“Non ho capito, che cosa vuole, Signora?” (I don’t understand, Ma’am, what is it that you want?”)
My Italian-American dinner companion, fresh off the plane from the Midwest, repeated her request using her best (fake) Italian accent. “Parm-Uh-John-O, por favor.”
The waitress visibly recoiled once she caught the gist of the request. The tone of her voice rose, “Questi sono funghi porcini, freschissimi e molto delicati. Sicuramente non si deve coprire il loro sapore con il parmigiano. Sarebbe un peccato mortale!”
They both looked at me to translate, and more importantly, to diffuse the escalating conflict.
You see, a plate of pasta with fresh, seasonal, delicate, mushrooms should NEVER be covered up with strong Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. In rural Molise, where we were, it’s an offense against God and country. Not to mention the chef.
During the early summer of 2014, I spent about 40 days “on the road” in Italy, descending the entire peninsula from North to South. I started in Lake Como and ended in Messina, Sicily, with dozens of stops along the way.
About ten days into the trip I realized, to my horror, that I had grossly underestimated the degree of stamina required for such a tour-de-force, especially with a 9-month old baby on board. To put it plainly, I was exhausted and not looking forward to another whirlwind spin through yet another charming hill town (oh, the sacrifices I make for my blog). And I still had three weeks to go. (What’s the saying about “the best laid plans”?)
Last week, Italy’s Milena Canonero took home her fourth Oscar for Best Costume Design for her work on The Grand Budapest Hotel. But after winning the prize for Best Foreign Language Film last year with Paolo Sorrentino’s La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty), this year Italy didn’t even have an entry in that category. Disappointing.
Not that there weren’t some notable Italian films released in 2014. In fact, it’s a bit surprising that the critically acclaimed Il capital umano (Human Capital) didn’t make it to the final round of Oscar voting. Back in June, it won top prize at the David di Donatello Awards, beating out The Great Beauty. And it features several of Italy’s “A-list” talent such as Valeria Golino (Respiro) and Luigi Lo Cascio (La meglio gioventù).
In my post last week about Valentine’s Day, I cited a friend’s blog that had served as some inspiration for my semi-rant against the silly myths associated with that saint and his day. Since then, I’ve gotten a lot of feedback, and several people have asked me about John’s blog.
So, by popular demand, John has graciously agreed to write a guest post today on my site. When I read it, I couldn’t stop laughing. I know that any American who has spent significant time abroad will relate to his observations. But it’s pretty damn funny no matter what your experience has been.
I’ve written about the topic of reverse culture shock, too. Last summer I was in Little Italy in New York, which provided a perfect contrast between the New World’s version of Italy, and the genuine article. John takes a different approach, training his experienced journalist’s eye on the homeland. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.