THE ITALIAN THING

CHAPTER 1

The telephone rang. I picked it up. “Hello?”

On the other end of the line came a flurry of Italian. I knew instantly that it was Mike’s uncle calling from Italy. I didn’t understand any of his words, other than, “Ciao, Patrizia!”

I quickly answered, “Ciao, Zio,” and then in English said, “hold on. I’ll get Michael.”

I wasn’t sure if he understood me, but he answered, “Si, si.”

My husband, Mike, was in the bathroom, which was usually a long ordeal because the bathroom was also his reading room. I rapped on the door and shouted, “Mike! Your uncle from Italy is on the phone!”

He opened the door and I passed him the phone. They talked for several minutes, and then it became quiet. When Mike came out, he closed the door and I heard the ceiling fan running. I was thankful we had two bathrooms in the condo.

He told me his uncle had called to wish us a happy Easter. I noticed tears in Mike’s eyes. “What’s the matter?” I asked him.

He answered, “My uncle was crying. He wants us to go to Italy and visit him. He said he’s getting old and wants to meet me before he passes.”

I felt bad. Mike had spoken of going to meet his mother’s family for years, but life got in the way. And although we’d traveled, Sicily had never been on the list.

We discussed it for a while, and decided that we were going to Sicily. Our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary was coming up, and a trip to Italy would be the perfect gift for both of us. It would be our dream trip.

Mike called his Uncle Calogero back, as well as his cousin Pasquale, to let the family know we would be spending Christmas and New Years with them. We would stay for a total of thirty-two days. His family was elated, and the joy in Mike’s face was worth more than anything money could buy.

Mike is Sicilian, and I’m half-Italian (Neapolitan) and half-German. Mike’s mother and father were born in Naro, Sicily, but did not meet there. His father came to America at age two. His mother came to America when she was twenty-three. Her Uncle Palo, who lived in the U.S., suggested she come to meet and marry Mike’s father, Salvatore, who was working for Palo at the time.

Mike and I were born in the U.S., and so were my parents. But we were raised similarly. I now find it amusing what a big part the Italian culture plays in a marriage. I didn’t think that way forty years ago.

My mother was my Italian half, so we had more of the Italian influence in the home. I have no relatives left in Italy that I know of, but just the thought of being able to go there was exciting. I thought, other than the scenery, how different could it be? Mike and I were both raised in a predominately Italian culture. We both grew up in families that had insisted, “It’s the Italian thing!” Whether they meant the homemade wine and eggplant parmigiana, or why no one was allowed to sit on the plastic covered sofa, eating in the basement, the vegetables we grew in the garden, or inviting forty relatives over every Sunday for spaghetti and meatballs—it was what they called “the Italian thing.” And my husband and I were ready to see where the whole “Italian thing” began.

For months, we planned the trip, purchasing our plane tickets and even renting a minivan (yikes!) in advance. I was quoted a great price on the van, but to our surprise, the insurance cost more than the rental itself. I inquired if the insurance with our current carrier would cover us in Italy, but was informed that it would not. When I asked the

agent why the insurance was so expensive, her reply was, “Because of the way they drive in Italy.”

I had thought that was funny…at the time.

We purchased gifts for Mike’s family, mainly jewelry. We also purchased small items, such as hand cream, face cream, travel-sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner, hair clips, silk scarfs, T-shirts for the teenagers, small toys, and candy for the children. We purchased whatever we thought his family would like. In our enjoyment, we went overboard buying gifts, but loved every minute of shopping!

Our departure day had finally arrived on December 11, 2002. It was a Wednesday. We had our passports in order, our international driver’s licenses, health insurance coverage, and everything else we could’ve imagined needing. We packed the smallest piece of luggage with most of the gifts. There was not enough room for everything, so I put the rest in my carry-on.

We’d each packed enough clothing for about ten days, planning to wash and re-wear during our stay. Mike had spoken to his cousin, Pasquale, a few days before our departure, and Pasquale had informed us that they did have laundry facilities. I assumed (a cardinal sin) that meant a washer and dryer. We had also purchased a brand new digital camera, and I was bringing my laptop so we could download pictures right onto a CD. Mike had acquired a few electrical adapters. We were proud of ourselves for being so organized. I’d even spoken with our doctor about the trip, and he gave me a prescription for an antibiotic to have filled before we left. I mean, we were golden!

Our daughter, Melissa, drove us to Miami International Airport. Our flight was set to take off at five P.M. We arrived in plenty of time, said our goodbyes, and in we went. We checked the three suitcases, while the two carry-ons, laptop, camera bag and my purse would fly in the cabin with us.

It was going to be a wonderful, relaxing time. We couldn’t wait for it to start. We had plenty of time before we would have to board the plane, so we went into the café near the gate and ordered drinks. We talked about how interesting it was going to be to meet Mikes mother’s family for the first time. Over the years, we had spoken to them on the phone and corresponded in the mail, but this time, we were meeting face to face. Mike understood Italian and could speak it fairly well. I, on the other hand, spoke and understood the language little. The local high school offered an Italian class for travelers, so I had signed up in preparation for the trip. I’d also purchased a language book and tapes. By the end of the course, I was sure I knew enough to get by. I was bringing my English-Italian dictionary with me too. I was all set. I was confident!

Mike and I returned to the gate in time to board, but there came no announcement. Don’t stress, I told myself. We all waited. Several minutes later, we were told the flight would be delayed by one hour. The problem was that we had a connecting flight in Milan that would take us to Catania, our final destination. Mike’s cousins, Pasquale and Lillo, were going to meet us in Catania.

We walked over to the attendant to tell her about our concerns. She advised us not to worry—“Everything will be fine!”—and that the airline would get us to Milan in time to catch our connection. I asked her, how would that be possible? She told me the pilot would make the time up in flight.

I’m not going to let this little snag bother me, I thought. I put my trust in what the flight attendant told us, and we went back to our seats. The wait was almost an hour. Finally, we were able to board, found our seats, put our luggage away, and fastened our seatbelts. We were on our way!

The flight attendants served us dinner. I expected an Italian meal. After all, we were

traveling on an Italian airline. I felt sure there would be some sort of pasta covered in a delicious meat sauce, a nice crispy salad, and maybe even garlic bread. My mouth was watering at the thought. The attendant finally reached our seats to take our orders. I was shocked at the choices: fish with steamed carrots and potato, beef with steamed carrots and potato, or a sandwich. Pasta wasn’t even a choice! We both ordered the sandwich. I realized then that I had a vivid imagination when it came to my expectations about the journey.

I soon learned there was a duty-free shop on the plane. I bought a few more gifts. It helped me to forget about my disappointment in the food.

We settled back in our seats. Mike and I wanted to get some sleep so that we wouldn’t have jetlag, due to the time difference. I had purchased a bottle of over-the-counter sleeping pills, and we each took two. They worked. About a half hour later, we drifted off to sleep. When we woke up, we felt refreshed, and the pilot announced we would arrive in Milan in less than an hour. We would then catch our flight to Catania.

Originally, there was supposed to be a short layover in Milan, but our flight was more than slightly late, which left us with only minutes to catch our connecting flight. Mike is six-foot-three and a big person, and I am not a tiny woman. Neither one of us was in shape. My husband also has a few health issues, and we are not spring chickens. And yet, we had only minutes to catch our flight!

I thought the airline would accommodate us if we needed help. Perhaps a golf cart, or some other motorized vehicle. An attendant met us as we exited the plane. She seemed to know who we were (the pilot had probably radioed ahead and said to look for the two biggest people on the plane), and told us to follow her. She was young, pretty, and looked fit. She spoke perfect English, and was going to take us to the gate for the last leg of our trip. She advised us that they were holding the flight for us. (No pressure there!)

She started out at a fast walk. I told Mike while still on the plane that I was sure there would be a vehicle to take us to the gate. We each had a carry-on, and I also carried the computer, camera, and of course my large purse. It was a lot to haul, so I asked about a vehicle. The answer was no.

I told Mike I would tell her he needed a wheelchair. “I’ll push you myself,” I told him. He said, “Don’t you dare!” I asked about our other luggage, and was told not to worry, they would take care of it. The attendant simply said to follow her to the gate. She forgot to tell us the gate was what seemed like two miles away.

She was trim and could walk fast with no problem. We, on the other hand, with our luggage, were having a difficult time keeping up with her. She kept looking back at us and urging us on. I imagined her thinking, What the hell is the matter with these two that they can’t even walk fast enough? In the meantime, we were huffing and puffing as if trying to climb Mt. Everest, sweat pouring off of our faces and in other places. I could almost feel passersby laughing at us trying to keep up.

We finally made it to the gate. Much to my shock, the plane was a tiny passenger jet, not a big jetliner. I never felt safe in small planes. The stress was building, no matter what I told myself. It was there, ready and waiting, and by the look on Mike’s face, he felt the same as me.

The attendant rushed us onto the plane. There was no time to ask about the size of the jet. The flight was full. We were so embarrassed to have kept everyone waiting! Mike, with help from the attendant, secured our bags in the overhead storage. Finally, we were seated and ready for takeoff. I was drawing in deep breaths, not by choice, but because I felt like I had just run a twenty-six-mile marathon. I felt like I’d lost a lung!

The flight was supposed to be an hour and twenty minutes, but I wasn’t counting on

it. After we were able to replace enough oxygen in our lungs, we began to calm down. The attendants were accommodating and we were able to get a cold drink.

We flew over the Alps. They were majestic. Snowcapped mountaintops popped through the clouds like giant ice cream cones. I snapped some photos, and peace returned to my abused body. The exhilaration was again building in us, and we put the hiccup of Milan out of our minds.

https://www.amazon.com/Italian-Thing-Patricia-Salamone-ebook/dp/B00EL0AGIG

35 thoughts on “THE ITALIAN THING

  1. A good read, your trip to Italy. Everything is well explained from the excitement of the trip to the boarding of the flight. And yes, flight meal usually disappoint our expectations, haha. Excited to read more about your trip.
    Love
    Purva

    Liked by 5 people

  2. This was such a treat to read, Patricia. Mary, my domestic partner and soul mate of 43 years, who died suddenly of a cerebral aneurysm in 2010, was of Sicilian ancestry. Her grandparents came to the US from Catania and established a bakery in Massachusetts, in the early 20th century. Though I am not of Italian extraction, I came to know and love ‘the Italian thing” most dearly over the years as an “adopted” daughter in her family. I’ve ordered your book on kindle. I think It will bring many smiles and tears. Thank you!

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Editorial Reviews

    Review

    “I laughed out loud; other times, I had tears in my eyes. By the time I was done, I felt like I was part of the family. For a lighthearted and humorous travel memoir all about family, food, and terrific memories, I recommend this quick and heartwarming read.” – C.K. Brooke, Editor, Author of the Jordinia Series

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I was lucky to also have a trip to Italy. When my hubby worked for a different company… Though he did not have much time off, – he had been there before and new of the traffic concerns and would not drive in Rome. We got to go to Pompeii. But mostly stayed in this little tourist town. Were I doubt I had any relatives. Though I have some from both the north and the south!

    I wonder if I’ll ever get a month of vacation at one time in a unique place? I don’t have a kindle…but I wish you all the best with your book.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. This excerpt recalls our wonderful trip to Italy in 1999. We took an art tour, which I made up from the graduate Art History course I had taken. Rome and Florence were open door art museums. Love Tuscany too. The Almalfi coast, including Positano, set my heart aflutter. My husband and I had a big flap under the bougainvillea. I write about it here: https://plainandfancygirl.com/2014/09/03/moments-of-extreme-emotion-meet-me-under-the-bougainvillea/

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Caro Patrizia! Ho semplicemente amato la tua storia! Sorrisi come leggere ogni pagina ho riso alla lente a contatto e si sentiva per Mike. Io pubblicare una recensione su Amazon, se non questa sera poi domani. Vi ringrazio entrambi per avermi ricordato di cultura italiana una volta di più. Lo amavo! To those who cannot read this…..I SIMPLY ADORED IT!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Caro Danny

      Grazie mille. Non posso credere letto il mio libro nuovo, che meraviglia di voi, e vedo l’ora di un’altra recensione del maestro di parola. Sì il contatto mescolato con i gusci dell’arachide è stato un disastro. Non ho usato tutti i lingua che è stato detto in quel momento ma credo è stato sconvolto in quello che ho
      stava dicendo. Grazie ancora siete un vero gioiello.

      Dear Danny
      Thank you so much. I can not believe you read my book again, how wonderful of you, and I look forward to another review from the word master. Yes the contact mixed in with the peanut shells was a disaster. I did not use all the language that was said at that moment but believe I was shocked at what I was saying. Thanks again you are a gem.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Your excerpt reminds me of our trip to Italy in 1999. As we did in Paris and London (crazy us), we drove in Rome, so I can vouch for wild Italian driving. I should say Cliff drove and I screamed!

    You tell a great story with believable dialogue.
    Caio!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Enjoyed the read. I am second generation Italian. Mother’s side Sicilian, Father’s side Roman. Growing up in Italian household was a unique and special thing. All the women would beat the kids with the giant wooden salad spoon if we just sneezed the wrong way. That darn spoon probably never mixed one bit of lettuce and tomato !

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Carl. MY mother’s family was from Naples. My husband’s mother and father were born in Sicily, from the town of Naro. They met after both came to the U.S., so it was my husbands aunts, uncles and cousins we visited. I am glad you enjoyed the read. We had an unforgetable trip. Your surname sounds so familiar to me I think my parents knew a family by that name and then of course there is the famous Deli in New York by that name. ☺☺

      Like

      • Yes, we are Staten Islanders but not related to the grocery store people but I did play it to the max. I was up there in 1985 and got the super treatment every restaurant we went thinking I was part of D’Agostino’s. They gave me what was Sinatra’s table Tavern on the Green.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I don’t know but I do know my mother’s parents were poor peasants (lived in Pt Richmond, SI). Her father died when she was 9 I think and all the men from her father’s village got together paid off the house and my grandmother was able to raise 5 children as a seamstress in the dress factories. My mother did not have a coat and the teacher at Curtis High School gave her one. My father wore the hand me down shoes of family adults stuffed with newspaper so they would fit (Mariners Harbor, SI) . Rest of the family clothing factory workers, barbers and shoemakers. My father’s father (Rome) was a jockey and the jockey’s purse for a race he won was a ticket to America. He was then soon drafted to serve in WW 1. Rev Derogatis was a Presbyterian minister on Staten Island and helped many people from Sicily and all the people renounced the Catholic Church and became Presbyterians ! Times have changed , neighborhoods change but the church is still there, Mt Olivet Presbyterian Church, the first and only Italian Presbyterian church in America. Everyone is dead now but I do have one cousin from my father’s side and two from my mother’s side.

    These were hard working Christian people and they hated the Mafia because of the crime and the disgrace and the shame they brought upon the Italian people.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow! What a great memoir that would make. Most immagrants came here with nothing and worked for everything they have. Unfortunately the Mafia are like the politions here, the difference is Sicily is a small Island and the U.S. is huge and even then the Mafia was able to take a foot hold, not so much now days though thank goodness.
      I hope you think about writing your memoirs, I would buy it in a heart beat.
      Thank you for following my blog, hope you enjoy my offerings. ☺☺

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: WHEN I AM GONE | TINA FRISCO

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