Full Bellies and Open Arms
Last Friday we packed up our apartments and started our journey down south to Calabria, where we would spend the second half of our program. We divided the long drive into two parts and stayed a night in Paestum, in the region of Campania. We arrived at our hotel around 2 P.M. and our teachers gave us the rest of the afternoon to do whatever we wanted. Since the beach was right down the street from our hotel, we headed straight there. It was a beautiful day, not too hot, but that didn’t stop me from swimming in the Mediterranean. It had been too long since I had been swimming in the ocean — it was just what I needed. My friend Tara ended up buying a volleyball, so we spent the rest of the afternoon playing volleyball and soccer in the sand. It was such a relaxing Friday afternoon, and a school day I might add. Hey all of you back in Seattle, how are your midterms going?!
Saturday before heading down to Rogliano, we spent the morning visiting the Ancient Greek ruins of Paestum. They are famous for being some of the most well preserved in Italy. There were three large temples and other remnants of houses, shops, and other public spaces of the town. We even got to go for a “swim” in the fertility “pool” that was for good luck during pregnancy. I think it makes a huge difference when it is obvious that a lot of time, effort, and money is put into preserving ruins; it makes it much easier to imagine life back then.
The closer we got to the small, mountain-embedded town of Rogliano, the more nervous everyone became. All of the locals stopped and stared at our bus as if they had never seen a bus in the town before and they all had the look on their face of “why would anyone EVER want to visit Rogliano?!” It was quite a sight. When we arrived at the main piazza, all of our families were anxiously waiting for us. That’s when everything hit me all at once: nervousness, excitement; I was about to become a part of another family. When I got off the bus, I spotted my mom and sister right away, thanks to some previous Facebook stalking. I was so overwhelmed with emotions that I couldn’t even say anything in Italian but “sono molta eccitata” (I am so excited), which I later found out actually means “aroused,” great first impression, right?! The mayor of the city, program coordinator, our professors, and other town officials held a welcoming ceremony in the comune (city hall), and then we returned home with our families.
I have a mom, Carmela, who is 41 and a dad, Alberto, who is 47. I also have a 21-year-old sister, Teresa, who is in college, but does all of her studying at home, and a 16-year-old brother, Giuseppe, who competes in cycling competitions. They are all extremely sweet and welcoming.
The 32 students in the program live with families either in Rogliano or Marzi. Rogliano is a small town of about 7,000, and Marzi, the town right next to Rogliano (where my family lives) is even smaller with a population of only about 2,000. Everyone in both towns knows that May is the month that “the Americans come.” In a way it feels like we are the celebrities of the town: everyone knows who we are, why we’re here, and where we come from. The other day, the cutest old woman stopped me on the street and asked me in Italian, “which is more beautiful- Marzi or Seattle?!” To make her day, I said, “Marzi, of course!” Everyone knows everyone in both towns. There is one main road that goes through both Rogliano and Marzi, one main piazza in each town, and only a couple markets and grocery stores. The locals honk when they pass someone they know while driving, when going around a corner, when they pass an American student, if they’re feeling happy, if there’s a line of traffic, or if they just feel like it…it’s actually pretty funny. When walking to school, about a 45 min walk from Marzi to Rogliano, I usually get a couple of ride offers, often times from people I don’t even know. The town is like one big family — everyone is so nice and I feel very safe here. I say “buongiorno” to everyone on the way to class, something I would have gotten dirty looks for doing in Rome. All of the old men spend their day sitting outside of the bars playing cards; it’s so cute. It took no time for me to fall in love with Marzi and Rogliano and all of the people here.
The language barrier hit full force when I moved in with my family. It was quite an adjustment coming from Rome, where I was living in an apartment with four of my friends and where it is not necessary to know Italian, to a small town living with a family that speaks zero English. It is almost as if the Roglianese are bilingual — their dialect is so different from classic Italian, not even Italians can understand it. It almost sounds a little German, the words sound much harsher. When my family speaks amongst themselves I have no clue what they’re saying. When they speak to me, they speak pretty fast, so I had to learn to adapt to that very quickly. Speaking Italian in real life is much different than in the classroom, but I’ve already learned so much in the first week.
The food. I don’t even know where to start. My stomach spent the first week growing and adjusting to the eating routine here. My family made fun of me when I told them that my favorite breakfast at home is French toast and bacon. It blows their mind that we can eat something so “heavy” in the morning. I told them I will have to make it for lunch for them sometime. I wake up every morning to a cappuccino and some kind of cornetto. My mom insisted on buying me peanut butter because that’s what her student last year loved to eat for breakfast. The first time my sister tried to make me toast was the first time she had ever even used her toaster, and it came out black; I had to show her the ropes.
In America when we order a pasta dish for lunch or dinner, that is usually our entrée, but not here. First we have pasta, and just because there is more food coming does not mean the portion size is any smaller. Then comes some kind of meat or fish, or a variety of different kinds. I’ve been very adventurous with my taste buds since I moved down south. I tried rabbit, an entire cooked fish with eyeballs and all (don’t worry, I didn’t eat the eyeballs), and I regularly eat veal. Along with the main dish are assortments of vegetables and meats and cheeses, and usually some kind of potatoes and salad. Once the main courses are over, an assortment of fruit is always put on the table, along with some kind of baked dessert. After all of this, my mom makes caffe’ (coffee), which here is just espresso, and that concludes the meal. My family is always telling me, “mangia, mangia, mangia!,” and “non avere una vergogna” (eat, eat, eat, and don’t have shame). I have learned one word in dialect, and it has come in handy at every meal, “mo schattu,” which means I’m so full I’m about to pop! I literally felt like I was about to pop after every meal the first week, but I’ve learned to say “mo schattu!” far sooner, since I know my family will easily convince me to keep eating. Whenever we have guests over, my family always asks me, “Kelley, what do you say when you get full?” And when I say “mo schattu!” everyone thinks it’s the funniest thing ever; they all just die laughing. I guess they think it’s funny that I’m using their dialect, so it has definitely become a joke in the family. Pictured below is homemade gnocchi, a potato-based pasta that takes hours to prepare. It is one of my favorite Italian dishes.
Our class schedule here is fairly relaxed. Monday through Thursday we have our morning classes and then return home to our families for lunch. The southerners are known for their “siestas,” or three-hour lunch breaks. Rogliano stays true to this and is a ghost town from 12 to 3 P.M. Because the point of this part of the program is to experience Italian life through living with a family, we too get to take this siesta everyday. We return back to “La Casa Della Cultura” (The House of Culture, where our classes are held) for our afternoon classes. Every Friday we have a morning field trip to somewhere fairly close, and have all-day trips on Saturdays.
Most afternoons we meet up with the local kids for a game of soccer on the local field. The Italian kids are extremely talented at soccer. I spent my entire childhood playing outside with my neighbors, but now I don’t see as many kids spending their afternoons outside in American, so that is something that is good to see again. Playing soccer is also a fun way to break down the language barrier; instead, we get to talk with our feet for a few hours!
The second night with my family, we went to their cousin’s third birthday party two towns away. It was the typical Italian family dinner like you see in movies. There were about twenty family members in attendance, the conversations consisted of multiple simultaneous conversations being yelled across the table, and they served an overbearing amount of food. It was actually pretty comedic just to observe the conversation, which was the only thing I could do, given I can’t understand the dialect. Everyone was extremely welcoming, and I instantly felt a part of the family.
The next night, there was a parade for the Turin soccer team, Juventus, on the main road in Rogliano. Although they have not won the championship yet, the way Italian soccer works, it will be impossible for them to not win, so everyone started celebrating early. Anyone could be in the parade; it consisted of cars full of dedicated fans driving up and down the street waving flags out of their decked out cars. Everyone was honking and blowing horns and running around with torches – it was quite a sight! My brother was even a part of the parade in a car with all of his friends. The parade ended with a fireworks finale. It was cool to see such a small town have so much pride for their favorite team. They are some devoted fans!
Friday, we had a class field trip to the city of Cosenza, the second biggest city in the region of Calabria. The mayor was there to greet us, along with other people who help organize our program. They even held a welcoming press conference in the city hall. After a tour of the rest of the site, we were given the choice to stay in the city for the rest of the afternoon, so my friends and I took advantage of this to shop and have lunch.
When we returned back to Marzi, my friend Kayln’s family hosted a big dinner for our friends and our professors. There was so much amazing good food, and it just kept coming; I had to say “mo schattu” multiple times! Towards the end of the dinner, my professor, Ruggero, brought out his guitar and played and sang songs for us. This was truly a happy moment – eating an amazing dinner under the stars in Italy, simply enjoying each other’s company and happy music. I don’t think it can get any better than that.