Archive for the ‘Italian Culture’ Category
Posted in Expat in Italy, Italian Culture, Italians, Italy, Living in Italy, Orvieto, Orvieto Italy, Rome, writing, tagged Amazon, Duomo di Orvieto, Eat Pray Love, Ebook, Estelle Jobson, Finding Rome on the Map of Love, Orvieto, orvieto italy, Rome, The Beehive Hotel, Three Coins in a Fountain, Toni DeBella, Under the Tuscan Sun on January 2, 2013 | 17 Comments »
People often speak about the traditional “Signora” as if she were a charming part of Italian society long since past. Don’t you believe it! La Signora is quite alive and well and combing the streets of Orvieto in search of a naïve and insecure American like me to use for target practice to sharpen her skills of intimidation. Frankly, I live in terror of getting on the bad side of one of these ladies.
I had my first real run in with La Signora at our town’s Saturday outdoor market. I’d made the amateurish blunder of hesitating for a split second and a woman with her produce-filled cart literally ran over me, scraping the back of my heel which broke the strap of my favorite pair of sandals. She didn’t even slow down – blowing right past me without a word. She was surprisingly unaffected by the ranting and cursing of a bloodied lunatic who doesn’t know her way around a vegetable stand. I learned at that moment that La Signora, like other people of great power and influence, is a force to be reckoned with.
La Signora demands respect and she most assuredly gets it. She is a sensible shoe-wearing, evil eye-casting, mama’s boy-promoting woman on a mission. She is serious-minded, takes no prisoners and doesn’t trust you as far as she can throw you. Her outside shell is tough to penetrate – Fort Knox would be easier to crack than her personal inner sanctum.
I both admire and revere La Signora. She is able to out cook, out shop and out walk me up a hill…and if she needed to, I believe she could even out run me. In Italy, La Signora reigns supreme.
Posted in Expat in Italy, Italian Culture, Italy, Living abroad, Living in Italy, Orvieto, Travel, Umbria, tagged art, Florence, Fountain in Orvieto, Galleria degli Uffizi, Italian Art, Michelangelo's David, Stendhal syndrome, travel, Uffizi Gallery on March 18, 2012 | 18 Comments »
You’ve probably heard of the Stendhal syndrome, named for the famous French author who detailed his experience of being overcome with emotion by the immense beauty of Florentine art. In 1979 an Italian psychiatrist finally gave the syndrome its official name after reporting nearly 100 tourists at the Galleria degli Uffizi had fainted – some sent to hospital when their heads hit the hard marble floor. Personally I have never actually swooned from viewing a painting, but I do get a bit light-headed at the sight of Michelangelo’s David.
Unfortunately there won’t be any swooning happening here. You see, at the base of the rock that I live on, in front of the town’s train station sits a sculpture in a fountain. This “work of art” makes a very strong first impression to visitors arriving by rail on their way up to town. It is my understanding (I did some asking around) that the artist is internationally renowned and important enough that the City commissioned not one, but two of his works for installation. I don’t get it. I can’t even describe the fountain to you without using terms that would make a 9 year old boy collapse in a heap of laughter at my “potty” humor. Fortunately no one really cares what I think about the fountain, and why should they? Who the hell am I to judge the merits of a piece of art? What I know about art couldn’t fill an espresso cup. Art, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. Enough said.
As the eighth year anniversary of my father’s passing approaches, I have been thinking a lot about him and of the legacy he left behind. To say that he was my role model and hero seems trite — everyone says that about their father (if they are fortunate enough to have a strong man in their life to lead them into adulthood as I did). A man of few words, I learned what was most important by watching him conduct himself throughout his life and in his 52 year love affair with my mother. It was in this manner that I witnessed the qualities I wanted to emulate for myself. If I could only become half the person that he was…
When my dad was a young man his nieces and nephews used to call him “Uncle Tootsy”. If you’d ever met this man you’d understand how ludicrous a moniker that was because my father’s reputation as a curmudgeon was legendary. He could come-off a little scary at first and often caused my friends at school to shiver in their boots. However, despite his well-executed “tough-guy” persona, once you got to know him you’d soon realized that his “schtick” was designed to hide one of the biggest and warmest hearts on the planet. Babies in particular adored my father – they were not fooled by his stern, gruff manner – they could see right through him into his soft, mushy center. My father had more friends than you could shake a stick at.
Dad was born at home in San Jose, California and raised in a house with 9 other siblings by Sicilian immigrant parents. Not formally educated past the eighth grade, he would religiously read the newspaper cover-to-cover every day and watch the news each evening. What my father lacked in academic knowledge he more than made up for in an uncanny intelligence for reading people.
At a young age my father learned his trade as a car mechanic and after returning from Europe at the end of World War II he began a automotive repair business, “Luke and Martin Service”, in an old converted barn behind my grandparents’ house. When I was a little girl, I never hesitated to take the opportunity to boast about him. If a kid bragged that his father was a brain surgeon, I would shoot back, “Well MY dad is a mechanic”! He worked in that capacity until he was nearly 75 years old because, I believe, his regular customers refused to let him go. A good, honest and trustworthy auto repairman is really hard to come by.
But he wasn’t the kind of guy to show off or talk about himself. He avoided people who put on “airs” or thought they were superior to others. He valued honor and respected hard work and straight talk. When I was a teen he once said to me, “Being rich doesn’t make you happy”. My response back was “That’s just what poor people say to make themselves feel better”, and he just smiled. He was crazy about Westerns (especially John Wayne and Clint Eastwood), and was an avid outdoor sportsman. By far his favorite activity was to fish in a boat on a lake with his buddies. He was so passionate about it that my family had the words “Gone Fishing” carved into his gravestone. The cheekiness of that gesture would not be lost on him.
I guess the bottom line is that my dad was the “strong, silent type”. Not very demonstrative — he wasn’t much for talking about his “feelings”. In all honesty, I don’t remember my father ever saying the words “I love you” to me, however, there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t feel loved and cared for. Some people talk the talk but he actually walked the walk and taught me one of the most important lessons of my life so far: “Love” isn’t a noun, it’s a verb.
by Toni DeBella
Another visit comes to an end. When I lament to friends about how much I will miss Orvieto, invariably one of them will say to me, “Oh, don’t worry, it will be exactly the same when you return — in Orvieto nothing ever really changes.” In my absence, I cling tight to the comfort of this statement and hope that what they say is true: In Orvieto the passage of time is suspended.
As if deposited by a time machine from the past, Medieval Orvieto is a contradiction of ancient and modern, a paradox of “now and then” and a throwback to simpler eras. Centered near the birthplace of the Cittaslow movement, (coincidentally whose logo is a snail), life inside these tufa walls moves at an easy pace, causing one’s blood pressure to plummet and heart rate to slow.
Orvietani march to a dreamy drummer and are not particularly in any urgency to get where they are going. In this village, lunchtime lasts 3 hours and includes a nap — where buying a stamp can take almost as long as the letter’s journey to its destination. One’s social life is not planned too far in advance, but typically made up of chance encounters and spontaneous invitations.
Its unique cocktail of sophistication and culture is unusual for a town of its size and population, however before you decide if Orvieto is the right place for you, ask yourself this one important question: “Do I crave the excitement of a metropolitan life?” If the answer is yes, buy yourself a one-way train ticket to Rome, because “hustle and bustle” definitely doesn’t live around here.
He keeps company with movie stars, famous athletes, powerful politicians and royalty. Children love him but dogs are a little intimidated by his strength and confidence. He’s very charming and blessed with a certain “savoir faire” that draws beautiful women to him – they vie for a chance to stand next to him, but he prefers that they not muss his hair. He is always gracious, if not just a bit aloof. He tries never to refuse an admirer’s request to take a photograph with him because he doesn’t want to disappoint or appear snobbish. His reputation precedes him. He is the most recognized, popular and interesting man in Orvieto.
“Il cinghiale” (the boar) holds court everyday outside Carraro, C. Cavour 101 (☎0763 34 28 70; email@example.com), just a few meters down the Corso from where the Via Del Duomo intersects with the Torre del Morro.
Dog v. Boar – Photographed by A. Teich; http://www.pbase.com/al309/italy
Photo of Viola and Paloma by Linda Martinez
Posted in Americans Abroad, Culture, Expat in Italy, Italian Culture, Italian-Americans, Italians, italo americano, Living abroad, Living in Europe, Living in Italy, Orvieto, Travel, Umbria, tagged Commissario Montablano, Enrico Papi, Gerry Scotti, Groucho Marx, La Routa della Futura, Learn Italian, Millionario, Pat Sajak, Ryan Seacrest, Television, Tower of Babel, Victoria Silvstedt, Wheel of Fortune, Who wants to be a Millionare on September 24, 2011 | 12 Comments »
“I find television to be very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go in the other room and read a book.” -Groucho Marx
Television as a way to learn a foreign language is by no means a new concept. Since its inception in the late 1940s, newcomers have been using TV as a means to help them absorb their new language, and more importantly, to assimilate into their new culture. The conventional wisdom of linguists is there is no relationship between watching television and mastering a language. I beg to differ. Based on only nonscientific anecdotal evidence (me), I assert that TV watching is a super supplement to other means of learning because it gives the viewer verbal as well as visual cues. You can look at it as a “workbook” in a box. With respect to colloquialisms that are spoken in daily life, what better place to soak up the slang than from a reality show or afternoon soap opera? After all, if it’s your intention to fit-in and become part of your community, you’ll want to become familiar with the common vernacular.
Pantofolaio (Couch Potato) Beware!
Of course, it’s important to take an interactive role in your “boob tubing”. Passively sitting back and letting the information wash over you isn’t going to cut it. Obviously television alone cannot replace formal training in grammar, vocabulary and mechanics. However, if used deliberately and thoughtfully to its optimum potential, TV can be an effective way to enhance your proficiency in three particular areas: pronunciation, commonly used expressions/vocabulary, and popular culture/trends.
Italian All day, Everyday
Wake up and turn on your television set. You don’t necessarily have to be watching it to get the benefit – the background noise of Italians in conversation is seeping in. By bombarding your brain with the spoken word, you can train your “ear” to the musical rhythm/cadence of this beautiful language. Repetitive listening and repeating out loud helps with pronunciation. It’s like gymnastics for your tongue while reminding you the importance of enunciating each and every letter to avoid changing a word’s meaning entirely as in penne (a kind of pasta) and pene (penis). Otherwise, dialogue at the supermarket could get interesting.
Are you Listening to Me?
Eavesdropping in public places – awkward. Watching a talk show in your living room – a much more relaxing way to pick up idioms in context (and with the accompanying hand gestures). Once I’d heard a phase used over and over, I would ask a friend its meaning and how to use it. For example, “Secondo me” came up a lot on political talk shows. I learned it meant “in my opinion/in my view”. Once it made sense to me in its proper context, I could begin using it with confidence in my own conversations.
Around the Water Cooler
You get a pretty good idea of the political climate of the country, its mores, values and attitudes with a healthy diet of current affairs programming. Who and what are in fashion can easily be gleaned from entertainment news and nighttime talk shows.
CATEGORICALLY SPEAKING…Types of Shows that give you the most “bang for your buck”:
#1 – Trivial Pursuit (Trivia Shows)
Millionario is one of my favorites. Gerry Scotti, (the Ryan Seacrest of Italy) hosts this country’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”. The beauty of this show is that along with the questions posed to the contestant, you can read the question and possible answers on the screen. Are you a genius in English and Italian?
La Routa della Fortuna is the Italian “Wheel of Fortune”. Enrico Papi is clever and better looking than Pat Sajak, but the real fun is kooky Victoria Silvstedt, a former Swedish Playboy Playmate ( “Vanna White‘s” counterpart). It turns out crossword puzzles are a lot easier in your native tongue. This show is a surprising mixture of trash TV and educational programming rolled into one crazy format. A wacky way to learn vocabulary!
There is a plethora of serial dramas and sitcoms, many imported from America, that are broadcast weekly (Commissario Montablano, CSI, Law and Order, House, Friends, etc.). I discovered that you can set most televisions to the closed captioning mode which allows you to watch and read the programs in Italian at the same time. It really works!
Television Tower of Babel
It all comes down to one thing: communicating. It seems television has become our modern-day Tower of Babel — promoting understanding by uniting people while acting as a sort of cultural equalizer, making the world not just smaller, but downright miniscule. So, stay tuned!
by Toni DeBella
Posted in Culture, Italian Culture, Italian Superstitions, Italian-Americans, Italians, italo americano, Italy, Living abroad, Living in Europe, Living in Italy, Orvieto, Rome, Sicily, Travel, Umbria, tagged 4-leaf clover, Chinese coin, Contessa Entellina, Italian Superstitions, Judith Viorst, Malocchio, Mati, Palazzo in Orvieto, Palermo, St. Peter's Square on September 3, 2011 | 4 Comments »
I have never been overly-superstitious and take great pride in my healthy cynicism. I don’t throw salt over my shoulder or avoid black cats. As a muralist, I walk under ladders frequently and don’t believe I have ever fallen victim to the evil eye. Thinking or saying something out loud does not make it come true. If it did, I’d be a size 6, rich and living in a palazzo in Orvieto. But I digress.
My grandmother was normally a very serious and solemn woman. One day a year she would transform into a madwoman, wielding a broom and running in circles shouting and screaming like a banshee in an effort to ward off the evil spirits who had apparently taken up residence in our cellar. It was spring cleaning run amok. I don’t know much about the tradition that had this small, fragile and shy lady fearlessly take on a bunch of ghosts in the basement of our house. I wonder if it was folklore passed down from her childhood in Contessa Entellina, a small Sicilian town 80km from Palermo. I did a little research and found quite a few references to sweeping away evil spirits with a broom — a common practice especially among southern Italians, but was unable to find any mention of the “screaming and running around” part. Perhaps that was my grandmother’s own personal stamp on the custom.
A superstition is a belief in something that has no rational foundation in science and is most often based on the prevailing religion or culture that contains these otherworldly beliefs. The word comes from the classical Latin superstitio, meaning “a standing over [in amazement]“. Greek and Roman pagans were believed to have scorned men who displayed a fear of the gods and thus, the behavior came to be referred to as superstition. This could explain why Greeks and Italians are famously known for their mythology and have a common legend in the “evil eye” – Malocchio in Italian, Mati in Greek.
When I wrote earlier that I am not particularly superstitious, I wasn’t being completely honest with you. The fact is that in the last few years I have come to believe a certain necklace I own has developed supernatural powers that, if worn daily, will someday bring me good luck.
It started out as a simple chain with a silver bar hanging from it. One afternoon while in St. Peter’s Square I looked down to see something glittering in the sun. I removed it from between the cobblestones to discover it was a tiny medallion of the Madonna. Convinced this was an omen, I instinctively hung it onto my necklace. A birthday present of a charm with the word “Friend” engraved on it followed — then a Chinese coin and a 4-leaf clover. On one arrival in Rome I wrote the message to my friend Angelo, “Io sono in Italia…mi sento come una farfalla” (I am in Italy…I feel like a butterfly). When he presented me with the gift of a tiny crystal butterfly dangling from a pink heart of course I had to add it to my collection. This “chain of fortune” is getting rather heavy!
Out of the 365 days in a year, I probably wear the necklace 360 of them. The other 5 days I just don’t feel quite right without it. Could I have inherited from Grandma this propensity to make weak associations of cause and effect where there are none? What can I say? I don’t like tempting fate. Writer Judith Viorst said it very well: “Superstition is foolish, childish, primitive and irrational — but how much does it cost you to knock on wood?”
by Toni DeBella
Posted in Italian Culture, tagged North Beach, Italians in San Francisco, Fisherman's Wharf, Caffe Trieste, Jack Kerouac, The Godfather, Lucian Pavorotti, St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Benedict, Jacques Pepin, Saints Peter and Paul, Washington Square Park, Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn Monroe, Caffe Greco, Piazza di Spagna, Vatican City on August 29, 2011 | 7 Comments »
I’ve got my cappuccino, my laptop and a perfect view of the street. Sometimes I close my eyes and listen to the sounds of the city. Three old guys behind me are arguing about the state of politics in Italy, no wait, now it’s something about a soccer match. I open my eyes and readjust to the bright sunlight and to the reality. I’m not in Italy, I’m in North Beach, San Francisco’s Italian neighborhood.
Columbus Avenue stretches from Broadway to Fisherman’s Wharf. Italian flags are painted on the lampposts further adding to the illusion (or delusion, in my case). I come here often for my Italian “fix”. It’s not a cure for what ails me but it provides temporary relief. North Beach is a unique place full of history, weird characters and Italians – lots and lots of Italians. Here are my 7 favorite tastes of Italy…
In 1956 (years before Starbucks was a twinkle in Jerry Baldwin’s eye), Giovanni Giotta opened Caffe’ Trieste. “Papa Gianni” is credited with bringing espresso to the West Coast and starting what has become today’s coffee craze. Trieste was a meeting place for famous authors, artists and hipsters like Beat Generation writers Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Francis Ford Coppola wrote The Godfather screenplay and Luciano Pavarotti performed arias from this little coffee house on the corner of Vallejo Street and Grant Avenue. Not bad for an immigrant from Rovigno, Italy.
http://www.caffetrieste.com; 609 Vallejo Street, SF 94133 (415)982-2605
Taste No. 2: The National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi
On the steps outside the entrance are the words of the city’s namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, “Voglio Tutti in Paradiso” (“I want all in Heaven”). Here on the corner of Vallejo Street and Columbus Avenue sits a replica of “Porziuncola” the small chapel where Saint Francis found his vocation and rejected all his worldly possessions. La Porziuncola Nuova was dedicated in 2008 and declared as the Fifth Holy Site of the Catholic Church by Pope Benedict XVI.
624 Vallejo Street, SF 94133; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMxDdB2ElB8
Taste No. 3: Biordi Art Imports
Exit the gate of the Shrine and hang a right, but don’t blink or you might pass it. You have arrived at another institution of North Beach (Est. in 1946), Biordi Art Imports. Gianfranco Savio was 33 years old when he arrived from Firenze, Italy and speaking French, Italian (naturally) but not much English, he landed a job at Holy Names as an Italian teacher. In 1977 he went to work for Emilio Biordi who at the time was 75 years of age. The store back then sold mostly Italian cookware (Chuck Williams of Williams-Sonoma fame bought pots from Biordi). Talk about being at the right place at the right time. When Emilio decided to retire Gianfranco was ready to make him an offer. Seeing an opportunity to explore the artistic range of majolica ceramics, “Gian” was on the cutting-edge and the first to import Italian ceramics to the U.S. The “Made in Italy” movement in America was launched! The exquisite pottery by artisans from all over Italy have been featured on cooking shows such as Jacques Pepin and The Frugal Gourmet as well as donning the covers of hundreds of books and magazines. His daughter Sonia has worked in the store since the age of 7 and is now a photographer and the creator of Biordi’s website and annual catalog.
http://www.biordi.com/; 412 Columbus Avenue, SF 94133 (415)392-8096
Taste No. 4: Saints Peter and Paul Church (Ss. Pietro e Paolo)
For Italians this Roman Catholic Church is sometimes referred to as La cattedrale d’Italia ovest (The Italian Cathedral of the West). It’s located on Filbert Street across from Washington Square Park. Generally considered the geographical center of North Beach, its steeples can be seen for miles. In 1999 Joe DiMaggio‘s funeral was held here, but ironically although his wedding photo with Marilyn Monroe was taken on the church’s steps, their marriage was performed civilly (the Catholic Church wouldn’t grant DiMaggio an annulment from his first wife). Dirty Harry, The Ten Commandments and Sister Act 2 were all filmed on location here.
666 Filbert Street, SF 94133
Taste No. 5: Molinari Delicatessen
Molinari homemade Salami is legendary and their made-to-order sandwiches are the best in the City. This delicatessen is a cornucopia of smells and tastes – a feast for your eyes as well as your stomach. You can find products at Molinari you can’t find anywhere else in the City, the U.S. or even sometimes Italy! A delicatessen quintessentially classic North Beach.
http://www.molinarisalame.com/; 373 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco (415)421-2337
There are two kinds of Roman trattorias. One has mean or indifferent waiters who fling plates of pasta at you before you’ve finished your appetizer. Ideale is the other kind. Owner and Chef Maurizio Bruschi created an authentic Roman experience just off the beaten track on Grant Avenue. Beautiful Italian waiters greet you and flirt shamelessly (who doesn’t like that)? The mouth-watering pastas and thin-crust pizzas are prepared simply and with fresh ingredients. The sleek and contemporary styling of its interior (featuring paintings by Maurizio’s wife Shanna), make Ideale a jewel of a place to wine and dine.
http://www.idealerestaurant.com/; 1315 Grant Ave, SF 94133 (415)391-4129
Taste No. 7: Caffe’ Greco
Modeled after the historic coffee bar near the Piazza di Spagna in Rome, this Caffe’ Greco’s espresso and cappuccinos are almost as delicious (and half the price). Keats and Shelly were regulars of the Rome establishment, so I wonder which of the computer-pounding, Facebook-using blogger sitting in the San Francisco version will one day become a famous novelist or poet? It could happen.
http://www.caffegreco.com/; 423Columbus Ave, SF 94133 (415)397-6261
Una Fetta della Vita
I not only love this neighborhood, I need this neighborhood. North Beach is my “Vatican City” – a sovereign state-of-mind, a pseudo-surrogate country encompassed within a 6 square mile radius. For those who built this neighborhood as a home-away-from-home, I doubt they ever imagined it would become a sanctuary for a very appreciative Italian American woman looking for a “little slice of Italy” in her own backyard.