Nothing annoys people so much as not receiving invitations. ― Oscar Wilde
Five dedicated Italophiles are about to celebrate their first anniversary together as the Italy Roundtable. Auguri a tutti! Their commitment to Italy and to spreading the word about Italian life, food, wine, history, oddities, accommodations, traditions, events and more is admirable. Plus, it makes for very enjoyable reading.
They recently extended an invitation to their readers to write on one of the topics they’ve covered in the last year. I wish I could write on all of them. Maybe I will, eventually. But I’ve decided, mostly to address the quizzical looks I know I must get from friends as they open yet another blog post about things Italian, to tackle the Roundtable’s very first topic: Why I Write About Italy.
I write about Italy because I grew up with an Italian father and an English-Irish mother but, like brown eyes, the Italian side was always dominant. We never had pork pies or fish and chips at holiday meals. No. It was always a creamy lasagna or eggplant parmigiano, with mini cannoli and sfogliatelle for dessert, washed down with some of the worst red wine you’ve ever tasted, compliments of my nonno Clemente who kept his barrels in the basement. And we always had fish on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve even though I was raised in the Protestant faith (that’s where Mom came in). Shrimp and eels and sardines and I still get wriggly just thinking about it.
I write about Italy because my nonna AnnaMaria used to hoist me up onto a three-legged wooden stool when I was a kid and let me watch her as she worked at the stove. She was a marvelous cook, intuitive like most peasant Italian women, never measuring a thing but always creating something masterful from nothing. My father used to say she could do compound interest in her head, no dummy she, although I doubt that she ever went to school. My father also used to say that you could eat her meatballs on Friday, so good was she at stretching the family food budget.
I write about Italy because I always felt like an Italian. That meant that most of my relatives still lived in Brooklyn, while we had moved out to the “safe” suburbs. It meant that all my cousins looked like Sophia Loren even though I felt more like Jimmy Durante. It meant that I knew we were a little louder than the other families on the block when we all got together. It meant that my Aunt Theresa’s mamma would always bring her own “sangwich” to family functions because who knew if the food there was going to be as good as she could make? And it meant that nobody else I knew had fathers who got up early on Sunday mornings to cook sauce for the spaghetti, or made regular pilgrimages to visit with his cu’mare, with respect and a bottle of Three Feathers whiskey.
I write about Italy because I wish that I could have persuaded my father to come to Italy with me. He never went, never crossed the ocean, never got to see where his father and mother came from (Viterbo/Acquapendente and Salerno/Montano Antilla). He was afraid, like he was afraid of most things new. He remembered when being Italian was a shameful thing in this country and he wasn’t sure what to expect over there. He said he didn’t speak the language (he did, but forgot a lot from his childhood). And he was getting old (he was). And while I haven’t been to Viterbo or Salerno yet myself, they are on a very short list of places to go. He will be with me then in spirit.
I write about Italy because I have been there more than a dozen times and because I miss it like crazy when I am not there. I write about it because I have not yet figured out how to live there for part of the year and still make a living (maybe I inherited a little of my father’s fear?). I write about it because I love the food and the wine and the unhurried enthusiasm and reverence that are poured into each and every eating occasion. I write about Italy because I have found it easy to make friends there and adore what people are doing with their lives, promoting regions, culinary traditions, cities, vineyards, language, a way of life that is so different from ours that sometimes that I cringe when I think of coming back home.
I write about Italy because it is breathtakingly beautiful: ancient Etruscan ruins, medieval cities, Roman arches, cobblestone streets, pink marble, snow-capped mountains, glorious beaches with crisp lines of beach chairs and umbrellas, multi-generational families sitting around a long table for hours at a Sunday lunch, old women strolling arm-in-arm at the passeggiata. I write about Italy because it makes me smile. It is a generous, diverse, stylish, practical, whimsical, disjointed, theatrical, proud place of unique rule-bound chaos and somehow I feel right at home there.
Besides, I adore Italian food and design and I think the language (I speak and understand 12 words fairly well) is simply beautiful. My heart actually aches to know more. But as long as I can say “Pasta alla Norma,” “Panna Cotta” and “Sagrantino, per favore,” I’ll be okay for a little while longer.
I have been writing about Italy since 2007, published a book in 2009 and started this blog in 2010. I try to promote people who are doing good things in Italy and I will continue to do that. I have taken friends to Italy and shown them places and a way of life they would not have seen on traditional tours. We have rented villas, gone to B&Bs and agriturismi and stumbled into once-in-a-lifetime experiences like opera in a villa and becoming local celebrities for a day in a small town along the Po.
Italy is history. It is architecture. It is certainly food. It is people, not quite united yet, but that is part of their charm. It is the reason I sit at my computer every day, to read and write and learn more. So to Alexandra, Gloria, Rebecca, Melanie and Jessica — thank you. And thanks to all the ex-pats who are in Italy doing what they love, brave enough to leave the safety of the familiar and take a chance on the beautiful and unknown. I hope one day to join you.