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.