I’ve not written about Italy recently. I’m practicing the language most days and reading travel guides and novels about different areas of the country. Guido updates me at times and tells me of his family and the extremely hot summer they experienced in Florence. But, alas, I do not have another trip planned there at the moment. Nevertheless, it’s never very far from my heart and mind. Currently I’m reading The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken, a book about a New Jersey woman’s search to find her great grandmother’s recipe for ravioli. Her search takes her to Genoa several times. When I read the following passages it was like reading a newly found poem, that feeling of someone putting into words, feelings and thoughts I hadn’t yet been able to articulate.
“It must be annoying to Italians the way we Americans romanticize them. We use their country for our fantasies and fill our kitchens with Tuscan inspired tablecloths and earthenware. We cook “Italian” dishes that never existed east of Brooklyn. We swoon for movies and books that deliver baroque architecture, silver olive groves, dazzling mountains and sea–and always the transformative flavors where culinary lives can be born.
I wonder if Italians understand that we really have no choice. We Americans desperately need Italy and our dream of la dolce vita. I wonder if we could do without it. Living in the fastest economy in the history of civilization, migrating continuously in search of a better life, living in our way without safety nets of village, family, or national health care–we need to believe there is a more humane country out there where art and beauty prevail, where monuments of civilization endure, where the Vatican and its shrines are kept safe, and where the people resist McDonald’s (at least more than others). We love the concept of Italy–a country of warm climate and warm people, who insist on taking a rest in the afternoon, a place where the cars are small instead of big, and where yesterday is not so easily paved over by strip malls and chain discount stores.
Perhaps most of all, we want to dream of a country where the food is good and families are strong. Be all this true, somewhat true, or grossly exaggerated, is secondary really. We need beauty and relief. Italy, the concept of Italy, gives us this.”
While I don’t have another trip planned to Italy, this past weekend we went to New York City to see Zucchero, the Italian singer I’ve mentioned in a few posts. While NYC is not Italy, it does feel closer to it, with pizza shops on every corner, and the beautiful architecture and buildings…stunning cathedrals, the gorgeous Metropolitan Opera House, and the Beacon Theatre where Zucchero performed. On our walk to the Beacon Theatre we came upon the Met and I felt giddy. There were white tents set up on the plaza, apparently an event for the ballet which is also on the plaza. Men in tuxedos and women in gowns. We walked up closer to the Met and passed the sweet bubbling fountain. It made me think of the scene in Moonstruck where Cher meets Nicolas Cage out front of the Opera House before they see La Boehme…one of my favorite scenes in the movie. The Beacon Theatre was just a little further up the road and when we entered we were in awe. The theatre is a well-known landmark on the Upper West Side and opened in the late 20’s. It holds close to three thousand guests. I will let Brad tell you more about the concert in his next post but suffice it to say, while Zucchero sang in Italian, the music could’ve been enjoyed anywhere. I knew a couple of the songs but mostly they were new to me and I enjoyed them just the same. There were a couple of songs where it felt like we were in the minority in not knowing the words. Hundreds…maybe thousands…were singing along in Italian. It was a celebration in Italian! For a few hours I felt like was in Italy!