I should start with a confession. For most of my life, I did not know what it meant to be Italian, much less lay claim to any insight into understanding the essence of being Italian. I never really gave my Italian heritage much thought; it was simply the world in which I lived, woven into the stuff that made up my life. After all, does a fish think about being in water?
So, what am I doing writing a book on Italianita? Why bother with yet another book on Italian and Italian-American culture? After all, aren’t bookshelves sagging beneath the works of dilettantes pontificating on Italian and Italian-American culture? What makes my work different? Why is my work not a waste of your time?
Let me explain…
As I said, for most of my life I did not know all that much of my cultural inheritance; the key phrase being for most of my life. Things, however, changed in 2004 when I made my first visit to Italy. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I concocted all sorts of fantasies. I envisioned myself riding a Vespa around the Colosseum, dining al fresco at a Florentine trattoria, and eating gelato on the beach in Sorrento. Boisterous, barrel-chested, Italiani would greet me with warm hugs and a hearty “paesan!” They would embrace me as a long-lost cousin returned from across the Atlantic. I would be home again in Italia. Dear Italia.
When I got there I quickly realized my fantasies were just that, fantasies. The Italian-American culture in which I was raised was different from the reality of Italy. Both are wonderful, vibrant, life-affirming cultures, but they are different. When I asked where I could get tomato pie or tortoni, they gave me puzzled stares. Politely they would ask if these were American things. In an attempt to be helpful, they would tell me that if I wanted American food they could help me find a McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Once I recovered from the initial shock, similar to the shock a salmon feels when it returns to fresh water after living in salt water for most of its life, I began to realize how out of touch I was with the culture of my ancestors, both my Italian and Italian-American forebears. What was I missing? This was an important question, not just because I was Italian but because of the importance of the Italian culture.
I can’t really tell you if the Italian culture is as truly wonderful as I believe it to be or if I believe it because I am an Italian-American. What I can tell you with a great degree of certainty is that the Italian culture, and people, have had an extensive impact on not just western civilization but the entire world. Even if I were not of Italian ascent, I would be compelled to have a deeper understanding of such a significant culture and people.
The realization of my lack of knowledge began what was for me a Dantesque journey of discovery, it became my life’s passion. I have studied the language, food, literature, and history of Italy … wait, I want to rephrase that …I have studied the language, food, literature, and history of our people. I have returned to Italy multiple times, even bicycling the less tourist frequented corners and crevices of the country. My book, Italianità: The Essence of Being Italian and Italian-American, is the result of that study and those experiences.
With this blog, I would like to continue the journey I began with my book. I will explore the culture and history of Italians and Italian-Americans. I will examine the forces that shaped who we are as well as our possible paths into the future. I will also travel down the road less traveled, if you will pardon the cliché, to explore some of the lesser-known aspects of our culture. It is my sincere desire to share with all of you the excitement and fun of Italy, Italians, and Italian-Americans.
So, join me on my journey. ANDIAMO!!!