Ottobre*

* (that means “October” in Italian)

It’s my absolute favorite month for many reasons! Here are the top ones:

  • Halloween
  • my birthday
  • cold “snuggle” weather that’s not quite as bone-chilling as winter

Luckily, I can enjoy these three things living in Italy just as much as I did when I lived in America. There are, however, some things that I really do miss about being in America, especially in New England, during the month of October.

This year in Italy we had the warmest September in the last 150 years. It’s true! If you don’t believe me check out the story from the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. It’s in Italian though, so if you don’t speak Italian, you’re just going to have to go ahead and trust me on this one. Anyways, it was crazily warm here! I was going around in shorts and sleeping with the windows open until about two weeks ago. Even though this year was warmer than usual, autumn in general is less chilly than in Boston. I’m not sure if it’s because of the warmer temperature or different types of trees between The USA and Italy or even a combo of the both, but leaves here don’t put on that same spectacular show of changing into beautiful shades of red, yellow, and orange like they do in Massachusetts. The leaves in Italy seem to go from green to brown overnight and then just drop to the ground without any fanfare. The leaves changing color is something that I really miss! Not only because it’s always cool to see, but because it was also a sort of “signal” for me that October was here and that my two favorite holidays are coming up. (Yes, I consider my birthday a private holiday).

Another thing that I really miss is cinnamon flavored Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, candy apples, and pumpkin spice anything (latte, cookie, pancakes …). I love all autumny-spiced foods!  Every time I see an American friend’s Facebook status say something like “Having a hot pumpkin chai! Yum!” or see a picture they posted of them and their boyfriend/girlfriend making candy apples from the apples that they went and picked that weekend, I always think “That must be fun … insensitive jerk!”.

That said, there are some things that Italian October offers that American October doesn’t. One main thing, as I talked about in last year’s Halloween blog post, is the fact that the day after Halloween is a national holiday here, so you always have the day afterwards to rest up after your crazy Halloween party. Another thing is that you can find pumpkin ravioli and fried pumpkin flowers, which are both really delicious. Also, many small mountain towns in Italy have festivals in October where you can spend the day in the mountains wine-tasting and eating warm polenta. In fact, this year I went with my boyfriend and a couple of our friends to Morbegno for a fun wine-tasting where you get to go right into the cellars and sample the local wine accompanied by some brown breads and cheeses.

fried pumpkin flowers

So, it’s not a complete loss. There are plenty of ways to celebrate October right here in Italy, and fried pumpkin flowers are almost good enough to forget about the leaves not changing colors!

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It’s shaped like a boot

Italy celebrates it’s 150th birthday today. Buon compleanno Italia!

I know that might sound weird, especially because Italy is considered to be an “old” country with ancient Roman ruins that have been around for a lot longer than a “younger” country like the USA has. Well, all this is true, but this celebration of 150 years doesn’t represent the existence of Italy, but rather it’s unification. I’m not really that “into” history (nor do I know enough to really write a blog post about it) so I’ll be quick on the historic details so we can get to the heart of this blog post: different parts of Italy were conquered and ruled by different countries, different regimes, and different governments untill 150 years ago when the Resurgence took place to unify all of these territories into one state.

Given the shape of Italy on the map, perhaps its best to think in terms of a boot. Italy was a boot that had pieces manufactured by many different companies. The laces were from the Austrian Empire, the heel was from Napoleon, the sole was from the Kingdom of Sicily, the leather was from the Catholic Church, and the inner lining was from Garibaldi. Then, 150 years ago, the boot was re-manufactured according to new production laws and now it has a tag on the inside reading “100% Made in Italy“. Any of my blog readers who know their Italian history are probably shuddering in horror at this metaphor right now, but I think it’s a cute way to sum it all up! :-)

All these different ruling entities, each with their own language and culture, helps to explain how Italy is so vastly different from region to region.

Take the USA, for example. It’s true that in Boston we don’t pronounce the “r” and that the southern states have an accent all their own. It’s true that the northeast has Wendy’s and the east coast has Jack-in-the-Box. But in the end, even though we’re a really spacious country, we Americans are all speaking the same language and all eating the same type of cheeseburger.

On the other hand, in Italy, which just go give you and idea is smaller than the state of California (and we got 49 more freakin’ states!), the language, culture, and food changes dramatically from one region to another.

As far as language goes, Italy has two of ‘em: standard Italian and dialects. Standard Italian was created so that all Italians coming from the various unified regions could communicate with each other. Before the creation of Italian, everybody just spoke dialect (a local regional language influenced by whatever party was ruling over that particular chunk of Italy). These dialects are not merely “accents” but languages all unto their own. Somebody from Bergamo and somebody from Naples, somebody from Sardegna and somebody from Florence, wouldn’t be able to really understand each other if they were all speaking in their own regional dialects. Dialects have their own vocabulary, own grammar, own spelling, and own pronunciation. Just take a look at the different words for the Carneval snacks in different dialects from my previous blog post. If somebody is speaking dialect in a movie or on the news, they even put subtitles in Italian so that people from other parts of Italy can understand! Isn’t that crazy??? I mean, Americans may have some regional words (sub vs. hero vs. hoagie vs. grinder) but if I spoke with somebody from Chicago or Atlanta I’d still know what they were saying!

Another part of Italian culture that has been strongly influenced by all the former non-unified regions is the food. Certian types of food, like pizza and lasagna, can be found all over Italy, but there are lots of types that are region-specefic that are hard or even impossible to find outside of the region, like Bologna’s gramigna pasta (a squiggly egg pasta), Venice’s sarde in saor (fried sardines and onions), Milan’s ossobuco (braised veal shank), or Sicily’s capunata (eggplant and celery salad).

gramigna
sarde in saor
ossobuco
capunata

I mean, this isn’t like going to the grocery store in California and not finding the same brand of hot sauce or ice tea mix that I can get back in Boston… it’s like not finding these things at all! Plus, being that a lot of these local foods have names that come from dialect, people in other parts of Italy won’t even know what the hell food you’re talkin’ about!

It just really blows my mind that I can take a seven hour flight from Boston to San Diego, step off of the plane and be able to speak with people and know what food there is to be had, but if I take a 2 hour train ride in Italy, I risk entering a world where I don’t know what people of saying nor what that delicious looking cheese in the deli window is!

30

Today is my 30th birthday!

Tonight, I’ll be going out to a nice dinner with my boyfriend on the Navigli in Milan. The Navigli is a nice area of the city on these old canals (originally constructed by Leonardo Da Vinci to bring materials into Milan via water, including marble to build the Duomo). The area is really cute and is full of bars and restaurants and funky stores.

In Italy, the person celebrating the birthday is not “treated” (as in the good ol’ USA), but rather offers drinks/dinner/etc. to his or her guests. That being said, I will be paying for tonight’s dinner, and not my boyfriend.

I once tried to convince him that since he is Italian and I am American, that on his birthday he should pay for dinner (Italian tradition) and that on my birthday he should still pay (American tradition)…. he didn’t go for it… :-)