Now You Can Adopt a Sheep

Adopt a sheep

A Single Face – © Jed Smith

Yes, you can adopt a sheep in Italy, even if you’re halfway across the world.

And by doing so, you help support an organic sheep and goat farm deep in the mountains of Abruzzo, Italy. You get to name him or her, get an identity card and certificate, and you will have artisanal cheeses and wool products shipped to you as part of your sponsorship.

Master Shepherd Nunzio Marcelli birthed the Adopt a Sheep program twenty years ago.

As part of my in-depth visit to Nunzio’s organic farm, La Porta dei Parchi, I had the good fortune to sit down with him and hear firsthand about the program.

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La Porta dei Parchi – An Organic Farm Ahead of Its Time

La Porta dei Parchi

The Gathering – © 2018 Jed Smith

Organic farming was a unique concept forty years ago.

Looking back to the late seventies and early eighties, I remember how organic products were a rare find. Only a few health food stores carried them. An organic way of life was considered more of a hippy, counter-culture type of thing.

So, imagine my surprise to learn that master shepherd Nunzio Marcelli resolved to build an organic sheep and goat farm, La Porta dei Parchi, forty years ago in the majestic mountains of Abruzzo.

The realization of La Porta dei Parchi is an inspiring story.

As you will find out in the following video, which is Part One of a four-part series, Nunzio was unlike many of his contemporaries who left their small villages in search of a more cosmopolitan life.

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Join Me for a Tour of an Inspiring Organic Farm in Abruzzo

Organic farm, Italywise

My visit to the organic farm, La Porta dei Parchi, in Abruzzo.

Go deep.

This is becoming my mantra here in Italy. The potential for rich experiences is plentiful. But it’s easy to zoom by, to just take it in all in too superficially because there IS so much and you can find yourself trying to accumulate and check off as many experiences as possible. It’s easy to feel anxious that you simply won’t be able to cover it all.

La Porta dei Parchi, a spectacular organic farm situated in the towering Apennine mountains in Abruzzo, has been an experience that keeps unfolding the more I’ve been willing to look deeper and not simply do a quick “drive by.”

Take an introductory video tour with me.

I love reaching out and bringing people closer to what I consider as worthy experiences in Italy.

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Italian Faces Etched with Emotion

Italian faces

Intense Contemplation – © 2018 Jed Smith

I love faces.

And Italian faces are endlessly fascinating to me. Being married to an Italian has taught me firsthand that the passion that is so integral to the culture rarely hides behind a poker face. Hands fly and faces have countless ways of expressing mood and sentiment.

In the States, I grew up in the South. Be polite. Don’t make other people uncomfortable. Keep your feelings (other than joy, happiness, and peace) at bay. That was the pervasive conditioning. Talk about growing up with a leash on one’s emotions!

As a photographer and artist, I’m drawn to portraiture that captures the telltale signs of emotion. Placid, expressionless faces hold no appeal to me from an artistic point of view. There’s no “juice” to inspire capturing an image, whether in a photo or with my paintbrush.

My press pass at La Giostra Cavalleresca di Sulmona gave me plenty of new inspiration.

Boy, did I hit paydirt.

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La Giostra di Cavalleresca di Sulmona – Don’t Miss It!

La Giostra di Cavalleresca di Sulmona

The Most Important Moment – © 2018 Jed Smith

Guess who scored a press pass to La Giostra di Cavalleresca di Sulmona?

That would be lucky, lucky yours truly, thanks to Saint Novelia, my dear friend and “partner in crime” (when we get together we cook up all sorts of good trouble!). Yes, I had a front row seat to this incredible event! And, I was ready with my best equipment.

This event is held the last weekend in July every year.

La Giostra di Cavalleresca became an annual event in Sulmona starting in 1994. It pays tribute to jousting events from centuries ago and Abruzzo’s rich noble heritage.

On Saturday and Sunday, around four in the afternoon, a long, seemingly endless procession of people dressed in exquisite Medieval garb makes its way up the Corso to Piazza Garibaldi, Sulmona’s main square.

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Back in the Kitchen with Novelia for Spaghetti alla Chitarra!

Spaghetti alla chitarra

A 200-Year-Old Chitarra – © 2018 Jed Smith

A chitarra that makes pasta, not music?

I argue that it makes both, especially after another guided journey in “la cucina” with my dear friend Novelia. Could spaghetti alla chitarra be that much better than spaghetti made with an expensive KitchenAid? Plenty.

Can the hands infuse some magical quality to pasta?

After this experience, I’d say “Yes!” Maybe grounding oneself in the simplicity of days gone by has benefits. Maybe making pasta without the help (and ease) of modern technology can bring us back to an essential reverence for creating that which sustains us.

Novelia, with her spaghetti alla chitarra has made me a convert.

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Letting Your Story Unfold

Letting Your Story Unfold

Delphic Sibyl, Sistine Chapel Ceiling, Michelangelo (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve recently returned from a major writers’ conference in NYC and my brain is still on fire with all that I learned from a vast array of aspiring speakers. But, it was the bonus “pre” all-day presentation, entitled “Story Trumps Structure”(also a book) by acclaimed psychological thriller author Steven James that gave me the most potent shot of momentum—not only for my own creative writing but in how I approach and live life.

What the heck does letting your story unfold have to do with building a life in Italy? Well, plenty.

The “Middle Way” can be your sweet spot.

If there’s anything my life in Italy is teaching me it’s that being successful and being happy (and sane) means finding the balance between well-laid plans and loads of flexibility. I’ve written about this before, but the more I doggedly adhered to my structured outline of how I thought my journey was to play out the more I was cutting myself from other possibilities—possibilites that were WAY better!

At the writing conference, I heard, loud and clear, how writing with an outline sitting on one’s altar can become a straightjacket to creativity. “Letting your story unfold” seemed to be a reoccurring theme with other speakers as well.

Mid-conference, I paused, and said to myself, “Message received.” It was as though the keys to my self-imposed jail cell of control had been handed to me with the message, “Free yourself!” I vowed to place greater trust in my inner writing muse.

Then I shifted gears to reflect on my first five years in Italy.

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Pietrantonj is Abruzzo’s Oldest Winery

Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, Pietrantonj

Cerano Montepulciano d”Aruzzo Riserva from Pietrantonj

One thing leads to another.

This is becoming my motto in life, with one additional clarifier. One thing leads to another when you give yourself over to the flow of life and say “Let’s play!” Well, my introduction to Pietrantonj, Abruzzo’s oldest winery, is a prime example of things organically falling into place. First, came my visit to Sulmona and a fulfilled wish to witness my dear friend Novelia crafting her handmade pasta. I was over the moon that Novelia invited me into the kitchen with my camera to capture her artistry. As Novelia and I were plotting our cooking session, the topic of pairing wines worthy of her creations arose. Immediately, Novelia exclaimed, “Pietrantonj, of course!” Then, Novelia made a call to the Pietrantonj family and I was in like flint in short order to have a personal tour and tasting with Alice Pietrantonj, one of the three daughters.

The experience evolved.

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Fall in Love with Novelia and Fettuccine “a mano”

Fettuccine, Italywise

Fettuccine al mano – © 2018 Jed Smith

Am I a lucky man or not?

After you view the video contained in this post, I believe you’ll quickly respond in the affirmative. Just two weeks ago, I had the supreme good fortune to spend time in Sulmona, Abruzzo with my dear friend Novelia—this time to receive a personal demonstration of how to create pasta entirely by hand. Yep, not a single bit of assistance with modern appliances. We started with fettuccine, made with giant duck eggs, no less. That was followed by spaghetti made with a 200-year-old chitarra, but that is worthy of its own post (stay tuned).

I’ve never experienced a woman with so much reverence and love for her culinary creations.

Novelia’s fettuccine “a mano” is tangible proof. This is not someone just going through the steps dutifully. She is an artisan in the highest sense. Her hands at work easily could be those of a master sculptor.

She talks to her ingredients.

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Learning Italian? Lighten Up with Music.

Learn Italian, Italywise

Music can be a worthy teacher when you want to learn Italian.

I’ve taken to utilizing Italian music to round out my knowledge of Italian.

If you’re on the journey to achieve some kind of competency when you learn Italian, then I highly encourage you to lighten things up and let Italian pop music be one of your teachers. Currently, I’m in a bit of  “pause” with intensive grammar studies (i.e. the more complicated verb tenses). When I did my month-long Italian language intensive at Torre di Babele in Rome (read my post about it), my head was so full that I felt as though surely it was too much and was seeping out of my ears. In the ensuing weeks and months, I became convinced that I had lost the lion’s share of what I had learned. But, thanks to stepping up my dedication to listening to Italian music, a lot is coming back to me now. And, in the context of music, it’s actually making sense.

To learn Italian through music can be a ton of fun.

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