Sorry ya’ll!… I know it’s been several days since I’ve posted anything, and you’ve all been eager to read about Italy and my alfredo covered life for some time now. I promise there will be more to come, but wifi has been surprisingly scarce here.
This is my second pass through my beloved Italy, and it’s just as perfect as I left it 6 years ago. For reasons I’ve never been able to fully explain, I’ve always felt a kindred spirit to the country of vines and tomatoes, and an unexplainable sense of belonging. I have dreamed of traveling the world and wiggling my toes in the sand of every shoreline, but Italy has always been a place I felt I could stay indefinitely. I could envision myself sitting on fig leaf shaded terraces, sipping limoncello and snacking on formaggio as an old bird.
I never quite understood my unyielding love for Italy until yesterday, when I saw the sequin covered, loud-talking Italian embodiment of my momma. She was waving at everyone who passed, hugging necks and yapping loudly with her lipsticked mouth full of ciabatta. Then I realized… Italy has always felt like a second home to me because it is the South of Europe. The food, the people, the culture… The houses are all covered in flowers, dirty jars and antique clutter. It’s like a Southern Living photoshoot around every corner. The people are always laughing and embracing strangers, and full figured women walk into the streets wearing butter smeared aprons. With this sudden revelation, I started noticing endless similarities and decided to start taking notes.
8 Characteristics that make Italy an honorary southern state.
1. It is HOT. It’s hotter than hell and the bugs are not-so-distant relatives to Pterodactyls. Hiking along the trails of Cinque Terre, I saw people dragging their knuckles with red flushed cheeks, sweat dripping from their earlobes, wearing exhausted expressions resembling Edvard Munch’s The Scream. For me, it felt like a normal day at the Dogwood Festival in south Georgia, a steamy heat I’m quite accustomed to.
2. Comfort food. No matter the situation, they will feed you to death. If you are tired, grumpy, or just happen to be wearing an expression of distress, an Italian woman will insist you sit down and eat some chicken. (Probably fried, because you need some meat on your bones.)
3. Southern Hospitality. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been lost, wearing a dazed mask with shifty eyes, scaling walls and climbing trees to find nonexistent street signs in Europe. In Italy, if you stop to ask for directions, you will likely receive a hand drawn map, an invitation to a fried veal dinner and a lukewarm glass of homemade wine. If you turn down any of these gifts, kitchens will be offended, hands will flail around, tears will fall, and you will still leave with a bowl of meatballs and a baguette wrapped in tin foil. (This exact situation would happen anywhere along the Woodpecker Trail in Georgia; trade meatballs for a bag of boiled peanuts.)
4. Maternal instincts. Just like Rosa, every woman is your momma. They will call you baby and treat you as if you were their own child. I realized this as I was being fitted for a handmade leather jacket in Florence. As I tried to explain to the petite Italian woman, squeezing me into a toddler size fitted jacket, that my curvy bosom doesn’t seem keen on the idea of being zipped tightly into a leather cocoon, she put both hands on my boobs and forced them into uncomfortable cleavage. Grinning, she said “Bella, now you will find your husband.” Not only would a southern woman have no problem groping me without question or permission, I’m sure her main concern would also be how my attire could solve the problem of my single marital status.
5. The Italians love monograms. Just like southerners, Italians love embroidering their initials onto handbags and neck scarves. I suppose this is a way to advertise your namesake, or maybe just an flashy gesture of familial pride. But I’ve noticed that most Italian families have an ancient code of arms to stitch onto their totes, while southern gals just choose a swanky font and thread color and brand our beachbags like Laverne De Fazio. Either way, I couldn’t resist a handmade apron for my collection of baking bibs, and yes, it says “Cassie” in curly letters.
6. They don’t get in a hurry. If you are at all familiar with the south, you know we don’t talk fast, walk fast, or even hear fast. (I have to physically strain and hold my breath to keep up with a New Yorker rambling out a story.) We generally blame our slow talk on the heat, as we chop off the ends of some words and draw out the vowels of others. Our ability to speak speedy english is about the same as a blender trying to slice tomatoes: it all runs together and comes out as mush. But I’ve noticed that Italians have also embraced this casual lifestyle of slow walking and lingering dinners. They speak much faster than a backwoods Georgian, but their vowels are emphatic, and certain words linger on their tongues while dramatic hand gestures color their unique accents. They sit on porches tasting lemonade, spend entire days cooking for enormous families, and occasionally appear in town for more booze. Sounds a bit familiar.
7. They love home. I’ve been told numerous times throughout my travels that I should be the tourism spokesperson for the south. I speak highly of my state and southern culture, and it breaks my heart every time a foreigner says they visited the states but skipped over the south. We southerners believe we are from the greatest part of America, rich in unique culture and undeniably fantastic food. Why only visit New York for pizza when you can have pulled pork BBQ and sweet buttered yeast rolls down south? Italians feel the same tinge of frustration when travelers spend 2 days in Venice then move on to France or Switzerland. They love their country and insist it is the food capitol of Europe. (And I agree). Italians, like southerners, venture away from their beloved homes for short spells, but cultural pride and the love of great food generally always brings them back home.
8. Momma knows best. The man may be the head of the house, but the woman is the neck who can turn it. Italian men can be vocal romantics, shouting “Ciao bella!” after every woman they see, but in the core of each Italian boy is a deep love for women. They adore their mothers and set them on towering pedestals. Momma may stay in the kitchen all day frying eggplant and kneading bread for her family of fifty, but she is the sassy leader of the lot and everyone praises her endlessly. Just as no one can make a cat-head biscuit quite as good as momma in the south, Italian mothers are whipping up perfect plates of Tagliatelle Bolognese that no daughter-in-law will ever be able to replicate.
Italy has been a good dose of home after 7 weeks of travel, and I am likely to shed a tear in my gelato when I leave again. But as this land is my second home, I know I’ll be back sooner rather than later.
And until I can get around to writing more about beautiful Italy, enjoy this…