I hate the word “nougat”

Classic Italian TorroneNougat” is a gross word. Like “moist”, “plump”, “fondle”, or “panties”, I hate even pronouncing it. *Bleargh* :-(  However, I’m going to have to tackle the word “nougat” in order to take on today’s Christmas blog post. Ah, the things I do for you guys. ;-)

There is a very typical Italian Christmas candy called torrone. It’s basically made of honey, sugar, and egg whites to form a ….. *sigh” … nougat. (I just puked in my mouth a little bit…) Then things like hazelnuts, almonds, candied oranges, vanilla, and chocolate can be added to create different variants. 'Nilla & H-Nuts

My first experience with torrone happened back when I was young. I remember my Italian Consolazio grandparents bringing it to our house every Christmas. They brought bite-sized pieces of torrone, individually packaged in little boxes with an Italian bakery guy on ‘em, and there were flavors like classic, orange, and lemon.

One great place to pick up torrone, here in Milan, is the Oh Bej! Oh Bej! Christmas market. The name of the market means “Oh So Nice! Oh So Nice!” in Milanese dialect. That’s usually where I get my torrone to bring home at Christmas. If I dared show up without any, I’m not sure if my parents would even let me in the house…

The Milan Christmas Market

The Milan Christmas Market

Since my parents will probably read this (they better!), I’m gonna have to prove that I’ve already picked up this year’s supply. Here’s a picture of me below with the torrone I got. So, Mom & Dad, hang my stocking by the chimney with care, because I’m coming home … with nougat!

Italian Torrone - American Boy

Italian Torrone – American Boy

MERRY CHRISTMAS

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Pick it up, pal

I like dogs enough. I’m not really what you’d call a “dog person”, although if a dog is well-behaved and non-intimidating I’m all for petting or playing. Plus, they can be damn cute sometimes. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll grow into really loving dogs. Hell, my parents, over the last few years, have gone off the deep end for dogs and now I have a new “sister” and 2 new “brothers” – BellaZio, and Fenway.

My Dad with the dogs (from left to right: Fenway, Bella, and Zio)

Italians, however, certainly seem to be dog people! It’s a good thing that I can get on well enough with dogs because they are EVERYWHERE here and people really let them do whatever they want. Dogz Rule n’ Ownerz Drool!

Dogs can be found in stores, in cafés, on the tram, and running around on the streets, parks, and beaches without leashes. Usually it’s not a problem although I sometimes find myself grumpily asking “Who’s friggin’ dog is this?”. In fact, it’s so common for dogs to be able to enter public spaces that some places have to put up specific “io non posso entrare” (I can not come in) signs  to show that dogs are not welcome.

A doggie-tote on the subway in Milan. I’m ok with this. No running around disturbing passengers, well contained, and very cute!

The real problem with this, in my opinion, is not the fact that you might have to step out of the way to make room for a dog when you’d least expect it or guard your panino with your life. It’s poop. Yes, poop. The streets of Italy are a minefield of dog crap.

You can never really go for a carefree stroll in Italy without having to look where you’re walking from time to time. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been walking with someone and had to warn “Poop! Watch it!”. It’s no wonder that Italians believe that stepping on dog doo brings good luck. I mean, we may as well invent something positive about all the crap around town.

One time my friend told me she saw a woman step on dog crap on the marble sidewalks of Bologna. The woman skidded, slipped, and not only fell, but also had dog sh!t smeared up her entire leg. I don’t know how that poor woman reacted, but I would have killed the next dog and dog owner that I saw, even if they had nothing to do with the accident. I would’ve just completely lost it!

I must say that I have, very occasionally, actually seen an Italian dog owner pick up after their dog, which made me feel like stopping in my tracks, applauding, and saying “Brava, signora! Brava!”. To those who are responsible owners and pick up after their pets, I say “Grazie!”. To the rest of you bums, I say “Pick that up or I’ll feed it to ya!”

Italian Superstitions: Touch Yourself

This is the second installment of my Italian Superstitions series (for the first one, click here).

I had planned on eventually getting around to blogging about the superstition that I’m going to talk to you guys about today, but the other day I was talking to my Mom on the phone and I had mentioned this superstition to her. She thought it was so funny that she immediately yelled to my Aunt (who was visiting) “Get over here and listen to this!”. Being that it got such a good response from my Mom and Aunt, I was prompted to up this one to priority status on my list of things to write about and that’s why you guys are getting this lil’ gem right now.

The two ladies that got such a kick out of an Italian superstition: my Mom and Auntie Bev

So, in America we knock on wood to ward off evil, right? Well, in Italy they touch iron. Now, while that is a fun little fact to know about Italian culture, it isn’t really interesting enough to merit its own blog post and it’s certainly not what my Mom found to be so funny.

Grabbin’ myself, Michael Jackson style!

The thing that made my Mom laugh so hard is the other thing that Italians do which is equivalent to knocking on wood (or touching iron): touching themselves. Yes, you read that right. Italians touch themselves to ward off evil, and I’m not talking about touching their heads or noses or hearts. They touch their … *ahem* … intimate bits.

If someone says something like “I sure hope your house didn’t catch fire while you were out” to an Italian guy, he will grab his balls to avoid tempting fate. If someone says something like “Maybe your scratch will get infected and the doctors will have to amputate your entire arm” to an Italian girl, she will grab her left breast in order to assure that it doesn’t happen.

So guys, if you’re in Italy, it is perfectly acceptable to touch your testes if you want to keep evil things at bay. And ladies, make sure that it’s your left breast that you grab. I’m not sure what happens if you touch your right one, but I think when it comes to things like superstitions, it’s better not to take any risks.