First Time On Surviving In Italy?

Your First Time Here? STOP. This is mostly a humor blog. If you’re offended easily or struggle with sarcasm or irony you should skip my website and watch this instead. Also, I swear ALL THE FUCKING time and ramble on about the capybara. You still there? Winning! I’ve Put Together Some Of My Most Popular Posts For You To Start With:

LIFE IN ITALY

21 Ways To Survive Being An Expat 

Why Everyone Should Live In Italy At Least Once In Their Lives

Christmas In Italy 2013: The Time The Blowdryer Ate My Mother-In-Law’s Head

13 Things That I’ve Learned From Marrying An Italian Man

17 Signs That Italy Might Make You Crazy Or Homicidal

Italian The Hard Way

10 Reasons That I’m Surprised That Someone Married M.E.

In My Husband’s Family, Leaving The Table Is Like Announcing You’ve Eaten A Child 

TRAVEL ITALY

Dining In Italy: How To Avoid Making An Ass Of Yourself

Rome With Rick Zullo

Travel Bologna With Sarah Dowling

5 Steps To A Non-Conventional Night In Florence

A Weekend In Chianti

Vacation Apartments In Florence: How To Overcome Writer’s Block (Or Just Hang Out).

MOVING TO ITALY

Moving To Italy: Studying And Living 

Frequently Asked Questions: Jobs, Immigration, Circumcision, Love

31 Reasons You Would Be Better Off In Italy

How To Move To Italy

 

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Day 2: When Good Intentions Fail Miserably

I wrote this on my phone. I apologize for errors or crazy formatting.

As you all know, my in-laws are in town for three weeks. It’s been interesting. If you haven’t had a chance to catch up you can see the two previous blog posts here:
5 Hours To Go
I’ll Be Sainted, Right?

The thing with my in-laws is that they’re not necessarily evil it’s just that they’re products of their environment, and their environment is that of tradition, ethnocentrism, tough childhoods, and perpetual nervousness. Their closed surroundings have produced bubble people who have been raised on their own planet: Cassino.

Pretty much all of their insanity stems from the fact that they honestly don’t know any better.

“People shouldn’t treat their dogs so well, dogs should be left outside to fend for themselves.”

“If one doesn’t buy an apartment before marriage, their children will be homeless and die.”

“Pizza and pasta are healthy.”

“Men are the boss of women.”

These are only a few “factual,” statements that I struggle with, given that they are total bullshit. But it gives you an idea of what we are dealing with here. It’s their way or the highway, everything they think is right, so the opposite is decidedly wrong. This has always been our struggle. They cannot understand diversity. It’s either scary and they’re pretty sure it’s life threatening or it’s fascinating, like they are observing creatures in a zoo.

Which brings us to the most embarrassing five minutes of my life. Yesterday Francesco had a work party at his boss’ house. Preparing for the party was bad enough. I had to take them to 3,000 stores to find the perfect bottle to hold Grappa, a gift for my husband’s boss. I had to take my MiL to get her hair done, and I had to buy Pannetone from Trader Joes. Every purchase, as usual, has been an argument along with three subsequent hours of bitching. So, I’ve just decided to pay for everything and hide the receipts (they ask for them and search for them for hours). I’m not rich, by any means, but I hate talking about money, especially for ten min in front of a confused cashier. Its so tacky.

I drove my in-laws the 1 hour drive to Francesco’s bosses home, located in the middle of the dessert, in coyote country (most of you know that we are temporarily in the US while I finish my books). The drive was scenic, accompanied by a cacophony of, “oh God! Watch out! Slow down! Mother Mary! Ew, I don’t like the way this looks. I prefer the sea. This is dry. Oh God! Watch out!” From my MIL and, “stop talking woman! Shut up!” From my FIL.

We met my husband at their home.
I was hellbent on getting wasted so I was off in the corner chugging Layer Cake with some of my husband’s younger colleagues. Yes, I’m the immature thirty-year-old that’s sitting with all the 22 year olds having the best time ever. We were right in the middle of a conversation about how Italy is amazing and irritating. My example, ironically, was that it lacked diversity. Almost as if on cue, my MIL walks over to pet the young girl who is directly across from me.
“You’re pretty,” she says in Italian, “misty, translate for me.”
Then she faces the girl, bends down, pulls her eyes taught, and says, “where are you from?!” To Francesco’s colleague who is Korean-American.
I coughed. Then stared at the table.
The girl smiled, “uhm, I’m American?” She took a long pull from her glass of beer.
“But how are you American,” my MIL pressed. She pulled her eyes taught again, “if your eyes are like this?”
The girl looked at me, since I was doing the translating “I was born in Korea but raised in the US.”
My MIL patted the girl’s head, “My niece has eyes kind of like yours,” she pulled her eyes back again.
“As I was saying, there is no diversity…” I surveyed the table of shell-shocked faces. I finished my entire glass of wine in one acidic gulp.

My FIL took photos of cactuses. My husband was in another room messing with the 80k amp he’d just designed.
My MIL sashayed through the kitchen where F’s boss rolled out pizza dough to cook in his industrial oven.
“In my opinion, the world adores pizza,” she said with her head held high, happy to bestow her gift of cuisine, as if she had personally brought flat dough to the United States.

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Day 1. I’ll Be Sainted, Right?

My in-laws arrived last night around 9:30 p.m. They were more awake than I thought they would be after such a long flight. “Look at that!” They pointed at various things in the Phoenix landscape. “Wow! A Cactus!” my MIL pressed her face against the window.

Back at our house it was all smiles. They went into their room to unpack their bags, unloading about sixty pounds of pecorino and parmasian cheese, “gifts for Misty’s family.” They also brought four bottles of grappa, coffee, and a new pair of pajamas for Francesco.

“That definitely has me thinking of sex” I shook my head at the plaid, blue, get-up.

He shrugged, “It’s normal in Italy.”

“Yeah,” I picked up Oliver to kiss him, “which explains your dramatically low birthrate.”

Or does it?

A few minutes later Francesco’s mother padded out into the living room, refreshed from her shower, wearing a head to toe pink pajama set. On her shoulder, in bedazzled lettering, there were words. I took a closer look because I was pretty sure I was reading it incorrectly. Nope. “SEX AND LOVE,” in English, in sparkling gems.
I whispered to Francesco, “She cannot wear that around my 10 year sister.”
I told her what Sex And Love meant in Italian. She shrugged, “I’m too old for sex or love.” I’ve always liked that Italians can be so relaxed about such things. My step mom would be horrified if she found out she was padding around the house, advertising certain services.

We showed them the house which they liked well enough. Then they moved on to inspecting us like cattle. I was able to check off a few of my list of anticipated feedback. She poked my butt, “You gained weight but only in your ass.” She caressed my cheek, “And is that a mole? You need to have that lasered off.” She moved my hair off of my shoulder, “at least with bangs I can see your face, but you know, that long hair,” she shook her head. For anyone that has lived in Italy, this kind of commentary is relatively normal. Believe it or not, she’s not trying to be mean. She just feels like it’s her duty to ensure that both Francesco and I are always in tip top breeding shape. “When are you guys going to have a baby?” She leaned against our granite top cabinet.

Around midnight I made everyone chamomile tea with honey. Then we all went to bed.

This morning Francesco went to work so it was my job to keep them entertained all day. We made coffee. They ate chocolate chip cookies; I had a banana. Francesco’s dad took Oliver for a walk but returned immediately when a neighbor tried to speak with him. I put a load of laundry in for my MIL who was amazed by the sheer size of the washing machine. “Wow! That’s incredible! Look at that! And a dryer! You have your own dryer!?” She opened and closed the door a dozen times. She found other things fascinating: The electric stove, central heating, and coconut sugar. The vacuume is by far her favorite. She’s hell bent on bringing two back home with her, “the technology!”

We went to Target to buy things they needed like after-shave, face-wash, and a new table runner for my table because, “Why don’t you have a table runner!?” They were giddy, walking up and down the aisles, examining all of the foreign goodies. My MIL was scaring mothers by petting their babies, and offending others by shoulder checking them out of her way so she could examine gift bags. We went to Starbucks where my FIL used a debit card for the first time. He giggled, “WOW! That’s so fast! How do you know it worked?” He demanded the receipt because otherwise how would he know what his balance was? I took photos of them in Starbucks, posing, with their coffee that was, “really gross.”

Then we went to Whole Foods, and this is where shit totally fell apart.

After about three minutes in Whole Foods my in-laws were yelling. How is it possible that apples are 2.99 per pound? Except they didn’t understand what a pound was so they wanted me to weight everything, figure out what it was in kilos, then convert the price to euros. Every.Single. Item. Apples, tomatoes, walnuts, was a fifteen minute discussion where in the end my MIL would throw her hands up, “This is just too expensive! NO! We’re not getting it!” and demand it be put back. We’re not talking about twenty dollars here, we’re talking about 3.00 dollars. Don’t get me wrong, produce is more expensive in the US and Whole Foods totally ass rapes you (I had to take them there, the quality in a normal grocery store would have given them an aneurysm) but it’s not so expensive that it could cause one to die. They’re not poor. After 45 minutes we settled on walnuts, tomatoes, flour, and apples.

After the shock at Whole Foods they were hungry. I gave them some options and my FIL chose mexican because he loves spicy food. My MIL was pissed because she didn’t want “to eat anything that wasn’t Italian. End of story!” This statement was accompanied by foot stomping, the way a toddler might when denied candy. She was in the US to spread her cooking goodwill around to others, damnit! We ended up going to a really great Mexican place. I ordered them tacos while my MIL talked shit about two old women drinking margaritas together. We had a glass of Malbec. When the food came my FIL liked it well enough. He ate two bowls of salsa and two baskets of chips, plus his tacos and all of his refried beans. Every time a brown person walked by my MIL would point and ask, “Is that a Mexican?” When her food arrive she tried it, decided it was disgusting, then went on a long-winded rant about Italian superiority. “I just think that people love Italy and Italians. Our food is just better. I can’t believe that people eat Mexican food. It’s disgusting. You know, I really should open a restaurant across the street…” followed by a long list of “delicious,” foods she would serve to save the people from having to eat other ethnic foods.

Our waitress came over, “What language are they speaking?”

“Italian.”

“Oh!” she smiled, “I like to eat spaghetti!” She said, in Italian, “I learned that and a few other phrases in school.”

My FIL was elated that our waitress knew a sentence of his mother-tongue. Since she had flattered him by gracing herself with the Italian language he wanted to repay her by joining her for life to one of his brethren, “You need a nice Italian man,” he told her.

“Oh? Find me one!” She cleared the table.

“I’ll find you a nice boy from Naples! You come to Italy, come find us, and I’ll find you one!” He laughed.

“Great!” She ran towards the kitchen.

He looked at us, “Should I give her our address?”

I taught them how to tip, which my FIL was intrigued by, my MIL was furious. “MORE MONEY!?” She exhaled loudly like a deflating balloon.

Back at my house my FIL went to work cleaning out my vacuum filter using one of our knives from a $200.00 set my sister gave us, jamming it into the depth of our dusty vacuum filter. Then he took to cleaning the air filter for our central air, after I’d vacuumed, tracking dust from one side of the house to the other. “I need to also clean the tiny air filters,” he said, pointing to the heat vent. I explained that it was a vent that produced either hot air or cold air. He wouldn’t find an air filter in each one in every room. This baffled him.

Finally, after I’d vacuumed sixty times, cleaned the stove 200, and fetched 9,000 things for them, the mom settled into the kitchen to make pizza (while mumbling to herself “thank God I can cook, unlike everybody else in this country.”

Around 7 PM I put on an Italian film in Netflix something with Sophia Loren. They settle down into the couch and were entertained until Francesco came home. Only 20 more days to go.

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5 Hours To Go: The In-Laws Cross The Atlantic

The next three weeks should be hell super fun. I’ve cleaned for a total of 12 hours in the past few days. I’ve washed every, single thing in the house. We dusted the baseboards, cleaned the fridge and freezer, the oven, and wrapped presents. You see, the Obamas  my in-laws are joining us in the US to spend Christmas with my parents.

My husband has been singing his usual Christmas song while I organize things. His version is terrifying because he only knows one line, “You better watch out,” which he warns over, and over again, threateningly. In his version, Santa is not only watching for naughty behavior, but is also a serial killer, ready for bloodshed.

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Maybe I can just hide in my hair.

 

At least it makes me giggle. Laughing breaks up the stress. I’m trying to focus on humor with all the cleaning, the planning, the preparing, the impending meltdown.

“What do you mean there’s no bidet!? We need at least a bucket or something!” My mother-in-law tells my husband on the phone last week.

I whispered, “What does she need a bucket for?”

Francesco cupped the phone, “You know, like a bucket to use as a bidet.”

I fluffed Oliver’s newly washed bed, “And how exactly will they lower their 60 year old asses into a small bucket?” I wondered.

We ended up buying the bucket, of course, which is now under my bathroom sink waiting. How they’ll use it, I have no idea. Frankly, I don’t want to know. I agree with them, the bidet is awesome but a bucket seems primative. It’s what poor people in those sad commercials-living in a foreign land in cardboard house-use for their weekly wash-up. It’s not really something you’d expect to find in bathroom in Arizona where they’ll be joining us for one week before we head to Utah for another week, then Vegas. They arrive in exactly 5 hours and 30 minutes. They’ve been to Germany but otherwise this is their first real trip outside of Italy. They’re main concern was not the plane exploding over the Atlantic or being eaten by sharks but whether or not we had an adequate butt washer.

They had other, more mild concerns, of course.  My MIL is worried that American lemons are not good enough to make cookies. What kind of food would they eat and who would be preparing it? Legally, how much food could they get away with bringing in their suitcases? What about Prosciutto? When my husband told my mother-in-law that she could not bring half of a pig with her she thought for a minute, “It’s okay, I’ll just tell the security guard that my daughter-in-law is pregnant.” I’m not pregnant and what pregnant woman requires four pounds of dried pork? What would I be birthing that would require that much medicated protein?

Don’t mind this leg. There’s a fetus in need of nourishment, officer.

 

“They’re going to show up naked,” I warned Francesco. I wouldn’t be surprised if they teetered off the plane with one change of clothes in order to make room for an entire ham, pasta, tomato sauce, lemons, grappa, and random greens my father-in-law harvested from a nearby field. If they were other people and not them it would be pretty cute (for those of you new to the blog, I’m not a monster, we’re dealing with some very special people here). It’s not that I hate them or even dislike them. I somehow even love them (stockholm syndrome). But they are impossibly difficult to deal with. Three weeks, 24 hours per day, with any in-laws is just insane. That amount of time with my in-laws is just asking for someone to self medicate or admit themselves to the loony bin.

In embracing humor we’ve also been making bets about the first round of shit talk they dish out. I voted on things that are typical and a sure win: “You’re hair is ugly, I don’t like your makeup, why do you dress that way, and you should get rid of your dog.” Francesco tried to be more optimistic, voting for: “The house isn’t clean enough, the food is all shit, your coffee is terrible, and why won’t you guys have a baby? Do you not understand how sex works?” Followed by a possible diagram situation or a series of uncomfortable jokes.

I’ll be keeping a roster in my office. Winner gets…something. What should the winner get? A cyanide tablet to escape to freedom.

Five more hours. I should shower. Or sweep. Or just cry into the bidet bucket so they can wash their asses in my tears. Wish me luck!

Please share your in-law horror stories with me. Or your insane holiday stories with me. Let’s all bond over other people’s insanity.

7 Really Great Resources That Will Prepare You For Italy

This isn’t a real post so I apologize. It’s more of a post answering emails. Sort of. I’m often asked for resources and recommendations on moving to Italy, so, alas, here is a roundup of my favorite resources from my little Amazon store. It also kinda supports my alcoholism wine habit. I hope you find some of the resources helpful. Am I missing something? Tell me! I’ll add it.

I suppose it’s common sense that knowledge and understanding can greatly enrich your travel experience, yet, I didn’t realize that nor did I prepare at all. When I decided to move to Italy I was more focused on preparing for the school I would be going to and not at all worried about preparing for living in another country. I figured I’d just learn once I arrived. I did learn, gradually, but more than that I spent a lot of time confused, while looking like a complete moron. The more you know about Italy the more you’ll be able to enjoy your time there right from the gate.

Italian culture is complex, the way things work, the way the people operate, can be impossible to appreciate or understand without some historical context or alcohol. It’s a rich country with thousands of years behind it. Thousands. Of. Years. So, there are so many dead bodies under the streets. That’s like the US times ten or fifteen or…What is it? I suck at math. Anyway, you’ll fit in better, you’ll see things deeper, and you’ll have a richer experience if you’ve taken the time to learn as much as possible. I know for a fact that my experience as a student would have been a lot better (and I would have looked a lot less stupid) if I’d taken the time to do some reading before jetting of to good ole Italy. So, if you’re planning a trip to Italy or you’ll be studying or moving there soon, these are my top picks from my little Amazon store of the best resources to get you in the know as fast as possible. Seriously, I have like 100 but you’ve got shit to do and who has time for more than 7 when you’re packing?

1. The Documentary Italy, Love It Or Leave It. 2014. This is a new, funny and moving documentary about two young Italian men as they try to understand why so many Italians are leaving their country. During their search for answer they cover an array of social problems from marriage equality to fascism. It’s touching, and it will quickly give you an understanding of what young Italians are struggling with. You’ll come away with a deep sense of the modern culture and history. It’s a must see.

Italy: Love it or Leave it

2. The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Learning Italian. No, I don’t think you’re all idiots but this is one of the best books I’ve read as far as breaking down grammar, etc. Textbooks really complicate the whole process of conjugating verbs, etc., but this book makes it easy as hell. I took lessons, have an Italian husband, but this book is where I actually learned HOW verbs work. Admittedly, I am much better at hear=repeat, than “break apart and put back together.” It’s because I hated puzzles as a child.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Learning Italian, Fourth Edition (Idiot's Guides)

3. Language tools: Now, from my experience, the best language tool ever for learning Italian is Rosetta Stone. This shit worked amazingly well. Both myself and my roommates learned a huge amount of our conversational skill with the program. However, it’s expensive and might only be worth the money if you want to work on fluency. If you can’t shell out the money for it, sell one of your kids or try DuoLingo.com or Babbel.com. I’ve used both and I love them both for learning new languages. Duolingo is free, but Babbel is like 7 dollars per month or something. I have Duolingo on my phone (the app is awesome) for both spanish and french, and I use Babbel to keep building my Italian and improving. Really, really great tools. I highly recommend starting this asap. The more Italian you speak, the better your life will be in Italy. Take it from someone who avoided learning it for as long as possible (because I’m an idiot).

Learn Italian: Rosetta Stone Italian - Level 1-5 Set

4. Family Politics By Paul Ginsburg. Dr. Ginsburg is one of the most important historians in Europe. He teaches at the University of Florence and his books offer incredible insight into Italian culture, history, and society. You can’t understand Italy without understanding the family dynamics and how they came to take shape. My life in Italy completely changed once I married into an Italian family. The family dynamics are so complicated, interesting, strong, and incredibly annoying in many ways. All of his books were very helpful on my depressed days when I was wondering, “what the hell is wrong with these people?” Ah, answers! Plus, I’m friends with his son who is also a total badass.

Family Politics: Domestic Life, Devastation and Survival, 1900-1950

5. La Bella Figura. You need this book. That’s really all I’m going to say about it. It’s a great cultural guide and it also covers the infamous Bella Figura,  a concept that is so insanely Italian (and it’s one of the cultural things that frustrates me the most, especially in the south). Impress, Impress, IMPRESS. You can’t live in Italy without this book. You just can’t. It will be one of the best things you’ve read. Plus, it will probably save your Italian friends and family (or partner) some embarrassment and frustration.

La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind

6. Italianissimo. This is a great coffee table book, it’s gorgeous, and it’s funny. You’ll learn a ton of useful things about culture, the history of words, Italian hand gestures, all with the help of badass photos. I have this on my coffee table. My friends find it highly amusing.

Italianissimo: The Quintessential Guide to What Italians Do Best

7. In Pursuit Of Italy: A History of A Land, It’s Regions, And Their People. Alright, so this book is really in-depth, a little heavier, but you’ll understand so much about Italy and the people who live there after you’ve finished it. Also, you’ll appear smart and educated at dinner parties.  In order to understand Italians it’s absolutely necessary to know the history and the complexity of the different regions. Italians often have the assumption that Americans are uneducated about the entire world outside of the US so prove them wrong by arming yourself with all this fancy knowledge. Really. Especially if you want to make roots in Italy, you’ll need to understand it so you can do better in battle. By battle I mean dinner parties.

The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, Its Regions, and Their Peoples

BONUS: The film Marriage Italian Style with Sophia Loren. Italy’s cultural obsession with the madonna/whore complex is amazing/weird and this movie (among plenty others) highlights that dichotomy of the “Italian woman,” as depicted by the patriarchy better than most. Basically, just ignore my rambling and watch it. It’s a really good movie.

What is your favorite resource? Have you read or used any of these? Were they helpful to you in any way? Please let everyone know what resources have helped to enrich your Italy experience, learn Italian, or fill in the cultural blanks for you!

10 Surprising Ways That Studying In Florence, Italy Will Change You

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1. You’ll become addicted. There are few people who study in Italy and think to themselves, “Meh, whatev, Ohio is way better.” Once you’ve lived in Florence there will probably be a small part of you that always wants to return. You’ll develop a permanent sort of nostalgia for the place.

2. Your friends will be totally annoyed with you. “In Italy…” for the five-millionth time will get old and everyone will want to slap the shit out of you. Instead of talking about Italy, just gaze longingly at your scrap book. Eventually you’ll resort to hours on blogs about living in Italy.  <—-Winning!

3. When you return to the US you’ll be appalled by how the guys dress (with the exception of NY, of course). You’ll probably get all judgy about outfits and demand that your boyfriends dress better or, if you’re a guy, you’ll probably get teased for not dressing like a basketball team member anymore. You’ll open your closet and lovingly stare at your skinny jeans and v-neck sweaters that you want to wear but can no longer muster the confidence.

4. Anytime someone makes pasta or pizza it will remind you of how much people suck at making pasta and pizza. Everywhere is terrible except for your beloved Italy.

5. Florence will become a perfect place in your mind. “That would never happen in Italy,” or, “In Italy the men actually shit rainbows. Real rainbows. It’s like Rainbow Bright in every bathroom.”

6. The rest of university will seem lame especially if you’re studying architecture, art history, fashion or anything that’s better in Florence. Going back to Minnesota or wherever will suddenly feel like your education is being stolen from you. How can you possibly learn about Di Vinci like this?

7. If you’re a woman, you’ll be so resistant to cat-calling that you’ll no longer notice college perverts. Is that guy screaming, “WHATSUP LADIES!?” You hardly noticed, you’ve been getting screamed at for months, in Italy.

8. Back in Merca’ at least once you’ll  attempt to buy booze you’re not old enough to buy. Or, if you’re over 21, you’ll try to skip down the street with a bottle of wine, only to be tackled by your friends as they wrestle the jail sentence out of your hand and toss it into a bush. You’ll forgive them as you lay crying on the sidewalk.

9. You’ll feel larger than life and probably become a little cocky. Living in another country is hard. Once you’ve mastered that it’s impossible not to feel like the master of the universe.

10. You can make a game out of confusing the shit out of your parents and childhood friends at home. The entire experience will change parts of you that you don’t even notice were changed. Everyone else will notice. They’ll probably talk about it behind your back while mimicking you with large hand-gestures.

Making Mixed Babies: Ranting About The Obvious Difficulties Of Raising Multicultural Children

I don’t have children. If you would have asked me if I wanted them in my twenties I would hissed at you, covered my vagina, and ran screaming in the other direction. I would have basically done the exact same thing regarding marriage. I always like the idea of someone wanting to marry me but I never intended on actually sealing the deal. It was just nice to know that if I did want to actually get married someone would have done it, I guess. That’s what being twenty-something, somewhat insecure, and an asshole will do to a person. Anyhow, all of that changed when I met Francesco.

I knew in a very real way that we would be getting married. Sure, that waivered a little here and there with some of his bullshit but I worked through the problems with him instead of shooting him in his sleep which was huge for me. Not shooting your boyfriend is love. In a lot of ways Francesco has changed the way that I think about a lot of things. He’s changed the way I view the importance of family, how I approach and solve problems (I care to actually solve problems without hurting him or his feelings…so that’s new), and I actually want to have children. Well, let me rephrase that to be honest, I would like children in our lives who are of our genetic makeup. I don’t want to actually have babies. Being pregnant, sick, tired, and giving up wine sounds shitty. Then, squeezing some giant thing about of my vagina which is a lot smaller than a baby sounds like torture and something out of an Alien movie. I’d totally adopt but that’s too expensive and nobody would probably give me a baby. The point is that he’s made me want to have a family because I want us to be surrounded by loved ones and family for our entire lives. I want to be seventy and painting with my grandchildren. I’ve never believed that the point to living is breeding, or that women’s job on the planet is to have kids, so I’ve never been that inclined to have a family before. I’ve always seen child-rearing as a massive job of huge importance, of huge responsibility, and not something that people should “just do.” Having children to me is one of the biggest decisions of a person’s life and is therefore kind of terrifying. If you add the potential for cross-cultural, international problems to the mix.

Image: AnAmericanInRome.com (check out the blog, it's great).

Horse Baby Food In Italy. Image: AnAmericanInRome.com (check out the blog, it’s great).

And that’s what we’re fighting about right now. We’re trying to decide on which country we plan on raising our kids in. It doesn’t sound that pressing since we don’t have kids but it kind of is because we’ve been talking about starting a family this year or next year. So, where do we want to be? Which country would we like to be living? Where is the best place to raise children? I’ve talked with a bunch of other expats about this but the topic gets a little insane. People get surprisingly defensive and rabid about Italy when discussing children (certain psychos totally lose their shit. I hope you get an incurable yeast infection). I get it, nobody wants to think that the decision they’ve made was a bad decision and so people don’t want you questioning that decision by asking stupid questions about it. I get it. However, I need to ask and talk about it because it’s a big deal to me. As the child of mixed parents, I know what it’s like growing up with parents from two different planets. This weighs on me. My father immigrated to the US 35 years ago and yet my siblings, my father and I, have problems seeing eye-to-eye over a lot of things. The way we communicate is different, the meanings behind the things we say to each other is often misread or misinterpreted. My father feels like he lacks identity with us and therefore instead of having American kids he encourages us to hate that side of us. “You’re Persian, you don’t have the genetics of an American.” When we do things that he likes, we are Persian, when we make mistakes it’s because our mothers are American. He desperately seeks to have some kind of cultural connection with his children, it bothers him that he can’t understand many of the ways that we think or see the world. He doesn’t understand why I can’t Facetime him every day, or why I’m less than thrilled to Facetime my family in Iran for six hours on Sundays. I love them, they are my family, but I can’t speak on the phone for longer than one hour. What is there to say? “WHAT IS THERE TO SAY!? Just be in the conversation of love! Just laugh and love!” My father cannot understand how his daughter has become so “American,” in her priorities regarding family. My father listens to Iranian music on full blast on his Iphone, he encourages my sisters and I to dance to it while he laughs and claps enthusiastically. Last time I was home he videotaped it and then watched it over and over again. Seems creepy to Americans, but dancing for family is about as Persian as Persian can get, even at 33 years old. It’s not uncommon for expat parents to struggle to relate to their children culturally or for the kids to feel a slight disconnect as well. I’ve grown up with it for my entire life so telling me it doesn’t exist…well…it isn’t true.

And that scares me.

I feel like no matter where we raise our kids there will be a disconnect for either me or Francesco. It’s really about picking the place that is best for the kids but also the place where maybe the cultural impact will be less difficult for us as parents. Both countries have their good points, both have their bad. A lot of expats struggle with this aspect because they see Italy with rose-colored lenses but I simply can’t. I’ve read too many damn articles, too many studies. I have an education in Sociology, I study society, even when I’m not trying to. Nowhere is perfect. Which place will allow us to raise children that are diverse, open-minded, and will allow equal appreciation of Italian, American, and Persian culture? As a person, I’m most concerned with balance, mindfulness and an acceptance towards religion, an equality of the sexes, and the ability to live life without being swallowed by expectations. People say, “Your kids will be how you make them,” but I feel like they’re underestimating the power of social norms. Society shapes you even when you don’t realize you’re being shaped. It shapes how people interact, think, feel, even how they commit suicide. Nothing goes untouched.

Image: Wikipedia

Image: Wikipedia

When I announced that I’d fallen in love with an Italian man, my father said, “You don’t know what you’re doing. Cross-cultural relationships are more difficult than you can imagine.”

For once I have to say that my dad couldn’t have been more right. BAAAAAAAAH! I’m going to stab myself with a fork. Maybe you guys can help me with a pros and cons list?

Foraging, Toxoplasmosis, And Eating Until You Die In Cassino, Italy

One morning while visiting my in-laws I sat on the balcony sipping an Americano while watching my father-in-law forage in a nearby field. I could make out a bundle of something under his right arm, on occasion the sun would reflect off of the scissors in his other hand. He’d bend down, pop up, take a few steps and repeat. The man must have been getting one hell of an ass workout.

The foraging field in Cassino

The foraging field in Cassino

“Francesco!” I yelled,” I think your father is foraging random greenery from that field nearby. Can you make him stop?”

Francesco appeared in the balcony doorway, cradling our poodle, “Why would I stop him?” He squinted towards the field, “it’s for dinner.”

“Nooo!” I panicked, “We’re going to get toxoplasmosis. That field is home to about six-thousand feral cats. There was a dead one just lying here the last time I took Oliver out to pee. Which reminds me that Oliver pees and shits there.”

Francesco shrugged and reached for my coffee cup, “Don’t be so dramatic! He’ll wash them and cook them. I had toxoplasmosis when I was younger. It’s not like it would kill us.”

I was no longer looking at my husband, rather, I was looking at a man who had a disease associated with ingesting cat shit and he was slobbering all over my coffee. How had I not known about his infestation of icky before I’d signed legal documents to bind myself to him.

“Why are you glaring at me?” He smiled, “Is it because I had that and now you’re grossed out?”

“Yeah, exactly. Get your hands off of my coffee. You’re lucky you weren’t pregnant. You would have had a Toxic Avenger baby.”

“Huh?” He went back inside.

I really wasn’t that surprised that my husband had contracted a crap disease since at that very moment his dad burst onto the balcony with his glorious bounty, chest puffed out, arms full of green bushes. “You eat the poops of cats,” I mumbled as I walked inside.

When I first moved to Italy I thought, “Pasta! Pizza! Wine!” but that was before I realized that pasta and pizza were just the two Italian dishes that were easier to market to the rest of the world. Some of their other dishes just didn’t catch on in the same way and rightfully so. I was surprised the first time I found Baby Bird Stew, on the menu at a friend’s house, a dish that is exactly what it sounds like: Baby birds, in their entirety, in tomato sauce. Another time a restaurant served us Illegal Boiled Baby Fish that looked more like boiled semen. Then there’s the horse, the pigeon, the cow balls, the stuffed lamb brains, sheep intestine panini, and stomach lining soup. I could now add, “Cat Crap Field Greens,” into the mix of things that I just couldn’t convince myself to try. It’s not only because the food is “weird,” but also because I was vegan for ten years and animal products just kind of scare me. Plus, brains are gross. Zombies eat brains, not people.

Mmmm. Lamb brains (yes, seriously).

Mmmm. Lamb brains (yes, seriously).

Francesco’s family finds my weak stomach both hilarious and puzzling. But how did I know I wouldn’t like cheese with worms in it? Come on! It’s a specialty from Sardegna! I agreed with them that there was no way to know for sure but I certainly wasn’t willing to try. Yes, it was probably because the food in my country is weird. Yes, it’s probably because I grew up eating Kraft Mac And Cheese. I agreed that yes, that’s exactly why I couldn’t possibly know anything about good food. 

Most of the food is quite delicious in Cassino and the surrounding cities. The food in the south is, and I say this expecting people to get really regionally defensive, my favorite food in Italy. It’s surprisingly diverse and very “comfort food,” in it’s simplicity. My favorite restaurants in Italy are in Cassino. You have Al Mulino, an impressive, incredible restaurant with super fresh dishes made from scratch that surpass many of the restaurants I’ve eaten at abroad. There is also Bianco/Noir, a fish restaurant that serves dishes like Branzino packed in sea salt and spaghetti alle vongola. In Cassino, as with much of Italy, everything is seasonal. In the Autumn we eat a lot of Zucca (pumpkin), squash, greens, simple cooked proteins often simmered in tomato sauce or lemon and oil.

Oysters on the half shell

Oysters on the half shell

Pasta with clams and parsley

Pasta with clams and parsley

My mother-in-law is an amazing cook and can whip up a fifty-course meal in three hours which takes another 7 hours to eat and I leave sick, heavier, tired and grumpy. The seafood in Cassino is often fresh and prepared with minimal ingredients and processing which is delicious, perfect, and totally created another culinary complication for me. Fish is served intact with it’s head or legs or whatever still attached. The first time I ate shrimp with my in-laws I stared at it for a long time trying to figure out what to do with it. I stabbed, poked, and pulled at it for twenty minutes. My husband eventually felt sorry for me enough to pull my plate over to his to help me. He had a look on his face like I’d just asked him to teach me to write my name. My father-in-law shook his head at me, stabbed a shrimp head from my plate, and popped it into his mouth. “Crunch, crunch, crunch, kist americana…”

Most days in Cassino we eat pretty typical things. I start the day with a chocolate brioche-which tastes like heaven and is usually freshly baked that morning-and Capuccino. It’s a sugary, caffeinated combo, a rush followed by a terrible crash, and withdrawal, similar to meth. Probably. For lunch if we’re lucky my mother-in-law makes roasted potatoes, broccolini (ideally not from the cat field), and meatballs or some protein followed by fruit and walnuts (that have occasionally been filled with a worm or two as they were pulled from some random tree nearby). If we’re not lucky my father-in-law makes some perverse version of Minestrone: Water, frozen vegetables, clams and calamari (no broth, flavoring, salt or pepper). Dinners are usually light, a homemade pizza made with broccolini and kalamata olives and occasionally sardines or Zuppa Di Fagioli e Verze (soup with beans and cabbage). Holidays or special occasions are when the hours of eating, and the random weird are brought to the table. You’re moving away? BALLS! Come to our house! GUTS! That’s when the “statement” dishes are busted out along with the delicious, less “bold,” recipes. It’s important to make an impression.

Ricotta And Spinach.

Ricotta And Spinach.

Food is something you give to people you care about, food is how you connect, how you impress, and how you love. You adore your family by stuffing them full of anything and everything you can buy or possibly find.

That one day that my father-in-law was stalking the nearby fields for edible greenery was for a party we were having with friends. He wanted the best cuts of meat so he called all of the butchers personally, he wanted the best produce so he and his wife visited a number of markets, and he wanted fresh so he spent the day out in the sun picking what nature provided. The Mozz Di Bufala was made the day before, there were homemade canned and pickled vegetables, meats from animals raised just down the road, and cheese from a place not even 15 minutes away. There were also other random body parts that in the US we often toss away. That’s the beauty of Cassino cuisine, really. They still have that old mentality that food is food, food is currency, everything that can be consumed, should be, nothing should go to waste, and if the toxoplasmosis doesn’t kill you, the fields are ripe for the pickin’.

THIS IS A COSI POST! CHECK OUT WHAT THE REST OF THE GANG IS SAYING ABOUT FOOD THIS WEEK ON MY COSI PAGE.