Saturday, August 03, 2019

“I Moved Back to My Ancestral Home in Italy”

This article was originally published October 2018 for 
International Living Magazine
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Dear Fund Your Life Daily Reader,
According to scientists at NASA, the earth is getting larger at the rate of 0.004 inches per year. However, for us regular folk, the world feels like it's getting smaller...and fast.
Just two generations ago, Angela's grandmother left her home in Italy to start a new life in the States. The journey would have taken her weeks. And the chances that she could ever return home to Italy again were next to nothing.
When Angela took the same journey back to her ancestral home in Italy in 2000, it only took her a few hours, and she could fly back to the States any time she pleased. Only 18 years later, she can probably make the same journey for half the cost.
The world may be expanding, but every day it feels a little smaller. And that means there are more options than ever for places we can live...without feeling too far away from where we started.
Read Angela's story below...
Paul O'Sullivan
Managing Editor, Fund Your Life Daily
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"I Moved Back to My Ancestral Home in Italy" 
By Valerie Schneider

It started on a whim. Angela Paolantonio was traveling in Italy back in 2000 when she made a spur-of-the-moment decision to hop on a bus to her ancestral town of Calitri, east of the Apennine mountain. It would become more than a quick trip, but a journey of discovery.

In Calitri she was embraced by cousins, great-aunts and great-uncles, and found herself in the midst of a warm extended family whose love and hospitality won her over.

A few years later when a great-aunt passed away, Angela was given the opportunity to acquire the house where her grandmother grew up. While maintaining her photography and creative arts career in Los Angeles, she started spending a few months a year in Calitri, surrounded by her famiglia and enjoying the sweeping panorama from her balcony. "It looks out over the beautiful Ofanto Valley and Southern Apennines, with the chapel of Santa Lucia in my direct view. It's the balcony view of my grandmother's youth."

Angela had used the home part-time while keeping her life and job in California. In 2010, at age 50, she ditched life in Los Angeles and moved to Italy full-time. "It turned out to be the best decision and one of the most adventurous leaps of my life." She calls the transition, "both rewarding and challenging." She learned as she went along, both the language and the cultural differences. "Adapting and assimilating to the culture is a lifelong process," she says. She chronicled her journey in a memoir, The Ghosts of Italy.

Calitri is a cascade of picturesque pastel buildings and cobbled lanes. There, Angela settled into the rhythm of small town life, enjoying its markets, piazzas, and passeggiata (strolls). With degrees in fine art and art history and plenty of professional photography experience under her belt, Angela struck out to redefine herself in her new surroundings. She took on a variety of creative ventures that not only earned an income but garnered her accolades and helped spur community development and cultural growth.

Because of Angela's influence, more expats have started arriving in Calitri, and the town now has dozens of part-time foreign residents, drawn not just by the charm but by the prices. In Calitri, you can buy a home for less than $50,000, and the overall cost of living is low. A delectable dinner out for two with wine and all the courses can be had for just $36.With projects that include curating, consulting, and designing exhibits, the energetic and tenacious Angela has been able to collaborate with municipal and provincial entities to produce photographic books, exhibits, and cultural events around the region. "I'm proud of having contributed to the artistic and intellectual activities of this village and other communities over the years. I've worked alongside and supported the contributions of an array of artists, educators, designers, and directors from around the world. And many have remained close friends."

Angela notes that there has been a growth in niche tourism and more services since she first moved here. "In my eyes it has grown but not changed. The Old World lifestyle is still very much in place."
Angela also started teaching English when she first moved, which she found rewarding. Building on that experience, she's now taking a new leap of faith, this time to Naples, where she will be Director of Studies at an English school.
"I'm looking forward to city life and using the city as a jumping off point for other local travels and adventures. I plan to be very culturally involved. I'm also a new volunteer communications liaison for the American consulate here in Naples. And, of course, Calitri is not far away. It will always be my home."

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Cento Anni, A Toast to My Italian Self-Worth

New drop on Pink Pangea ~ A personal essay with one hundred years of backstory, on an Italian(American) woman's self-worth. ~ 
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Cento Anni ~ A Toast to My Italian Self-Worth
My first amatriciana was in that trattoria I happened upon, a local family style, maybe ten table place. I was killing time, slowly meandering my way toward Stazione Termini to get back on a plane to LA. It was a Sunday. I was hungry, not very bold. I had just had a month and a half in Tuscany with friends in a farmhouse at Tenuta di Spannocchia, a long awaited, very first time ever in Italy. It was Autumn, 1995. Tenuta di Spannocchia was then a little known, once noble land holding complete with aging barons in residence near Sienna not far from San Gimignano. Rustic accommodations really, far outside a small village with local descendents still immersed in the Florentine / Sienese rivalry of the Guelfs and Ghibellines. The Guelfs & Ghibellines!

I had planned everything, drove everywhere. Organic meals cooked by capable women in stone galleys, gregges of sheep in the sienese fields, star studded black nights in the autumn-gilded Etruscan countryside. Friends arrived to share the rambling rustic medieval place; single or in pairs, they ate, drank, fell in love and moved on. Weeks were spent rambling through small Tuscan villages. Evenings we shared communal meals in the large stone dining room of our castle base. I was their host, the first to arrive and the last to leave. Turned out, Tenuta di Spannocchia was an academic study destination for students and professors of archeology – Etruscan specialists come from around the world for a week or more to dig in the surrounding Tuscan fields and villages – looking for clues.

At last, mid-October, I took an overnight in Chiusi to change trains to Rome. Now I was sitting alone in this modest trattoria on a side street in the Esquilino. I’d never done this before. Sitting alone in any restaurant would have been hard enough. I had been to Prague, Paris. But a Sunday in Rome, Italy. Autumn 1995 was the centennial year of my grandmother’s birth. Though I hadn’t any clue of that at the time. Fresh white tablecloths, wide-paned windows to the street, a few families already seated. The trattoria was an urban, family affair with a natural light that imbued the centuries old columned room. The white aproned owner, an ample woman about in her early 60s crossed the room to my table. A matriarch auntie? L’amata nonnina? She looked down on the young solo Italian-American to see what the poor thing would want to eat.

She recited a few pasta choices, only one form of which I recognized. I nodded, ordered the simple pancetta and tomato sauce. But, thinking again, I quickly asked, Could I have it on the rigatoni? A soft frown slowly panned across her face, Say again? You want l’amatriciana with the rigatoni? Me as novice, my voice versus her commanding presence, asking for something instead of taking what's given, like a good granddaughter would.

Years later, it’s not an ample auntie nonna in white apron, but a heavy bellied, heavily tattooed chef holding forth on the floor. I had just arrived in Rome on business. It’s very hot, I’m hungry, and still alone. An early Monday night in a real Roman neighborhood I barely knew. I had three recommended restaurant choices for dinner and I chose him. A few outside tables were already filled. Still, he made me wait at the door. Just another moment more and I would have bolted. Shown the board, I asked a quick clarification and then sat down, changing / choosing the table over the waiter’s suggestion. Water. Wine. The board and the chef reappear.
Allora, what should it be? I countered, Dimmi tu. He eyes me, The carbonara, l’amatriciana or la gricia? A no tomato (sauce) alternative to the famed Roman plate. He saw I was eager. His sullied apron and tattoos now calling the shots. Should we jump right to l’amatriciana, then? Before my nod could even descend he had whisked away the board and that was it…The plate arrived. Perfectly fatty amatriciana on rigatoni giganti. And you were home.

Amatriciana, now and has been, my favorite pasta dish since that (first meal alone in Rome) story. Raffaelina always made it for me in Calitri after having asked only once what my favorite dish was. Things become your favorite thing when you have a positive experience from an elder or parent like person (ie; as substitute of your long lost grandmother, You say to yourself as you write.) 1895 to 1995 ~ Cento anni. Hunh.

Cent’anni is an old Italian idiom. A toast to friendship and prosperity, a toast to family and history; to the lives of those who came before us and the lives we make one hundred years forward. So, the elder zia auntie grandmother type in the 1995 experience in the Rome trattoria, treating you like a VIP for letting you change the pasta to what you wanted, in your broken, your actually non existent Italian, who first gave you the look but let you have it on the rigatoni anyway ~ that became your permission, your mantra. Your (Italian) self worth. That whenever anyone asked what was your favorite, or what you might have, instinctively you went for l’amatriciana even if you weren’t cognitively making the connection each time you responded.

What is that a sort of Italian subconscious? Yes. I was subconsciously raising a glass to myself with each answer. As in, the Italian Cent’anni.

Thanks to the editors at Pink Pangea for their inspiration

Sunday, June 17, 2018

A Journey of Self Discovery in Italy: In Conversation with Memoir Author Angela Paolantonio

Picture this: an artist lives in a beautiful home on Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles. She travels to Rome to indulge in the art and beauty and, in an ‘aha’ moment, remembers, “I’m Italian!” Because she is a woman who listens to her intuition, memoir author Angela Paolantonio is guided to the land of her ancestors in Southern Italy. She falls in love, finds long-lost family and eventually buys her grandmother’s childhood home. Sound like a movie? 

In her memoir, The Ghosts of Italy, Angela’s words and images transport us to Italy to experience magic and sensual pleasures found in this mountain village.

However, it is not all a fairytale romance. As a single woman traveling alone in old-world Italy, she has to learn to navigate age-old cultural norms. Her strength and bold spirit are inspirational. Call it magic, serendipity, or maybe a dispatch from a past life, Angela is compelled to listen and act on her inner voice.
This memoir will interest those who have an inner drive to self discovery, or who are compelled by an enormous force telling them to get going. Angela takes on the challenge in a way many of us admire in our favorite heroine. She wants to fit in, and she’s drawn to discover her family history. This memoir shows her tenacity, but it is more than that. She is a person who lives on her intuition. It begs the question: How far removed are we from our ancestors, anyway?
When I spoke to her in early June, she was in her home in the small Southern Italian village of Calitri, east of Naples, in the Southern Apennines. Her village was preparing for Corpus Domini, the last of three Catholic processions to commemorate Easter Sunday. Here’s a glimpse into our conversation ~ ....
Author interview by Ellen Shick for Pink Pangea, Inspiring Women Travelers. Click LINK to continue reading 
A Journey of Self Discovery in Italy: In Conversation with Memoir Author Angela Paolantonio

Sunday, January 21, 2018


The Ghosts of Italy’s Adopt An Olive Tree
Symbol of Peace & Abundance

The Ghosts of Italy's #AdoptAnOliveTree initiative offers anyone; from book-readers of #GhostsofItaly, friends, and friends who are family, a special opportunity to share in and support an organic, wild-cultivated sustainable olive grove in Alta Irpinia, Campania, Southern Italy. It's a pay it forward story; tramandare is Italian for handing down something of the family. Here's a brief story about how it all came about with a teaser scene from book two! STILL LIFE WITH SAINTS

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It was October 2006. I had just started my blog L’Americana with this prescient post:

I was in the little paese on the hill for Christmas. For Italians the holiday is all about the presepe - and not about how many shopping days left. Thankfully. The weather was cold and wintry though sadly it did not snow on the hill once. I’m a big believer in snow at Christmas, even so my Calitri experience was all that I had hoped for, with fresh Christmas trees and little tiny lights throughout the town, wild mistletoe to hang over the door (collected together in the woods with my own wild man Peppino) the aroma of homemade breads and cakes in ovens nearby, and a surprise gift from zia Maria ~ the biggest rosary I have ever seen!

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Ten years of blogging and a published book later, at zia Maria’s family table for Christmas 2016, she spoke these words to me in Italian ~

‘You’re welcome to the olive trees in San Benedetto.’ The historic zona olivicola (olive-growing area) on Calitri’s legendary Centro Storico hillside, just below This Morning’s Balcony View.
Senza interessi.’
I sat silent at first, regarding her. Then she asked if I’d understood what she said. After several years living in the town, I’d learned a few of the deeper cultural sayings, and what they meant.
I nodded my head.
Moments later her daughter Anna reconfirmed if I had understood what her mother had just offered me. I turned to her then, as zia Maria’s words slowly sunk further in.
‘They’re the olive trees in the circle of land below my balcony,’ I said as much to myself as to Anna, zia Maria, and those still sitting around the table.
Tramandare. The word for handing down something of the family. Zia Maria, then, without having read the book, understood the very spirit of The Ghosts of Italy; its theme, its magic, and me.


There are 25 organic and wild-cultivated ‘Carnevale’ olive trees in the circle grove and a dozen more near the crest of the hill covered in yellow broom. Zia Maria and her husband Vincenzo hadn’t tended the trees for at least the last three seasons; they weren’t getting any younger, one year had been too lean, so they had let the harvest go. After a year of fielding resistance from urban parenti both near and far, some encouragement from local cittadini contadini, ‘Wait for the yield to return’, and Peppino, this year I partnered with a local, grassroots non-profit chapter of the greater Irpinia Associazione Olivicoltori ~ The Olive Guys ~ experts in the caring and pruning of millenial and younger olive groves and harvesting their oftimes abandoned trees. ‘Carnevale’ is a monovarietal fruit, awarded DOP status in Calitri, Alta Irpinia. This means, the trees in the historic San Benedetto zone, are a designated and protected varietal of olive exclusive to Calitri. Wild harvested and fresh pressed, the small black Carnevale produce a mild yet luxuriously rich and complex fruity oil.

Wouldn’t you love some on your table?

Adopt an Olive Tree from The Ghosts of Italy Initiative Spring 2018.

Grazie dal zia Maria