Friday, August 17, 2012

Cani and Americani

One of the first few weeks I was in Rome, someone told me that the only thing left in Rome in August were "cani and Americani"- dogs and Americans. This turned out to be true.

The whole summer Rome was crawling with Americans. I overheard American conversations at restaurants, on the bus, waiting in line at museums, and passing by my open window on Via della Scala. After becoming accustomed to hearing lilting Italian and Italians speaking English, the American accent sounded brusque and left a bad taste in my mouth. Extremely hypocritical of me, because I'm sure other Americans who heard me felt the same way. I think the problem was that hearing American accents interrupted the experience of Italy, though in reality the experience of Italy now includes other Americans. But it still felt like everywhere I turned, there was an American or twenty visiting la citta eterna.

When August rolled around, somehow there were even more Americans. I didn't know it was possible, but it happened. Compound this with the fact that many Italians leave Rome during August... and Americani half of the saying was completely correct.

The dog half of the saying I'm not as sure about. Dogs in Italy get special treatment. They are rarely on leashes, they're allowed in most stores and restaurants, and they seem to be doted on consistently. The dogs are also really well behaved! Even though they aren't on leashes I never saw a single dog fight, and there's rarely any barking. I question the second half of the saying because it seems like Italians take their dogs everywhere with them, so why would they stay in Rome while the Italiani are on vacation?

For a few weeks, I had the joy of taking a big dog named Duke on his afternoon walk in the Campo di'Fiori area. Walking a dog showed me a completely different side of Rome! Italians would come up to us to say "Ma che bello!" and fuss over him. People smiled at me. People spoke Italian to me and I floundered to answer. It was a lovely change from being ignored as just another americani in Rome.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Lessons from Italy

I am sitting in Leonardo DaVinci airport and hating it because I am leaving Rome. I never thought I would fall so in love with a city but it’s happened. It’s hard to explain exactly what it is that makes me want to work on my Italian and move here for the rest of my life. The food probably has a lot to do with it. And the beauty of language and the people and the city.  The way the immense weight of Rome’s 3000-year history informs how people live today. Never before have I had so many emotions leaving a place, and I think that means something important. How that will influence the rest of my life, I’ll just have to see.

Here is my attempt at summarizing what I learned over the past two and a half months.

1.     Take your time. This applies especially to meals. Dinner was the highlight of my day and usually lasted 9-11PM with some flexibility. I usually shared meals with Luke, but also went out to dinner with friends and spent hours talking because no one had anywhere to be. With a late dinner, no one is rushing to run errands afterward, or get more work done, or watch a tv show. Dinner is savored and as leisurely as possible.  Lunch is also leisurely, most shops and businesses close from 1-3 to allow employees to go home, enjoy lunch and possibly a nap. Never mind that sales might be lost during the two-hour downtime, it’s more important to take your time and share a meal with your family.

2.     Get dressed- well. You never know who you’ll run into, even if it’s just a short trip to the grocery store. Most Italian women and a good portion of the men look stunning on a daily basis. Hair is coiffed, jewelry worn, and tons of makeup applied. I always felt like the worst dressed woman in Rome, but it was fascinating just to look at everyone else who walked past.

3.     Indulge. Only eat pizza and pasta, as long as you walk enough you won’t gain weight. In fact, Luke and I both lost weight. Eat gelato. You know you want to.

4.     See the world as beautiful. When I first came to Rome I was tickled every time one the old man at Bar San Callisto called me “bella” when I ordered a cappuccino. Eventually I realized, he calls anyone he likes beautiful. You don’t actually have to be beautiful. Beauty is not just aesthetic, but anything you like is beautiful. The pizza guys down the street called Luke and I “belli” or “grandi” as soon as he started remembering us when we came in!

5.     Drink wine. Italians drink regularly. A cocktail before dinner like a Campari spritz or Aperol spritz, wine with the meal, then a digestivo after such as sambuca or amaro. But with all this drinking, it’s rare to see a drunk Italian (with the exception of the homeless guys). You don’t drink to get drunk. You drink because it compliment the food, because it helps your digestion, because it’s another excuse to sit around with friends and family, and because the wine is cheap and made only a few miles away. In the US it seems like people are either teetotalers, or drink too much. I wonder how we can find a happy medium like the Italians, where alcohol is enjoyed but not abused.

I realize I only spent 10 weeks in Italy, and haven’t even scraped the surface of Italian culture. But what I learned, I loved. And I hope to find a way to carry it over to my life in the US, and maybe some day a life back in Italia.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Last weekend Luca and I rented a car and drove to Umbria. We started in Orvieto, then headed to Assisi, Gubbio, and Montefalco. We didn't *do* a whole lot, except look at the beautiful medieval towns, eat truffles, and drink the local wine. Here's a quick photo overview!






Friday, August 10, 2012

Weekend down south: the food

One of the biggest food related lessons I have learned in Italy is the importance of regional cuisine. Romans eat a lot of pork and pecorino romano, Florentines eat a lot of beef and white beans, and Neapolitans eats their own type of pizza, lots of fresh seafood, and lots of fresh bufala mozzarella. Each area has their own types of pastries, and drinks mostly it's own wine.

This phenomenon seems to be completely lacking in the US. You can't get Neapolitan pizza in Rome. Can you imagine not being able to find Chicago deep dish in Minneapolis? One of my favorite spots so far has been a Sicilian bakery called Nonna Vincenzia's right outside Campo di'Fiori. It carries Sicilian granita and cannoli and other baked goods. Roman bakeries don't make these things, even though Sicily is part of Italy and the baked goods would probably sell (to tourists). But Nonna Vincenzia's is here to provide me with cannoli and it's advertised specifically as a Sicilian establishment.

I wish I knew more about the cuisine, but here's just a little snippet of what I ate last weekend in Positano, Sant'Agata, and Napoli.

A tiny flaky crispy pastry filled with vanilla cream, called a codice d'_______

A similar pastry but larger filled with lemon cream, called a coda _____

Luke's pizza in Napoli, it's folded in half and filled with ricotta and panchetta.

My pizza in Napoli, just tomatoes, bufala mozzarella, and a big of basil.

A big plate of fresh seafood in Sant'Agata, pickled white fish, salmon, fried whole little fish, squid, and shrimp with the heads on.

A fresh linguine with mussels and clams.

And now I'm hungry.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Housesitting in Monti

I think I like Luke's job at FAO better than he does, probably because I don't have to do any of the work but still get the perks: international friends, appertivos, limoncello club, 4th of July parties, African parties, and housesitting.

We are currently in Monti housesitting for an unnamed high-up in FAO. The apartment is wonderful and I feel like I'm in a resort! It's on the 7th floor (by American counting) and had an 8th floor rooftop balcony.

Need I say more?

Well I will. There are also wonderful amenities like...
1. Air conditioning
2. Dishwasher
3. Full sized kitchen
5. A massive DVD collection (we watched Driving Miss Daisy last night!)
6. A washing machine
7. A Brita pitcher
9. VPN so I can watch all the Olympics I want
10. TV

and the views look like this...

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Weekend down south: the sites

Last weekend Luke and I left the blistering heat of Rome, and instead went to the blistering heat of Positano, Pompei, and Napoli. The train from Rome to Naples was a smoldering 100 degrees for the majority of the trip. The train from Naples to Sorrento was a million times better and gave us our first views of the water, Vesuvius, and the beauty of the Amalfi Coast. From Sorrento we hopped a bus to Sant'Agata where we stayed in a room we found on Airbnb.

Sant'Agata is a tiny town up in the hills with no tourists. It was crazy! There are tourists everywhere (especially Americans) and to be surrounded by actual Italians... it was shocking.

The next morning we headed to Positano for a day on the beach. The drive over was the most breathtaking and horrifying bus ride I have EVER been on. Amalfi drive winds along the top of cliffs overlooking the azur blue water and every other turn I thought the bus was going to fall over the edge. Luke, however, loved it.

Positano was like nothing I had ever seen before. It's one of the most vertical cities in the world, and the bus drops you off at the top and you have to make your way down to the ocean. There was one main road that wound all the way down, but we picked our way there taking stairs that looked like they were about to lead into someones house! There was basically no signage, but we were heading down, so it had to be right. Somehow, after about 20 minutes, we were spit out onto the main shopping area just above the beach. We made our way through thin archways that were overflowing with clothing for sale, stalls fitting handmade leather sandals to your feet, and hundreds of lemons and bottles of limoncello. Eventually the world opened up and there was the beach! Unfortunately a rock beach. But we did some swimming, a hell of a lot of people watching, and got some sun. After a few hours we wandered around a little more, then headed back to Sant'Agatha.

Can you spot Luca in this picture?

The next day we went to Pompei. Again, it was blisteringly hot and sunny and kind of awful. Pompei actually has a good amount of shady places to sit though! I was blown away by the amount of ruins that have been excavated and the fact that so many are still underground. There were frescoes on the walls, baths, bodies covered in ash, a gorgeous piccollo temple, and lots and lots of rocks. 

And we ended our trip with a few hours in Napoli. I took no pictures, because we somehow only saw rundown closed shops and restaurants, garbage strewn across the streets, and a market made up almost solely of stolen goods. The whole time I felt like there must be something good in Napoli, but I didn't see it =-(