Why olive oil?
27-years ago, while hitch-hiking around the agricultural landscape of Umbria (the kneecap of Italy), I met Stefania Belli; a vibrant and cheerful artist from the medieval town of Todi, across the valley from Assisi.
Stefania hired me in the moment to be an English teacher at her make-shift school located in the basement of her parent’s home; fashioned with tables and chalk boards.
Once a week, I would return from wherever my adventures took me and settle in for the evening in her basement classroom, whip up some penne pasta with sea salt and olive oil — and, prepare for my first class the next morning.
Bright and early, back-to-back, I taught Italian kids, teens, adults, and seniors how to avoid ending every word with a vowel.
My last class ended at 8pm. I’d then hightail it down the hill to the station, grab the next train and continue my journey until the following week.
Those sessions in Todi changed my life.
Like the oil we squeeze from the fruit of the olive, Todi turned me into a better version of myself.
20-plus-years later, a family friend described her experience studying Italian and taking tours across Umbria with a vibrant lady with a business based out of Todi. It was no surprise the business she described was run by Stefania Belli, who was now the founder of LaLingua LaVita, a cultural center that taught English while bringing travelers around the countryside of Umbria.
We rekindled our friendship through Facebook, then, during one of her visits to the U.S., we met for dinner at Mercato Trattoria on West 39th Street over a brick of lasagna that would put a Roman solider into a coma.
Stefania shared with me her venture; she travels the U.S. supported by dozens of bottles of olive oil from the mill at Fattoria di Monticello to support her work back in Todi.
I shared with Stefania my storytelling work and we sparked the idea for an event mixing the cosmic magic of olive oil with the expressive power of storytelling.
On April 8th, 2018, we hosted an event with the folks at ValleyArts to support their many educational programs, which included a gallery exhibit of Stefania’s work!
Since then, whenever the opportunity arises, we gather together as The Story Angels to continue the tradition of celebrating olive oil by combining the experience of tasting unique olive oils with the expressive power of storytelling.