Archive for January, 2011

Io Sonno Americano

You know, the last thing I expected when I came to Italy was to hear American music almost everywhere. I kid you not, Italians are slightly infatuated with American songs. Every store plays American tunes, not translated out of English, over their sound system. According to some of my friends who have television in their apartment, even Italy’s version of MTV plays ninety percent American music.

At first I found this rather baffling. I expected Andrea Bocelli and Europop when I came to Italy, not Cee Lo Green or AC/DC. But sure enough, the first store I walked in to was proudly blaring “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen over their speakers. This was a little confusing to say the least. Eventually you realize that the majority of Italians have no idea what is being said in the songs, but this only makes the occurrence funnier. Why, if they can’t even understand it, are they so obsessed with it?

And obsessed is not an overstatement. I think I have yet to hear a legitimate Italian song being played as I walk around. This fondness for American culture doesn’t just stop at music, but has also worked its way into the dress code. From the fat, middle aged man in a Jets hoodie to the kid in a matching “ultimate street fighter 76” sweat suit; apparently anything that looks American or has English on it is automatically stylish. Even books have been affected. In the same store that was playing the Boss I found an Italian translation of Lady Gaga’s biography. Though I don’t know how I feel about the Lady Gaga novel, I’m definitely humored by the fondness for American pop-culture.

 

Advertisements

The Chicken or the Egg?

Typically we Americans take our culinary guidance from the Italians. Let us be brutally honest, in the grand scheme of things Italian cuisine has much more clout in the food world than cheeseburgers, fried chicken, and sweet tea. People eat Italian food to celebrate great events or for long sit-down, meals. They grab BBQ and coleslaw on their way to baseball games only to stifle heartburn and feel guilty about the trauma they just inflicted upon their cardiovascular systems.

So there I am in the capitol of all things delectable, ordering a delicious looking Milanese sandwich. It looked simply delectable sitting there in the café display case. The cook grilled me up one, and then asked “ketchup and mayonnaise?” I suspiciously said “si, grazi” and paid my tab. When I sat down I suddenly realized what exactly a Milanese sandwich is; a chicken patty!

I laughed. What else can you do? Here, in Italy, a country which boasts of its food and slanders American fast food I had a chicken patty on my plate. OK sure, it looked like an actual piece of breaded chicken instead of a sodium infused and unnaturally round brick of meat and was on some nice Italian bread with mozzarella instead of a processed bun, but still! Admittedly it tasted much, much better than any deep fried, chicken flavored hockey puck I’ve ever eaten in the states.

While I munched away I pondered, “I wonder which came first the Milanese or the chicken Patty?” Then I realized, “that’s just as impossible to answer as ‘which came first the chicken or the egg?’” Which lead to: “Why is it that poultry always has these unanswered questions?” I still have no answer for you other than the Milanese tasted better. So maybe it came first and we Americans tried unsuccessfully to imitate it with the chicken patty. Wouldn’t be the first time we messed up Italian cooking. Don’t believe me? Go to Olive Garden.

 

La Citidini de Asti (The Little city of Asti)

descending into Asti

Perhaps it is poor etiquette of me to write a post about my first journey before I write about my classy Italian villa apartment or home city. Mi dispiache (I’m sorry). Bear with me, those posts are coming. I just want to make sure I can include fairly representative pictures (which I do not currently possess) with those posts.

Admittedly, before I arrived I knew very little about Torino and Northern Italy. One of the facts I was surprised to learn is that the Piedmont region, the northwest area of Italy where Torino is located, is actually one of the main wine regions for Italy. Of course Italy is known for its wine, but most of the time Tuscany is credited as being the best area for Italy’s finest wine. However, the Piedmont region gives Tuscany a run for their money; either beating them for the title of “Best Wine in Italy” or finishing a close second every year. Ask any local resident of Torino and they will make sure you realize that they have much better wine than their detestable rival.

So, on the weekend before classes start Brandon and I decided a quick jaunt down to Asti, the wine capitol for the Piedmont, would be well worth our time. We woke before the sun that Sunday morning, ate a quick breakfast, and undertook the almost one and a half mile hike down to the Lingotto train station. We bought our round trip tickets for a mere 7,80 euros and jumped on the train to begin our first Italian excursion.

A quick note, Brandon is my roommate and travel companion. He hails from the arid desert city of Reno, Nevada where he goes to the University of Nevada to study Finance, Accounting, and Italian Studies. Yes, I kid you not, he is a triple major! He is a teller for the Wells Fargo Bank branch in Reno as well; and runs the Disney Land half marathon every year. He and I both share the same aspirations of seeing as much of Italy (and hopefully France and Spain) as possible and are doing as much of this traveling as possible together. But I digress, back to Asti; I will scribble a basic biography of the honorable Brandon another time.

Let me begin by saying Asti is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. It was founded by the Romans in the first century AD and has been a busy city ever since. Before, during, and for some time after the Renaissance

One of Asti's medieval towers

it was nicknamed “the City of Towers” as it had over one hundred lovely towers scattered throughout the city. Only some still remain, though they are still quite unique. It was also surrounded by a picturesque red brick wall created to demoralize would be intruders as well as for aesthetic appeal. It is also filled with breathtaking piemontese Gothic churches and palaces. One palace in particular, the Palazzo Mazzitti, was actually so envied that it was replicated in Amsterdam (based on what Brandon and I could decipher from the description, which was of course written in Italian).

To add to the experience of being in this unique little city there was a light fog the entire time we trudged the narrow streets of Asti. It gave an almost dream

A castle's tower in the mist amidst Asti's sleepy streets

like authenticity to the ancient European city, and made the whole experience seem like something out of a novel. We could see towers faintly outlined in the mist while we walked through the cobblestone streets and would round corners to be unexpectedly confronted with gorgeous churches and palaces. Gardens were also dispersed throughout the city and created unique oases by the churches or statues they were situated near.

The city is on a hill which offers great views of its buildings and skyline as one walks through. Store fronts are faced in marble and church bells chime softly in the background throughout the course of the morning. The locals are friendly and were perfectly happy to put up with our broken Italian and give us directions through their beloved town.

In addition to its stunning architecture and quaint lifestyle when the weather is warmer the medieval castle-turned-vineyard,Tenuta Castello di Razzano, outside of the city offers wine tastings on their premises. The price starts at six euro for five wines and ranges up to fifteen euro for eight wines. Both prices include locally made salami, bread, focaccia, and pizzas with the more expensive option serving even more appetizers. You can also go up in at least one of its historical towers during the spring and summer to see view the little city from its lofty heights.

Sadly, this city is largely unknown by tourists and vacationers since it is well off the beaten path and located amongst small farming towns and vineyard villages. If you really want to experience authentic Italian life, sample their wine, and see the lovely architecture away from the crowds and tours: visitare Asti! (visit Asti) You won’t be disappointed.

The famous "San Secondo Church"

The Alps

After my senses achieved equilibrium again after being accosted by glamour I nestled in for my flight. Little did I know what was in store for me.

At first there was nothing to see, clouds enveloped the plane and it was like flying through white cotton candy; but then it cleared.

Right outside my window were the historical Alps, that brought Hannibal’s elephants to their doom and yet provide millions of winter sportsmen boundless opportunities for activity. I have never, in my entire life, seen anything as gorgeous as the Alps. Massive , jagged, expansive, and colorful they look like God spent centuries carefully sculpting and painting them. The only way I can describe them is as rustically beautiful. They are bigger, bolder, and more roughhewn than any mountains I have ever seen but still manage to maintain a sort of ­­elegance. They go on forever and each one is more impressive than the rest. Even their color was mind boggling, with the whitest snow imaginable and the purest and boldest gray stone you could hope for composing their appearance. These colors are furthered more by rich, earthy brown trees dotting the lower parts of the mountains in groves and sparkling blue lakes wedged in to their valleys.

To top it all off they have fairy tale-esque red roofed Italian villages nestled in among them. These tremendous towns are complete with bell towers and church steeples throughout their skyline. The pilot then turned the plane almost parallel with the Alps and started descending into Torino. It was amazing how fast those bold mountains gave way to gentle hills and plains with more towns strewn every few miles. The glint of the sun off the Mediterranean then caught my eyes and I stared in disbelief at it as we began to land. This was my first impression of Italy and Torino.

 

“Is that Really My Plane?!”

So where was I headed that gave ignited my inner wanderlust and made me so excited? I’ll tell you Torino, Italy. Home of the 2006 Winter Olympics, the only wine that can rival the drinks of Tuscany, and the first place chocolate became available to the general masses.

After many cancelled and delayed flights and sitting crooked for over seven hours as I journeyed across the Atlantic (the rather large German seated next to me decided he and his blubber needed half of my seat) the flight to Torino can only be described as a descent into Eden. The first part of this was the plane, the second the most incredible landscape I’ve ever seen. First things first though.

Let me start by saying Italians have style. Every plane I have ever ridden on during my life is basically white with perhaps a smudge of color on the wings. Once inside, the vessel is typically adorned with navy blue and gray upholstery with maybe a splash of red for flavor, with the rest of the interior reflecting this trend. Not Italian planes. I did a visible double take when I first saw my plane. For some reason I don’t understand the airline decided we should walk across the tarmac to our plane to board. I was so tired by this point I was compliant to their wishes and did as I was told.

I was walking with my head down, trying not to keel over in sleep as I walked; then I looked up. That plane was a riot to look at. Painted silver and bright blue, it was flamboyant to say the least. It also reflected some of the tendencies of 1950s hotrods as it had fins, yes fins, on the tips of the wings and tail. I’m pretty sure it was designed for Prince or Liberace. After I got over my astonishment I managed to board the plane and was once again assaulted with fashion. The entire of interior of the plane was turquoise and cream; everything. To top it off the seats were leather. Say what you want about Italians but you can’t say they don’t have pizzazz. I don’t think I will ever see another plane that awesome again. My trip was beginning to look up after all the delayed or cancelled flights, the overnight in a hotel, and sharing my seat on my flight over the Atlantic with the blubber and elbow of a rather large German.

 

How Does it Feel?

How does it feel the night before you fly half way across the world to live in a country you know almost nothing about? I mean literally nothing. No grasp of the language. No concept of the price of life. No idea of what acceptable manners and social customs are. No ability to ask for directions or help. No clue as to the way to dress in order to fit in. Heck, you don’t even know how to order a coffee!

I’ll tell you how it feels. Its unbelievably intimidating, yet unbelievably invigorating and exciting. You lie in bed that night and stare at the ceiling thinking to yourself “What have I gotten myself into?” Contemplating what supernatural force came over you and made you sign up to leave behind family, friends, and everything that is familiar to strike out, on your own, and live in a foreign country. You wonder how you can possibly navigate the airports of other countries well enough to fly over 4,000 miles and if you will even be able to figure out where you’re supposed to go once your there. You question “Can I really live in another country for almost half a year? Can I handle this?”

Yet, the excitement of the possibilities and adventures this undertaking offers far outweigh the fears. You follow every thought of doubt with ideas of what doors will be opened for you by crossing the threshold into the unknown. Travel to places you’ve only ever heard of. Seeing artwork you’ve studied and committed to memory. Sampling and learning to cook legendary cuisine. Drinking coffee or wine while overlooking the Mediterranean Sea or the Alps. To fully assimilate into a universally envied culture.

This is all closely followed by the realization that it can all only happen during this short window of time during your life. This is the only chance you have to go and live on your own in a completely different world. That this is the chance of a lifetime and no matter what your doubts, fears, or even idealizations are you have to do it; now. You then get up slightly before your alarm, take a shower, get dressed, and head out the door to set out on the adventure which has haunted you all night.