A Piece of Italy – I Mean Naples – in Notting Hill

Pasquale places cutlery next to my sfogliatella.  Pointedly.  "You Northerners probably eat it with a knife and fork," he says, deadpan, and strolls to look out of the front door, his hands behind his back.

He says Northerner to me, Roman-born.  Slap-bang in the middle of the boot-shaped peninsula. "And how do you, Southerners, eat it?" I shout back. 

He turns around, takes one hand out from behind his back, clumps his fingers together and lifts them up to his face.  "Like this," he replies.

I put down my fork and pick up my paper napkin.  I raise the sfogliatella and bite into it.  Pointedly.

The exchange takes place in Italian and, seeing that those at my table who've been following it are now laughing heartily, Pasquale's moustache stretches into a mischievous smile.  Unable to guffaw with a mouthful of crisp pastry and ricotta, I can't, however, suppress a snort which sends a small cloud of icing sugar all over my chin.  

I always ask for a sfogliatella when I have lunch or dinner at Da Maria's – it's the best I've tasted in London.  Just as I always expect to have at least two or even three hearty laughs with the owner, Pasquale.  

"I'll give you Northerner," I say, once I've swallowed the delicious Neapolitan speciality.

At that moment, a middle-aged man opens the glass door, briefly letting in the traffic sounds of Notting Hill Gate.  "Here comes another foreigner," Pasquale mutters.

They greet each other like friends, talk about football, then say goodbye with a hug.

"So where's the foreigner from then?" I ask.

"Ischia," he replies.

By now, my husband and my friends can barely breathe from laughing.

"Ischia! But that's what – thirty kilometres from where you're from?" I say, hamming up my Roman accent.

"Of course," Pasquale replies, now unable to suppress his smile.  "That's far enough from Naples."

Of course.  How stupid of me.  

It occurs to me that when I meet fellow-Brits abroad, I never ask them exactly which part of the country they're from.  Or when I meet French people. Whenever I come across Italians, however, the innate campanilismo of that part of me that is Italian through nurture awakens.  Of course, when I encounter a fellow-Roman, the next question is invariably, "Which part? – Oh, I'm from the Tomba di Nerone area." 

The jokes between Norfolk and Suffolk inhabitants are nothing compared to the precisely localised civic pride of Italians.

In this instance, however, the campanilismo expressed by Pasquale and me is pure show, actively aimed at the gallery, who get the joke and giggle.

Da Maria is therefore not a piece of Italy in the heart in Notting Hill Gate, but of Naples.  There's a Napoli Football Club scarf and memorabilia on the wall and a large TV screen for when supporters gather to watch a match.  There's a figure of Pulcinella.  There's a mural with a Naples street scene, complete with a line of washing waving in the wind, a Saint Gennaro, little boys playing football or eating the most famous local dish, pizza, Mount Vesuvius across the bright blue bay, and, overlooking the street from the balcony, two celebrated Neapolitans: Sophia Loren and Totò.  

I've lost count of the number of years I've been frequenting this tiny café-restaurant, tucked in right beside the Gate Cinema, with tables covered in checkered tablecloths.  It must be nearly twenty years – since my friend L. introduced me to it – and she had been going there pretty much since they'd first opened, in 1980.  When I lived in London, L. and I used to have breakfast there most Saturdays, after a quick shop at the Farmers' Market behind Waterstone's, and before doing the rounds of the charity shops in search of either books or quirky, unique clothes.  We had dinner and a celebratory glass of red wine when Pasquale finally obtained an alcohol licence.  

When H. and I moved in together, I introduced him to Da MariaHe decreed the pasta and pesto to be the best.  My staple is no longer on the menu, but as soon as he sees me arrive, Pasquale asks, "Pasta al tonno, right? With or without peperoncino, this time?" A few minutes later, my favourite dish is served.

The food is delicious and very reasonably-priced, but it's the warm family atmosphere and the sense of humour-on-tap of the place that attracts a following among both Italians and Londoners, although I have also heard Polish, Arabic, French and Spanish spoken at the neighbouring tables.  Some locals lunch there every day.  If someone is absent for a while, Pasquale worries, asks around if they're all right.  Enquires after them if they're ill.    If they've had a professional success, he shares the news with other regulars.  "You know so-and-so who comes here at lunchtime, sometimes? He's just published a book" or "She's just graduated", etc.

Now that we live in Norwich, whenever we're in London for any length of time, H. and I go for a meal at Da Maria.  Pasquale greets us like the proverbial prodigals. If his wife is in the kitchen, she comes out and shakes hands.  If his son happens to be around, we want to hear how his studies are going, and ask about his plans.  

After dinner, it's often a limoncello for H. and a grappa for me.  

And, at the end of a long day in a city that's fast becoming a shrine to corporations and chains, a feeling of human warmth, of international bonding, for us both.

*   *   *

Da Maria is now under threat of closure.  All that because of a planned expansion of the Gate Cinema's foyer.  In an area that used to be one of London's quirkiest, where so many independent businesses have been eradicated by the faceless chains, Da Maria is one of the few remaining jewels.  Interestingly, it's located in one of the capital's wealthiest boroughs, Kensington & Chelsea – they of Grenfell Tower fame.  Below is a link to an  article from The Observer and a couple of clips from YouTube.  There is also a petition.  Please sign it if you have been to Da Maria, if you would like to go, or if you simply support independent businesses that are one of a kind.

Scribe Doll

Da Maria Website

Article in The Observer

YouTube Clips

What Happens When Napoli is Playing...

The Petition

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It's October -- Time for Hot Air

I'm sitting here listening to thunder booming and rain drops hitting my water barrel...almost like water torture. Another day, another deluge. The yearly monsoon was something of a dud but we have more than made up for it in the last ten days. It all has to stop by tomorrow.

A post about hot air in October could be about politics as usual in the wake of a horrific mass shooting but I'm headed in a different direction. The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta starts this weekend. For about ten days the city population almost doubles. This is the 46th annual event. I think they have it down pretty well by now. I remember my wife and I going to Fiesta number seven and it was a little rough around the edges. The pre-dawn grass was about seven inches high and sopping wet from dew. We squished after walking to the launch site. It's much more tailored now with a dedicated and groomed Fiesta site. There is a network of shuttle busses bringing people from all over the city beginning at 4:30 AM. I take a later bus but it is important to be there by 6:00 AM. They seem to have the traffic problems of early years resolved.  

The first thing you do getting off the bus is make a bee-line to the food vendors. You need coffee. I get something dusted with powdered sugar -- donut holes or funnel cake -- so I can be speckled with white smudges all day. Breakfast burritos are the big thing -- something you can eat out of your hand while staggering toward the balloons. There are all kinds of burritos and not all have the red or green chiles as the major ingredient.

Before long the Dawn Patrol will inflate and go up precisely at 6:00 AM. These are five or six brave balloonists who go up in the dark with lighted beacons to test the winds. Everyone watches and waits. It is not uncommon that the day's mass assencion is cancelled because of dangerous winds -- On those days the Dawn Patrol disappears or makes a hasty landing.

The go-ahead call is made pretty quickly. On weekends there can be from 500 to 700 balloons going up in a mass assencion that takes about an hour starting at 7:00 AM. On perfect flying days there is something called the "Albuquerque Box" when the wind at one level blows northward up the Rio Grande valley and at a lower level blows back southward. On those days you can fly for the whole morning and land almost where you tookoff.

 

     

The whole thing is pretty much over by 9:00 AM with the exception of a few aerial acrobat  events and powered hang-glider flights and demonstrations. Everybody gets a second cup of coffee, peers at their cameras or cell phones to see what pictures they captured and then heads back to the waiting shuttle busses. Some will do it all again the next day. I have visitors coming this year so I'll go on that last weekend when they are here. This is a "bucket list" event for many people so I have folks visiting about every other year for the Fiesta. When the main event is over at 9:00 AM there are plenty of other diversions going on all over town. There's also evening events at the launch site -- concerts and balloon glows. There's much to see -- New Mexico is gorgeous this time of year (assuming the rain stops).

If I'm going I usually pick a day in the middle of the week for smaller crowds but on most days I'll sit in my front courtyard and watch the balloons sail up the valley and then drift back down. Usually we have one or two land in the vacant lots around my house. The neighbor across the street runs out with coffee and paper cups for the chilled balloonists. I'm busy taking pictures...like I need more balloon pictures.

 

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Harvest in the Autumn of Life

Gerald and I deserted other work and went to the 25th annual BSU Reunion wondering as probably many of us were if this would be the last one we would be able to attend. After visiting in the large lobby at Giant City State Park Lodge, we entered the reserved dining room and were greeted by attractive tables with theme related decorations and lovely program booklets with Ecclesiastes 3:1 on the cover: To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.

For younger readers and non-Baptist readers, I should explain that BSU stood for Baptist Student Union, and the BSU at Southern Illinois University Carbondale was very important to many students for decades. When Helen Green Gallaway was still alive and leading our reunion, she liked to tell of their BSU bus taking students to Ridgecrest, NC, and stopping for a motel. The owner there sniffed at the sign on their bus and declared those college kids did not even know how to spell “bus.”

I had already been blessed in the lobby by conversation with Pat Abney of Anchorage, Alaska, who was present with her brother Sam of Galatia. I remembered Pat's name from my last year at Johnson Hall, but I had not seen her since. As she answered questions about her life's work, she told us about 28 years teaching biology, her political activities, her 10 years operating a Bed and Breakfast, and on and on. Hearing her story, I was immediately inspired and very grateful I had come. What Pat did not tell me and I found by googling her was she had been named Outstanding Biology Teacher of Alaska, Alaska Woman of the Year, and other such honors.

When I opened my booklet to discover the evening's program, I found Galatians 6:9: Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. As Gerld and I became acquainted with our table of eight, it seemed those people could have been an illustration for that verse. I have known Jane Walker Sims and her sister-in-law Beverly Walker for a long time, and knew they had served others well.

On the far side of the large table were Dr. Robert and Marilyn Parks of Mt, Vernon, who would have to exit early because the doctor would be leaving home at 6:30 the next morning on his rounds of 14 nursing homes. From the snatches of conversation I could hear in that noisy room filled with excited once-a-year visiting, I heard enough to know the Parks are using the very special buildings on their farm to serve special needs kids, senior citizens, and many others who come for events they host. If that was not enough activity, Marilyn rose to tell us of the college classes she and her brother, Dr. Curt Scarborough, want to have there on the farm. Most of us probably remembered Curt from our SIUC days, but few of us may have known that after 21 years as a pastor, he joined a non-profit called FreeWay Foundation in 1975 and became president in 1985 after establishing a college as part of their organization. Retiring after 41 years there, he still has the energy to want to establish CrossFire Christian College with his sister Marilyn on Crescent Lake Farm. You can google to find out more about opportunities there where it declares you can audit classes free if you are not studying for a diploma.

I was very fortunate to be seated next to Don Donley and wife Esther from Kankakee. Just like Pat Abney, they've had a full life and are still going strong. Don explained after SIU graduation, he first became a hospital administrator. Then because of talking with lawyers for the hospital, he studied law so he could speak their language. Later he used that law degree in a bank in downtown Chicago.

Because he wanted to do volunteer overseas mission work in retirement, he spent a year in seminary studies as required by the Southern Baptists at that time. Esther was not only a trained elementary teacher but also had studied and became a school librarian, so they had many talents between them to share. They actually ended up going to both Ghana and Kenya in association with the Wycliffe translation group but Don did not regret the seminary classes. First Esther worked in a school library, and then she was needed in another nation as a first grade teacher. Don worked in administration and at one school keeping 25 computers going and so forth. I loved best when they told of individual students they helped continue in school. In one country, local schools were sometimes staffed by teachers with high school diplomas and not much beyond that. (As sometimes used to be true here in our country a century ago.) So although the young woman was near the top of her class, she was ineligible for university work until she took remedial classes, which she did with the Donleys' encouragement. And another young woman was able to have a bedroom in their stateside home after Don helped her get a job in the bank to work her way through college. (And a car to get to that job.) I noted their three children are all involved in careers helping others. The daughter, Kathy Donley, and her husband, Jim Wilkerson,  graduated from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. Kathy is now pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in the inner city—just one block from the Capitol in Albany,New York. Not only are the Donleys not growing weary doing good, but the next generation is doing good.

It would not be a BSU meeting without lots of group singing and musical presentations. Thanks to Doris McCoy, Ray Purnell, Charlene Purnell, Bob Barrow, Carol Smith, Charlie Baker, and Jim Cox, our master of ceremonies, we had both Friday night. Nor would it be reminiscent of our fun in BSU days to not have laughter, and that was provided by Bob and Oleta Barrow's enlisting Tom Gwalney, Sharon Reynolds, Barbara Highsmith, and Bill Sielschott to play the Liars Game.

Cal Reynolds ended the evening with the first of his very practical and encouraging messages on our theme of “Harvest in the Autumn of Life.” He started with “God's Care in the Springtime of Life...A Time of Preparation.”

After final chatter and visiting, some from far away stayed in the cabins at the park; others of us went home or elsewhere until the 9 am to reassemble on Friday morning. Jim Cox woke us up with some fun with his guitar followed by “Moment by Moment” sung by Bob Barrow and Charlie Baker accompanied by Carol Smith Then we were treated to another challenging sermon by Cal: “God's Care in Life's Summertime...A Time of Propagation.”

In past years, we have had a large choir under talented leaders in remembrance of Chapel Singers that so many BSU students sang in. As our numbers have gone down, this year we had a double quartet practice and sing for us. Thank you to Bob Barrow, Dee Gwaltney, Harlan Highsmaith, Becky Searle, Jim Cox, Nada Fuqua, Cal Reynolds, and Ginger Wells accompanied by Carol Smith for beautiful music. The traditional memorial service for those who died last year was provided by Carol Smith and Dee Gwaltney.

I was inspired next by Jim Cox's “Remembrance of a Friend” as he told the story of his pastor's part in persuading him to go to college. As the oldest of five kids in a family where no one had gone to college, he had not prepared to do so. His pastor urged that he try one semester and then took him to Carbondale, secured him a basement bedroom and a job, and Jim found out how well equipped he was for advanced education even though he had not taken college prep courses. He has blessed many with his radio career and his musical leadership. In his early career at Channel 3 in Harrisburg, I looked forward to his original program “The Hour” live each weekday. Jim and his interesting guests provided me, an isolated farm wife, with mental and social stimulation, and I also enjoyed when he once came to direct the choir in our village church during special services.

One of Jim's most valuable contributions in life may have been his friendship with Al Fasol and leading him to the Lord. Al returned this year to share with us from his book Humor with a Halo and was introduced by Jim. Al had a career as a seminary professor teaching effective sermon preparation. As we were discovering from Cal Reynolds' sermons, Al did a good job. I think our group gave both Al and his student Cal very high marks. Gerald got the publisher's name from Al to order this humor book of actual happenings. I decided to check it out on Amazon, and thus found Al's other more serious books. Partly because I have so many writers as friends, I have a difficult time not spending more than I probably should on books. But as a history buff, there was a book I knew I had to have: a book telling of significant Baptist preachers in the South from 1670 to 1975. A new volume was way too expensive for me, but I have a second-hand copy coming for less than $15--postage and all. I am very eager to start reading it! 

The morning ended with a reminder that October 31 will be the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. After Carol Smith accompanied by Lora Blackwell-Kern led us in singing “A Mighty Fortress,” Carol shared a presentation with help from Dr. Fasol reading scriptures in German and Jerry Upchurch following in English. Carol will also give the presentation on this important historical event at her church.

Before the blessing on our lunch time out in the main dining room, Ken Cannon invited anyone who wants to help with next year's reunion to let the committee know. Reinforcing what Cal had told us, we read in our programs by unknown authors: (1) Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant. (2) If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit.

After lunch, we had more singing together, and Cal spoke on “God's Care in Autumn's Harvest: a time of Production and Consummation.” And we celebrated by singing “The King is Coming.” Before Marc McCoy led our benediction, we sang once more “Spirit of BSU' written by two men familiar to many of us—Bob Entrekin and Archie Moseley.

Cal's messages gave our age group some very good advice. He urged us to listen to our bodies but not to waste away too much time in our recliners listening to TV. We need to be willing to interact with others than our church family—the drug users, the prostitutes, the followers of Isis, and any others needing concern and love. Throughout his messages, he emphasized the importance of planting seeds with the young ones who will soon be replacing us. That is why his wife Sharon has to frequently answer their doorbell when a little kid asks: “Can Mr. Cal come out and play?” In a neighborhood where many parents are in military service, Mr. Cal can provide a listening ear, someone to pitch a ball to, and sometimes a parent substitute.

As good as Cal's encouragement to us was and as much as I enjoyed interacting with so many senior adults who had lived interesting and valuable lives, oddly it was sharing of problems that may have helped me most. I heard people speak of heart attacks, “he almost drove me nuts,” a friend whose daughter had to have heart surgery, a son in prison, a child whose life was destroyed by LSD, the death of a wife leaving three young sons, someone who was not there because of myesthenia gravis, and cancer, cancer, cancer. (As I read the letters from those who could not attend, I was saddened that Roger Deppe's wife who I so enjoyed meeting and visiting with last year could not come because of her cancer treatments.) The hardships reminded me of what I already knew: it is silly to ask why me when troubles come. Life on earth does not guarantee carefree retirements, and we should not expect that no matter how well we plan. Difficulties and challenges are to be expected during all phases of life, but the help of caring friends, the teachings of Jesus, the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and the promises of God can make life's challengs easier. Or as the unknown writer quoted at the end of our program booklet said: You're going into a season when you are about to experience breakthrough after breakthrough because what you went through didn't break you.

Thank you Ken and JoNell Cannon, Cal and Sharon Reynolds, Lora Blackwell-Kern, Bob and Oleta Barrow, and Marc and Doris McCoy for all the work you did preparing this gathering for us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comings and Goings at Woodsong

Our three great grandsons were at the farm for the first time in a long time last weekend. About l0 Saturday morning, they had left their tearful grandmother and their little cousin Caroline who had come over to say that final goodbye in College Station. Bryan had stopped to feed the boys as needed and they had fallen asleep before they arrived at Woodsong about l0:30 that night, where they quickly tumbled into bed.

The next morning, however, they were up earlier than Gerald, which is no small feat. Since Tara, their mother, had a game to coach that afternoon, the plan was to visit here and let tbe boys run off energy before the trek upstate. After caring for their dog Duke and letting him out of his cage in the shop, they were fishing, driving the Kubota, playing football in the front yard, and for the first time getting to try out the kayaks that Gerald had prepared for them. I am not sure who had the most fun—Gerald or the boys. I was to go to Katherine's that morning, but I did get hugs and visits as they came and went to the breakfast table where Gerald bought toaster strudel pastries to add to my collection of cereals. I think Bryan was as delighted as his sons because these had been one of his favorite breakfasts as a boy. I don't think any of them wanted one of my 30-second eggs in the microwave but perhaps did eat a slice of bacon before hurrying back outside.

Early in the afternoon I met them at Cracker Barrel, where Bryan insisted on buying our dinner. I went to the farm for a break before I went back to Katherine's. The men folk all went by to visit her briefly and let her see the boys before they came back to load their stuff and Duke. They would get to see Tara that evening and stay at the hotel until the moving van arrived with their furniture the next morning. Tara had already enrolled the boys in school, and Aidan would start that same day. Maddux and Payton would meet their teachers that afternoon and start on Tuesday. I am sure their Sunday ended happily with that family reunion. Mine not so much.

Do you know what happens when you drop your phone in a full coffee cup and find it there later? I know. Cause I did just that. When I left Katherine's Sunday night, I consciously put my new cell phone (that replaced a very old one I dropped and broke a while back) in my pocket. Usually I keep it on the car seat or the middle cup holder where I can grab it easily if I hit a deer and have to call and wake up Gerald to come and help me. But for some reason, that night I decided I was not going to hit a deer. Putting the phone in my pocket would insure I did not forget to carry it into the house. But I had barely backed out of Katherine's driveway, which requires some concentration because of park traffic, when I noticed an amber warning light was on. What did that tiny wrench mean?

We had recently had a screw in a tire, and I knew from that experience that an amber warning light could be serious. So I decided I better call Gerald before he went to bed and ask advice. He did not know what the amber wrench symbol meant either, but the car seemed to be running well, so he said to come on home. Relieved, I dropped my new phone into the cup holder beside me. I had no trouble getting home and took the phone out only to discover I had forgotten I'd left a cup of coffee in that holder when I drove in to town.

I dried it off the best I could, but it would no longer charge or come to life. I got down the container with rice that I had used for a grand kid's phone that fell in the lake once. But two days stored in the rice did not help. So Tuesday afternoon I took it where we bought it, and the competent young man ruefully showed me tiny drops of coffee when he took the phone apart. I replaced it with the cheapest one I could get there. He asked if I wanted to insure it, but I assured him I did not plan to drop it in coffee again. The good news was he was able to save all my phone numbers, and I like it.

The next morning we had to go to Carbondale for an appointment to get our hearing aids checked out, so we ate lunch at Denny's, a sentimental spot from our college days and since then. After lunch, we went by Gerald's favorite hardware store where he found a couple of small pulleys for his newest project, which he promptly went to work on back at the farm although he did first phone our son-in-law Brian and helped him out by picking him up to take him someplace else in the field.

We have just now returned from our annual reunion of friends from BSU at Southern Illinois University, and it was a good two days. But I will have to write about that later, because Gerald is in the shop finishing up his project to load and store the kayaks neatly and efficiently between grandchildren visits, and I want to go see how that is coming along.

 

 

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