One of the biggest joys of spending months at a time in Ischia, Italy, an island off the coast of Naples is the beach. Wherever you are on the island, it’s basically right out your door. Walk a few steps and you find the sea and sand. I’ve already described how the heat and the scent of the sea can cloud your judgment. Seriously, it can make you crazy if you let it. But it can also bring a tranquility that is hard to find elsewhere.
Give Me Peace, This Peace I Give
As a mom of a 6-year-old, I experience the beach in Ischia differently than when I was in my 20s. Back then, I was dating my husband. We were young and in love. And the beach was the sanctuary of our relationship. We made weekly dates to lie in the sand or exhale on a motorboat or drown worries at the thermal spa.
Now, we go to the beach to play with our son. We watch him roll in the sand. Then, he splashes in the water. He gives us salty kisses and begs for an ice pop. For a moment, I don’t have to think about work or the fact that I don’t spend enough time with him. The guilt can fall off my shoulders. Instead, the sun can bathe them, us. Everything is all right but for a moment.
I have been enlightened during back-to-school shopping. Some of the T-shirts on sale for little boys make me downright mad. If my son uttered the words on some of those shirts, I’d put him in time out. Or sometimes it might spark the need for a serious conversation with a nearly 6 year old. I’m not particularly fond of either scenario.
So, what T-shirts are on the back-to-school chopping block? Well, I’ve seen quite a few about being lazy and not asking kids to do stuff. See the one above in the photo. My parents actually bought that for my son, but they didn’t understand what it said. They just knew he likes poop emojis. Really, what nearly 6-year-old boy doesn’t? A few of the shirts are mean, such as one that sports an image of George Washington with the text, “I cannot tell a lie, I ignore your texts.”
Certainly, not all shirts are created equal. There are quite a few that are funny and fairly innocent. For example, my son likes one that reads, “Mondays, let’s get this over with.” Who can’t relate to that? Indeed, I’m relating to that message right now. Another one I can get behind is his “Circle of Life” tee featuring an emoji pizza pie. Yes, pizza really is the circle of life, especially for an Italian boy. And that one of a dinosaur driving a bike and wearing shades is a favorite in our house.
We Could Not Always Get Away with This
What’s most appealing is that they are age appropriate. Those three shirts seem right on a kindergartner. But the ones that are dripping with sarcasm don’t. Look, I expect 13 year olds to have an answer to everything and wear their cynicism on their sleeve. I don’t expect that from a 6 year old. When the heck did it become in vogue to teach our sons to do nothing?
If I told my Italian immigrant father not to ask me to do anything, he would have told me to get up off my lazy culo. As Sebastian Maniscalco points out in his stand-up routine, Italians won’t tolerate that kind of talk. He describes watching cartoons when he was 8 years old. His father walked in and asked him what he was doing. When Maniscalco says he’s watching TV, his father retorts with something like, “What are you lazy? Go out and start a business.” Indeed, that was the way in our home, too. I think Nonno would rip the shirt off my son’s back if he realized it read, “Don’t ask me to do anything.”
It’s All Our Fault
A few of the shirts are on another level. They make me cringe. I really hate the one about ignoring someone’s texts. It is just plain mean. I suppose this trend is a long time coming. Truth is that people have not exactly been speaking kindly to one another for a while. To say the level of discourse has diminished is an understatement. These T-shirts are just reflecting bigger societal trends. At some point, we gave up on etiquette. Then, we tossed it into the time capsule. I’ve been waiting for someone to dig it up. But it hasn’t happened yet.
Grown-Ups Fail to Set the Example
Truly, it begins with the grown-ups. Recently, I visited the Motor Vehicle Commission in New Jersey. (I know I was asking for trouble.) I politely waited to be called up to the desk. When my number was called, I walked up to the counter and began to speak. Only, I was wrong. The staff person was talking to a different group to the left of me, so I wasn’t the No. 12 he intended. Instead of just explaining that, he yelled at me to get back in line. Then, he had his colleague repeat it in Spanish. He didn’t realize my husband and I had been speaking in Italian previously.
A day later, I was driving my son home from school. There was an elderly woman walking to the school to pick up her grandchildren. She was a little unsteady and there are no sidewalks. So, I was driving extra slow and more toward the center of the road to avoid hitting her. Some guy turned the corner and shouted at me, “What the bleep are you doing?” Actually, I was trying to avoid running down grandma. This is how we act as adults. Why shouldn’t our children’s T-shirts have the tinge of snottiness?
Let Me Explain
All right, some will argue that these shirts are meant to be humorous. They might say I’m taking it all too seriously. Humor, in general, has become a little meaner over the years. Just think about Seinfeld and more recently Modern Family. Yes, the characters still display love, the characters can be nasty to one another. They might laugh at each other’s expense. None of them comes off as saintly.
While I get the sassy movement or whatever you call it, I am not sure we should just accept it. Yes, hearing little kids talk back like an adult can by funny, even cute. But it’s not something we should encourage or let go. These kids are going to grow up eventually. I for one can’t afford for them to be lazy bums who don’t want us to ask them to do anything. I don’t want them to ignore anyone’s texts, least of all mom’s. I want them to understand real feelings rather than hide behind emojis.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like children’s clothing stores are splashing four-letter words across white cotton. The one above uses “stuff” instead of what the image implies. Some of the messages are only subtly troublesome. When compared to the ones on girls tees, however, they seem more inappropriate.
Girls Versus Boys
Actually, what gets me really fired up is the fact that we no longer want to encourage our sons to be smart and hard working. Somewhere along the line, we decided as a society to instill confidence in our girls. We still aren’t doing enough. But we’ve made a concerted effort as evidenced by the T-shirts for girls. “This Girl Can” and “Girls Totally Rock” are among the shirts available at the same store selling the ones described for boys.
I have to admit that my son and my niece have both worn shirts describing them as geniuses. While that’s a lot of hyperbole and you could argue we’re making them arrogant, I think it’s also about aspiration. My son “can,” my niece “can,” we all “can.” And our shirts should say that.
Fresh mozzarella, as Americans know it, is not even close to the real thing. For starters, it is sold in plastic wrap in the refrigerated section of your supermarket or deli. The real stuff comes in a double plastic bag and is filled with water that turns white from the milk leaking from the mozzarella. It’s nothing like the traditional mozzarella (think Pollyo string cheese and the like) used in the United States.
How to Tend to Your Fresh Mozzarella
You’re never supposed to refrigerate it. First, you open the bag and pour its entire contents into a bowl. It sits in the liquid. Then, the bowl remains on your table or counter until you finish eating it. Some Italians (myself included) own a special ceramic bowl. It is a regular bowl on the bottom, but the cover looks like a half moon. It sits on top of the bowl, so that you can see the drowning mozzarella underneath. The half moon cover has holes in it to drain the liquid when you lift the mozzarella on top to cut it. Many of these bowls are handmade and hand painted. Mine comes from Ischia, of course, and it features the island’s famous lemons.
Eat It Fast
Now, the mozzarella won’t taste fresh unless you eat it right away. You risk the mozzarella souring if it is left out too long. If it gets less than fresh, most Italians will put it in the fridge and then use it to cook. They’ll add it to baked pasta or la parmigiana (eggplant parmigiana). Frankly, any recipe that calls for melting mozzarella is going to include the fresh stuff. That other stuff we call mozzarella does not exist here. Indeed, the fresh mozzarella is a big difference between pizza in Italy and pizza in the United States, even New York.
Truthfully, however, most pieces of fresh mozzarella never make it to the point of souring. They’re just too irresistible. When you cut into one of those big balls of fresh mozzarella, the milkiest cream oozes out. The texture is soft and even somewhat creamy. And the taste is slightly sweet with a touch of tang. It is best served on its own with a hunk of bread. Or you can pair it with deli meats, such as prosciutto crudo. Of course, the most popular way to eat fresh mozzarella is in a Caprese salad. This is a salad of fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil, and salt.
Where Does It Come From?
Also, in the United States, we classify mozzarella as cheese. In Italy, it is not considered cheese exactly. It’s in a class by itself. Many distinguish between mozzarella and cheese, in fact. The best fresh mozzarella is believed to come from the Campania region, specifically Naples. Artisans make the fresh mozzarella largely by hand, and it’s truly considered an art.
In the United States, at least in the Northeast, you can pick up some decent fresh mozzarella in Italian specialty stores. I hear it’s near authentic at Eataly. Also, local Italian American delis often make the real fresh stuff. Personally, I can attest to the authenticity of what you’ll pick up on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Still, most of the time what you’re getting is a cow’s milk based fresh mozzarella. Occasionally, it’s the real deal with buffalo’s milk.
Another Story in Italy
See, mozzarella in Italy comes from buffalo’s milk, not cow’s milk. In fact, you’ll read “mozzarella di bufala” on the package. There are some variations worth sampling. You can get smoked fresh mozzarella, known as mozzarella fumigata. Or you can taste fior di latte (flower of milk) mozzarella, which offers the same creamy, milky deliciousness. But it comes from cow’s milk. Often, this version comes braided and is therefore known as treccia. Whichever version you choose, it’s all delicious.
This Italian proverb about sunken ships makes the same point as the saying, “backseat driver.” Another familiar similar one is “Monday morning quarterback.” And how many times have you said, “Hindsight is 20/20”? The point is that it’s easy to tell the future after it has already happened.
While I shared this Italian proverb here, the photo has nothing to do with sunken ships. Indeed, it’s a beautiful sailboat. I photographed it many summers ago while lying on the beach in Ischia Porto, the capital city of Ischia. On this Neapolitan island, you will often spot lovely sailboats and luxurious yachts. Sometimes, a VIP shows up on shore, too. Still, my favorite spot to be is right on the sand taking it all in.
The need for environmentalism or going green is evident once you step on an island driven by tourism. What’s the allure of such an island? The natural beauty all around you. That’s what brings the people to the yard. If you lose that shine, you are left with nothing. While my arguments are based on the time I spend in Ischia, a small island off the coast of Naples in Italy, this is probably true for any island or anyplace of the sort.
For starters, you need to understand the climate of the place. Of the four climates represented in Italy, Ischia falls into the “Mediterranean climate,” according to climatechangepost. It is joined by the country’s other islands and southern Italy. This climate is “characterized by mild temperatures and moist winter,” the site adds.
The entire country is facing challenges. “Because of its geographic heterogeneity, Italy has seen a diverse set of events linked to the recent changes in global climate levels,” according to Italyun.esteri.it. “In some areas, there has been an increase in natural catastrophic events, such as landslides in mountainous regions, floods, and rising sea levels in areas…”
Another website, the Local.it, outlined in 2015 all the ways Italy is already suffering from climate change and how it could get worse. Three of the challenges directly relate to the islanders in Ischia. Here are the dangers the outlet warned about that are already influencing life on the island:
Rising Coastal Waters
Conservative estimates suggest that sea levels could rise by 1.5 meters by the end of the century unless people take action, according to the report. The article goes on to suggest that Pompeii and Herculaneum, Unesco World Heritage sites not far from Ischia, could be wiped out. Presumably islands could drown, too.
“Higher global temperatures cause higher rates of evaporation, change the way air moves, and affect the amount of water vapor the air can hold,” according to the Local.it. “That might not seem like much, but on a global scale it is disrupting weather systems and causing violent and unpredictable events, such as storms and droughts.” Ischia has had its fair share of ugly rain storms. Some of them have caused devastating landslides that have injured people. In fact, one landslide killed an entire family except for the mother, who was badly injured. During the winter of 2016-early 2017, the island experienced a touch of snow that actually stuck for longer than a second. Not normal, not good.
Indeed, we are in the middle of a severe drought in Italy right now. We did have a little rain yesterday in the wee hours of the morning, but it hardly was enough to eradicate the problems. Besides the water shortage extended droughts could cause, they also damage the grape harvest. While Ischia is not completely reliant on its grapes for wine making, the island’s wine business is well known enough. Italian wine, in general, is a cultural staple found on the tables of most homes. But it also is a big draw for tourists. Well, the Local.it cites a 2013 study by Conservation International, which suggests that drought could actually wipe out grapes in Italy “if trends continue at the current rate.” Yikes!
Local Economy Demands Environmentalism
Some leaders in the United States argue that going green comes at a cost to business. They say sometimes the cost is too great to justify. A few still try to say that climate change is a hoax. Ridiculous. Now, some of them are trying to turn back the clock and return to an era of unfettered fossil fuels and the like. But islanders like the ones on Ischia should never follow their lead. They need to protect their turf because it’s all they’ve got.
I’m not sure Ischia keeps stats on how many people survive on tourism. But I can tell you that even the professionals I know here – lawyers, doctors, accountants – would have no work if it weren’t for the tourists and tourism. And the other 90 percent of the people I know are either students who rely on parents who are in tourism or are in the tourism industry themselves. They own hotels or work at them. They own restaurants or work at them. They own stores or work at them. You get the idea.
But Are They Getting the Message?
A few years ago, the island confronted a major scandal. A number of hotel owners were found to be throwing human waste directly into the sea. Often, you would see foam and even garbage washing onto shore. Some people got sick. Some people got in trouble with the law for their part in the scheme. I’d like to believe the islanders have straightened it all out, learned their lesson.
Honestly, I just don’t know. I will say that the water seems cleaner. Most of the people with whom you speak talk a good game when it comes to going green. Nowadays, everyone recycles (by law). But you will see the recycling bins at beaches, hotels, entertainment venues. I know for a fact that it’s someone’s job to pick up those containers and bring them to the town for recycling. So, there’s that.
Of course, everyone around here has been living the organic lifestyle since before it was trendy. Most people have their own gardens. They never use pesticides or anything unnatural. There are no GMOs. Actually, the laws regarding food production are so tough that you won’t find hot dogs or bacon sold in Italy. The preservatives prohibit them.
Also, there’s just a feeling of desire on the part of the people. The natives seem truly sad to hear that the sea that gives them life could be sick or ailing. Anything less than pristine, in fact, seems unacceptable. Frankly, their life demands a more symbiotic relationship with nature. It’s not just about the money. It’s not even just about the future of the world. It’s about their personal present.
To Their Health
The sea is the source of their income because that’s why tourists flock to Ischia. It is also a food source. The delicious seafood is another draw for visitors, but it’s also how the natives nourish themselves. A filthy sea means bad seafood. Obviously, bathing in dirty water could also cause physical illness. For centuries, people have come to Ischia for its thermal waters, which have healing powers. Imagine if instead of healing, the water began hurting. I can’t imagine it either. Or at least I never want to.
Even if investing in green efforts cost some money up front, the business owners in Ischia have to recognize what it could cost them in the long term. Just imagine the scenarios described by those other publications and reports. Climate change could literally wipe out Ischia. The island known as l’isola verde or the green island for its lush vegetation could end up losing its grapes or other crops for that matter. And that beautiful sea, the heartbeat of the island, is at risk.
So, you see, we have no choice but to concern ourselves with environmentalism. The island life depends on it.
Ristorante Bar Dai Tu’ is a small eatery perched over the sea on the island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples in Italy. Located in Ischia Porto, the island’s capital, the restaurant offers delicious seafood in an ultra romantic setting. I would love to inform you about price. But this is southern Italy, where the prices are never set in stone. If you know the owner, you pay one price. If you don’t, you pay another. That’s just the truth. Still, from what I’ve gathered no one has ever been gouged here. So, we can call it affordable. Whatever you call it, you’ll be calling the food delicious.
Essence of Romance
See those lights in the photo? That is the restaurant. It looks like a tiny shack, but it’s absolutely charming. The inside features an arched doorway to the kitchen and long farm tables. But the luckiest diners score a table on the terrace outside. The lovely breeze and the view of the sea make Ischia all the more alluring. I was there with my husband, his entire family, and our son. But my sister-in-law had been there with her husband for their anniversary and raved about the pumped up romance level, especially when seated outside. The nice part is that some “romantic” restaurants are elitist. Or they’re so fancy that you feel uncomfortable. This is not like that at all. The restaurant is casual and beachy, so it does not come off as stuffy at all.
See the Seafood
Of course, the best part of the restaurant is the food you are served. Seafood in Ischia is hard to beat. It’s super fresh since this is an island. It never has that fishy smell or taste like you sometimes experience in the United States. At this restaurant, you can experience the sea’s treasures and a touch of sweetness to boot. You won’t be disappointed. Discover the plates my group sampled:
Shellfish is my absolute favorite whenever I’m visiting Ischia. The best way to eat it, in my opinion, is in “saute.” This is when the juice from the shellfish, white wine, olive oil, and some seasoning, including garlic come together to form a broth. The mussels and/or clams sit atop a shallow pool of this broth. And there are always pieces of grilled, crusty bread adjoining them. I’ve shared with friends visiting the island; they always tell me they want to drink vats of the stuff. It’s seriously addicting. When I’m not in Ischia, I dream about it. This version at Dai Tu’ was one of the best I’ve had.
Served still warm, the octopus are boiled to make them soft for this salad. I’ve had this kind of salad cold, too, which is just as delicious. This warm version was doused with olive oil and lemon. The ruchetta (known to Americans as arugula) was particularly spicy, which was a nice contrast to the mild octopus.
This plate of fried fish was the very reason we headed to this restaurant. One of the people with us was having a craving. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of fried fish with “spina,” bones. And I don’t really know how to clean these fish well. So, I mostly steered clear of this dish. But it included a few types of fish, including merluzzo, a mild white fish popular on the island. My husband enjoyed this dish and gave me a few bites of his. It was truly delicious, especially with a spurt of lemon. It made the flavor pop.
Normally, these kinds of eateries disappoint when it comes to dessert. After all, the emphasis is on the fish. The sweets are an afterthought. But this place has it all. For starters, the presentation is gorgeous. The light, fluffy cheesecake is served in a bowl made of cookie crust. Then it is topped with homemade sorbet and sauce. I believe it was a wild berry sorbet and topping. Everyone at the table was envious of those of us who ordered this.
It was divine. The sorbet was refreshing and cut into the sweetness of the creamy cake. That bit of crunch from the crust was just perfect. Others at the table ordered tiramisu (in a cup) and panna cotta. They were all satisfied with their dessert, but I focused on the cheesecake. I didn’t even feel the need to taste the others. It was the cherry – err, wild berry – on top of a delicious night.
A quiet beach is a sanctuary. In the evening in Ischia, when all the chairs are closed and the sand is cleared of debris, you walk. You might even dip your toes in the sea. The night breeze tickles your face and whips your hair. You squeeze the hand of your beloved. Or pull your shawl close to you. Along with clear beach, your mind clears. Looking out into the darkness of the sea, you recognize that everything is bigger than you. For a moment, you feel as though you have been swallowed whole. Then, you look down at your feet. They are dug into the sand and the tip of a wave splashes them. Things begin to come into focus.
Now, You Can Think
All around you is peace. This is your chance to get lost in your thoughts. You can focus on whatever issue is of the utmost importance in that moment. Maybe in the still of the beach you will find answers. Most importantly, by spending this time with yourself, you will better understand who you are. Maybe you’ll figure out what meaning life has for you.
Island life stands still. The ocean waves crash onto the shore. It renders everything else – perhaps, most of all, the people – motionless. The scalding sun beats down on them like the rhythm of a Metallica drum. So, the cool waters lure them like the sirens of Greek mythology. When they have had their fill and they return to the shore, they sleep. It’s a deep rest brought on by the soothing lullaby that is the sea.
Visions of floating green hills and crisp blue skies visit their dreams. When they awake, they are met with a pink and orange sunset, the type you’d imagine described in a romance novel. The perfume of roses and bougainvillea hangs in the air. Indeed, you don’t have to stop to smell flowers. They hit you right in the face. They’re intoxicating. As day turns to evening the breeze forces the beach babes to cover their bronzed, oiled skin. But a bit of beach remains in their locks well into the night. Any suitors who approach will surely take it all in. More intoxication.
Crazy Time on the Island
Night and day, it all runs together. Visitors lured by the island’s charms find they sleep until noon, eat dinner at 10 at night, and frolic well past dawn. While that may seem like madness under normal circumstances, it perfectly suits them on the island. When the sun rises and they still find themselves on the main drag, steps away from the beach, they think nothing of it. It’s as though this happens all the time. No matter they stole a kiss from someone they barely know. Or danced on a pole. Or went topless on the beach. The heat, the surf, the endless beauty all around them make it natural and therefore acceptable.
For the tourist, this is fine and well. What happens on the island is the stuff of a locked journal. It’s an adventure to be cherished but not oft repeated or discussed. For the native, the island’s charms, which bring them livelihood, could very well kill them. Where the tourist welcomes lazy days and wild nights, the native must avoid both. Yet, the scent of the sea, tremendous heat, and unavoidable tan flesh has the power of hypnosis. If they are not careful, they can be dragged into an eternal spring break. Responsibility be damned.
Even if they manage to unwind themselves from the tentacles of the island, the stillness can get them. Or at least it’s a murderer of their ambitions. Those who stay, perhaps find comfort in the known. A few rise above on the home shores and find success running a restaurant or hotels or stores or entertainment venues. Or they become professionals, the type of people every society needs. There’s definitely a simplicity to island life, and the appeal is easy to understand. It’s that sense of security that keeps college grads behind the bar serving drinks and 50-year-old sons clutched in mamma’s arms.
In the Little Pond
Of course, the smallness of the place keeps everyone contained. They are confined to the labels they long ago inadvertently agreed to don. And they are kept at a distance from the outside world. It is feet they must walk and not miles. So, they play their roles. Some play them well. In fact, many find contentment in this smaller life on an island. Others remain like stiff sand sculptures unable to break free, suffocating. What is ironic is also sad; the very beauty of the island, what draws visitors to it, is the poison that can keep some of the natives from ever moving.
Nonetheless, every now and then, the sun peeks out from the trees. The crashing waves wakes up the mind and stirs the soul. That’s when the native fights the heat and pushes the stillness. And that little world spins and spins. Then, something remarkable happens. There is movement, there is life, even for the original dwellers. Finally, tourist and native alike get to reap the rewards.
This famous Italian proverb about love may seem obvious. But many of us try to control love and the whims of our heart. It’s more difficult to navigate than we ever imagine. Yet, we keep trying. This saying, “L’amore domina senza regole,” is a reminder of our impotence. Love is greater than our instinct to rule. There’s no getting around it, in fact. Whatever is in our heart holds the most power. It’s useless for any of us to fight those feelings. We are better off accepting them. Of course, we have to realize that without rules, anything can happen.
The Italy vaccine controversy was gripping the country when I arrived in early summer. Now, the government has made vaccinating your children compulsory.
Parents must have their children vaccinated against 12 diseases, including measles, or face a hefty fine. Children who are not vaccinated up to 6 years old will not be accepted into state-run schools. Parents face fines up to $8,380 for children over 6 who are not vaccinated. And repeat offenders could lose custody of their kids all together, according to NPR.
What Motivated the Decision To Force Vaccinations
I wrote about the debate that was going on earlier in the summer for the Our Paesani column on ItaliansRus. Some of you chimed in with your comments on the Italian Mamma Facebook page. In June 2017, as a measles outbreak plagued the nation, the Italian government was wondering out loud about what to do. More than 3,000 measles cases have been reported in Italy in 2017. At least 35 people have died from the disease across Europe, according to a July 11 story in BBC. In fact, the United States’ Centers for Disease Control issued a travel advisory for Italy as a result of the numerous cases.
Much like Americans, Italians politicized vaccines in recent years. Specifically, the 5-Star Movement, led by comedian Beppe Grillo, suggested vaccines were a prop of the pharmaceutical industry. More recently, this populist political party has taken a page out of the U.S. It has spouted the idea that vaccines lead to autism, which has not been proven. Indeed, in 2014, the political party proposed legislation that linked vaccines to various illnesses, including autism and allergies, as reported by BBC.
The Current Situation
People started to believe the malarkey. Why shouldn’t they? The pharma companies have been pretty greedy. Certainly, vaccines have some side effects. With all the noise, it’s hard for parents to know what to believe. It definitely wouldn’t be the first time doctors were wrong. There was a time when these folks were pushing cigarettes and diet pills. So, the rate of vaccinations for measles dropped to 85 percent, which is well below the threshold of 95 percent. That threshold is what scientists say helps stop the disease from spreading among those in the general public. As long as 95 percent of the population is vaccinated, then the disease is pretty much finished.
Italy has reported more than 3,000 cases of measles in the country in 2017, so far. Making vaccines compulsory is an attempt to address the outbreak. Of course, it also could prevent other illnesses from spreading. The issue has become a cause for parents of children who have weak immune systems. They are pleading with officials to back off trying to appeal or weaken the new law. Still, parents on the other side of the debate continue to protest. They say this law takes away their freedom to choose.