, woody taste out of the wine.

Keeping a vineyard is a serious business. Regular pruning, weekly application of copper oxy-chloride to prevent fungus, and constant weeding are all required to protect the fruit from parasites. Then, in preparation of the harvest, we scrub the boxes and crates, as well as the copper tubs and wine presses, completely clean for storage. This is fundamental for preventing any parasites or mold that could destroy the must during fermentation.

La vendemmia is a ritual and a festival; it is hard work, but a lot of fun. In the last 10 years in our region, the harvest has grown in importance. Friends, relatives and neighbors all come to help. Early in the morning, we share breakfast together, and once fortified, we head for the vines.

There’s great excitement and emotion when the first bunch of grapes is harvested, and the smell of the ripened fruit gets everyone going. Harvest stories and folklore are passed down through the generations: types of agricultural methods used, changing religious rituals, and the culinary and contadine traditions. Besides being of cultural significance, the annual vendemmia is an important social cohesion for the community.
Later in the morning we share produce from our land – homemade breads, different types of salami, frittata, and, of course, a good wine.

In the evening, we gathered for the harvest feast to celebrate, starting with a selection of antipasti, then the traditional Agnonese pasta, sagne a tacconi. A baked pork dish followed, accompanied by grilled peppers and green beans from the garden. Over the long evening with song and stories, we got through various dolci and amari.

Life today gets busier and busier, and time is precious. Yet it’s an enormous thrill to rediscover these activities, and to capture flavors that we’re in danger of loosing and forgetting. La Vendemmia 2017 was a great pleasure for us all.

You can live this, and all kinds of experiences, at our farm near Agnone. For more information, click below.

_____________________________________________________

  LIVE AND LEARN ITALIAN offers language and culture holidays in the small historic town of Agnone, Alto Molise, far from tourism. Mature students of Italian come to live among a friendly community to practice, improve, listen and engage.  Cook with the locals, visit family businesses, and discover the culture and history of a beautiful region.

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Slow life, slow food, and heavenly pleasures

In this week’s #NIAFblog, our guest blogger, Jenifer Landor – founder of Live and Learn Italian  offers a fascinating look into the culture and traditions of small Italian towns in the Apennine hills.

 

A large rotating vat  – which looks almost like a cement mixer – slowly turns in the back room of the little shop, the oldest dolciaria in Molise. Here, confetti ricci are being produced from a recipe unique to the Carosella family. They have been making dolce here since 1839.

Photo Credit: Gabriella Ricci

Photo Credit: Gabriella Ricci

Fire is still at the heart of most of the town’s artisan work, and creating confetti ricci is no different. It takes 7-8 hours of slow rotation over the flame to fully coat Sicilian almonds in the special syrup, one ladle at a time. Although high in the Apennine hills, where temperatures usually remain very pleasant, this summer was hotter than usual, so Roberta began working through the night. The basin holds about 15 kilos of almonds, and with all those summer weddings, work is pretty constant.

Most small businesses in Molise are passed down from father to son; in this case, it was from grandfather to granddaughter. Roberta grew up seeing her grandparents hand-make all the confectionery. She would come to watch, and play, and – of course – to taste, and in time, she knew she couldn’t see the business pass into the hands of an outsider, so she took it on herself.

Photo Credit: Gabriella Ricci

Confetti, sugared almonds, are famous all over Italy, but the Carosella version are soft and chewable (and, I think, much more delicious then traditional ones). Roberta told us that during the war, confetti were impossible to get hold of, and because of the longstanding tradition – you have to have confetti to bring luck to the bride and groom – the townsfolk would bring her grandfather whatever they had; hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds – imploring him to make them into confetti.

So his grandfather devised a method to sugarcoat the nuts, and the result was not a hard coating, but a soft one – confetti ricci. These are now the most famous product of the Dolciaria Carosella, today sent all over the world. Unlike confetti, confetti ricci are fresh, and need to be consumed within 10 days, so orders have to be carefully scheduled. Anna, Roberta’s assistant, deftly makes up beautiful little bags, 10 in each– white for weddings, blue or pink for a christening, and red for a graduation!

Photo Credit: Gabriella Ricci

Photo Credit: Gabriella Ricci

Photo Credit: Gabriella Ricci

Photo Credit: Gabriella Ricci

Other specialties of the house are mostaccioli – little chocolate biscuits filled with sour cherry, Le Paste Imperiali – created for a visit to the shop from Vittorio Emanuele himself, Le Ostie di Agnone – wafers filled with chopped nuts, chocolate, orange peel and honey (allegedly created by a nun who, when she spilled her cake ingredients, scooped it up with a communion wafer), and a hot favorite of mine, tegole – in the shape of terracotta roof tiles; almonds, miraculously woven into a light, crunchy biscuit! All the fruit is from the family orchards, recipes have been passed down the generations, and presentation and packaging is sublime.

On a tour of the local shops, our guests meet craftsmen, shopkeepers and food producers, getting to know some of the town’s stories and history. Carosella has it all – a beautiful old shop, a family story, long traditions, and excellent quality products, generously offered to us for tasting.

You can visit their website here.

_____________________________________________________

  LIVE AND LEARN ITALIAN offers language and culture holidays in the small historic town of Agnone, Alto Molise, far from tourism. Mature students of Italian come to live among a friendly community to practice, improve, listen and engage.  Cook with the locals, visit family businesses, and discover the culture and history of a beautiful region.

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

La Madonna di Loreto

In this week’s #NIAFblog, our guest blogger, Jenifer Landor – founder of Live and Learn Italian  offers a fascinating look into the culture and traditions of small Italian towns in the Apennine hills.

We go up the mountain road, to 1421 meters, putting on an extra layer of clothing as the car climbs. Every three years, hundreds from around the world are welcomed back to honor the Madonna di Loreto over three days of festa, in the little Apennine paese of Capracotta. Following World War II, they suffered massive immigration that decreased the population, but the Capracottesi remain profoundly attached to their town.

Although once a prosperous place of shepherds and sheep, it was still a very hard life. Since ancient times, each autumn, thousands of sheep were herded down the tratturi (the wide mountain paths) to the plains of Puglia for winter. This was called la Transumanza.

Families in Capracotta, without their menfolk during the freezing winter months, were drawn together; the shepherds supported each other far from home. Those ties remain strong today across generations and continents, the passionate connection to their land, is moving to witness.

At dusk on September 7th, the statue of the Madonna is taken in a solemn procession from its sanctuary, at the entrance of the town, to the chiesa madre, Santa Maria Assunta in Cielo. Escorted by 30 horses and 10 donkeys, she is carried by the townsfolk, men and women. Names are drawn to select 466 people, who are then divided into 79 “porter teams,”  throughout the 3 days. Alongside daily processions and mass, the streets are full of market stalls, food, games, band music, and dancing.

We went on the final day, to see the Madonna carried down the hill, back to the sanctuary. The accompanying horses and donkeys were in what can only be described as “fancy dress!” Elaborate, hand-embroidered blankets, lace coverlets, headdresses and harnesses, created each year by family teams. It’s a long-standing tradition to embellish the horses with the finest mantels and fabrics possible, as an offering to the Madonna.

 

 

 

It is sobering to note that in times gone by, the end of the festa meant the shepherds would start their trek down the mountains, leaving families through the long winter. Today, Capracotta still produces fine cheeses, but the small remaining herds are kept warm inside throughout the cold months. A stunning, dramatic, unspoiled landscape; winter offers cross-country and downhill skiing and trekking, in summer, rock climbing, hiking and horseback riding. A simple life – ancient traditions, hard work and beautiful nature bind this unique community.

The proceedings were humble, and in some way unsophisticated – rough almost. Shiny little blue capes, worn by the porters, covered simple attire, but lent a dignity and gravitas. The pride of the citizens and love for their Madonna was extraordinary to witness. Another incredible event of the summer, in a region full of tradition and history.

_________________________________________________________

LIVE AND LEARN ITALIAN invites you to combine Italian study with exploring the traditions and everyday life of the region, mixing with the community and engaging in local activities. 

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Finding Family

The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) is proud to have the Sant’Anna Institute – a study abroad and language course program in Sorrento, Italy – as a corporate sponsor of our foundation. Read on for a story from one of Sant’Anna’s Italian American students, Torri Dupuis from Worcester State University, who attended their summer 2017 program. 

On June 25, 2017, I embarked on my journey to Spain and Sorrento, Italy. Just a day before my trip, my uncle mentioned that I might have possible family members in Artena, which is just a short train ride from Rome. After my uncle made a few calls, I was messaging with my new cousin, who happens to be my age, via Facebook Messenger.

While in Spain, I communicated back and forth with my cousin, Danny, who is the only one out of the LARGE side of my Italian family that speaks any English. We instantly made plans to meet once I arrived in Italy, and counted down the days until we would be able to communicate face-to-face.  Finally, the weekend arrived. I hopped on a train from Sorrento to Naples, and then another from Naples to Rome, and got off along the way.

It was crazy – these people had no idea who I was, but only cared about one word: family. I was welcomed as if I had known them my whole life. Upon arriving I met Danny, his friend (who is now also my friend), Elisa (his sister), my cousin (also named Elisa), his brother, my cousin Cristian, their mother, my aunt, Cristina, and their father, Daniele (my uncle).

We spent the first few hours trying to communicate and understand each other. Although Google Translator was used a few times, we enjoyed every minute and laughed nearly the entire time. Later on that night, I met even more family members. My great-uncle cried as we were introduced. Unfortunately, there were too many of them to remember all their names. They were just as happy to meet me as I was to meet them. We hugged, laughed, and took all the pictures of this memorable evening.

Afterwards, a few of us went to the beautiful village of Artena; it was late, but they didn’t seem to care. they were content and I was too. They were excited to show me parts of their lives even if we had just the one weekend. I couldn’t believe the love that filled the entire house.

The next day, after visiting the beach with my cousins, we returned to the house to cook. It was so much fun, and I did as much I could without them having to help, so that I could engrave the recipe into my mind. Danny gave me directions and Aunt Cristina overlooked with a helping eye.

Our final result: Spaghetti Carbonara, which I MADE! It was better than any carbonara I have ever had. Of course, we went out for gelato afterwards (I’m pretty sure my family eats gelato AT LEAST twice a day).

Afterwards, Aunt Cristina showed me photo albums of times that meant so much to the family. They were inviting me into their life, and I was so grateful.

The final day eventually arrived. As we prepared for my departure, there were as many tears as there were hugs. I kissed Aunt Cristina, cousin Elisa, and Uncle Daniele goodbye. Then Cristian, Danny, Matteo (their friend) and Elisa, made our way to Sorrento. We spent the day together. My friends and I showed them the beautiful Regina Giovanna before making our way to the festival that was taking place in Sorrento that night, and later enjoyed a delicious dinner. We parted ways afterwards, which had us crying again.

I found a family and a home here in Italy, and a part of my heart will reside here as I head back home to the United States later this week. Saying goodbye was so very hard, but we have each other for the rest of our lives now. What happened to me and what I experienced is usually something you only ever hear about, and being able to live it myself was incredible. They taught me so much in such a short matter of time, and without having met my Italian family, my experience studying abroad in Italy just wouldn’t have been the same.

Torri Dupuis

To learn more about the Sant’Anna Institute and its study abroad programs, click here. NIAF student members receive a 20 percent discount on spring or fall semester study abroad programs, as well as a 20 percent discount on five-week long study abroad programs. Also, five NIAF Student Members will receive 50 percent off on Sant’Anna Institute’s two- or four-week long language course and a 10 percent discount on their accommodations during the program. You can learn all about NIAF Student Memberships here!

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment