Monday, March 7, 2011

Still more reasons to come to Italy

Wednesday, March 2
The top ten reasons I come to Italy, continued

Number 5: Lack of “sameness.” Drive into any city in America, and you will see it. There will be the same restaurants, the same motels, the same grocery stores, hardware stores and drug stores. There will be broad roads with left turn lanes and wide sidewalks, with predictable stoplights and crosswalks. Each city looks much the same as the one before and after. While it is comforting to know that you can expect the same food at the Olive Garden in Florida as the one in Washington, what you gain from familiarity you also lose in overall experience. Italian cities also have some features in common, but the cities were built over hundreds or even thousands of years, with little input from city planners. Houses were built of stone and then added onto with bricks or a completely different type of stone. A stone archway might span a narrow stone street, connecting one house to another across the way. Narrow alleyways wind around darkly and end at a broad piazza with a statue in the center. It is rare indeed to find a city laid out with any semblance of a grid. The streets more likely follow the contours of the landscape, but in most places, there seems to be neither rhyme nor reason for the pattern they follow. Imagine taking a square yard of fish net and then stretching it out in a grid. Then take a scissors and cut out about twenty-five holes of various sizes. Then crumple it up in ball and throw it on the ground and spread it out a little with your feet. The result might be your typical Italian city map. The holes might represent an open piazza or a large palazzo that blocks the streets. And, of course, you will get different results each time.

Number 4: Fresh, pure delicious food. You don’t have to dine out every night to enjoy Italian food at its finest. Just stop at a pasticerria and you can buy homemade ravioli, lasagna, gnocchi or any variety of local pasta, along with a choice of sauces. Take it home and heat it up, and you can cook (and eat) like a maestro. At a macelleria, they sell only the very best lean beef, chicken, ham and turkey. Fruit and vegetables are not sold unless they are fresh and tasty. You can’t buy cardboard-tasting strawberries and tomatoes here if you tried.

Then, of course, there is gelato, and I could spend a whole blog entry just on this topic, but I will try to be concise. Any gelato maker will tell you that gelato is NOT ice cream. Gelato is made primarily with milk and egg yolks, with very little cream, so the butterfat content is much lower, but it has much less air whipped in, so it is denser and tastes richer and creamier than ice cream. Flavorings are generally not used, just fresh substances such as fruit, chocolate, nuts and liquors—all of which are not overwhelmed by the cream. Gelato is frozen at a higher temperature than ice cream and must be made daily, as it doesn’t store well. When served, it is usually just on the borderline of melting, soft, smooth and delicious.

Number 3: People watching. I am not into clothing and fashion by any stretch of the imagination. Lucy has to practically drag me along when I need to go shopping for clothes, and I rely on her judgment more than my own. Nonetheless, even the most fashion-challenged person in the world can’t help but appreciate the daily fashion shows that take place on the streets of

Italian cities. People here like to look good, and even as I walk around in my blue jeans and sweatshirt, I can’t help but appreciate these well-dressed and coiffed italiani.
But it goes far beyond simple fashions. Old people are always out and about, walking slowly, faces lined with character and experience, and I love watching them. I can imagine that the old man I see might have been, one hundred years earlier, my own great grandfather, walking along with hands behind his back, or playing checkers with another old timer on a park bench. The old woman could have been my great grandmother, and the middle-aged woman walking with her, arms linked, my grandmother. Watching the teenagers interact during the evening passeggiata is another fascinating experience. Groups meet, mix and split into different groups. Rarely is anyone walking alone, and if they are, they are probably on a cell phone, planning a rendezvous.
Next: The top 2 reasons to come to Italy.

1 comment:

  1. Did you think of that net analogy yourself? It's great!


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