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Italians vs Italian Americans

28 Nov

I was raised in an Italian American family, complete with the pizzelles, ravioli and loud, hand-waving family members. We were always active in the Italian-American community* and maintained Italian friends. One of my best friends in the world, Tony Sylvester, is also Italian and our family’s relationship begin when our grandparents went to grammar school together in the 1930s at St. Anthony’s. Tony asked me if Italy Italians were different from our sort-of cliche Italian-American families. and this is what I have found.

First, let me give you a bit of a geography and history lesson to set the scene. Most Italian immigrants to the US came from southern Italy. Many from the regions of Campania, Sicily and Calabria. Italy is a very divided country, culture norms in the north and south differ as much as Asian and African. In the south they have a diet staple of pasta vs rice in the north. The south is more loud and “in your face” while the north is more reserved, mostly because of the German influence. Umbria, where Mitch and I lived is smack dab in the middle and takes bits and pieces from both as well as having uniques quirks of their own. Because most Italian Americans are from the south, that is the culture we associate with “Italy”. So while Italian Americans are Italian horn wearing, pasta and pizzelle eating, huge family in your face kind of Italians, Italy Italians from the north wouldn’t recognize you at all. In fact, our Umbrian Italian friends had never heard of pizzelles, I had to describe the Italian horn to them and we apparently do Italian food allllll wrong. According to them of course!

The other cool part of this story is how Italian words have crept into English as common place: cannoli, pizza, pasta, biscotti, cappuccino, pepperoni, ravioli to name only a few. The only problem is that the context in which we use many of these words, most Italians would have no idea what we were trying to say. The translations of the Italian American words to Italian is as follows:

Cannoli: the plural form of cannolo, you order 1 cannolo

Biscotti: cookies, any and all

Pepperoni: a bell pepper

They don’t even have pepperoni like we eat it! How crazy! Italians, as with most of Europe live a more structured lifestyle than us footloose and fancy free Americans! They eat at a certain time, in a certain way, have always done and will always do. I can’t tell you how many times Mitch and I got yelled at for eating something the wrong way or at the wrong time. Another huge difference, Italian Americans get drunk. Italy Italians very rarely do. They only get drunk when they’re young and strictly at a disco or night club. They do drink wine all the time and starting at a young age, but never in excess.

Pasta is pasta in America and in Italy 🙂

 

The most prominent difference we have noticed is efficiency. Italian Americans may be late sometimes, but they have been “Americanized”. Italy Italians live on the Mediterranean time table and are not only always and consistently 20 minutes late, they do very little with purpose and find themselves doing the simplest of tasks multiple times. Their goodbyes take 30 minutes on average, sometimes even up to an hour. My cousins and I get yelled at all the time for putting our coats and shoes on, saying we’re leaving and then standing their talking forever. Let me tell you, this is ingrained in our bodies! Italians typically say goodbye or “ciao” over 20 times before they actually walk out the door. Both groups talk with their hands, the difference is that Italian Americans use many gestures to mean a wide variety of things. Italy Italians however use fewer gestures, but with more passion and more often.

So Italian Americans are definitely Italian, if only Southern Italy. There are similarities they can’t deny, but also differences that are bond to occur with an ocean and decades between you and your old county. Thanks for all the memories Italy, we’ve learned a lot and had so much fun experiencing the beauty of your country and people! Ciao!

*For those of you how don’t know, Canton, Ohio has a rather high and recent Italian and Greek immigrant population.

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From tree to table: Olive oil

18 Nov

Last week we had the lovely opportunity to see the process of making olive oil from tree to table, literally.

The net spread around the base of the tree to catch the olives

Olive picking happens late in the harvest season, after most other crops are done. Here in mid-Italy most people harvest early November. It’s hard to believe, but the majority of olives are still harvested by hand. For this reason you want to choose a dry day, preferably one that it hasn’t rained for a few days. In most cases, only the largest of olive farms harvest mechanically because of the permanent damage that is done to the tree. We also waited for the dew to burn off before we began. You’re under the tree so if the tree is wet, so are you. The first thing we did was spread the net under the tree. The net catches the olives as you knock them from the tree. We used our hands and these small, plastic rake-type tools to pull the olives off the trees. You simply run your hand or the tool down the branch pulling off as many olives and as few leaves as possible. The goal is to get all the olives off the tree, which is actually a bit of a challenge and quite time consuming. This was a very dry, hot year and yields were nothing of what they normally are, same for the grapes 😦 After all the olives fall onto the net you gather them into a compact pile and dump them into crates.

Gathering the olives

Olives are a tricky business, one should never wonder why olive oil is so expensive. You gather hundreds of lbs of olives and you get very little oil, typically only 10-16% of the original olive weight. We only have about 35 trees on the property, but during a good year it provides enough oil to last the family all year. I can’t imagine the families and farms that harvest thousands of trees by hand! Once all the olives are picked you take them straight to the olive mill. It’s crazy, they’re everywhere! Many, many Italians press their own oil and each have their favorite “frantoio”. You dump all the olives in the hopper where the leaves are removed and the olives are washed. The olives are then crushed, heated and the oil is extracted. The remaining, dried pulp is then sold to other companies that use chemistry to extract the last remaining bit of oil.* The pulp is also a perfect compost fertilizer to replenish the trees with the nutrients they lost in producing the olives. The whole process of pressing took about an hour. Fresh oil is a brilliant green, almost artificial looking and spicy with a very unique flavor.

Fresh-pressed olive oil! Look at that color!

Once you taste fresh olive oil you’ll recognize it forever. Claudia, our host mom/boss, enjoys fresh-pressed olive oil with the traditional Tuscan/Umbrian saltless bread. The traditional bread is done saltless as it has been since the middle ages when a salt tax made it too expensive for the average baker and has since stuck. In most instances I don’t enjoy the bread (who would have though that pinch of salt would make such a difference?!) but the strong flavor in the fresh oil compliments the bland bread well.  So that’s the story of how we picked and pressed the olives during the day and were able to enjoy it with fresh bread that night!

Getting crushed and heated!

*This oil is specifically labeled in Italy as it is not olive oil in it’s truest form, not Extra Virgin.

Venezia

12 Nov

Our handmade, paper-mache Venetian masks!

Mitch and I had the awesome pleasure of spending our last long weekend in Italy in the mysterious and beautiful city of Venice, or Venezia in Italian. After a bit expensive, but very comfortable ride on a bullet train we arrived at the main train station, San Lucia. We had a bit of an antsy situation when we arrived at our hostel, 45 minutes outside of Venice. We decided to try our luck at finding a hotel/hostel closer to the city center and headed back toward the island. Funny part about this our attempt… either 5 hotels were fully booked on a Thursday night in November, or Mitch and I looked super sketchy that night! We finally decided to just send me in to ask and for Mitch to stay outside with the backpacks and… SUCCESS! Thank goodness, because I was seriously coming to terms with sleeping under a bridge 🙂 It worked out in our favor because the suite was the only room available and they gave us a deal. We had a beautiful view of one of the canals and was very nice. Actually, the nicest room we’ve had in Italy. So now that we had a bed to sleep in, we could be off to enjoy the city!

The beautiful multi-colored homes of Burano

That evening we just walked around exploring the narrow alleyways and poorly lit corners. It’s part of the ambiance of Venice, the city definitely has a darker side. Everyone went on and on about how expensive Venice was, but we really didn’t find that to be the case. Rome, Florence and Venice are all equally expensive, I mean they make their money on tourists so that is to be expected. People spend more money in Venice because they are so many dazzling things to spend your money on! Murano glass, hand-painted masks and romantic gondola rides to name a few. Friday morning we woke up early to get a head start on sightseeing. We bought 12 hour water taxi passes and went to both Murano and Burano islands. Mitch and I fell in love with glass blowing 2 years ago at a Chihuly exhibition at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens in Nashville, TN. That being said, Murno was amazing! We were able to watch glass-blowers at work, and marvel at everything from 6ft tall chandeliers to the smallest, most delicate flowers. From Murano we went to Burano which rather than glass, is famous for bright and fun painted homes along the canals. It is safe to say Burano is a rather picturesque site.

One of Venice’s canals

Next we took our next best alternative to a gondola ride, the public water taxi system down the Grand Canal from the top of the city at San Lucia to the bottom of the city at St. Mark’s Square. Even with the hordes of people and loud engine, the sights along the canal are awesome. One of my favorite aspects that displays that character of the city are the uniquely painted poles that are in the canals to tie the boats to. Many are painted different colored to represent the different families that own them and the corresponding building. It is awesome to see so many families still upholding the tradition that used to be an important indication of family ownership. It’s funny the slight alternatives that we’re willing to take because we’re pinching pennies, but it really works! We’ll take our romantic gondola ride when we come back and aren’t planning a wedding haha It was an awesome hour on the water and we ended at the Byzantine Basilica of St. Mark and enjoyed the chapel. Venice was a center of trade for hundreds of years and because of the Venetian merchants, Venice has a large international influence and you can see it evidently in the architecture. We proceeded to walk through the city up to the Rialto Bridge. We had been told of how beautiful it is, but even more beautiful is the view from the bridge. We shopped a bit and than caught some gorgeous views of the sun setting behind the city and Grand Canal. The sun is setting rather early this time of year so we knew we needed to get all of our daylight sightseeing done early. That evening we found a very cool wine bar, nice restaurant with reasonable prices and  bar full of touring Americans. It was a very fun and relaxing evening wandering from watering hole to watering hole in the city.

Sunset over the Grand Canal on the Rialto Bridge

On Saturday we booked our tickets home in the morning for 1:30pm and spend our last view hours visiting various museums and churches in the city. We visited the Scuola Grande di San Rocca, Accademia Galleries and the Leonardo da Vinci Museum. We were on a hunt to see Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man and because we recieved various spots that it could be located it felt a bit like a wild goose hunt. When we got a fairly confident answer that the print was at the Accademia we went and after hunting the whole museum were told that yes it was at the museum but “too precious to be on display”. Ahhh!!! 5 hours and tired feet later, Venice is lucky that we were able to hundreds of priceless works of art and Leonardo inventions along the way.

Venice isn’t the easiest city to navigate with over 400 bridges connecting some 118 islands. The best way to get around is to simply follow the few signs in hopes of finding your end goal. I’m a huge fan of these routes, actually my friend Allie and I love to get lost when visiting cities on our travels. This is great on days when you don’t have a time schedule, however we had a train to catch and walking back up to the train station Mitch and I got remarkably lost. This is rare for us, but non the less sent us sprinting across bridges and through throngs of tourists to make it to our train with 4 minutes to spare. It’s hard to believe that a mysterious city like Venice can be as real as the pictures, but it truly is. Mitch and I loved wondering through the tight streets and discovering the beauty of Italy’s Venezia.

Farmers market on the water! Awesome!

Wine Museum

3 Nov

Having spent the harvest season in the “green heart of Italy” as Umbria is loving known, Ev and Claudia thought it only appropriate to take us to the wine museum of Italy in Torgiano. Let it be known that not everyone has such gracious hosts when participating in a work-exchange program. We have been incredibly lucky to have bosses/hosts parents that take us with them to see the country and encourage our learning about Italy through experiencing it. Although the museum was initially funded and continues to be supported by a local winery, Lungarotti, the museum provides completely independent information on when and how wine came to be the delicious nectar of the gods that we enjoy today.

The Roman god of wine, Dionysus

Most likely having origins similar to humanity in the middle east, it is believed that wine was discovered by accident while trying to save grapes. After discovering the pleasant drink that crushed and fermented grapes turn into, the rest is history. All cultures from the Ming Dynasty to the Romans have cultivated grapes for the production of wine. Wine was not only used socially as we enjoy it today, but often used as a tonic or medicine and as the only pure thing to drink, as water was often contaminated.

 

Wine “flasks” shaped with holes in the middle to be strung on a rope and carried by your animal

We were able to see ancient practices of trellising the vines, presses, tanks and barrels. It was cool to see the way of trellising grapes that we still have examples of on the farm here in Todi. The practice has been given up for more practical ways of grape-growing, but for centuries vineyard owners would plant apple or other fruit trees in rows as in an orchard and than plant the vine right next to the trunk of the tree. The grape vine would grow up the tree and through the branches. It’s funny because it has the illusion of a grape tree, and was practical because you were harvesting two crops in one space, but the quality of wine was being hindered by too much shade from the leaves and only half the nutrients because sharing the soil with the tree. Most now use the wire trellising system in some capacity and have a higher quality grape.

 

Huge wine press continuously used in Italy since the 1600s!

As much as it was a wine museum, it was also a ceramics museum. The reason for all the ceramics was to feature how wine has been stored, poured and carried for thousands of years. It was magnificent to see the ingenuity of thousand year old flasks (see picture above) and what fun the artists had when making pitchers with trick holes so the wine would only come out by holding it in a very particular way. They had so many examples of these “trick” pictures. I told Mitch that being on this trip has helped me get a grasp on dates. Since the U.S. has such a recent exploration it’s easy to think that 1776 is a long time ago, and you always hear “This bla bla bla was built in bla bla bla BC” but it never registered in my head until recently that I was looking at a wine vase in perfect condition, crafted beautifully and that’s 2 thousand years old! I have finally gotten a grasp on the backward counting of BC and have a much better appreciation for everything from pottery to architecture.

Wine is amazing, just when you think you’re finally starting to get a grasp on it you visit the wine museum and your brain is flooded with information again! Wine is agricultural yet classy, fun yet sophisticated and ancient but ever-changing…basically awesome. It was very educational and enjoyable to see how wine went from an accident to grapes being the most cultivated crop in the world and it only continues to grow. This is definitely a site to see if you are planning on a trip to Italy.

Roma

25 Oct

He put a ring on it!!

Sorry for the delay in posts, but last weekend Mitch and I went to Rome and fell in love with the city! We visited the Vatican, saw Trevi Fountain and… oh yea… Mitch PROPOSED!! But I’ll get to that. Ev had work to do in the US so we caught a ride into Rome on Friday night. We stayed at the very ironic Hotel Texas, but it was nice. Near Termini Station, the main train station in Rome and within walking distance of all the main sights, 80 Euros a night was not bad! After we got settled in our room, we went to meet my childhood friend, Barric, and his girlfriend Alix for dinner. They were conveniently on vacation in Rome at the same time so we got to see some more familiar faces! We decided to meet at Trevi Fountain which may be the most popular spot in Rome to meet, but we found each other! The fountain is as beautiful as everyone says it is- the detailing is breath-taking. You could easy sit there for hours just listening to the water, appreciating the art-work and of course people watching! But we left and found a cute restaurant on your picturesque Roman street and enjoyed wine, food and each other’s company for hours. After we walked around, stopped at a pub and ultimately found some Irish kids studying abroad in Rome and went with them to a disco (a club to us Americans). Apparently we were lucky to find one without a cover, but we danced the night away and had a blast. It’s amazing how nice it is to speak in English with other 20 somethings!

Celebrating our engagement with Barric and Alix!

Saturday we woke up and took the #64 bus to Vatican City. After a quick and easy hour in line, we were inside enjoying St. Peter’s Basilica. The art work is one of a kind, our favorite being Pieta. The statue of Mary and Jesus is representative of how Catholics look to Mary first and then through her look to Jesus. My other favorite thing was the marble colored speakers so everyone in the back can hear! Modern technology meet 16th century Catholic church! Afterwords we went over to the Vatican Museum.

Egyptian mummy!Wow is that a museum! It took hours to go through and after staring at I don’t know what for 3 hours we decided next time it would be worth it to pay for a tour guide. They have everything from ancient marble statues to  zombie looking Egyptian mummies and everything in between! One thing we didn’t know was that the Sistine Chapel was in the Vatican Museum and it took a little while to figure that out, but it was well worth the 15 euros. It was amazing to be looking with our own eyes on the most famous work of Michelangelo. It would have been nice if the guards weren’t yelling at everyone to be quiet and shouting, “No photo!” Other than that it was stellar. My favorite part is the sheath of skin hanging between heaven and hell, Michelangelo’s on self portrayal, this is the only time he is known to have done a self portrait. We had no idea the Vatican city would take all day, and we decided to not stress over seeing everything and just enjoy the city.

Celebrating our new engagement with gelato!!

After going back to the hotel and changing our clothes, we walked to the Spanish steps and up to the Piazza del Popolo. We climbed some stairs to overlook the city at night and just took it all in. We meandered down to the Piazza Navona which we had walked through earlier and shared a bottle of wine at a gorgeous restaurant while being serenaded by a the accordion. The piazza is often called the most beautiful in the city, and is full of artists and musicians. This is about the time Mitch started acting a little funny and after walking around the center fountain two times, “enjoying the beauty” he finally worked up the nerve and proposed!! It was funny because Mitch is more sentimental than I am and our true personalities came out: he was crying and I was laughing, jumping up and down! We went for celebratory gelato and prosecco (Italian sparkling wine) before heading home. It was all very romantic and very us!

The Pantheon

Sunday morning we met Barric and Alix at the Pantheon and I finally got to celebrate with another girl in person! Sunday we just walked around the city with them and stopping for wine every now and then. They were kind enough to celebrate at lunch with some prosecco together and it was really fun! After that they had to leave us (not everyone can stay here for months- sad) we went to see the Coliseum at night, which is gorgeous, and then crashed. Getting engaged and sight-seeing in Rome at the same time is exhausting! Monday was our last day and we crammed in as much as possible! Starting with a tour of the Coliseum, through Palatine hill and ending with the Roman Forum. Getting a tour guide was a great idea! The anthropologist filled us in on all the gory details since it’s construction in 80 AD. The Roman Forum also has significant importance in that the entire Western world was ruled from right there- it’s really amazing when you think about it. We ended the day playing Audrey Hepburn and putting our hands in the mouth of truth- we both kept them! Rome is a magnificent city, and the ambiance at night makes Roma even more magical.

Playing Gladiators at the Coliseum

Santuario Madonna Dei Bagni

18 Oct

Santuario Madonna Dei Bagni

While traveling to Perugia one morning, Claudia wanted to stop and show us a a really cool, unique church. Mitch and I have seen our fair share of churches on this trip and while beautiful, even sometimes awe-inspiring churches at times feel like same-old, but of course we agreed. Santuario Madonna Dei Bagni is not your typical church. There’s a bit of a back story, but it’s worth it. Around the 17th Century (aka the 1600s) a husband was wondering the fields in despair because his wife was dying from childbirth. He stumbled upon a piece of broke pottery and picking it up realized it was of the Holy Mother and Jesus as a baby. His devout Catholic heart told him not to toss the pottery aside so instead he hung it up on a tree and prayed to Mary, begging her to save his wife. When he arrived home to find his wife completely healed he wanted to find a proper way to thank Mary. Deruta is the pottery capital of Italy, and apparently was in 1600 also. The man had a ceramic plaque made depicting his wife in bed and him praying to the ceramic piece in the tree.

The tree, left in the ground, that the church was built around. The ceramic piece is still hanging from it.

As more people’s prayers to Mary were answered, more ceramic plaques were commissioned and the diocese decided to build a church around the tree where the plaque still hung on it. So the tradition continues today and the church is more than overflowing with pictures of various accidents and incidents Mary has remedied for centuries. From funny to tragic, the plaques are magnificent because they show both the way everyday people lived in detail hundreds of years ago and the Italian population’s devotion to their Holy Mother. These are some of the stories.

 

An Italian in a concentration camp during WW2

A car flipped in the Tiber River

A woman possessed by demons

A man getting robbed

Women falling from an olive tree

Italy with tanks during WW2

A bicycle accident

Fall in Ohio

13 Oct

As expected, Mitch and my’s time in Italy has been amazing. We learn new things about wine, Italy, the world and ourselves everyday. As great as Italy is though, the fall season just doesn’t feel the same as home in Northeast Ohio. Now believe me I’m not typically one to get homesick, but fall just doesn’t feel like fall without certain things we have both grown up with and become accustomed to. Some of our fall favorites include, but are certainly not limited to:

Football! Be it college or high school, fall just doesn’t the same without the ole’ pigskin getting thrown around and someone unfailingly complaining about this coach and that referee. Although the Ohio University gods were smiling on me when the OU vs Penn State randomly played in Italy, the utter lack of football (American football of course) has been tough.

Our pet bunny, Indie, last year playing in the leaves!

One thing Ohio does exceptionally well in the fall is festivals and I eat up every one! Since I was a little girl my mom and I have gone to the Algonquin Mill Festival in Carroll County, Ohio. Put on by the Carroll County Historical Society, the festival offers everything from the steam powered flour mill to Carroll County genealogical informational it is a fest for the stomach as much as the eyes. My personal favorites are the apple butter with cinnamon and stone ground flour we store and use all year around.  My other favorite fall festival the Great Trail Festival in Malvern, Ohio. Clog dancing, fiddlers, living Colonial America and Storybook Craft Villaga are some things the festivals has do brag about, but my personal obsession has to be the ham and bean soup. I love it! The last festival is one of much smaller scale, but closer to the heart. The Constitution Festival in Louisville boasts a pageant, parade and Music in Motion band competition. All family friendly fall festivals that are Ohio specific!

Fall food in Ohio is a treat for the taste buds that the best tiramisu can’t match. Hot apple Cider, pumpkin pie topped with Cool Whip, and OktoberFests, specifically Cellar Rats InFestation! We are hoping to have a bonfire with some friends to make them some of our American favorites soon. This came up because they hadn’t heard of many of our delicious fall foods or activities. We hope to give them a small taste of what we call fall! This might be the nesting bug bitting me, but I love decorating inside and out for fall! It’s great because god does all the work in fall, natural beauty in the leaves changing, bails of straw, gourds, pumpkins, mums, corn stalks and scare crows. It’s funny because many of these things exist in Italy, but just aren’t as visible or used to give that fall feeling as much as at home. So as wonderful as fall in Italy has been, we would both take a weekend in Ohio this time of year to enjoy family, friends, food and festivals!

 

 

Life is our playground

8 Oct

After a wonderful day of wine and food tasting we were having a meal with friends when the topic of recess was brought up. We were talking about how unfair and ironic it is that recess is taken away in adulthood when a break to run around and play with your friends is exactly what you need to break the monotony of everyday life. It reminded me of speaking with someone before we came that said, “Italy is amazing! It’s a wine-lovers playground.” Ahh the playground, where children are spinning on the merry-go-’round, flying on swings and laughing playing tag. This is the memory we all have of our idealist playground. But how true to fact are these memories? What about when you’re the kid sweating like a dog pushing your “light as a feather” (or so they would have you believe!) friends. Or the kid getting kicked by not-paying-attention to Suzie on the swing. Or my personal favorite, the poor kid who is awful at sports and doesn’t want to play but is forced into the humiliating process of being picked last. We seem to forget that the playground is not all it’s cracked up to be.

“The world is a playground, and life is pushing my swing.”

-Natalie Korcis

How different is this from everyday life when you are living a life of love, beauty and experience? I’m pretty sure most people think we are here drinking wine floating through Venice on a gondola taking in the scenery. Not hardly! We work like dogs 6 days a week to enjoy small pleasure. It is funny how one minute we are slaving away in the vineyard hoeing all the weeds away from acres of vines, and the next we’re relaxing, overlooking the Italian countryside enjoying a glass of wine from these same grapes. We will be moving rocks, dare I say boulders, from a new field destined for vines convinced this is what living in the desert feels like and the next walking through a medieval town saving drips off of our gelato and smooching with no shame. Everyday is a roll coaster of fabulous highs and rough lows. Of moments in which you are  questioning if you will make it through and ones that you are hoping will never end.

My friend Allie and were discussing on a recent trip if our study abroad experience in Ecuador was really as spectacular and eventful as we have saved in our minds and hearts. We used to say “Our lives” because it seemed like the gods were always smiling on us and our lives just seemed unusually perfect. But were we looking back and pushing aside the times we got lost in Guayaquil at night, couldn’t order what we wanted at a restaurant because we couldn’t remember the words and couldn’t get anyone to understand us and ended up in a brothel (a story for another time)? Do we only remember the good times? And how quickly do we forget the bad? We decided it was a combination.  Of course things weren’t always being handed to us on a silver platter, although sometimes it felt like that. But we took the good with that bad, always focusing on and drawing from the good so that is what stuck.

Peruvian playground

I’m guilty of this with my college experience. I’m a Bobcat through and through. I bleed green and white, love our ridiculously easy fight song and believe Athens is the happiest place on the planet. I find myself mourning my days of Pawpurrs, sorority sisters and PRSSA vs Ad club kickball games. You would be hard pressed to get me to choose anything over Homecoming and when I see another Bobcat anywhere in the world I find myself in a bear hug in seconds. What I have forgotten is term papers, exams and Morton hill. Many of us look at the past with rose colored glasses, which is great! Why shouldn’t we remember the good, but why shouldn’t we also see the good in the present? Throw on those glasses usually used for the past and see today as you might look back on it in 40 years. Take it all in. Laugh when you’re frustrated, smile when you’re sad and experience the beauty of your playground.

Life is the same way. It can be our playground in every sense of the word. What it can’t be is our magical, enchanting playground with butterflies and rainbows. Sometimes we fell and scrapped our knees and fell of the jungle gym and everyone saw our ‘Today is Monday’ undies (Just me??). If we can remember that life is not always as perfect as our memories allow we can stop pining for what used to be and start experiencing what is. Allow yourselves to wake up and be on the playground, our playground. Laugh and sing and smile, but when you do cry, hurt or anger- remember this is your playground!

The Festival of St. Francis in Assisi

5 Oct

Assisi, Italy

This week Mitch and I got to go to Assisi for a mini-vaca with my Uncle Bobby! He planned this trip for the Festival of St. Francis and because it is only about 30K away we decided it would be a great place to meet up. I knew I wanted to visit Assisi for years now because as a child the choir of St. Joseph in Canton, Ohio where my dad’s family attends was invited to do a tour of Italy singing in various holy centers. My grandpa and aunt were both in the choir at the time so it turned into a mini family vacation. In Assisi the mass was given by Rev. Msgr. Carfagna, the priest from St. Joseph’s and they sang in the tomb of St. Francis. Because of the acoustics it apparently sounded like angels singing and was a magical evening. I am so happy to say that I have now been to the place where my family sang like angels in the tomb of the patron saint of Italy. Although we were only there for two days, it was both tiring (the hills in Assisi are RELENTLESS) and rewarding. As many of us aren’t Catholic and may not be familiar with St. Francis, let me give you all a bit of a run down.

San Damiano, the church he rebuilt and wrote The Canticles

As I mentioned, St. Francis is the patron saint of Italy, but also of animals and ecology. St Francis is such a cool guy because he actually practiced what he preached and believed in sister mother earth and peace. He is actually a great person to emulate regardless of religious orientation. He was a lover of nature and took the gospel literally, following exactly what Jesus said, “Announce the kingdom! Possess no gold or silver or copper in your purses, no traveling bag, no sandals, no staff” (see Luke 9:1-3) He grew up in a wealthy merchant family, living a life of opulence, a life he would later consider pure sin. On his way to fight in battle he had a vision that lead him back to Assisi to give up his worldly possessions and live in poverty. In layman’s terms, we have the son of a very wealthy cloth merchant begging throughout his hometown. On top of this he was begging old party buddies… and oh yea, he was naked. Everyone thought he had lost it! He finally put on a burlap bag and his persistence in this lifestyle proved he was serious about his change of heart. He developed a following that eventually turned into the Franciscan Order, the women of the Order of St. Clare and the Third Order of St. Francis. Believing that nature was the mirror of God, St Francis wrote “The Canticle of the Creatures”. In this beautiful prayer he refers to brothers sun and fire and sisters moon and water.

“All praise be yours, my Lord, through our SisterMother Earth, who sustains us and governs us,and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs”

I just love this! And in his “A Simple Prayer” he makes such humble requests as joy where there is sadness and love where there is hatred (now this is my kind of Catholic!) I could go on and on! If interested be sure to look up about the shewolf he tamed that is the only animal buried in any Catholic church in the world and learn about the “St. Francis cross” or the Hebrew letter Tau. So, here we are in a United Nation’s World Heritage Site taking in such treats as the Basilica, San Damiano, Santa Chiara and Piazza del Comune.

Basilica di San Francisco where St. Francis is buried

We went to mass on October 3rd, the eve of the festival celebrating the anniversary of his death. Even though we couldn’t understand anything, the choir sang beautifully and the energy of St. Francis was everywhere. It was quite the experience for Mitch’s first Catholic mass! After mass we planned on walking up to the Piazza del Comune where we had seen people dressed in medieval garb earlier to grab some dinner. Wow were we surprised! Just as we got there we heard drumming and in came a processional of drummers, dancers, medieval royals, archers and a flag corps. We had stumbled upon a celebration we didn’t even know was happening! With free wine, food and entertainment we ended up standing there for hours and loved every second of it! All Petittis know Uncle Bobby is a self-proclaimed wino and can appreciate just how very thrilled he was at discovering the free wine station 🙂 There were drumming, dancing and flag corps performances as well as an archery competition. The culmination ending with fire-breathing men on stilts performing a show that would put even Cirque du Soleil to shame. Amazing!

The morning of October 4th we went to the celebration mass in the morning and touristy stuff in the afternoon, enjoying gelato and limoncello along the way. It was a great two days. We aren’t what most would call very religious, but enjoyed learning so much about this very loyal and (what I would call) chill saint. Aside from the religious aspect, Assisi is a beautiful city sitting high above Umbria with views for miles. With Friar Tuck style monks and nuns walking around everywhere it is a really unique place to visit. Architecture from Roman and Etruscan times, the city looks celestial from below. Being there on such a big day, there were thousands of tourists and religious pilgrims, but everyone was kind and fun and brought a nice,warm feeling. Needless to say, spending time with Uncle Bobby was great! I love meeting new people, but it is always nice to talk and laugh with someone who shares your memories and jokes. We had a fabulous experience in Assisi, I highly recommend at least a day visit for anyone touring Italy. If anyone has any cool St. Francis knowledge, please share in the comments! Thanks!

Happy family 🙂

Italian Food Rules

2 Oct

This week we went to an Italian-wide ‘sagra’ (festival), Primi d’Italia. Held in Folingo about an hour away from Todi, this is an entire weekend devoted to ‘primi’, the first course served after antipasto in Italy, better known to us Americans as pasta. Pasta was in the store fronts, made into art work, fashioned into dresses, pasta was everywhere! And let me tell you, we are getting jipped on the pasta selection in America! There are thousands of types of pasta here. It was really cool to see how much fun they were having with it. It was a treat for our eyes as well as our mouths, as many of the exhibitions were in hundreds of year old buildings with frescos on the walls. Walking through the main food tent we had samples being offered to us from every direction. Salamis, breads, chocolates, truffles, real balsamic vinegar, it was amazing! If there is one thing Italians love, it is their food! And they take their food every seriously.

Mitch and I enjoying our lunch!

Italian food rules. Duh. That I expected, what I didn’t expect was all the rules associated with enjoying this food. Mitch and I are constantly getting corrected by our family and Diego for certain table and food manners that are completely acceptable at home in Ohio, but shun-worthy here. They are too funny not to share so please enjoy… but remember you’re enjoying them all at our expense! Hopefully we will learn our way around these Italians kitchens soon. Either that or our family is going to kick us out because of embarrassment!

Pasta Vespa!

Types of pasta for specific sauce. At home if you have rigatoni and tomato sauce, you eat just that. Not the case. They will change meals if they don’t have the correct noodles for the various sauces. An example is that carbonara sauce is to be served strictly with spaghetti noodles and meat sauce with short pastas.

Summer vs. winter food. Italy gets colder than most Americans think. Most of Italy experiences at least a mild, to more serious winter weather. Because it is so hot in the summer they eat their summer foods, light pastas, etc and winter only the warm foods like Polenta.

Drinks. Surprisingly, we have found the Italians who drink tea mostly follow tea time. Tea is only to be drunk at tea time, while espresso is to be drunk ALL the time! No no, but at least in the morning and after lunch (remember after lunch here is around 3pm).

No eggs for breakfast! Toast, sunny side up eggs, hash browns, orange juice, now this is a great American breakfast! This is also an Italian dinner, the frittata. It is basically an omelet that you fry first and then bake in the oven. Italians think it’s appalling to eat eggs in the morning.

Plates matters. Italians only eat certain foods on certain plates. Pasta in shallow bowls, meats and sides on real plates, desert only on desert plates and bread on the table. Lorenzo refuses to eat pasta if I serve it on a real plate… Italians boys are really as big of mammas boys as you might think! And their mammas really take care of their every whim.

The spaghetti spin. This is Mitch’s least favorite rule, because everyone points it out. Italians never cut their pasta, only spin it on their fork on the side of their bowls until it barely fits in their mouths. Apparently only Italians in the north spin on a spoon, here no way.

Multi-colored and multi-shaped pastas!

The murder rules. These are ancient rules that many still practice. You never pour a beverage into someones glass with your palm up so it looks like the bottle is pointing at the person. In medieval times this was the signal that poison was being poured into their cup. At the table hands must always be above the table… so everyone knows you aren’t holding a knife to kill them with! Funny, but followed at the same time, they usually have no problem keeping their hands above the table because they’re essential to telling every story and making every point.

These are only some of the Italian food rules we have discovered so far, but will never forget! They are not shy about pointing out that we’re doing something wrong.

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