I hope you're all enjoying the beginnings of a great 4th of July weekend--or Canada Day as the case may be. Thank you all for such great comments on yesterday's post, it's nice to hear that so many of you out there feel the same way as I do, gives me a feeling that maybe I'm not so crazy after all.
Anyway. . . on with today's post! Michelle Fabio was June's Write-Away Contest judge and she was kind enough to answer some of my questions.
Her blog is Bleeding Espresso where she writes about her life in Calabria, Italy where she lives with her fiance Paolo and assorted animals. You'll probably pick up many of the details of her life as you read the questions I put to her--she graduated from law school, has great advice for freelance writers, likes to cook . . . a multi-talented and very interesting person.
By the time I got to her last few answers I was drooling just thinking about that fresh mozzarella!
I’m so envious of your chance to live in Italy. It’s a place I’ve dreamed of visiting. Give us the best thing about living there and then the worst. Is there a worst? Or is it all just perfection?
The best part of living here for me is the oft-overwhelming feeling of peace I have here; I'm the kind of person that could be happy just about anywhere, but living here simply feels so very right for me. The worst part about living here is that my family and old friends don't live closer than an ocean away.
I know you came to Italy and met your fiancé Paolo when you didn’t speak any Italian and he didn’t speak any English. You’ve got to explain how that worked. It must have been an instant connection or something.
Well, the premise of the question is partly true: it's true that I didn't speak Italian when I landed in Italy, but I was actually already living here (in a village of 300 and only one other English speaker) for a year and a half before I met Paolo. By then I was speaking Italian at a decent level, although the learning process certainly went much faster post-Paolo.
You got a law degree but never practiced law. How long did it take you after your clerkship to decide you wanted out of the law? What prompted it? Did your family have anything to say about it?
Actually I knew I didn't want to practice law before I went to law school. I had always planned on doing something alternative with my law degree, something in legal research and writing, possibly even a lifetime law clerk (I *loved* my clerkship and definitely would've sought out another had I stayed in the States). Writing was always my ultimate goal, and despite the fact that lawyers get a bad wrap for their writing, law school does teach you how to make solid arguments and not leave holes in your writing that others can exploit--very good lessons for a writer of any genre, I think.
My family really didn't say anything to *me* about my decision to come to Italy and not practice law, although if they talked amongst themselves, I don't know. I've always kind of done my own thing, so I don't know that any of this was all that shocking for them.
Do you see yourself living forever in Italy? Would you ever move back to the U.S.? I know you miss family there but which side of the Atlantic feels more like home?
As of right now, I don't envision myself living in the United States for an extended period of time again. I love both my countries (I'm also an Italian citizen), but as I said in the first question, I just feel at peace here. This is where I belong, at least right now--and that's how I live my life, in the now. Plus I also have a family and responsibilities now here too with Paolo, my dogs, my goats, chickens, rabbits, ducks, etc. It's just like anyone else who moves away from "home" even if it's just to another town in your state--you create your new home and if you like it there, you stay and probably don't think too much about 20 years down the road.
You have two goats that get some press on your blog—what other pets have you had over the years? Anything else you’d like to keep?
Actually we recently added another kid to the mix :) I've mostly been a dog caretaker over the years; I've also had a few cats and some fish as a child. As I wrote above, we also have chickens, rabbits, and ducks, but I wouldn't exactly call them pets if you know what I mean. I would love to have a little lamb to go with our kids and someday, if we can find a way to get more land, I wouldn't mind a donkey and/or a horse. I would have a zoo if I could!
I can imagine that learning the basics of a language is hard enough but getting fluent enough to really get the idioms and humor takes some time. When did you get to that point where you could joke in Italian? Is the Italian sense of humor very different from the American? If so how?
Excellent question. I think the Italian sense of humor is actually quite similar in many ways, but our reference points are just so different. Puns, for instance, are quite common here as well, but you have to know those idioms and double meanings well to really get the gist of some of them. And in the same way not all Americans have the same sense of humor, neither do all Italians, so it's a bit of a difficult question to answer. I will say, though, that Italians seem to love variety shows way more than Americans. Weird, but true.
I don't really remember the point when I could joke in Italian, but I do know it's a great feeling to make Paolo laugh :)
What would you say the Italian perceptions of Americans are? Do they have stereotypes? Have you had any personal experiences with this?
Well, some Italians *love* Americans, love to practice their English, would fly to NYC tomorrow if they could. Others think of Americans as introducing many of the nasty things to the world, e.g., McDonald's and everything biggerbiggerbiggeryesssssss! I think it's still pretty common for some Italians to think Americans are wealthy--especially those that travel here.
The only personal experience with stereotypes I can think of is the sheer surprise many here had/have that I grew up eating much of the same food as they did since I grew up in an Italian-American home...I'm pretty sure they thought I hate hamburgers and hot dogs every day, and that I put ketchup and mayonnaise or some kind of sauce on everything (I really don't, I swear!).
If someone was coming to visit Italy and only had one week how would you plan their itinerary?
My best advice is to not think of your holiday as a trip of a lifetime. From the get-go, plan on coming back here so you can really focus on one or two cities in that week and enjoy them rather than flitting around trying to see too much and really losing sight of everything in the process. I'd say fly into Rome, hang out there for most of the week, and hit Florence for two days or so. Then start planning for the next trip.
You come from Pennsylvanian coal country—and Pennsylvania Dutch stock--which seems quite the opposite from the Italian side of your family but have you found any similarities?
STUBBORNNESS! And extreme pride in their heritage. My grandfather was Lithuanian (yet another thrown in the mix), and believe-you-me, you did *not* want to mistakenly say he was Polish....
You’ve had some great posts about freelance writing, what kind of goals do you have related to your writing career? Any projects in the works?
My two most current goals are to start working my way into more mainstream print magazines and also to publish a book or 12 ;) I have a few novels in the works, actually--and by that I mean, I've written most of a first draft of a few, and they're sitting in my computer waiting for me to make time to get back to them.
What was the first thing you ever wrote professionally? As in “got paid for”?
In law school, I wrote case summaries/articles for Philadelphia's The Legal Intelligencer, the oldest law journal in the United States. Thinking about it now, that gig was probably what convinced me I could actually use my legal training and love of writing together, so it's rather appropriate that it was my first paying gig.
You love to read . . . do you read more in Italian or English? What are your favorite books?
I read *way* more in English; I've probably only read five or six Italian books total, but I'm working on it. In Italian books, they use a funny tense that really isn't used in spoken Italian, which means it's a bit more challenging for me; I never learned "book" Italian, only through listening and repeating.
My favorite books are many and vary by mood, but generally Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen are particular favorites. I loved "Chocolat" by Joanne Harris, "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho (which I read in Italian!), Sarah Dunant books, Ladies No.1 Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith, the Mitford series by Jan Karon, Janet Evanovich, Lisa Scottoline, Anita Shreve, Michael Baldacci...so many! I'll read absolutely anything you put before me, especially since buying English books here is quite difficult (and then, expensive).
You like to cook—what is your favorite thing to whip up as a late night snack? What foods do you miss the most from America and what are we missing out on?
This will sound weird, but I really don't do late night snacks. We tend to eat dinner quite late--between 8 and 10 p.m (the latter more in the summer), so there isn't really much snacking going on. If I'm hungry between meals and feel like making something, it depends on what's in season...right now, I'd have a couple figs or slice of melon wrapped in prosciutto crudo or maybe some tahini-less hummus (tahini is hard to find so I substitute peanut butter). In the winter, maybe a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich or popcorn made on the stove with olive oil. Or, you know, a chocolate bar, chips, yogurt, or ice cream--but I don't whip them up ;)
Foods missed from America, in no particular order:
Bacon (yes we have pancetta--delicious but not the same)
Cheddar cheese (yes we have a million kinds of cheese, but nothing like cheddar)
Cottage cheese (ditto)
Different salad dressings
Good mayo (we have it here, but it's more Miracle Whip-y tasting, which I don't like)
Different ethnic foods like Chinese, Mexican, etc. (most Italian cities do have at least a semblance of these, but I live in the boonies)
What are Americans missing out on? Mozzarella made from buffalo's milk, especially with ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, and a drizzle of fresh olive oil. Caprese salad made in Italy (as close to Capri as you can get) is like *nothing* you've ever tasted before. And of course I love my prosciutto crudo as mentioned above. And authentic pizza. And oh dear, you really must come and eat your way through Italy!
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