Tag Archives: Italy

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.

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!

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

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.

War and Italy

29 Sep

Since our arrival, the bridge at the end of our driveway has been closed. It leads to the small town of Montecastello di Vibbio where Diego and a farmer friend, John Luigi, live.  It has been a HUGE inconvenience because whenever we want to get to the other side we have to take a 20 minute detour. This is not an, Italian measurement either- it really is easily 20 minutes! They are essentially just giving the bridge a face lift, because you can still walk over it, just not drive. I asked when it was built and Claudia said the original structure is a couple of hundred years old, but it was bombed and destroyed in WW2 and the US fixed it after, that was in 1946. Another day, while walking down our driveway I asked Claudia what the huge indentations in the side of the mountain were from. She said they were bombs aimed at the bridge that missed. There are about 4 distinct spots that you can see on the hillside.

It might be my age and my mindset but I was blown away by how much the effects of the war are still prevalent here. I understand that the “reason” we became involved in the war was because of the bombing on Pearl Harbor, but outside of that attack and the bombing of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, the physical land of the United States has gone unscathed. Italians, and many other countries around the world, are still dealing with and working around affects of a war the US was equally involved in. I guess I just don’t understand how that has happened through the years that we are the ones who don’t have to deal with the same physical repercussions of war as everyone else. Unfortunately war destroys many historical places, we have seen some of this near to our house. Also in Florence, Hitler destroyed all but one of the beautiful bridges that cross the Arno River, the commander charged with the task was able to talk him into saving one because of its history. One cool thing we learned while on our tour of Orvieto was that the city was salvaged from any bombing because it was considered a historical center. I’m not sure why it, and not other cities, got this protection, but Mitch thinks its because Orvieto wasn’t really key to winning the war so they were able to concede on letting it maintain all of it’s buildings.

The duomo (cathedral) in Orvieto that was salvaged in WW2

When discussing this with Ev and Claudia they told us it is even worse in Berlin. That many historical and beautiful buildings were destroyed in the fighting. While there, three years ago it was pointed out on many of our tours of the buildings with bullet holes in them, but I didn’t realize the extent of the complete destruction of other buildings. I remember our German friends saying they were embarrassed to be German because of what Hitler did to the Jews, and us Americans just didn’t understand it. It must just be a different way of rearing because seeing the destruction left from US bombers over 50 years ago doesn’t necessarily make me embarrassed to be American, but allows me to recognize that my allegiance won’t go towards such actions in the future.

Maybe someone with more knowledge of the wars or world history could help me make sense of everything, I will definitely be doing some more reading on the topic! But right now-more than ever- I just don’t think the end result of more wars justifies the personal, emotional, historical ( I could go on and on) wreckage that is left in it’s midst.Just another one of the beautiful lessons of life thought through travel. It allows you to be appreciative of what you have, and learn what standard you will hold your life to in the future.

Familiar faces

26 Sep

In Perugia with Aunt Vicki and Uncle Randy!

Just shy of a month here and we have been graced with visitors! My Uncle Randy and Aunt Vicki were in Europe for business and decided to come say hi to us for a few days. Getting here from Rome took 3 hours, where it would have taken an Italian 1 and 1/2, but they made it! Saturday we went to Perugia for a nice dinner on the Piazza. Mitch and I have always been there during the day, so we were shocked to see people of all ages thronging to the city center. Many college aged students, but also families and older couples all enjoying the beautiful fall evening. As I’ve mentioned before, our family owns a bed and breakfast outside of Perugia, so that is where we all stayed. Ev and Claudia were nice enough to give my aunt and uncle the suite, and we got stay there with them. After a delicious breakfast at the Casale we headed to Tuscany for some wine tasting. A unique aspect of wine tasting in Italy is that most wineries require an appointment and they can be very costly. Ranging from free to 40 Euros a person, the latter had better be some pretty amazing wine! We went to a very nice organic winery in Montalcino, Le Potazzine. The area is famous for their Brunellos and we tasted three very nice wines; Rosso di Montalcino 2010 made from a 5 star harvest with fruity and floral scents and light in body, Brunello di Montalcino 2007 from a 5 star harvest and the newest release with a medium body and scents of black pepper and black cherry and the Brunello di Montalcino 2005 from a 4 star harvest thus they let it age a little longer before release which gave it a deeper color than the first 2 wines and with much the same scent as the ’07. Yum! We loved them all, but the 05 was great. The set-up at Le Potizzne was really gorgeous and Michele, our tour guide and wine expert shared some really cool wine knowledge we had never heard before:

The mouth requires a full 11 seconds with the wine in it for tasting
The first sip essentially doesn’t count and it’s the second sip that tells you everything about the wine
Opening the wine bottle during a different weather pattern can change the taste of the wine

At Antonelli with our new friends Cindy and Leslie!

It was very nice and afterword we enjoyed walking around and had lunch in Montealcino.We took at bit of a “detour” shall we say on the way back, ending up in Orvieto. But we got straitened out and went to a cafe in Perugia for dinner. It was great getting to spend some fun, relaxing time with family. They had to leave early Monday morning, so we went to a wine and lunch pairing at Antonelli Winery in Montefalco just the two of us. They are off to Ireland- happy travels you guys and thanks so much for coming to see us- it meant SO much! Antonelli is one of the biggest wineries in Italy, producing over 300,000 bottles a year. We tasted their Grechetti 2011, a very crisp young wine wine scents of peach and hawthorn flower, Montefalci Rosso DOC 2009 a medium to light bodied red that was a little harsh on the tongue but has great balance and is their #1 selling wine, Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG a full bodied well balanced wine that was heavy on the tongue with flavors of black berries and pepper and their Pasito 2007 which they dry the grapes for 3 months before pressing, making it a thicker wine that they can get 14.5% abv. It tastes like a Port but is not fortified and it is great as a dessert wine. All the wines were paired with their delicious food that was all organically grown on their property! Right up our alley! The wheat for the pasta, tomatoes for the bruschetta, it was incredible! We sat with Cindy and Leslie, mother and daughter from Houston, Texas, and we loved them! They were so nice, we had a great time swapping travel stories and ideas! They were leaving the next day, so hopefully they had safe travels back to the US! Making new friends while trying new wine is definitely one of the things I love about Italy. I can’t wait to try and find their wines at home! This was our busiest but at the same time the most relaxing weekend we’ve had, I think the familiar faces had something to do with that!

A little bit of Africa

19 Sep

On Saturday night our friend Diego took us to a friend’s for dinner. This friend happened to be an immigrant from Kenya. Upon entering her home she introduced us to all four of her children as well as the dog, cats and goats. The spread she had ready for us was little less than a Kenyan feast of multiple courses. Deep fried stuffed olives, mini hotdogs, quinoa salad, roasted potatoes, steak, sheep, beer and wine to name a few of the items we enjoyed. It was so fun to talk to her about everything from growing up with zebras and giraffes like we have deer in Ohio to the python that her grandmother slept with for years under the impression it was one or more of her grandchildren! The family didn’t find out for years and killed it when they did, crazy! We listened to Kenyan music and danced for hours- it was so much fun!

It was a really unique experience considering most people living in Italy are born and raised Italians. We are reminded daily of the rareness of the melting pot that is our home country. While there we discussed for the third time an issue that I had never heard of before arriving- the illegal immigration issue from Africa. To be honest, I had never even considered how close the African and Italian coasts really were. Official estimates claim more than 1,000,000 African immigrants are living in Italy today, with much higher unofficial numbers. These immigrants come from Northern Africa, specifically, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria. With more than 2,500 illegal immigrants a week, most are attempting to enter Europe through Lampedusa and other Italian islands. Lampedusa, although technically a part of Italy is actually closer to the African coast.

This is such a huge issue for multiple reasons. First, many illegal immigrants have drowned in their attempts to cross from north Africa. Second, tensions in the EU are rising over this issue. Italy has complained that other European countries are not doing enough to help with the situation. France is simply sending them back when they cross over, as would most other countries. All the while Italy is essentially treating them like tourists and officially allowing them to stay for three months, but unofficially allowing them to stay indefinitely. Third and potentially the most serious is the reason they are fleeing in the first place. Tunisia and sub-Sahran, are in a revolution and many are afraid that nothing will change after the war. The Italian government has declared the migration a humanitarian emergency and has asked the European Union for assistance, but to date nothing has been decided upon.

Italians are truly loving and compassionate people, which is why they are allowing the (basically) refugees to stay with little/no repercussions. The flip side to this is that they are straining already tense situations with their more strict neighbors. This is a serious topic that was brought to my consciousness in a very fun atmosphere, strange but I’m very thankful for the knowledge. Our new Kenyan friend seemed hopeful with the outcome and that allows my mind some rest. One Italian shared his thoughts on the matter and they seemed so similar to the United States relationship with Mexican immmigrants I had to share them. “People are upset they’re here, but they’re working jobs we aren’t willing to and they need to be here… what can you do?”

To our beloved fans

16 Sep

Italian front porch

The title of this post is very sarcastic, sorry but I couldn’t help myself! I know that we’re developing a readership and right now many of you are still family and dear friends. However, the other day I got a facebook message from my best friend’s mom, Mrs. Linda Berg, with a few questions that I wanted to address. If there are any fans out there with questions be sure to let us know! If there’s anything you’re curious about Italy, our journey or us specifically our e-mails are marandasaling@gmail.com and mpramsey7@gmail.com or comment here! It’s great just knowing people and are reading and (dare I say?!) enjoying the blog! With that being said let me get to the aforementioned questions!

Do you miss air conditioning, or are you high enough in the hills that it is comfortable?

Todi sits at 410 meters (1,350 ft) above seas level, a little less than 300 feet higher than the altitude where we are from in Ohio (323 m(1,060 ft)) so it’s not as though the altitude keeps us cool, but we haven’t really been too hot. We got here at the end of August and it had apparently been a very hot and dry summer. Had we been here in the summer I would have missed air conditioning for sure, but we haven’t had it the last two summers so I’m sure I would have lived! Our first couple days were really the only days that felt like summer and then a cooler breeze has fallen on us. The temperature most days is between 70-80 degreed farenhent which is absolutely perfect in my book!

I noticed that you have never mentioned having a problem communicating. We (my best friend, Erika, Linda and her other daughter Ilsa) found that many spoke English; have you found this the same?

No! I guess I should have mentioned this before 🙂 Umbria is not the most touristy region of Italy so everyone doesn’t know English as much as if we were in the big cities of Venice, Naples, Florence or Rome. The biggest city in Umbria is Perugia. With a population of 168,066 people, it has close to half the inhabitants of Florence’s 370,702. When we visit the little touristy town squares the shop owners and employees know the English that they need to get you in their door and purchasing their products, but that’s all. Around town we most likely look like monkey’s playing charades trying to get our point across! The wonderful part of few people speaking English is it has forced us into rapid “learn Italian mode” and we are picking up bits and pieces everyday.

Has your family hosted American workers before, or is this a first for both you and them?

Our family has hosted “helpers” before. For about four years they have invited a variety of people from around the world  United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and of course Italy! to help at the farm. We are their longest stay at three months, as most people stay for usually two weeks to one month. As for us, I have one similar experience doing a alternative spring break in Costa Rica. Two friends and I did a work exchange at an animal sanctuary for about a week and it was a great learning opportunity! It was the first time I meditated on a daily basis, ate a vegan diet, bottle feed a baby leopard whose mother had been poached! It was fabulous, and thus far this trip is holding it’s own also!

Is Mitch finding the wine operations much different from the wineries in northern Ohio?

Oh my yes! Our operation is rather small as I mentioned in the last post, but only a bit smaller than most wineries here. Many here believe in having fewer vines, creating a higher quality wine and selling it at a slighter higher price to compensate for the smaller size operation. That is our mentality here also. A winery with many acres simply couldn’t do things such as hand pick. Many complications such as timeliness, grapes need harvested when they have a very specific sugar and pH reading, finding workers and more importantly if you can find knowledgable people to hand-pick the price of each bottle has just gone from $10 to $50 because you have to pay all those people. I will never again think “Yea, but what’s really the difference in machine harvesting?” Because the answer is everything! We literally chose each and every berry that went into that wine barrel. You just can’t beat that. So the size of the vineyard, the process of harvesting and the quality of wine is just… different. We absolutely loved our wine experience in Northeast Ohio and learned so much. That’s what’s great about wine, every person and every taste for wine is different. Many in Ohio prefer a sweeter, fruitier wine so that is what the industry provides. Here, people are willing to pay more for the wine to be exactly how they want it so that is what is provided. Learning to open your mind about wine is extremely important and seeing how different and unique the preparation process is has been beautiful. But yes, very different.

Thanks so much for the questions, I hope I answered them thoroughly! Keep the questions and comments coming!

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