“Goodbye Irpinia” Launches in Montaguto

The very first “paper novel” in the world will officially launch this Tuesday, August 13, in Montaguto (AV). “Goodbye Irpinia” by Mike J. Pilla tells the story of the 2010 landslides in Montaguto, which were the largest in Europe. Mr. Pilla is known as the creator of Patrimonio Italiano TV, the premier web-based television show for Italians living abroad, and this is his first novel. We recently had the chance to sit down with Mr. Pilla to find out more about “Goodbye Irpinia” and his other projects.

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La Repubblica Italiana As Seen From Irpinia

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Celebrations for the Festa della Repubblica begin at the Altar of the Fatherland monument in Rome and include a flyover in the Italian colors, as seen here.

La Festa della Repubblica Italiana (Italian National Day) is celebrated annually on June 2 in commemoration of the 1946 referendum where Italians went to the polls to decide on what form of government they would like to have following World War II and the fall of fascism. On this day, 12, 717,923 votes were cast in favor of a republic, while 10,719, 284 were cast hoping to retain the monarchy. Following this vote, the male descendants of the House of Savoy were sent into exile. Continue reading

Yes, Honey!

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It seems like everyone is taking about honey these days– especially in my home region of northeastern Pennsylvania, where we are taking it by the pound to help with our early spring allergies!

While honey comes in a wide variety of types and flavors to appeal to every palate, it has been determined that some of the best honey in the world comes from Apicoltura Mattei, located in the town of Lapio in the Province of Avellino. Continue reading

Two Easter Traditions from Irpinia

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A slice of my mother’s amazing Pizza Chiena or Italian Easter Pizza.

Easter is tomorrow and while this year is not a traditional one in my household due to several unforeseen circumstances, that doesn’t mean I don’t get to write about two Easter culinary traditions that come directly from Irpinia.

Ever since I was a little girl, my mother has made Pizza Chiena (filled pizza), also known as Pizza Rustica or Italian Easter Pizza. The recipe for this amazing concoction was passed down through her family, with my Nonno Joe teaching her how to make it. She swears the secret for the crust is using butter-flavored Crisco!

My mother’s Pizza Chiena is stuffed with fresh, homemade ricotta cheese, sharp Provolone cheese, pepperoni, sausage, soppressata, and ham. She also puts fresh basil in the ricotta mixture– this is more of a household variation than a traditional thing as we both love the taste of basil!

While researching Irpinia over the course of my career, I have discovered that many Irpinians prepare different variations of Pizza Chiena, depending on their respective hometowns. Ours is, of course, Guardiese, but there are different versions throughout the area.

For a good recipe that is close to what we enjoy in our household, check out this Pizza Chiena by Italy Advisor.

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Fresh pastiera– can you smell the aroma? Photo from Cucina Fanpage.

The second Irpinian Easter culinary adventure I’d like to tell you about is “Pastiera.” This is more of a dessert or a breakfast treat and it is a pie made with fresh ricotta cheese, grano cotto or Aborio rice, and the zest of lemons and oranges. For an extra kick, you can throw in a dash of orange blossom water!

Pastiera is more of a Neapolitan treat that made its way inland to Irpinia. The legend surrounding Pastiera focuses on the siren Parthenope, who was the daughter of Achelous and Terpischore. Parthenope cast herself into the sea and drowned when her songs failed to entice Odysseus as he passed through area surrounding the Gulf of Naples and her body washed ashore near where Castel dell’Ovo is now located.

Every Spring, at the beginning of the season, Parthenope would sing a song to bring joy to the people who lived around the Gulf of Naples. One year, the people loved her song so much that they decided to pay homage to her with gifts from nature, such as the grain/rice, oranges, lemons, and ricotta.

Parthenope was so moved by these gifts that she presented them to the gods, who then mixed them all together, creating the first Pastiera. Legend has it that the flavor of the Pastiera was even more beautiful than Parthenope’s song itself!

Here is a recipe for Pastiera from Great Italian Chefs.

For more about the legend of Parthenope, visit Avellino Zon.

 

A Holy Week Tradition in Vallata

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On April 18 and 19 in the town of Vallata (AV), a Holy Week tradition will take place as it has done for nearly 500 years.

The Via Crucis, or Holy Procession, representing the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ on Good Friday, is a popular commemoration of that fateful event throughout all of Southern Italy; however, the Good Friday procession that takes place in Vallata is considered one of the most evocative and most representative of what really happened.

According to the Associazione Venerdì Santo Vallata, the procession dates back to 1541, when the Jewish community of Vallata converted to Christianity and began to hold this manifestation during Holy Week. Photos of the event date back to 1928 and little has changed over the event’s storied history. The Associazione Venerdì Santo Vallata stresses that the procession is different from a traditional Via Crucis, as well as different from other processions that were similarly done in the Middle Ages, since there is no Stations of the Cross component to the procession.

894072_585194214826074_1938448219_oTradition has it that young people dress up as Roman soldiers, wearing a breastplate and parading through the crowd as a test of initiation through physical performance. In addition to various symbols of Roman power that are carried through the streets, the so-called “Misteri,” which are symbolic objects exhibited by men wearing hoods, are also taken on procession. Eighteenth-century paintings representing the scenes from the life and death of Christ with phrases from the Gospel of Saint John are also carried on the procession.

About two hundred participants participate in the Venerdì Santo Vallata procession. Everyone’s pace is marked by the rhythm of a characteristic sound of trumpet and drum, which, according to the Associazione Venerdì Santo Vallata, helps to create an environment of moving reflection on the great mystery of Christ’s pain. This meditation is further solicited by some singers who sing the verses of the “Passion of Jesus Christ” by Pietro Metastasio. The verses have been handed down orally or through uncertain writings, for which they have taken a strong dialectal accent, resulting incomprehensible to the majority of bystanders. The procession is completed by the coffin of the dead Christ surrounded by the mayor and by the doctors of the town and the Sorrowful Mother surrounded by little girls with mourning flags.

According to the Associazione Venerdì Santo Vallata, this tradition is so strongly felt by the Vallatese population that there is no need to work hard to hand it down generation by generation– it just happens naturally. It is a collective procession that unites the entire town and is a true representation of what it means to be “Vallatese.”

See below for a video of the procession and a further explanation of its history (in Italian):

My Grandfather, My Hero

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My Nonno Joe with my mother in 1952.

It’s a story I never get tired of telling.

My grandfather, Joseph Anthony Longo (Giuseppantonio Luongo in Italian) arrived in the United States in 1927. He was 11 years old. The only thing he ever really wanted to do was go home to his birthplace, Guardia dei Lombardi, Avellino Province. He never made it.

The first time I heard this story was when I was five years old. I can still vividly remember my mother, Ann Marie, his daughter, taking my tiny hands to trace the boot-shaped outline of Italy, proudly saying her “daddy” was from there.

At nearly 71 years old, my mother still calls her father, “daddy.” At nearly 71 years old, my mother has now outlived her father by 15 years.

April 1 marks the anniversary of my grandfather’s passing in 1973. As the oft-repeated story goes, he died eight years before I was born, but I have always felt closer to him than any of my other family members. I have always felt him loving me and protecting me from Heaven and, yes, I have always felt his loss deeply.

Yet, I never really did lose him. He’s still my grandfather, my Nonno Joe, my hero. If it was not for his life, I never would have gotten involved in Italian-American affairs. I never would have made it my mission, along with my mother, to return to Guardia on his behalf, making his dream come true. “I want to go to Guardia,” he would say to my mother. He did. I carried his picture and a cross that once belonged to him with me the day I first set foot in his town and have brought the same items every single time I returned.

I have never played an April Fool’s joke as far as I can remember, not even as a child, because I always knew that on April 1, my mother’s heart broke when her father died. Even though I wasn’t born yet, my heart broke, too. It may sound strange for an outsider to read this, but it is true– there is a deep void in my life because he is not here. We would have been close. In a way, we are, but I still wish I could have heard his laugh, seen his smile, and looked him in the eye to tell him how much I love him and that, above all, he is my hero. He always will be.

As I write tonight, on the eve of the anniversary of his passing, I am looking at a photo that I keep on my desk– it is of my grandparents’ wedding on May 15, 1940. My grandfather is in the middle, flanked by my Nonna Anna and my Aunt Jennie, with neighborhood children laughing from the porch behind them. As the three of them have been my life’s most profound influences, it only makes sense to have them keep vigil over me any time I write.

When someone dies, the love lives on, always.

Ti adoro, Nonno Joe. Ora e per sempre.