Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Things I've Learned From My Italian Holiday

It has been three months since my first trip to Italy and I feel like I'm still flying high =D There are just so many great memories...

In retrospect, here are the things I've learned about Italy / Italians from the trip:

1. Italians love their food but they are generally fit.

Something in the tomato sauce, apparently. There's no denying that Italians love to eat. In true Italian towns, businesses (except food and beverage, that is) close during lunch. They don't close during dinner because most of them close shop just in time for dinner anyway. Here's a curious thing about Italy: It's so hard to find snacks. I even wondered whether they have a concept of snacking. Gelateria and paninoteca are abundant and their prices affordable but they are (at least from my perspective) considered a quick meal. It's fast food, the Italian way. I am so used to snacking and the abundance of options of street snacks in both Singapore and Indonesia that for the first few days in Italy I was just trembling from snacking withdrawal =p

Of course, later I learned that they do know the concept of snacking. They even have the term: merenda. But they don't overdo it. Why this is good to emulate: Snacking is good when done the right way. It keeps blood sugar from crashing and causing you to overeat in the next meal. Therefore, snacks should actually come in small portion only, nothing more than a few calories to sustain you until the next meal time. And most snacks I know, if not all of them, usually come in bigger serving than they should, laden with too much salt and sugar, and - this is their biggest problem - are usually deep-fried, or made in some form of frying technique. They end up having more calories than your actual meal but with very little nutrition.

When I was in Italy, I had the pleasure of snacking the local way twice. Both times, it was crostini with some simple topping. First, it was raw salsiccia spread over a small slice of bread. The second, extra virgin olive oil poured - and I really mean poured - over crostini and then sprinkled with a little salt and pepper. Both times, one person ate not more than 2 pieces. That's it. Notice the lack of cooking in both snacks?

Also, I hardly saw Italians doing more than one thing at a time. I don't remember seeing people window-shop while holding a snack or iced coffee in a plastic cup, something that a lot of people do in Singapore, Indonesia, and I suspect in the US, too. Of course, I saw some younger people do this, no doubt the influence of some American lifestyle they see on TV or movies but generally, Italians have a very healthy attitude towards eating - and living.

2. Italians are generally nice.

There will always be exceptions, of course, but thankfully, the ones that I met were all nice. I had my reservations when planning for my trip because we're two non-Caucasian looking girls traveling alone for the first time in Europe. We had to ask for directions so many times and Italians were generally friendly and happy to help. And whenever we came across the not-so-friendly bunch, speaking in Italian will turn their distrustful faces into smiling ones.

Also, I am quite taken by how many times I saw locals interact with the African immigrants. Now, this is only an observation and as I don't speak Italian, I had no way of knowing what actually went on in their exchange but I witnessed a few times locals talking to African immigrants in a friendly manner, like they know each other. And at shops where these immigrants would approach the customers and sell them something, these Italians would actually entertain them, like, replying to their sales pitch. I'm so used to just gesturing or even not acknowledging buskers altogether that this is so new to me.

3. We'll find a solution.

This is something that I've been missing terribly, something that I think has been lost especially in big cities. I think Singaporeans call it the "Kampong spirit". Indonesians call it "gotong-royong". It's basically a sense of community, the opposite of dog-eat-dog world, it's something that exists to advance the community as a whole and that not everybody wants to get ahead.

On our way to the cooking class, I noticed the road leading to the farm house from the main road was this stupidly tiny and narrow country road and can only accommodate one car at a time so I asked the driver what he would do if someone comes from the opposite direction, how does he regulate the traffic?

I swear he was looking at me like I'd just said something totally idiotic. He basically just shrugged off and said, "shit happens,". OK, I'm paraphrasing, obviously. The PG-rated version would be "These things happen, we just have to find a solution,". Boom. What a great motto to live by.

Hope to visit again someday!