Ischia might be an exotic – often unknown – island off the coast of Naples in Italy. Yes, it’s super romantic and a bit expensive, which makes it seem like a hot spot for young, sophisticated lovers rather than families. Its catchphrase has always been “Ischia dove si mangia, si beve, e si fischia,” which literally means “Ischia where you eat, you drink, and you whistle” but figuratively means eating, drinking and making love.
Still, I’ve been visiting since I was 2 years old because this is the home of my ancestors. And now I married a native and I have spent months and months at a time on the island with my now nearly 3-year-old son. We have found plenty of wonderful activities to pass the time. Recently, I wrote “6 Ways Kids Can Enjoy Ischia, Italy” with specific suggestions on what to do on the island if you ever find yourself vacationing there. Ischia is full of natural wonders, exceptional beauty, and rich history. Really, who wouldn’t want to share all this with their kids?
Despite my objections to southern Italy’s siesta – when stores close down and people, even adults, take naps for three hours in the middle of the afternoon – my son has gotten in on the act. And he always seems to fall asleep in the strangest positions because he tries his hardest to stay awake. He has even tried holding his eyes open with his fingers. It is as though his American self, who is used to working through the day, is fighting his snoozing Italian self. You’ve probably already realized that the Italian in him is winning. And I didn’t even include the video of him falling asleep while eating dinner at the table. Well, all I can say about this is, “Sweet dreams, my love, sweet dreams.”
I should not be amazed by the number of e-mails I receive from women interested in dating an Italian man, a result of an article I wrote about their charms more than a decade ago now. Most of the Italian men I know live up to the reputation of the Latin lover, which has its pros (more passion and romance than you could ever imagine) and cons (ick, the jealousy), but is absolutely alluring. Since so many women contact me for advice on how to date an Italian man and many of them are not Italian themselves, so have no idea what they are in for, I recently wrote a story about “How to Date in Italy” for the Our Paesani column on ItaliansRus.
With that in mind, I want to encourage people with an interest in an Italian man to give it a whirl. It might not work out because of some of those cons I brought up before, but you never know. And it’s always better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Anyway, there are three very good reasons to date (and perhaps marry) an Italian man (as if you needed a reason):
3. They’ll feed you better than anyone you’ve ever met, and they’re not afraid of women having some meat on their bones. In fact, they rejoice when a woman cleans her plate and appreciates a good meal. (They like cooking with her, too.)
2. They’re romantic. The idea of the principe azzurro (Italy’s description for Prince Charming, which literally means blue prince) is alive and well. Italian men have a way about them that makes the object of their affection feel like she’s the sexiest woman alive. Forget the roses and chocolates. Most of the time a wink and a smile is enough to woo you.
1. They’re super sexy. No further explanation necessary.
Weekends in August in Ischia, Italy can get pretty gloomy, at least for some of us. It’s the height of tourist season here, so the natives are busy hosting all the tourists. My husband has been working morning and night literally. When he is home, he sleeps. So, Baby Boy and I are pretty much on our own. The streets and beaches are littered with people, and all our friends are hard at work, too. So, we have been staying in. Still, home has its perks – delicious food (ordered in or made by the in-laws or me), making silly faces for iPhotoBooth pics, and the ability to iron all those white shirts that hubby needs for work. Ok, so the ironing wasn’t so much fun. But it certainly needs to be featured in a collage about an Italian mamma’s typical weekend. When in RomeIschia…
All the parenting and food bloggers are writing about school lunches now that the first day either already happened or is around the corner. I feel compelled to share the experiences of an Italian kid packing a lunch for an American school. For starters, while other kids had those little brown bags that you buy in a package, my parents saved the huge brown bags in which you put your groceries for our lunches. No joke. Yes, I was the 6-year-old kid with salami and provolone on Italian bread instead of those PB&Js everyone else had in first grade. But that was just my antipasto. Then, I’d have a thermos with pasta or lasagne or meatballs. I often had some sort of treat, such as a zeppole. Once in a while, my mom, who is Italian by ancestry but born and raised in the States, would give us an American cookie. And we had snacks – a fruit, pretzels, carrot sticks, a granola bar. This was all happening back in the ’80s, when it was still socially acceptable to drink juice, so we had a juice box, too. (Capri Sun, sometimes – shhh, don’t tell anyone!)
There was so much food that we usually could trade for something else and still have plenty of our own meal. Since I was going to school in the melting pot that is Fort Lee, N.J., I had classmates who were Jewish, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Latin, etc. Often, I traded homemade pizza for seaweed or rice, matzah or challah bread. And no one ever thought I was weird for my salami or spaghetti. They were just grateful my parents made so much. Lunch actually enticed them to sign up for play dates at our house. Food made my brother, sister, and me pretty popular, in fact. When I went off to work and was still living at home, my parents often made those big brown bag lunches still. I can’t pack groceries without getting misty eyed over roasted red peppers and mozzarella sandwiches, linguine and pesto, and the notes my mom would write to me.
In fact, I was so inspired by these lunches that I used to pack them in more traditional brown bags for my adult, Italian guests, and my husband, who visited and took English courses in nearby New York. As I sent them off to school, I would hand them each their brown bag, which I would personalize with their names and little pictures or stickers. They got a kick out of having American lunches, so it was egg salad, PB&J, homemade macaroni and cheese, various soups and stews in a thermos, etc. Their favorite part of the meal was the carrot sticks because Italians aren’t much for eating raw carrots. It was all new to them. One of them still gives me raw carrots in a bouquet when I’m back in the Boot. Of course, I wrote them encouraging notes and stuffed them in between their goodies in the bag. No bento boxes or sandwiches in the shapes of snakes or anything. It was just good homemade food, usually with stuff from our own garden (because what Italian family doesn’t have one), packed with a whole lotta love. There’s really nothing sweeter.
Italian mother-in-laws are tough nuts to crack. I should know. I have one. My mom is one. And I will someday – God willing – turn into one myself. So many women, who are in love with Italian men, write me to ask about how to win over him and his family. The dude is the easy part, I tell them. It’s mamma you have to worry about. Finally, after all these years of e-mailing readers about what to do to work your way into an Italian family, I wrote an article with instructions. Check out the latest Our Paesani column, “How to Impress Your Italian Mother-in-Law,” and start earning brownie cannoli points.
Yes, Italy is stunningly beautiful with a rich history and the best food you’ll ever eat. But it’s not my home. It never will be. I’ve done my best to make myself comfortable here, and I’ve had some good times. I love my husband, father, ancestors, all native Italians. And my love-hate relationship with Ischia will never go away.
My heart, however, belongs to New Jersey. Often, when I’m in the Boot as I am now, I grow nostalgic for home. When I do, I look at pictures of the George Washington Bridge. I am a Bridgewoman by birth, and it is my security blanket. It earned its post for life on 9-11. After spending the night of 9-11 on the floor of my friend’s NYC apartment wondering how the world could ever be the same, I found my way onto the ferry. On one side of the boat, I saw the inferno of downtown New York and smelled the stench of our apocalypse. On the other side was the George Washington Bridge – brave, strong, intact, and beckoning me home. Indeed, it has become ever more the center of my world. Whenever I return from Italy, it’s always right there. In front of me. Beckoning me home once again.
So, I was inspired by its beauty and this photo my husband snapped while in the car one evening back home. It’s always most beautiful when it’s all lit up or adorned with an American flag, isn’t it? In an attempt to stretch my writing chops (and feel like I’m back in middle school), I chose haiku to express my sweet, sweet nostalgia for home. Here goes:
When I first arrived in Italy in June, I was hauling Baby Boy down the street in his stroller – in the hopes of getting him to nap – and was greeted by the T-shirt in the photo above. The message “Sono una blogger, non sono una santa,” translates to, “I’m a blogger, not a saint.” My reaction was, “WTF?” As a blogger, I took offense. Why shouldn’t I? It was meant to be offensive. I’m no saint. That much is true.
But I know the Italians. They are conspiracy theorists by nature. I already told you that the latest scapegoat for the island’s economic woes are meteorologists who predict the bad weather (even though their predictions have been correct this summer). The next problem child for the Italians is the up and coming blogger. Blogs might be old school in the United States, but they’re still the newest form of communicators around here. This tee suggests that bloggers are a bit devilish, a bit naughty, probably because they tell people the truth and share just a little more than most Italians like. Bloggers make Italians uncomfortable, even a bit nervous.
While the islanders are famously good gossipers, they like to gossip in private. You can’t get more public than the Internet nowadays. Blogs often are like gossiping with the entire island watching. Good blogs are among the first to share the news of the day, even if it isn’t so positive – that photo of you a little tipsy by the fountain, word that apple juice could kill ya, or predictions of bad weather. God forbid. My advice to the Ischitani and people everywhere is: If you don’t want to see it in print (in old-fashioned newspapers or new world blogs), don’t do it. Punto e basta.
Yeah, so, I’m not a saint because I just opened up about this online. Airing dirty laundry is a no-no in the Italian rule book. But like any good Italian, I’m okay with breaking the rules now and then. So, you keep making your passive aggressive T-shirts and I will keep acting in a way that permits me to wear them.
Traveling is a big part of the sweet life. Many an American – especially Italian Americans – have visited the Boot. And made fools of themselves, including me back in the day. So, I recently wrote a list of the ways I or friends of mine have looked totally ridiculous when in Italy. You can learn from our mistakes and avoid Ugly American Syndrome, at least in Italy. Yes, you can thank me later.
Some American relatives invaded the island of Ischia last week, which meant we were eating more than our usual one ton of gelato per week. Usually, Baby Boy has a few licks of mine and is done for the night. But last week he had his own cup and devoured the whole thing, save some that he used for a facial. See photo above. Yes, he opted to eat the stuff with his hands, which attracted a crowd in Ischia Porto. A few folks (besides my relatives and me) actually snapped photos and took video of the little guy. A few of the old school Italian women were griping that I wasn’t cleaning him up fast enough and that there would be pesky stains on those shirts. You know about them and the laundry. Oy. But how could I deny him the joy of that gelato? The mess was part of the fun. And isn’t that what the sweet life is all about?