My favorite aspect of travel is the ability to savor and recognize all the creation that goes on in the far corners of the earth. I get the opportunity to experience first hand the culture, history and the incredible people that inhabit this planet. Cultural and personal idiosyncrasies abound. I have found a great advantage to sitting back and enjoying the show.
Travel allows one to connect the dots as it were. I could see during my first trip to Italy where the so called New York attitude originated. So many Italians immigrated to the east coast in the early part of this century and brought their customs and attitudes with them. This explains the neighborhood feel of New York, where you buy your groceries from the market on your block and eat at the same pizza place at least once a week. I find many Italians have the same gruff, ” whaddya want” attitude New York is famous for. Once you get past that there is a warmth that is increased if you make any attempt to speak Italian at all.
The attitude and the manners change by region of course, much the same as in the United States. But throughout, there is an honesty in the demeanor and in the food of Italy that I find refreshing. The Italians can take 3 ingredients and make a dish with depth and texture. I can still remember a simple mixed green salad I had in Rome. It was only a bowl of mixed greens with olive oil and salt. As I write this I can still smell the greeness (if that is a word), the freshness of the olive oil and taste the crunchy salt. Pretty intense. Which I think sums up Italy.
One of my favorite travel stories illustrates this attitude perfectly. We had just landed in Venice with that wobbly tiredness that comes from a long flight and not nearly enough sleep on the nights preceding our trip. Hungry and wanting to explore the city a bit before passing out, we wove our way through the labyrinth streets. We ended up at a small place just at the foot of a bridge.
In Italy many of the waiters are older; this is a career after all, not something you do while waiting for something better to come along. We had this gruff older waiter, your quintessential tough Italian, salt and pepper hair, craggy face, bulbous nose, and somewhat squat.
We were trying to make our way through the menu. It was printed in 4 languages and we were having a hard time focusing much less reading even the English version. Did we want a Primi Piatti (usually pasta), Contorni (vegetables), or a Secondo (meat or fish dish), the list of choices went on and on. You see, most Italian menus are broken down into many categories and you put your meal together. With so much to choose from we were taking a little longer than the waiter wanted.
He comes to take our order and my husband, Wally, orders an antipasto with the intention of ordering something else. The waiter starts to walk off and Wally says, “Wait, I think I’ll have the Spaghetti Bolognese.” The waiter fixes him with a steely stare and barks out, “You think or you want?” Wally, eyes wide and a bit startled yells back, “I want I want!” “Okay” grunts the waiter, with the appropriate hand gesture and takes off.
We almost fell on the floor we were laughing so hard. This was the perfect introduction to a country we have come to love. We all decided that was a very good life lesson. Do you think or do you want? One needs to be definite in this world. I appreciate the lesson.