My cousin Pina’s husband Antonio and his son drove us down to our friend Joe’s house at Roccamandolfi 2 hours south of where we were staying with cousin Maria Letizia and her husband Salvatore. We found Joe’s aunt easily and Signora Pinelli took us up to the house where she had stocked us up with essentials and prepared the place for us which was lovely of her. She is delightful and lives in the village full time. There are a lot of foreigners who are visiting at the moment and also Italo/Americans and Italo/Australians who have come for a reunion. We asked one man for directions and in Italian he said he was German. We have heard a lot of English spoken and have already met families from New Jersey and Toronto and a couple who live in Bunbury who have invited us for coffee.

Maurice said that after his lessons with Joe and his background knowledge of Latin, he finds he can read although understanding a lot and speaking is a little way off. I have been doing the translating so that Maurice can be included in what is going on. It is nice to meet a few people here where Maurice can at least have the occasional conversation in English. I’m sure he’ll make up for it when we are in Ireland and it will be a break for me before we go to Germany as some of our friends there don’t speak English!

Joe’s house is a lovely little place with shutters on the windows which is normal here in Italy. It has a large all in one dining/living/lounge area downstairs and two bedrooms and bathroom upstairs. We love it. Joe’s aunt grew up here with 10 people living in the house.

Rocca Mandolfi according to one of the residents has 1100 inhabitants down from 4,000 years ago and a few of the shops have closed and some of the houses are sadly boarded up but the town has a lot of character and there are some beautifully planted window boxes and colourful plants outside some of the houses. A lot of the people leave their keys in their front doors but they are mostly then at home. Can’t see that happening in Australia anymore.

The village is very pictureque and is tucked into the mountainside. There are a LOT of steps to climb and descend wherever you go. We will certainly be fit by the time we leave here which we need after the gastronomic feasts we have been having every day with the relatives. Joe’s aunt very generously made us a cake and left us delicious wood fired pizza bread so the diet started the next day! Up above the town but out of sight from the town is a wind farm and the concession to having it there was to upgrade some of the footpaths and railings around the town.

We waited with a lot of people in the main piazza and saw the crowd throw rice over a bride and groom as they came down the steps from the church. I don’t know how some of the young girls who were all dressed up with very high thin heels could walk up an down the very uneven steps and on the cobblestones. They must be used to it. Most of the people in the piazza were enjoying pre wedding reception drinks while the bride and groom were married in the church. There were only very few people who actually attended the church which seems to be the norm in Italy for a wedding.

On the other hand everyone seems to turn out for a funeral. The next day Joe’s aunt’s son in law’s mother died (she had been very sick) and we had met her son the day before so we joined the hundreds of people in the church for the ceremony. The church was overflowing and we stood at the back of the church while people who were standing wandered in and out. The funerals here take place very soon after someone has died. Four sturdy young men carried the coffin from the house up and down the steps to the church and then down again to a waiting hearse further down the mountain – we watched from up high while most of the congregation walked to the cemetery. The day someone dies they post notices on the boards around town to show who has died and when someone has died. They have had 2 older people and one young person die in the last two weeks here – upsetting anytime but also for such a small town.

We have found at least three bars so far in town who serve good cappucino for $1.20 and is about 1/2 the quantity of an Australia cappucino but still cheap. They are also allowed to sell alcoholic drinks so last night we had a very refreshing gin and tonic for $2.50 each. The tax here is very low on alcohol so wine and spirits are very reasonably priced.

There is no supermarket here but small shops – a separate butcher and a general store selling everything from smallgoods and fruit and vegetables and essentials. I like the small shops and the personalized service which pretty much a thing of the past at home. We went to the butcher and bought half a chicken because it was so big! The peaches here are full of flavour and you can smell them when you walk into the shop.

They also have a vendor selling fruit, vegetables and other goods from a van and you know he is coming as he has a loudspeaker and he shouts out the prices of the various items while driving around the bottom of the town.

The chickens and other fruit and vegetables that we have eaten here have all had such wonderful flavour as well as the cockles and mussels and fresh fish we ate one night at a cousin’s home. The fresh ricotta is also delicious.

The usual dinner time in Italy is about 8-10pm and lunch around 2pm. Most shops open around 10am-1pm and then reopen at 5pm to 8pm which gives people a chance to have lunch and a rest – especially in the heat of the day. It has been over 30degrees and up to 40degrees with high humidity every day and it is nice to get to Roccamandolfi where it does cool down at night with a lovely breeze and it is nice and hot and sunny during the day.

A lot of Italians go on holiday in August so there are a lot of people on the road. There are also many, many festivals in every town and city and the organisers put up notices around the towns and have brochures printed to show what is on during the week or the month. You could be at a festival nearly every night in the various towns in July and August. There is a

festival in another small village held in the cooler weather whereby the various families of the town cook seven kinds of minestrone and anyone can go and eat there without any charge.

I find I am finally thinking in Italian which is a great help. I lack the vocabulary sometimes but I can usually explain something if I don’t know particular words. I’m getting plenty of practice anyway. Everyone in the town is very friendly and they know that there is a reunion of the emigrants going on so they all want to know where you come from and how you are connected to someonen in the village. We met one of Joe’s cousins Raffaele D’Andrea from Sydney and had a good chat with him.

We caught the bus into a larger town called Isernia which is the oldest known civilization in Europe of over 740,000 years. It only takes about 1/2 hour depending on whether the driver stops for a chat now and then with someone he knows along the way.

The bus also stops at various points to pick up or drop off some passengers even though there are sometimes no bus stops. We wandered around the town and went to the supermarket and bought some things. Everywhere in Italy you have to buy plastic bags if you want them at any supermarket but the funny thing is that at the pharmacy every medicine is wrapped up in paper, even if it is in a box already. I had a belt shortened and fixed and it cost me 2euros.

We saw a three door fridge/freezer and vegetable drawer for 399euros about $470. I know that prices in the small towns are less than in the cities but even in Rome we found everything we bought to be much cheaper than at home.

A nice thing in France, Italy and Germany is that when you walk into a small shop everyone greets each other with a good morning or good evening. The man in the small general store in Roccamandolfi gave me some garlic as he thought it was past it’s prime, a lovely gesture.

We went for a long walk one day and down to the cemetery to have a look at the place. It is so well kept and they have a separate room with small marble plaques with the names of people who have died overseas. They have separate sections for those who died in the USA and Canada ,Belgium, France and Germany and one for Australia.

That night we went down to the bar to have our cappucino as it is one of the only places that we can sometimes skype from and send emails. Very soon we had lightning, thunder and a torrential downpour which lasted 1/2 hour. After that it cleared up and it has been fine again since then.

On Ferr’Agosto – the 15th August all the shops are closed for the feast of the Assumption and everyone goes on a picnic or visits family or friends. We knew that a lot of people were going further up into the mountains for the day so Maurice and I packed a picnic and took our two backpacks and set out – we didn’t get very far before we met Raffaele – Joe’s cousin and his wife Antonietta and their son Joe who were waiting by their car for their sister-in-law from Isernia and her daughter Maria and her German boyfriend Uwe who live in Rome. They said that it was a long way up the mountain and would we like a lift so we gratefully accepted. We all got on really well and we were very glad for the lift when we saw how far it was and all uphill!

The valley we went to was just beautiful with lovely big trees all around us in the forrest. It used to an alpine pasture for sheep and before the winter the shepherds used to trek for 3days down to Puglia where it was warmer and then in Spring they would bring them back again.

There were hundreds of people there BBQing and picnicking and some had set up tents for the night. There were horses there if you wanted to ride and the horses were all very sturdy looking.

The family generously offered us lunch as well – Maurice succumbed but I stuck to my diet – and then we all walked to a little place not far away for a coffee where a lot more people were enjoying lunch and a drink.  Maurice and I had not done any exercise so we decided to walk back to the village as it was downhill. The family also were going to start to cook again so off we went. Along the way we met a lovely German girl here on holiday who was walking her young 18month old son in his pram down the mountain so that he would get some sleep. She had had enough food too and left her husband to eat more with the relatives. We chatted in German on the way down which was good practice for me. It took us 1hour 45mins to get back down but it was a lovely walk with beautiful mountain scenery and there were not too many cars to avoid on the narrow roads.

Italy is still a very male dominated society with me the only woman at the bar in the evening or even in the morning. All the men are there chatting or playing cards.
The only other women we have seen at the bars have been foreigners.  The men (except my uncle in Rome who is the exception) all get up from the table or sit at the table while the women clear everything away and do the washing up.

A few of the kids here are very enterprising and set up a little table and they also have a large piece of cardboard where they lay out all sorts of bits and pieces and try to sell them to anyone who goes by.

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