“Cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudels, doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles,” those are a few of Maria’s favorite things in “The Sound of Music.” As you can imagine, mine are far more Italian than that. As promised last month, here’s my short list.
My family’s red sauce — Or do you say gravy? There are as many pasta sauces as there are bloodlines in Italy, and everyone’s sugo is the best. The gravy that my wife now lovingly prepares descends from la famiglia Basile of Sora, a mountain town southeast of Roma. Like most Roman sauces, it’s simple and light — seasoned only with garlic, onion, salt, pepper and basil — and to my tastes, no other sauce can compare.
Deruta ceramics — Why serve the perfect pasta sauce in some bland American bowl when you can present it in a ceramic masterpiece crafted in an Umbrian town known throughout the world for its gorgeous, hand-painted designs. Deruta tableware elevates the humblest of dishes and adds a touch of the sublime to any meal.
Post-war café music — Most foreign recordings were banned under the Fascist regime, but the liberation of Rome triggered a musical emancipation that unleashed the irrepressible Italian spirit upon American genres like jazz, boogie-woogie and ’50s pop. Suave, wry, quirky and totally swinging, the songs of that era are so enchanting, I smile ear to ear whenever I hear one.
Vintage poster art — At the turn of the 20th century, commerce and aesthetics converged to create an explosion of limited-edition lithographs that launched advertising into the stratosphere of fine art. Oversized and exuberant, these fanciful prints used wild tigers, green demons and laughing arlecchini to hawk everything from espresso and beer to typewriters and cars. Vintage Italian posters can set you back tens of thousands of dollars, but reproductions are available for a fraction of that.
La Festa — In a cultural landscape awash with tweets, memes, gifs, live streams, YouTube videos and countless cable TV options, the survival of the Italian patron saint festival here in America is a miracle unto itself. Recreating celebrations that date back centuries, they are a testament to the power of faith to unite kindred spirits in the face of seemingly insurmountable high-tech odds.
La lingua nostra — Italian is the perfect language for poetry and opera, and it’s no small wonder. A lilting vowel-rich tongue that rhymes readily and sings even when merely spoken, it’s a window to the country’s passionate, artistic soul. It’s not easy to learn a second language in your spare time as an adult. I know. I’ve tried and stalled out twice before. But hope springs eternal, and I’ll be taking Italian classes at Casa Italia once again this fall. I’ll let you know how that goes.
La bell’Italia — My wife and I celebrated our 25th anniversary with a life-changing journey to the land of my ancestors, and I’ve been hungering to return ever since. Gazing up at Florence’s majestic Duomo, slowly circling Bernini’s impossibly intricate statue of Apollo and Diana in Rome, and watching the sun gloriously set off the coast of the Cinque Terre were among innumerable life-altering experiences we managed to pack into 10 short days. I’m hoping to make my dream of “next year in Italy” come true in 2019. I’ll keep you posted on that front, too.
What are some of your favorite Italian things? Let me know via email at email@example.com.
The above appears in the September 2018 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.