Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Gambino Winery Revisited

Google Analytics Blog Notes: March blog statistics showed a total of 4,692 visits in the last 31 days from 66 different countries including Fiji, Cambodia, Vietnam and Macedonia!

Before we target our Tuesday goings on, let us go back and give you an important travel tip for those of you thinking about traveling to Europe in the near future.  We must give blog follower David P. Lassen full credit for this VERY IMPORTANT travel tidbit. 

What the heck is this thing?

Whether or not you know what this is, this article will give you vital tips on how to best use this facility without further damage to your travel psyche.  To access this important information go to

If Taber had only known...

Elephants' Offense vs. Bergamo's Defense

Kickoff Action

Thanks to Jason Johnson for taking these pictures Sunday while Laurie was busy yapping away instead of taking pictures with my camera!

Two Traffic Policewomen discussing the new, succesful crackdown on all forms of law breakers driving cars.

Hey, how about a "Girls of SOStare Calendar" as a fund raiser?

On Mt. Etna's slope as we travel to the Gambino Winery

Laurie and I drove up through Fiumefreddo to Linguaglossa to the Gambino Winery for their excellent wine tasting experience.

The first of five excellent Gambino wines.

Their snack food was excellent!

A filling feast consisting of fresh bread, three different cheeses, pork salami, mushrooms, eggplant, artichoke hearts and sun dried tomatoes.

Oh yes, the little white strips down the middle of the nearest plate were pork lard, I felt a little cannibalistic on this one.

Laurie is now the proud owner of three bottles of Gambino wine.

Two bottles of red and a white, she should be finished with them by tonight.

The sight of future wine grapes

Grape growing, dormant but still happening

They grow all sorts of things in this rich volcanic soil!

Terracing is a must on Mt. Etna's slopes

The Gateway to the Villa Nicolosi

A lichen covered vineyard wall

More Terracing

A Guardian Angel in the Linguaglossa Cemetary

We stopped at this old town cemetary on our way down the mountain.  Italian culture really honors their dead family members with the very fancy cemetary statues being a perfect example.

A Baron perhaps?

This man passed away in the early 1900's.  I like how most of the graves have either a staute, etching or actual photograph of the person interred.  I like how this visual effect gives life to their final resting places.

Their were several large family mausoleums.

Looking through a missing glass portal into a family crypt.

The burial plot of the Mangano family

If you click on this picture to enlarge it, you will be better able to see the battle scene carving on the large marble slab.

Five people are honored here, Concetto Mangano, his wife Concetta Pagano Mangano and their three sons, Nino, Concetto and Salvatore.

I am curently reading a book by Rick Atkinson titled "The Day of Battle - The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944".  I mention this because the three photogrphs at the base of the marble slab are of the three Mangano sons who all died fighting for Italy in World War II.  In the book I have read about thousands of "casualties", just numbers really, but this grave sight gave meaning by actually seeing the faces of these three young men and to know that their parents would live into the 1960's with only the memories of their lost loved ones.

Concetto died first at the age of 25 on May 26, 1943.  He was followed by Nino, age 30, on January 3, 1945 and then finally by 25 year old Nino on July 1, 1945.
It made me think and mourn a bit for this war torn family of long ago...

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Bergamo Game

Sunday morning wake up call at 0:dark30.  We flew out of Catania to Parma before loading on to a recliner "Pullman" bus for the 90 minute drive to Bergamo.

The northern portion of Italy is the economic hub of the "Boot", partly because of their fashion houses.


I had to go artsy for this shot at Parma's airport, the leopard skin coat caught my eye, but the boots... WOW, like something out of Munchkinland!

The Traditional Autogrill Pre-Game Meal Stop

Andrea Conticello, on the left is our videogapher, while his brother Riccardo, in the middle, is our starting cornerback.  Our nose guard Corrado DiMartino is on the right chowing down.  He actually made it out of the bathroom in time and did not miss the bus this week.  Corrado and Riccardo both played VERY good games for us.

The Gulisanos

Tony, "Call me Pony" #31, started at Falcon for us yesterday and played much better in this game.  His oldest son Eduardo is our team statistician.  Two GREAT reasons to be an Elephant!

When your cash window is closed, just put up a pizza to go box, simple as that!

The Game

First a little historical perspective on our opponents.  The Lions are in their 26th campaign as an organization.  During their first 25 seasons they have won three Euro Bowl Championships and 12 Italian National Championships including the 2007 and 2008 titles.  They are easily the team with which all aspiring franchises, like the Elephants, must be compared.

The weather again today was a factor as it was raining from the moment we got off the plane in Parma until we got back on the plane for the return flight in Milan 12 hours later.  At least this week it was not anywhere near as cold and there was no wind to speak of.

Before the game, we greeted some of the referees as they arrived including Denny Morris from Ohio who is here on another exchange between Mid-American Conference official and their IFL counterparts.  Somebody said they thought Denny is from the Big 10 Conference, I am not 100% sure.

With them was one of the very good Italian officials we had several times last season, Gennaro Brancaccio.  When he saw me we exchanged a handshake, hug and the traditional Italian double cheek kiss, left cheek first but of course.  I have never kissed a referee before or after a game until now.

Our WR Taber LeMarr was introduced to an Italian locker room staple, the toilet that isn't there.  Part squat routine, part aerial bombing from a B-17, it left quite an impact on all of us.

One final pre-game note, Saturday night was the change in Italy to daylight savings time.  Our starting Falcon did not get the word apparently and missed the flight, so it begins...

Catania takes the opening kickoff and is forced to punt.

Bergamo counters with a 15 yards scramble for a TD by their QB Littlejohn Bradshaw out of Morgan State.  Lions lead 7-0.

The Elephants next possesion ends when a pass is deflected and is intercepted by the Lions.

Bergamo is stymied by the Elephant defense and is forced to punt after going "Three and Out".

Catania stalls out again and punts.

The Lion's Bradshaw connects on a 20 yards pass for a TD, Lions up 14-0.

Catania is forced to punt again.

The Elephants' LB Salvo Sicali recovers a Bergamo fumble.

After one period, the Lions lead 14-0.

The Elephants' QB Luke Tracy hits Claudio Mangano, who had a great game, on a 10 yards TD pass.  The extra point is blocked but a great effort by holder Taber LeMarr buys time for Tony "Call me Pony" Gulisano to run down the potential two point return by the Lions at their 10 yard line.  Bergamo leads 14-6.

Bergamo goes "Three and Out" and has to punt.

Catania's Iron Man, Larry Atkinson, returns the Lions' punt about 65 yards for a TD!  Tracy hooks up with LeMarr for the two point play, the game is tied at 14-14.

The Lions answer back with Bradshaw sneaking the ball in from the one yard line. Bergamo regains the lead 21-14.

On the last play of the first half, Taber LeMarr makes a leaping catch of a Luke Tracy pass for a TD.  Andrea Maninno drills the PAT.

The game is tied at halftime 21-21.

The Elephants use a squib kick to start the second half and it accidently hits the a man in Bergamo's front line.  Salvo Sicali recovers his second fumble of the day.

The Lions defense responded to the challenge and Catania punts.

Lion QB Bradshaw breaks another big play this time from about 40 yards out for a TD, Bergamo now leads 28-21.

The Elephant's drive that started in the third quarter ends when the Lions stop the Catania drive deep in their territory on downs.

Bergamo's offense is again forced to punt.

Bergamo QB Littlejohn Bradshaw is now also playing Free Safety and picks off a pass that he returns 90 yards for a TD, Lions up 35-21.

The Elephants are intercepted again.

Bergamo is forced to punt or the fourth time in the game.

Catania's offense only has time for a couple of desparation plays as the clock expires.

FINAL SCORE: Bergamo 35 - Catania 21

Give credit to two athletes who played with great intensity in this game:

The Elephants' two-way star, Larry Atkinson who led the team in tackles, as well as for his punt return for a TD and several key offensive plays.

The Lions' Littlejohn Bradshaw accounted for all of the Bergamo touchdowns as he ran for three TDs, threw a TD pass and scored a TD on his interception return.

Up next for Catania is the home opener against the Bologna Warriors on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. at the the Catania University Sports Complx (C.U.S.).

The Pecoraro Boys

Gabrielle on the left is a missionary in Madagascar, their dad and our outstanding OLB Gianmarco after the game.

Reunion Time

Jason Johnson and his bride Christie along with Matt Epperson made the trip down to Bergamo with their Swarco Raiders teammate Alex Hoad.  The drive from Innsbruck, Austria took about three hours and it was GREAT to see them.

During our BYE week next week we are planning on traveling through Munich and the Bavarian section of Germany before swinging down to Innsbruck to see them again.  It should be fun

Laurie Says:  When arriving more than two hours before the game, which is appropriate for warm-ups, etc., I found myself in the rain under an awning with the Lion's head coach and a few players, as well as Katherine Bakos, the girlfriend of a new Lions DB #32 Eduardo Baptista. Katherine and I (as the only women) struck up a conversation (imagine that!).  We got out of the rain in a small cafe attached to the stadium, where we passed the next hour and one-half.  Katherine, a delightful person, is from Brazil and has been in Italy for five months.  We had a wonderful time discussing our travels and football, which she is learning.  We then moved to the covered (thank goodness) stadium, where we set up camp.  Not long after the game began Christie, Jason, Matt and Alex, as George described above, joined us. After introductions, the conversation quickly changed to Brazil, as Jason had recently returned from Brazil, as you may know.  Another international co-inky-dink.

All in all a long day, with good football and good friends -- old and new.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

IFL Week #4 Results

Bergamo 35 - Catania 21
Bologna Doves 26 - Reggio Emilia 19
Parma 14 - Ancona 0
Bolzano 29 - Milan 6

BYES: Bologna Warriors and Lazio

Bolzano Giants 4-0
Lazio Marines 1-0
Parma Panthers 3-1
Ancona Dolphins 1-1
Bologna Doves 1-1
Bergamo Lions 1-2
Reggio Emilia Hogs 1-2
Bologna Warriors 0-1
Catania Elephants 0-2
Milan Rhinos 0-2

NOTE: The top four teams at the end of the regular season will advance to the 2009 IFL playoffs in June.

Saturday, April 4
Bologna Warriors (0-1) at Catania (0-2)
Bergamo (1-2) at Lazio (1-0)

Sunday, April 5
Milan (0-2) at Ancona (1-1)
Bologna Doves (1-1) at Parma (3-1)

BYES: Bolzano (4-0) and Reggio Emilia (1-2)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

What, No Pictures?

Friday was a beautiful day to hangout at Malibu with your sweetheart, so we did.  Both the upper and lower patios were sun drenched so Laurie decided to work on weeding and trimming the various planter boxes while I got on-line to purchase airline tickets and make hotel and rental car reservations for our trip to Munich and Germany's "Romantic Road" between Rothenburg and Fussen in Bavaria.  We will spend five and one-half days in Germany during our first BYE week starting on April 5th.

We had a good staff meeting in the late afternoon to clean up some of our first game Special Teams personnel issues for this Sunday's game at Bergamo.

In the evening we met Peppe and Valeria for dinner downtown at "Ristorante Pagano" which is a great little seafood restaurant near the Judicial Building where Valeria works as a lawyer.  I am not sure what kind of law she practices but I hope it has something to do with prosecuting parking regulation violators and thus supporting the fine men and women of SOStare.

We discussed many things over the delicious fish, pasta and involtini dishes that we shared but their memories of last fall's trip to the west coast of the United States held center stage.  They wanted to again thank Mike and Sue D'Antuono in Altadena, CA and Mark and Susie Johnson in Seattle for their incredible hospitality.

On an "Epicurian Adventure" note, each table had about an eight plate Misto Bar sitting on it waiting for us to dig in.  It was almost a meal in itself.  The highlight for Laurie and I was our first forray into the world of tripe Italian style... we survived it and then attacked every other dish with joy in our hearts!

We had such a great time with them that I completely forgot to take the camera out of my pocket and take any photos.  Now that is something VERY rare for this blog, a post without pictures!  Thank you Valeria and Peppe for a GREAT dining experience with good friends!

We have our last practice before the Bergamo game today at 3:00 p.m., then it will be a VERY early wake-up call Sunday morning to fly to the game.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Of Cefalu', Santa Elia and Palermo

It's Thursday so we left Malibu at 9:00 a.m. to drive to Palermo for our 6:00 p.m. practice with the "West Coast" Elephants.  When we make these weekly trips, we make it a rule to try and visit something of interest on our way to the practice field.

First up today was the beautiful Tyrrhenian Sea coast town of Cefalu'.

Cefalu's Parking Lot "A"
Only 3 Euros for 12 Hours

My last trip to Cefalu' in June netted me a 36 Euro parking ticket for illegally parking on Piazza Garibaldi about 200 meters from Cefalu's brand spanking new, state-of-the-art, Uni-Story Overground Parking Structure that you see here.  We started the day with what I thought to be a wise economic choice!

Is it just me or does EVERY city in Italy have a Murphy's Pub?

Strong winds made waves explode into Cefalu's sea wall.

She guards the entrance to Cefalu's Duomo

The Golden Mosaic behind the Duomo's altar

Storm Surf

It was VERY windy indeed!

The Breakers got very close to us

Cefalu' can be a magical, romantic place

"Then our VW bus was attacked by a giant Vespa..."

From Cefalu' we proceeded west to the small fishing village of Santa Elia near Palermo.  Santa Elia is the ancestral home of our Sicilian-American friend Chris Pagliaro who will be visiting us in May with his friend Linda.  We thought that we would do a little advanced scouting for his trip.

Chris' stories about coaching in Italy years ago were one of the main reasons that I explored coming to Catania in the first place.  As stated in earlier blog posts, Chris was the Head Football Coach at Newbury Park H.S. in the 1960's and 70's and was an Assistant Football Coach at Santa Barabara City College for several years.

Chris Pagliaro

Italian football stories are not the only stories Chris likes to tell.  Back in California a bunch of us "Old Timers" meet about four times a year for pizza and adult refreshments to talk about anything and everything.  One of the younger coaches we invited a few years ago said it was a "Dinner with the Legends", so we now call it that.

Beyond a doubt, Chris is THE main story teller of the group.

Did I ever tell you about how Chris almost single handedly led Chicago's Austin High School Tigers to the 1952 Public League Championship?  At that time, Austin's 4,000 member student body made it the largest high school in the United States.  The highlight game of the 1952 season was the stirring 7-0 victory over arch-rival Lane Tech.

They played the Catholic League Champions, Mt. Carmel coached by future Notre Dame University Head Coach Terry Brennan, in the season ending Chicago Prep Bowl.  Unfortunately the Maroon and White came up a little short losing 27-14.

"Pags" freely admits that he had just a little help during this magical season from...

Abe Woodson
Chicago Austin H.S., Class of 1953

Seen here in his 1962 Topps NFL trading card, Chris' teammate at Austin earned a football scholarship to the University of Illinois, was the 15th overall pick in the 1957 NFL Draft and would go on to a nine year NFL career, seven seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and two with the St. Louis Cardinals.  Abe Woodson made five Pro Bowls and was twice named First Team All-Pro.

Santa Elia City Limits

When Chris told us that his family came from a small fishing village he did not say how small, the word "dinky" comes to mind.

The view down to the sea from the City Limits Sign.

The view of Santa Elia from Santa Flavia

I would categorize Santa Elia as the town where the local fishermen live and the harbor of the town of Santa Flavia, about 300 meters east of the Santa Elia City Limits Sign, where they ply their trade.

The Harbor at Santa Flavia

Santa Elia's Tyrrhenian Sea Coast

Santa Elia has plenty of satellite dishes to go around! 

Santa Elia's main Piazza

Santa Elia's favorite sons hanging out in the Piazza.

Hey, is that guy looking at us wearing an Austin H.S. vest?

The View from Santa Elia's Piazza

Going over our adjustments for the Bergamo game.

We only had five of the "West Coast" Elephants with us tonight as one has moved to Catania and another one was home with a fever.  We got some good work in that made the trip worth while.  The only bad note was that my passing arm was at it's all-time worst!

Another GREAT day in Sicily!