I began taking Italian class the week after Ben started school. It seemed appropriate for everyone to have their first day of school around the same time. Since then it feels a bit like a big mess of a ball of yarn. As you pull out some of the knots, you get a long strand clear of all the mess, but at the same time the mess gets worse in other areas.
We had an Italian friend over for dinner and he was asking us, “What is the name of your sauce that you can buy in a jar?”
“Oh, you mean Ragu?”
“No there is another one, I think.”
“Yes, that’s it, Prego. It makes me laugh. To name a sauce Prego, it’s very strange because it means ‘you’re welcome’ or ‘come in’, but sauce? It’s just strange.”
Then we spent the evening trying to figure why on earth the Prego people would name their sauce that. I mean were they trying to say, “We have created this magnificent sauce and YOU ARE WELCOME!”
The other source of questions came from what we know to be Italian dressing. Italians don’t use dressing…at all. They use oil and vinegar. That’s it! So why on earth would Americans bottle something and call it Italian dressing unless it is simply vinegar and oil? He asked what American dressing tastes like? Of course we had no answer. I guess it would be like us taking cinnamon and sugar and calling it American spices. It’s just cinnamon and sugar. Too funny.
So classes are going well, but at times my head feels like it’s going to explode. Many words are similar to Spanish which helps but other times they are just different enough to mess with me, and other times they don’t even come close. It’s exciting because I’m not just learning the language but the culture too! We’ll take a moment and talk about current events in Italy and it always gives me better insight as to the lifestyle.
A very good example of this is September 19, the Feast Day of San Genarro. At a young age of 15, he became local priest of his parish in Benevento, which at the time was relatively pagan. During the 1 1⁄2-year-long persecution of Christians by Emperor Diocletian, he hid his fellow Christians and prevented them from being caught. Unfortunately, while visiting Sossius in jail, he too was arrested. He and his colleagues were condemned to be thrown to wild bears in the Flavian Ampitheater at Pozzuoli (just minutes from my house), but the sentence was changed due to fear of public disturbances, and they were instead beheaded at the Solfatera crater near Pozzuoli.
Saint Januarius is famous for the reputed miracle of the annual liquefaction of his blood, which, according to legend, was saved by a woman called Eusebia just after the saint’s death. Thousands of people assemble to witness this event in Naples Cathedral three times a year: on September 19 (Saint Januarius day, to commemorate his martyrdom), on December 16 (to celebrate his patronage of both Naples and of the archdiocese), and on the Saturday before the first Sunday of May (to commemorate the reunification of his relics).
According to the people this blood miracle takes place, when no disaster is expected in the near future. For most of the natives of Naples the service has an oracle character. The absence of the miracle augurs tragedy for Naples and its surroundings. For instance in 1980 before the harsh earthquake took its toll on 2000 lives, the blood didn’t liquify.
The people of Naples have a personal rather than religious relationship with San Gennaro. They present him their wishes with love and expect them to be fulfilled.
There are numerous records on the liquefaction of the blood, dating from times before 1649 when they officially started recording this miracle. One of the descriptions of the procession dates from the year 1389. According to writings in 1528 the blood miracle didn’t take place. This was the year the pest broke out and Naples didn’t receive its raise from France. There are hundreds of records of the liquefaction dating from the 16th Century. Apparently one needs to arrive hours in advance in order to have a chance at seeing the miracle liquefaction. I was unable to do it this year, but I will definitely be there next year!
Then there is the topic of Halloween. Many Halloween customs have been adopted by the Italians and moreover, many European countries. Very recently, like the last 4-5 years they have begun to see Halloween decorations in the shopping malls and costumes (though quite limited) in some shopping areas and markets. The whole concept of jack-o-lanterns is quite foreign since Italian pumpkins are much firmer and thicker than “American pumpkins”. Ben and I were ecstatic when we were lucky enough to find them selling pumpkins at the commissary. This meant that there would be empanadas and pumpkin carving! I took some samples to my Italian class and it looks like I will be teaching a class next year how to make them, they are all big fans of grandma’s empanadas! As for the trick or treating, let’s just say Italians like the idea of trick or treating, they just don’t necessarily have all the “pieces” quite right.
In Naples, we have a place called Carney Park, a United States military recreational facility located in the extinct volcano Campiglione, in the Phlegraean Fields. It has a 9 hole golf course, Olympic size outdoor swimming pool, 5 adult size softball fields, 1 adult size baseball field, 2 little league baseball fields, 1 little league softball field, 1 football field and 1 soccer pitch, 4 lighted tennis courts, 2 batting cages, 1 outdoor basketball court, 4 sandlot volleyball courts, horseshoe pits, 20 small picnic sites, 11 large picnic areas, a boy and girl scout camp area, 30 tent sites, and 25 cabins, 1 paintball field, a youth center, a teen center, a snack bar and restaurant. Each year host a great big Halloween event, where organizations from the base sponsor individual stands where they hand out candy from the cabins that are on site. Americans are raised on lines and waiting your turn, Italians…not so much. They even had to create lines using string and stakes for the crowds to follow. In fact, if you check out this comical link of how “things work” in Italy as compared to other places in Europe you will have a better understanding of both Italy and the way our trick or treating adventure went at Spooktacular this year. Pay special attention to the “queueing section” http://www.pandanet.co.jp/English/essay/europe_italy.html. The supermarkets were just as educational. They have Halloween sections that include costumes, but are limited to pirates, witches, and monsters. Ben decided that he wanted to be a Big Daddy Rosie this year. If you have no idea what that is, don’t feel bad, either did I until I began the research and discovered that not only was I in for the time of my life trying to create this creature but I was going to have to be effecient enough to order all the supplies online in advance! So here is a picure of what he wanted to be and a picture of how it turned out. I have come to the conclusion
that next year he will be a ghost! Because it is such a chore to get the thing on and there were so many Halloween functions this year (who knew that there would be more Halloween Events in Italy than there ever were in the US?!) we decided to fall back on a few of Ben’s standby costumes (Batman, Robin, etc. lucky for us we have a Superhero freak of a kid who has a plethora of costumes to choose from) so as to never where the same costume twice…AS IF!
So the Italian shopping centers had some pretty cool decorations. What they don’t have is candy. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Italy has candy but not the big bags of fun size bars that we do in the states. In the Halloween section, I found fudge. Not individually wrapped, just a tray of fudge with great big Happy Halloween words on the packet. Since other sweets in the same section didn’t have pumpkins and Halloween decorations all over I can only assume this was meant for handing out. I thought to myself, do they just drop a hunk of fudge in the kids’ trick or treat sack? Also they had cookies, but the kinds of cookies that we would only find in some fancy bakery, certainly not the type you’d throw into a kids trick or treat sack. It’s always a learning experience.
Things have been pretty exciting for Ben lately. Ben celebrated his first birthday in Italy. Along with so many wonderful birthday emails and skype messages, we had a few neighbors over for an Italian cake
and Breyer’s ice cream (which for Ben is the real treat since he’s not crazy about gelato–what is wrong with this kid). Then, we had an outdoor birthday party at Carney Park and for mid October, 77 degrees was better than we could have ever hoped for!
Along with celebrating a birthday, he has gotten back to his art in a big way. He has begun taking art classes and has been nominated to represent his school and hopefully to become a finalist resulting in his Christmas card that he created being hung in the White House. Michelle Obama has asked for schools to send in their nominations of Christmas Cards to be considered for hanging on display at the White House! We should here later in November if he is selected.
With trick or treating tomorrow, we begin to learn what it means for Italy to prepare for my favorite time of the year! We haven’t decided if we will travel to the Vatican for Christmas Eve Mass or to Germany to explore the Christmas Markets or experience Napoli and it’s Christmas Alley, but whatever we decide I know that we are in for a fantastic ride!