My father's side of the family is 100% Italian. I grew up surrounded by my Italian relatives. On one side of our house lived my grandparents; on the other side lived my great grandmother and one of my great aunts. My great grandmother was from Naples and came to the U.S. through Ellis Island. Just about everyone in my father's family spoke Italian. I'm pretty sure my father knew more than he let on, but I never heard him carry on a conversation in Italian. As for me, I know some words (but not the kind you use in polite company). The language was something I was very accustomed to listening to, although I never understood what anyone was saying.
One of the most difficult parts of traveling to other countries is not being able to speak the language. I know absolutely no German and found it very challenging to ask questions and communicate. It was a lot of words and gestures trying to get someone to guess what you were trying to say. So after spending several days in Germany, I was looking forward to moving on to Italy, at least the language was familiar even though I couldn't speak it. At one point we were waiting in a train station and there were two older Italian men sitting on a bench arguing with one another. I started to giggle; I felt like I was at home. That's how my Italian family communicates; they always sound like they are yelling. Very rarely are they angry; they're just loud and animated. Listening to those two men put me at ease; it was the first time on the trip that I didn't feel like I was in a foreign country.
I think my great grandmother was with me on this leg of the trip. She used to have this thing; it was so embarrassing. She would go to the grocery store and instead of buying the generic product that was on sale she would buy the name brand. When she got to the register and the clerk would try to tell her she had picked up the wrong product, she suddenly couldn't speak English. She "No understand." They would get so frustrated that they would just sell her the name brand product at the sale price. We wouldn't be out of the store five minutes and she would be laughing. She knew exactly what she was doing! Well, at one point we got on the wrong train and we needed a transfer ticket that we hadn't purchased. The conductor came around punching tickets and tried to explain this to me. I pulled a Michelina, "I no understand." He wasn't happy, but he didn't make us buy the transfer ticket. I'm sure she got a laugh out of that!
My great grandmother also had a habit of going to the grocery store everyday. She would almost always only buy three things. I often would ask her why she didn't get all of her groceries at once, "ayehee" was generally the response I got. It wasn't until I traveled around Italy that I understood why she did that. I never saw a grocery store anywhere I went; there were however small stores selling specific items (a butcher shop, a pastry shop, etc.) and many stands for produce. You went to these market squares and you bought what you needed for the day. Everything was always fresh. It was how she was raised and she never changed. It is hard to argue with this method; I bought a bag of cherries from a stand one day, they were the best cherries I have ever eaten. To this day, I have never found cherries here that could even come close.
I think one of the things I enjoyed the most about Italy were these connections to ancestry, and my great grandmother in particular. I came to have a greater understanding and respect for "her way" of doing things.
I love to travel. For me it is an escape, sometimes a reawakening, often enlightening and inspiring. I hope you enjoy the stories of "my adventures." If I inspire you to have some of your own - all the better. Bon voyage!
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