I love living in Malaysia. I love the warmth, the friendliness, the food, the mix of cultures and the ease of my life here. But, recently I’ve rediscovered my true love: Italy. I’ve been out of the country for so long that it’s almost easy to forget the naturalness I feel when I’m there. The food, the culture, the language, the smells, the streets, everything about Italy calls to me. I remember the first time I set foot on the tarmac at Aeroporto Amerigo Vespucci. There was something in the air. Even at the airport, I knew I was truly “home.” And that feeling never left during my six months studying abroad. Since that experience I’ve always known that I will someday return to Italy. It’s only a matter of time (and perhaps, finances).
At our last book club (I’m in a book club, by the way) meeting, after we had discussed Ghostwritten by David Mitchell (one of my favorite books of all time), we meandered over to the topic of our individual cultural heritage. We have a very diverse group, from lots of different backgrounds so it was a very interesting discussion. But, many of us felt the same way when visiting the home of our ancestors. Suddenly an understanding of our family life like never before. A realization that there is a whole country of people that do the same things my family did growing up. You feel part of a larger community that you may have never felt outside of your family before. It’s a powerful feeling.
When I first went to university I didn’t realize how Italian my family was. All of my grandparents were born in Italy (in different regions though) so unbeknownst to me at the time, we were following all sorts of Italian traditions that (gasp!) other people didn’t do! For example, before I went to university, I had never had Mexican food, or Indian food, or Thai food. The only kind of food we ate at home was Italian. The only kind of food we went out to eat for was Italian. The only kinds of desserts, cheeses, vegetables I knew were Italian. Seriously. And I didn’t realize how strange that was until I met my husband at UConn. He thought I was such a weirdo when he first met me – what do you mean you eat 7 fishes on Christmas Eve? What’s that about? And why must you have dessert and coffee after every meal? And what is this Sambuca that you’re always putting in your tea? I’m not a religious person, but the whole worshipping the Virgin Mary thing really threw him for a loop too…
And, then of course, there was the first time Alex came over for a holiday – Easter – another favorite Italian celebration. I remember showing up at the door to my Grandparents house, calling in to announce our arrival. My grandfather was in the darkness of the hallway, just out of sight. He had recently had surgery on his vocal cords due to cancer, so he had that special Godfather-like raspy voice. “Who’s there?” Already Alex was shaking in his boots. It didn’t really help that the rest of the day my uncle kept threatening his life if anything bad happened to me, and that the children all sat around Grandpa in his big throne-like chair, or that everyone was yelling continuously, or that there was so much hugging and touching. I think Alex was experiencing culture shock in New York. Of course it helped quite a bit when The Sapranos came on the air, but by then he had grown used to the oddness of my family.
Ah, Italy… When will I be seeing you again?
Florence image from: http://www.tourpackagers.com/Images/italy/florence.jpg
Sambuca image from: http://img.epinions.com/images/opti/4a/d3/fddkSpiritsBy_NameAllSambuca_Romana_Liquore_Classico-resized200.gif
Godfather image from: http://img.timeinc.net/time/2005/100movies/images/the_godfather_i_and_ii.jpg