11 Things I Learned About Italy

Excuse me, I’m still on Italy time.

Last week I was in Italy. Yes, Italy. Not only was I in Italy but I was there, celebrating my Grandmother’s 80th birthday with all of our family. #1 bucket list trip destination, Italy, bonus, I experienced it with my whole family. Bill asked me what #2 was, I said there wasn’t a number 2, but I should probably figure that one out. But really, it’s probably just going back to Italy.

We stayed in a Villa, on the side of a mountain in Tuscany. Yes it was perfect. Yes it was magical. Yes I am still pinching myself, and if there wasn’t photographic evidence and witnesses I probably would be convinced it was just a dream.

I took a whole lot of pictures, which I’ve narrowed down to about 250 favorites. That said, I’ve still got some narrowing down to do before I share all those. But before I forget, I wanted to write down the 11 random things I learned about Italy. So here it goes.

1. English underutilizes one of the best letters in the alphabet. Italian takes full advantage of it’s beauty. Z
zizzania – discord
piazza – square/market

And so on. The double zz actually makes a ts sound. It’s fancy and I like it.

2. For the most part no Italian treated me like a “stupid American”. I wasn’t sure how this was going to go down, you hear a lot that Americans kinda give themselves a bad name when we travel abroad. Lets be honest, we can be jerks. But I did a crash course in Italian before we left (thank you Little Pim) and I know enough Spanish to piece together some things and this seemed to ease me into the good graces of the people. They always immediately spoke Italian to me, and when I asked if they spoke English, and they said no, but then I followed it up with a bit of broken Italian, demeanors turned from irritation to kindness.

3. Rome is busy, Rome is hot, wear your walking shoes. We took a bullet train to Rome (more on this in a second) and spent the day wandering around and seeing some of the many sites. But record high temps took my very optimistic walking tour of Rome plans down a few notches. We did see the colosseum and get to go into the bottom level and walk out onto the floor, which most people never get to see. And seeing the look on Bill’s face as we walked those halls made all the heat, and swollen feet 1000% worth it.

4. Train systems with bullet trains that span your country, nay, multiple countries are awesome, get with it America. To drive to Rome from where we were staying would have taken 2 and a half hours. The Frecciabianca (White Arrow) got us there in about an hour and 5 minutes. Why can’t I hop a bullet train to Dallas, or Austin or San Antonio from Houston instead of driving the 3.5+ hours to each destination? Please tell me.

5. Small towns in Italy and the Tuscan countryside are exactly how they’re pictured in paintings, books and movies. Exactly. Often while at the villa overlooking vineyards or while walking down narrow cobblestone path ways, with tall old brick and stone apartments on each side, all covered in window boxes full of flowers and laundry drying in the breeze, I wanted to just push them. Like maybe they were just a series of elaborately painted backdrops, and if I tapped them just so, they’d all tumble over and reveal it was all just a farce.

6. Bars in Italy are my jam. Bars in Italy are not smoky, dark, venues with alcohol and sleazy men where everything seems just slightly damp. Bars in Italy are coffee bars, where they also happen to sell alcohol, or pastries or gelato or maybe local meats and cheeses. There is no to go coffee, no paper cups, no waste. And a café is an espresso and its served in a tiny ceramic cup with a cucchianino (those tiny spoons) and you stand with the locals at the bar and drink that sucker straight up and it’s the smoothest, most luxurious espresso you’ve ever tasted. It’s magical. It’s like stars in your mouth (as my grandmother would say). Oh and did I mention these Bars are everywhere? Everywhere. Gas stations, tiny towns, everywhere and its glorious.

7. Americans are butchering coffee. We’ve taken a beautiful magical art and stabbed it several times, added about 30 tons of sugar, lit it on fire and then slapped a siren label on it and a really big price tag and called it coffee.

Since I managed a cafe way back when, I’ve been a coffee purist. When it was decided that we were going to Italy, one of the things that excited me most was drinking the coffee. And let me tell you, my coffee taste buds will never be the same. Seattle, I don’t know what you thought you were doing…but it’s wrong. I should probably stop while I’m ahead, because I could really go on here. For a real long time. But I’m not just talking about the big American coffee giants, I’m talking about gas station coffee, and diner coffee and it just makes me really sad. Legit, Italians call cafe Americano acqua sporca, or “dirty water”. Which I’m now convinced is 100% true because café is good and pure and its good and pure everywhere, even at the gas station bars.

8. All tomatoes are dead to me. There was a vegetable garden at our villa and in it grew tomatoes, in that Tuscan volcanic soil and that my friends is what a tomato is supposed to taste like. I can hardly describe it, soft like a perfectly ripe peach, so juicy that it oozes down the corner of your mouth and down your chin a bit, firm skin, bright but deep red, sweet but a mellow sweetness and meaty, like a perfectly cooked steak. And the smell, the smell is amazing. But even the store bought produce was better than anything I could buy here in the states. Everything was ripe to perfection and flavorful.

9. Riposos, also my jam. Seriously, lets shut everything down between the hours of 2 and 4 and take a nap. We’re all dragging around that time anyway, and it’s freaking hot, who wants to be out in that? Let’s give in to our bodies natural clock and relax. Granted this doesn’t happen so much in the larger cities like Rome, but the closest town where we were staying, dead quiet, not a soul between those times. There’s something really smart happening there.

10. The food. Good God the food. If the coffee wasn’t good enough, the cheese. Italy is doing cheese right. Lets be honest, no one is slicing up American Cheese and putting it out at fancy parties with olives and nuts and fine wine. What is amazing is all the fancy expensive cheeses you buy here, are local to Italy, so they’re cheap, stupid cheap. I may have sat down to a whole wheel of cheese (or several). Maybe.

One word, gelato. Gelato made me miss Blue Bell a whole lot less. Cioccolato Fondente, I will dream of you. We need more gelaterias, like stat.

I vow to stop overcooking pasta. You hear people say al dente pasta, well that’s pretty much just how pasta is cooked in Italy. Except for if it’s fresh pasta, which is basically the best thing I’ve ever eaten and a whole different ball game from fresh pasta.

Dominos, Little Caesars, Papa Johns, Cicis, you need to stop. You do not make pizza. You make some cardboard, cheese slathered imposter. This is pizza.

Pizza-Italy

Lastly, hello dinner, at 8:30. I suppose because of the riposo people are eating dinner later, like much later. And dinner, is multiple courses. First the antipasti-the appetizer of local meats or local fair, we had ricotta stuffed squash blossoms which sounds fancy, but you can totally just buy squash blossoms at the store, apparently its a regular thing. The first course, the Primo, pasta, soup or risotto. The main course, some kind of meat, plus side dishes. All this is followed by dolce, dessert and coffee. And then sometimes fruit, because it’s supposed to help with digestion. I thought I’d take more issues with this, but what I found was that I wasn’t night snacking or ravenously hungry the next morning, like I typically am after our standard 5:30 dinner. Which allowed me to eat a traditional Italian breakfast which is simple cafe and a pastry or maybe fruit or cheese and meat on bread.

11. I could easily assimilate. There was a moment there, where I was like, lets just send for Issa, we can trade in our return tickets and get her here. There’s so much about Italy that is just so me. On day one my dad looked at me and said, “this is your element, you fit here.” And he was 100% right. The food, the respect for the land and the things it produces, the cafe, the bars, the risposo, the late dinners, the community, all of it. It’s me. And I’m not real sure why that is. Maybe it’s some weird genetic thing, like my Italian blood is calling to me. Maybe it’s just my personality fits with the culture. Maybe it’s the Tuscan sun. Who knows. But one thing I do know, I’m going to keep learning Italian, just in case.

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