Friday, October 5, 2012

questo e quello

In the last several weeks, I've struggled to find a way to incorporate so many of the ins and outs of life here. I feel like a massive sponge daily absorbing a world of information, often leaving me unsure of how to catalog it all in my mind, much less organize it into neatly written paragraphs. And so, I won't attempt either. I give you the blogger's dream post: a pseudo-composition of bullets, pictures, and disjointed Italian anecdotes. Hence the title of the post questo e quello (this and that).

1) The mystery genre in Italy is actually translated as "yellow." As in, "Oh so you like yellow books? Have you read any Nancy Drew?"

2) Our "roma tomatoes" in the States have no such name in Italy--they're just regular "tomatoes." Go figure.

3) Italians not only get a birthday, but a saint's day as well. For instance, if your name is Francesco, you will also celebrate on October 5th, which is the day of San Francesco.

4) The most common Italian dog names are ironically 1950's American human names: Billy, Jack, and Dick.

5) We have been painfully listening to Michael Buble's Christmas CD since August. As someone who doesn't even want to see a pine needle before Black Friday, this makes road trips all the more uncomfortable.

6) Speaking of road trips, this is how they typically end too:

7) Benito regularly points out that I say "huh" a lot, and with at least seven different intonations and accompanying facial expressions. Apparently, I'm not as skilled at small talk as I once thought. Huh.

8) For Italians, salad is a second course. In a meal of gnocchi and salad, for instance, you first consume all of your gnocchi before even touching your greens. I like this mentality on eating that allows you to sit down, focus individually on the food in front of you, and maybe even enjoy it. The alternative is snarfing down a granola bar in the car while running errands or on the way to work. Do you even remember what any of it tasted like? You'll never see an Italian carrying a coffee mug in public or eating anything in their car or on the street. Italians take their food very seriously: it's just too good to be enjoyed on the go.

9) Pictured above is my favorite place "in" the house. This is the view from the porch where I often do my morning devotions.

10) Italians call cream cheese "Philadelphia," though not unlike Americans calling tissues "Kleenex" I guess.

11) The glorified marriage proposal does not exist here. Neither is there a word for "fiancĂ©" nor "engagement."

12) In Italy, 13 is actually a lucky number and 17 the unlucky one. Southern Italians are especially superstitious. When a Neapolitan spots a black cat or even a nun dressed in black while out driving, the driver is to get out and circle the car 7 times, or wait for another car to arrive so they can "pass on the bad fortune." Scratching one's "crotchal" region is also supposed to bring good luck.

13) Italian cemeteries are in high-rise buildings. There's no room for the alternative!

14) It seems Virginia and I are constantly working on projects, predominately in art. Our most recent endeavor was braiding, where Virginia learned the traditional way and I worked on mastering the French. Lucky for me, she's been my very willing guinea pig and leaves for school with a different hairstyle nearly everyday.

15) I now respond to "Sah-rah," and is best when coming from a sweet 6-year-old girl or 10-year-old boy with an Italian accent.

16) Cookies are eaten for breakfast and eggs are eaten for lunch or dinner.

17) Since my very first week in Rome, Benito made it painfully clear that if I was to stay in his house, I would be, by default, a Napoli soccer fan, with Cavani as my favorite player. Sometimes, when introducing me to friends and colleagues, he quizzes me just to make sure.

18) Every second Thursday, the mess hall director from the NATO Defense College comes over to watch the Napoli game with Benito and Giulio. Last time, I was asked to make American potato salad (pictured above middle) to impress their guest, a chef no less, which was obviously kind of embarrassing. At least we've moved away from the fried American foods, if only temporarily.

19) Giovanna and I have been in the habit of sharing recipes since day one, which is naturally very disproportional on her end. I can't wait to bring back many of the authentic Italian dishes I've enjoyed here.

My first attempt at making bruschetta

20) Fettuccine Alfredo is not Italian. And neither are spaghetti and meatballs ever eaten together--they are two very separate dishes, as pasta is almost never cooked with meat here (I know, dad, a real shot to the heart). "Panini" in Italian is the plural form of your standard sandwich. So when you order A panini in the States, Italians are cringing across the Atlantic as you are really asking for "a sandwichES." Finally, pepperoni are actually bell peppers, not a meat lover's pizza topping. I don't know what to believe anymore.

21) I now make espresso like a Starbucks barista.

22) Run-on sentences are bad English, but good Italian. This explains a lot.

23) Oh Italian Fiat 500 (see below), how I want you. Hold the manual transmission, please.

You half expect Stuart Little to pop out and wave from the driver's seat...

24) Just as I observed in Spain, it is impolite to keep your hands in your lap while eating. Proper Italian etiquette dictates that one's hands should be visible above the table at all times, the polar opposite of American table manners. You never realize how powerfully ingrained your cultural habits are until you're forcing your hands up out from under the tablecloth every five minutes during each and every meal. I'll never get it. It's scary how robotic we become to something that couldn't be less natural.

25) Also like the Spanish, Italians always wear shoes inside the house. Even if in pajamas, being barefoot or only in socks is seen as rude, even barbaric. As for me, I prefer being a comfortable barbarian.

26) I have assumed something of a reputation within Virginia and Giulio's school community. After meeting several parents and grandparents during pick-up, I am used to hearing "ohhh so you're the fried chicken girl!" Excuse me, but that's Sarah, the fried chicken girl to you.

27) I miss the guarantee of toilet seats and toilet paper. That's all I'll say about that.

28) We do a lot of drawing and painting around here. Virginia and I make a good team, where I first outline the drawing and she infuses it with living color. Welcome to our mini gallery...

"A" for effort, Ms. Castrodale?

Look familiar, anyone??

29) This week, I began an Italian language course for "ferners" (for just 20 euros too!) and I couldn't be more thrilled! Maybe it took graduating college, and then teaching, for me to realize just how wonderful it is to be a student. Classes are held twice-weekly at a school by the beach in Ostia and I am one of just eight in the class. We are like little islands sitting in the classroom, each of us hailing from vastly different countries: USA, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Romania, China, Cuba, and Brazil. Our only common ground, ironically, is our childlike communication in Italian. The teacher is so kind and put me immediately at ease. So much so that during the very first lesson, she had me up front writing on the board to test me---a potentially very embarrassing experience that wasn't. While the instructor cannot speak a lick of English, I had no trouble comprehending the entire 2-hour Italian lesson. And what's more, I won't be tempted to cheat and speak English this way. The course runs through December and so, unfortunately, I won't be able to finish during this trip, but I'm soaking it up until then!

30) I've temporarily put aside The Great Gatsby and am plowing through another book entitled A Severe Mercy. Though a painful read at times, it is eloquately written and chock-full of rich Truth. This is my favorite quote thus far:

"But if the best of life is, in fact, emotional, then one wanted the highest, purest emotions: and that meant joy...So if he wanted the heights of joy, he must have, if he could find it, a great love. But in the books...great joy through love seemed always to go hand in hand with frightful pain. Still, he thought...the joy would be worth the pain--if indeed they went together. If there was a choice---and he suspected there was--a choice between, on the one hand, the heights and the depths and, on the other hand, some sort of safe, cautious middle way, he, for one, here and now chose the heights and the depths."

Good thought. I'll have what he's having.


  1. I love that quote you left us with. I'm a believer in it.
    I also love the way you formatted this post! It's fun to read about how you're growing and learn about the knicks and knacks you're picking up along the way.
    Thinking about you often, my beaut Italian flower!

  2. love the 205E. Columbia picture. So much good info in this post!! And haha about Stuart Little.

  3. how do proposals/marriage decisions work then?? i'll need to figure this out before returning to italy for nonna's grandson..