THE NEXT BEST THING TO BEING THERE
When I’m not yelling at my computer for its impromptu errant behavior, I find it to be quite useful. You’re reading this blog post, so you understand what I’m saying. For me, one of its most serviceable features is the “video chat.” I’ve used Skype, FaceTime and Google Hangouts for long-distance conversations over the Internet, and with a strong connection it’s the next best thing to being there. So when a book club across the country in New Hope, Pennsylvania asked me if I would be able to come to their meeting at which my book was scheduled for discussion, I countered with a, “How about a Book Club Skype for Calabria: The Other Italy?”
As it turned out, we used FaceTime. I could see most of them seated on a large sofa and surrounding chairs all looking up at a big-screen TV at my (presumably) smiling face! They were a group of retired schoolteachers so they were even prepared with a large, cloth flag of Italy as well as a good-sized map of the country on a cardboard backing. I could see they had already enjoyed some appetizers (the one thing I missed “across the miles”) and they told me they had also discussed some of the questions from my Reading Groups page, but they were ready with a number of questions directly for me. Here are a few.
BOOK CLUB SKYPE QUESTIONS
- Did you feel safe?
To me, this was an unexpected question. It shouldn’t have been, though, as I’ve been asked this at presentations, as well. Perhaps it stems from a discussion of the ‘Ndrangheta, Calabria’s mafia organization, a subject I address in my book. However, to answer the question directly – Yes, I felt safe in Calabria and the rest of Italy. Of course, crime exists all over the world. Italy’s deep-rooted criminal problem does not normally manifest itself in a sense of personal danger for a tourist or ordinary resident on the street. To me, many neighborhoods in large American cities feel more dangerous compared with those in Italy. Thus said, I’m not one to venture down a dark alley anywhere, and I’ve shaken my head at and even warned those women who have the tendency to leave their purses in grocery carts as they wander the aisles of American supermarkets in what they must think is a completely safe environment.
- Do you need to speak Italian to teach ESL (English as a Second Language) in Italy?
No, you don’t. Carrying out lessons exclusively in the target language is ideal, although explaining difficult concepts in the mother tongue can be helpful and can sometimes save time. The follow-up question was then, “So why did you continue to study Italian and take language tests?” I did it to improve my Italian language skills for better communication and understanding. The international language tests are a great challenge and not only give a sense of accomplishment, but passing comprehensive Italian examinations at advanced levels is a major accomplishment.
- Was the spa hygienic?
I wrote extensively about my visit to the Terme Luigiane, a spa in the Province of Cosenza that offered treatments based on the curative properties of the local hot springs and mud. It was a no-frills type of establishment focused on the health benefits of the experience, and it was definitely hygienic. Italians are very sensitive in that regard, not to mention the applicable laws. The spa complex was clean, and for the various inhalations there were plastic disposable nose and mouth pieces that attached to the breathing apparatuses.
- What recipes do you still make from Calabria?
While I cooked regularly for myself in Calabria, I left the more complicated dishes to the preparation of butcher shops and “tavole calde.” Even pounding just one cutlet and having the ingredients on hand to bread it wasn’t worth the effort when a perfectly good ready-to-cook breaded cutlet could be purchased at the butcher shop. The same held for lasagne, eggplant parmigiana, stuffed chicken thighs, veal rolls and a host of other dishes that were available, ready to pop in the oven from various locations. What I miss, however, are the fresh ingredients, the wonderful cheese, the tomatoes and the wine that doesn’t give me a headache.
Oddly enough, when I think about it, the one thing I prepare regularly in the United States that I first ate in Calabria is the pizza with gorgonzola and green apple. The irony is that gorgonzola hails from northern Italy. On a recent trip to Reggio I found the establishment where I ate this particular pizza closed, so I headed over to the chef’s recently opened, larger restaurant across town. The new place exclusively featured southern Italian cuisine, however, and was thus unable to prepare a pizza with that combination of toppings as they didn’t have any gorgonzola on hand.
- Are you still in touch with your friend Luisa?
Yes. We talk on Skype and exchange emails frequently, and I have been back to Reggio for many extended visits. She’s a dear friend.
- Are you planning on writing a similar book about another location in Europe?
I would like to write another book and am still sifting through ideas in my head. Until then, My Italian Blog keeps me quite busy. Topics include food, art, culture, history, museums, towns, politics, holidays and my book. To subscribe to my blog and receive posts directly to your in-box, just fill in your email on the little form at the bottom of the page. (Don’t worry, your email will not be shared and will only be used for a few blog posts per month.) Calabria: The Other Italy also has a Facebook page, which you can “Like” to see photos and information of interest in your newsfeed. (Click on the link on the upper right-hand side of this page.)
- Would you do it again?
BOOK CLUB SKYPE WRAP-UP
The conversation was of course more extended and there were surely other topics touched upon, but I will leave some questions left for your own Book Club Skype. After we hung up, the group’s host served an Italian dinner with dessert to its members. Talking about Calabria will certainly put you in the mood for a good meal!
Calabria: The Other Italy makes a great gift for travel lovers!