Sentendo: UN PO ‘ ITALIANO
(Translation: Feeling some Italian).
I feel a few merriment makers on Italy are in order. So here are some somewhat significant, sometimes silly and more often than not simply idiosyncratic points that have truly tickled my fancy.
First the loco and the geo.
So Italy is in South Central Europe, with its peninsula jutting out into the Mediterranean Sea. It is collectively celebrated as being shaped like a stiletto boot, all thigh high with a frilly stocking mushrooming out from the top (my addition, must be said), but in considering the country’s food obsession I see it more as a decadently stuffed Christmas stocking (though with a killer heel). Australia out sizes it a good 25.5 to one, with the USA 33 times its size.
Italy is made up of 20 regions, each with its own capital – Florence in Tuscany, Milan in Lombardy, Naples in Campania and so on. Italians have a fierce loyalty to their region, identifying more with being a “Tuscan”, “Milanese”, “Silican” etc. rather than just Italian. There are also two independent enclaves within the country, that being Vatican City (discussed in post previous) and San Marino (microstate in north-east with a population of 32,000 – the only country in the world with more vehicles than people). And Italy also has one exclave, that being Campione d’Italia in Switzerland.
The country as a whole comprises some of the most varied and scenic landscapes on earth from the alps of the north, running in a massive arc of rugged young mountains along the border with France to Slovenia – including Mount Blanc, “white mountain” and the “monarch of the alps” which is the highest peak in Europe and the 11th in the world and is the subject of much bickering as to whether it belongs to France or Italy – to the Po Valley at the base of the Alps – a 46,000km squared flat, triangular plain – and the Apennines – the “backbone” of the country, a mountain chain running 1350km along the length of the peninsula. At the “toe” of the boot the Apennines drops beneath the Strait of Messina before reappearing on Sicily.
The end of 2014 saw Italy home to a good 60.5million people, with the capital of Rome having 2.9million residents alone – the fourth most populated city in the EU. The tongue is of course Italian, being a Romance language and child of Italian, though the vast majority of people do speak English also.
So to shed a little light on a few things famously related but perhaps not quite to fleshed out on.
- The Mafia
So, this organised body of criminals originated in Sicily and spread out to the rest of Italy and into the USA over a few centuries. It was originally deemed “Mafioso” which had no criminal connotations; rather, it was used to refer to people suspicious of central authority, translating as “protector against the arrogance of the powerful”.
By the 19th century it modified, emerging as private armies who extorted money from landowners, becoming the violent criminal org that is known the world over today as the Sicilian Mafia. You see, Sicily was ruled by a long line of foreign invaders from the Romans to the French, Spanish and Arabs. The residents of the island banded together to form groups to protect themselves from the often hostile occupants and developed their own system for justice and retribution in secret. Thus was born a ruthless and complex behavioural code with strict rules for membership (including the inability to join should you have a relative or any relationship with a person involved in the law as a policeman or lawyer) and the infamous induction tests to prove your courage and skills at espionage (with committing murder almost always the final step in obtaining membership). Primary activities are protection racketing and the organisation and oversight of illegal agreements and transactions, as well as drug trafficking, fraud, gambling and loan sharking. The Sicilian Mafia is one of the four major criminal networks in Italy; others are the Camorra of Naples, the Ndrangheta of Calabria and the Sacra Corona Unita of Puglia.
- More on the Main… Food!
I touched on some morsels in Venice, but it would be a crime not to put at least a par in on pasta and what not, so here we go.
Food in Italy is a big part of family history, with secret dishes passed down from Nonnas for generations. “Food” doesn’t just refer to the edibles, but the whole act of sitting around a table with loved ones a foremost portion too. Meals can last anywhere from two to five hours, with the traditional Italian meal being made up of nine stages:
- Aperitivo – alcoholic drink before meal
- Antipasto – hot or cold appetisers; artichokes, stuffed olives, etc.
- Primo – first course; usually dish like pasta, risotto, gnocchi or soup
- Secondo – main dish; fish or meat
- Contorno – side dish; salad or vegetables
- Formaggio e frutta – cheese and fruits, the first dessert
- Dolce – sweet, such as Tiramisu and cookies
- Caffe – coffee
- Digestico – liqueurs
Italy is renowned for its pasta, having an integral part of its history. There are 310 specific forms on offer with more than 1300 names which have spread to the ends of the earth through immigration, to become a staple the world over. It has had a home in Italy since the 1st century AD; although it is a learnt legend that Venetian explorer Marco Polo brought pasta back from his journeys to China, noodles were already well and truly alive in Italy before he was even born. And the most massive advancement of pasta in Italian life? When it met tomatoes. It wasn’t until 1839 that this merging was documented, verifying one of the greatest marriages of all time. It is estimated Italians eat a good 27kg of pasta each a year, massively outstripping the country’s production of wheat – thus, importation is a necessity. And just a few names to define the dishes: dried pasta is pasta secca, with 300 different shapes and varieties, Law states it must be made with 100 per cent durum semolina flour and water, and it is designed to grab and hold onto sauces. Fresh pasta is pasta fresca, and types abound; these come in the form of spaghetti (long, thin, cylindrical pasata), spaghettini (same, but thinner), spaghettoni (same but extra-long or extra thick), the ribbon-cut range (fettucine, lasagne, stringozzi, tagliatelle), short and extruded pasta (cannelloni, macaroni – name derived from the Sicilian term for kneading dough with energy – penne, rotini spirali, tuffoli), decorative cuts (casarecce, conchiglie – seashell – corzetti, fafalloni – bow tie – giglie, gnocchi, madala, pipe), minute pasta (anelli, alfabeto, orzo, risi, stell), stuffed pasta (agnolotti, cannelloni, ravioli, tortellini), as well as the whole world of irregular shapes. The come the likes of antipasto, bruschetta, stuffed peppers, salamis and abounds of bread (mostly by regions; I.e., ciriola and rosetta for Rome, michetta for Milan, pita for Catanzaro, so forth).
Wine is a winner, what with Italy being the largest producer in the world with strong pedigree and reputation. There are 20 wine regions, with the most famous tipple being Chianti, produced in central Tuscany with varieties depending on exact locations. And of course, the infamous Prosecco; produced in northern Italy to rival champagne and other sparkling wines, it is regarded as its inferior, cheaper cousin. (Ricadonna on a Onecard special at the just-turned age of 18 was always the go). Then comes the Limoncello (sweet and tart after dinner digestive from Southern Italy), grappa (grape-based brandy that can be traced back to the 1st century AD), Amaretto (sweet liqueur made of almonds or almond essence), Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur, often teamed with coffee for the win) and Sambuca (strong, syrupy, aromatic liqueur with star anise and white elderflowers).
And oh sweet Naples; not only did the city gift the rest of the world with pizza, it was also the birth place of the – fittingly named – Neapolitan ice cream, the infamous chocolate, vanilla and strawberry stripes. Thought to be a depiction of the Italian flag, it was taken to the USA in the 1870s where it, well, took off. And here’s a scoop – the ice cream cone was also an Italian invention, by one Italo Marciony – before he got his waffle on, all ice cream and gelato was served in a glass.
- And Getting with the Fashion…
Italians are well known for their style and fashion and the country is home to a number of major globally recognised names from Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Prada, Versace, Valentino and now Ray Ban (founded in 1937 by an American company but was bought out in 1999 by the Italian Luxottica Group for USD$640million). Milan is the fashion capital of the country, with design becoming big there in the 11th century. The beginning of the 17th century saw France take out the reputation of fashion centre of the world, and since the early 1950s the two European nations have been rivals in the fashion stakes with Gucci competing with Chanel and Dior.
Italian goods are notoriously well known for their high quality materials and many non-Italian luxury brands have craft factories in the north and centre of Italy, such as Ralph Lauren, Dior and Chanel.
And of course, the main man Armani. Giorgio Armani is considered the tsar and patron saint of Italian fashion and is worth 4.96 billion pounds (according to today’s XE exchange rate, a cool $1,019,341,328,977.3827 NZD). He’s a regular in rap lyrics, with Wiz Khalifiia, Kayne West and TI all recently giving him a shout out, as well as Biggie Smalls with his penchant for Armani PJs.
Armani himself initially was studying to do medicine with a bout in military service before his foray into fashion. An intensely private sort, he publically identified as bisexual in the early 1980s, with his long-term partner, architect Sergio Galeotti, dying of AIDs-related complications in 1985. Armani once designed a cover of a gospels book for the pope and copped it in putting together the Italian police uniforms (honestly, so on point. I tried a plethora of times to snap a sneaky pic but – alas! – I missed me shot).
It is said the way to approach dress for Italian women is to show off your best features; you must strive to stand out to blend in. It’s all about covering your flaws and full on flaunting your assets, with great pride coming from putting yourself together – “la bella figura”. Shoe designers do not concern themselves with practicality, with spice coming from style, not comfort.
I tell you, what an outfit!
- Famed Italians
Of course the greatly celebrated artists in Leonardo da Vinci (pretty much EVERYTHING really, from mathematician to writer to inventor as well), Michelangelo (“the divine one”; yet another Renaissance man), Julius Caesar (infamous dictator and general, most prominent for his critical role in the demise of the Roman Republic and rise of the Roman Empire, who also had a dalliance with Cleopatra), Marco Polo (Venetian explorer and merchant born in 1254 who travelled throughout the Far East and China, his stories being the basis for what much of Europe knew about the “Mysterious Orient” for decades. Yes, the inspiration for the infamous “Marco Polo” game – said to have come about after when he was 17 and travelling to China, he was very tired and fell asleep on his horse. He began to hear voices in the desert and thought he heard “Marco being called; so of course, responded with a ringing out “Polo”), Christopher Columbus (explorer, navigator an coloniser who is widely credited with discovering America), Gailileo Galilei (mathematician and astronomer, often called the “Father of Science”, of whom the four largest satellites of Jupiter are named after), as well as some of Italian descent – Zach and Cody Sprouse (Suite Life and Big Daddy), Amy Adams, Robert de Niro, Jack Nicholson and Lady Gaga.
- A few inventions?
- Condoms: Although first recorded as being used by Egyptians in 950BC, condoms were first demonstrated to the public in Italy in the 15th century. Following a breakout of syphilis, the Italians became very concerned and started manufacturing condoms made out of linen. Roman warriors put tubes on their penises made from intestines of dead opponents and animals and by 1700 the Romans were selling condoms made of shell or leather (imagine that on your sheath) to the general public. Fittingly, the name is believed to be derived from the Latin word “condus” translating as “container”.
- Telephone: Alexander Bell first to be awarded with a patent for the electric telephone, but Italian Antonio Meucci is considered the true inventor. He immigrated to USA and began developing his “teletrofono” in 1849 but was too poor to put his name to it. He was only acknowledged in 2002 for his role in the invention process.
- The piano (1698 by Bartolomeo Cristifori; originally called un cimbalo di cipresso di piano e forte; pianoforter; fortepiano; before becoming piano), the typewriter (1808 by Pellegrino Turri), eyeglasses (the work of a monk named Salvino D’Aramte in the 13th century, deemed “nose balancers”; fitting, as statistics of late have revealed that 11 out of 20 Italians need sight aid – the lad obviously foresaw), MP# (1988 by Leonardo Chiariglione), University (well, the oldest one is that of Bologna, founded in 1088), jeans (17th century in Geno with denim worn by sailors; the names is believed to have stemmed from the French word for Geno, being “Genes”), cologne (concocted in 1709 by Gian Paolo Feminis, who immigrated to Cologne in Germany and passed the formula on to a fellow Italian, one Giovanni Maria Farina), the Jacuzzi (1949 by Candido Jacuzzi as a hydrotherapeutic device for pain relief, inspired for treating his toddler’s rheumatoid arthritis), ballet (performed for the first time in Florence during the Renaissance), dentures (700 BC), lipo suction (1974 by one Dr Girgio Fischer) and the battery (1799 by Alessandro Volta, as the first object to generate a consistent electric current. Unsure if this is where the term “volt” sparked or is it was insanely fitting a name).
- And to clarify: Venetian blinds are not from Venice! They were actually developed in Persia in 1760. Solidification of the design came later as Persian and Venetian merchants moved back and forwards between the Middle East and the Eastern Italian coast, with the blinds utilised in to keep out dust and what not.
- Cars; oh yes, fast cars. The Ferrari has always been synonymous with winning and high style as a symbol of luxury and wealth. The sports car manufacturer was founded by racing driver Enzo Ferrari, only making 39 between the years of 1962 and 1964, with Enzo himself along with his North American dealer having to approve each and every buyer personally. And of course the Lamborghini (founded in 1963 and known for its refinement, power and comfort), the Maserati (elegance, style and sportiness) and the Alfa Romeo (style and sophistication).
- And just a quick few nuances, quirks and foibles to end on!
- In 2012 it as ruled that to tell a man he has “no balls” is punishable with a fine – what a kick in the groin to free speech! The case was brought before the supreme court after two cousins had a conundrum over it. The judge ruled it hurts male pride and is said to be injurious in referring to weakness of character, lack of determination, competence and coherence. What a balls up.
- Keeping I line with all things lawful as well as cocky, there is a belief that men can ward off evil by grabbing their crotch as a means of garnering good luck. Although courts ruled males are not allowed to grope their sacks in public, it still happens. (I didn’t observe any such goings-on, but I didn’t really put it to the teste).
- Milan has a law stating you must smile at all times in public, and are only exempted should you be going to a funeral or if you work in a hospital.
- In the small town of Falciano del Massico, it is illegal to die because the cemetery is to capacity. Thus if you feel you are about to pop your clogs, you must up and skedaddle to the neighbouring place of people.
- It is illegal to build sandcastles on the beaches at Eraclea on the Venetian Lido – apparently they block the passage.
- In Castellammare di Stabia – a town just south of Naples – it is against the law to wear miniskirt, too low slung jeans or have too much cleavage, with those offending facing a 300 euro fine. It is also forbidden to walk your dog on a too-long leash, climb a tree, swear in public or lie on a bench.
- “Bella” (beautiful) and “cara” (darling) are commonly used when referring to females. In New Zealand earlier this year, an Italian immigrant forklift driver caused an uproar when he was fired on his first day for calling his boss “darling” – while he was only doing what was instilled in him, his boss lost the plot and adjudicated him jobless. (He was instantly snapped up at an Italian restaurant however, where he could “bella” to his heart’s content).
- Pets are kept as having a purpose, such as dogs to guard and cats to keep out mice.
- In Turin, dogs must be walked at least three times a day or else their owner can be fined.
- Goldish bowls are deemed as being cruel to animals and have been banned since 2005.
- In Northern Italy surnames tend to end in “I” while the south sees the more common being “o”.
- Interestingly, a good one-third of Italians have never used the internet.
There we go – the Italian in the know.