Italy is know for passionate people, and Antonio La Cava from Matera is one of them. He's passionate about sharing the glory of books with children. La Cava carries a telling surname, as Matera is the city of caves, or Sassi, when people have been living in cave homes for tens of thousands of years.
Retired as a schoolteacher after 42 years but couldn't stop spreading knowledge to il bambini of his region of Bacilicata. So in 2003 he bought a used tre-ruote (three wheeler) Ape mini truck and created his Bibliomotocarro, a portable library that houses 700 books.
La Cava travels over 500 kilometers each week to 8 regular stops on his route. The children know of his arrival by the sound of organ music coming from his unique vehicle. The children run to greet him as if some TV star is showing up. He also funds his efforts, pays for fuel, repairs and buys the books from his own pocket.
His passion for the love of the written word will be carried on--certainly by the many children on his route.
“A disinterest in reading often starts in schools where the technique is taught, but it’s not being accompanied by love. Reading should be a pleasure, not a duty.” --Antonio La Cava
by David Dalessandro
from Sharon, Pennsylvania
Need some guidance here, so I thought coming to my paisans at Italian Gardeners on Facebook would be a good place to go...
While pulling my tomato plants today it hit me that I was alone. My knowledge of gardening, weak as it is, came most from my Father who got his knowledge from his Father who was an immigrant to the U.S. from Foggia. My grandfather worked for Carnegie Steel in Farrell, PA as a janitor for the office. Carnegie had provided a home for him at a cost of $2.200. Company homes without a bathroom were $2,000 so Pasquale went for the better model. Companies did that in those days...this was 1925. The company then deducted so much from his pay and he had a decent house where he could walk to work.
Another thing the company did for employees was to provide garden space. Carnegie owned extra land in Wheatland, PA and the company would plow the land--at no cost to workers--and let employees claim part of it to put in their own garden. My grandfather took great advantage of that and every year would plant tomatoes, potatoes, beans and other vegetables that would help to feed his family.
It was in this garden that he taught my Father, who then taught me. So, fast forward to today, about 80 years later. I am stuck on the Teaching Thing. My children are grown and not really interested. My daughter is in El Paso, Texas and my son, still living with us, is working to become a tennis professional. Neither are much interested in gardening.
But I love it. I enjoy starting the seeds, tilling the ground, fertilizing and watching the plants grow. Because of the abundance God has provided, I also can many jars of tomato, sauce and hot peppers. Again, not because I have to, like my Grandfather had to, but because I want to. But, I am afraid that I am the last of the line. My uncles are gone. My Father is gone.
My wife humors me and lets me do my thing in the garden. It bothers me that it is likely to end here. And, I fear I am not alone. No one at work talks about a garden. No one else in the neighborhood has one. Just me.
It is a shame, I think, that the accumulated knowledge of at least three generations will end. Do any of you have the same concerns? Do you have children or grandchildren who work with you and ask questions and help pull weeds and can tomatoes and wonder why something is growing or not? Let me know...and if you have answers for this situation, I would love to hear them. Thank you so much, my paisans.
And my Thoughts...
And I totally agree with David, which is why I've asked his permission to post his words here on Grand Voyage Italy. After all, we are #AllAboutItaly here... and we're all about the Truths about our culture. I feel David is correct--too many young people today are detached from their cultural roots and have no idea where their food comes from, especially true with Italian-Americans. When one takes a Voyage around Italy, all you see is gardens--everywhere, in tiny front yards, hanging on walls, on balconies and terraces and in pot gardens surrounding people's front doors. It doesn't matter if they have lemons and pomegranates on their patio or just a pot of basil on their windowsill--it seems that everyone grows something edible.
We should all strive to teach our children the value of home grown, healthy food, like I've done for my own son, Lucas. Here's a photo of him with his tomato harvest at 4 years old...
He's 15 now and looks forward to each February when we go down into the cellar, sort out our seeds and start our heirloom seeds that we save each year from our garden. He now looks forward to the tomatoes we grow as if they are old friends... Eva Purple Ball, Olivette Juane, Giant Belgium, Jersey Devil and more. He also is learning to cook using the vegetables harvested from our garden, and even when we don't grow them ourselves, he now knows how to smack a cantaloupe, listening for the lowest pitched sound (a sign of ripeness), or check a peach's ripeness with his nose, as my Dad taught me.
Gardening is part of the Italian soul. Pass it on, people. Pass it on...
And for more on the subject of gardening...
Creating a Hanging Italian Wall Garden
Bicycles - Italian Garden Style
My New Favorite Tomato: Striped Roma
San Marzano Tomatoes: Accept No Imitations!
How the Tomato Became Part of Italian Culture
Only in Italy: Strange Veggies from La Belle Paese
To see how you can create an Italian Garden of your own,
check out the Grand Voyage Italy Shop on Amazon.
I suppose the first gift to my father, Sal, was his first two children... the "Twins", Joan and Barbara, born three days apart but healthy, nonetheless.
This was the start of my immigrant Dad's entry into fatherhood. Just when other men were being drafted into the U.S. army to fight in World War II, he suddenly was burdened not with one, but two children--this was in 1942 when twins were a mere 1% of all births. His nickname, Sally-Boy was coming to an end. Things had just gotten serious.
When he saw only one baby on that first day, the doctor casually told him, "The second one just isn't ready yet". He couldn't rest assured that everything was OK until the second was born three days later, an event that placed my mother's photo holding the two of them on the pages of New York City's Daily News. The war started and my Dad worked in a defense plant making springs for tanks.
As you can see from the photo above, my father was not only a proud father, but a rather goofy one. Always the joker... that was his first real gift to his children. John and Barbara were to be followed by Kenneth, Joyce-Ann and myself, the "baby" of the brood. Somehow, Dad provided. Before he was married, he and his brother had a "Three Legged Horse and Cart" and sold fruit and vegetables to the seamen down at Hoboken harbor. He had dreams of having his own Italian delicatessen or market someday, but he opted to have security for his family, always working for others for a steady salary. He clothed and fed us by being a grocery and deli man his entire life. This was another gift to us all.
Dad always played the fool, constantly at the ready to play a joke on us, to get us to laugh, putting us close to sheer embarrassment. At the beach he always insisted that we bury him under the sand, head exposed with his shoes stuck out 12' away from his head under a ridiculously long body of sand. Everyone passing by loved it. After a while (and his nap) we'd mockingly wind up stomping on his sandy "stomach" (safely clear of his real one) to the amusement of others around us, aside from my mother, who always made like she didn't know him.
When we were the only Italian family going to a New Jersey mountain lake previously only frequented by Germans, my father offered them meatballs, sausage and spaghetti and became the biggest clown in the middle of the lake, making his infamous sea monster growl that echoed from the mountainside. He taught us to put small, rounded stream stones into the barbecue so they would explode and scare the heck out of Mom when she was grilling burgers and hot dogs. He came up with the idea to put the watermelon in the stream to keep it cool all afternoon--which worked great except for one day when my sister and I had to run, splashing down the stream to recapture it after it got loose. These were also gifts from Dad.
Dad always took me fishing and crabbing down the abandoned docks and piers along the Hudson River. He taught me how to get past chain link fences and avoid guard houses to find the best fishing spot. I remember long, hot afternoons, the smell of fish and tar, and the pinching of the crabs we'd catch in our box crab nets. Some days we'd be there so long until the tide shifted on the Hudson... in the morning the river would be flowing out to sea, and in the afternoon it the river would actually flow upstream.
He'd also drop some bait lines from the wooden pilings using little screw-in springs with bells on them. A big "Mama eel" would latch on to a hook, the bell would ring and Dad would have dinner for him and Mom. One day we caught a big eel in the crab net and a big Jersey blue crab on the drop line. At the end of a long day, we'd head home with a bucket full of beautiful blue crabs and perhaps a few eels to fry up.
Again, more gifts from Dad.
Of course, we all bought Dad gifts for Father's Day. I remember saving the deposit money I earned from collecting empty soda bottles and buying him a bottle of shaving lotion or a pair of socks. A I got older, my gifts were many and varied: bottles of Amaretto, a fishing rod, a lop-eared rabbit, a 3 foot tall basket woven bottle of Chianti, a turquoise pocket knife, a trip to Caesar's Palace in Atlantic City, and odd assortments of power and garden tools.
But looking back, my gifts never matched the gifts he gave to me. He gave rock-solid, undeniable love and pride toward me. He gave simple, sound advice when I most needed it. He even gave me the gift of my wife and son when one day challenging me, "So, when are you going to marry that girl? You spend all your time with her anyway!"
Thanks Dad... for everything.
Originally installed in 1874, there are apparently more than 2500 of them... the Nasoni (Big Noses) supply fresh water to the public in Rome. The nickname was given because of their spouts' resemblance to a larger than normal nose. Within the Aurelian walls of Rome there are over 250 of them for your use. And have no fear... this water is perfectly fine for drinking--cold and fresh. In fact, using the nasoni is a great way to save on price gouging that goes on with refreshment street vendors, who charge overly high prices for bottled water. Trust me, it can be very hot and humid in Rome--even in the "cooler" spring and fall. Never go anywhere without a water bottle. Filling your own, reusable sport bottle is the way to do it in Rome. Don't waste money on bottled water.
The nasoni are beautifully designed. The 200 pound, cast iron fountains stand about 3 feet tall, with distinctive spouts supplying a continuous stream of potable water. That's right, it flows all the time. Romans call it l’acqua del sindaco (the mayor’s water), since the government maintains the water flow.
The older nasoni have a dragon's head at the end. Newer ones have a smooth torch decoration. Some older ones have three spouts while most have one. Please don't be put off by the rust or minerals built up at the base of the nasoni--the water is perfectly pure. All of the nasoni bear the shield of Rome with SPQR emblazoned on it. This is from the Latin phrase from Ancient Rome: Senātus Populusque Rōmānus (The Roman Senate and People). Today, this is the official emblem of the modern Roman government.
The nasoni also have a little known secret--at least tourists don't seem to know about it... On top of the spout (the nose) there is a small hole that can turn this faucet into a drinking fountain. The trick is holding your hand (hopefully clean) under the open spout, plugging it up. This forces a little water jet to pop out of the small hole on top, allowing you to drink as you would from a modern drinking fountain. (It's customary to rinse your hands before doing this in an effort to keep the spout clean.) Just hold your hand steady as you drink, or you might get sprayed in the face! Watch the cute video below... this bellissima bambina explains it so well.
Roman pooches really appreciate lapping up a cool drink
Here is a LINK to an interactive map of Rome that can help locate nasoni.
There are also over 1000 fontanelle (drinking fountains) scattered around Rome
OK. Now, don't scream, "sacrilege". Let me explain...
More than 100 years ago in Italy, people really would place the Nun and Priest into their beds to warm things up. The Suora e Prete (Nun and Priest) was the name of a device used to warm the bed and blankets just before bedtime. In northern dialect, they might be called Frà dël let, or Bed Brother.
They were often used until the early 1900's, and perhaps even later on in poorer parts of Italy. The Nun, or scaldaletto (warming bowl), was a removable round bowl with handle, into which hot coals (with ashes to slow down their cooling) were placed. Placing hot bricks in place of the Nun was also an option. Wealthier folks could afford rocchetti--small cylindrical containers filled with compressed coal dust. They were heated in the fireplace and lasted a lot longer than loose coals and ash.
The Priest constituted a frame that housed the Nun along with its hot embers, holding sheets and blankets well above the coals to prevent them from scorching or bursting into flames entirely. Sometimes the Nun had a lid with decorative perforations which allowed the heat to escape. The Nun and Priest also helped dry the damp sheets--a common problem in the cold and damp of stone houses during the winter months.
What are the roots of the name? Many consider the draping bed coverings to look like the draping of a nun's hood. Why "Priest" then? With Italians' tendency to be shockingly irreverent, we can only guess. Perhaps there is a reason the priest is on top... of course, I mean to hold in the heat of the Nun under "him". Wait... I'm getting myself into trouble here....
The interesting thing is, the Nun and Priest is still being made today, albeit in electric versions. When considering the thick stone walls and dampness of old Italian houses, this contraption might seem like a very good idea to warm up the bed on a cold windy night.
Very common in Italian antique stores and flea markets, many people have taken to finding new uses for the Nun and Priest, especially as decorating objects.
The Monk, a Close Cousin...
Another tool to heat the bed was il Monaco or also Mariteddu (the Monk), a kind of terracotta amphora that was filled with boiling water and placed under the covers. The rather thick, heavy ceramic would retain heat for long periods of time and release it slowly, creating a gentle warmth under the covers. Unlike the Nun and Priest which warmed the bed before you got in, the Monk could be kept in bed during the night with you.
Oh no... here I go again. I'll stop now.
This might also interest you...
Italian Warmth from the Poor Mans' Hearth: Il Braciere, the Brazier
While researching another subject using Google Earth, I came across this unusual scene just outside of Canosa di Puglia... a beautifully built Highway to Nowhere.
Oddly, the "street view" from several years ago shows nothing but dirt roads and farm fields. The satellite view taken in 2017 shows this beautifully built highway and a wonderfully wide roundabout in the middle. The only problem is, it goes nowhere and comes from no where. There are dirt roads and vineyards around all sides and the paved intersections intersect with dirt roads. There are no structures within the "development" area... just olives and grape vines.
Go figure. Perhaps the regional government thought, "If we build it, they will come."
There is that old saying (or aphorism), “Don’t raise the bridge, lower the river" that every engineering student knows. It describes the attitude about the obvious: there are no obstacles in getting things done. Just analyze the problem, and think of a way around it. But this doesn't usually mean literally.
"Lowering the river" is what lies behind the design of most canal locks in the world. I've even seen canals built on viaducts, making the water travel over an obstacle, like railroad tracks or a road. But I've never quite seen the Italian solution to the problem illustrated above. In Manhattan, for example, if a work crew arrived, permits in hand, ready to dig a ditch for a sewer or communication cables, a call to the City's tow trucks solve the problem in no time at all. Tow the car out of the work zone. Done.
In Italy, however, perhaps because of the lack of a reliable city department that would actually handle this problem--before the 12-3pm riposa--these workers figured they wouldn't wait for anyone else and solved the problem their way. Furbo. Look out for your own interests. Get the job done and get back to your own life. Why worry about some future contractor trying to locate that underground run of cable that he thinks should be in a straight line.
Besides, "Why have someone's car towed away and cause someone else problems? It might be my friend's cousin, or my cousin's cousin, or, Dio mio... someone's nonna!"
This is a collection of the many stereotypes I've collected throughout my travels and my research on the Italian culture... I reject the idea that any of them are true.
When traveling throughout Italy, we discovered a definite difference between North and South. In general, Northern Italians reminded me of more fast-paced New Yorkers as opposed to the more laid-back lifestyle and attitudes of Rural America. This is not to say that we didn't find many nice people in both the North and South, and that we didn't find some real jerks in both regions as well. People are people. Stereotypes are ridiculous. Take people for what they are--how they present themselves.
A supposed wise man once said, "You've gotta take the good with the bad". No thanks. I'll look for the good people, no matter where I am and will always reject the bad. I've heard that Northerners refer to the South as the "Mezzogiorno". This word basically means high-noon, when the sun is at its highest and brightest. Northerners use it to describe the sunnier and sweltering South. I will remind all Italians that the same sun shines on all of them. It's no brighter or darker in the North or the South.
Same sun... Same people... Same heat...
Watch just about any old movie filmed in Italy and more than likely they'll be flirting... especially the stereotype of an incorrigible flirt coming on to a woman. An old gent pursing his lips to his fingers letting a young girl know how tasty she looks, or a young regazzo following for a few steps on the street accosting a young lady with a flurry of metaphorical compliments, or it could be a supposed innocent young boy blurting out blatantly how great a woman's legs are.
Flirting is part of life in la Bel Paese. In fact, there is a special metaphor for it...
fare la civetta, which literally means "to make like an owl", or simply una civetta (an owl) meaning "flirt". The expression was first penned in 1494 when poet Poliziano used the word civettare to describe how a woman might attract a man, by cooing like an owl to attract her prey, and then silently pouncing on them with their sharp talons as their prey approaches.
In reality, Italian women do flirt more like an owl than men do. They are more subtle and less obvious than the screeching of regazze hawks. A young regazza will start to walk away from her prey, but then turn her head back slightly with a half smile and side glance, and then keep walking away.... Hooked.
Hair dangling over the eyes is another technique. Lowering her head and letting a few wisps of hair hide her admiring glance at a young man, but then flipping them back into place shows a guy she sees something she likes... Hooked.
Subtle and blatant at the same time, una giovane bellezza (a young beauty) may be sitting at a gelateria touching a spoonful of gelato to her lips, glance over at her targeted regazzo and slyly lick her lips, putting her spoon right back to the work of enjoying her confection... Hooked.
Amazingly--but very Italian--there are many distinct variations in the way this word is used:
The context matters, too. For instance, if someone says "Non andrai da nessuna parte con Adelina. È una vera civetta." (You won't get anywhere with Adelina. She's a real tease.") Most men stay clear of a tease once they become away of their game.
Curiously, there is even the giacca civetta (owl jacket). This is the second jacket a man leaves over the back his chair at work so the boss and co-workers think he is somewhere in the building... when in reality he is out of the office wearing his other jacket (metaphorically or otherwise) while fare la civetta.
Even more interesting, I recently discovered the expression Italians use for "bait and switch" when a company advertises one cheap product (the owl cooing) just to trick you into buying their more expensive one (the talons)... Produtto civetta!
Perhaps Italian men have gotten a bad reputation, mostly from stories of them pinching girls behinds or following aggressively down the street. In fact, Italian men are Mama's boys, very romantic and won't marry until they find l'angelo perfetto (the perfect angel), or one as worthy as Mama. Their flirting can also be very direct, but often in poetic praises:
"Hai degli occhi bellissimi." (You have beautiful eyes.)
"Mi piace il modo in cui ridi" (I like the way you laugh).
"Il tuo sorriso è davvero fantastico!" (Your smile is really awesome!)
"Ho visto che mi stavi guardando e ho pensato di venire qui a fare due chiacchiere."
(I saw you were looking at me and I thought I could come over and chat).
"Complimenti alla mamma." (My compliments to your mother).
"Nel cielo manca un angelo?" (Is heaven missing an angel?)
"Ti sei fatta male cadendo dal cielo?" (Did it hurt when you fell from heaven?)
In English these pick-up likes might sound corny... in Italian, just try to resist...