Friday, May 4, 2012

You can take the girl outta Jersey...

billboards on the highway...just like Bergen Co.
I am a staunch supporter of the great state of New Jersey.  It's not blind pride.  Having been born and raised there, I know my viewpoint might be a little bit biased, but it's quite a wonderful place to have grown up.  When people here ask me where I'm from, more often then not, New York is given as an accepted answer, but recently, I've been happily telling people in my non-accent that I am from Jersey.  Through and through.

look familiar?

Part of me feels like it's my social responsibility to let people know that not everyone from NJ speaks with "wawtah" and "cawfee" filled sentences, or has gum-snapping, crunchy hair and fake tans.  The other part just enjoys making people guess where I'm from.  Canada and Northern California are common guesses, though I can't say I have anything close to a Canadian accent, or that I even knew Northern California had a distinctive one.  But that's another story.
In the hectic pace to get the Cantina opened by next Thursday, a date totally picked at random, Manuel and I went to La Spezia to buy the last of the things we need - example, battery chargers, shot glasses, planners, paint, and all the other things I never anticipated buying when I got involved in running a restaurant.  It's amazing how all of a sudden the simple aspect of serving food becomes coupled with being an accountant, interior decorator, real estate agent, food pricer, math major and translator all in one. And then a bartender and waitress when it's all done.
Part of our La Spezia journey was completed at the giant electronics store at Le Terrazze, the centro commerciale that was just completed slightly outside the city center.  People have been buzzing about it for months, and I wanted to go for some time now, as everyone has told me, in conspiring and excited whispers that it's the most "American" mall they've seen in Italy.  Many amazing things come from Italy, but malls are not one of them.  What people here call a mall is 5 stores and a giant supermarket.  I'm exaggerating, but not by much.  New Jersey, I'll firmly attest, is full of farms, forests, gardens, mountains and strips of seashore.  But, I can't lie - we have a fair share of malls.  And in Bergen County, shopping is a past time.  Italian malls don't really exist to me.  My Jersey raised mall intuition shivers when I hear the word associated with these long strips of stores.
However, Le Terrazze is a proper American mall.  Two stories, awkward benches, a food court full of American restaurants - including a McDonalds, which makes me shiver for another horrified reason - Le Terrazze actually made me forget a few times I was in Italy.
I'm not kidding.
Especially after sitting down to eat at a restaurant fashioned in the style of the "wild west", with a hamburger for Manuel and chicken fajitas (actually, not that bad) for me, with a paper menu placemat advertising their new "brownie" dessert, I flashed back to being 15 years old and biding my time loitering at the Garden State Plaza.
Italians, obviously, are suited to malls.  They are excellent at shopping, dining, and loitering.  I asked Manuel if there was even a word for loitering in Italian, or is it just normal standing behavior.  He glared at me. Ha.
Here's the funny thing - when making this mural over the mall food court,
the designers pieced together elements of the various villages in the region,
as well as in La Spezia.  The striped house on the left with the green shutters
is actually the apartment complex across from the Church of San Giovanni Battista
in the Old Town of Monterosso.  Pieces of my various homes are everywhere :) 
Of course, this made me feel, oddly, a little at home, being in this strange mall, but made me really start to ask more serious questions about the commercial impact on the tiny shops scattered in the center of La Spezia that close during midday, in the normal Italian tradition, as the mall stays open.  Then the food part of me started to examine the teenagers after school guzzling coke and chomping on french fries while sitting at bright plastic mall tables.
Yes, it is easy and wonderful to have so many shops together, and open all day, as well as to know where I can go when I simply crave a not-horrible chicken fajita, but at the same time, it made me feel guilty to feel a little happy to see a proper American mall.

Cultural comments aside, good or bad - it's funny what can make you feel at home sometimes.

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