Here we are, Week 2 of The Italy Project and I have two tremendous victories to report! The first triumph is as exhilarating as it is terrifying: I got my Euro license! Our forty minute safety brief concluded that foreigners must obey all rules of the road but should not expect Italians to do so… in other words… be afraid. Be very afraid. As eager as I am to reassert my independence, I am equally as anxious about taking out a rogue scooter. Stealing a page from the Italians’ book, I decide to take my Opel Corsa for her maiden voyage domani (tomorrow).
I Be Up In The Gym Just Workin’ On My Fitness
Aside from my friends and gourmet salads, one of the things I miss most about Boston is my gym. The boutique fitness craze has yet to hit Italy so I’m not sure what to expect as Billy and I pass a pair of smokers on our way into the enormous Virgin Active “villaggio fitness.” All doubts subside the moment I enter; instantly, I am at ease. The foreign language? The strange outfits? All of that gives way to a flood of familiarity: kettlebells, TRX bands, spin classes, and even a yoga instructor with a man-bun. I am home.
It takes two Virgin Active employees, all of Billy’s Italian language skills, some help from Google translater, and over an hour to get us signed up. In the end, Billy and I are so exhausted from our communication efforts that we opt to hit up the smoothie bar instead of the weights. A huge win nevertheless.
Down At Fraggle Rock
And now, a few notes about the locals… I will say this for the Italians: they are incredibly welcoming and unafraid to converse even in the face of glaringly obvious language barriers. Over the past few weeks I begin to think of them as Fraggles, the tiny creatures from an old children’s show called ‘Fraggle Rock.’ Much like the Fraggles, the Italians dwell in their crumbling concrete caves and emerge intent on the pursuit of pleasure: scooting around with reckless abandon, shooting off fireworks almost nightly, and blaring their euro dance tunes. Dance your cares away / Worry’s for another day / Let the music play / Down at Fraggle Rock!
During one of my afternoon strolls I come across a group of older gentlemen gathered on the sidewalk. They gesture wildly to one another and I begin to wonder if I’ve stumbled upon some kind of altercation. I have not. Apparently, that’s just how the Italians talk… even about things as commonplace as the weather or the latest football game. **For your reference, dear Reader, I have included photos of a few of these ubiquitous hand gestures at the end of this post (illustrated by Dolce and Gabbana models, obvi).
One evening, while popping out for a few groceries, Billy and I notice an elderly couple moving in on the first floor. Within moments we are in Giorgio and Rosaria’s living room. Giorgio and Billy exchange some words in Italian about wives. “Move this here, move that there” Giorgio says to Billy in Italian, mimicking his wife. My darling William chuckles knowingly. Hmph! Giorgio weaves in and out of Italian and English as he proudly shows me all of the ceramics in his home, each one hand crafted by Giorgio himself. As he and Rosaria proudly present their antique wooden table made in Bari (that’s the other side of the boot), they insist we come for dinner some night. “Si, si!” Billy and I promise as we inch out the front door, eager to do our shopping and start making dinner.
We’ve almost made it the few steps to the produce store when we happen upon Pepe, his wife, their daughter, and their daughter’s fiancée, Felice. Here we begin another labored chat about the upcoming nuptials, the kind of food Billy and I served at our wedding, and our air conditioner that Pepe needs to replace since it has all but combusted in the wake of the latest heat wave. Ciao! Ciao! We make another escape.
Safely inside the fruit and vegetable store (or so we think), we run into the man who runs Frasca, the ristorante right across the street. Buona sera! Ciao! This gentleman was kind enough to watch Arturo, our small lemon tree, while we were in the States for a few weeks and now he is concerned – Art needs a bigger pot. We agree and assure him we will upgrade the pot. Ciao! Ciao!
With our items laid on the counter, the stern Produce Lady shrewdly surmises our intent to make pasta sauce. Billy confirms that, yes, we intend to make pasta sauce this evening. She asks him how, glancing at him over the frames of her glasses. If there is anything I’ve learned so far it is that Italians have very strong opinions about how you should prepare food. Billy takes a deep breath and recites, step by step, how he will make the sauce. The oil, the garlic, a little water from the pasta pot… Produce Lady listens and finally gives a curt nod. My husband has passed her test. I am flush with pride; I have scored a genius! She forces some basil on us and we are free to go. A man nearby, overhearing our plans, insists the ravioli must be cooked for five minutes. Just five. Ciao! Grazie! Ciao!
Anyway, it took us about 40 minutes to run a 7 minute errand. By now, dear Reader, I’m sure you have sussed out that personal connections are the real currency around here.