Anyone who has ever lived in Italy knows that Italians, especially women, have an obsession with ironing. An iron like the one above, which my husband and I received as a wedding gift last year, is a prized posession of many an Italian woman. I personally think it looks like something that the aliens who dropped in from Mars might leave on your doorstep. And I have never used it. As I understand it, you fill that bottom part with water, so you can iron everything from sheets to button-down shirts without having to continually add water as you would with traditional irons. Americans would never purchase such an iron because none of us do enough ironing to justify that much water in the tank. Perhaps, in the States, we could use this iron to boil water for tea. In any event, you can read about how the Italians judge me for my anti-ironing ways at the About.com Newlyweds site in a blog I recently wrote. Do me a favor: take a stand and don’t iron anything today.
Italians don’t care much about balloons and party horns. But every birthday must include a delicious meal. The person who is celebrating his birthday is expected to either invite (and pay) for his friends and family at a restaurant or invite them to his home and cook them a meal. You are also expected to offer cake or pastries to your colleagues at work on both your name day and birthday. Crazy, right? I must admit that I prefer the American way, where friends and family and colleagues offer you treats on your birthday as opposed to the other way around.
In any event, we recently celebrated my cousin Fausto’s 27th birthday at the home of our friends Antonio (yes, it’s quite the popular name in Italy) and Imma in Barano, Ischia. Fausto is like a mayor. He’s friends with the world, so there were plenty of us gathered around a long table in Antonio and Imma’s house. As head chef for the evening, Fausto led his friends, who participated in the cooking, in creating a delicious, gourmet meal that featured astice, which is similar to lobster, and balsamic vinegar soaked semi-raw fish that sounds strange but melts in your mouth. (See “Fausto’s 27th Birthday” photo album for pictures of some of the food and Fausto and friends.) The party was on Sunday, and I’m still delirious from the stuffed-to-the-brim gorging in which we partook. Thank God I don’t drink and therefore skipped the Veuve Clicquot and wine being passed around, or I’d be in sorrier shape. Still, it was worth it.
A few weeks ago, my cousin Gigino and his wife Flavia graciously invited me for a day at Nitrodi, a spot in Ischia where there are fountains of naturally warm water that revitalizes the skin and body. (See “Nitrodi Healing Showers” photo album for a picture tour.) I had been to Nitrodi before, but it was always just a single shower and not much else. Now, the community of Barano in Ischia has come together to improve the area for tourists and natives alike. There are additional showers that overlook Maronti, the largest and most popular beach in Ischia, and Sant’ Angelo, an ancient fishing village that now caters to tourists. Stairs and wooden railings that lead guests up to the showers and strategically placed lounge chairs in the hillside are simple yet pretty. And the peaceful atmosphere and lush vegetation make you feel as though you’re at an outdoor spa. If you pack a picnic like my cousins did, you can make a whole day of your stay at Nitrodi. If I could only use one word to describe Nitrodi now, it would be perfect.
It has been a whirlwind week for Antonio and me. First, my American cousin Damiano was in Ischia with his friends for the weekend — and had quite an adventure after accidentally arriving on the wrong island with no more boats headed for Ischia until morning. Then, my cousins from Australia met up with us for dinner at the home of my cousins from Ischia, Gigino and Flavia. (See the photo album “Australians In Ischia” for more pictures.) If you’re still reading this, you’ve realized that I have lots of cousins from all over the world. Yesterday, Antonio and I took the day off — consider it a vacation from everyone else’s vacation. Seriously, however, it’s been so much fun having all these relatives around that I’m not sure how I’ll go on without them now that the summer is winding down and everyone is returning home. Ischia is just not the same without family. Thank goodness I have enough cousins on the island to keep me busy!
Anyone who knows my cousin Damiano knows that he brings new meaning to the term character. As a two-year-old, he was best known for hosing down his aunt as she would leave for work, nearly setting my brother’s hair on fire, and talking like a sailor. He has since grown into a responsible young adult with a promising future. But he still has his adventures.
Of course, with Damiano, you never know what might happen. On their way from London, where he and his friends have been training for their first job out of college (in a bank), they accidentally got off the boat one stop too soon and landed in Procida, a completely different island. They somehow managed to get to Ischia in the wee hours of the morning, but no one let Damiano live down his mistake. (See the photo album “Damiano and Friends in Ischia“.)
When I first heard that Damiano would be spending a weekend in Ischia with his new friends, I immediately started planning a dream weekend for them. The young men, all of whom recently graduated college, were wiped out and needed some R and R. My first thought was to bring them to one of Ischia’s thermal pool parks and the other was to lounge on the beach. We managed to do both and taste some of Ischia’s delicious offerings, including pizza, seafood, pastries (baba’ indeed), and gelato. All in all, we had a delicious weekend that I hope the boys will fondly remember for years to come.
I’m grateful because it was a lot of fun for me, too — and they treated me to dinner one night, gelato, and a new set of espresso cups for Antonio’s Italian kitchen. It was far too generous, and we definitely owe them another meal at our American home when we get back to New Jersey sometime in the fall. Grazie mille, boys!
I’m an American woman, but as the wife of an Italian (and daughter of Italians before that), I know a thing or two about how women are treated in Italian culture. Although Italy has made progress, it is still far behind the United States when it comes to how its people treat women. Yes, women vote. And they even keep their last names when they marry in Italy. But they also take on a large part of the responsibility at home, regardless of whether they work outside the house. In the end, the Italian women I know have jobs (some even have careers), keep house, cook, tend to children, and their husbands just work.
Worst of all, there’s a “boys will be boys” attitude that have everyone accepting the behavior of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who allegedly had sex with minors and paid for sex with prostitutes. But a few women are making an effort and calling for change. What do you think should happen to Berlusconi in light of this scandal? Leave a comment below to let us know.
A parade literally marched to our door in Ischia, Italy last night. (Click on “Royal Parade in Ischia” above to see a YouTube video of the parade.) Because my husband’s family lives in the heart of the island’s capital city Ischia Porto, this, much to our delight, happens every once in a while. Yesterday’s parade was particularly special because it is held annually in honor of Sant’ Alessandro and has the townspeople dressed in traditional royal and peasant garb from the days when Castello Aragonese in Ischia Ponte was a functioning fortress and castle.
While the dancing horses caught the eye (not to mention the nose every so often), it was the women’s elaborate gowns replete with trains, embroidery, pearl details, and stunning headpieces that stole the show. My three nieces, Laura, Giulia, and Francesca were dreaming out loud of wearing the gowns and playing princess the whole time. To be honest, it made me secretly want to put on one of my wedding dresses even if for just a little while in the privacy of my own home when no one was looking. After all, every girl wants to feel like a princess at least once in a while. That might be why Giulia is always parading around the house in a tiara and beads.
These figs were a delightful and unexpected addition to the first meal Antonio and I served to his family in our completed kitchen in Ischia. (You can join us for the typical Italian lunch at the “Our First Meal and Figs” photo album.) My cousins from Testaccio, Ischia brought them to me to share with my in-laws. What’s so special about these figs? Well, my Nonno Giovanni, who passed away in 1992, planted the tree on which these figs grew at the home in Buonopane, Ischia, where my father grew up.
My in-laws couldn’t get enough of them. We enhanced their flavor at lunch by serving them with prosciutto. And we finished them in less than a day. And everyone wants to know when Nonno Giovanni will be sending more from Heaven. It was great to have him with me for a bit here in Ischia.
The people of Ischia are sighing with relief because the month of August is swiftly coming to an end. For Ischitani, August means work because the rest of the country heads to the beaches and mountains for vacation. That’s right. Just about the whole country, except for those who work in tourism like most of the Ischitani, have at least a few weeks off in August if not the whole month. If you can’t take off in August for some reason, then you usually get to take time off in July. Unbelievable, right? As an American, who barely gets two weeks of vacation per year, I can’t fathom how Italians can ever get work done with all their vacation time. How can the country earn anything if everyone takes off for the whole month at the same time? I guess that’s what “la dolce vita” means.
For me, August in Ischia wasn’t much different than June or July in Ischia. I work for American publications, and therefore I’m always on call and on the job. But I did get to see more of my relatives in my down time. One cousin, who lives in France but married a woman from Ischia, spent a couple of weeks on the island — and we all got together to break bread one night at another cousin’s restaurant (see photo above). And cousins from Australia and the United States are headed to Ischia at the end of the week for a long weekend that will have us all bidding farewell to yet another August in Italy.
I think Ischia, perhaps myself included, will need a vacation to recuperate after the August summer vacation.
In all my years of visiting Ischia — I visited for the first time when I was just two years old — I had never heard of Bagnitiello in Casamicciola, Ischia until the summer of 2009. (For photos, visit Francesca’s Tour of Bagnitiello.) This year, my husband Antonio and I spent two days with friends at this thermal pool park and bay. The affordable entrance price — 10 euro per person — combined with a spectacular view that gives creedence to Ischia’s name, “The Green Island”, and the delicious bruschetta with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella served at the snack bar are reason enough to keep returning.
Much smaller than the three major thermal spas in Ischia (Poseidon Gardens, Negombo, and Castiglione), Bagnitiello also offers unmatched tranquility. With a hot tub and thermal pool and non-thermal pools for the kiddies, there is plenty to do besides laying out in the sun. The owners also built stairs over the rocks, so people can walk right into the middle of this bay in the ocean, which is the origin of the healing thermal waters. There are boogie board-type mats in the ocean for people to lay out there, too.
Difficult to get to Bagnitiello because there is nowhere to park and you have to walk down a winding, bumpy path, you might consider taking a motorino (think Vespa). But if you’re like me, you’ll have a heart attack on the motorino — not that it has stopped my husband from taking me to Bagnitiello on one. Still, there is some convenience to this location. Bagnitiello is close to the larger thermal spa Castiglione, which is also more affordable than the other two big spas and more conducive to families because of its non-thermal options.The bottom line is that Bagnitiello is not quite the tourist trap that some of the other spas have become, so the atmosphere and the activities are still pleasurable and offer the kind of peace you’d like to have at the beach or spa.