How to be Italian: Eat, Drink, Dress, Travel and Love La Dolce Vita (2021) by Maria Pasquale

I’d say I’m more familiar with Italian culture than the average non-Italian American. I know that you won’t find Italian food at Olive Garden, San Marzano tomatoes come from Campania, my beloved arrancini is Sicilian, ciao means hello and goodbye, and, after the dough, there are exactly four toppings on a pizza Margherita.

My grandfather spoke fluent Italian and socialized in South Philadelphia circles. Unfortunately, that tradition wasn’t passed through the family. I was asked by a hostess at Gran Caffe L’Aquila how I arrived at the decision to read How to be Italian by Maria Pasquale. I’d taken the book to the restaurant to photograph it. I said that I was interested in Italian culture, but in reality, my purpose was stronger than that. Becoming acquainted with Italy makes me feel like I am reclaiming a part of my heritage.

How to be Italian: Eat, Drink, Dress, Travel and Love La Dolce Vita (2021). I knew that much of the information contained in the book wouldn’t be new news. August vacation is untouchable; it’s the same for the French. Italians express their feelings with hand gestures, value their family ties, and are superstitious. My aunt lived in Italy when I was young and told stories about how her doctor gave advice rooted in superstition rather than science. The Italian brand Superga is one of my favorites. As is Valentino. I’ve been to Rome, Florence, and Venice.

Although Pasquale’s book isn’t large like the ones commonly found on coffee tables, I believe it belongs there. The book is divided into nine chapters and is easy to read. The vibrant photographs, insightful quotes, and beautiful graphics drew me in. I found some elements surprising: the two playlists (one called “classic,” the other, “party”) and the glossary organized into eight categories: food, drinks, speech, community, holidays, life, ideas, places.

passeggiata – an afternoon stroll, usually with no destination, (210).
sprezzatura – the effortless elegance and nonchalance with which Italians carry themselves, (211).
Ciao bella!’ – ‘Hello beautiful!’ (208)

I made a Spotify playlist of Maria’s favorite Italian songs. Andrea Becelli’s “Con te partirò,” also one of my favorites, made the cut. I’m in an Italian mood. Fresh Severino linguine and all.

Books About French Wine

In the world of wine, I’ve decided to limit myself to France for the moment. Whenever I attend a wine tasting in Paris, I expect to spend the afternoon getting acquainted with wine from the home country. Drinking my way through various AOCs (appellations d’origine contrôlée) is a pleasurable way to learn about the soil, topography, climate, and wine-making technique of France by region. New rule: never pass up a wine tasting where France is the topic of conversation. Here are some books I’ve been considering on the subject.

Works Sighted

Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure // Histoire des vins de France // Adventures on the Wine Route // Champagne: How the World’s Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times

Champagne: The Essential Guide to the Wines, Producers, and Terroirs of the Iconic Region // The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It // Le vin de Bourgogne // Champagne: Wine of Kings and the King of Wines

Land and Wine: The French Terroir //.Monseigneur le Vin: The Art of Drinking Wine (Like the French Do) // The New French Wine // French Wine: A History

Paris Bookcase Inventory

Now seems like as good a time as any to take inventory of the collection of books in my Paris bookcase; my upcoming trip will present many opportunities to purchase more I’m sure. Despite the name I’ve aptly given it, the case also contains books pertaining to other areas of France and French culture as a whole. I’m open to recommendations and disagreements in the comments section. A library should be highly curated after all.


Scenic Paris

The Table

Biography and Memoir

History and Culture

Language Learning

Further Reading

My French Soul: An Introduction

Cocktail Books

A week ago, I went to happy hour with a friend. I usually order a glass of wine but decided to order a cocktail this time. The one specially priced for the occasion consisted of (if I remember correctly) vodka, cranberry juice, grapefruit juice, lime juice, and simple syrup. I requested that the mixologist dispense with the simple syrup. My friend followed suit; American-level sweets are too much for the both of us. The mixologist agreed but warned that the freshly-squeezed lime juice was potent. The color of the drink was a beautifully-subdued shade of pink. Its tartness was pleasing. As we sipped, the mixologist set to work on several concoctions for others. One drink called for a blackberry on a cocktail pick. Another, a blow-torched sprig of pine, the scent of which could only be described as the epitome of the season. I imagined myself behind the bar mixing and blow-touching to my heart’s content. Then, I came down to earth and rounded up some books that might be hepful to the home mixologist.

Works Sighted

Apéritif // I’m Just Here for the Drinks // Good Drinks // Spirits of Latin America

A Woman’s Drink // Cocktail Codex // Batch Cocktails // The Joy of Mixology

Spritz // Keto Happy Hour // Mezcal and Tequila Cocktails // Essential 3-Ingredient Cocktails

Cookie Books

Every year around this time, just before winter break, I think of the grandest giving idea. Maybe I’ll bake cookies for them, I say to myself. Them, the people outside of my immediate family to whom I’d like to extend a small token of gratitude. But, every year the pressure of finishing up a course and finalizing the menu for Christmas dinner (amongst other things) takes precedence over baking, boxing, and distributing cookies. Miraculously, I’ve managed to keep the tradition of card-giving alive over the years. When the opportunity to bake finally presents itself, I’ll have one of these books at the ready.

Works Sighted

The Cookie Collection // 100 Cookies // Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar

Paleo Baking at Home // The British Baking Book // BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts

Dorie’s Cookies // Biscuits and Cookies: A Global History // French Macarons for Beginners

Books About French Fashion Houses

Coffee table books about French fashion houses

I’ve seen Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (2022) twice thus far, but I foresee that number increasing over the holiday season when I have time off from work. Ada Harris becomes familiar with the Christian Dior label quite literally when she sees it in the gown of one of her clients. (She cleans houses for a living.) When Ada travels to Paris to buy a Dior gown, the fashion house reveals itself to her in unexpected ways. “Dior, it’s not just a gown. It’s all the elegance…” she says during one of her fittings.

One should not shop at French fashion houses for clout. An engaged shopper understands the values, aesthetics, and history of historic maisons. For me, learning almost always starts with a book. Here are nine for the coffee table.

Chanel, Christian Louboutin, Hermès

Lanvin, Christian Dior, Givenchy

Chanel 2, Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent