Sunday, March 8, 2009

Small Town Italia

Ever since the first week I came to Italy, my roomate, Jess, was talking about how her grandparents live in a small town, near Naples, call "Miranda," a short car ride from Isernia. Jess has being coming here throughout her childhood and has a lot of Italian friends/family here and last weekend, our friend, Shinkia, and I were lucky enough to go with her this time.

I was really excited to experience a small town in southern Italy (especially to experience the home-cooked food!). We took the bus there from Perugia and Jess had some funny stories about Italians. The bus came over half an hour late (because everything is a "suggestion" she said) but no one seemed to care. There are two bus drivers "to keep each other company" she said, and they always stop at this cafe where one flirts with the barrista and has an espresso and everyone waits for everyone else to have a smoke break...everything's at a leisurely pace here. We did go to a rest stop at an autogrill and for those who haven't been to Europe before, it completely destroys any rest stop that American has - it's just so nice!

The bus took us to Isernia where Jess' cousin picked us up. I was really scared as she was whipping through all of the tight turns on the way to Miranda but it was beautiful as we started approaching this small town on a hill (oh, also, Jess said that Italians don't really have traffic lights because they don't know how they work and are more cautious when they don't need to follow colors that they don't understand).

Miranda was so quiet and seemed covered in a golden light with all of the street lights out. Her grandparents lived in the United States for a little bit but missed Italy - having more personal attention from doctors with house visits, a quieter way of life, always people in the town to help them get something if they need it since they can't drive, etc. It's just a better life for them here. Her nonna made us the best dinner (and the best everything after that for the rest of our visit) and afterwards, we went to the 1 hangout spot, the pizzeria, at around 11 where it seemed like everyone was. [By the way, I don't think the town has a supermarket, or a bank, it used to have 2 bars but they may have closed down. You need to go to Isernia for everything.] It was a great small town feel because everyone was coming over to Jess and pinching her cheeks and asking how her family was. But basically, everyone was just sitting around socializing, maybe having a drink, and watching TV.

The next day, we made a day trip to Napoli. I was happy because I briefly got to visit when I went to visit my aunt in Ischia, but by briefly I mean take a taxi from the train station to the port. I'm surprised we hadn't gone to previous visits but a lot of southern Italy is still foreign to me and I really want to drag my family down here when we visit Pompeii. It was really funny because last night, at the pizzeria, when Jess was asking relatives or friends (there are supposedly only 12 families in the city, Jess' grandparents each coming from one of them) how to get to Naples/what to do there, they *all* warned her to not bring anything valuable, not wear necklaces because they will get ripped off, that we're all going to be pickpocketed etc. They were all so paranoid and, what I still feel, for nothing. But it's that Italian paranoia that we were laughing about.
Jess' cousin told us that you either go to Naples for shopping for for sightseeing if you are doing it in a day, but you can't fit in both. Shinkia had gone to Milan the previous week (which I also still haven't been to yet!) and, for that being the fashion capital of Italy, we were both surprised to learn that Naples has a lot better shopping.
I stupidly forgot my camera, but have to say that we kind of causally walked around and didn't do major sight-seeing (I'm going to steal pictures for you guys from Jess and Shinika's camera and post them for you after this so you can see). What was great, though, was that Jess is doing a project on pizza for midterms and so we had an excuse (like we would need one?) to go to a very old pizzeria and have some original, Neapolitan pizza. I learned that the only true recognized forms of pizza are Margherita and Marinara and that they have to be a certain thickness and diameter and cook at a certain heat for a certain amount of time (I'll learn this in her presentation on Wednesday). Ahhh, but it really was the best, and maybe even the cheapest!? pizza I've ever had.

The sun came out in Naples and we just ate the whole time (gelato, arranciatas? I believe they're called [little fried rice balls]) etc. I feel like there's nothing more to say than the little domestic side streets were filled with stacked apartments which all hand laundry hanging outside of their balconies and it was just the perfect day.

That evening, we relaxed and watched Italian television. I barely watch any in my apartment, though it would probably be a good learning tool, but I don't think I've mentioned yet how Italians don't use subtitles but dub everything ("they don't want to go to the movies to read"). So, basically, yes, there is an Italian Leonardo DiCaprio who does all of his parts. Personally, I think that's a very strange idea and much prefer subtitles. I also think it would be easier, for me, to learn the language that way. But we had fun watching dubbed American crime shows that I don't know but Jess seems to really like. What's the best, though, is watching Italian knock-offs of American shows. I don't remember if I mentioned this when I visited my aunt in Ischia, but she laughs when she says that they copy everything we do. We saw a version of Deal or No Deal but it's soooo drawn out. They have really cheesy music and sit and talk about everything forever and the suspense just kills you, on top of Deal or No Deal just being a horrible show to begin with. When I was in Ishcia we watched Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and it was the same thing, talking talking talking. Jess said, jokingly?, that they don't even call "talk shows" that here. There was also a popular show called Amici that seemed to be a version of American Idol, except, silly Italians..., instead of three judges they have a panel of 10! How many opinions do you need!? And everyone behind the scenes is just trash-talking each other. It's hilarious, and her grandparents seem to be really into it.

That night, we tried to go out but everyone seemed to want to just hang out at the pizzeria and have a late dinner. There was a concert in Miranda that night at the big stadium down the road and, supposedly, the population of this 1,000 person town doubled that night with concert-goers. We laughed at how completely unnecessarily the policemen guiding traffic seemed to be, but it was quiet an excitement for this small town and everyone went!

The next day, we took a tour of Miranda, which only took about 15 minutes. There are ruins of an old castle though, and the most gorgeous view. Jess is lucky that her grandparents have put so much work into their house (actually a few houses that are all connected) and that she'll always have this peaceful retreat to go back to with her family.

It was the perfect weekend before the stress of midterms and I really liked her grandparents. (Her nonno called me "bella kara" :)).

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