Thursday, February 19, 2004

Potatoes and Cauliflower

Working at Antonello's factory is crazy. It has been one of the more interesting experiences of recent memory (I had never, until now, cut soles out of rubber using a scary machine, tied so many bows in a single hour, or learned such irrelevant shoe-words in Italian), not to say that it is one that I am especially thrilled about. Each day I look forward to the radio beep saying that it's 6:30 and closing-time, and I go home at night with hands covered in icky spots of glue and no real desire to cook dinner. It's all taken some getting used to, but, I always remind myself that at least it gives me something to do, and a little earned money. And above all, it's quite humbling.

Every once in a while, though, there is a pleasant buzz at the factory, and chatter erupts. Sandro, Antonello's brother, is a talker, and if he gets started, no matter the subject, he'll go on for a while. This, mixed with the fact that we workers are all from other places--me from America, Sweety from India, and Elena from Napoli--and have a hard time understanding makes some days quite interesting. Antonello will say something to me which I won't understand and he'll have to repeat, all the while Sweety will think he is talking to her and say "What? What?" and then Elena will start off on her own, as she often does, about what she thinks the chatter is about (normally we will be talking about something entirely different, and she will be going on about her own life, her own world, matter-of-factly as if this is the subject at hand).

In the end, it's an orchestra of American, Indian, Napolitan, and Italian accents. Well, an orchestra is generous. Some might just call us noise. But it's refreshing, and days like these leave me smiling in the end.

The other morning was such a day, as Sandro, searching for topics of discussion as he often does, asked Sweety what she was going to make for lunch. She started talking rather vaguely about a potato and cauliflower dish she had in mind. I was interested specifically because I like Indian food, and, two nights prior, Antonello and I had made an Indian dish called Aloo Gobi (curried potato and cauliflower) for dinner. So I asked Sweety if what she was making was Indian. She said it was, and I mentioned that I had cooked an Indian dish that week. We talked for a moment about that and how easy Indian food was to make, and how good.

When I mentioned the name of the dish, though, Sweety's eyes lit up. "You know Aloo Gobi?!" as if they were friends of hers. Honestly, Aloo and Gobi are two of the ONLY words I know in Hindi, but I nodded. She started smiling very brightly, and Sandro came over and was interested.

"What is it? Potatoes? Cauliflower?" Sandro said, coming over to hear our conversation. "Al-oo Go-bee?" He said the words with precision and care as Sweety nodded excitedly. In the corner I could hear Elena going on about pasta and cauliflower ("I love pasta and cauliflower. Cauliflower is very good. I make it often.") thinking we were talking about Italian food. Sandro then explained to her: "No, it's Aloo Gobi! It's Potato and Cauliflower in Indian!"

After a few minutes the factory was filled with these two words. "Aloo, Gobi," Sandro kept repeating, and all the while Sweety was delighted and laughing.

Then I mentioned Naan, that traditional Indian flatbread that is so good, and Sweety just about fell over. "You know Naan?" I was starting to wonder if perhaps these really were friends of hers. I could just imagine--Aloo and Gobi hanging out with Naan, cooking Italian food.

And the workday ended like this--everyone smiling: Sandro repeating "Aloo Gobi," Sweety nodding, me laughing, and Antonello just shaking his head.

And Elena, putting on her coat and talking about her own thing. "I have a garden outside," she said. "Outside. Gardens are very nice."

Ahh, the noise (music?) of miscommunication.


Sicilian bananas and Hoosier sunshine

Apart from the day I signed up for AHA's Macerata Italy program ("the best experience of my life (so far!)"), some of my favorite times at Ball State University were days like these...the first little tastes of spring. Walking across campus on days like today was like discovering a new world for the hundredth time. We were all - students, professors, trees, flowers - climbing out from the heavy layers of winter insulation and feeling the sunshine again for the first time.

So the standards are high for today's walk across downtown to the restaurant. I have a feeling even Indianapolis is up to the challenge.

Last night I saw Johnny Stecchino for the first time. Great flic! Must remember the moral of the story for our upcoming trip to Bell'Italia...keep away from the bananas!


Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Buon San Valentino (in ritardo)!

Happy St. Valentine's day to everyone, albeit a little late. As you may already know, San Valentino was a saint from Italy--born in Terni (in Umbria) where he was bishop. You can still go to Terni to visit his remains (although I hear that's about all you can do in Terni--a very industrial city that has, as of recently, been the center of one of Italy's many popular strikes).

However, despite the saint relics, St. Valentine's Day is very similar here to America: commercialized beyond belief with Ferrero chocolate hearts everywhere and Perugina candies in tins with quotes on them. It is pleasant, though, walking down the main streets and seeing hearts in all of the store windows, and old men going home with bouquets of red roses in their arms, no doubt for their lovely brides.

Antonello and I had a pleasant enough Valentine's Day--a nice dinner at one of the osterias in town and enough chocolate to last a month (well, with Antonello's sweet tooth, more like a week).

I did try to bring some of my ideas of Valentine's Day here, though. In Italy, it's very much a holiday of romantic love--you would probably not see children in school giving paper Valentine cards out to all of the other children. Maybe it's just an American marketing scheme, but I like the idea of giving cards to friends, to family, as a way of celebrating love in general, not just romantic.

Anyway, Valentine's day morning, Antonello and I hurried over to the flower store and I picked up two gerber daisies (wrapped as cute as can be in true Italian fashion) and one of those primrose-type potted plants (that I've been seeing all over balconies here in Macerata lately) for Antonello's Mamma and Nonna. It was the least I could do for daily lunches at their house, and, seeing Nonna holding that big yellow boquet with a single yellow daisy in it at lunchtime was priceless. Besides, what's Valentine's Day without gerber daisies, pasta, and a teethy smile from Nonna? :)


By the way--sorry these posts have been few and far between lately. Busy week, but I will hopefully write more tomorrow! (I have a fun Indian food story to tell...)