Today is kind of like our 4th of July here in Italy - a big holiday commemorating the Italian liberation from the Nazi's. As a result, I have today (and the rest of the week-end) off. I had big plans to take off to Zurich and visit my friend, but he flaked out of me, so instead I'm going to Bologna tomorrow and Sunday to see my friend Kate's dress rehearsal and hang out with her a little bit. That left today free, and luckily, my friend and saviour here in Torino, Vincenzo, invited me to have a big lunch at his house with his family. He lives with his younger brother and his mother is visiting, and they had also invited an uncle and some cousins. I was excited about my first home-made italian lunch.
Vincenzo met me in the center of town near the theater, where they are having all kinds of festivities to celebrate the holiday. There was a big outdoor stage set up so bands could play, and other booths and stands, and zillions of people. As we were leaving, Vincenzo spotted the "president" of this region, "kind of like the president of Pennsylvania for example" he explained to me. Apparently, and for some reason that still remains unclear to me, Vincenzo is friends with this president, so brought me up to speak to him. When Vincenzo introduced him to me and said my name, the president said, "Ah, si, certo" like he knew who I was. This was very confusing to me, but when we walked away, V said it was probably because he had seen my name in the brochures for the opera and I was feeling pretty famous, until he realized that actually, the president probably mistook me for another american friend of Vincenzo's who he hadn't met but had heard about. Okay, so I'm not famous in Italy.
We walked a good 25 minutes to his apartment, and waiting there and cooking were his adorable mother and brother. His mother had come up from the South of Italy, and had brought with her on the train 20 eggs, a loaf of bread, and a bushel of artichokes. I am not making this up, she really lugged all that stuff from the bottom of the boot to the top because what they have up here just isn't the same as down there. The meal started out with fresh squeezed orange juice (she didn't bring the huge box of oranges on the train thank god) and gently fried artichoke hearts. V's cousin's arrived, and one of them brought with him fresh ricotta that he had made himself from scratch the night before, so we ate that and some bread next. Then, a pasta very popular in the south called orecchiete, (which apparently Vincenzo brought in HIS suitcase when he returned from his visit over easter) with a tomato and meat ragu. Then, next course was some kind of braised beef, and these egg fritters that are really hard to explain but are extraordinarily delicious. Afterwards, we ate sweets that we had picked up at a local bakery (I ate three cream-puffy canola-ey thingies) and then a glass of limoncello that Vincenzo's grandmother makes herself. After the three glasses of piedmontese red wine and the limoncello, I had to drink an espresso, even though I'm not a coffee drinker normally.
The whole experience was so warm and relaxed. Somehow I felt totally at ease with these two Italian brothers in their twenties, their Mama, her brother-in-law and his two teen-aged sons, none of whom spoke a word of english. First of all, it seems to me that it's perfectly acceptable for children, even teen-agers, to totally like and get along with their parents. They're happy to spend an afternoon meal all together, and one of the teenage boys even wanted to make and bring his own cheese! Plus, I was absolutely forced to exist in solely in Italian, which in and of itself, is a pretty priceless experience.
After lunch was over, Vincenzo walked me all the way to the train station to help me get my tickets for tomorrow's journey, and it was crazy trying to wade through all the crowds downtown on this holiday - the streets were absolutely over loaded with people of all ages. The thing I found the most amazing was that all the stores were closed because of the holiday. I mean, here's a time when there are people absolutely filling the streets, and any store who decided to open it's doors would have the best day of business ever, but instead, they all close. They just aren't so focused on earning a buck as we are in the U.S., and as was pointed out to me, "how would the people working in the stores celebrate the holiday if they were at work?" They really just think about everything differently here.
After all the eating and walking I had to rest for awhile, but only long enough for it to be dinner again. I headed out among the crowds to try to find a restaurant that didn't look too intimidating for a solo diner. I found a trattoria, and had a shrimp appetizer and a lobster pasta entree. I seriously don't know how I managed, but I ate everything, plus two pieces of bread. I'm telling you, eating machine. You've heard of a food baby? I'm having a litter. And tomorrow I'm headed to Bologna where they invented Spaghetti Bolognese. How am I not gaining weight? It's like I'm in the twilight zone of food! But I haven't been served one single thing that I didn't like since I've been here, so how can I not eat it all? Now I have to go pass out in a carbohydrate induced stupor.