Friday, February 10, 2017

Ricordi Italiani

The Plastino family having a party
It’s been an unusual week. I’ve spent most of my time with my head stuck in a computer rather than out on the road experiencing interesting places. So what does an addicted traveler do when she can’t travel? I think about trips I’ve taken! And just to add fuel to the memory fire, a friend asked if I’d help her son with a report on Italy. My first trip to that wonderful country was in 1985 and I’ve been in love with the people, food, and history ever since. That year I met my relatives who live in Cleto, a small town in the Calabria region located on the instep of the boot, and although I’ve been back to Italy several times for work, I’ve not gotten to see them in Cleto since.

I actually learned some interesting things about Italy while helping with the project. For
Italian flag over Tuscany
instance, it wasn’t until 1796 that the green/white/red tricolor design for a flag was used. The flag from
Milan donated the red and white with the green from the color of the region’s military flag. The design of the flag was abandoned and re-adopted throughout the years, but the colors were a constant.

The first humans arrived in Italy about 850,000 years ago and people have been living there
Saint Paul's Square, Rome
ever since. Indo-European folks arrived around 1500 BC. The most famous of these peoples were the Etruscans who gave us some of the early pottery that became the basis for the art that was central to the Greek civilization. The Roman Republic and later the Roman Empire dominated Italy for centuries; Julius Caesar was one of the famous Romans who lived during this time. The Romans were the driving force behind the establishment of Western Europe culture and civilization. Catholicism, the building of the Vatican and the acceptance of the Pope supported the adoption and spread of Christianity by the end of the 4th century AD. Italy survived World War I, fighting on the winning side; and World War II, although on the losing side. Italy became a Republic in 1945 under the leadership of Alcide De Gasperi, who is considered the founding father of modern Italy.

One of Italy’s claims to fame is its art. The list of artists from the country is pages long, but two of the best known are Michael Angelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Of course, art isn’t limited to just sculpture and paintings, but extends to architecture, acting for television, stage,
Milan Cathedral with its over the top Gothic architecture
movies, and music. There are many famous Italian actresses and actors: Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert De Niro, and Marcello Mastroianni. It’s even more fun to see some of the places I’ve visited in the settings for movies: Roman Holiday 
(1953), Under the Tuscan Sun (2003), The Da Vinci Code (2006) and Inferno (2016) are some of the more popular ones. There are lots of Italian musicians who are known around the world.  Giacomo Puccini, Gioachino Rossini, Arturo Toscanini (for whom my niece, Tosca, is named), and Antonio Vivaldi are considered classical artists.  Enrico Caruso, Jon Bon Jovi, Bobby Darin, Lady Gaga, Bruce Springsteen, Tony Bennett, and Dean Martin are but a few of the contemporary artists. Of course there are the artistic folks who write books, plays, and/or poetry. Giacomo Casanova, Niccolò Machiavelli, Dante Alighieri, Umberto Eco, Rita Carla Francesca Monticelli, Oriana Fallaci, and Margaret Mazzantini are all Italian authors who have had their works translated into English.

And while I knew that Italians have been into sports since the Colosseum in Rome was new,
Inside the Colosseum in Rome
I didn’t know that football (soccer) is by far the most popular sport in Italy. Italy won the 2006 FIFA World Cup, and is currently the second most successful football team in World Cup history having won four FIFA World Cup championships. Basketball, volleyball, and cycling are the next most popular/played sports; Italy has a rich tradition in all three. Italy also has strong traditions in swimming, water polo, rugby union, tennis, athletics, fencing and Formula One car racing. Italian athletes have competed at all the modern Olympic Games except the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis.  Italians have taken part in all the Winter Olympic Games, winning 114 medals; their country has won 577 medals at the Summer Olympic Games. Italian athletes have won a total of 243 gold medals which makes them the 5th most successful country in Olympic history. Italy also has the sixth highest medal total of all time with 691.

The arts and sports are well represented world wide. Just as well represented are the sciences and other academics. Leonardo da Vinci, Enrico Fermi, Alessandro Volta and
Statue of di Vinci outside of the La Scala Opera House, Milan
Guglielmo Marconi are some of the most famous Italian scientists. Following in this tradition are Carlo Urbani, the physician who discovered severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 1998; Giorgio Parisi is the theoretical physicist called the father of the modern field of chaos theory; Pier Paolo Pandolfi , a geneticist, discovered the genes underlying acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL); and Massimo Marchiori, computer scientist who made major contributions to the development of the World Wide Web and created HyperSearch. In 1907 Ernesto Teodoro Moneta won the
Nobel Peace Prize. He was an Italian journalist, nationalist, revolutionary soldier and later a pacifist. He adopted the motto In varietate unitas! (Loosely translated this means united in working together for peace and prosperity).

I think that the best export from Italy were my relatives who came to the US to help build
Venice gondolas
railroads and work in all sort of mines. They brought with them a wealth of customs and traditions that we still celebrate today. The top 10 exports, according to
World’s Top Imports, in 2015 were:

  1. Oil: US$52.2 billion (12.8% of total Italian imports)
  2.  Machines, engines, pumps: $39 billion (9.5%)
  3. Vehicles: $36.3 billion (8.9%)
  4. Electronic equipment: $31.2 billion (7.6%)
  5. Pharmaceuticals: $20.6 billion (5%)
  6.  Plastics: $18.3 billion (4.5%)
  7. Iron and steel: $16.5 billion (4%)
  8. Organic chemicals: $14.3 billion (3.5%)
  9. Medical, technical equipment: $11 billion (2.7%)
  10. Gems, precious metals, coins: $9.6 billion (2.4%) 

Whether here at home or in Italy, one of my very favorite experiences is enjoying regional
Art from the harbor town of Ostia Antica
foods. Italian gastronomy is characterized by its simplicity, with many dishes having only four to eight ingredients. Italian cooks rely chiefly on the quality of the ingredients rather than on elaborate preparation. Ingredients and dishes vary by region, but you can usually count on garlic, pasta, olive oil, and cheese to play a major role in the recipes. Near the coast, were my family lives, almost every meal includes some sort of fresh fish. When we visited, breakfast was usually bread sticks, coffee and perhaps some cheese and fruit. Lunch was the big meal of the day and always included pasta with meat, bread, a vegetable or two, wine, and coffee with dessert. Dinner could be anything from wine, bread and cheese to sausages, bread, and pickled vegetables. Cheese and wine are a major part of the cuisine, with many as variations as there are Italian regions. Coffee, specifically espresso, has become important in Italian cuisine but not until the 18th century. My relatives all drink coffee morning, noon and night; I can hang with them until about 4:00 PM but after that the caffeine keeps me up all night.

Someday soon I hope to travel back to Cleto to see my family. I’m also looking forward to exploring some of the towns I haven’t had a chance to see. There are still lots of places on my list!
Pisa's Leaning Tower

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