Tuesday, August 23, 2016


Lungomare, the beach section of Agropoli.

Il Porto, Agropoli's beautiful port.

The gateway to our second home.

Capo Palinuro, one of the dozens of gorgeous little towns in the Cilento, where you can have mountains and beach at the same time.

The fishing fleet means incredible seafood.

So much history here.  This is the Aragonese fort of the Medieval town of Capaccio.

The Temple of Athena/Ceres at Paestum, a World Heritage site.

Artisinal foods, including the queen of cheeses, mozzarella di bufala.

Frutta di mare.

Proposed book jacket.

I'm going where the sun keeps shining
Through the pouring rain
Going where the weather suits my clothes

Banking off of the northeast winds
Sailing on a summer breeze
And skipping over the ocean like a stone

     This blog is going to be a bit gossipy, I fear, but we’ve been receiving lots of questions about our travel plans from Facebook and Blogspot friends, so it seems an apt time for an update.  That and a promise of more substantive (unless I’m flattering myself) posts in the near future.  Lately I’ve been humming Nillson’s little ditty and grinning like a fool.  Nine more days until Sandy and I travel to our beloved Agropoli, this time for two blessed months.

       Lots of changes to report.  First in the personal sphere.  I reached the ripe old age of 66 last December and simultaneously found out that a long-term dream would indeed be possible, namely, to be in Italy during the vintage and olive harvest.  I have enjoyed my teaching career immensely the last few years, despite an oppressive political atmosphere in North Carolina and a complete lack of economic incentives.  But, with a few notable and unnamed exceptions, I’ve had some of the kindest, most engaging students I’ve had in 43 years in the classroom.  On the other hand, the only way I could make my dream feasible financially was to retire and then come back Spring semester, either at my old gig if they’ll have me, or perhaps as a gypsy at a local university.  We’re both in remarkably good physical condition, but at our age, every day of good health is a gift, so I’ve decided to make the change while the Fates are still kind. 

     Now, my beloved is much younger than I, as she delights in reminding me, so retirement now is for her a financial sacrifice (no Social Security), but last school year was difficult for her, and it was beginning to adversely affect her health.  Plus, there was that prospect of two months in Italy.  I’m delighted to say my best friend and talented photographer has also retired and will be tagging along.  We leave September 1, fly to JFK, thence to Nice and to Rome, and from Rome we’ll go by train to our beloved Agropoli.

     Yet again, this good fortune is all due to our wonderful friends, especially Rolando and Filomena Astone, in whose villa apartment we will live, and dear Fernando La Greca, who is handling the logistics of cars, etc.  We have stayed in this beautiful apartment for six summers now, so it’s very much like coming back to a second home.  Fabio Astone, son of our hosts, informs us via Fernando that the vintage will start on or about September 10, so we’ve planned to arrive a bit early in case the harvest is early this year and to provide a bit of time to settle in.  The olive harvest will probably begin sometime in late October.  A bit of background:  the Astones live on a hobby farm (they’re both retired) about a mile west of the seaside resort of Agropoli, located at the entrance to a wild and beautiful part of southern Italy called the Cilento.  I would estimate the agricultural part of the complex is about 30 acres.  This includes roughly 5 acres of vines, distributed in several plots around the farm to take advantage of particular aspects.  There Rolando grows some of the noblest Italian varietals, most prominently Nebbiolo and Barbera, which he brought south with him from Piemonte when the family moved here from Torino.  There are also two olive orchards, perhaps 25 trees or so, from which the Astones make incredible olive oil.  Our hope is that we will be allowed to ‘help’ in some way with the grape harvest and the vintage (Rolando has a small winery in the cellar next to our apartment), as well as the olive harvest and oil production.

     This is also a professional trip.  Sandy and I are not the type to sit in recliners and watch the soaps in retirement.  There’s a commercial for a financial planning company directed at people planning for retirement.  The tagline is something like, “What do you want to do with the second half of your life?”  Among the many reasons I feel so blessed in my life is the fact that I’m already doing what I want.  I just want to shift priorities a bit.  Heretofore I’ve been a full-time teacher and part-time archaeologist and writer, and now I’d like to flip that scheme.  Sandy, I suspect, feels very much the same way, but her second passion is photography.  Many of you are aware that our original trip to Agropoli was during my research for a book on ancient Roman wine.  This part of Italy is incredibly rich in the archaeology of ancient foodways.  But after the first summer we were so besotted with the Cilento that since then it’s hard to separate professional from personal motivation.  In any case, the book is in the final stages of its production.  At the beginning of the summer I submitted illustrations.  The text is being typeset as I write this and the galleys are promised to me by September 8.  Meanwhile, I have finalized and submitted a table of contents and have devised that most important of research tools in an academic book, a thorough index, not the most entertaining of enterprises as you can imagine, but made immeasurably less tedious by the new spreadsheets.  Thus, sometime after we arrive in Agropoli, galleys will be sent to me by email from Leiden, where my publisher, Brill Academic, is located, and I will do a final proofing and also finalize the page numbers for the index.  Happily, the galleys will be searchable using Acrobat, so the latter process should be fairly painless.  (Famous last words?) Last week we selected a cover.  Thus, after I approve the final proof and submit the index, it’s on to printing.  I have a dream, probably optimistic, that the book will be released while we’re in Italy so that we can celebrate its parturition with the wonderful people who have been such an integral part of its gestation.  Forgive the bad metaphor.

     This will be a special summer in my writing career in other ways as well.  For one thing, I am now a profitable business enterprise and we will be incorporated as a limited liability corporation.  Understand, my profit at this point (the first book was published in 2006) is a whopping $145.  But the people at Brill seem enthusiastic about the commercial prospects for the wine book and have promised a modest advance, plus the tax advantages of being a ‘legitimate’ professional author are enormous, at least for people of our limited means.  That will be especially important since we will be working on a new book this summer on mozzarella di bufala, that exquisite little pillow of lactic love for which the area north of Agropoli is famous.  Two wonderful young friends of ours, Nunzio Mastrolia and Teresa Sanna, have started a new publishing company and one of the series they plan will be little monographs on Italian artisanal foods to be marketed to (would you believe?) the Chinese!  Nunzio is an expert on emerging economies and Teresa on Mediterranean foodways, and it seems the Chinese middle class are fascinated by Italian foods.  Now, obviously, the idea of an American presuming to be an expert on Italian food is pretty ludicrous, but Nunzio read a blog I did on mozzarella di bufala and liked it, and Sandy is an talented photographer and this is a subject which lends itself to illustration.  Plus I write in English, the second language of the Chinese middle class, of which there are some 150 to 250 million in that enormous country.  So Dave and Sandy will spend many wonderful hours this Fall exploring local buffalo herds, dairying operations and cheesemaking.  Hope you’ll come along!

     Additionally, lurking somewhere in the backs of our minds is a book called Our Beloved Cilento, a sort of love offering to this area we have come to adore, lavishly illustrated with Sandy’s incredible pictures, with a bit of background text from Dave.  Could there possibly be a market for it in the US or western Europe?  Surely, sooner or later, more adventurous travelers are bound to discover this hidden gem of a region, and we would dearly love to be a part of that discovery.

     Finally, we will have a personal agenda this summer.  So enamored are we of this part of Italy that we have seriously considered part-time retirement here.  There is too much to recommend it to survey the pluses here—refer to previous blogs—but a short list would include the weather, the food, the purchasing power of the good old U.S dollar, and most importantly the people and lifestyle.  But there is much to consider as well before taking a precipitate step.  First, there are potential health issues.  No, not the ones you’re probably thinking of.  Access to health-care professionals here is good, and it’s cheap or free.  Sorry to preach, but the latest figures were recently released that showed Italy has the fifth-highest life expectancy in the world, while the U.S. is proud number 40, barely ahead of that paragon of medical innovation, Cuba.  Meanwhile, Italy spends less than 9% of GDP on medical care, while we spend six times more than the average of all other developed countries.  So put aside your prejudices about Italian health care.  But, on the other hand, the logistics of daily life in Italy are more difficult than here, there is no doubt of that, and as mobility declines, the creature comforts of the U.S. look more and more attractive.  Plus there are such minor things as central heat and air, wi-fi that works, infrastructure that functions properly, drivers who aren’t barking crazy, such things as that.  This will be our longest stay ever in Italy by three weeks, and we have decided to use the time as a sort of test of our resolve to make a more permanent move.

     Should be an eventful two months!

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