Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Little Things I Love About Italy

I have been in Tuscany for four weeks. This is my first blog post. This is not because I have not been having interesting or noteworthy experiences. On the contrary, I've had too many, and too little time to reflect. Since I still have not been able to process it all, yet want to share something, however little, I've decided to keep my first post from Tuscany intentionally light. Just the little things I love.

The little burner on the stove designed for your moka pot.

The fridges which are a third of the size of American fridges, but easily accommodate a couple bottles of wine with corks hastily stuck in their tops.

The only real questions about your espresso are whether it will be good or great or superb and where it will fall between eight-five cents and a euro.

People spend so much time laughing, talking, and being together.

Is it silly to say the food?

Everyone gives everyone else shit, and it's expected. No one expects to be taken too seriously.

Everyone has the same handwriting (exactly like my dad's). Huh?

The weeds along the side of the road include fennel, mint, wormwood, and chives, and often abut gigantic, woody bushes of lavender, rosemary, and sage.

Everyone knows exactly when everything is ripe, when everything is harvested, when everything is at its best. There are four more days for artichokes.

All the old harvest festivals enshrined in the big religions are mirrored by actual festivals here, genuinely celebrated by everyone. One for the wine, one for the butchers, one for the chestnuts, one for the truffles, surely one for the olive oil, though I still have to find it.

The absurdly incompetent, buffoonish, lascivious, hyper-corrupt prime minister actually causes few problems outside of Italy (compared to American presidents), while at least giving everyone here something about which to commiserate.

Ordinary supermarkets carry all the same stuff as fancy, luxury markets in the US, but at a third of the price (except Coca-Cola, which is three times more expensive... ha).

The sounds. The gestures.

Eating bunnies, tripe, and lungs is totally normal.

Wines are marked up maybe 10-20% in restaurants, rather than 300-400% as in the US.

Steaks... see above. And gosh, they're good. And always, always rare.

Tips are considered offensive when they're more than a couple coins because it implies that the staff (often the family that owns the place) is underpaid.

No one orders a cappuccino after 10am. And if you get a drink before dinner, it's a spritz (Aperol or Campari with prosecco and a slice of orange). And if you have a drink after dinner, it's grappa. Unless you overate, in which case it's Fernet.

Everyone routinely eats wild mushrooms, and enough people forage them that it's considered normal.

Everyone loves America and hates our government.

Because practically every restaurant is great, people just go where they most like the people.

No one really knows how to use half of the tenses.

Every city in Italy (and many towns) has its own name for practically every cut of meat.

Men talk wistfully of their mother's cooking, with trepidation for the time when it will be gone.

People would rather risk absurdity to look good than be boring to look normal.

Tiny cars.

There are about twenty newspapers.

Tuscany is, along with Emilia-Romagna, the most consistently radical left region in Italy.

If it's not at least 500 years old, it's not old.

Dogs can go just about anywhere, and are warmly welcomed in most restaurants.

Cactuses and mushrooms grow side-by-side.

People constantly offer each other tastes and grab food off each other's plates. People always buy each other coffee.

Delicious wine grapes left to be nabbed after the vendemmia (the harvest).

Figs along the walkways. And that sweet, mushy, red and yellow berry, like a spiky cherry. Oh.

Lots of little dogs for Goldstar to intimidate.

Well, I could probably go on. And, if I were so inclined, I could do a similar list of all the things that frustrate me (and many others) about Tuscany and/or Italy (surely, Berlusconi would be featured more prominently), but why bother.




  1. Ah, I can feel the literary lift in your step-- you are indeed having a wonder-full time! My senses stir at the mention of huge, woody herb bushes at the roadsides. I love trying to imagine the cactii next to the mushrooms, because I can't quite make my brain do it. (We've had all manner of mushrooms fruiting around here, and I wish I had you or Ryan here to help me sort through them, because there's a big difference between a printed guide and an experienced eater!)

    Two weeks ago, BTW, I cooked a pig's head,(for bone broth and shredded meat) lungs, and kidneys (into steak and kidney pie). It took all weekend and I felt rather bewildered and overwhelmed. I'm looking forward to learning your tips on tasty offal prep, especially with the lungs!

    Be well, and may you continue to be immersed in happy culinary adventures!

  2. I noticed that about the handwriting, too! Weird.

    Also, you were able to get a spritz outside of Venice? I tried to order one in Orvieto once, and they stared at me like I had two heads! :P

  3. Lisa, it's all they drink at the Casa del Popolo and Le Logge. I was a bit surprised, too. And it seems to be Aperol more than Campari, though I'm still a Campari devotee.

  4. I'm completely in love with this post... and it has illuminated the fact that I was apparently born in the wrong country. Who should I talk to about that? (and WHAT are those spiky red and yellow fruits?)

  5. So... what about "Little Things I Love About Copenhagen?"

  6. Ha! Yes, I've been thinking it's time to resuscitate this blog. One more week at Noma, then I'll actually have enough free time to get beyond laundry and walking Goldie.