Return to the Motherland: The “Modern” Italia

It is with distance that you begin to see the larger picture. Sometimes all it takes is one step back to realize. Up close, a mosaic is just a plethora of colored tiles, the true image is hiding at a larger perspective.

This was the emotional sensation I had upon my temporary stint in Italy this past September. After almost 2 years away from the country that has defined my 20s, the experience going back felt a bit different this time. Thomas Wolfe wrote a novel called “You Can’t Go Home Again.” In it, he describes unfair passing of time which prevents one from ever being able to return “home again”. The emotions, the memories, your thoughts, once upon a time can only be revisited in hindsight.

Upon arrival in Rome, I was overwhelmed with a displaced feeling of nostalgia. As if I had woken up in a dream and got stuck for 2 weeks.  The most poignant part of the experience this time around, was the overwhelming lack of progress that holds Italy back from achieving stability. Back in 2008, when I was a young 20 year old punch-drunk  by Italy’s beauty, I mistook this part of the society as an endearing reason to love Italy.  I never noticed how unfortunate the economic situation in Italy had become.

Speaking to friends who are Phd holding professionals about a typical salary in Italy was an extreme reality check. While the cost of life for an average italian living in a city center is by no means bargain, many educated Italians are being paid less than 2000 Euros a month! And they’re lucky for even having a steady job! Over 20% of the italian population of people aged 18-28 can’t find work, regardless of having a solid education. In Parma, the affluent Northern Italian city I used to call home, over 85 stores in the city center were closed due to bankruptcy.

This is why I describe the return this time around as bittersweet. Everything I remembered is crumbling under a weak economy. You can see it everywhere, in the eyes of every Italian there is a certain sadness they carry with them about the state of their country. An overwhelming sense of apathy that weighs everyone down from progress. The happy go lucky self I was when I lived there, had just learnt comparatively speaking that there is no Santa Claus. Now I finally understand the famous ex pat Italian mantra, “Italy is a beautiful place to visit, and an impossible place to live.”

Here are a few photos I took along the way:

Play me a tune

Play me a tune

Amalfi Coast

Amalfi Coast

Lecce, Commercio

Lecce, Commercio

Ravello, Campania

Ravello, Campania

Piazza Duomo, Lecce

Piazza Duomo, Lecce

Me in Piazza Sant'Oronzo, Lecce

Me in Piazza Sant’Oronzo, Lecce

Quante storie per un caffè

Quante storie per un caffè

Capri

Capri

Una cosa veloce

This entry is in Italian, for no particular reason.

Una prova di poesia:

Una cosa veloce
ma proprio al volo cosi
Ti amo, ti voglio, e piacere come ti chiami?

Non so se e’ il destino o questo vino che mi fa sentire
che sembrano 200 anni che ti cerco…per dire
occhi sorridenti valgono mille parole
mi riscaldano l’anima, due raggi di sole

ma chi sei in fondo di tutto questo colore?
ci conoscemmo gia, sei un vecchio amore
in una vita passata mi avrai preso il cuore
Ora capisco, non sento piu nessun dolore

Un bacio che dura un’infinita’
un momento di paura, poi serenita’
e tutto questo dopo istanti passati
Ma quanto è strana la vita!

European Soccer: Hatred and history beyond the pitch

 

The European community saw yet another display of Anti-Semitism at the Europa League soccer game between England’s Tottenham and Italy’s Lazio last Thursday during a high tension game in Rome.

Tottenham is known for having a strong Jewish following from Northern England. These fans were attacked without merit at the game, with remarks from Lazio fans including “Juden Tottenham” calling upon difficult memories from the second World War. “Free Palestine” was also among the chants from Lazio fans, touching upon the current and continuing situation between Israel and Palestine.

In unfortunate situations such as this, one can truly see the power that this sport has beyond the pitch, as fans take matters into their own hands…transforming the sport from enjoyable passtime to personal attack. The World Jewish Congress has asked that Lazio be removed from the Europa league for their racist commentary, as the team seemed to support their fans’ opinions.

Regardless of the tolerance and anti-racism campaigns run by UEFA in recent years, it’s disheartening to see that hatred still very much exists in this organization.

Soccer, or football as they say, is much more than a sport in Europe, but a means for fans to identify with a political, economic, national, and racial past. This adds an interesting dynamic to each game, as one roots for the team that truly represents their personal experience. Displays of hatred and violence at games bring unfortunate realities into the limelight.

Where do we go from here? Have you had any personal experience with sports related racism and intolerance? Please share your stories, everyone deserves to be heard.
At least I am a Juventus fan ;-)

 

Aftershocks: The Fate of Parmigiano Reggiano

Image

As many of you know, the Emilia Romagna region (famous for production of Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano Reggiano) of Italy was hit bad last month by a series of relentless earthquakes. May 20th and 29th were bad days in the world of cheese producers, as years of careful aging and hard labor toppled to the ground.

According to a letter published by the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium, damages include:

  • 37 factories effected in towns of Mantova, Modena, and Reggio Emilia
  • 600,000 wheels were effected in the quake
  • Of those 600,000 wheels, 50% can be saved and continue on in aging for eventual sale as certified DOP Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 300,000 wheels (amounting to roughly 10% of annual production) have been irreparably destroyed.

What does this information say about the market? For those of you who are unaware, the rise and fall of price in Parmigiano Reggiano is monitored as closely as the NYSE. Weekly, a private Italian dairy consulting firm (www.clal.it/en) produces a stock market-esque analysis of the supply/demand chain of prices for all forms of cheese and dairy products in Italy.

To give you an idea of the evolving market: Image

The top line representing Parmigiano Reggiano, you can see that prices in 2011/12 are above 12 Euro per kg (roughly $8/lb) in ITALY! At Whole Foods this dairy gold sells for over $20/lb. While prices are suspected to fall in 2013, based on the simple laws of supply and demand it will take roughly 2 years to replace the destroyed product.

Being a salesman for imported Parmigiano Reggiano, this is not good news for me. Will Parmigiano Reggiano retain it’s standing title as the “King” of cheeses? Most likely… it seems people will always pay to be satisfied…the joys of niche markets!

 

Warning: Disgusting

Balut, a Southeast Asian treat.

Translation: FERTILIZED DUCK EMBRYO BOILED ALIVE AND EATEN!!!!!!!

…but the locals call it an aphrodisiac…and believe me, nothing makes you feel sexier than biting into the crunchy, partially developed skeletal structure of an unborn animal.

Sold as street food in the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam, the locals eat this stuff up with various spices and garnishes. Honestly all the hot sauce in the world couldn’t convince me that this is a good idea.

Taken directly from Wikipedia: “All of the contents of the egg may be consumed, although the white may remain uneaten; depending on the age of the fertilized egg, the white may have an unappetizing cartilaginous toughness. The ideal balut is 17 days old.”

Ugh. Call me culturally insensitive, but this is absolutely disgusting.

Long Story Short….

Long story short…I was living in Italy illegally in the house of my very intense Southern Italian ex boyfriend. I returned to Italy in 2010 (until nov 2011) on impulse for solely irresponsible and emotionally driven purposes and learned much from my particular choices I made. This is not meant to be a Tony Robbins type diatribe, I digress.

I love that goddam country, but I needed a brief hiatus from the land that stole my heart.

“Michelle, you neglected Grassroots Gourmet like a mother of a crack baby”, you might rightly accuse. My simple response: I am sorry, I had very limited access to the internet because in many parts of Italy the calender year is still assumed to be somewhere in the mid 1600s.

I am still involved with “Il Bel Paese”, working as the Western regional sales manager that represents specialty food brands imported from Italy. No, my love affair with prosciutto, parmigiano, and pasta was not disgraced with an intercontinental move. It is very much alive and bulging at the waste-line.

Grassroots Gourmet might take a more personal turn these days, as my apathy in the world of Food Politics has overcome my desire to preach something obsolete. My cynicism is also undergoing an epic resurgence.

Fans, loyal readers, this is Grassroots Gourmet. Welcome back.

Stream of Consciousness

It has been almost 6 months since I’ve written here. I apologize to all of my readers that I have been away so long, but in the past 6 months I have undergone one of the most challenging periods of my life thus far. This post isn’t your typical Grassroots Gourmet organic food diatribe, but rather, a therapeutic stream of consciousness exercise that I need to clear my mind. I hope you’ll be able to follow….

For the past 2 years I’ve felt like a woman without a home base. I live in a country where my legal status is questionable, in an apartment that isn’t my own, constantly feeling blockaded by matters of the heart and mind. What is this anxiety that I’ve allowed to rule my every action? I am allowing the very foundation of my personality to succumb to the erosion of my external circumstance. In situations such as this we so desperately seek a balance, but it’s difficult to find under such immense pressure.

I now understand how all the illegal aliens of the United States feel, part of a group, a nation, but always alienated by the mind-rotting thought of being torn away from the small empire upon which they have constructed their lives.

A most important question arises, where do we go from here? Is there a point that we must decide that the lives we lead will no longer result in positive outcomes, a point where we realize that no matter how hard we try to make things work, ultimately the structure will crumble like cliffs into the sea.

Here I am, I offer myself entirely to fate, as it is this belief, this element of hope that allows humanity push on in times of difficulty, in times of strife. The human mind is strong, but when one reaches the tipping point, the question we must ask ourselves is “will we persevere, or will we breathe in the water of a strong tide and let it sweep us away?”

Life pushes on, whether we like it or not. We cannot stop time, but simply float along with this design that is much more complicated than our comprehension. We have two options, to latch on to this intricate web we call society, or simply let go and fade away.

A saving grace can be found in pursuing passion. In finding something you love and putting every ounce of energy (both negative and positive) into maintaining this element of our individualism. It isn’t always easy, but it is much better than any medication.

When I write I allow the blank page to consume my thoughts entirely. Every word I write is direct proof of progress, a creation all my own that delivers direct satisfaction of the endeavours of my persona.

What is your passion? Take a moment to think about it, to really immerse yourself in the thoughts and activities that allow to emboss your existence in the rhythm of life.

This is my legacy. What’s yours?

Clandestino Chaos

Parma, Italy

 

The lack of posts can be easily justified by the explanation of the utter chaos and insanity that has been endured in the past 3 weeks of my life. I know most of you come to this blog to read about the adventures of my stomach, but this time the only thing my stomach wanted to do was flip and eject itself from the rest of my body (no I did not suffer a digestive virus).

Here is the a list of events that may contribute to the development of my unforeseen schizophrenia:

1) The organization of Italian Bureaucracy is like a scene out of a 3 stooges film. One person bumping into the next, running in circles around each other trying to feign some thread of structure. This has thus made my immigration process absolutely laughable….to say the least I was given an appointment in MARCH to meet with the immigration office.

2) I currently live in a hotel, and my residence naturally, has been booked by someone else in January, forcing me to find a new place to live in very little time. The upcoming Christmas season does not help.

3) I GOT A JOB! As a gastronomic tour guide for Parma Golosa, a food centered travel agency here in Parma. I’ll be giving Americans tours of Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto, and Balsamic Vinegar factories here in the area. They’re even giving me a car!

After all this mess, I’ve come to realize that my life is like a Woody Allen film…only perhaps a little bit less intelligent.

We’ll have to see what’s in store for the next installment of “My Life is a Mess.”

Buon Appetito.

Operation: Help Michelle Get a Job!

Tortelli d'Erbetta

Curious to read about Parma’s art history? Want to cook some of the traditional meals from this area from home? Click on this link and buy some awesome cook books and art history books from the heart of Parma… available both in Italian and English.
CLICK HERE TO BUY

*Also if you buy this book you will probably help me on the road to landing a job (paid) with the hotel, and thus will aide in the continuation of Grassroots Gourmet does Italy.

 

PLEASEEEEEEEEEE