Having returned home to Sorrento unscathed, my family was eager to hear about my day in Naples. Roberto started: "Did you have pizza!?", a treat I missed during my first trip to Naples. I let him know I did, in fact, have a DELICIOUS margherita pizza, but I left out the part about having eaten the whole thing. It was a convenient omission given the fact that we were in the midst of enjoying a hearty bowl of pasta fagioli, a specialty of Roberto's family. This pasta fagioli was unlike any I'd had before... it was not a soup but a mix of random pasta shapes in a porridge of thick bean puree. Roberto and Mena encouraged me to put "pepperoncini" (wet red pepper) on top along with some grated parmesan before eating. Delicious.
Since we were on the topic of food, I remembered the piece of pie I had sitting in the fridge for their forensic analysis. "OH!", I nearly shouted, "There is a piece of pie in the fridge that I NEED you to taste and tell me how to make it!". They refused the offer but let me know what I'd tasted was a classic lemon ricotta pie, "Very easy to make." I live for my Mom's ricotta pie, but this lemon number was unbelievable. Imagine the intense flavor of the best lemon pound cake you've ever had, but now imagine that flavor in a light ricotta filling. YUM. Anyway, Roberto's "recipe" was similar to every "recipe" you'll ever get from an Italian, which is to say a vague collection of ingredients with no specifics on quantity, procedure, or really anything you need to actually create the item in question. (Yes, I'm looking at you, Gram. "Did I forget to tell you I put mustard in the meatballs?").
What Roberto WAS willing to share was the secret to making a great cup of espresso using the macchinetta. It might have been the desperation in my voice when I asked: "Can you please show me how you make the coffee? When you prepare it the coffee flows from the top like a beautiful fountain. When I prepare the pot the coffee shoots out like messy fire cracker!" He got into his serious mode... the mode he uses to talk about that which he's passionate. I know he's in this mode because he tilts his head slightly down, looks at me through the top of his eyes, puts the palm of his hand - facing out at me - by his face and begins... "Guarda" (Look...).
He went on to explain that the machines in the coffee bars are pressurized in order to have hot water on-demand. Therefore, when you make espresso in a bar, you must pack down the coffee grinds firmly, or else you'll just get "flavored water." Conversely, the pot at home is not pressurized, so you must place the grinds in loosely (Sousa Mistake #1) and only fill the base with water up to the value (Sousa Mistake #2) in order to allow steam to accumulate, which makes the coffee brew. For those of you who are scientifically inclined, you're probably thinking "DUH!", but for me this was a revelation. He walked me through a dry run and told me to practice today. If I didn't get a beautiful crema, we'd have another lesson after dinner tonight. UPDATE: Looks like I need to clear my schedule this evening...
"The Bridge Home" documents the 30-day immersion of an Italian-American from Fall River, Massachusetts into the language and culture of Italy, by way of the Sant'Anna Institute* in Sorrento.
10:28am: Return to Napoli and How to Make the Perfect Espresso
As Lodge members, we often talk about the importance of emphasizing that "being Italian" is about more than just wonderful food. So, as I write to you from the home of our ancestors, I am sorry to devote so much time to food, but when you live in the house of a Neapolitan gourmand - and you yourself live to eat - it's hard to avoid.
Yesterday I returned to Napoli to join the "Archaeology: Cities of Fire" class at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, led by the amazing Professor Ilaria Tartaglia, who specializes in the archeological history of Pompeii and Ercolano (Herculaneum). The Museum's building was originally constructed as a horse stable in the 17th century and was later transformed into the University of Naples. In 1750, Carlo di Borbone (Charles III of Spain, who conquered Naples and Sicily) created the museum, expanded the structure and began to build the collection that resides there to this day. One of the most famous, the Farnese Collection, dates back to 1543 and Roman Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, who became Pope Paul III. Despite strong protest from the papacy, the collection was moved from Rome to Naples in 1787 by Ferdinand IV, son of Charles III. The history and bloodlines are a total wormhole, so I'm going to leave the background there ;-)
The collections are incredible... ranging from MASSIVE marble sculptures found in ancient Roman baths to intricate mosaics found, fully intact, on the floors of homes in Pompeii. One of my favorites, pictured right, seems morbid but, as described by Prof. Tartaglia, was a common symbol of the time - a "carpe diem" of sorts - reminding people that death is among them so life must be lived to the fullest.
6:52pm: "Just one more ride?"
With just four days left in my Italian adventure I'm starting to feel like the kid at an amusement park who smells departure afoot and doubles-down on the demands. "Can I have all your recipes?" "Can you watch me make coffee and tell me what I'm still doing wrong?" "Can we take a family picture together?" "Can you show me all the irregular verbs that take "essere" in the past tense instead of "avere?" You know, the usual.
I'm trying to stay in the moment, but it's tough! I really want to come home and be able to dazzle everyone with my amazing Italian, but that's not going to happen when I still speak at toddler speed. As my teacher Simona said to me this morning: "There is THIS MUCH Italian [arms spread wide open] and we have taught you his much [hands nearly touching]." All together now: "Piano, piano!"
So, I'm going to take a deep breath and just drink in every last great moment. Today I went for a long walk to Sant'Agnello, winding through neighborhoods, reading graffiti and staring - still in awe - at the orange and lemon trees. Tomorrow I'm going to get up bright and early and hit the weekly open-air Sorrento "mercato". Wednesday night I get to cook stuffed squid with Roberto and Mena! And who knows, Thursday night maybe I'll just sit back, relax, "take a coffee", enjoy the views... and research which irregular verbs take "essere" in the past tense.
A lover of all things challenging, Lori is an Italian-American who returned home to her native Massachusetts after 12 years in Washington, D.C... and a brief stint in Peace Corps Ukraine. Her greatest joys are her family, laughing with friends, The Economist Magazine, beer, travel, eating Italian food, running around outside and napping with her dog, Eleanor Roosevelt.
After visiting the mosaics, Prof. Tartaglia let us know we were about to enter the "risque" section of the museum that had been sealed to the public for many years. The Gabinetto Segreto, or "Secret Cabinet", contains a collection of "erotic art" and phallic curios found during the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Selfie with Caesar, because why not?
(Note: Dear Santa, please bring me some eye cream with Retinol).
An Italian-American in Sorrento, Italy.
*The information and opinions shared on this blog in no way reflect the opinions or policies of the Sant'Anna Institute. The rights of this content are reserved by the author.
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Gabinetto Segreto: Enter at your own risk!
When the objects were originally discovered, historians interpreted them as proof of a pervasive, deviant culture. Over time the objects were understood as symbols of good luck, good fortune and a very "literal" representation of joy. I'll keep it family-friendly here and only post the entrance, but OF COURSE I have pictures from the interior. Next time you see me, ask to see them on my phone -- no judgement (lol).
Death, the ever-present equalizer, as represented by the monkey skull balancing the clothing of the wealthy (L) with the clothing of the poor (R). The butterfly under the skull represents "the soul" and the wheel is the "wheel of fortune". A quiet reminder to live life to the fullest, often found in dining room mosaics.