An American In Rome
|Benvenuti a tutti!
Thanks for stopping by my blog where I attempt to decipher Italian culture for the English-speaking world. It’s always my intention to go a little deeper—beyond the stereotypes and la dolce vita—to discuss the many reasons why this beautiful chaotic city continues to inspire the dreams of travelers and expats year after year. Travelers, if you’re new to my site, you might want to start here. Expats, check out this post.
Christmas Eve dinner 2011 at my girlfriend’s family’s home for my first Christmas in Sicily. Her mom is a great cook and I knew that I was in for an epic feast. And as I watched the parade of food coming out of the kitchen, I was not disappointed. I couldn’t believe both the quantity and the variety of seafood being served.
“Is this the Feast of the Seven Fishes?” I asked in my tentative Italian.
My future mother-in-law responded, “Who are these seven fishes that you speak of?”
She caught me off guard…did I pronounce something wrong. “No, not ‘fishes,’ I meant seven different ‘dishes’ made from seafood. Seven—you know, it represents the seventh day when God completed His work. We celebrate the completion of The Lord’s promise of the Messiah through baby Jesus.”
She didn’t respond immediately. I was still assuming that she couldn’t understand my horrible Italian. But as it turns out, it wasn’t a language issue. She glanced around the dinner table, and then counted the different seafood dishes, pointing to each one.
“Uno, due, tre, quattro, cinque, sei… ci sono sei pietanze. Scegliti la leggenda che vuoi…” There are six different dishes…make up whatever story you like. Then she promptly turned on her heel and marched back into the kitchen.
I must say, I was a little let down. My knowledge of Italian-American culture had always implied the importance of this holiday tradition. Imagine my disillusionment when I arrived at the alleged source of this sacred rite only to find out that it is—and had always been—false. It’s like travelling to the North Pole and discovering that Santa Claus doesn’t live there after all.
Sicilia, il ritorno
A few weeks ago I wrote a whole post about that trip to Sicily in the winter of 2011. Indeed, Christmas/New Year’s is a magical time to visit that enchanting island, when you can witness all the colorful traditions and participate in the festivities of the holiday season. (In fact, I recently wrote another article about Christmas in Sicily for the Flavours of Italy blog.)
But December and January are pretty darn chilly, even as far south as Sicily. This Floridian prefers more balmy weather, when you can stroll outdoors in short sleeves during the day and enjoy a slow sunset with a long drink overlooking the Ionian Sea, contemplating the smoldering fury of Mount Etna in the distance. To me, this is Sicily; a warm, inviting, endless panorama of beauty and wonder.
So yes, according to my math it’s been two years—and it’s about time that I go back. In fact, this summer I AM going back…and I’d like you to come with me!
Together with my wife Jessica, I have started a small travel business, and we’ll be leading private groups around the island beginning this May. We’re partnering with some professional guides, as well, who have access to a few special locations. So in addition to your hosts—Jessica and her knowledge of Sicilian culture; and me with my magnetic personality and charming wit (cough, cough)—you’ll also have the benefit of some knowledgeable experts who are very familiar with the fascinating history of all the sites we’ll be visiting…not to mention some great places to eat! (Yes, there will be plenty of “fishes,” although not necessarily seven exactly.) For transportation, we’ve also hired a donkey cart and a driver…I mean, a modern mini-van with A/C and comfy seats.
This is going to be a grand tour of Sicilia, hitting all the major towns and ancient sites. We’ll be visiting Greek ruins in Agrigento, street markets in Palermo and baroque villages in the Iblean Mountains. We’ll eat in quaint trattorias, stop at a few wineries to sip their products, and sample some of the best desserts in the world. Sure, we’ll visit a museum or two, and for the adventurous, we’ve planned an optional excursion to the top of Mount Etna. But we’ve also scheduled for some down time to relax, wander, shop, or whatever suits your fancy.
If you’re flying into/out of Rome and would like to include a stay in the Eternal City, we help you arrange that, too.
If you think that you’d like to go with us (and why wouldn’t you?), you can sign up below to receive email updates as further details are announced. And if you’d like to have a closer look at the exact itinerary, click here.
Remember, this is going to be a small group, so once it’s is full…it’s full! For now, you can just send me an email (email@example.com) to express you interest. No forms or deposit or commitment at this point…we’ll handle all that starting the first week of January.
I hope to see you in Sicilia in 2014! Buone feste a tutti!
A while back I wrote an article about dating in Italy, and not surprisingly, it was one of my most popular posts. As a result, Google now sends such inquires as “how to pick-up Italian girls” to my site. Further investigation into my site’s statistics suggests that I have a disproportionate number of male readers in Italy who are keen to make the acquaintance of eligible women from the former Soviet Union. Not wanting to disappoint the king of all search engines, I feel obliged to follow up. [Read More...]
“Then one of them asked me why those Italian volunteers were really coming to visit Sicily. ‘They are coming to teach us good manners,’ I replied in English. But they won’t succeed, because we think we’re gods.” –Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Leopard
New Year’s Eve 2011. We were in the city of Siracusa, enjoying a great winter vacation in this little Baroque corner of Sicily. However, on the islet of Ortiga, it is the Greek influence that’s felt most profoundly. We were standing in front of the Temple to Apollo, which was just a five minute walk from our hotel. A cute old woman in a threadbare overcoat shuffled up next to us, her interest elicited by our big camera and awkward tripod.
After proper introductions, her curiosity got the best of her. “Sono venuti da Roma per vedere…” she hesitated, searching for the word while gesturing towards the ancient ruins with a dismissive wave of her hand “…queste pietre?” You came all the way from Rome to see… these rocks?
Napoleon Bonaparte, on the way back from one of his many campaigns, famously wrote ahead to his wife Josephine who was awaiting him back in Paris. The letter was brief and to the point: “I’ll be home in three days. Stop washing up.”
We all know Napoleon as being a principal figure from French history, but in fact he was born to Italian parents on the island of Corsica, a year before it was ceded to France. And anyone who has traveled to France during the summer months knows that the French seem to have retained the famous general’s taste for “natural” body aromas.
I hear you snickering out there already…what does Rick Zullo know about the best restaurants in Italy? Precious little, I’m afraid. I’ve never claimed to be a gourmet, buongustaio, or foodie. In any case, my Sicilian wife is a great cook and we eat at home quite a bit (especially now with a piccolina in the house). But fortunately, I have a few friends that know quite a bit about the best restaurants in Italy and I’m not afraid to exploit them for the purposes of promoting my blog.
I’m kidding, they’ve all offered to contribute voluntarily, for which I’m both perplexed and extremely grateful. Seriously folks, you will not encounter a more genuine or authoritative group of food writers than the all-star roster that I’ve duped into contributing to this effort. How did I come to discover these folks? Well, I was searching for restaurant information myself—both online and on the ground—and these names kept reappearing. Eventually I found their websites, bought their apps, and followed them on Facebook and Twitter. That’s when it occurred to me to create this little book, as a way of introducing them to my readers and to anybody who wants to increase their knowledge of Italian food culture, and make sure that their next visit to Italy includes some memorable dining experiences.
One of the cool things about a blog is that it’s sort of a “living” document; a dynamic relationship between a writer and his/her readers. This interaction obviously influences, if not dictates, the evolution of the content. Consequently, the topics that I now discuss are not the same as the ones that I wrote about a year ago. For example, back then I was enthusiastically documenting my battle against the evil forces of Italian bureaucracy. I don’t talk about that much anymore because, alas, they have won. I’m not too proud to admit defeat. Indeed, my former quixotic passion now looks laughable, almost quaint, with the benefit of hindsight.
Another topic that I’ve sort of put aside concerns my job of teaching English in Rome. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy discussing it from time to time. But based on reader comments and feedback, the larger cultural topics seem to engage (or enrage) more people. So that’s where my blog is at right now. But the truth is, teaching English in Rome is a lot of fun and still one of the few jobs (maybe the only one these days) that is relatively easy for a non-Italian to find.
Along the way, I published my strategies in a little eBook which, to my great surprise, has actually abetted a good number of people in the same folly. Successfully, in fact! (Depending on how you define success, of course.) So, being the magnanimous soul that I am, I’ve decided to post an excerpt from that book here in honor of my one year anniversary as a blogger. That, and the fact that I had no other material ready for my self-imposed deadline. OK, here it is…
Everybody knows (or at least assumes) that Italians are a warm, friendly people. But beneath the surface of this easy, genteel exterior lays a refined undertone of rigid customs and etiquette in Italy that might not be apparent to the foreigner at first glance.
I’ve talked previously about the concept of fare una bella figura (making a beautiful figure). I had tried to emphasize that while clothing is the most visible sign of this practice, it might not be the most important. Indeed, your behavior says more about you than your couture, even if the subtleties can be lost on foreigners. Take off your sunglasses when you address someone, and remove your gloves when you shake hands. Don’t wear a hat indoors. Cover yourself properly when entering a church. Get your elbows off the table! And always respect your elders. Yes, manners matter.
In honor of Italian American heritage month, I’ve invited a friend of mine from California, Victoria De Maio, to write a guest post about what it’s like to be Italian.
Uh-oh. After my controversial post last week, I can already hear the rumblings of more heated debate in the making. Well, no, she’s not actually Italian—she’s Italian-American, like me. But it’s a well-known phenomenon that most of us Italian-Americans simply refer to ourselves as “Italian,” even if we don’t speak the language or have ever stepped foot inside the “Old Country.” (For the record, Victoria travels to Italy often and knows the landscape quite well.) I don’t have any hard stats to back me up, but I would say that this sense of pride in our cultural heritage is stronger among Italian-Americans than any other ethnic group in the United States.
I’m grateful that Victoria wrote this piece for my blog because, to be honest, I think I’ve sort of lost touch with what it means to be Italian-American. Nothing will cure an Italian-American of feeling “Italian” so much as living in Italy for a couple of years. Yes, I was raised amid a big Italian-American family, too. But after a few years in Rome I now realize that, culturally, I have always had more in common with America’s Puritan forefathers than my own Calabresi and Molisani ancestors.