Representations of Urban Italy
23 October 2018
1. How did cooking and eating help you find your way into a foreign city?
--I think when you talk about Italian culture, it’s inevitable that food is going to be at the center of it, because food is at the center of life and relationships are expressed through food, through the preparation and consumption of it. There’s also the fact that I didn’t have a healthy relationship with food and my body when I arrived. I had an eating disorder. There’s an italian word, carnale. It means a way of living in your body and celebrating your appetite that was very healing for me. In my culture, in the United State, appetites were to be reined in rather than satisfied and celebrated and with that there was a sort of discomfort with my own body. When I became part of this world where sharing food and enjoying food was tied into the sacredness of the day it was transformative.
2. And how did food help you tell this story?
--My mother-in-law’s love is expressed through food and through what she cooks. Learning from her how to prepare those dishes and also eating those dishes and receiving her love was really the story of my coming of age in Italy. Then I found that when I became a mother, the food became for me, too, the language of love with me and my children. I also think that the culture itself can really be seen in the recipes, and in the way my mother-in-law prepares those recipes — the fact that things can’t be rushed, that you need to trust your body in the cooking. When I asked her for quantities, it was excruciating, she kept saying it’s all’occhio, “by the eye,” it’s by the feel of your hands. She said, Do you Americans not trust your body, you have to have numbers? It was a generalization obviously, but it’s very much true in my case, I didn’t trust my body, and my senses.
3. How does Italy vary from region to region? What are some key differences between Naples and Rome?
--It really is a different country and I didn’t realize that before, I thought, OK, the accent is slightly different. But there’s a different world view, and there’s a different sense of humor. When I’m out with my husband, I say I need to translate because [he and Romans] don’t understand each other: one will tell a joke and the other doesn’t get it. It’s almost more confusing because they think they speak the same language, but they don’t. Rome is now an international city and it’s big and there are people from all over the place, whereas Naples is still very provincial by comparison.
4. How did Naples transform you as a person?
--Well, as you can imagine, Naples is a polar opposite from the East Coast of the U.S. with our emphasis on achievement and on rational control; in America you’re brought up thinking that you have certain opportunities and if you set your mind to it, you can achieve anything and you can have happiness...