"Bitter Greens" by Anthony Di Renzo


Since 1492, when Genovese navigator Cristoforo Colombo sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to what he thought was Asia, Italians have played an important role in our land.  Another Italian explorer, one Amerigo Vespucci, recognized that Colombo had actually “discovered” another continent and was awarded naming rights.  (It’s an old Italian custom to refer to their greatest people by their first names — e.g.- Michelangelo — or this would have become the United States of Vespuccia).  But for several centuries few Italians settled in the New World, though one notable exception was Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart’s librettist and the founder of New York’s first Italian bookstore.  But by the late 19th century Italian immigration was increasing [link in Italian] and from 1906 to 1915 nearly six million people left Italy for America. http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/national/local-national-916401.mp3

Italian entry into “mainstream” American life was slower than for many other national groups.  Both a cause and effect of this was the strength and primacy of family bonds and the ability to transplant many aspects of Italian culture, especially Italian food.  As Italian dishes became more common in the American diet — pizza was an unappreciated Neapolitan pie until the 1950’s — Italian-Americans also moved forward in all walks of life.  But now it seems that many traditional Italian dishes may have fallen victim to American mass production, marketing and food technology.  In essays collected in the new book “Bitter Greens”, Anthony Di Renzo details his hunger for authentic Italian food, and the culture that it literally nourishes. Dr. Anthony Di Renzo teaches classical rhetoric and professional writing at Ithaca College.  His father is from the Abruzzi region of southern Italy, his mother Sicilian by birth.  He describes himself as “a fugitive from advertising” and so is able to appreciate the adventure described in the first chapter of “Bitter Greens”, a “Lucullan feast” that he was awarded by the Wegman’s supermarket chain.  The company was seeking to promote its line of Italian foods.  A video sought to demonstrate “an easy and authentic Sicilian meal”, for which Dr Di Renzo could only comment back to his TV screen, “Easy and authentic?  Lady, nothing authentic is easy.”  In succeeding chapters he tells of his quest to find and prepare real broccoli rabe, Abruzzese soppressata sausage (which, for food safety reasons, the USDA will not allow into the country), tripe obtained from the stomach of a ruminant and prepared in Roman style, and powerful Sicilian chocolate that overwhelmed the author:
“Used to the bland Hershey bars of suburban New Jersey, I expected something smooth and mild.  Instead, when I bit into the crunch outer shell, I found myself chewing a granola of honeyed beetles.  Numerous sugar crystals numbed my palate, while a raw powder — thick and pasty as volcanic ash — paralyzed my tongue.  Traumatized, my taste buds recoiled and stumbled into a mine field of red pepper flakes, cloves, nutmeg and allspice.  Just as the agony became unbearable, molten velvet soothed my tongue, and a warm bliss settled on me like the descent of the Holy Ghost.  For all I knew, I had experienced Nirvana.  The shock obliterated my will and consciousness, and I gladly drowned in an ocean of chocolate.  Shipwreck was sweet in such a sea.” — from “Bitter Greens”
Anthony Di Renzo’s “Bitter Greens: Essays on Food, Politics and Ethnicity from the Imperial Kitchen” is issued as part of the SUNY Series in Italian American Culture. For those seeking the genuine taste of Italy he includes recipes for several dishes including Tripe alla Romana and Apulian broccoli rabe salad, and guidance in preparing a proper antipasto and hints on brewing caffe espresso.  The book concludes with a moving memorial essay about the workers who perished on 9/11 at the Windows on the World restaurant atop the World Trade Center.

Donna the Buffalo

Donna the Buffalo’s eclectic and often socially-conscious music has it’s base in traditional mountain music and is infused with elements of Cajun/ zydeco, rock, folk, reggae, and country. The group’s core are vocalists Tara Nevins, who plays fiddle, guitar, accordion, and scrubboard, and guitarist Jeb Puryear. Keyboardist Dave McCracken, bassist Kyle Spark, and drummer Vic Stafford complete the ensemble. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYLU-55cnOc

“Movin’ On”
“Beauty Within”
“Positive Friction”
“Tides of Time”
“Love Time”
“Locket and Key”
“Family Picture”
“Garden of Eden”
“Conscious Evolution”
“No Place Like the Right Time”
Buy the DVD!


Driftwood has a rock n’ roll soul and a folk art mind. Coming from a town not often recognized for music but predominantly for industry, being the home of Twilight Zone author Rod Serling and donning the title of the “Carousel Capital of the World”, it’s easy to wonder how this not-so-traditional string band came out of the Binghamton music scene. “What people don’t often realize is that bands like Old Crow Medicine Show, The Horseflies and The Highwoods String Band came out of this same area and had a huge influence on us”, says Forsyth. “We played a lot of old-time in the beginning and it was a huge part of our band learning to play music together”. – from Driftwood.com

“Coming Down Sad”
“The Ballad of Sam Snooki”
“Turkey and the Straw”
“To Kill Ya”
“Working Mom’s Anthem”
“Walking Into the Sun”
“Cigarette Addiction”
“Wayfaring Stranger”
“Rock and Roll Heart”
“I’ve Got a Secret”
“City Gal”
“Road to Lisdoonvarna”/”Morrison’s Jig”
Buy this DVD!

"Cornflower's Ghost" by Thomas Pullyblank


“Each day that week I sat at my desk, pencil in hand, intending to summarize what I knew about Theodorick Crane and Cornflower and arrive at some conclusions about their lives and deaths.  But each day as I set to work I was hit by a malaise that froze my fingers and numbed my mind, the result, I knew, of something more than a case of the midwinter blues.  My unease was partly explained by Langley’s death, an event that brought back dark thoughts and feelings from my own past: contempt for an uncaring God, jealousy for those who had not suffered loss, resentment towards a world that
seemed to offer no consolation.” — from “Cornflower’s Ghost”

Some of the best detective stories feature a sleuth who isn’t really a professional investigator, from Miss Marple to Eleanor Roosevelt.  They are driven by their sense of morality and justice, and guided by a keen intelligence applied to the facts and feelings that they observe.  Tom Flanagan surely brought passion and perceptiveness to the case of history professor Peter Langley, who died in an accident — or maybe was murdered.  Tom is a graduate student at the fictional (but quite real-sounding) State University of New York at Clinton Falls and Langley’s teaching assistant.  He must take over his classes but is more concerned with the circumstances of Langley’s death and its connection to others on the campus and in the community.  The roots of Langley’s sudden death may lie in a parallel with events from the time of the American Revolution: the murder of a disillusioned revolutionary named Theodorick Crane and the execution of an Iroquois spy called Cornflower (actually a British sympathizer named Mary Strong).  Flanagan’s investigation draws on his talents as an historical researcher but also alienates those who might advance his career and could lead to his own death. “Cornflower’s Ghost: An Historical Mystery” is narrated by Tom Flanagan and the cast of characters he must deal with at SUNY-Clinton Falls all seem to have something to hide, personal pains and resentments that make the present as mysterious as the past.  They include Martha Radisson, a college administrator who was once Tom’s supporter, her husband Harold, a powerful U.S. congressman and their niece Julianne.  The well-positioned Radissons are also descendants of Theodorick Crane.  Harold and Martha’s plan to develop a Revolutionary War theme park in Clinton Falls has drawn angry opposition. This is the first mystery novel written by Thomas Pullyblank and it reveals many sides of his experience as a farmer in Fly Creek, NY, an Ordained Elder serving two United Methodist churches in Otsego County and an historian who teaches at SUNY Oneonta. The characters from the Revolution are fictitious but the setting and atmosphere of the Revolutionary War era are true to the facts.  However, in “Cornflower’s Ghost” the flow of historical fact often appears to be directed out of its natural stream.  People can make history in more ways than one.