Memories of Monte Capanno 1970, Page Eight: Our Italian Neighbors

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Our Italian Neighbors: what do you recollect about our nearest neighbors, Pierina, Virgilio and their son Maurizio?  about our cook/housekeeper, Methalda?  What about La Contessa herself, or her children, Andrea ("Noni") and Joseph ("Bepi")?
Pierina, Virgilio and their son Maurizio: "Michael [White] comes up to me and says Susie [Agee} and Danny [Kelly] and Gina are stranded in Pontefelcino, where Terry's car broke down.  Terry and I decide to drive down there in mine, ... Turns out then my car won't start.  We had to go bother Virgilio, disturbing his meal, borrow two gallons of gas from his car.  Terry: "Molto, molto, molto grazie!" Having tanked up, we drove to Pontefelcino and found Susie and Danny and Gina in high spirits, they'd had a ball with half the town trying to help them start the car.  Apparently the generator was shot.  Terry was quite upset--he'd been planning to go to Luxembourg with that car.  We tried to jump-start it, but the motor was completely dead. . . ." (from Joel's diary, May 21, 1970...go here to read more)
"Most of the rest of us picked up enough of it have pleasant conversations with the neighbors Virgilio and Pierina, and their son Mauritsio, who became Mark Fissel's fast friend and who got outrageously drunk at one of the parties La Contessa held in our honor." (from Gordon's diary, May 28, 1970).


Mefalda (or was it Methalda): After some weeks of trying to maintain the community through our own efforts, a neighbor woman named Methalda was hired to cook one group pasta or soup meal a day and clean up some.  Later, the residents were invited to help her family slaughter a pig to make sausages.

"I remember a large cast iron caldron that hung on a hook in the fireplace. When we boiled our water in the caldron over the fire, I recall it took several of us with several hot pads to remove it, and I also remember Methalda (the cook) easily removing it with one ungloved hand. Gordon and I always refer to tough, hardened hands as "Methalda Hands." (by Linda)

"I remembered her name as Mefalda. Was it Methalda? I remember those hands too. Those were some tough ladies." (by Mary Zuccaro Charvat)

"For her spaghetti sauce: Water.   Water.   Water.   A few tomatoes chopped up.  Carrot circles.  That's all.  Did she ever put garlic in it?  Or herbs?  Or salt?" (by Cathee)

"Water?  She started out with two parts oil to one part tomatoes.  This was not virgin olive oil but 'Olio di Semi varie' (Oil of Various Seeds), the cheapest edible oil available in Italy.  But Methalda knew no spices.  The flavor for the pasta came as she combined the cooked noodles with this thin, oily red sauce: she added butter and parmesan in quantity.  About once a year we will set aside our lowfat regime to cook up a batch of pasta this Methalda way, which is always a decadent pleasure" (by Gordon)

"I ...meandered into the Big Farmhouse to find our cook from the farm below us slaving over lunch and the dishes at the same time.  Grabbing a rag, I decided to take over the dirty job for her and let her tend to the pots in the fireplace.  It was fun, but hard trying to really COMMUNICATE with her in Italian.  We talked about superficial stuff, though, and seemed to get along pretty well.  I like her.  She talks so fast, though.  All arms and statement, thank goodness.  It helps me understand.  I also helped her cook.  We spent the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon in the kitchen, which is hard for such a nice day.  But, after lunch (she made spaghetti, of course, chicken, salad, and there's always the bland, saltless bread) and cleaning up, I took a walk..." (from Cathee's diary, February 21, 1970, go here to read more).

"Mafalda just came by after cooking lunch for everyone at the Big Farmhouse.  She was worried that the sun would give me a headache, but my Italian was too poor to convince her otherwise.  She ended up putting my shawl on top of my head to protect me!  That's what I love about her!  She really worries about us!  She wanted me to go back to the villa to put my boots on.  Moccasins don't make it! (from Cathee's letters, March 10, 1970, go here to read more).
 
 
 
 
 

(card provided by Mark Fissel)
La Contessa:
Meeting La Contessa:"They'd all been invited to dinner at La Contesa's - and were waiting for a bus to Colombella.  Being noble souls, we came along, too.  Now I can honestly say I've dined with a countess.  She lives in an old castle-like villa on a huge estate called Monte Capanno in the hills of Colombella.  (Try to picture old estates overlooking vast miles of Italian countryside and farmland in some of Sophia Loren's movies.)  From the road to Colombella, we have to walk about two or so miles through farmland and country roads - up - before we come to a row of big poplars on each side of a narrow dirt drive.  Looking up at this point, there's a hill surrounded by trees.  Within the trees are the walls of the estate (like a small castle).  Looking down is a tiny lake and a few old European farmhouses (peasant-like buildings with haystacks built like small houses).  If we look hard we can see a few old women working in the fields (seeding) and some men chopping wood.  After walking up the shaded road to the villa itself, we can see even more of the countryside below.  The villa itself is equipped with its own vineyards and wine cellars, a room filled with medireview armor and swords, a library with books dating as far back as the 12th century (some are handwritten in Italian!), Roman furniture from Caesar's day, a huge dining room with an authentic long feasting table, goblets, and huge royal chairs.  The dinner was enough to serve a king and his army!  The first course was spaghetti and bread and wine.  The bread and pasta were made from the grain from her fields, the wine from the grapes in her vineyards.  Her house-servants prepared them and served them three times before the 2nd course was brought in.  That consisted of roast beef (from her own cattle), home-made thick potato chips (from the gardens) and a crepe suzette made with the eggs from the chickens, cheese from the sheep, peas from the garden, milk from the cows, and God knows what else in the ingredients.  Again, more wine and 2 more servings of the 2nd course.  The 3rd course was pastry (from her grain and honey from hives in the area) - and a special sweet dessert wine.  The 4th course was fruit and nuts and more wine.  The 5th course - after-dinner wine.  About an hour later - tea or a special coffee (tastes more like hot chocolate than coffee).  Needless to say, after that meal, we were like slugs.  I managed to take a walk by myself along the grounds.  It was windy out, but nice." (from Cathee's 1970 diary, go here to read more)

"We sat at a long table with white linen and crystal and a man with white gloves serving us.  The meal was four courses... and the best meal I have had since in Europe.  It was quite a sight... all of these grungy-looking students sitting at the contessa's table.  She treated us fine!" (from Linda's 1970 letters, go here to read more)

"...You asked about the contessa.... I imagine she's in her 60's since she has two sons, 27 and 31.  Her husband, who was a diplomat, died about a year ago.  Her sons wanted her to have something to liven up Monte Capanno and her life, so they thought that this was ideal.  So far, I think it has been.  She doesn't speak a lot of English.  When she walks around the farmhouse to see what the workmen are doing, she brings us little things but she he never gets in the way of what we're doing nor tells us not to do anything.  She respects our privacy, as we do hers. She spends most of her time in the castle where she lives on the 2nd floor.  We only go to her part when invited.  She seems to be a very typical aristocrat and thinks quite differently than we do.  They consider peasants, peasants and nothing more..." (from Linda's letters, February 23, 1970, go here to read more)

With La Contessa in Rome:

"... I just got back from Rome yesterday.  We stayed 3 nights at the Contessa's.   What a trip.  She has a penthouse in a very ritzy part of Rome and you take an elevator to the 3rd floor and then ring a door bell that goes into her flat.  The living room is a showpiece, velvet furniture, marble pillars in the entry way and all sorts of beautiful antiques.  There are 4 bedrooms and 3 baths.   The first morning she had coffee and bread and cheese for us and that night she said, "I vill make pizza for you."  We insisted that that was too much trouble, but she whipped out an Appian Way Instant Pizza box!  We had to help her open the can, because she didn't seem to know how to use a can opener!" (from Linda's letters, May 2, 1970, go here to read more)

"Linda and I stayed with her in her apartment in Rome, near Villa Borghese...   It had an elegant marble anteroom which was adjacent to an elevator which required a key to exit so to enter  directly into her apartment.  Very Impressive!  The guest bedrooms, however, were more Spartan." (by Gordon)

Andrea:  "Andrea has been living here since we came, to help out. He really seems to be enjoying having us here.  He comes to the farmhouse just about every night and sits around the fire and talks and drinks with us.  Last night we had the wildest party we've had since we've been here.  Andrea (among others) was dancing on the tables.  Today, Andrea was going to Columbella and 3 or 4 of us went with him.  He insisted on taking us to a bar and having something!" (from Linda's letters, February 23, 1970, go here to read more)

Dating Italian Men:  "Friday, Feb. 20th - Last Sunday talked with two Italian guys who decided to visit the group.  I persuaded them to give us Italian lessons, which turned out to be pretty funny.  All we did for the rest of the afternoon was conjugate verbs.  The only words spoken seemed to be Io sono, tu sei, egli 'e, noi siamo, voi siete, elle-loro sono, etc.  Finally the two guys got tired and asked Terre Eakins & me to go for a ride with them.  Being rather adventuresome (Terre convinced me we had each other to rely on) we bid the rest of the group good-bye & set off on a rather amusing journey.  Terre & Gianni sat in the back seat of a tiny Fiat, while Raimondo drove and I sat on the seat next to him.  Now, let me tell you what it's like to go parking Italian style (from the guys' point of view):  (1) Start driving - any direction - let the girls think that where you go is completely up to them.  If they pick the wrong way, it's okay.  Just turn around at an appropriate time because of poor weather conditions (it's starting to snow, & you have no chains).  (2)  Head toward an off-road - the nearest farmhouse will do.  Park at the head of the drive under a tree.  (3)  Start giving Italian lessons: faccia=face, carina=cute, bella=beautiful, naso=nose, occhi=eyes, guancia=cheek, mento=chin, boca=mouth, labbri=lips, bacio=kiss.  (4)  Now the stage is set.  Get out the curtain.  Explain in Italian that this is like the Metropolitan Opera House and the curtain must go up before the show can begin.  Bring out a plaid blanket.  Hook both ends of it in the windows (wind up the windows so the blanket won't fall down).  Then proceed to convince the girl that you're madly in love with her, (get this) have a pain in your groin, and must kiss her or you'll be in absolute agony.  Oh, don't forget to tell her that she's more beautiful than any girl you've known, and you'd be willing to forget your girlfriends in Perugia, Rome, Florence (and in your apartment) if only you could have HER.  Be dramatic, serious, sexy, cool.  WELL, it didn't work with Terry & me.  As soon as the curtain went up and they tried to get a kiss, we asked them how to say eyes or nose in Italian once more.  When that game was exhausted, we decided to be blunt and told them we didn't want to be kissed (this was after we had fun with them for a while, joking about the curtain).  Gianni was really cool about it.  But Raimondo got mad, started the car in a huff, and took us back to the villa.  When we climbed out of the Fiat, I shoved snow down his neck and told him in Italian to cheer up.  Somehow it made him laugh.  We had a big snowball fight and ended up shaking hands." (from Cathee's 1970 Diary)

Italians at holidays: "... Easter in Italy was amazing and strange.  We went to Columbella one afternoon (it's about a 15 minute walk) to a local bar.  It was packed with Italian men in shiny tight suits and women all wearing large hats." (from Linda's letters, April 3, 1970... go here to read more)

A car accident in Perugia: "I remember riding into town with Joel in his bus. He was driving down a narrow senza unico street and bumped into a parked car. He panicked and tried to get away by backing down the street, only to be blocked by a little cinquecento as the owner of the damaged car came out onto the street cursing in his native tongue.  Joel had no choice but to return to the scene of the crime. I did my best to interpret what the poor Italian guy was saying. It wasn't that his car was in a hit & run that was bothering him, it was just that he couldn't drive it, and he would miss his date with his mother for lunch--he hadn't missed lunch with mama for over ten years... I loved visiting my native land. I often thought that it was the perfect place for me to be at the time, since it seemed to me to be a culture frozen in adolescence."  (by Mary Zuccaro Charvat, July 2001)

Influencing Italian criminal courts:  "...Remember when one of the girls' parents divorced and her money from home was cut off? She got caught shoplifting, and I had to go to court with her as her translator. There was a funny part to even that, though. Like Wes, I had psyched out the culture. We wore the shortest skirts we could find, and I told her to cry a lot. We got her off! And I made her promise not to do that ever again!" (by Mary Zuccaro Charvat, July 2001)

Italians in general: "... I've been running around in circle.  I went to Florence yesterday to get some money but American Express was closed.  There has been a strike of almost everything in Italy." (from Linda's letters, May 25, 1970)
 

"Today I went to Assisi with Linda and a friend of the Count in a racy Alfa Romeo.  We went to the Basilica of San Francesco, and then to dinner.  For the first time in ages I had beefsteak!  God was I keyed.  We had a complete feast and what amounts to the best kind of Italian lesson: he speaks no English, and we but little Italian.  At this time I must comment on the Italians.  Though all of this is a generality, they are the most friendly, happy-go-lucky, helpfully inquisitive folks I have ever encountered.  We are learning the ways of the people quite adequately and the hours they live, the way they 'fiesta' and drink fits ideally with my way.  I often dream of staying here forever, but of course that is practically impossible.  Still, this whole venture is teaching me to gauge my practicality to what is necessary, not what I feel obligated to do." (from Gordon's letters, February 27, 1970... go here to read more)

"I went with Sandee and Barb to the doctor's to check out Sandee's knees and Barb's bladder.  I was the translator.  Imagine that.  Somehow, in the middle of trying to figure out what-in-the-world this doctor was saying, I realized I love Italy.  I love these Italians, how they work so hard to help you speak their language.  How they speak with their entire bodies.  How, even when you may misunderstand everything, they still smile, say va bene!, and even hug you.  Not too good for Barb and Sandee, I'm afraid.  Water.  Water.  Water.  We must drink more water.  And then some." (from Cathee's letters, March 10, 1970... go here to read more)

"The adverse side of Italians is becoming apparent.  Though they be pleasant, in monetary matters they're not unlike Mexicans in Tijuana.  Several lads have been sold real lemons disguised as 'machinas' (automobiles).  I'm glad I didn't buy one.  Craig from San Luis Obispo has a neat little 1950 Toppolino (miniature Fiat).  It's fun to drive it to town.  Italians are amazing drivers.  They slide through every turn and pass anywhere.  When driving the Toppolino, Italian name for Mickey Mouse, you get passed a lot.  Scarey!!!" (from Gordon's letters, April 10, 1970... go here to read more)

"I'm really sick of Italians tonight.  Seven hours to mail that package today.  It will take two months to get to America by ship, at least.  ... Maybe we'll hit the road in two days and stay gone for a week or two, depending on the weather and hospitality of the natives... I'm tired of Italy.  Monte Capanno is getting crowded again and I'm itching for the road."  (from Gordon's letters, May 3, 1970... go here to read more)
 


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