Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bella Napoli

Two years ago, good fortune (my husband), brought me to live in Italy, and granted me a daily view of the Mediterranean islands of Procida and Ischia. Italy also just happens to be where all of my dna originated. Italian, just so happens to be one of the languages that I speak. Italy also happens to be the country that I would have given anything to live in since I was 21. And well, here I am. So what to do with my time? I decided this was a good time to take a break from teaching and really experience, and savor life in Italy for that’s what Italians do…they savor. They savor food, they savor wine, laughter, anger and even sadness.
To give you an idea of how much the meal means to an Italian, namely a Neapolitan, let me describe the following story that I happened to witness. It was noon and I was waiting for my sons to complete their stroll through the Posillipo market, which is situated near the Public Gardens of Parco Virgilliano. I watched a man open the trunk of his car and take out a small white tablecloth, the size of a place mat and place it on the hood of his car. He reached for his recently purchased bag of fresh vegetables. He took out a flat round dark bread that he split open with a pocketknife. From his trunk, he reached for the oil…not motor oil, but olive oil, which he proceeded to drizzle on his bread. The open-faced sandwich that he made had me watering at the mouth and I couldn’t take my eyes off the red tomatoes, the green peppers, the olives, the basil and the fresh, thin slices of parmesan cheese that he flaked on top of it all. Then into a small plastic cup, he poured his homemade wine, and began to eat his lunch. He talked to people passing by. I wondered who this man could be, and pondered the peculiarity of it all. I had never seen someone take so much care, and enjoy the process quite so much, when eating off the hood of a car. He noticed me gawking, and motioned me over. He offered me some of his feast, and as much as I wanted some, I refused. I apologized for staring, but explained that I was impressed that he could make something look so appetizing from the trunk of his car. He explained that he was the head gardener in the Parco. He insisted I have a bite and a drink of wine. It is the Neapolitan way he explained…that of hospitality. It is expressed by sharing food, drink and conversation under the sun, and before shimmering blue waters and so how could I refuse. This was my introduction to Napoli, bella Napoli and its reverence for food and drink. It is a scene I shall never forget and endeared me forever to Neapolitans.

Every town in Italy has their own specialty food, and an Italian wouldn’t be caught buying a gift other than the specialty from that area. Not only should you buy “Le Delizie di Sorrento” the specialty dessert of Sorrento when you’re in Sorrento, but there is also a specific shop that you should buy it from. As a friend recently said to me, “Well, other people make it, but it’s not real.” In Italy, food and drink are art. The meal is sacred and therefore anything that has to do with the meal is also sacred. This includes the time it takes to eat the meal, the way it is prepared, and the drink that is carefully planned to compliment the food. In order for this to happen day in and day out, meal after meal, requires that people have a level of knowledge of food and wine uncommon in other parts of the world. It also requires that they have strong opinions about it, and it requires that they let you know about them. In my dealings with Italians since I have been here, I have come to realize that many people, average every day people, can tell you the specialty wines and food of Italy’s 21 regions, as well as the prominent grape varieties in those areas. This is no small feat. In the past two years since I began my study of Italian wine, I have learned that there are hundreds of grape varieties that make up all of Italy’s wines. Campania alone has over 100 identified common grape varieties. When you compare this with the fact that the great wines of France are derived from only 30 different varieties you get the idea how complicated learning about Italian wine can be. Still, Italians remain undaunted and discuss wine as candidly and casually as they discuss football. I decided that food and wine would be my quest while I sojourn in Italy so I set out to find a school for Sommeliers.

1 comment:

J Overstreet said...

What a great story - the guy eating lunch - love that! :)