Friday, July 27, 2012

special delivery

I have a throat infection and fever, and am, obviously, not going to work.  Everyone is insanely busy, as it's the end of July and a Friday night to top it off, and I asked Manuel to ask him mom to maybe send up some vegetables or something to eat since I can't leave the house.
True to form, she sent me up enough for dinner for 4 for multiple nights.  It's always amusing for me to remember that Italian moms are Italian moms, even if they're in New Jersey - that's one cultural similarity that hasn't changed.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

San Giacomo

Finally with something to do on a Wednesday (our only day free), we headed to neighboring Levanto for dinner and the festival of Saint James, or San Giacomo, the patron saint of the seaside town.  The festival is quite large, as is anything when compared to tiny next door Monterosso, and the streets are full of vendors selling panini, sweets, knickknacks, games, and so forth.

Dinner - one of my favorite things about Levanto, gattafin

More dinner - local fish, Ligurian style

It's much like a summer carnival, cotton candy and all, and the night finishes off with fireworks over the still, dark sea.  The scene is not one unfamiliar to me, as summer carnivals are something I always looked forward to as a kid - but the religious procession through the streets is something certainly a little different then the Waldwick Lions Club.  Never forgetting the reason for the festival, around 9 pm people line the streets as the marching band plays, baton twirlers march, and the flags of Levanto are proudly marched through the town.  Children, men and women walk behind them, dressed in costume from the Medieval times, and religious confraternities from throughout the region follow, solemnly holding banners, dressed in their finest.  The police, the mayor, the priests, the faithful - all weaved through the streets, some stopping to smile at friends, some to throw a flower at the crowd, some children to scratch the uncomfortable costume, or blow a kiss at a parent.  What was the most incredible was the procession of the numerous crucifixes, decorated elaborately in gold and jewels, adorned with thin gold "leaves" that when moved, create a tinkling whistle, a "singing" in the breeze.
Chalk drawing of Mary on the street
They are hoisted into harnesses and carried through the streets by the most faithful, as the procession stops periodically for everyone to nervously watch the heavy crucifix lifted off the harness of one man and then placed carefully in the harness of another.  After the procession, there are fireworks, then after the fireworks, everyone trickles into the streets for one last drink before heading back on the train home - after all, tonight in Monterosso there is another party, this time with a totally different connotation - the festa dei pirati, or the Pirate Party.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Just another day at the "office"

Today, at work, I asked how the verb "to itch" was conjugated.  Asking Italians how verbs are conjugated is, at times, simply asking to start a fight. This one ended in my having to google the verb, as well as a giant yelling match and the chef throwing a small octopus at me (as a joke, but I still screamed).  It turns out that, like with being a speaker in any language, everyone knows how to say something right and when you are saying something wrong, but asking why is a question no one can really answer.  Everyone was right (except for one waitress who literally had no idea how to say it, and is now getting picked on for the rest of the week for this), but it's interesting how when you ask someone who is a native speaker of a language to explain a grammatical rule, they can't.  You know by the sound if someone is saying something correct or not, but beyond that, it's a mystery - and I don't blame them.  They have a lot of grammar here.
Manuel and I switched around the schedule a bit which means every day I go in at 3.  It's fine for me, as I have time to do things like go to the post office, which is now finally reopened after the flood.  We had our trusty postal minivan for several months, which was more or less inutile for me as you could not buy stamps or send things to America.  The post office, like all the things up on Via Roma, is bright and shiny and new - and packed full of Monterossini half joking about the bright, shiny, new-ness of it. I, in fact, rode my bright shiny new bike up there the other day before work, and stood on line laughing as every single person that came in yelled out something about the marvelous post office to anyone that would listen.

Though the post office is now something that is no longer inutile, or useless, by bike sadly is.  All excited to scoot through town on my new mode of transport, I forgot the fact that using a bike in certain parts is slower then just walking.  When there are a group of oblivious tourists (for example, 50 Germans*, with walking sticks, like yesterday), by poor little bell does not do anything to move people out of the way.  Now in the "bike rider" club, I commiserated with some other people who have bikes in town, who assured me the best way to move people is to kick them.  I think they were kidding, but again, not sure.  Robi explained to me that it is one of the great mysteries of tourists, who will walk directly at you as you are riding your bike, in the street, to work, and then seem shocked and confused when they arrive directly in front of your bike, and that they have to move.   I do a mixture of riding and walking the majority of the time, still a little shaky on my new wheels, and now wanting to kick a German*.  Even if it gets me to the new post office faster before work.

*My mother has informed me that my German-American father has taken offense to this.  I do not mean any offense towards Germans.  I was using them simply as an example, as they were the group I encountered in this specific example and the nationality can be substituted into any other one you'd like.  Micronesians, even, we can use :)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Summer Fruit

You know it's a good market day when people are telling you on the street as they walk back with bags full of fruit and vegetables - "Cri, you have to see the cherries".  The market is every Thursday morning in the Old Town, and consists of fruit and vegetable vendors, various clothing stalls, hardware, household goods, cheese, salumi, and rotisserie chicken.  Seriously.  You have to order the week before it's that popular.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Being Italian

As I've mentioned, I grew up in an Italian-American household.  In the United States, this means that I am, to keep it simple, Italian.  The question "What are you?" or "Where are you from?" isn't odd because, as Americans, we are all from somewhere else (more or less, but we'll leave the poor Native Americans out of that discourse).  When someone asked me, "So, what are you?" Italian was the easy answer, and I thought little of it for most of my life.
My new wheels.  Does this make me Italian?
Living in Italy is another thing.  I'm American, clear and simple.  And for people who think Italian-American and Italian are the same thing, it's like saying the English and the Irish are the same.  Sure, their are cultural similarities that exist, primarily with food, most of it being heavy in Southern Italian and Sicilian tradition, but even the language has moved so far away from what is actually Italian, the argument can be made it's a independent culture in and of itself.  This was never more evident then the table from the town next to mine in New Jersey (small world) who sat down and promptly ordered "GALMAWD" with "RED SAWCE".  Now, I can translate this New York-Jersey-ese Italian into Calamari with tomato sauce, but it was amusing to the other Italian waiters.  In fact, once I told them how sfogliatelle, the delicious dessert pastry, was pronounced enthusiastically "SFWOYADELL", they refused to believe me.  As I chatted with the table from my home state, they seemed oblivious that their "fluent Italian", as the man claimed, was actually incomprehensible to anyone actually Italian - and not to lie, but for several years of my life, I thought the same thing.  "Look how Italian I am", I thought, eating my muzzarell.  Now, still just as proud of my heritage but more aware of it's dramatic differences from being actually Italian, I play the Italian-American game every day.
Carta D'Identita :)
I explain to countless tables that think I'm Italian that no, in fact, I'm American.  "Why are you here?  You have family here?"  Well, yes, I did at one point, but that didn't help me a lick.
"But I'm Italian too," chirped in an older woman one day.  "I'd love for my kids to come work here for the summer".  Do you have a passport?  No.  Do you speak Italian?  No.  Well, congratulations, ma'am, you are in the same boat as me.  All of the baked ziti in the world won't let you cut that line.  Unless you are one of the lucky and patient few, you have to work the system like everyone else if living here is what you have your sights set on.  For me, with a lawyer, a boyfriend, and many ties here, the process was beyond frustrating, but quick - and by quick I mean a year and 5 months, and I'm an official resident of Monterosso al Mare.
Dating an Italian from Liguria makes me aware every day of the incredible cultural differences in what is considered Italian, and even in Italy, from region to region, they vary like night and day.  The foods my grandmother cooked, that we ate on Sundays, are foods I talk about happily with one of our line cooks, from outside Naples, who also thinks the Ligurian style of making lasagna with bechamel is ridiculous.  Ridiculously good, as well, but a far cry from what I grew up with.
So, I'm content to have gone from being Christine, the Italian girl whose mom makes amazing pizza every Sunday and whose Gram's fried eggplant is known throughout the land, and instead to be Cristina, the American girl from New York (what is New Jersey?), who eats strange Thai food all the time and talks longingly about these strange bread called "bagels".

Maybe at one point I thought I was Italian, then American, then back to Italian-American again, and now that I have my Italian carta d'identita, the joke is that I'm Italian again.  Who knows?  If it's just documents that make a person belong to a culture, we'd have a very different world.  I'm Italian-American, regardless.  I have the longing for US Weekly and Advil to prove the American side, and I leave the house stubbornly with wet hair (a crime here in Italy.  Old women will yell at you).  But, I do have this incredible new bike Manuel got me to speed around town to prove the Italian part, as I've traded in my car in the US for Italy's preferred mode of transport.  I'm happily American, with a little bit of Italian thrown on top, like cheese on the spaghetti (but again, remember, never with fish).

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy 4th of July

After explaining to many Italian co-workers last night that the 4th of July is not the holiday that we eat turkey (then consequently having to explain why we eat turkey on Thanksgiving and what we are thankful for, which is tricky in English, let alone my not-great Italian), we are amazingly closed on this 4th of July, as it is a Wednesday.  Tonight, we have a BBQ plan with the other American girls who live here - all 5 of us - and I am running now to La Spezia with Manuel to pick up the thing that will make the party.
A case of Budweiser.
But, besides that, I started to think about this holiday and what it means for my family.  The story goes that many, many years ago when my Great-Grandmother, Maria Panzarella, came from her little village in Calabria to the United States, the ship arrived on the 4th of July.  They had to stay on the boat, as the offices in Ellis Island were closed to process the immigrants for the holiday.  She stayed on the boat, in the harbor, and one of the first things she saw in the United States was fireworks over the Statue of Liberty, in New York City, in her new country and home.
I don't know if this story is entirely true, or a figment of my childhood overactive imagination, and it's too early in the USA to call my mom and confirm it, but I know that this is a day that she loved, and one my Grandma loved to celebrate as well.  Even I, having left the country, have a very big, special place in my heart for the 4th of July.
Happy 4th!