Tomato or Tomato?

tomato

Tomatoes are NOT native to the Mediterranean despite what some pasta-loving purists may believe.

The tomato is actually native to the South American Andes where it was first cultivated around 500 c. BC and later became a prominent food source for the Aztecs in Mexico which means salsa pre-dated marinara, folks!

The Italians didn’t first see what they would later call, “The Golden Apple” (Pomodoro!) until around the 16th century, when it was thought that the Spanish (Possibly Hernan Cortez) brought it over from the new world. The first mention of this exotic vegetable (or fruit. Have we ever settled on this?) in Italy was by a physician and botanist in 1544 named Pietro who mistook it for an eggplant, who, given his profession, should probably have quit his day job.

The reputation of the tomato didn’t fair any better after this, being assumed as poisonous due to its variety of bright colors. But, given that this was during the hay day of the Renaissance and poisoning was the preferred method of anyone trying to play a decent joke or a murder or ten, the caution was probably substantiated.

Eventually though, a recipe book showed up in Naples in the 17th century detailing how to cook with the apple/eggplant thing and the rest is history, where the tomato will eventually feature in pizzas, pastas, and bad stand-up comedy shows for centuries to come.

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8 Things I Learned While Traveling in Italy!

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I’ve always been proud of my family heritage. Since I was young, I delighted in being asked whether or not my family once had ties to the Mafia (they did) or how many times we ate spaghetti and meatballs in a given week (a lot). I’d throw around my grandfather’s old slang (like ‘Bacowzoo [sp?]’ which meant bathroom) like a badge of honor and claim the achievements (and embarrassments) of the Roman Empire in my historical comparison discussions on who was more badass. As far as I was concerned, I was Italian and presumably more authentic than Olive Garden.

I was so very very wrong.

You’re Not Italian; You’re AMERICAN!

Surprisingly, no one was really impressed with the story of how my great grandfather came to America with a potato in each shoe and a grape stem in his sock–not when there are literally native Italians everywhere. What makes you feel special in America because you’re one of maybe 15 million is inconsequential in Italy. Fact is, your family LEFT and even if you still have some that stayed behind like me, you’re more different than you are similar. As an Italian-American in Italy, don’t be surprised when no one understands your Italian or when locals can smell the tatertot hotdish on you and immediately try speaking to you in English. They’ll ask you about George Clooney as if he’s your next door neighbor and offer you a spoon (which is uncustomary to an actual Italian) to eat with your pasta because you seemed to be suffering with your fork twirl. They’ll hastily explain away that you’re an American when you embarrassingly order the same flavor scoop for your double gelato and they’ll giggle at you when you knock back your first Italian Digestive like a fool assuming it’ll go down as smooth as Pepto. And you know what? That’s okay. Going to Italy as an Italian-American is your chance to learn about the culture your family left behind and realize that, in its absence, you’ve created and reclaimed your own back home–one built on meatballs and tommy guns, Rocky Balboa and wooden spoon beatings, “gabagool” and Cesar salads. Own it.

“It’s Not Dinner Unless There is Pork on the Table!”

I thought the worship of bacon was an exclusively American concept but I’d be willing to wager that Italians love their pig more than we do. If you don’t believe me, let’s take a second to run down the list…prosciutto, capicola, cacciatore, soppressata, guanciale, spalla, bologna, panchetta, speck, culatello, salt pork, etc. You’d be hard pressed to find a menu or a table that didn’t have pork included–in fact, I’d say it was the meat of choice for most dishes and pasta (and even fruit!). It’s hanging everywhere in the market, it’s in nearly every sandwich, and most rural areas you can smell it wafting among the streets as if there was a little piggie walking right next to you.

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Do You Speak Inglese?

Don’t go to Italy assuming everyone speaks English–they don’t. We were lucky to run across a number of helpful folks who could speak a little, but it was mostly trying to figure out which words we knew in each other’s respective language in order to construct a sentence the other could understand. Most waiters and waitresses in high tourist cities can speak enough to provide you with excellent service but please don’t try to order an American alcoholic beverage like my travel companions did and try to explain to them, in English, how to make it. Things descend into confusion fairly quickly. Your best bet is to learn as much conversational Italian as you can before going, this way, you can gesture along and try to explain what you need using words both of you understand or just rely heavily on Google Translate like we did when we needed some extra help to explain ourselves. It’s true that most Italians have taken English in school, but do you remember much of your world language of choice in high school if you didn’t go on to study it in college? Exactly. Try to learn and use Italian, it’s their country after all.

Driving is for Lunatics

It shouldn’t come as too much of a shock that the Land of the Ferrari likes to squeal its wheels and ignore most roadway etiquette. For every Nutella croissant I ate, I feared for my life in equal measure on the road. The Autostrade or major highway is merely a place of suggested speed, there aren’t many stop lights so don’t expect an easy navigation through an intersection, double parking is the norm, and incessantly honking at backed up traffic that has no place to go is just common practice. Save yourself the heart attack and take the train.

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Pretty much it

Ain’t Nobody Got Room for Breakfast

Italians don’t really eat breakfast–not like we do in America. You eat a croissant and enjoy a cappucino, that’s all you should give yourself room in the tum tum for. We’re, of course, used to far more protein than that in the form of eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, and lard but in Italy, you should save the real feast for later. When we ate with our relatives, we learned that it was common to start eating for real around 12pm and work your way through the courses for the next 3 hours over family time and conversation with that being the main meal of the day. Ultimately, you eat big once, saving room throughout the day with eating and drinking only what was necessary to survive. And if you’re having trouble keeping away from delicious food until dinner? Don’t worry, everything with food closes in the afternoon and doesn’t re-open until 7:30pm. Get ready to be hungry and lose some of the American fat around the waist you brought with. Also, don’t forget the Italian Digestive!

Coffee is the Real Deal

Knowing my extensive professional background in coffee, I was completely prepared for the kind I’d experience in Italy. My travel companions, on the other hand, weren’t. Assuming you’re the type to drown your coffee in creamer or are prone to taking your dose of caffeine blended in ice with syrups and sugars–the coffee offerings in Europe are going to be quite a culture shock. I spent most of my time assisting my companions in ordering what I thought they’d be able to drink or creating a mutant concoction at the self serve that would be sweet enough for them to enjoy. It’s all about espresso, espresso, espresso and it is DELICIOUS! Unfortunately, the espresso that comes out of the machine at your local coffee shop is a bit more bitter and unrefined than the variety they serve in Italy–for example, it’s completely possible to drink it straight up and not gag. Espresso in Italy is slightly bitter but not overpowering, sweet but not overly so, a bit heavier in body, and savory in the aftertaste. You can order with milk if you wish, but there is no need for syrups and sauces like back home–in fact, good luck finding the option!

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Stray pup knows what’s good

This Place has Really Gone to the Dogs

Italy has an interesting relationship with dogs. It’s normal and encouraged to bring your pooch with you everywhere–from shopping malls to restaurants and as long as they don’t poop anywhere (which I was unfortunate enough to waltz into at a shoe store) they are more than welcome. You’d think then that a place which clearly treats dogs as a part of the family would be prone to sticking together–but for every family dog you witnessed happily accompanying their owners on errands, there was also a stray dog prowling around for food and the kindness of strangers. It’s ordinary enough for passerbys to toss food their way as if they were homeless beggars and smart strays who know which patio is attached to a tasty restaurant will visit in routine–waiters merely side-stepping the four legged guests. No one shoos them but everyone gives a little from their table to the dog in need. It was really hard for me to not just adopt every single dog I saw–they were always polite and sweet and responded to commands like sit, stay, and lay down. Clearly, these dogs have gotten used to their life on the road but I couldn’t help but ache for them to find a good home.

Nutty About Nutella

And last but not least, let me just confirm that Italians really are obsessed with Nutella. No joke. It’s in EVERYTHING.

What is Fascism?

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Benito Mussolini, Leader of the Nationalist Fascist Party who became Prime Minister of Italy in 1922 until he decided Democracy was for squares and seized control of the nation as dictator.

People like to throw around words that hurt, words that no one wishes to be associated with because of the troubled history these definitions carry, regardless of their accuracy. Many of us are able to recall the stain from lived experience while others of us unknowingly feel discomfort upon hearing their whisper, ghosts of a time we were fortunate enough not to have witnessed. It’s not out of the ordinary to hear someone called a ‘Communist’ or a ‘Socialist’ for simply being disagreeable rather than because of any formal affiliation with a political faction, for example. These words used to mean something. Rather than an insult insinuating how “un-American” an individual may be, these words used to come with a benchmark of ideals and theories characterized by aggressive political leanings that have, in History, sparked revolutions. These words used to matter.

Democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy. You in America will see that some day. –Benito Mussolini in 1928 [1]

The sands of time are no kinder to concepts and words than they are to ruins, and so it is possible to forget or wave away its meaning as a figment of the past. Fascism, like many other features of World War II, has NOT been buried or vanquished like the Third Reich–It’s a symbiotic strain of Nationalist sentiment that still, to this day, rears its ugly head in every day discourse and goes on unnamed and, ultimately, undetected for what it truly is.

Fascism as a political theory falls on the spectrum of far-right radical leanings characterized by severe Nationalist sentiments and in opposition to Liberalism and Marxist beliefs. Fascism operates on the idea that Democracy is failing and that the true way to unite the state is under one party with a powerful, preferable, Dictator to solidify the stability necessary to combat military and economic crisis. To do this, Fascism encourages violence, war, and Imperialism, as a means to help jump start and heal the nation unilaterally and advocates an economic market with isolationist, aggressive restrictions on foreign trade to further the goal of self-sufficiency.

a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion –
Robert Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism [2]

On social issues, Fascism attacked and categorized homosexuality as a deviant behavior, condemned forms of birth control utilized by women, [3] and relegated the roles of women as ‘reproducers’ and regarded their role in the work force as responsible for unemployment and incompatible with child bearing. [4]

Though not the creator of Fascism but certainly founder of the Italian movement, Benito Mussolini remains the world’s leading example of Fascism in action. Once a socialist, Mussolini grew despondent towards his party’s preference to remain uninvolved during World War I which he was eager to serve in and was later discharged after a wound sustained by an accidental mortar bomb explosion on the Italian Front. Upon his return, he denounced his former party and founded the National Fascist Party with an emphasis on renewed focus of Italian Nationalism. Mussolini came into power in the last week of October 1922 when, with his band of paramilitary supporters known as the ‘Blackshirts’, marched on Rome demanding the resignation of the current prime minister Luigi Facta and the right to rule–which was handed over by the king Victor Emmanuel III. Mussolini then subsequently became the youngest Prime Minister in Italy and used his authority to further his Fascist agenda by establishing, with the help of his secret police and sets of defining laws, a one-party dictatorship with himself at the helm.

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It was a long complicated road. When Mussolini took office, the Parliament was filled with many opposing political factions–leaders intent on curbing the Fascist enthusiasm Mussolini now brought with him (along with some muscled brutes for good measure). In an effort to garner support on the outset, Mussolini targeted new reforms toward the Working Class to reduce the work day which guaranteed 8 hours, ignored profiteering of the Industrial sector during WWI, catered to the wealthy by reducing death duties, and rubbed elbows with the Roman Catholic Church by mandating religious education as obligatory in all elementary schools. All in all, everyone was pleased.

Except, of course, his political enemies. To deal with them, Mussolini initiated a Grand Fascist Council which would decide upon policy reforms while shutting out any dissenters or opposing party factions. This group immediately brought forth a law known as Acerbo Law which sought to change the way members of parliament were elected into seats. Now if a political party, such as the National Fascist Party, received at least 25% of the vote in elections, they were now guaranteed at least 66% of the seats in Parliament ensuring them a solid majority.  Those brutes I mentioned before served as a useful tool in getting the law passed despite its obvious connotations for anyone not a member of the Fascist party. Once passed, the Fascist hold over Parliament was secured with more than 2/3rds of the available Parliamentary seats. Obviously, this did not go unnoticed by the concerned populace in Italy and a prominent Italian politician by the name of Giacomo Matteotti stood before the Parliament and publicly accused the Fascists of rigging the election in their favor and accused Mussolini of inviting those brutes, outside busy fiercely cracking their knuckles, to the party.

So it was no surprise when, 11 days after this declaration, Giacomo Matteotti turned up murdered and people maybe thought that Mussolini had something to do with it. Since no evidence was found in trial condemning Mussolini in the involvement of the murder, historians still debate the validity of this claim today. Regardless, the Italian public believed and upon numerous journalist outcries and calls for resignation, a number of the non-Fascist Parliament members staged a walkout in protest (Which…well, made things even more Fascist-y than before in Parliament) and begged the King, Victor Emmanuel III, to remove Mussolini from office. The King, for reasons that remain petty and politically mind boggling, didn’t much care for the protestors stance on the monarchy to begin with since they favored a republic and ‘Pah!’d them away allowing Mussolini to solidify his hold.

Swiftly, Mussolini shut down those trash talking newspapers and sent out his army of brutes to silence further dissenters. By 1926, all other political parties had been banned from Italy. A year later, a secret police was formed with the reintroduction of the death penalty to facilitate this ban. Mussolini was now free to exert full control and had no one standing in his way (unless Victor Emmanuel III ever decided to get off his duvet and do something about it). The precursory period before WWII saw the same dance of propaganda, cultural revere, and idolization of Mussolini (Apparently he could play a mean violin?)  as was usual for other growing dictatorships in Europe. This caught the esteem of Adolf Hitler. The two eventually formed an alliance with the instigation of WWII, despite Mussolini’s political allies discouraging him to do so. Mussolini was confident that Germany would soon be victorious, however, and that the war would be short lived.

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It wasn’t. Most of us know exactly how WWII plays out and I’m not going to recite it all here, though needless to say, Italy didn’t do so hot. By 1943, Italy had suffered major setbacks on all fronts, exposed itself to invasion by Allied forces, and resource output ground to a halt with factories lost in frequent bombings and food shortages starved out the population. The stress took a toll on Mussolini himself, being diagnosed with gastritis and duodenitis which both served together to bring on one helluva an IBS rager which forced him to stay home seated on the porcelain throne rather than in government.

Victor Emmanuel III was finally ready to do something. With the help of Count Dino Grandi (Member of the Fascist Grand Council and enemy of Mussolini after opposing Italy’s entry into WWII), they orchestrated the removal of Mussolini by calling for a vote of no confidence among the council which succeeded. Mussolini merely shrugged and showed up the next day viewing them mostly as advisors of which his ousting he did not care to follow. The King then invited Mussolini to his palace where he was ambushed with an arrest and was told that he was being replaced with a new Prime Minister. Mussolini was then imprisoned and moved around in order to hide his location from his best friend forever, Hitler, who was hell bent on re-inserting him to power. He was eventually ‘rescued’ by his pal and encouraged to spearhead a new regime intent on stealing back Italy. Now operating under the tutilage of German forces, Mussolini retired himself to Lake Garda where he ordered a few executions of his betrayers while sipping a bellini while Hitler ran the show on the front.

In April of 1945 (a few days before the suicide of Hitler), Mussolini was stopped along with his mistress on their way to escaping to Spain by communist partisans. The pair were captured and brought to Mezzegra where they survived their last night before being shot to death along with their entire convoy. It didn’t end there. After loading their bodies into a van and heading down to Milan, the bodies were dumped unceremoniously at the Piazzale Loreto. Civilians came out in droves to beat and abuse the corpses which were eventually strung up by the ankles and hung from a gas station so that they made for easier targets in stoning.

With the death of Mussolini and the conclusion of WWII, the National Fascist Party was outlawed in Italy. Many successor neo-Fascist parties arose instead, and some do exist in modern times around the world today though not to the same extent or level of power as Mussolini’s rise in Italy. However easy it is to kill a man or his party, remember that it is not as easy to kill an idea. Though the usage of the term Fascism is deadened by its limits in political relevance today, many policies and ideals characterized by its fervor are still very much alive and well. Fascism still means something and we would all do well never to forget it.

Footnotes:

1. Quote from Mussolini as told to Edwin L James of the New York Times. (1928)

2. Paxton, Robert. The Anatomy of Fascism. Vintage Books. ISBN 1-4000-4094-9.

3. Maria Sop Quine. Population Politics in Twentieth Century Europe: Fascist Dictatorships and Liberal Democracies. Routledge, 1995

4. Durham, Martin, Women and Fascism (Routledge, 1998) p. 15.

FINAL days in Italia! 🇮🇹

Alright, so I’ve been home for a few days already and I apologize for the late update. There are a few reasons for this, one being that obviously it’s hard to write the last one because this means it’s all over. Two, our last night included no sleep as we arrived and stayed at the airport for 9 hours before our layover flight to Amsterdam. Because of this and a now weakened immune system, I picked up a nasty chest cold during the flight and returned home with the inability to do much of anything aside from sleep and cuddle my puppies.

So now that I’ve recovered a bit, here’s the last bit of my Europe extravaganza trip!


Our last day in Cosenza was a bit more uneventful–our relatives were busy working as it was no longer a string of holidays in Italy (All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day) and so we spent our final night packing, shopping for last minute trinkets, and eating some really good pizza.

One thing I didn’t dedicate myself to, was a real try at accidentally stumbling across the tomb of Alaric I and his treasure. For those unaware of Alaric’s achievement of sacking Rome…that’s probably for the best. By the time Alaric hit Rome, it was already a crippling mass limping to collapse. What he served to do, however, was prove that Rome was vulnerable and not invincible–he opened the door to further turmoil and attacks until the Western seat of the Roman Empire fell in 476 AD. After sacking Rome, Alaric I, king of the Visigoths, sailed off with his spoils and headed south where he intended to bombard Africa because he was clearly on one helluva a winning streak. What happened instead was not an epic ransacking maneuver ala the game of Risk. On the way, his fleet was run aground by a storm forcing Alaric and what remained of his army to try and catch their breath in Cosenza. Alaric caught more than that, however, and died of a fever leaving the Visigoths to shrug themselves off to Spain. Legend has it, that Alaric and his treasures were buried somewhere in Cosenza with his gang temporarily diverting the Busento river to hide his burial. Obviously, I’m no Josh Gates of Expedition Unknown (Josh, if you miraculously receive a Google Alert and are reading this–TAKE ME WITH YOU!) but I certainly entertained a day dream or two where I stumbled across the find and jump started my career as Indiana Jones.

Once we left Cosenza without any Roman treasure to speak of, we headed up to the actual Rome where we’d eventually be flying out and returning home. We arrived late in the afternoon and were unfortunately unable to tour the Colosseum which was closing when we made it.

The Colosseum is about as marvelous as you can imagine. It’s massive–able to seat well over 50,000+ guests and certainly makes you gap in awe at it and not because of all of the weird Gladiatorial battles you can picture having caked the ground inside. I would love to come back and get a proper tour–mostly so I can be pointed out where our favorite jockstrap Emperor Commodus attempted to slumber nude during his reign of idiocy.

After walking around the amphitheater and waving at the Arch of Constantine as we passed, we ducked into a local restaurant to feast on our last Italian meal before walking about what we could of Rome before heading to the airport.


One thing I didn’t expect of Rome is how much of it is STILL in ruin. Everywhere we turned, there was an excavation or a reconstruction occurring and I can say with confidence that I hadn’t seen this in any other city we had visited in Italy. Rome’s history has a city is obviously extensive, and the amount of layers that exist under your feet as you walk is a bit overwhelming to imagine. I can’t wait to see what everything looks like once it’s completed (if ever though, honestly)


Night had quickly fallen and our rental car was due for return, so we quickly headed off to visit the Trevi Fountain before leaving. The fountain itself is a more modern marvel, having been completed in 1762. But sooooo worth it, even at night when it is all lit up. Unfortunately, pictures can’t do it justice.


All in all, my trip was a blast! If you’ve been following me since the beginning, then you know there was a lot of things missed in our travels but what we did get to see was 3 weeks of French and Italian country that is hard to get with an exclusive stay in a big city. We were exposed to all kinds of people and experiences, and I can now say I’ve been all across France and Italy. Our trip serves as a sampling snapshot of two wonderful and storied countries and when I return, I’ll know where and how to see the things I’ve missed on this particular trip.

The other main event of this trip was meeting our Italian relatives and that’s something I’ll never forget. They were warm and welcoming, taking it upon themselves to show us the sights of their home cities and making sure that our stay was fruitful and full of plenty of wine and pasta. They’ve empowered me to take up learning Italian here at home so that I can communicate with them better one day and join our local cultural center as well. One thing that will stick with me always was when I was embraced and told, “To use imagination is most beautiful. Write! Never stop writing!”

I promise to follow this advice for the rest of my life.

Thank you for following along with my adventures in Europe and I hope these have been informative and entertaining. If you enjoyed hearing from me, stick around and I’ll be updating this blog with history musings like before but with a special emphasis on some of the things I’ve experienced or seen on my travels now that I have a reliable internet connection and access to JSTOR.

Grazie e io scriverò presto! 🇮🇹

Day 16-17 in Italia! 🇮🇹


The perpetual chocolate croissants and coffee caught up with me on Day 16 and I was as sick as a dog. Moving on, Day 17 with the relatives brought us to Scalea, a coastal town in the Calabrian region about an hour and a half to two hours away from Cosenza. 

The ride up was amazing because for the first time, ruins were littered across the countryside on hills and entombed by modern buildings in a way we hadn’t witnessed before. Scalea was apparently a big port for the Byzantine Empire, and many of the structures and walls are still standing. So much so that I often wondered if some of the ruins we saw were even excavated, one in particular was sitting on top of a hill and looked to be shattered remains of a fortress of some kind but was completely alone with no protection or life of any kind nearby.

This is a different fortress and is possibly Turkish and there for Pirate Protections


And where there is water, there is most definitely piracy. I’ll have to do a more extensive search when I get home, but apparently there, naturally, was some medieval pirates gallivanting the high seas because heck yes there was. Most of the outposts and fortresses residing along the beach were there to help ward off the rum guzzlers looking to bank ashore.

Pirate cave if I ever saw one!


And why not? Because the beach is GORGEOUS!


After we toured Scalea for a bit, we headed over to another house owned by our relatives so we could feast and drink homemade wine and be merry! It’s going to be really hard to go back to America and not have fresh homemade sauces and pasta every day. 

They keep a stash of pomodoro sauce in the basement

Gelato cake! (I maybe had two slices of this…)


Wine cellar! They have over 350+ liters left for the year!


We have one more day in Cosenza before we head off to Rome and the end of our trip. GAH!

Day 15 in Italia! 🇮🇹

40 or so minutes away from the heart of Cosenza is the mountaintop Scigliano where our relatives here have built a country home and, down the street, my great grandfather once lived.

This house has been built and added to for generations and it shows! Pieces of the homestead clearly date back and offer a glimpse of the history pre-Unification–you can see parts of the old garden here where the family still grow fresh produce:


Once inside the patio, you can immediately find a large brick oven where the family can bake fresh bread or pizza:


And to the immediate right from here is a recently built Terrace with an awning covered in grapes (which they pick and use to make the family wine every year!):


Inside the house is a wrought iron fireplace which is stocked with chopped wood from out back–creating a cosy and authentic feel to an old house with the clash of new marble laid stairs.

I absolutely love the look and feel of this house. It is unique, handmade, and full of character–a far cry from America’s suburban conformitive neighborhoods. I spent many moments walking around every inch of the house trying to commit it all to memory with the hope of visiting this place again in my dreams. If there is ever a place to live one day, it is somewhere like this.


Once we were all settled, we helped ourselves to even MORE food! Homemade lasagna with foraged mushrooms from the garden, freshly grilled bacon, tossed spinach, beef stew, lemon and oil dressed peas and carrots, baked bread, and a dessert soaked and powdered in honey with white wine.


After becoming extremely full again, we topped it all off with another coffee and were introduced to our first Italian Digestive. They explained that there is coffee and then this kills the coffee–gesturing as if sullen with heartburn, miming a swig of the digestive, and then bursting with ease and comfort…or a burp, whichever makes more sense. It’s a light liquor that reminds me slightly of the taste but nothing of the texture of Peptobismol which is mixed with medicinal herbs to aid with digestion. Which, after the big meal we just partook in, seemed like a good idea to try as we hastily took a drink. 

After eating, we drove down the road to find the old house where my great grandfather lived before leaving for America.


Above is the old home and our beautiful patriarch from my last post. None of our relatives live there anymore, but many of the neighbors still remember and so he tried knocking on everyone’s doors with the intention of asking but it seemed like everyone was out for the afternoon.

Great grandfather’s old garden


He was not so easily defeated, however, and after traveling further down the road, was able to find his cousin who was more than eager to meet us! Ultimately, we were able to become acquainted with all of the remaining relatives at once this day, meeting another sister and her daughter and family as well.

I am so overwhelmed with love and affection for these relatives who have been so hospitable to us on our journey through Italy. Today we return to Cosenza in the hopes of touring this city’s history!

Day 14 in Italia! 🇮🇹


Cosenza in the Calabrian region–the homeland of my mother’s side of the family. Her grandfather left this beautiful little town to start a new life in America, passing through New York City before settling in Northen Minnesota to work in the iron mines. As the story goes, all he brought with him was two potatoes, one in each shoe, and one grape stem from the family vineyard hidden in his pant leg. He was alone and determined–working hard and saving up money so that he could send for his wife back home. Since then, our family has grown and spread all over the United States but a large number of us still reside back home in Calabria. 

This journey so far has had a number of travel woes, usual tourist attractions, and delicious food–but the real magic starts wth the rediscovery of our family heritage and meeting, for the first time, our Italian relatives. We met a few of them already in Bologna, but in Cosenza we had the pleasure of meeting the patriarch of the family. Related by blood, he is the nephew of my great grandfather who left for America–my mother’s second cousin. He was a spunky and calm man who was nothing but smiles! I had never met my grandfather as he passed away before I was born, but I have seen pictures and heard recordings of his voice and his nephew is the spitting image. He only spoke in Italian, but we were able to learn a bit about his life.

He has traveled all over the world in his life, talking excitedly about the work he did in Nicaragua and Mexico, about how he visited New York and telephoned my great grandfather in Minnesota, and how he even participated in a war in Saudia Arabia–showing us a black and white picture of him as a young man reminiscent of Lawrence of Arabia. He was also a delightful little trouble-maker who kept stealing everyone’s wine glasses to refill with the family’s own homemade bottle of red and white as well as a brandy made from the family grapes!

We enjoyed a 7 course meal (pasta with meat sauce and Parmesan, salad, breaded veal, fried potatoe chips, broccolitini, fruit, and pastries paired with a long shot of coffee steeped in sugar!) and spent hours communicating with our extended family. With my great grandfather’s nephew at the head of the table, we also met his two daughters and their husbands as well as the father of one of his son-in-laws. There wasn’t much English to go around the table but we made do with Google Translate. Some of the highlights of our conversation included a detailed explanation about George Clooney and his Nespresso commercial–Italians have taken interest and were curious what his involvement was and what the catchphrase “What Else?” meant. They discussed Whiskey and what they knew of Jack Daniels and one of the husbands hilariously showed us a picture of The Duke’s of Hazard–I’m happy to say that America is clearly representing itself well abroad! 

After dinner and conversation, they brought out the old photo albums and we were able to see how our entire family.

Next, we head to the country to discover where my great grandfather lived!