Tuesday, January 25, 2022

“amr'càna” -- Letter to an unknown editor.

Letter to an editor
Calitri AV Italy
“Di Angela Paolantonio non sapevamo niente, neppure che esistesse, fino al 2007. Quell’anno l’abbiamo conosciuta grazie a un suo scritto sul New York Times. Il pezzo, corredato di foto di una Calitri dai colori intensi sotto un cielo che preparava un temporale, ci rivelò il paese in cui da generazioni abitiamo in modo inedito, quasi mitico.

*So begins a piece of writing, (a response?) from Alfonso Nannariello on the eve of both of our nascent writing (and teaching) careers.*

Questa suggestione l’ho avuta confermata leggendo ogni altro scritto di Paolantonio apparso sulla rivista della Pro Loco di Calitri, L’Ofanto, con la quale ha trattenuto per alcuni anni una significativa collaborazione non solo come scrittrice analista dei luoghi di una sua memoria recuperata, ma anche come fotografa.

*The writer /  professor continues to engage his audience with a time-honoured memoirists tool comparing himself and thus his readers with his subjects’ world view in this case la “amr'càna.”*

La visione inedita che Angela fornisce del paese di cui io stesso scrivo e da sempre abito è dovuta all’effetto della sorpresa ancora viva dovuta al ritrovamento di un suo reperto archeologico: le radici della sua famiglia. Della sua nonna paterna in particolare, di cui, proprio come un archeologo, ha seguito le tracce che le hanno consentito di avere una visione più precisa di sé. Visione corredata di foto, di volti, di atteggiamenti, di riti, di miti, di modi di dire e di inflessioni linguistiche di cui si è riappropriata. La dimensione mitica della sua scrittura è dovuta all’innocenza del sentire, molto vicina all’innocenza della prima primavera del mondo e a quella dell’infanzia di ogni bambino.

*He then proposes, let’s say predicts, his fellow memorist’s journey into the land of her own subconscious.* 

Riappropriatasi degli elementi della nostra cultura e delle nostre tradizioni, Angela Paolantonio ha compiuto mediazioni culturali, mediandole con le forme della sua cultura originaria, quella americana. In questa veste di mediatrice culturale ha contribuito artisticamente e intellettualmente a divulgare la storia delle forme e delle nostre tradizioni non solo di Calitri ma di parte dell’Alta Irpinia, tanto con la scrittura quanto con la fotografia.

          Alfonso Nannariello 
Professore Teoria Religioso e Filosofia”

*It has been more than ten years since I received this letter, delivered personally by Nannariello. I no longer remember why apart from the mention of the NYT profile that at the time a few years earlier thrust Calitri (and myself) onto the national stage. Yet I have saved it all these years.

We were both writers for L’Ofanto, Calitri’s once loved historic quarterly journal. We wrote personal history pieces and postcards from far flung places long before social media likes (and the absence of likes) defined one’s popularity or solidarity with one’s community. We were simply part of an editorial team of local venerable contributors some of whom went on to further their creative careers, even to far flung places. In essence I did the reverse. I would soon transfer from the new world to this smaller meta-verse to the consternation and surprise of many friends and family. Nannariello simply stayed. His letter would ground me to a place and a myth with more emotional history than I would ever come to know or discover.*

Rest in power Alfonso Nannariello 1/24/2022

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Interstellar Friendship

I have a very sweet bookish friend who lives in Italy.

Angela recently emailed to tell me about the bitterly cold rain that had fallen on her village in Campania. She correctly assumed that I would understand and empathize. “How do you live way up there in snow-land as a permanent thing?” she asked. (“Way up there in snow-land” referring to my home state of Wisconsin.)

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes,” I quipped. I proceeded to extol the virtues of my Sorel snow boots and Smartwool socks, but in hindsight, I don’t think that’s what Angela was getting at.

Rather than listen to me prattle on about my outdoor gear, Angela probably wanted to understand how we Northerners do it—how we gaze at an often-sunless winter horizon and find a sense of hope in the unceasing shades of gray and lavender. It’s an apt question, because surviving these dark and bone-chilling months isn’t for the faint of heart.


have you ever stood on the icy shore of a frozen body of water and listened to it? I mean really listened to it?

I just spent a long weekend in the Northwoods, which is my favorite place on earth and the setting of Crossing the Pressure Line. During one of my many hikes—because I make myself spend time outside every day, even when the weather hovers in the single digits—I watched the moon rise over a white and seemingly lifeless lake. It was only 4:20 P.M., but already nighttime felt like a heavy blanket.

In the hushed stillness of the gloaming, it would’ve been easy for me to imagine that everything was simply dead. But then the lake moaned, sounding not unlike a whale. I grinned into the moonlight, and the lake called out to me again. And again. Under my many layers of Smartwool, my body broke out in joyful goosebumps.

If you’ve never been up north in the winter, you might not realize that sheets of lake-ice can shift, which generates a variety of noises—pops and creaks, of course, but also groans and grumbles. A deep and eerie cry that sounds just like an owl. And, most thrillingly, the unearthly zing of a Star Wars Lightsaber.

You guys, those iced-over lakes are alive. Glorious things are happening beneath their surface, at every moment. Things we can’t see, but that remind us that the natural world carries on in spite of—because of—the frigid temperatures and frequent blizzards.

The next time my friend Angela asks me how I manage to stay warm here in the frozen tundra, I will tell her about the lakes. I will try to describe how I’m able to find courage when those whale-calls land upon my ears.

I know that Angela has chestnut-tree forests and fields of grain to greet her when she opens her balcony door in Italy, but I’ve got something very sturdy and character-building right here in Wisconsin, if I just go outside and listen.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Timpano Napoletana in Under 30 Steps*

Timpano Napoletana

*Oltre all'ispirazione della nuova musa italiana, Stanley Tucci... l'indulgenza e la ricetta del timpano sono dal cuore e dalla mente napoletana di Nerina & Pierluigi, creatori de Il Tufiello e Il Don Chisciotte, vino naturale Fiano 'Il Don Chisciotte'.

The photos speak for themselves...no?

Grazie Nerina e Piero!

Thursday, October 07, 2021


Still Life With Saints featured in Jane Ubell-Meyer's Fall Book Lover's Guide 2021 from Bedside Reading

Q: How does the Italian way of living directly impact your writing and storytelling?

A: I have a beautiful hilltop view from my balcony. The sun, the moon, and the stars cross the sky, seemingly at eye level. It has been a wonderful vantage point for reflection and reinvention through the seasons. As I write in SAINTS about this region of Italy, “Irpinia opens itself up to you slowly, leads you into a wilderness of ancient times, when this land was inhabited by Samnites, Romans, and Langobards, the story arc of centuries written in their spolia.” This balcony in Italy has become my spirit gate.

Q: What are some of your favorite books/memoirs written in Italian/by Italians?

A: Dacia Maraini’s Bagheria is her memoir about her family's return to Sicily, near Palermo, after being released from an internment camp in Japan in WWII. As one of Italy's beloved and feminist writers, Maraini writes with a style that is intimate and revealing. I love place based memoirs. But Bagheria is also a father daughter story. A child of eight at the time, Maraini had experienced the deprivations of war in a foreign land, then returned to a country she barely knew. I read it in Italian.

“From myths and legends to romance and a form of 'reincarnated soul journey', Still Life With Saints proves even more captivating than its haunting predecessor The Ghosts of Italy. It's a top recommendation as a powerful memoir both for prior readers and newcomers interested in cross-cultural encounters and life changes."

— D. Donovan, Midwest Book Review

Bedside Reading's FALL BOOK LOVER'S GUIDE 2021 in Hollywood Weekly this October.Click on the links to read.