As a third-generation Italian-American, getting to live in Italy for half a year after college was probably one of the best times of my life. Traveled all over Italy, had some crazy experiences; like a high- speed lights on ride with three cute cops in a patrol car…you really notice how narrow those streets are when flying by at over 60 mph!!! Ah memories of the times you thought you might die if one thing went wrong, they last forever! Had some fun times, saw some of the most beautiful architecture I’ve yet to see and tasted (and cooked) foods and wines that can only come from old rich soil.
Even something as simple as chicken soup. I made it there when I caught a cold, the same way I would make it here…but even with my taste buds being limited with the cold, I was like WOW this is phenomenal! When my roommates came home (they didn’t have a cold) they came immediately to the pot to see if there was enough of whatever smelled so good for them too. There was. I mean hey, I am Italian and in Italy so-it was enough to feed the entire building! They were amazed, said it was hands-down the best chicken soup they’ve ever had. I would like to take the credit, but again same recipe…Italy just grows tastier chicken, vegetables and herbs and fresh pasta is awesommmmme. It was that way with pretty much everything I made there from Bolognese sauce, to cannoli’s. Everything just tasted better.
Everything looked better too. From the men (hehe-so typical of me to notice-I know what you’re thinking) to the views out the window. I went to culinary school in Florence, not because I didn’t know how to cook basic Italian, but because my parents wouldn’t let me backpack for a few months in Europe alone and I had no one willing and able to go with me. Figured I would meet people at the school to travel with, and I did. The family restaurant I interned at as part of my schooling, looking back, was my favorite part of Florence.
Loved them all, learned the most from them about cooking and the language (even if I haven’t used it in forever and now I have to relearn the language all over again), Donato-best Chef ever, have never seen someone crank so much tasty food out of such a small kitchen by himself. He was pretty patient with all us interns being in his way too!
Amazing. I still miss the people, the food, the wine, the sights…more than I can express. One week stood out the most to me though. Spring break. I went with my friend Christina (yes another Christina) to Palermo, Sicily and Napoli/Salerno (where my paternal side is from). Almost three days in Palermo-I was so excited.
Palermo is where the entire maternal side of my family is from, prior to Brooklyn, NY my deep roots come from Sicily. Which explains a lot about my world views and killer instincts *wink-wink*. Just kidding…Not really. Also explains a lot about this mop of hair on my noggin. Anyways, when we arrived, I felt a strange sense of belonging, like I’d finally arrived home, but it was a strange home, I still had no clue where I was going. Neither did Christina, but she was sure that she wanted to go by bus, to save money. I didn’t want to waste time and wanted to pay for a cab, but she insisted so we waited for the bus.
Now I’ve ridden many a NY subway during rush hour when visiting family. I know what it’s like to be packed in like a can of sardines with a multitude of smelly strangers. This bus ride started out lightly packed where we could sit. Then more people got on, some elderly, so we gave up our seats. More and more kept boarding at each stop, we became like sardines standing up shoved tighter and tighter together. That was when we pulled up to a stop with a huge crowd. I guess when school lets out in Sicily-children go home by county buses, not school buses. So, at the next stop, when we saw twenty five kids waiting, we assumed the bus driver would let the next bus pick them up, because there was no standing room left. No.
He opened the doors and they piled in! Loudly talking about their day and goofing off with each other, winking at us, nodding a welcome. Middle school age kids. We were squished in there, Christina’s face getting angrier and greener looking as some very loud kids’ arm was motioning in the air and she turned her head to see what he was screaming about, finding her nose ½ an inch away from his pubescent armpit. Her face turned a shade I’d not seen it before, I thought she might faint. I was laughing my ass off though because it was the funniest exchange ever, I was trying to hide my amusement though. A young boy next to me saw the whole situation too and laughed along with a wink, knowing full well how funny it looked-one of those had to be there moments. This kid had a sense of humor, I could easily see him being my cousin! I mouthed “I told you I’d have payed for the cab.’’ She just glared, as by then she was fighting to hold her lunch in. I so wish I had pictures of this, but I couldn’t have moved to reach my camera if my life depended on it.
I was still contorting my face trying to appear like I wasn’t still laughing, while looking around at all the kids…knowing I still have family here, and any of these kids could in reality be a distant cousin! She could have some there too but she was too sick to think about it at the moment. We both thought the tires on the bus were going to give out on each turn, but I felt so much comraderie in that stuffy little can we were riding around in, I didn’t really want to get off. I just wanted to hug all those little sardines we were stuffed in there with!
We did finally get off in the area her family was from and walked to go see the last house she had on record. Sicily was amazing. They have the little city of Palermo, the beautiful Caribbean like Mondello beach, countryside and mountains all within a ten minute drive (just uh…not by bus mind you) of each other!!!!! That is like location GOLD to me, and I didn’t even get to see the rest of the island. I did fall in love with it though and wondered what the hell ever possessed my great grandparents to ever leave it?!?!
This year I found out. Well, at least I found out why my Nonna’s father came. He was a fisherman on a ship, the ship was closer to NY and needed some repairs. The captain told all the men to go have fun or visit family or friends and be back on a certain date. My great-grandfather Calcedonio (yeah don’t ask-you can just wonder along with me who names their kid Calcedonio?!) went to visit his cousins who’d moved to Brooklyn, and then came back early that morning, only to find out that the ship took off early. They left him behind! He didn’t have enough money to buy a ride back to Sicily, so he went back to his cousins and got a job in Brooklyn where his cousin worked.
His cousin ran the seamstress shop my Nanny-Anna worked at, they met, he decided she was the one he wanted to marry and eventually did. He was almost deported, but he went to the Italian embassy and told them the ship he came in on, what happened, the dates, they verified it all, and naturalized him so he could stay and get married. He went home to visit sometimes, but spent most his days in Brooklyn a doting husband and father until his early death from liver problems. He was a “peach” is all I’ve ever heard, I wish I could’ve met him. Nanny Anna passed after a long full life-I did get to meet her a few times when I was little and we visited the family in NY. She never remarried after him though-he set the bar too high apparently. One of a kind.
I realized recently that Grampa Cal might be my ticket to eventually become an Italian snowbird. Who wants to frequent Florida half the year? Not me! I want to go back where I feel at home-Sicily. So I’m starting the slow process of getting my Nonna dual citizenship through her Father. If I succeed and can actually get it, then it will be a very simple process for my mom. me, my sister and my uncle’s family to get it as well. I hear it is an arduous process and there is no guarantee I will be approved, but we’re going to try. I’m glad he wound up here, or my mother wouldn’t have been born, but I sometimes wish he would’ve thought to take his wife back to Sicily…I know he missed it…I know I miss it. I would never give up my American status…but I would love to have Italian citizenship as well!!! My Nanna lost track of the relatives who only wrote in Sicilian, she could speak it but had trouble with writing the letters. I hope when I get Italian citizenship that I can re-meet their descendants and maybe learn more about Great Grampa Cal’s younger life from someone in the process. Will keep you posted on my progress! Ciao Bella!