Archive for the ‘gita italiana’ Category

Gita Italiana 2010: The Texan Connection

Can you believe we’ve already reached the end of the Gita Italiana 2010? Without further ado, here’s our final installment from Tui of Mental Mosaic. Enjoy!

*

As a recent transplant to the Dallas – Fort Worth Metroplex (via Naples, Italy and the Pacific Northwest) I must agree with the state slogan of, “Texas, it’s like a whole other country.” It’s not only because the state is huge, or the fact that it has its own power grid. There is just something about Texas that sets it apart from other states. Every time I land in Dallas, for instance, I feel like I should get my passport stamped.

So how does all this fit in with the Gita Italiana? Well, I’ve discovered that the bel paese and the Lone Star State have a surprising amount of things in common. Don’t believe me? Read on!

Dallas skyline.

Dallas skyscraper.

Iconic Shapes

If you pulled a tortilla chip out of a bag and it were shaped like either Texas or Italy, you might notice. You might even get a few bids if you placed that chip on eBay. At the very least, your friends would probably nod in agreement as you dipped it in salsa and took a bite. Try the same with a chip resembling Colorado or Belgium, however, and people will think you’re nuts. Those shapes are not nearly as striking or recognizable.

Texas and Italy, on the other hand, are like the geographical equivalents of Beyonce or Christine Hendricks; they are not afraid to flaunt their shape. While living in Naples, I even had people use my lower leg as a makeshift map from time to time. I confess that I am so bad at geography that this was the only way to get their point across, but hey, it worked. And while I still think there is a market for tights imprinted with a map of Italy, there is definitely a market for anything Texas-shaped. You name it, if there’s a way to produce a Texas-shaped version of a product, someone will do it, and Texans will buy it. I’ve seen Texas-shaped belt buckles, tattoos, muffins, swimming pools, crewcuts – there’s even a Flickr pool of Texas-shaped things.

I'm not sure how to pair wine with Chicken Fried Stuff.

I'm not sure how to pair wine with Chicken Fried Stuff.

Love of Wine

We all know that Italy produces some of the finest wines in the world, however Texas makes its share of vino, too. The state has over 200 family-owned vineyards, and a whole bunch of wineries. The city of Grapevine is named after the indigenous mustang grape (Vitis Mustangensis) and hosts the largest wine festival in the southwest. Meanwhile, DFW International Airport has an on-site winery, which offers the aptly named “Aero Port.”

I honestly can’t say yet how Texan wines compare to Italian ones (ask me again after Texas Wine Month this October) but I can tell you that the European wine industry will be forever grateful to a Texan named Thomas Munson. Munson developed a vine hearty enough to resist phylloxera, an aphid-like critter which wreaked havoc on grape harvests in the 19th century, so propose a toast to him the next time you open a tasty bottle of Italian red.

A sign at my favorite Chinese restaurant in Texas.

A sign at my favorite Chinese restaurant in Texas.

Unique Dialects

While living in Naples, I enjoyed learning phrases in Neapolitan dialect, as well as songs in dialect such as “O Sole Mio,” and “Funiculi, Funicula.” I was surprised, however, to learn that Texas has its own dialect. I am not just talking about the contagious Texan twang. Texas actually has its own unique version of German, thanks to generations of immigrants. The German word for “skunk” is stinktier, for example, while the Tex-German variation is stinkkatze.

Wacky Men in Charge

It would take a lot to rival the buffoonery of Italy’s prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, but from what I’ve seen here in Texas, Governor Rick Perry has his moments. Not only has Perry been dubbed “Governor Good Hair” due to his immaculate coiffure, but he’s been known to impulsively smooth the unruly locks of strangers in the audience during public appearances. Also, back in April of this year, Perry shot and killed a coyote … while out jogging! He claims the coyote was menacing his pooch, but I have my doubts. I’ve lived near coyotes before, and they are very skittish. In any case, who packs heat on their morning jog?

Confusing restroom sign in Dallas.

Confusing restroom sign in Dallas.

Freakishly Large Insects

If you’ve ever spent time in the Italian countryside, chances are you’ve seen those huge, black bumblees known as Calabrone. While your average bee buzzes like a Vespa (pun intended!) a Calabrone rumbles like a Harley Davidson, and just like a “hog”, you can hear them coming a mile away. Fortunately, Calabrone rarely sting humans.

Turns out that Texas has its share of big bees, too. Lately I’ve spied Cicada Killer Wasps in our yard. As the name suggests, this creature kills cicadas (which, I might add, is another hefty-sized bug.) Cicada Killers are an impressive 2″ long and thankfully, like the Calabrone, they have better things to do than sting you. I still tend to shriek and run the other way, though, whenever I see one.

Texans love their flag.

Texans leads the USA in wind power.

Regional Pride

More than anything else, both Texas and Italy share a deeply rooted sense of pride, and locals are eager to share their traditions with you. Nor is Texas afraid to take on what it finds cool about Italy and put a Lone Star spin on it. There are plenty of Texan towns named after Italian cities: Italy, Florence and Naples, to name a few. Dallas has a mozzarella company, as well as one of the few Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN) certified restaurants in the USA, while the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth is home to the only Michelangelo painting in the Americas. I still get a kick out the Maccaroni Grill, an Italian restaurant where the ladies room is labelled, “Uomini.” (Pretty confusing, since that means “men” in Italian.)

The Texan love of Italy runs deep, but doesn’t veer into wannabe behavior. One incident in particular summed this up for me, it was when the waiter at an Italian place in Dallas exclaimed, “Mangia, y’all!” after setting our entree on the table. At that moment I realized that no matter how passionate this guy was about Italian cuisine, he was still Texan through and through.

So there you have it, a brief sojourn off the boot and over to the land of cowboy boots, where there is more in common than you might expect!

P.S. I want to thank Michelle for inviting me on her Gita Italiana. She was the first expat I connected with online while living in Italy. From Bleeding Espresso, I quickly found Cherrye Moore, another expat who just so happens to hail from the great state of Texas. Although we’ve never met in person, those two are a continuing source of inspiration to me. 🙂

*

Tui Cameron is a writer and musician who recently settled in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex after having lived in Italy, Belgium and the Pacific Northwest. She disagrees with the saying, “It’s a small world.” In her experience, it’s actually a great big world with an endless array of places to explore. You can find her on Twitter @mentalmosaic, and at her blog, Mental Mosaic: Even home is a travel destination.

*

Wonderful and so sweet too, Tui; grazie mille!

Thanks so much to everyone who wrote, read, and commented on the series; I’ve had so much fun reading about all different parts of Italy from some of my favorite bloggers, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I have.

Looking ahead to September, remember it’s Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, so there will be lots of fun happenings here (including giveaways!) in order to spread the word about this disease that affects far too many women. See you next month!


Gita Italiana 2010: The Rhythm of the Seasons in Abruzzo

Today we have a special treat for the Gita Italiana: this morning we’re spending time with Mary of The Flavors of Abruzzo, and then this afternoon, I’ll be posting information about the final book giveaway of August so be sure to check back later as well. But now, welcome Mary!

*

When Michelle proposed the Gita Italiana, I thought about all of the wonderful things I could say about Abruzzo.  I could talk about the National Park, the wildlife, the breathtaking views of the Maiella that I can see from my town. Or, I could talk about how close we are to the sea and the wonderful historic treasures that are all around us. But, as fantastic as all of those things are, they are not what really comes to mind when I think about my life here in the heart of Italy.

View of the Maiella

View of the Maiella

Upon moving to Abruzzo it felt as though I almost went back in time because this place is so closely linked to the rhythms of the earth. That link is so strong that even a person who has newly arrived can feel it. Yes, I know all about harvest time and I’ve grown my own vegetables, but I’ve never felt as attuned to the seasons as I do here. Even though we live in a modern world with computers and cell phones, we still take part in those seasonal activities that have been going on here for generations and generations, back into the mists of time.

Forget about football games and hayrides. These seasonal activities are all related to putting food on the table.

Spring is the time to plant and you’d better plant when the moon is in the right phase or your seeds won’t grow the way they should. Then the grain is harvested and the fields prepared for the next crop.

Pacchianella 2007: Festival of Madonna of Mt. Carmel

Pacchianella 2007: Festival of Madonna of Mt. Carmel

Of course, summer is when we enjoy the abundance of fruits and vegetables from the garden but then, in late summer, it’s time to preserve part of what the garden has yielded and can some tomatoes. You can make sauce or can them in chunks or even whole, but everyone does it. It becomes a part of conversation. No longer is the opening phrase about the weather, now it centers on whether or not you’ve done your tomatoes yet and how you do them.

When early fall rolls around it’s time for the vendemmia. Then later comes olive harvest time when everyone gathers their olives and takes them off to the frantoio for making oil. And once the cold temperatures arrive it’s time to butcher the pigs and make sausage.

Ventricina -- traditional pork salami

Ventricina -- traditional pork salami

Yes, there are some people who don’t do these things, but the majority of people are involved in at least some of them. We don’t have grapes, for example, nor do we raise pigs, so there is no butchering for us (thank goodness), but our lives still revolve around these activities as we watch the tractors full of grapes go by (or peaches when the season is right).

And, while you can sometimes get some vegetables and fruits out of season here, you pay very dearly for them. Unlike supermarkets in the states that seem to have grapes and cherries all year round, you can really only get them in season here. Consequently, I had no idea that there were winter vegetables, like broccoli for example.

While life is not perfectly idyllic here, there is definitely a fair amount of tranquility that comes from being so closely bound to the seasons. Since moving here, my life has definitely changed, for the better.

*

Some people said Mary was crazy when she walked away from a promising IT career to move to her ancestral town in Italy. Now 4+ years later she works part-time as a Freelance Translator and Writer and the rest of the time she spends chasing after her 2 year old son and enjoying life in Abruzzo. You can catch up with her on her blog: The Flavors of Abruzzo.

Abruzzo

Abruzzo

*

Grazie mille Mary!


Gita Italiana 2010: Salento — Not Your Typical Italy

Today’s Gita Italiana stop takes us to the Salento courtesy of Tina Ferrari, who you can find at TinaFerrariTango.com. Welcome Tina!

*

Sometimes I get so caught up in daily life that I have to stop, look around, pinch myself and realize where I’m living.  The Salento is the sub peninsula that makes the “heel” if you are looking at a map of Italy.

It’s different than the rest of Italy.  Every region has its own identity and traditions, but here in the south, the difference is pronounced.  On one hand, it’s the Italy people dream of, untouched by mass tourism.  Things are slow, shops close from 1:00 to 5 or 5:30 in the afternoon, people hit the streets of Lecce in bici, on their bicycles, green grocers can be found everywhere, and the gelato is just right.  All the things you might fantasize about when thinking of Italy, you will probably find here.

© Tina Ferrari

© Tina Ferrari

On the other hand, I feel like I’m in my own special place, removed from the rest of Italy.  I think anyone in southern Italy, be it Calabria, Basilicata or Sicily, might feel the same way.  Being at the bottom of the peninsula, the Salento is nice and isolated.  It’s not the easiest to reach, and when you do finally get here, you feel like you are separated, in a way, from Italy.  On the train along the Adriatic Coast, as soon as you pass Bari, your view out the window suddenly consists of red soil (with olive trees) muretti a secco (dry stone walls characteristic of this region), and the occasional trullo.

The Salento even has its own railway system: the Ferrovie del Sud Est! It’s truly a parallel universe.  At the regular TrenItalia train station in Lecce, you’ll find chaos and grumpy employees, as you would at any station belonging to the national train network.  But pop into a Ferrovie del Sud Est station in one of the neighboring Salento towns, and it’s a completely different set up.  Complete tranquility.  “Is the train for Lecce running?” you ask.  The man at the biglietteria, calm as can be with glistening eyes, shrugs his shoulders, nods his head and says, “Sure.”  You press further: “What time?”  He nods his head again and answers, “Quando vuoi. When you want.”  You move to the platform to wait for the train.  The same man comes out and manually lowers a bar to block automobile traffic from crossing the tracks, and finally, a tiny toy train pulls up.  Off you go.

On the other hand, it is also a region of progressive artists.  Plenty of modern talent comes from the Salento, including musicians such as Dolcenera, i Bambini Latini and Sud Sound System.  In Lecce, artisans sell their wares on the streets on summer evenings, and galleries abound with original, avant-garde creations by local artists.

© Tina Ferrari

© Tina Ferrari

It’s strange to think that I am five hours from Rome on the train, but if I were to take my friend’s boat, I would get to Corfu (Greece) in only three. (In fact, there are a few towns near me where you’ll hear people speak Griko, a “modern” Greek spoken in the Magna Graecia region of Southern Italy, including the Salento.)  It’s also strange to think that after all the time an American English speaker might spend learning to roll their r’s properly in order to pronounce Italian, if you want to speak Leccese, the American “r” is actually much better, at least when it follows a “t.”

Perhaps the language here is Italian, perhaps this region belongs to the republic of Italy, but once in a while I realize, as I walk through Lecce’s historic center in the morning, looking up at homes made of white-gold Leccese stone and the contrast against the Mediterranean blue sky, or as I make my way down the road on the way to Gallipoli, surrounded by oleanders and prickly pears, with the salty scent of the Ionian Sea in the air, that I am in a very special, truly unique Paradise in the south: the Salento.

© Tina Ferrari

© Tina Ferrari

*

Tina Ferrari is an Italian-American tango dancer, translator and writer living in Lecce. You can find her at TinaFerrariTango.com.

*

Grazie mille Tina!

Tomorrow: a quick trip to Abruzzo.


Gita Italiana 2010: Sicily’s Mount Etna

Our next Gita Italiana stop is just a ferry ride away from me in Sicily, but I’ve still never been to see Mount Etna in person. Giving us the goods on this hot spot (ha!) is none other than Alexia Murray of 2 Kids and a Dog — you remember the family with the hilarious calendar and YouTube videos? Welcome Alexia!

*

Our gita Italiana starts like this:

I’m brusquely awoken by something pounding on my belly.  I open my eyes, and realize it is a small boy, an odious boy, who happens to be my son.  He dashes off cackling and I catch sight of the clock.  Darn! The alarm didn’t go off!  We’re late!  We gotta get out of bed and head up the mountain before (dramatic, scary music) the tourists get there!

Alexia, Nick, Liam, and Luce (don't worry -- the arm is fine!)

Alexia, Nick, Liam, and Luce (don't worry -- the arm is fine!)

As some of you know, my husband Nick is Sicilian and we always spend part of our summer in his hometown, Catania.  One of our yearly day trips is visiting the Etna volcano, a massive active volcano standing 3,329 meters high that dominates the east coast of Sicily between Messina and Catania.  The last eruption was in April of this year.  In 2001, a crater even opened dangerously close to the town of Nicolosi.  The worried townspeople brought out their Saint from the church and the lava stopped.  A miracle!

“I’m going to need another miracle to get my family moving,” I think as I gaze across the bed and see Nick snoozing beside Luce, our 6 year-old daughter.  Only 3 hours later we’re in the car, picnic packed, camera in tow and donning high-tech mountain gear (clothes from Nick’s prepubescent era).

Obviously, being “Catanese”, Nick does NOT consider himself a tourist, but a LOCAL, a gruff mountain man, bordering on volcano expert…even though he goes to the Etna once a year (using his satellite navigator) and doesn’t know the difference between magma and lava (do you?).   As we snake up to the Etna (about 30 km from Catania), Nick grumbles that we’ll get to the cable-car station just as the bus loads of (scary music) tourists start swarming in.  He pleads, “ let’s just go to the beach!” No way Jose, the kids demand to eat their salami sandwiches face to face with the mighty Etna.

Mount Etna

Mount Etna

Finally, we pull up to the “rifugio Sapienza” at 1910 meters.  Nick’s mood changes (thank God) when he immediately finds a parking spot.  A miracle, he announces.  My day starts to look better.  Pasty-faced with total sunscreen, we climb into our own private cable-car, the kids buzzing with adrenaline.  Luce, the wise one of the family, inquires, “Mom, what happens if the volcano explodes now?” I laugh and reply, “don’t worry about it sweetie, it’s not going to happen…” But the question echoes  in my head… “crap, what happens if the volcano really does explode, NOW?” I instantly file the thought into the “I can’t deal with that” section of my brain.  The 15 minute cable-car ride flies by, apart from a brief episode when the gondola (no, not the ones in Venice!) suddenly stops and we dangle in thin air for what seems like an eternity.  Liam jumps up exclaiming, “I need to go poo-poo,” making us lurch precariously.  To avoid a panic attack, I spend the rest of the gondola ride on an astral voyage.

At 2500 meters, we roll out the plaid blanket and devour our picnic. I scoff at the (scary music) tourists, some in flip flops, struggling to walk over the jagged lava rocks, others with straw beach mats under their arms.  I wonder, “what were they thinking when they decided to spend the day on the highest active volcano in Europe?” I gaze down at my feet, proud to be wearing my robust high-top sneakers.  That lava ain’t got nothing on me in these.

The view is stunning from our picnic spot.  We’re on top of the world.  Everything around us is black, while Catania and the immense sea gleam below us.  I can practically see all the way across Sicily, to the Madonie mountains where (more dramatic music) Corleone is…  It’s amazing.

Alexia's trusty hightops

Alexia's trusty hightops

After lunch we get on a jeep-bus with gigantic wheels, a relic from some lunar expedition.  The NASA-mobiles will take us up to 3000 meters to visit a small active crater!  The kids tingle with anticipation.  On the way up Luce eats three ham sandwiches, a banana, a zucchini omelet and belts out “Old McDonald” to the dismay of our fellow travelers.  Liam, on the other hand…falls asleep.  Nick is very pleased as he will have to carry Liam on his back like a donkey when we take our one-hour hike around the crater.  Upon arriving, we are greeted by our guide, a REAL, although slightly elderly, mountain man with a thick Sicilian accent who occasionally utters a few words in French (in the same Sicilian accent).  Do I look French, I wonder?  I don’t know.

As I take my first step behind our guide I feel something strange on my foot.  I realize that my sturdy, reliable high-tops are disintegrating.  The soles are detaching and I’m going to kill myself on the top of a mountain in Sicily.  So much for my high-tech gear, I might as well have worn flip flops.  However, the situation is not so dismal as I soon figure out how to walk so the soles don’t catch on the craggy rocks.  I know I look like I’m doing a Monty Python “silly walk,” but I hold my head up high, avoiding the (scary music) tourist’s curious gaze and focus on the incredible moon-scape around me.  The top of the volcano looms above us, smoking enigmatically.  When I put my hand on the ground it is warm, and when I dig a bit, it’s hot!  Steam bellows out of the smaller crater below us and is whisked off by the wind.  Oh, and by the way, it’s freezing.  So, we take out our shiny, ’80’s triacetate-polyester tracksuit jackets and bundle up.  Lookin’ good, feelin’ good.

By the time we walk all the way around the crater, Nick is cussing in Sicilian due to the sizable weight in his arms (Liam), not to mention the 4 liters of water he is carrying in his backpack.  I am waddling like a neurologically damaged duck and Luce is getting reprimanded by the Sicilian guide (in French) for throwing rocks over the edge of the crater.  Ah, just another day of our relaxing vacation… And we still have to get down the mountain…

But all in all, a great Italian gita.

Mount Etna looms behind Calabria

Mount Etna looms behind Calabria

*

Alexia Murray is an American mom living in Rome with her Sicilian husband (who claims to descend directly from the Druids), two vivacious kids and their dog Hamlet.  Together they’ve created www.2kidsandadog.com, a site that hosts an ongoing comic web series, which thrice weekly reveals in short snippets what really happens to make their ridiculous yearly family calendar.  Documenting the activities is a multi-tasking mom and a burnt-out pop, cooky costumes, home-made sets, an absurdly busy doorbell, a slow burning soup on the stove, surreptitious sibling rivalry, and a lot of barking.

All photos courtesy of Alexia Murray. Also, for a live shot of Mount Etna, check out the Mount Etna webcam.

*

Grazie mille Alexia and family!

Are you ready for some Puglian action? That’s where we’re headed tomorrow…


Gita Italiana 2010: Six Memories of Venice

Today’s stop on the Gita Italiana takes us to Venice with Robin of My Mélange. Welcome Robin!

*

Venice will always hold the honor of  being the first city I visited in Italy. One could say that Venice is partially responsible for my falling in love with Italy. It certainly started the ball rolling. I remember that magical moment as I caught my first glimpse of the Piazza San Marco in Venice from the Alilaguna as it sailed along the jade waters, on a bright, sunny day. It’s an indelible memory. One that I hold very dear.

But it isn’t the only memory I have of Venice. There are many. I thought I’d share six other things that I remember about Venice that put a smile on my face whenever I think of them.  Hopefully they paint a vivid picture of what it’s like to spend time in one of the most unique cities in Italy.

Photo © Robin Locker Lacey

Photo © Robin Locker Lacey

1. Traversing the tiny footbridges and getting lost in the maze of calle, especially at night. Wandering with no particular place to go is one of the best ways to discover the real Venice.

2. The lovely gelato shop owner who not only had the best gelato, which we enjoyed no less than twice a day, but who holds the honor of being the very first Italian to ever say ‘Ciao‘ to me.

3. The manager of the tiny B&B where we stayed, who was a dead-ringer for Hank Azaria’s character, Agador (Spartacus), in the movie ‘The Bird Cage.’ He was delightful and each morning he served us warm cornetti filled with peach preserves alongside the best cappuccino, prepared with his tiny Bialetti.

4. Taking a mid-afternoon nap while listening to the beautiful sound of piano and violin wafting into the windows of our room, from the Music Conservatory across our canal.

5. The quiet. The lack of cars and scooters. I enjoyed hearing every footstep, every clip-clop of a stiletto heel. It was lovely being lulled to sleep every night by the sound of lapping water and the occasional boat that would slowly make its way passed our open window.

6. Our dinner at Ai Cugnai, a family joint, where the laundry dangled precariously above our heads and where the entertaining owner was more of a draw than the food. We watched her sip wine from other diners’ glasses and present dishes from the kitchen to everyone in the dining room before serving them. She spoke not a word of English and at the end of dinner, she pinched my cheeks and told me to call her mamma. Priceless!

Photo © Robin Locker Lacey

Photo © Robin Locker Lacey

*

Robin Locker Lacey is an Italy and France travel consultant, freelance travel writer and photographer who hopes to one day realize her dream of living La Dolce Vita in her beloved Italy. Her passion for European culture and lifestyle is featured on her site, My Mélange, which includes travel essays, photos, recipes, restaurant and hotel recommendations, ideas on how to live La Dolce Vita from abroad and travel tips–she is the self-professed Queen of the Carry-On bag and *will* convince you to convert. She is addicted to social media – you can follow her on Twitter @MyMelange.

*

Grazie mille Robin!

Domani . . . Mount Etna in Sicilia!


Michelle FabioMichelle Fabio is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer living in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy and savoring simplicity one sip at a time. 

Subscribe to Bleeding Espresso by email:

Calabria Guidebook

Calabria travel guide by Michelle Fabio

Badolato Rentals

Badolato rentals

Badolato Properties For Sale

Properties for Sale, Badolato, Calabria, Italy

Photo Guide to Badolato On Sale!

Photographic Guide for Badolato, Calabria

Recipes

 

Homemade apple butter
Green beans, potatoes, and pancetta
Glazed Apple Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins
Pasta with snails alla calabrese
Onion, Oregano, and Thyme Focaccia
Oatmeal Banana Craisin Muffins
Prosciutto wrapped watermelon with bel paese cheese
Fried eggs with red onion and cheese
Calabrian sausage and fava beans
Ricotta Pound Cake