Smoky roasted Artichokes

SicilianArtichokes

The Sicilian spring is moody as the weather fluctuates between rain and days of glorious sun. The Sciroccio wind whips itself up from the African desert and pushes the seasons along.

White blossoms in the fruit trees blend with shadowy greys. The spring is an armistice which allows the winter to gradually surrender itself and begin the cycle again.

Artichokes

Sicilian artichokes are as prickly as the late winter weather, but after their external spikes are removed the internal fleshy flower is a delicate balm for the cold. 

The artichoke is a thistle and comes from the same family as the sunflower. This edible flower is a native of the Mediterranean and dates back to ancient Greek times when they were cultivated in Italy and Sicily.

Greek mythology tells how Zeus created the artichoke from a beautiful mortal woman. While visiting his brother Poseidon, Zeus spied a beautiful young woman, he was so pleased with the girl named Cynara, that  he decided to make her a goddess. Cynara agreed, however she grew homesick and snuck back home to visit her family. Zeus discovered this and became angry, throwing Cynara back to earth and transforming her into a plant.

Un fiore Siciliano

Cynar is an Italian liqueur which gets its name from the artichoke and the mythological origins of this plant. This bitter alcoholic drink is made from thirteen different plants including the artichoke. It is generally drunk straight as an after dinner digestive or as a cocktail mixing it with soda water, tonic water and lemon, lime or orange juice.

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It is always a joy to prepare artichokes as part of the Sicilian table every year. They may seem difficult but they are versatile, easily stuffed and the tender internal leaves can be prepared separately as a pasta condiment. The discarded stalks can also be blanched in hot water, then blended together to make a creamy pesto like mixture.

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The best way to prepare the first tender artichokes of the season is to stuff them with a combination of fresh spring aromas like pancetta, parsley, spring onions, garlic, finely sliced celery, a pinch of hot chilli pepper, all soaked in a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon and then cooking them slowly over hot coals, or ‘a braci’ as they say in the local dialect. 

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Covering the richly flavoured artichokes with hot smoking embers and letting the stuffing’s taste gradually imbue itself into the artichoke is the best. The tough external leaves are crusty and burnt but act as a protective shell until the internal tender parts are fully cooked. The fat of the bacon melts and amalgamates with the sweetness of the vegetable in an irresistible smoky flavour. 

I love preparing them for my Birthday in late February every year. The only flowers I ever truly enjoy are a bouquet of carciofi.

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Vedi qua il post anche in Italiano: Carciofi affumicati e arrostiti

The complexity of Italy’s cheating heart

 

I often exchange stories with other expats about the Italians who have lied and cheated us with an ease and nonchalance which is both infuriating and puzzling. Not to say other countries don’t have problems with corruption as the world is rife, but in most Anglo-Saxon countries a politician or public servant or any other important figure caught out doing dodgy deals is publicly shamed and practically disappears from circulation.

In Italy fraud is a sin easily pardoned, I’d go to the extent to say Italians expect their politicians to be sly. In the country where Machiavelli’s Renaissance masterwork of politicking The Prince has become a classic the idea of furbizia (which translates to a mixture of cunning, shrewdness, astuteness and slyness) which has become a solid part of the Italian character, it’s not very attractive and as usual this trait becomes more pronounced in the South. At the risk of offending many Italian’s these crazy foreigners are carefully trying to understand why we are persistently being cheated by the country we love.

Taormina art studios

Really bad Karma

Organized crime rooted in Mafia-style practices such as bribery, extortion, murder, public contracts, vote-buying represents only a fraction of Sicily’s corruption which includes particular areas, such as building construction, restoration and money laundering. Certain practices, though deplorable, are not necessarily illegal in Italy, where the conflict of interest laws are lax and things like nepotism and cronyism are a normal part of professional life. It is still possible, for example, to obtain a high grade at the University through an offer of money or even, in the case of a pretty studentessa, sex.

Corruption in Italy takes many forms from providing public contracts to politicians’ friends, bribery and illegal kickbacks. Funds for a construction project such as building or expanding a hotel, an education program, a skills development program, or agricultural subsidy are mismanaged and terribly corrupt. It took thirty-five years to complete the Palermo-Messina autostrada and some fifteen million Euros mysteriously disappeared during the restoration of Palermo’s Teatro Massimo opera house.

Widespread corruption is endemic, especially where public funding is involved. The situations created by the project managers are real tragedies in a land of poverty and high unemployment, where there are vast differences between rich and poor and where even a simple job is considered a privilege. Rich project designers are paid millions to produce little or nothing, while others work humble jobs just to make ends meet. Most disturbing about these opportunists is their complete lack of any sense of responsibility or guilt.

Despite these incredible hypocrisies Sicilian’s often ignore project scandals and other forms of corruption because these things are part of their daily lives. Pay offs and even sexual harassment are considered perfectly normal in Italy. It is part of the usual system of self decay that has been going on for many centuries in Sicily. If it wasn’t a distinct reality it would be the perfect fodder for a biting satire.

Sicilian’s admire the quality of ‘furbizia’ or shrewdness, the ability to outsmart someone or manoeuvring themselves around an unfair law or authority. This probably is another survival quality left behind from their history of being a so-called colonized or conquered people. This ugly personality trait results in a lot of white collar crime which is detrimental to the country as a whole. A Sicilian who is being too ‘furbo’ is ultimately shooting himself in the foot. Not to mention exposing himself to a whole lot of bad Karma!

Trying to explain the intricacies of Italy to someone who doesn’t live here is like painting a caricature, you can barely scratch the surface and it can never do justice to the complex character of Italy, it’s not that Italy is filled with darkness, violence and injustices it’s more than this country is made up of many different faces which coexist with the darker elements. There are wonderful generosity and kindness in Italy too, I know it is a contradiction but Italy is schizophrenic and amusingly diverse.

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Duplicity of character

I was recently reading an anthology titled Cento Sicilie (One hundred Sicily’s) dedicated to the many writers who have attempted to depict the island, in the introduction Sicilian writer Gesualdo Bufalino attempts to explain the reason behind the islands complexities:

‘Atlases say Sicily is an island and this must be true as atlases are trustworthy books. However one must have a shadow of a doubt, when you reflect on the definition of an island, usually comprehends a compact concentration of race and customs, while here everything is dispersed, mixed, changing like in the most complex of continents. It is true there are many Sicily’s, we will never finish counting them. There is the green Sicily of the Carob trees, the white of the salt harvests, the yellow of sulphur, the blonde colour of the honey and the purple lava. There is the foolish Sicily, so relaxed as to seem stupid; a shrewd or sly Sicily dedicated to the most useful practice of fraud and violence. There is a lazy Sicily, a frenetic one who is consumed by the worries of materialistic inheritance, one who performs life-like a carnivalesque screenplay, and one who ultimately looks out onto a ‘windswept ridge’ into the beginning of a blinding madness…

Why are there so many different Sicily’s? Because Sicily’s destiny is to be a link through different centuries between the grand culture of the West and the temptations of the desert and the sun, caught between reason and mysticism, in the contrasts of logic and the heat waves of passion. Sicily suffers from an excess of identity, who knows if this is good or bad. Of course for whoever is born here the happiness of feeling like you are sitting on the centre of the world doesn’t last long, it is quickly taken over by the suffering of not knowing how to disentangle a thousand complexities and interweaving bloodlines to find one true destiny.’

Symbol of Sicily

The frustration of fraud

So now you are as confused as I am we can begin to admit how totally utterly overwhelming Italy is. Welcome to the life of a foreigner in Italy who daily confronts the labyrinth of double-dealing. All Italians are victims of their culture of duplicity, they complain about the impossibility of getting a job on merit alone, the necessity of seeking out a political recommendation, the convoluted public service, a banking system which is persistently trying to rip them off, rampant tax evasion, an abyss of constant political upheaval and corruption which affects everything from health care, law enforcement to education.

Lining up at the local post office everyone complains about the inefficiency and liberally share their stories of scams or rip offs they have suffered. Local GP waiting rooms are a source of collective therapy and gossip for people who are frustrated by delays and handballing of medical treatment from one specialist to the next. It is one big mess which seems to overwhelm all who live in this country. Despite all this everyone gets along with the business of living life. After all what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, less naïve, more ‘furbi’ (shrewd) and not so likely to fall victim to the next fraud.

One particularly grating thing about being a foreigner living in Sicily is how a Sicilian hears an English/American or Australian accent and automatically rubs his hands, thinking about ways to rip you off. You can be living here for decades and still be treated like a cretin, charged double at the shops, ignored at the post office and spoken to as if you are a simpleton. Sometimes when I am feeling overwhelmed by this resistance to foreigners I delegate phone calls and some errands to my husband or do as a Sicilian does, complain loudly with copious amounts of Sicilian swear words and tell them where to go.

Rustic Sicily

Italy’s Dark Heart

In 2003 English journalist Tobias Jones published The Dark Heart of Italy in which he described the diabolic character of Italy’s complexities focusing on the post world war two history right up to the Berlusconi dominated years. After the book’s publication Jones was hounded by the Italian press for being a preachy Englishman who didn’t know what he was talking about. I recently read the book and apart from a little Berlusconi bashing, Jones experiences and observations about Italy are insightful even if they are at times a little superficial. It is generally a good, truthful book and expresses the frustration many foreigners feel while adjusting to living life in Italy. It’s the kind of book one would write to vent a little.

I totally agree when he says things like: ‘What really, really pisses me off is the fact that talented people in Italy very rarely rise to the top.’ And knowingly nod my head at seemingly shocking statements like: ‘Every week I’m assailed by a new example of nepotism. My favourite is the fact that, at the RAI (Italian T.V stations), employment can literally be inherited.’

Tobias Jones comes to the same conclusion most long-term expats and locals do, which is despite the ugliness you fall in love with the beauty and simplicity of day-to-day life in Italy which helps you to live through all the sordidness. Ending his book with the same note of acceptance most lovers of Italy come to: ‘And for all the complications, Italian life can sometimes seem incredibly simple. Sometimes I don’t even hear the noise of my gnashing molars.’

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What to do in Sicily

I am constantly sitting down and planning out trips to do through Sicily. Often I don’t do everything on my list as I run out of money but I am generally happy if I do one of the trips every year as they are based on my experiences living here on the island.

Sicily is so rich, there are endless itineraries you can complete if you search on google but these are the things I’d recommend to my own friends and family.

The island can be terribly uncomfortable in July/August so I suggest do some of these in June as the weather is warm without being too humid or if the summer holds out as it usually does September is a perfect time to visit the island, with a lot less tourists too!

Aeolian Islands

These ancient islands off the north-eastern coast in the province of Messina make gorgeous day trips and are easily reached from Messina and Milazzo.

The ‘seven sisters’ as the islands are colloquially known are a series of wild and volcanic archipelagos surrounded by a deep turquoise colored sea. Alicudi, Filicudi, Lipari, Panarea, Salina, Stromboli and Vulcano were the home of Aeolus the mythological guardian of the winds who populated these islands with his family.

You can usually pair up a couple of the larger islands for a leisurely day (Lipari/Vulcano or Salina/Lipari) or be more adventurous and hike out to the more distant rocky islands (Filicudi/Alicudi). If you shop around there are mini cruises and sailing trips to the four main islands (Vulcano/Lipari/Panarea/Stromboli) and night time cruises to see the volcanic eruptions on Vulcano.

North coast of Sicily

I am always going on about how easy it is to experience Sicily by road and I urge people to hire a car from Palermo, Catania or Messina and plan out a trip.

I’d grab a hire car from Messina and head along the coast towards Palermo stopping at which major coastal city may tickle my fancy. Do you research and see if there are any food festivals (or sagras) on the way to stop and taste. I’d stop at Milazzo for some great seafood in the summer, browse around the ceramic stores at Santo Stefano di Camastra, see the Norman Cathedral at Cefalu’, spend the night at Palermo be sure to visit some museums, the Teatro Massimo which is known as the La Scala of the south and if you want to be impressed there is the Duomo, the Palazzo Normanno which is the seat of the regional government and both decorated by golden mosaics left behind by the golden age of Norman rule in 12th century Sicily. A day trip from Palermo is the Abbey of Monreale a magnificent arab/norman cathedral built by William the II in the 1100’s.

I encourage people to keep heading west along the coast and visit the cities of Marsala and Trapani filled with delightful beaches in the summer, fine food all year round, museums and towns to explore.

The heart of Sicily

The central provinces are seldom explored by tourists so I would pack a lunch and head out to the belly button of the island for a new experience.

I’d go straight to Piazza Armerina, outside of the town is the Villa Romana del Casale which is one of the most well-preserved archeological sites from the late Roman period and allows you to walk through an aristocratic Roman villa filled with elaborate mosaics which have recently been restored.

Enna, Caltanissetta and Agrigento are easily reached from Piazza Armerina and are filled with rich historical sights and festivals depending on what time of year you visit.

Noto Valley

For the lovers of the Baroque a fascinatingly rich part of the island is the Noto Valley (Val di Noto) which is a UNESCO world heritage site and includes many towns in the south-east of the island.

I’d meander my way down the coast from Catania and stop off in each of these towns who were all rebuilt in the Sicilian baroque style after a major earthquake in 1693.

Caltagirone, Militello Val di Catania, Catania, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo, Ragusa and Scicli represent a considerable collective undertaking which created an amazing architectural and artistic achievement.

Further down the coastline from the Val di Noto in May and June every year there are performances of ancient Greek Classics in the Greek amphitheater at Syracuse which give world-class performances in this suggestive ancient location.

Around Etna

A fantastic way to experiencing the depth and breathe of the Mt Etna volcano is to take a trip around its base thanks to the Circumetenea railway (Ferrovia Circumetnea) which goes from Catania stopping at most small towns around Etna and ending up at the coastal town of Giarre (perfect for lunch and museums dedicated to ancient times).

You can also stop at Randazzo which is a suggestive small town that connects the provinces of Messina and Catania in fascinating dark lava historic center.

If you are staying at Taormina you can catch a bus out to the station and head either towards Catania or Giarre for the day.

Cultural Sicily

You can plan an entire trip to Sicily simply by going from museum to museum which can be an effort. I suggest choosing a couple of major museums and trying to fit in other cultural activities such as the theater.

I’d defiantly check out Teatro Massimo if you are staying at Palermo, their 2015 season is filled with orchestral concerts, ballets and opera. This elaborate historical theater can be visited during the day with regular tours.

The same can be said of the Teatro Massimo Bellini at Catania.

Rather than rushing through Taormina during a hot summer rush with the rest of the tourists why not take in a show during the Taormina Fest and spend the night in this beautiful town which will no doubt be unforgettable.

If you want to book tickets I suggest you try to get these done early to avoid disappointment.

The cultural element in Sicily is best explored towards the end of the summer even better in September.

Enjoy your summer or early autumn/fall in Sicily and be sure to let me know how it went.

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5 easy steps to becoming a good tourist in Italy

COSI good tourist

 

1) Don’t complain too much

So it really doesn’t matter if you can’t track down your favorite candy bar or if they do things differently here. Italy is an old country so things are kinda slow, it will be dusty and a little dirty but that’s to be expected.

Nothing is going to be like home so go with it, embrace the difference, stop swiping your smartphone and savor life the Italian way. You will be stepping into another magical world embrace the change. Try to eat, live and drink like the locals, even if you don’t usually drink wine or eat pasta, forget all your diets, leave the beer behind for a bit and be like an Italian. Try each regional and local speciality from fresh pastas, cheeses, cold cuts, breads, drinks and desserts. Just live in the moment and stop being uptight, don’t program every moment just allow yourself to explore and discover Italy, walk around, observe and be open, this country is filled with surprises which will astound you.

2) Dress appropriately

If you don’t want to feel out of place or get stared at. Italians are impeccable dressers and so hot pants, wife beaters and skin tight jeans aren’t going to cut it. Dress neatly, do your hair and try to look smart. I know it will be hot in the summer too don’t strip off your clothes, it is not suitable. If you intend to visit important attractions and churches, bring a scarf to cover bare arms or legs, it is only respectful. Your dress will also identify you as a tourist and could make you a target for pick pockets, shifty souvenir vendors and horny Italian men who can be a little aggressive. What can I say? Italians are superficial, they can read a lot about a person by their dress, so make an effort and you will fit in better and feel a little more fashionable, it is worth the effort.

3) If you are coming to Sicily, don’t make jokes about the Mafia

 No country wants to be identified or recall the worst part of their recent history. Look beyond the stereotypes do not try to reinforce them. Sicily isn’t about organized crime it is about ancient history and art. La Sicilia is made up of nine diverse provinces each with its own distinct traditions and cuisine to explore: Agrigento, Caltanissetta, Catania, Enna, Messina, Palermo, Ragusa, Siracusa and Trapani. Explore all of Sicily, it’s the largest island in the Mediterranean and you won’t do it in a couple of days 😉

4) To avoid being ripped off by money exchange rates

Or without the pain of having to track down an American Express office for travelers cheques, try taking money out from an ATM, you will be charged only for using another banks ATM but it is handy. Talk to your bank about it. It is always a good idea to take some cash as some places don’t accept credit cards.

5) Don’t say ‘Ciao’ to everyone

You say ‘Buongiorno’ (in the morning) / ‘Buonasera’ (in the afternoon) and ‘Grazie’ all the time. Be polite rather then friendly, Italians will appreciate the effort. It would be nice if you try to learn a little Italian, just the basics even if you study a phrase book or download a couple of podcasts to listen to on the way to work a few weeks before you leave. It is amazing how friendly Italians can be when they see you are trying to experience their culture and country by attempting to speak in their language. I think Italians get a bad wrap for being arrogant to tourists but often they have seen so many tourists come through who simply don’t say ‘grazie’, try it and you will notice. Having a basic vocabulary will help you navigate Italy better and understand more of what is going on around you too.

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Going home: an expat’s internal conflict

Sydney Harbour 2012

Every time I go home for a visit I get terribly excited, start making lists of what I want to do, who I need to see and what I should buy so I can make the most of my three months in Australia (as my Italian husband travels on a short tourist visa- I’m sure there will be many more posts about my husband’s future odyssey on obtaining Australian citizenship!)

The long haul flight from Rome to Perth Western Australia is what really gets me down: the never-ending waits in airports, uncomfortable airline seats, insomnia, the drone of the plane engines (which is actually less thanks to the new generation of airbuses!), the drying out effect of recycled air conditioning,  swollen feet and the dreadful sensation the journey will never end (Rome-Perth is 13,330 km’s)

Landing in Perth W.A is like coming out of a dark tunnel, the harsh sunshine, the flatness of the terrain and the god awful feeling of isolation. Why is Australia so far away from the rest of the world?

Serpentine Jarradale W.A 2012

In the first few days, I always feel stoned as if I have fallen out of the sky or as if I have been on another planet until I slowly remember how life is in Australia. Every visit home is like recalling a long-lost memory gradually coming back to me, always slightly embarrassing and refreshing at the same time.

Australia for me is like seeing an old friend after many years, at first there is an awkward moment when you wonder if you will still connect and the joyful relief when you replenish your friendship. I think Australia and I will always be ‘mates.’ I love how free this country makes me feel, as if everything is new and possible, living in an old country takes this sensation away from me. I also cringe at the lack of style and history, it seems I have become a terrible snob spoilt by the abundance of culture in Europe. Every time I am home I am shocked at how uncomfortable English was on my tongue, it seems I have become more fluent in Italian than I could ever realise.

I love catching up and spending time with friends and family, for this the time is never enough. But I hate feeling like a tourist in my birthplace and try to shy away from sightseeing, I like to pretend I am living here full-time and do the things I always have done.

Gin Gin W.A 2012

I’m always in two minds while visiting home after being away for years at a time, it’s the dilemma of people with each separate foot in a different country, arriving is bliss while leaving is guilt and depression, for those you leave behind.

Each visit is incomplete as I never get to see everyone I love and as I leave there will be an older generation of relatives who will not be there next time.

Then there is the inevitable fate of losing your own parents, it is a thought which still fills me with dread. A few weeks ago I read Cheryl Strayed best seller ‘Wild’ and the part where she describes how she loses her mother to cancer, unlocked my deepest fears and left me weeping and wailing into my pillow.

Ferry on Sydney Harbour 2012

Coming home is pleasant but it opens up many fears and insecurities which are difficult to hold back. The way I resolve my mixed feelings is the same way I deal with anything bigger than myself, taking it in bite-sized pieces, thinking positive and living the moment, there is no sense in tearing myself in two over the eventualities of life, after all, we are made to survive them.

I have the privilege of experiencing two of the most unusual parts of the world and I love them both. My gratification is they are both a part of me. Letting go is always the hardest part of life but the freedom it offers gives us the best means to actually live life as it should.

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At the time this post was published I was visiting Australia and didn’t blog for a couple of months.

But I am back in Sicily and travelling around the island, so be sure to email me any questions or suggestions of places you’d like me to visit or write about.

Thanks so much for all the wonderful comments, enjoy the journey.

 

North verses South in Italy: from stereotypes to rampant individualism

 

North Verses South Italy

 

Yes, there is a difference between Northern and Southern Italy; in fact, it took a major political and social movement to merge the different states of the Italian peninsula in the nineteenth century. The process began with the Congress of Vienna at the end of Napoleon’s reign in 1815 and continued with various revolutions and internal conflicts to finally proclaim Rome as the capital of the Kingdom on Italy in 1871.

The reason the ‘Risorgimento’ period took so long to put Italy together is simply because each Italian region is really so unique, even today there is a strong cultural individualism which makes it difficult to group Italians together. It may be a pithy example but just look how each region has its own different cuisine each town has its own type of pasta, wine, cheeses, festivals, traditions and even dialect.

Italian dialects are not simply variations in accents they are different languages, so its normal there is going to be some cultural conflicts there.

A personal example of mine are my own parents, my Dad was born on the Adriatic coastal town of Vasto in the Abruzzo region of central Italy and his dialect is heavy with Croatian and Greek influences. While my mother, born in Sicily and speaks a dialect peppered with diverse influences from Arabic, Turkish, Norman and German (Sicily boasts thirteen distinct foreign dominations in their history each of which has left its mark on the Sicilian language). So if my folks speak their dialects they won’t understand one another, even if standardised Florentine Italian is taught in the schools, dialects are strong in the homes and Italian is spoken with deep regional accents.

Italians are staunchly parochial, the phenomenon of Campanilismo is an important aspect of life in Italy it creates a sense of identity, pride and belonging to the place of your birth with a pinch of local rivalry which is stronger than any sense of national identity.

The geographical isolation between one town and the other thanks to the Italian Alps doesn’t exactly help with unifying the various subcultures and actually magnifies the Italians sense of distance from their compatriots. I am constantly bemused when Sicilians compare cities from different parts of the same province as if they are talking about two different countries.

Then we come to all the stereotypes like these I have overheard in conversations through my years living in Italy:

Northerners are cold and calculating.
Southerners are lazy and corrupt.
Northerners are efficient and money hungry.
Southerners are inefficient and poor.
In reality, these problems exist in both the North and South and such generalisations are nonsense.

Matteo Salvini the ultra-conservative and current leader of the Lega Nord political party is a creation of the Umberto Bossi separatist movement of the 1980’s/90’s which attempted to cut Italy into two pieces. According to the Lega the South has sponged off the North’s industry and would be better off without them. On the flip side Raffaele Lombardo’s independent Sicily movement was seeking the succession of Sicily from Italy after centuries of underdevelopment on the island. Neither has succeeded in their bids, Salvini recently trawling Sicily for votes in the next upcoming election and Lombardo is being dragged through the courts on corruption charges.

Italy is such a rich place which has been inhabited by human beings since Palaeolithic times, each generation layering itself upon the one before, creating endless complexities which link Italian together and create a rampant form of individualism associated with closely linked communities and families.

The North versus South debate is a result of this complex tapestry.

 

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Leading an authentic life in Sicily

Authenticity Quality of being genuine to

My friends and family think I am totally insane to be living my life in Italy, they are waiting for me to come to my senses and move back to Australia, like I’ve been playing around for the past decade of my life.

The truth is it’s been more than chasing a dream, I’m not bathing myself under ‘the Tuscan sun’ or running a bed and breakfast in Puglia.

Brolo c:da castello

I live in small town Sicily which at times is trying for my patience, challenging for my sense of space and privacy and above all it comes with an entire spectrum of misunderstandings and culture shock with whoever is around me. So why do I do it to myself?

Because Italy talks to me, it whispers sweet nothings into my ear, makes me laugh as loud as I ever have, it allows me the time to write, smell the pasta sauce on the stove and taste life.

Italy has infuriated me as much as it has made me fall evermore in love with it.

Moving to Italy has changed me, it has made me let go of many unimportant things, life here is more authentic, a simple less cluttered life which speaks to me louder and clearer than anything else.

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Sicilian Tomatoes, Benedica

Sicilian Tomatoes

The fertility of Sicily’s volcanic soil is well-known and thanks to the Sicilian habit of having a vegetable garden I’ve never been without fresh fruits and vegetables to prepare throughout the year, from eggplants, capsicums, chili peppers, basil and tomatoes in the summer to peas, potatoes, pumpkins and broad beans in the winter. There is always something fresh to sample in the Southern kitchen.

This year the seasons were quite late and the heat lasted well into October so we had a late yet bumper harvest of tomatoes, which has been both a blessing and a curse. It means we are still collecting fresh tomatoes for a salads and enjoying fresh pasta sauce, now in early November but to be honest we are a little tired of these darn tomatoes.

We made enough tomato preserve and bottled sauce to last two years, from peeled whole tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, we even roasted them as a side to barbecued meat and filled every-single glass bottle, jar and container we had in the house the last lot went into plastic water bottles and frozen in the freezer as we had no where else to put it.

Like most people of Italian descent I grew up peeling, boiling and bottled tomato sauce every summer and everyone has their own time-tested method and recipe.

In my part of Sicily it’s simple just wash, cut and clean the tomatoes, boil them up in suggestive cauldrons,

Sicilian cauldron

pass them through giant juicing machines which separates the pulp from the skin,

Tomato juicer

the clean bottles are filled and boiled to preserve the flavor of the summer.

Tomato sauce

There is nothing like the colour and taste of Sicilian tomatoes…

Fresh Tomato sauce

Bless them … Benedica!

 

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Flowers and lights for our ancestors

I morti in Sicilia

November is a sombre time in Sicily, traditionally it’s not all jack o lanterns and candy rather its about taking flowers to the cemetery and lighting artificial lights instead of candles in memory of the dead.

All souls and dearly held saints are prayed for in religious services in the Roman Catholic church and the autumn signals the beginning of winter.

Sicilian’s make the rounds of the graveyards with chrysanthemums cradled in their arms, paying floral homage to their ancestors and placing light globes around the edges of tombs.

Trinacria’s necropolises are decorated by the living as the photo’s of the dead demand it, the images on each tomb and mausoleum plea to be acknowledged. Each photo has surreptitiously robbed a piece of their soul imprisoning their glances in an eerie reflection of life.

As we honor our deceased in among flowers dampened by the rain and hazardous electrical wiring, we secretly utter a prayer for those we love and hope not to be accidentally electrocuted.

The sweet, sad years, the melancholy years,
Those of my own life, who by turns had flung
A shadow across me. Straightway I was ’ware,
So weeping, how a mystic Shape did move
Behind me, and drew me backward by the hair;
And a voice said in mastery, while I strove,—
“Guess now who holds thee!”—“Death,” I said, But, there,
The silver answer rang, “Not Death, but Love.”

                                                                                 – Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Sonnets from the Portuguese.

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How to peel a fico d’india

Sicilian Prickly Pears

The exotic prickly pear (fico d’india) is a delicacy in Sicily and thrives around the entire island. Known also as the Barbary fig (opuntia ficus-indica) it is a species of cactus cultivated throughout the world in arid and semiarid areas and is thought to be native to Mexico.

It is best to taste them after the first rains as the plant soaks up the water immediately which fattens the fruit beneath a tough prickly exterior.

But how do you get to the fruit? Good question.

Up to the prickly pears

First you climb up here.

Detail of those prickly pears

Then you pick one of those oval-shaped spiky balls with a special contraption which is a steel cup fastened to a broom handle. You put the fruit in the cup and snap them off at their base. And with some good gloves try your hand at peeling them.

Warning peeling these little beasts is not for the faint hearted if you get a splinter they hurt like hell and are real buggers to get out.

With your prickly pear fastened into the end of a fork the challenge awaits …

Fico 1

On a flat surface with the fork firmly holding the fruit you cut almost all the way through on the ends.

Peeling Ficho d'india

Making a slit down the middle beside where you have the fork you can push the skin back with the knife and fork.

Fico nearly peeled

They are best served fresh so allow them to cool in the fridge.

Their taste? They are filled with hard little pips but the soft flesh is quite refreshing and sweet like a melon. There are many varieties the red ones are the most vibrant but there are also orange, green and so-called ‘white’ ones which are a golden colour.

Red fichi

I’ve seen fico d’india ice cream, sorbet and even liquor so the fruit seems quite versatile. The taste is pleasant but I’d really love if someone could take out the pips for me please! Sicilian’s don’t seem to be bothered by them swallowing them without a second thought.

Also don’t go eating too many of them as they have the sneaky habit of making people painfully constipated. My husband is always telling me about the time my father in law (bless his soul) ate ten fichi d’india and ended up in hospital. So go easy on those fichi!

Buon Appetito

wcm0046

 

Fall in Sicily

Autumn in Sicily

The beginning of Autumn in Sicily can be abrupt. The gradual changes from one season to the next are now a thing of the past, there are no more slightly shortening days or time for the leaves to go from greens, yellows, warm rusty reds or browns, now the fall begins with heavy rains and cool nights, whenever the gods decide.

One day you are sunbathing on the beach and the next you are pulling on your cardigan and sheltering under an umbrella. The first rains are capricious, sometimes drizzling, then pelting, blurring the mountains and threatening with ash coloured clouds and distant thunder drones, initially succumbing to the afternoon sun and the Scirocco.

The heavy breath of the Scirocco is a lethargic exhale held in cupped hands, a stifling African wind which saps energy, tickling the skin without any relief or pleasure.

This corrupted zephyr, fed by ancient Aeolus the keeper of the winds, ravages the land and utters its curse without any mercy. In the summer it whips up the thermometer, in September it teases as it ushers in the rains, in the winter it tries to deceive people into shedding their skins too soon. First, there is the flotsam and jetsam of the winds and then the storm begins.

 

Autumn

October in Sicily means many things to the Sicilian’s table from fruits like fichi d’india, hazelnuts, mushrooms and grapes. Late ripening in this years season also means a tardy gathering of tomatoes, eggplants (aubergines), capsicums, chilli peppers and other summer fairs.

The insanity of August is easily washed away as Sicily gets back into its daily routine, children go back to school, freshly bronzed public servants are well and truly lazing in their offices and the everyday grind begins.

A new season is always a new beginning, it changes the sensations and assures as we are moving forward despite our want to stand still.

Autumn is like sipping a fine Nero d’Avola, smooth and deeply satisfying with a warm and fruity aftertaste that makes you wish more.

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The toilet situation in Italy

***Warning this post contains images of Italian toilets, bad double entendre and Australian slang***

Cosi toilets in Italy post

I have never understood the reason behind the lack of public toilets in major Italian cities as you would think it is a common courtesy to keep lovely, clean toilets for tourists and visitors.

So what should anyone visiting do to find service rooms in an emergency? Well you can find toilets in shopping malls, at train stations, at ‘Autogrill’ stops on the Autostrada highways, occasionally you can sneak into a bar/café but you are generally obliged to buy something, if you are game you can pop into the town hall or into an office building where no one will say anything to you if you are quick and look as if you work there.

In more touristy areas you can find a clean toilet provided by the local tourist board, which you will have to pay for as there is someone there during office hours to clean it, but these are usually locked up after hours, weekends and public holidays so you are literally screwed if you need to use a toilet in these times!

Apparently it has not always been like this, my husband tells me in the bountiful 1980’s even every small town had clean public toilet service, but vandals and budget cuts put an end to this utopia.

Those few toilets you do find require a gas mask at the entrance, boy toilet paper and disinfectant hand wash it a must. I’m guessing most places have had the same frustrating problem with vandals as the toilets you do find around the place are filled with graffiti, usually proclamations of love and lust, everything from ‘Ti amo Angelina,’ to ‘per divertire chiama Tommy 333333999.’

Well I suppose if you have weak pelvic floor muscles, or you can’t simply tie a knot do as the Italians do and slip in between two parked cars, near trash dumpsters or some bushes and do as nature commands. You are not going to get arrested or fined as we are in Italy baby!

P.S: On researching this post (yes I did put some thought into this one), I came across a couple of useful posts about the toilet situation in Italy which will help you understand what you will come across. Here are some Italian Toilet Basics from Andi Brown at Once in a Lifetime travel and a how to flush tutorial by Alex Roe at Italy Chronicles.

 

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Blogging around the world: Mozzarella Mamma

 

One of the most inspiring expat blogs I’ve come across in Italy must be Mozzarella Mamma which is the creation of Trisha, an American journalist who has been living and working in Rome for the past two decades. She’s an inspiration simply because she has managed to juggle being a professional, bringing up three children, life in the eternal city and has become fluent with Italy on many different levels. It was a real pleasure to fling a few questions at Trisha via email, here’s our interview.

Trisha the gal behind Mozzarella Mamma
Trisha the gal behind Mozzarella Mamma

Do you consider yourself an expat and if so did you make a conscious decision to live the expat life and how did you end up living in Rome?

I do consider myself an expat. I didn’t make a conscious decision to lead an expat life. I met my Italian husband while we were both in graduate school at Columbia University in New York. We met in the US and married in the US and agreed that we would live the first five years of our marriage in Rome and then spend the next five in the US and try to go back and forth. We figured we both had pretty movable careers. I am a journalist, he is a professor economics. When I moved to Italy with my new husband it was a bit of a culture shock. It was only then that I began to grasp the whole Italian men and their Mamma business. In the end we have remained for 20 years living in Rome (near his Mamma) and only returning to the US for holidays. I would love to spend a few years in living in the US, but I have finally accepted that that is not going to happen.

For a more colorful explanation, you can check out my blog post How I ended up in Italy.

How would you describe Italy to someone who has never visited? Are the people welcoming to foreigners?

Italy is a fabulous place ­­ filled with art and history, fantastic food, gorgeous cities (Florence, Venice, Ravello, Perugia etc etc). Italians are blessed with having both mountains and sea ­­ there is the Mediterranean and Adriatic coasts with magnificent beaches (Cinque Terre, Amalfi Coast, Sardinia, etc etc), and the spectacular Italian Alps. The Italian people are probably the best part ­­ they are friendly and welcoming eager to share their language, culture, history, food and their country with anyone who is interested.

Name five things I should see and do in Rome?

Well there are the standard tourists spots that one must see: The Coliseum, the Roman Forum, The Campidoglio. I love all the Roman piazzas ­­ Piazza Navona, Piazza del Popolo, Campo Dei Fiori, Santa Maria in Trastevere, the Trevi Fountain, The Spanish Steps.

I also am a huge fan of Caravaggio, so I would suggest hunting down the Caravaggio masterpieces in the Roman churches. Here are a couple of my blog posts on that:

Cooling down with Caravaggio and Caravaggio and Women.

Of course you can’t visit Rome without seeing the Vatican, and the Sistine Chapel. I suggest to people­­whether or not they are Catholic­­ that they try to catch the Pope’s Weekly audience on Wednesday’s or his Angelus from the window of the papal apartments on Sundays. It is fun to be a part of these events and to see the new Pope Francis.

 

St Peter's unmistakable dome, Roma
St Peter’s unmistakable dome, Roma

 

What should I taste/eat in Rome?

Oh gosh, everything. I guess I would start with the coffee ­­ espresso, cappuccino, Caffe Latte, and of course have a cornetto with that. Moving on to lunch ­­ pasta in a Roman Trattoria, then an apertivo sitting outdoors at sunset watching the pinks, orange colors on the ancient Roman monuments. For dinner there are so many restaurants ­­ Rome’s Ghetto has some fabulous places. One of my favorite restaurants is a bit out of the way, is called Ristorante Caprera and it has fantastic fish dishes.

 

If I was coming to you to do this interview where would we meet and what would we be drinking?

We would meet at the Tree Bar ­­ a little restaurant/bar in a park near my home. I would be drinking a pro secco or an aperol spritz.

 

Do you suffer from (US/Italian) culture shock or do you find there is something common ground with your current adopted home?

I have suffered from much culture shock in Italy. I get frustrated at the insane traffic, the pharmacy, the food rigidity, the pressure on women to be beautiful and sexy, the constant need for bella figura. I will copy some blog posts of that below. I think the common ground is always humor. I laugh at myself, Italians laugh with me, not at me, and they are easily able to laugh at themselves.

See Nico’s Traffic Rules, Fumbling in the Pharmacy, Espresso, Corruption, Murder and the Bella Figura, Linguini and luscious legs, Something Fishy in Rome, The Fine Art of the Christmas Broth.

 

Do you ever suffer from homesickness and how do you cope with it?

I miss my family in the US a lot, but I talk to them regularly on the phone and communicate on email on a daily basis. But there is no time for homesickness. I have a job, an Italian husband and 3 Italian­American children plus a blog that occupy my every waking moment.

 

What do you think about the expat life? Why do you think so many people choose to be expats?

I am different from many expats in that I don’t lead an expat life, hanging out with other expats and doing American things. I am fully inserted with my Italian husband into an Italian lifestyle.

 

Did you have much of a problem with learning the language, what advice do you have for English speaking expats?

The great advantage in learning Italian is that Italian’s are so nice about it. They don’t care if you make mistakes, they are happy that you are trying. I have had a lot of difficulty with some aspects of the Italian language ­­ the subjunctive, the Lei formal tense, the imperative­­ still I always muddle through.

Here are some blog posts on that: Lei ­ Language Confusion and Swallowing Toads and Seeing Green Rats

 

What’s been the most rewarding/high point and then the most frustrating/low part of your time in Italy?

It has been very rewarding working as a journalist and covering events in Italy and the Vatican. The experience of traveling with Pope John Paul II, covering his death and funeral, traveling with Pope Benedict XVI, covering the election and the Papacy of Pope Francis has been extremely satisfying. In addition I have covered everything from Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi to immigrants arriving on the Italian island of Lampedusa and the Venice Film festival. I love all the news I get to cover. You can see from my blog that I often write about my experiences working in the field. I also have been given contracts with Italian television to serve as a political analyst during the US elections commenting on Italian TV explaining our the political system works in the US. It is satisfying to me to be able to explain US politics to Italians in their language.

You have been living in Italy for 16 years where you have worked as a journalist and brought up three children. How on earth have you managed that?

It is actually 20 years now, I came to Italy in November 1993. I don’t know how I’ve managed it. A couple of key things ­­ I’ve learned to drive in Italian traffic and don’t get upset when stupid jerks on mopeds yell and curse at me. I don’t let myself get cut off by people in fancy Mercedes of BMW’s­­ my little Fiat is a fighter. I’ve learned to argue and gesticulate in Italian. My life is a big juggling act and I always have a lot of balls in the air ­­ they fall all the time, but I try to laugh, pick them up and start again.

Do you feel more American or Italian these days?

I always feel American and very proud to be so. Many people say I speak more like an Italian now (talk fast and gesticulate a lot) and tend to be more argumentative, and I tend to dress more like an Italian (no sneakers and sweats), but my heart and soul will always be American.

See blog post: Sweats at the Supermarket.

 

Epic, timeless Colosseum of Rome.
Epic, timeless Colosseum of Rome.

Since you are a journalist and write about events in Italy I simply have to ask you a few quick questions about current affairs in Italy, if you don’t mind:

A) What do you think of Renzi?

I like Renzi. He is young and ambitious and doing everything he can to bring Italy out of its economic crisis and I hope he succeeds. I did not like the way he stabbed his fellow­party member and former Prime Minister Enrico Letta in the back to get where he is, but perhaps that is they way Italian politics works (a tad Machiavellian).

B) How do you think Italy will manage to come out of the Economic crisis?

No clue. You can ask my husband that question. He is a professor of economics at the University of Rome Tor Vergata. His blog is www.gustavopiga.it

However, my gut reaction is that Italians always muddle through ­­ as I said above they have great food, an amazing cultural patrimony, and a gorgeous country. There is also a combination of the black market business and traditional Italian attitudes of family safety net that help keep the economy from sinking.

C) Do you think there is a solution for the refugee problem? And why do the Italian and international press exchange the word ‘migrant’ for ‘refugee’ so easily?

I have no idea what the solution for the “refugee” problem is, but I think the way it is being handled right now is not working. Italian Navy and Coast Guard ships are fishing hundreds of “migrants” in rickety old boats out of the Mediterranean every day (I get their videos sent to me every day in this period when the weather is good). I think the key is giving more aid and investment directly in the countries that the migrants are coming from. “Migrants” and “refugees” are different. Migrants are people who are coming usually for economic reasons, refugees for political reasons. I have seen hundreds of North Africans arrive who are mostly looking for work, and hundreds of Eritreans and Sudanese escaping from dangerous political situations. But among the North Africans some can be political refugees as well. It is impossible for a journalist or rescue workers to know in one boatload who is a migrant and who is a refugee­­ that takes days of interviews to sort out.

I have also done a lot of blog posts on Lampedusa and the refugee situation.

Ceramics Santo Stefano

Tell us about your book “Mozzarella Mamma: Deadlines, Diapers and the Dolce Vita,” how’s it coming along?

My book is now officially going nowhere. I’ve given up on it. Most of the best parts are already in my blog anyway. I’ve decided to dedicate myself to my blog and I will wait until I retire to write a book. However, if a publisher contacted me and offered to publish my book, I would re­work it, but that is highly unlikely to happen and I do not have any free time to get into the act of trying to find an agent and get published, that in itself is a full­time job.

What led you to the world of blogging?

I started my blog as a way to attract a publisher for my book, but as I said in the answer above I have now given up on the book and the blog has taken on a life of its own. I now consider my blog as a way to keep a diary of both my professional and personal interests and experiences ­­ this can all be eventual material for a new book.

How would you describe your blog, tell us about it …

Well, my blog is all over the map. It started out being funny tales about trying to be a working Mamma in Italy then it has evolved a bit into background descriptions of news stories I am covering. However, I think my best posts are the humorous accounts of trying to be a good Mamma and maintain the Bella Figura in Italy.

Have you ever had negative experiences with blogging? Tell us about it, how did you handle it?

I really have not had negative experiences with blogging, it has been all positive for me. I have had so many contacts with wonderful people from around the world ­­ Australia, India, Turkey, and the US ­­ to name a few. My blog has opened up a new world for me.

Actually there is one small negative aspect ­­ blog guilt. Once you start blogging you feel like you need to do it all the time and you start feeling guilty when you don’t post. Sometimes I am just too tired, or too wrapped up in personal things, or just don’t have anything to write about, but I still feel guilty for not posting. But there is also the reverse side of that, when I do a post that I feel is really good, the writing is sharp and the pictures are strong, it gives me enormous satisfaction.

What kind of blogger are you, is it about getting a zillion visitors or subscribers, selling your books or is it all therapy?

As I was saying above, I am not aiming for getting visitors or subscribers and am not aiming to sell books. It is not even therapy for me. I consider a diary of my life.

You have quite a good following on your blog, any advice for the rest of us?

I am not sure I have such a great following on my blog. My only advice to other bloggers would be try to enjoy it, do not give up, do not worry about who is following you or numbers of visitors or subscribers. One of the best parts of blogging is the friends you make­­ enjoy the comments on your blog, respond to them all, and try to read other blogs and comment on them. I have a lot of fellow­ blogger friends who I have never met in person but I feel fond of them, I enjoy reading their blogs and commenting on them, and I am pleased when they comment on mine. It is hard though, for many people blogging is a full­time job and they have more time to blog and comment on other people’s blogs­­ for me it is an effort, but an effort that is worthwhile.

Books can take us places without leaving home, do you have a favorite travel book which you think best describes a particular place or the art of travel in a particular way for those who are unable to travel.

I am not really into travel books­­ I do love historical fiction and biographies that take me to another time and place. I just finished reading “Catherine the Great” by Robert K. Massie which I loved. One of my favorite books is Louis De Bernieres’ “Birds Without Wings” which takes place in Turkey at the beginning of the 20th century. Another favorite about a childhood in Africa is Alessandra Fuller’s “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight.”

As far as books on Italy are concerned, here are some of my favorites: “The Agony and the Ecstasy” by Irving Stone, “Umbertina” by Helen Barolini, Naples’ 44 by Norman Lewis and Alexandra Lapierre’s “Artemisa,” Lynn Rodolico’s “Two Seas” and the Italian classic Luigi Barzini’s “The Italians.”

So what’s coming up on Mozzarella Mamma that we can look forward to …

Yikes, not so sure what is coming up on Mozzarella Mamma. I am going on the Papal plane to the Mideast with Pope Francis at the end of May and I will definitely blog about that. I am also doing some research of Livia, the wife of the Roman Emperor Augustus and will eventually blog about her. I am also contemplating a couple of silly posts, the first on dealing with my teenage (now 19­year­old son) and the complicated questions of when the girlfriend sleeps over, and another one on Italian with­the­dog­in­the­park culture.

 

Have you discovered any other wonderful travel/expat or writing blogs that we should be reading?

About Turkey: http://archersofokcular.com/

About Renovating in Italy: http://www.renovatingitaly.com/

Hilarious accounts of being an expat in Italy: http://marriedtoitaly.com/

Stunning sunset in Rome bathing the monuments in golden light.
Stunning sunset in Rome bathing the monuments in golden light.

Thanks so much to Trisha for taking a moment to answer my questions. I wanted to thank her for her blog apart from being an inspiration for me Mozzarella Mamma is a wonderful mix of observation, current affairs and culture shock with a pinch of humor and irony.

Trisha has the answer to one of the most difficult questions a female expat can ask. Mainly: ‘how does a woman adapt and change to meet the demands of one society while trying to maintain her core beliefs, values and cultural traditions? [Her] own answer to this question has always been, with good friends, humility and a sense of humor.’

Words to live by.

Much gratitude and good karma to you Mozzarella Mamma, I look forward to hearing more about your journey in ‘Bella Italia.’

 

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Postcards from Sicily: The art of hunting

 

Art of hunting in Sicily

 

The sport of hunting is widely diffused all over Sicily and Italy.

The Greenie in me is terribly uncomfortable about living side by side with this sport.

However I can understand the cultural value of this tradition as it has connections to the proud agricultural world, the community and families from the past.

These empty cartridges are symbolic of an ancient sport which reflect some fine details and elements who illustrate the beauty of the natural world.

 

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Blogging Around the world: Surviving in Italy

This week on Blogging Around the World, we are back in ‘Bella Italia’ to be specific Florence and a sassy American gal called Misty and the struggles she describes on her blog  Surviving in Italy.

Now there is plenty of blog action happening out of Florence but you aren’t going to find anything quite like Surviving in Italy, with it’s mixture of humor, satire, keen observation and capybara obsession. Above all Misty gives you a pretty realistic portrayal of the life and randomness of Italy and the culture clashes you will come up against if you move to this complicated and beautiful country.

I have begun blogging together with Misty and other like-minded expats in a group freshly baptized C.O.S.I  (Crazy Observations by Stranieri in Italy.) I did this interview before the fun began and I think it’s a great way of getting to know this prominent expat blogger.

So let’s talk with the girl behind Surviving in Italy.

 

The ultra talented Misty Evans
The ultra talented Misty Evans

Do you consider yourself an expat and if so did you make a conscious decision to live the expat life and how did you end up living in Florence?

Hmm, that’s a difficult question. I have always wanted to leave the US and live abroad. I love San Fran and New York but most of the other places are just too “plastic” feeling for me. Everything is a chain, the food is horrible, bad quality, high crime, etc. I love aspects of the US, the ambition, the drive, the career possibilities, but other aspects are suffocating. I moved to Italy in 2009 for an art program in Florence, met a guy, started writing and designing and stayed.

How would you describe Florence to someone who has never visited? Are the people welcoming to foreigners?

Florence is magic. People fall in love with the feeling, the mood, it’s a very romantic city in a way. It’s very walkable, calm, and obviously beautiful. There are a lot of transplants in Florence so it’s hard to say if people are welcoming. The Italians from Florence? No, not at all. Florentines are not mean but they are known for being very closed, reserved, and they often keep to themselves and their tight friend groups. There are always exceptions though, and the non Florentine Italians can be more open.

Name five things I should see and do in Florence?

I’m not much for tourist stuff. Honestly, a perfect day in Florence is a panini from Due Fratellini, a glass of wine, long walks through the back alleys to avoid tourists, and in the evening a bottle of wine on the steps or on the benches in Santa Croce. That’s heaven for me.

What should I taste and eat in Florence?

There is a restaurant outside of the center called Giugello. It’s very authentic, delicious, and only like a 10 minute cab ride from the city center.

If I was coming to Florence to do this interview where would we meet and what would we be drinking?

I love grabbing a drink at Finnegins on San Gallo because they have a great outside patio and it’s not right in the tourist area. I also really like antipasto and wine at Dante’s. It’s IN Piazza Duomo which is incredibly central and where most of the tourists are, however, for some reason this place is mostly frequented by Italians. Sant’Ambrosia is also really nice for a cocktail outside.

You are originally from the States and are now living full-time in Italy, is there a terrible culture shock or do the two places have something in common?

Italy and the US couldn’t possibly be more different. I found more similarities in Thailand than in Italy. I’m in a perpetual state of culture shock, in Italy and then when I return to the US. It’s confusing. Do I bag my own groceries? Are you going to bag my groceries? Do I buy vagina soap? No? WHERE AM I!?

Do you ever suffer from homesickness and how do you cope with it?

Of course. It’s not that I miss the US exactly, but I miss my mother­tongue, I miss my friends and family. Italy would be ideal if I could import some of my long time friends or my sister. SISTER, MOVE TO ITALY.

What’s been the most rewarding or high point and then the most frustrating or low part of your time in Florence?

This question could basically be my book. Attending a creative institution in Florence was AMAZING. I would send my own kids to do it, it was such a brilliant time and I grew a lot as a person. The lowest points have always been dealing with my husband’s friends and family. They were not welcoming. It is a very cliché story of “Italian boy meets American girl and the parents go INSANE”

Did you have much of a problem with learning the language, what advice do you have for English speaking expats?

I write full­ time in English. It still makes speaking Italian fluently very difficult. People say, “Well you just have to speak!” but my response is usually, “When?” After 12 hours of writing in English, one hour of maybe speaking Italian with my husband just isn’t enough. My Italian isn’t horrible, but I still can’t speak it like an intelligent creature. I couldn’t talk about the stratification of American society, for example.

Do you think the world is becoming a smaller place? Why or why not?

The internet is making the world a tiny place.

What do you think about the expat life? Why do you think so many people choose to be expats?

It’s different for everyone. Some people simply love Italy, others were running from something, some are searching for something. For a lot of people it comes down to love. You call in love and getting an Italian away from their family can be nearly impossible so it’s easier for many to stay. It’s a struggle on some days and lovely on others. It’s difficult to explain because Italy is so beautiful but day-to-day life isn’t very easy. Theres no money, business movement is nearly impossible, the family is overbearing most of the time. It can be stressful and exhausting. It’s certainly not like you see in the movies.

What led you to the world of blogging?

Honestly? I was having a really difficult period and I needed to write it down. I’ve always written things down but I also hoped that I could find other people who might relate. It worked. Most expats can relate to some degree with struggles under the Italian sun.

How would you describe your blog, tell us about it …

I’m so bad at this. Uhm, let’s see, I wanted to blog honestly. I wasn’t aiming for a mood, I didn’t want a travel blog or a lifestyle blog necessarily. I didn’t want to make people jealous with my amazing and luxurious Italian life, I just wanted to describe my experience, what I see, how I feel. I wanted a platform to talk about social issues, things that people misunderstand, and of course the good things. I met my husband in Italy which is a great thing because he’s fantastic (even if he’s insanely irritating a lot of the time). People usually come to my blog for a laugh, or because they can relate, or probably to think “Oh thank god I’m not her.” Some probably come for the Capybara pictures.

You’ve had some of your posts go ‘viral’ how did that happen and how did you find that experience?

I have had some viral stuff. Most often (but not always) things go viral when you piss off the Italians. They only tend to share things that irritate them so if you REALLY piss them off you’ll see your stats jump for a month or so. I’ve never tried to intentionally irritate anyone. Oddly, the post that received the most attention was a post that humorously listed things I’d learned about Italy that month basically from articles online or friends. That really got to them (25 Things I’ve Learned About Italy) but it’s also because Italian humor is very, very different from ours and they didn’t really understand that while I was posting stats my responses were very tongue­in­cheek. My Italian friends who have spent time outside of Italy found it amusing. The other viral stuff was humor like “The ten Reasons I’m Surprised That Someone Married Me” or the “How To Surviving Being An Expat.”

You have also had some negative comments, tell us about this, how did you handle them?

All bloggers with a decent audience get nasty comments. At first they’d bum me out but then I just started being funny about it. If someone writes something just TRYING to be mean, I often make their comment a blog post and respond to it. If people are just being trolls I change their comments to say funny things. One person wrote, “I should shoot you with your own guns stupid americans!,” and I changed it to “I wish I could live in your pocket.” She responded back with, “LIAR OF DEMOCRACY!” And I changed it to, “Long live the USA!” She was pissed.

You have also won an award for one of your posts, tell us about that? Do you think awards help boost blog readership?

I did! I won the “Best Blog Post” Award from Italy Magazine. It was for my post How To Survive Being An Expat. It does boost readership but more importantly it’s cool to write, “Award winning blog” in my bio. WINNING!

What kind of blogger are you, is it all about getting a zillion visitors or subscribers, selling your books or is it therapy?

Literally it’s therapy. I started writing after my college psychologist recommended it. I tend to obsess over things and writing helps me to put my thoughts to rest. If you’re OCD at all, it really helps! It also helps with depression. I like that blogging can also help other people through hard times. I get a lot of emails and comments every day from people telling me that they are struggling and I made them feel better, made them laugh, or made it easier for them to be abroad. In fact, in my other blog I talked about depression and suicidal thoughts and I had a lot of emails and comments from people saying that they actually googled “suicide” because they wanted to die, they found me, and felt better. How many careers can you say, “I made someone rethink the value of their life?” It’s awesome.

You have quite a good following on your blog, any advice for the rest of us?

I’d recommend reading a lot of blogs and making friends, updating every other day or as much as possible, and being honest. I find that people even enjoy my posts that seem like they were written by a drunk animal as long as they were written honestly.

Books can take us places without leaving home, do you have a favourite travel book which you think best describes a particular place or the art of travel in a particular way for those who are unable to travel.

A dear friend of mine, Lee Foust, has written a wonderful book about travel, place, etc. It’s called Sojourner and it’s available on Amazon. I’m also a HUGE fan of David Sedaris and his essays on living abroad.

What would be your dream trip?

Right now I’m obsessing over the idea of tree house hotels. There are a few in Europe and Hawaii. I REALLY want to go and stay in one and just spend a week with my husband (and probably my hysterical poodle) in the trees. We don’t get a chance to be around nature enough. It’s probably good for me.

What are the five things you would never leave home without …

My wallet, sunglasses, dog (who has separation anxiety and goes EVERYWHERE with me, sadly), my notebook and my iphone. I take a ridiculous amount of photos with my iphone, and my notebook is important for writing down random ideas during the day.

So what’s coming up on Surviving in Italy that we can look forward to …

I just started a project where I’m doing group posts with other well­known Italy expats. It’s really fun and the first one goes out this friday (you should get on board). We pick a FAQ or a theme and then all respond to it. I’m also creating a photo book with humorous notes about the place. That will be on sale this summer. I’ll also be posting some longer content about how I got my husband a Greencard for the US and other bureaucratic stuff because I’ve been getting flooded with questions lately about it.

Have you discovered any other wonderful travel/expat blogs that we should be reading?

There are a lot of expat blogs that I follow. I really like your blog Unwilling Expat, Married To Italy, Rick’s Rome, Girl In Florence, Expat Eye On Latvia (she’s hilarious), and many, many others. I could list like 50 that I adore.

 

I had to include this shot of Misty with her adorable dog Oliver ... you guys are so cute!
I had to include this shot of Misty with her adorable dog Oliver … you guys are so cute!

Thanks ever so much for the conversation!

Apart from being a fab bloggess Misty is also talented visual artist, business woman, model and columnist, be sure to keep an eye out for her upcoming book.

She is currently in the States and has been quite talkative lately recently doing a couple of great interviews one here on Girl in Florence and this one on US based blog Thoughts from Paris be sure to take a listen.

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