“The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.” – Rudyard Kipling
In this case, the smelling of the country involved the smelling of the food. Last night we were split up into small groups and sent to the homes of local Italians for an authentic Italian dinner (not that we weren’t already getting those…). I was put with three other girls and shipped off to the home of the local travel agent. She has two sons, one of whom speaks English well, and her husband is a phenomenal cook. The meal started with us around the table snacking on chips. Then the pasta came out–a flavorful spaghetti with a red and yellow pepper sauce. I discovered last night that I don’t particularly like wine. Granted, I can’t speak for red wine, but white wine is definitely not on my list of favorite drinks. I devoured my first plate of pasta, and when Daniela, our hostess, asked if I would like more and I said yes, her son loaded up my plate with even more pasta than the first serving. I was like, am I really supposed to be able to eat all of this? Low and behold, I did. The family was very interested in where we were all from–to the extent that we pulled out a map to find the states and countries.
The course of pasta was followed by the main course–pork in an orange sauce, chicken with black olives, and salad. I left the salad and ate the meat. Delicious. The two boys were hysterical. One was 17, the other was almost 14. The 17-year-old tried to convince his mother that since my parents had let me move from Taiwan to the United States for college, he should be able to take the train by himself to Bologna to visit family. I felt bad for his mother. The younger brother had tried to convince his mother earlier to let him eat upstairs because he was scared of us. He really just wanted to be part of the show. During the meal we discovered that Chuck Norris is an international icon–the elder son continued to introduce new ones that we’d never heard before. I also learned a new expression. Apparently in Italian, to say that someone is a good cook, you say that they cook so well they could make the sole of the shoe taste good. I’m gonna have to take that one back to the states.
The primary difference between Italian and American dinner parties, though, is how long they go. The main course was followed by a type of pastry–similar to a turnover–and as we all sat around talking we ate Baci chocolates–the father of the Ferrero Rocher. At about 11, one of the girls in our group asked if we could take a picture with their family before we left. Picture taken, then the father sat back down and wanted to know why we were still standing. At that point, we knew that we would never be getting out of there. The boys went to bed for school in the morning, and we were still talking. Then the husband went to bed, and Daniela continued to talk to us about Italy and Europe and the EU. It was all fascinating. It was about 12:15 am by the time she drove us back to the monastery. We were locked out…and had to wake up the director to let us back in. And that, my friends, is a typical Italian dinner party. Don’t go to one if you have to work in the morning. All in all, we had a grand time, looking words up in their dictionary and learning about the history of Orvieto.
Today involved a hike to an old Cappuchin monastery. It was beautiful, of course, and a lot of uphill. At least we weren’t dragging suitcases this time!
I’m still trying to figure out how much is actually costs to mail a letter in Italy…no one really has a consensus on how much stamps cost…some places say 85 cents, others say 1.60. I should find out soon…