Thursday, November 23, 2006

Turkey Day

A very happy Thanksgiving to you! The past few weeks we’ve been frequently asked one question: what do Italians do for Thanksgiving? The answer is nothing; it’s not a holiday here. We had decided, after much debating, to not make it a big all-out gluttony-fest in our home this year (and caught a lot of grief for that decision from my step-dad!).

Top Ten Reason for Not Making Turkey Today
10. Turkey is not commonly found in the markets except as breast filets
9. If I found a full turkey (or even a full bone-in breast), my oven is too small to accommodate the bird
8. I would have to buy a roasting pan (which would likely not fit into the oven)
7. I would have to buy a casserole dish for baking the dressing (I don’t like it stuffed into the carcass)
6. Friends had planned to come but had to postpone their trip. Other friends are out of town. It seemed frivolous to spend two days cooking all that food for just the two of us
5. Pumpkin needs to be purchased, cooked, mashed and then turned into a pie
4. We are living in a foreign country where this holiday doesn’t exist
3. We try to be thankful every day, not just on a prescribed holiday
2. I have a cold and feel rather cruddy; cooking a feast seemed like a chore
1. We live in Italy where one eats well every day!

So in the end we decided to “go local” and go out for lunch instead. But what providence! We sat in the restaurant waiting for the waiter to recite the daily menu choices and were astonished to hear him say “filetto di tacchino…” Huh? What’s that…turkey?! Today of all days! Naturally, seeing the signs in the menu we ordered the breast of turkey (which was sautéed in a light, white wine sauce along with artichoke quarters), a side plate of roasted potatoes, and toasted our compatriots at home with a slightly fizzy house white wine. We explained to the waiter that nearly every inhabitant of America would be dining on turkey today and he was rather amused at the irony of it being on offer this particular day in their restaurant. We ended up having an American Thanksgiving after all, with an Italian flavor.

But, of course, the whole point of the day is giving thanks to God for his love and all the blessings and opportunities he bestows.

This year I am particularly Thankful –
-For the provision, direction, and assistance given during our delays and bureaucratic problems to reach this dream
-For the past six months in Italy and all the incredible experiences we have had, the wonderful people we have met, and the history and culture we get to partake in
-For the family and friends who continue to stay in touch despite the physical distance
-For new friends who are so generous, caring, and patient with us foreigners
-For new opportunities to devote more time to writing (and to actually get paid for it!)
-For a wonderful husband who shares my dreams and is willing to take risks in order to live them out

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Visit From The In-Laws

I have often passed the several McDonald’s that so hideously mar the historic atmosphere in the beautiful cities of Rome and Florence and thought, what kind of fool would come here and eat at McDonald’s when there is so much wonderful food to be had? Enter my father-in-law.

I left him unattended for two minutes. I swear, two, measly minutes! When we next see him he arrives with ice cream cone in hand merrily licking away. From the fast food joint! Soft service ice cream in the land of gelato is just plain wrong. We tried to explain the error of his folly but he was not to be convinced. He was happy with his cone and we could rib him all he wanted. To make matters worse, we couldn’t get him to taste an authentic gelato until his last day in Italia, practically forcing it upon him. Don’t get me wrong, my father-in-law is a great guy and I enjoy his company. But this! Mamma mia!

But actually, we enjoyed their visit and took pleasure in showing them around our adopted home and introducing them to new foods. While prosciutto is something I take for granted, having grown up procuring it from a market in Cleveland, it was fun to see someone who had never tasted it before have their first experience in the realm of mountain-air cured pork. We also experienced a nearly-literal “whole hog” experience when our landlords invited us to a pig-fest, grilling sausages, enormous chops and ribs. My father-in-law valiantly partook of everything that was over-laden upon his plate, drank all the wine that continuously flowed into his cup and tried to interact with our non-English-speaking landlords in a very genuine (but often comical) way. He redeemed himself (somewhat) from the previous Incident.

Most of the restaurants in our area have menus that change constantly and are recited orally rather than having a written menu. I translated as we went along and they bravely tried many new-to-them, regional specialties. I think we convinced them that a trip to Italy really is “all about the food”.

Lest you think I fail to mention my mother-in-law, it’s not from lack of respect but that she just has the good sense to not expose herself to such ridicule. She is easy-going and allowed us to drag her along, letting herself be happily led to each new experience. She thoroughly immersed herself in her son’s passion for Italian coffee, partaking nearly as often he Bryan. We hope they enjoyed the sights and tastes of the bel paese; we enjoyed their visit. One particular ice cream cone excepted.

copyright 2006 Valerie Schneider

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Are We Italians?

Since our arrival in the bel paese I’ve received numerous looks of surprise when I open my mouth and out come words that are heavily American-accented, normally accompanied by “ma non e italiana?” Wellll, yes and no, I reply and explain my family heritage. Numerous times the good citizens of Anzio would say, “I know you’re from an Italian family,” or some such comment and so I figured I just blended right in and didn’t give it any more thought.

Until they started asking Bryan if he is Italian. His initial shock the first they broached the question was, “HUH? Iii-o?”

One Anzio resident went so far as to declare Bryan as having “classic Roman features”. It was my turn to respond, “HUH?” But as I looked around at the Romani I can see how he may have thought that, especially in the eyes which are a hazel-y color of not-quite-brown but not-quite-green that I have noticed in the faces of Roman residents. It may give me an identity crisis that they think him Italian instead of me. Do I look like a tourist? Good gracious I hope not.

Perhaps it is because I’m not a native-born Italian and we’re staying for a year, so they wonder why would we be here unless my husband were Italian. Maybe we’ve adapted so well to our environment and have become so comfortable with our life here that he appears so at ease and thus “native”. Or maybe they’re being polite and trying to make conversation. But it’s become such a regular occurrence that we are now beginning to wonder just what his mom may have been up to 45 years ago that she produced an Italian-esque son. His parents are in town right now so I’ve been doing some digging to see if there are some Latin skeletons in the closet, but they assure me that there were no Italian mailmen or milkmen who may have come a'calling. Darn. Would have made a better story and maybe could have garnered us citizenship by birthright if there had been. I guess we just have to settle for looking Italian.

copyright 2006 Valerie Schneider

Friday, November 03, 2006

Buon Compleanno

Yesterday I saw myself as I had been. I was on the street and saw a girl of about 17 who looked remarkably like I did at that age, accentuated because the fashions of the 80s are right back in style and she was even dressed in clothes that I might have worn then. Her hairstyle, too, was a slightly curly flow at about shoulder-length, though I suspect hers to be natural waves while mine were the result of a Mom-administered home perm. She had that carefree confidence that teens have, the result of being sure that they know everything and are indestructible, something I outgrew sometime in my twenties and thirties when I went out on my own and saw more of the world and realized I didn’t have all the answers, and learned that life was, indeed, tenuous and short. But for now she is youthful and self-assured. They say everyone has a twin somewhere in the world. Mine is Italian and seems to have not aged. This thought gives me a smile since today is my fortieth birthday.

The Big Four-Oh. The one that is the butt of countless jokes, festooned in black, and characterized by horrid, you’re-getting-old gifts. At least in my family, that is the norm. When my mom turned forty, my uncle ordered for her a huge bouquet of dead flowers. Beautifully arranged and tied in festive ribbons, but utterly dead. My other uncle, Mom’s youngest brother, was presented with a prune tree coupled with endless jokes about “regularity”. Bryan received a box of cookies frosted black, in the shape of buzzards. Hideous (but tasty, I confess). What wretched gifts will arrive on my doorstep remains to be seen. I’m hoping that escaping the country will spare me some of the brutality.

The funny thing is, I don’t feel old. Forty, when I was 17, seemed a century away and sound very ancient. Now that I’m there I think, what’s the big deal? I’m just getting started! Because of the fact that my physical health went to pot when I turned thirty (chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia have plagued me since), that milestone was harder than this one. On my thirtieth birthday I awoke in tears with the thought, dang it, I’m no longer in my twenties and that really sucks! I remember feeling that life was skidding past me and I'd not yet accomplished anything noteworthy. It depressed me for awhile.

Forty, instead, is easier for me to accept. It’s just another day on the calendar, after all. I am here in Italy, having taken great risks and overcome great obstacles to get here and fulfill a dream. Forty is the year of my dreams-come-true! Forty is the beginning of new things and marks a milestone of looking-forward and anticipating the next adventure instead of looking backward with regret over lost youth. (Besides, blessedly, I don’t look forty!) I have nothing to prove to anyone (except myself).

As I looked at that young girl I smiled because of her resemblance to me. And I silently wished her well, knowing that I would never want to trade places with her. I wouldn’t want to go back in time and be a teenager again. I like it here just fine. Happy Big 4-0 to me.
copyright 2006 Valerie Schneider