Archive for the ‘music’ Category

Love Thursday: William’s Orgasmic View Lives On

Everything's brighter after the rain on FlickrWilliam the Englishman (or l’Inglese as he was called in the village) had a house in Badolato with an “orgasmic view” of the Ionian Sea, as he called it. He came to stay here every year from April to October.


During the early years (we both arrived in the village around 2003), we were the only two English speakers, so we’d meet for cappuccino in the piazza before William took the bus down to the beach. Along the way he’d stop to chat with just about everyone, trying out his ever-improving Italian, helped by the years he had spent as a bar owner in Spain.

William always joked that everyone knew him, but he most certainly didn’t know everyone. The young children on the bus especially enjoyed him as they relished the chance to practice their school-learned English.

I always felt like a surrogate daughter for William, whose own precious girl was about my age back in London. When William’s house needed “a woman’s touch” as he put it, I helped him pick out dishes and other little accents. Every couple weeks, I’d set up his cell phone ring tones, phonebook, and other settings he’d somehow managed to change. Paolo and I even had him over for a very impromptu Easter dinner one year.

William called me “the Unamerican American” because I had what he considered a rare curiosity about the world and desire to live abroad–Unamerican for an American, according to William. And he never did quite understand how I was able to work via Internet in this mountaintop village and actually make a living; I must have tried to explain it a hundred times.

Lest you think he was anti-American, though, William always rang me on Thanksgiving and was always sure to pay for my cappuccino on the 4th of July.


Soon after William bought his house here in Badolato, he was the victim of a hit-and-run back in London, and although he survived, he did so just barely. He suddenly had a long physical and emotional road to recovery ahead of him–not made any easier by all the steep hills and steps in Badolato.

And so, William considered selling his beloved casa with its “orgasmic view,” but I got the feeling that was never going to happen. He just loved his piccolo paradiso (little paradise), as he called it, too much.


In 2008, William died in a house fire in his flat in London. Paolo had gotten word when I was away on a trip, but he waited until I got back to tell me.

At that moment, on my balcony looking out at that same orgasmic view of the Ionian (my house was on the same side of the mountain as William’s, only higher up), all the memories of William came flooding back, bringing mostly smiles and, admittedly, also quite a few tears.

Then came an overwhelming sadness with the realization that not only would we never have cappuccino again, but also our connection was completely gone. Even though I had heard many stories about William’s family back in England, I had no contact information for anyone in his English life.

But then one day a few months ago, I opened up my email and saw what I knew to be his daughter’s name in my inbox. She had found me through this blog, not even realizing that I knew her father, only that I was an English speaker who lived in this mysterious medieval village that William had loved so much.


I met William’s daughter in person last week for the first time when she and her fiancé came to Badolato. She looks so much like her father and has precisely the same English sense of humor, or “humour” I suppose.

I know she was pleased to find out how many people enjoyed the company of l’Inglese, and that he didn’t simply come here to live as a hermit. I introduced her to quite of few of William’s acquaintances, each one saying he was “bravo” or “un grande amico” or something similar.

After initial thoughts of selling the house, she and her family have decided to keep it, rent it out, and otherwise offer it as a place of refuge from the real world for family and friends–much as her father used it when he was alive.

And I like to think that somewhere, William is smiling. His orgasmic view has been passed on to a new generation–and so have some of his friendships.

For William, “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton,
the man he called his “God”:

Happy Love Thursday everyone.

eh cumpà, auguri on that cia thing!

Leon Panetta President-elect Obama recently named Leon Panetta, former Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton, as the new Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Panetta, 70, is a former Congressman from California, prominent attorney, First Lieutenant in the US Army, and founder of the Panetta Institute, a nonpartisan public policy center that operates out of California State University.

But most importantly to us in southern Italy, he’s Calabrese!

Panetta’s parents were born in Calabria before they emigrated to the United States. His father worked in a copper mine in Wyoming before moving to Monterey, California (Panetta’s hometown) and opening up a restaurant.

So how close is Panetta to his Calabrese roots?

He reportedly doesn’t get back here as often as he’d like, but he does speak Calabrese according to his cousin Domenico Panetta, former mayor of Siderno, which is about 50 km from me.

Of course Panetta’s nomination wasn’t without its detractors, but things now seem to be going smoother on his road to lead la CIA (pronounced “CHEE-ah” in Italy by the way).

And here in Calabria, we couldn’t be prouder. So in honor of Direttore Panetta, please join us in a traditional Calabrese tarantella:

Veniti tutti ‘cca e ‘mparativi abballari!


In bocca al lupo, cumpà!

Buon weekend a tutti!

berlusconi singing for his cena*, sort of

Well you can’t say Silvio Berlusconi, who turns 72 next month, isn’t entertaining.

No seriously. He entertains.

This former cruise ship singer, media mogul, and–oh yeah–Prime Minister of Italy is currently producing a CD of canzoni d’amore (love songs) with Neapolitan** singer Mariano Apicella.

Actually, this will be Berlu’s second set of compositions released by Apicella; the first was out during Berlusconi’s second time around as Prime Minister in 2003 and reached Italy’s Top 50.

The duo hope that the CD will be released in December (just in time for Christmas shopping!), but Apicella admits “it won’t be easy given all the (prime minister’s) responsibilities.”

Oh yeah…THOSE! Glad someone’s thinking about that.

Will you be buying the Berlusconi-produced CD?

And my *real* question:

When are we going to see Obama or McCain’s greatest hits?!

*Cena (CHAY-nah) in Italian means dinner/supper.

**Why isn’t it “Napolitan?” It’s not Neapoli, it’s Napoli! If anyone has answers, please share. This has always bothered me.

La Musica Calabrese – Calabrian Folk Music

chitarra battenteOne of my favorite parts about living here is that you never know when you’ll be caught up in an impromptu concerto. Seriously.

Now I’m sure some of you are thinking “Ah there goes another one of those stereotypes of ‘la dolce vita’ that simply doesn’t exist in real life Italy.”

Well I’m here to tell you that in small town Calabria, most males of all ages seem to play the guitar and will gladly break it out and start singing — especially the later into the evening it gets (and the more grappa that is flowing). And for those of you reading this who have visited here, chances are you can back me up on this.

In other words, we may miss out on a lot of “conveniences” down here, but at least we have la musica.

In fact the other night at New Year’s Eve dinner, one of the younger boys who is just learning to play the chitarra battente (pictured at left) asked for some advice from Mimmo, our host and lead singer/guitar player of Marasà, a local band that performs traditional Calabrese music with a bit of an updated twist.

I just love how generation after generation picks up these songs and instruments with pride, keeping the tradition going, not feeling embarrassed or shy in the least as they sing along (loudly) when the guitar shows up.

For anyone who thinks that Calabrese music and Calabrese in general is dying out, here’s a short clip of Mimmo encouraging yet another Calabrese boy on how to play the traditional way:

Although Italian musical heritage goes back centuries, including the famous chants of the Gregorian monks, Calabrian music has its own unique tradition and is rooted in songs about peasant life in the feudal system and all it entails–sung in Calabrese accompanied by Calabrian instruments.

It is music of the people, by the people, for the people, so to speak, and tells stories of both hope and hopelessness–common conflicting emotions for many Calabresi throughout the centuries.

Traditional Calabrian folk music has some common elements: high, strong vocals, a catchy, nearly hypnotic rhythm, and a bittersweet raw passion with any combination of tambourine, guitar, chitarra battente, accordion, zampogna (bagpipes), lira, mandolin, drums and more. The song rhythm you’ll hear often is the tarantella, a traditional southern Italian folk dance that was performed by female victims of spider bites to rid themselves of the venom.

There’s a great description of Calabrian music heritage here if you’re interested, but I think George Gissing sums it up pretty well in his 1901 travel memoir:

Listen to a Calabrian peasant singing as he follows his oxen along the furrow,
or as he shakes the branches of his olive tree.
That wailing voice amid the ancient silence,
that long lament solacing ill-rewarded toil,
comes from the heart of Italy herself,
and wakes the memory of mankind.

~ George Gissing
By the Ionian Sea: Notes of a Ramble in Southern Italy

For me, there’s just nothing like that distinct Calabrese cry accompanied by the chitarra battente to take me back to when my ancestors walked these same streets, living much simpler yet much harder lives, imagining what they could offer their families if only they could get to l’America.

Goodness I wish I could go back and tell them.

You can hear more of Marasà here by clicking on “il disco” and then choosing songs. My favorites are Aquila bella, Canto ad aria, and Facci di n’ammendula and if you like bagpipes, be sure to check out A Nuziata.

If you’d like to order a Marasà CD of your very own, you know where to find me.

warmest holiday wishes

May your holidays be full of love,

White puppy eating out of the palm of my hand (or is it the other way around?)
tante belle cose,

White puppy with red bow; I'm holding out the camera with the other hand
and quiet moments to reflect on all that is good in the world.
Seriously how cute is she?

Wishing you all the very best this holiday season–
why not start with a little Harry Connick Jr.’s When My Heart Finds Christmas?

Michelle FabioMichelle Fabio is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer living in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy and savoring simplicity one sip at a time. 

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Homemade apple butter
Green beans, potatoes, and pancetta
Glazed Apple Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins
Pasta with snails alla calabrese
Onion, Oregano, and Thyme Focaccia
Oatmeal Banana Craisin Muffins
Prosciutto wrapped watermelon with bel paese cheese
Fried eggs with red onion and cheese
Calabrian sausage and fava beans
Ricotta Pound Cake