Sometimes when I get a bit of homesickness for life in the city, I’ll go for a walk to the center of Forio and throw myself into one of the side streets and wander until I get lost and can’t tell where I am anymore. I love the buildings squashed one next to the other, the smells and sounds coming from the windows, the cats darting into garden doors, and the strange and meandering streets that seem like they lead to a dead end, but will then have a passage way that will take you to another curving street. I love the architecture, the windows that are shaped like portholes or flowers, the secret churches that are built into a corner, the little archways that will take you out onto a path that has a spectacular view of the sea, and the sudden opening up onto a cliff with terraces of lemon and orange trees. The most surprising thing are these mysterious watch towers. The streets curl and stretch around these towers at the base and if you look at Forio up from the hills above the town you can see that the town is studded with these phallic beings.Continue reading ->
When I lived in Rome, it was my first time living in Italy full-time and it was really challenging. There was so much to learn about Italy, not just how to live there, but what the hell people were actually talking about. I hardly got any of the cultural and historical references that came up in conversations and films and I was always asking questions like ‘why’ and ‘how’. Like who was Aldo Moro and why was he assassinated?·
(This is a long and interesting story, but the very short version is that Aldo Moro, Italian prime minister during the 70s, was kidnapped by the Italian anarchist group Le Brigate Rosse for ransom and then killed and left in the trunk of car in the centre of Rome.)
After a while (and it really should have been much sooner), it occurred to me that I could read about this stuff and find out for myself. There are so many books out there in English about contemporary Italian history written by historians and journalists. I really don’t know why it took me so long to start reading them, but I have been reading these books ever since.Continue reading “Want to know more about Italy? Start with these books”
Here are two books to start with:
A History of Contemporary Italy: Society and Politics 1943-1980 by Paul Ginsborg:
This is a dry and dense read written by British historian Paul Ginsborg who has been Professor of contemporary European history at the University of Florence since 1992. It’s a historical analysis of post-war Italy and includes charts, data and statistics. This book will give you all the information you need about the post-war economic boom, the movement of southern workers to the north, left wing politics and the working class movement, the 50 year run of the Christian Democrat party, the ‘anni di piombo’ and the Red Brigades, and more.
It’s a bit of slog to get through, but well worth the read and gives a complete overview of what happened in the country after the war. This was the first book I read about Italy and it blew my end. I understood so many more cultural and historical references and suddenly the names of the streets in Rome had meaning. For example, viale Palmiro Togliatti, a main thoroughfare that cuts through Rome north and south is named after the leader of the Communist Party who helped put together a new Italian government at the end of WWII. This is a significant thing to know about because it helps explain Italy’s relationship with communism and how it helped shape the fabric of the Italian left. Italian communist leaders were respected enough to have streets named after them.
You can follow up this book with his sequel Italy and its discontents: family, civil society, state, 1980-2001. This book will continue its exploration of history during these two decades through the lens of the Italian family and the role it played in the further development of the country. It covers major events such as Tangentopoli that caused the downfall of the Christian Democrat Party, the rise of Silvio Berlusconi, and mafia and corruption.
The Italians by John Hooper:
For something with more of a narrative structure and less heady, try The Italians by John Hooper. Hooper is the Italian correspondent for The Economist and a former foreign correspondent at The Guardian covering Italy and Spain. Taking the title of Luigi Barzini’s book, The Italians digs deep into Italian culture, history and religion to try to dismantle stereotypes and explain why Italy is the way it is today. It’s a fun and very perceptive read written by someone who has lived in Italy for decades. There is still an historical perspective, but Hooper uses facts to explain things like why there’s no word in Italian for hangover (but 12 words for coat hanger), the connections between football and the freemasons, changing attitudes to sex, the north and south divide, and why Italians are reluctant to use a dishwasher.
You can read about some other Italy history and culture books in a previous post I’ve written.
And I also recommend some other books that I’ve read since that last post including:
- Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb – about the mafia, corruption and the Manipulite campaign run by prosecutor Antonio di Pietro. It’s written in a fun narrative style in the first person. Excellent read and gives you plenty of background of a time that is often referenced in films and TV programmes today. Read this book and then watch Il Divo and The mafia kills only in summer (La mafia uccide solo nell’estate).
- The Sack of Rome by Alexandre Stille – about the rise of Berlusconi from his beginnings as a property developer to his multiple runs as Italy’s prime minister. This book explains the role television played in shaping Italy during the 1980s from the government to family life. Read this and then watch the TV series 1992 and 1993. fd
- Two Kitchens by Rachel Roddy – another cookbook by my favourite food writer who lives in Rome. This book consists of recipes that are cooked in her home kitchens in Rome and in Gela, Sicily where Roddy’s partner Vincenzo is from. Its sections are organised by ingredients (such as chickpeas, grapes, ricotta, and fish) instead of types of dishes so you get a more literary and deeper sense of ingredients and the role they play in Roman and Sicilian meals.
This post is written
as part of the dolcevitabloggers linkup, hosted by Jasmine of Questa Dolce Vita, Kelly of Italian at Heart and Kristie of Mamma Prada the 3rd Sunday of every
month. Click #dolcevitabloggers
to read blog posts by other participants
It’s wonderful and incredible fulfilling my dream to live in Italy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not challenging at times and sometimes a little lonely. These four podcasts are particularly helpful to me when I’m feeling a bit down or homesick for good conversations with my friends. These podcasts in English and Italian discuss the difficulties of living life abroad, unpack the history and cultural significance behind the food eaten in Italy, address Italian feminist issues while showcasing bad-ass women, and delve into contemporary Italian history with a bit of music thrown in.Continue reading “My four favourite podcasts about Italian culture and living in Italy”
1. The Bittersweet Life (in English)
This is my absolute favourite podcast that I have been listening to for the past five years and I never get tired of. I could say that The Bittersweet Life gives an in-depth focus on issues that ex-pats aka immigrants face living life abroad, which is definitely does, but it does a lot more than that. Through interviews and discussions, co-host Katy Sewall and Tiffany Parks, show the rich creative fabric of being alive, the challenges and success, the self-doubt and fruition of trying to live a less off the beaten path. Katy is a radio producer based in San Francisco and Tiffany is a writer and author of Midnight in the Piazza. They’ve been friends since the 6th grade and it’s wonderful to listen to this podcast and listen to two friends have an interesting conversation. The Bittersweet Life has kept me company and given me comfort during these years living in London and in IschiaThe Bittersweet Life (in English)
Episode 219 – Abdicate – Interview with Jackie Jalley, a former lawyer who, in her 40s, decided to give up her career and move to Europe. She discusses she learned how to deal with things when they didn’t go as planned.
2. Gola (in English)
This is a new podcast that I’ve really gotten into. Rome-based food journalist Katie Parla and culinary historian Dr. Dannielle get together in each episode to discuss the role of food in Italian culture. While there a lots of food podcasts out there (which I really enjoy) this one has a really deep discussion about the cultural and historical background of topics such as coffee, garlic, anchovies, panettone and cocktails. The topics quickly meander into discussions about history, sociology and culinary culture and after each episode you come away with a deeper understanding of Italian culture.
Start with :
Properly Caffeinated: Listen about the role fascism played in the rise of coffee culture in Italy during the 20th century.
3. Morgana (in Italian)
This is a new podcast presented by Italian writer Michela Murgia and Chiara Tagliaferri. According to the podcast, a Morgana is a woman who is strong, difficult, strange, dangerous, witchlike, and not afraid to break some balls. Women that live for themselves and don’t give a shit about making you happy. Where a woman is killed every two days by her partner or ex and sexism plays a large part of everyday life for women, this is an exciting podcast aimed to empower women and show them examples of potential heroes. Each episode focuses on a cultural figure, both contemporary and historical, and discusses how she is an extraordinary Morgana.
You can listen to all the websites and watch a trailer for the podcast on the Morgana website.
Madonna and Saint Catherine of Sienna
4. Mix 24 – La Storia (in Italian)
This podcast stopped airing on 30 June 2017, but you can still listen to the last 28 episodes on ITunes as well as find all of the episodes on their website. If you live in Italy or love Italian culture, these are a perfect way to get a more understanding of recent history and you’ll come away with recognising more cultural references that come up in conversations (as well as strengthening your Italian). Particular fun episodes focus on a year, what was going on back then and the hit songs on Italian radio (both Italian and international songs. If you visited Italy in 2008, you could listen to the episode of that year and recognize the songs that were on the radio and learn a little bit more about what was actually going on Italy, politically and culturally, that you may not have picked up back then.
Musica and storia – 1998: Monika Lewinsky and Bill Clinton scandal, Fidel Castro and Pope John Paul II meet for the first time, the Italian government under Romano Prodi falls and the new government under Giovanni D’Alema is installed. Selected songs featured: Ray of Light – Madonna; My heart will go on – Celine Dion; Blu – Zucchero; Senza te o con te – Annalisa Minetti; Getting jiggy with it – Will Smith.
Luigi Tenco, mistero a San Remo: Mystery still surrounds Luigi Tenco, singer and songwriter of hits like Gloria and Ti Amo, and his suicide on 27 January 1967 at the Hotel Savoy di San Remo after his song was dropped out of the race at the San Remo Music Festival. This episode talks about the story and success of the Italian icon who died at only 29 years old.
Hello everyone! It’s a year ago today that me and Marituccio said goodbye to London and boarded a plane to Italy with 4 suitcases and a Christmas cactus.
Looking back on this time last year, I remember being so so so scared with this big decision to move to Italy. It was hard for me to figure out whether it was intuition that was trying to stop or just fear of jumping into the unknown. I didn’t have this same kind of terror when I had moved to Mexico City, London and Rome. Maybe because I was older? Maybe because there was nowhere else to go if this didn’t work out? It was so strong that I almost didn’t feel any excitement at all. I was numb. Continue reading “Our First Year in Italy”
Honestly, the first 6 months were difficult. Not for any of the usually bureaucratic difficulties of setting into life in Italy nor the baggage that comes with trying to navigate a new country in a different language. It was more psychological than that. I thought in the beginning that I was going to be punished for moving to Italy. I could hear all these voices from family members in the past who had always made me feel like I was too dumb or too young or too naive to realise how bad life in Italy really was. These voices of the past were always on my shoulder and I could feel them angry with me for trying to live here. Last Christmas I made Neapolitan rococo, using my Nonna’s recipe, and they came out bad with a terrible bitter taste. I thought I had messed up the recipe and overdid the spices. I felt like Nonna was trying to tell me that she was angry with me, for daring to make her cookies in Ischia, the place where life had been so difficult for her. (Later I found out that the flour I used for the cookies was rancid and had nothing to do with my grandmother being pissed off in the clouds.)
But once I realised that I was giving weight to voices that didn’t exist anymore and that it was futile to imagine how they would think and what they would say based on faded memories that were at least 20 years old, I felt better. Really, if they were still alive today and lived and had grown as people for another 20 years, they might have thought that I was really brave and awesome for doing this. In any case, I wasn’t living this new life here for them, continuing their own story, this was for me. My life. My story.
Things that I expected to happen that didn’t:
– Extreme culture shock moving from a major metropolis to a tiny island
I thought it would be a lot harder, I thought it would take a long time to get used to the slower pace of life and to not have so many things available to you 24 hours a day as is in a city, to not have so many events to go to, friends to see, places to walk to. I seemed to adjust to this part of life in Italy quite quickly. It’s amazing to be able to go for walks along the beach and into town, to see the sky full of stars, to breath clean air and not deal with the noise and traffic of city life. I also feel less anonymous here, people seem closer to life and more aware of life and death. There are processions and festivals to mark the holidays and saint days, announcements to mark births and funerals and people are always ready to talk to you in the shops and on the streets.
–Everything closed during the winter off season with no one in the streets
Hah! It’s true it gets quieter during the off season and quite a few restaurants and hotels close. But there are 70,000 full-time residents on the island and tourists still come here all year round. There are lots of events going on – concerts, book signings, talks, festivals and markets. And the neighbourhoods are lively.
– Feeling isolated and claustrophobic from living on an island
When I was preparing for the move, I would get scared thinking about how I was going to be on an island being surrounded by a very powerful sea. Even if you needed a break, you wouldn’t be able to just drive your car for an hour to go someplace new. But Ischia has 6 towns and isn’t as small as it seemed to me before I left. Each town has its own character and you can just go to another town for a walk or an icecream and it feels like a change in scene.
– It would take a long time to make friends
It always takes a long time to develop friendships, especially when living in a community in a different country, and I was prepared to spend a lot of time alone. But I’ve found that it was pretty easy to become friends with my neighbours and landlords, to be invited to birthday parties and Sunday lunches, to go out after work with Martiuccio’s colleagues and generally be included in people’s lives here. I’ve lived in cities for most of my adult life and got used to being anonymous going about in my everyday life, so here it’s nice to go for a walk and say hello, stop for a coffee, and have a little chat. There’s a nice community of artists and writers on the island and I got to know other bloggers here in particular Isabella Marino of Qui Ischia and Laura Mattera Iacono of Al Tavolo di Amalia that have helped me learn about what life in Ischia is really like.
– It would be difficult for Marituccio to find a job
I kept my London job and work remotely from Italy, but Marituccio, a massage therapist, wanted to find work in a hotel spa. Some people were discouraging and said that finding work would be really hard as there wasn’t a large turnover in staff in the various hotels and that people kept their jobs season after season. But he didn’t let that put him down and he started visiting various hotels, stopping in saying hello and dropping off his CV. We weren’t sure if it was going to work out for this season, but he eventually was hired as a therapist in a hotel in Ischia Porto, it was first for the summer season but he’s now working into the holiday season. Which means we’ll spend our first Christmas in Ischia this year. Yay!
Things that I didn’t expect to happen:
- Losing the pleasure to cook and eat as I adjusted to this new life
- How damp things can be in the wintertime like the sheets on your bed
- How weather can affect the ability to travel, especially if you need to get to the mainland so you can go to the airport.
- Getting seasick even for a short ride on a small boat
- How working in English during the day makes it difficult for me to speak with friends in Italian after work, my tongue takes a longer time to warm up and I’m more uncertain when speaking and mispronounce things
- A whole new cat family showing up at my doorstop all wanting to live with me
Overall, this first year in Italy has been a great surprise and I’m so happy to have moved here. Life is still uncertain and a bit precarious, but also really lovely. This feels like home.
This blog post is part of the #DolceVitaBloggers link up from Mamma Prada, Italian at Heart and Questa Dolce Vita. Each month they pick a topic and open it up to all bloggers to join in. The topic for September is a favourite Italian recipe.
I went through a really long adjustment period during the move to Italy, starting from when we first started packing up our flat in London in September 2017 and ending sometime during the spring. I was overwhelmed by these big changes and I lost all interest in cooking and I couldn’t taste or enjoy food. It’s not that I turned anorexic and didn’t want to eat. I ate everything, but I didn’t care about eating like I normally did. I was numb.
But now things have been getting better. In April we moved to Forio, on the west side of the island, into a little yellow house with a garden. The house was furnished, but the kitchen just had the basics, so the first thing me and Marituccio did was put together the kitchen. We mounted shelves and bars to hang up our pots and pans and tools. We added a sideboard table and put a cutting board on top of the small fridge to add some more counter space.
I had a kitchen again and I started to cook. At first, I made a few simple dishes and rotated them during the week, slowly getting into it. Then in July, I went up to the Venice and got the rest of our stuff out of storage and shipped everything to Ischia. That meant our move was finally complete and home felt like home. Then I really started cooking the way I used to. Reading about food, trying new recipes and getting inspired. The days were long and hot with the cicadas booming, the door was always open with the cats coming in and out of the garden and I listened to podcasts and music while cooking. And the supermarket was down the road so I could do a daily shop picking up just what I needed for the day. And then Marituccio would come home from work and it would still be light out so we’d walk to the beach to watch the sunset. And then we’d come back and sit and eat.
I cooked and made all sorts of things this summer, trying new things and letting my mind lead me to wherever it wanted to go: A tomato tart, roasted aubergines, cantuccini, and zucchini flower pancakes. Grilled peaches with goat cheese and walnuts, red chilli compote with chillies from the garden and fish tacos. Steak pizzaiola, prosciutto and melon, gallons of gazpacho, and a spinach frittata in a cream of chickpeas. Fresh mayonnaise in tomato sandwiches, pea risotto, and roasted tomatoes. I was chewing on the heart of summer, getting the most I could out of it.
Such a different feeling from all those months feeling numb and lost craving burgers, fries and hot dogs. Reading about food and looking through cookbooks and recipes online made me feel happy and settled again and I had a kitchen full of light where I could keep my cookbooks and hang up pictures and postcards. Of course the cats coming in and brushing against my leg or threatening to jump on the counter made it fun too. And the church bells ringing Ave Maria at 8 pm every night.
One of my favourite dishes that I made this summer is a dish we ate every Christmas Eve while I was growing up. You would think that during those hot humid days I would avoid eating anything that would remind me of the winter, but this sweet and salty pasta dish made of olives, raisins and pine nuts felt like the perfect thing to eat. Growing up the dish didn’t have a name and I never saw any of my other aunts and uncles eat it, so it just seemed like it was our thing. But one day when the craving hit me, I googled the ingredients and I found Spaghetti allo Scammaro.
It’s actually a 19th century Neapolitan recipe back when Napoli was under Bourbon control. The Duke of Buonvicino, Ippolito Cavalcanti, first prepared this dish for the fasting monks during Lent and the other fasting days (called in Italian i giorni magri -skinny days). The recipe was added to his book Cucina Teorico-Pratica in 1837 and it quickly became part of the Neapolitan cucina povera. It’s nice to know that we were following an old Neapolitan tradition after all by making this on Christmas Eve.
The Neapolitan word scammaro originates from the monks in the monasteries. During Lent, the monks who were unwell and were permitted to eat meat ate their meals in their rooms (cammere in dialect) so as not to disturb the other fasting monks. So the word cammerare (to eat inside your room) became synonymous with eating heavy fatty carnivorous meals while scammerare (to eat outside of your room) meant eating light vegetarian or fish-based meals.
I guess it made sense getting this craving over the summer when it was too hot to cammerare. It’s a quick easy light dish and goes great with a glass of white wine from the fridge and a peach or fig for dessert.
Spaghetti allo Scammaro
Quick light pasta dish for your 'giorni di magro'.
- 2 tbsp raisins
- 2 tsp capers
- 20 gr pine nuts
- half handful gaeta olives
- 1 anchovy in oil
- 1 clove of garlic
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- chopped parsley
- grated parmigiano (optional)
- 160 g spaghetti
Leave the raisins to soak in a bowl with warm water. Remove the pits from the olives and roughly chop. Toast the pine nuts in a pan over a low flame for under a minute. Watch closely and don’t let them burn. Once toasted, set aside.
Add oil to the pan. Add the anchovy and once it dissolves add a crushed garlic clove.
Add the olives, raisins and capers and cook until soft and covered in oil. Add in the toasted pine nuts. Remove from heat.
In the meantime, add the spaghetti to the boiling water. You’ll want this to be al dente so remove two minutes before the suggested cooking time on the packet. Reserve some cooking water.
Add the pasta and a ladle of cooking water to the pan with the sauce and put it on a low flame and mix until the sauce becomes rich and creamy and sticks to the pasta.
Add chopped parsley and grated parmigiano if desired.
Note: Most of the ingredients in this dish are salty so it would be easy to make this dish too salty. Play around with the measurements. I add more raisins to balance the saltiness and I put just a bit of salt in the water before I throw in the pasta.
I’ve seen some posts online where this recipe is taken to the next level in which breadcrumbs are added and it is fried so it becomes a frittata without the eggs. Crazers! The frittata could be a great vegan dish (if you leave out the anchovies and cheese) to bring to a party or picnic.