Ciao for Now

Somewhere in Apulia.

When I arrived in Rome in 2020, I started writing a monthly email about my daily life to my family and family of friends. These are some of my thoughts both from before and now, after, living in Rome.  

But, first, a repeated word about “ciao” — from my first book. Ciao means “I am your slave” from the Venetian dialect “s-ciao” which got it from the Latin “sclavus.” This term was used for servants or for those of inferior status. It eventually became a sort of “at your service.” Mainly, the reason I will try not to use ciao all the time is that it’s only used by people who are known closely to each other. And I will be a stranger, at least for a while. The best phrase to use is, “buongiorno” or “buonaserra.” An even worse, or better, reason to not use ciao is that using ciao can be interpreted as flirtatious or bad manners. It was not used until the twentieth century, and even in this century, it can be offensive to some. So, what to say? “Salve, come va?” Means “Hi, how’s it going?” And that seems a good halfway formal phrase. “Salve” comes from the verb for “to be in good health.” When you take your leave, say, “Arrivederci.” Ciao is only used for people who know each other very well or are in the same peer group. I feel like I know Rome now. I can use it for Rome.

30 minutes outside Rome.

What I expected: 

A friend asked, upon learning that I was moving to Rome, what I was most looking forward to. I’m looking forward to the artichokes, especially those that have an edible interior, the flowering zucchini, the pizza, the cheeses, and the pasta. I have to say that I’m not so excited about the fried rice balls. Don’t know why because I like fried food but I’m not sure that I like fried rice in that format. Maybe because I don’t like croquettes and these “arancini” are rice croquettes. I am looking forward to the famous fried cod place, Dar Filettaro a Santa Barbara. I’m looking forward to the fresh produce including the cucumbers, although not the squirting cucumber. This squirting cucumber, “ecballium elaterium,” is a strange fruit because when ready, the fruit which looks like a hairy testicle, squirts it’s seed in a mucilage stream at 60 miles per hour. This plant is poisonous as well as projectile. 

I will not be trying the maggot cheese. I get this question a lot. I am not a daring eater for the sake of it. I was raised to try things at least once and to be polite if offered something. But, you will have to accept my apologies ahead of time, I’m not interested in eating maggots, pigeon brains, or other things that might be delicious and give me an erection to rival a redwood. 

Life will not always be sweet. I came across the blog of someone who was leaving Italy and she explained that the main reasons were that she missed her family in Scotland, the cozy Christmas in snowy countries, and that there was no diversity in Florence. I see why she left. I usually do one or two articles per country about what I term “the realities” of daily life, and I will do that for Italy too. Mostly, on my blog, I stay on the upbeat side, and try to only show what is delightful. 

To go exploring on food adventures was one of my goals. Of the things I wrote about in the first book, I did not achieve a Ph.D. on food nor a course in culinary arts. But, I did go on a few food tours. Of the list of things I planned to do, here are my results. 

Take a Cooking with Nonna (granny) class put on by Walks Inside Rome. 

Participate in olive oil tastings, including with The Italian Foodie Sisters. — But not with them. I did it with Johnny Madge, and that day may have been the best of the year. Read about it in it’s own chapter. — Done

Pilgrimage to the villa of Bramasole. The legend that was created by Frances Mayes’ book, Under the Tuscan Sun. — Sort of. I say done because I stayed in the hotel where the main character met her lover in Positano. 

Pilgrimage to Genoa. It is one of those places I have heard so many stories about it, mainly from my Peruvian-Italian family when they tell their immigration story. — Done 

Visit the town of Levanto. From an Italian-Peruvian, I got a list of places from her hometown of Levanto. She told me: 

there is a beautiful walking/cycling route built on the old railway line that was in use between 1874 and 1971 by the sea (you can rent a bike). One of the best restaurants is L’Oasi by the main square Piazza Cavour; but there are many bars where you can have a great aperitivo, close to the beach (Casino, Piper bar, Bagni Nettuno, La Gritta). This is the official website on my town,  

Visit the island of Sardinia. As the travel show host Rudy Maxa said about Tahiti, there are not enough words to describe the blues of those waters. 

Visit the Island of Ischia. It’s tiny and right off the coast. Of course, I hope to visit many of the other islands as well. — Done 

Go on a foraging trip to pick wild greens. Or make my friends go on these while I take photos from the car.

Take a trip to the chocolate valley of Tuscany, home of Roberto Catinari, Luca Mannori, Paul de Bondt, and Amadei chocolates houses. 

Take a gelato making lesson with Italy’s Best Rome. Again, my willing friends will probably take this class with me, while I will take photos… and taste. 

Go on gelato tasting tours… although I may be making this one up. But not really. I think my gelato-mad friends and I will go out and make this up along the way. Then I’ll blog about it. — Done 

Visit Puglia and the town of Monopoli. It looks bright and Adriatic blue like a sunny reflection of Greece across the water. — Done 

Visit Ferrero, or the town where Nutella was created. 

But, first on my list will be food tours with the mother-daughter team of Elizabeth and Sophie Minchilli. I plan to go on all of Sophie Minchilli’s six food tours. Then probably a customized one too. Plus, I’ll take classes with her mother, Elizabeth Minchilli, who started the business. — see the separate chapter on that. — Done 

Mostly, I’ll wander slowly through Rome. I have no real bucket list. I don’t like the race to check places off a list. I have been on those frenzied tours where you can’t remember half of what you saw. I will try and enjoy the slow life and the simple things of daily life. Or at least I’ll try in between frenzied visits from friends. — Done 

For my website, I will probably be trying 100 of something. Maybe cheese, maybe pasta, maybe those cream buns called maritozza. I look forward to sinking my teeth into them. — Done

The maritozzo. Several, so morritozzi.

In conclusion:

So you see, I did not do it all. Italy is an endless array of things to do. Each town is cuter than the last. It would take many lifetimes to see it all. 

But, I did learn a few things.

My favorite hack for getting milky coffee after 11 am — is to order a glass of hot milk and an espresso. Then combine them. This only works if they actually have any milk.

And, the funniest thing I learned in Italy was that all the time I thought people were telling me, “perfect/okay” = “ottimo” — they were actually saying, “a moment/wait” = “attimo.” I only realized this a few months ago and it makes me better understand all those times that I thought something was going according to MY plan, but it did not.

Ciao. For now. It was “ottimo” and a pleasure.

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