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.”
Lunch in southern Italy is nothing short of a revelation. Unlike those of us in America, most Italians in the south get three hours off for lunch and it is an event everyday. School closes in time for the kids to go home and eat with their families. Stores close, even the supermarket. They won’t be open again until 5 or 6 in the evening. Everyone has to spend quality time with their family, take a rest (people even nap from 3 to 5), and mangia, mangia. As an American, I’m still shocked to see the locks on all the stores starting at 1 in the afternoon.
While I’m used to scarfing down a sandwich while sitting at my computer working during the lunch hour (how very American of me), the meal in Italy often consists of a “primo” and a “secondo,” which refers to a first and second plate. The primo is either soup, risotto, or more likely pasta of some sort. The second is either a fish or meat with a couple of side dishes (often a mixed, green salad and another vegetable). Many Italians finish off their meal with a piece of fruit that they chase with an espresso.
For special occasions, such as holidays, you’ll have antipasto (appetizers) before the primo and a dessert after the secondo. Recently, my husband, Baby Boy, and I went out to eat at Ischia Porto’s Baia del Clipper restaurant. There, we had antipasto of smoked swordfish and salmon, shrimp in a light lemon sauce, octopus salad (my favorite), and seaweed zeppoles. Then, we had linguine with mussels and clams. Our secondo was the baked fish in acqua pazza that you see above. Yes, it does translate to crazy water. And, yes, even the names of food are cool in the Boot.
Of course, we intended to stop there. But we passed by Bar de Maio, and its fior di latte gelato was calling our name. So, we picked up some fior di latte, vanilla, and Kinder cereal ice cream for the whole family – all 13 in-laws back home – and called it a day. Well, not until after we finished off that kilo of ice cream with the help of our loved ones, of course.
The pace of life in southern Italy is traditionally slow. The people go home for lunch and stay for three hours. They nap in the middle of the afternoon – as I’ve mentioned before – to the point of snoring. And they actually refrain from calling or visiting friends from 3 to 5 p.m. because it’s nap time for kids and adults alike. As an American (and not just any American but one from the tri-state area, where slow doesn’t exist), I have always found this very slow rhythm of life annoying and inefficient. My frustration with this slow pace only gets worse in August. On Aug. 15 Italians celebrated Ferragosto, a pagan holiday that goes back centuries. This celebration is an excuse for the country to go on a month-long vacation. Seriously, many people get off from work for an entire month. In recent years, especially with the economic crisis, the vacation time has been cut, so some only have the last two weeks of the month off. But this is still in addition to whatever vacation time they have coming to them during the rest of the year. Crazy, right?
Now, here in Ischia things are a little different. This is a tourism mecca or trap, depending on who you talk to. If the rest of the country is on vacation, then islands like this are working overtime. The tourists come here in droves. In fact, my husband tells me that the island’s population triples in August. Even in this economic crisis, the streets are crowded, the gypsies are out in full force begging tourists for money, and the thieves taking advantage of unknowing tourists are making the rounds. And the natives are working day and night, which is wonderful for them because most of them only work for six months when the weather is warm and the beaches inviting and then they are usually unemployed for six months. This time of year is what counts for their pocketbooks and wallets. While they’re not really experiencing the siesta on steroids like the rest of the country, you shouldn’t feel too badly for them. Come November, they’ll all take off on their own vacations. And the island will hibernate.
In the meantime, these stinkin’ tourists strolling down the streets with their gelato in hand and sleeping on the beach with nothing to do are getting on my nerves. Don’t they have e-mails to send and phone calls to make? Diapers to change? Babies to feed? What about deadlines? How do they get them to simply go away? Arrrgghhh. I want to be an Italian on August holiday in my next life.