I was looking through a cookbook the other day that my father bought me a few years ago. It’s huge, beautiful, and filled with Tuscan recipes. I was looking for something different to make, find a new recipe to tweak, and enjoying the beautiful pictures. When I say the book is huge, I don’t mean necessarily thick, I mean huge as in almost poster size. But the pictures are absolutely gorgeous.
It reminded me of my first, and only, trip to Italy. My mother, whose father came from Naples, had always wanted to travel to Italy to see it. But my father never had the interest. Finally, in the mid-80’s, my father called and booked a trip. My parents were travelling that September for a two-week trip to several cities throughout Northern Italy. My mother was so excited!
My parents returned home and could not stop talking about what a wonderful time they had. My father, the one who had no interest in going, said this moments after walking through the front door on the night they returned;
“Pam you have to see it. It was fantastic and the food…we have to take you.” Hey, no problem. I was all for it! Other than travelling back and forth – by car – from NY to Florida, and every state in between, I hadn’t seen any other part of the world.
The good part was we were bringing my best friend with us. This was just mere weeks before my sixteenth birthday. We were so excited. Italy. We couldn’t wait!
It’s important that I note here that my friend’s family was Sicilian. When they found out we were going to Italy, her Aunt told us the following:
“Listen to me. Those Italian men can be very charming when they want to be. It doesn’t matter that you girls can’t speak Italian. All you need to know is a universal word understood in any language: NO! Just say it and you won’t get into any trouble.”
Gotcha, Auntie. Just say NO!
Off we went to spend a week in Rome. My father rented a car and we visited Florence for the day, and of course, the Gold Bridge. I remember Florence well. We were robbed there, and in stealing my fathers camera bag they also stole the medication he had for his heart. We spent the rest of the day at the police station, and the rest of the evening at the hospital where my father had to get a re-fill of his heart medication. Hours and hours we waited at that hospital. Unfortunately, we never got much chance to really see Florence and all it had to offer.
We spent time in Capri, Sorrento and of course Naples, my grandfathers birthplace and home. It was here that I dropped my brand new camera off a picturesque spot as I was snapping a photograph of this place my grandfather grew up in. The rest of our time we spent seeing Rome. Eating ice cream by the gallon in the Piazza Navona. So good. Visiting Vatican City, the Coliseum, and more churches than I can begin to count. If we weren’t already Catholic when we came to Italy, we sure as heck would have been by the time we left.
Now I should add that at sixteen, my friend and I were boy crazy. Aren’t most sixteen year old girls? And our fashion for teens growing up in New York was a bit different than it was in Italy. In New York there were so many clothing styles going on: punk, preppy, that infamous “Madonna” look with the neon colors and the rubber bracelets laced up your arm, and of course the Jordache and Sergio Valente jeans worn so tight you needed to lay on your bed and pull the zipper up with a wire hanger to slip yourself into them. Italy seemed to have more of that preppy look. Lot’s of jeans with the cuffs rolled and loafers. So my friend and I definitely stood out in our tight jeans, high heels, boots and big hair. We screamed “Tourist!”
But we didn’t care. We were on a quest! A big one! Now everyone here knows if you go to Italy you better come home telling how many times you got your hiney pinched by some Italian man. Because if you return home and you haven’t been pinched it’s an insult to your femininity! My mother, who was in her fifties’, had been pinched several times. My friend and I? Not once. And time was running out, our week was ending, and we were not leaving until it happened. Period!
One day we strolled the streets of Rome, hit a few shops, and went to an open market. It was filled with delicacies I had no appreciation for at my young age, but today I would be in my glory walking through that market. My parents were a little ways behind us as my friend and I strolled through the market, passing each little stand and either scrunching up our nose at the fish or pigeons they had for sale, or looking curiously at something we didn’t recognize.
A young man came up to us and started talking in Italian. We had no idea what he was saying. We continued to shake our heads in confusion. Then someone behind him said something to him in Italian, they laughed, and he began asking us something else. My friend and I looked at each other confused, remembered her aunt’s advice and both firmly said, “NO!” We figured it was our safest bet. Although we had no idea what he was saying to us, we knew it was something off-key because of the smirk he and the other guy behind him had on their faces.
As soon as we firmly stated, and with reverence I might add, “NO!” it got a good reaction. Not the one we expected though. It created more interest than we thought should happen.
I leaned over to my friend and said;
“That last word they said…it sounded a little like the word ‘Virgin’ didn’t it?”
“I think so,” she said.
My parents were behind us at this point and my mother was getting a good chuckle out of this. The word we thought sounded like virgin was in fact correct. It didn’t take much for us to realize they were not referring to virgin in the sense of the Madonna. They were asking us if we were virgins and we were blatantly, firmly, and loudly telling them NO! We left that market with some cat calls and chuckles behind us. Embarrassed? Yes. Very. You would think that now that we had just proclaimed, rather loudly for all to hear, that we were not virgins, that somehow, one of those men would have pinched our hineys. But, no. We left that market with our virginal status still in check, and our butts un-pinched.
One night after eating a fantastic dinner, my friend and I headed over to see Trevi Fountain. My parents had seen it and decided not to go with us. We were taking pictures and standing in awe at the beauty and the crowds of people gathered around it. I handed my friend my camera and said; “Here. Take a picture of me while I throw a coin in the fountain.”
They say if you throw a coin in Trevi Fountain and make a wish you will one day return to Italy. And we definitely wanted to return. Nobody told us there was a method to throwing the coin, so I just chucked one in. As I walked back toward my friend to retrieve my camera, this gorgeous man came up to me. And he was no sixteen year old boy. He was handsome and decked out in a beautiful suit, polished loafers, and slicked back hair.
“No, no,” he said “You have to put your back to the fountain and throw the coin in over your shoulder.” With that he positioned me with my back to the fountain and I chucked my coin in over my shoulder. Did my friend get a picture of this? Of course not. Because this man…this gorgeous man…had a friend with him and he was moving in on my friend.
To be continued…