A spaghetti incident

Pasta. 

A handy, quick, happy and satisfying solution to feeding hungry guests. The genius of a clever inventor, the melody of a hit song, a company for the lonely evenings when you’re drowning in intense movies and glasses of red wine. A superstar of supermarkets, a natural and delicious body integrator, the icing on the cake, the… icing on the cake?!

Ok, I’ve got this wrong, let’s start over again.

Ehm…yes…

Pasta.

The nights we’ve spent together have always been so sweet. Well, some have. Me, the movies, and you in huge servings. Parmesan on top and bread aside to clean the plate afterwards. That’s the Italian trick!

Since advertising is by now invading most of the TV broadcasting, I’m obliged to watch hundreds of boring never-ending commercials. One in particular has come to my attention: a pasta sauce named “Pormio”, a proper Italian sauce as the advertisement claims. A happy puppet family is portrayed having dinner altogether in a countryside setting or so, while speaking a horrible English squeezed in a strong and tacky Italian accent. An old-fashioned family in an old-fashioned kitchen – and one of the puppets (the farmer, the father…who knows?!) even had bushy moustaches and a single eyebrow!!! Terrible…

First of all, I would never buy that purple disgusting sauce in my whole life. Secondly, may the gods strike me with lightning if my family and I have ever been waving hands up in the air while speaking out loud or wearing white dirty tank tops. Is it really how people portray Italians?

YES!!!

…Ok, fine.

So that night, I started doing some zapping till I saw a program I do really like: Impossible kitchens USA.

Gordon Irvine was heading to an Italian restaurant in New Jersey with the intent of resolving the issues it was experiencing. Since he is a renowned chef, I couldn’t wait to learn some new recipes while he was coaching the cook on the culinary specialties of our country. And the confusion begins right here: chicken parmesan (I don’t even know what it is), linguine with chicken, pizza with pineapple, ossobuco with shrimp, risotto with mushrooms and chicken. Wow…Seriously?! I believe I don’t need to tell you that these dishes are all but Italian culinary specialties. The worst though was a very simple dish: spaghetti with meatballs. Ok it’s a specialty in southern Italy and we love it, but that one looked hideous! 

Now, I know a thing or two about pasta and when the camera went past the dish, I could see it was horrendously overcooked. Plus the sauce was brownish and sticky, and the meatballs were…I can’t even describe.

Fair enough. Other countries have been creative with our food and it’s alright, maybe something good also came out. Those creativities have eventually become the rule about Italian food abroad till they’ve given birth to stereotypes.

Perhaps, that’s why that Friday evening after work, at the pub right around the corner, an amusing Spanish girl I had just met appeared to be pleased to get to know an Italian guy. She would then politely introduce me to her colleagues highlighting my “fabulous origins” (in her words) – for once, that was utterly flattering. Under all possible circumstances that were making me enjoy the night, the whole setting disgracefully turned gloomy when one of those guys started laughing at me, saying repeatedly that he couldn’t find his wallet–yes, a “funny” reference to the fact that I’m Neapolitan, very funny indeed. And I eventually realised that all that politeness and the appreciation I received were just acts of a wider performance they had set up to mock me.

(Between us, they could have saved the effort).

No, I didn’t lose my temper nor I’d give him a punch on the face, which I should have done. I put on a last fake and pitiful smile before wearing my headphones and walking away.

You know, I could feel discriminated, if it’s to be called discrimination. I could say they were racist, though we didn’t belong to different races. I could say a lot of things but all would mean victimising myself and letting them win.

At the end of the day, as for pasta sauce advertisements, food mis-creativity, and recipes mystifications, I’ll take it very easy and simply call it a spaghetti incident.

Jim
The Britalian Post

Homeland

London, May 2016. 

The hottest spring ever–up to 32 degrees. The sun was literally setting the city on fire. And the people.

I had just moved to a new house in North London: a two-room semi-studio apartment, narrow and long. Practically an ex-garage. Yay! I had finally my own place and indeed couldn’t wait to decorate it with lights, posters, furniture and random stuff, my handprint to make it look like myself. Well, in fact, I hoped it possibly didn’t.. unless I could see a better picture of me at the time, which was obviously not going to happen. 

The huge empty white wall in front of the couch inspired me to fill it with something I knew would make most of my nights: a giant TV. My parents – God bless them from his heights – bought me a 46-inch TV as a present for the new house. They knew I’d love it! So step by step, the house began to look more like MY place, my refuge, my home base, my home. That’s the kind of feeling one needs to feel when living abroad, far from family, friends, and all the things you’ve always known better.

Next step was – of course – celebration. It seems to be a matter of good luck when you do. Therefore I invited over my colleagues – my teammates, my crew, my friends, all in one; the people I would enjoy celebrating it with. 6 different countries, 6 different languages, 7 people (including me): Maximiliano and Maria (Catalonia and Spain), Lazaros (a German-born Austrian-raised Greek guy), Beatriz (Brazil), Colin (France), Mary-Jean (England), myself (well…Italy). Oh yeah, that was a melting pot!

We came all the way east from Uxbridge, which seemed to be a whole different world: a one hour and a half journey plus a 25 min walk under the boiling afternoon sun. The guys might have wanted me dead for that.

The night was super fun – unfortunately, Mary-Jean couldn’t make it. 

We ordered some extra large super fat pizzas from Pizza Hut – jeez I should be ashamed for that! – and beer after beer made us happy through the night. Tequila shots went along with the background music played on Spotify via my brand new TV (yes, I’m very proud of my TV). 

And while our chats and talks were deepening the strong friendship we already had, I told them about the Lithuanian girl I was dating and the invitation to the barbecue at her friends’ house I received. 

Now to set you straight, I don’t really feel comfortable with staying among people that I don’t know at all, so I had declined the sweet offer in the first place.

The guys though had a different opinion. They started with their “you’re so complicated”, “take it easy”, “do you actually wish to go?”, and stuff, to make up my mind. Lazaros was, in fact, more direct: “Jim, what’s the problem?! Is it for free? Or you’re supposed to pay for something?!” What an ass! 

Then with a brave dancing move worthy of a retired but filthy Michael Jackson, he said: “You shall go and make quite an entrance. Is it for free? You moonwalk in! You have to pay? You moonwalk out!” 

Hilarious.

Thus, the day after I went. 

If any of you has ever seen hot weather in London, well, consider you’ve had an experience. I was literally melting! Why did I wear a pair of jeans? What went wrong while dressing up?

Shoreditch was incredible that day, and so was she. Few steps before the corner with Brick Lane we stopped to pick some beverages and chips, and I thought I’d buy a bottle of wine for the hosts as a thank you present for welcoming an unknown guest into their house. The barbecue was taking place on the building rooftop and the sight from up there was breathtaking! The city was bright, clear, open to the admiration of its viewers.

One of the hosts was actually Italian, from Naples like myself, so he would definitely appreciate the wine I chose. “Well done Jim”, I thought.

So I shyly approached him while barbecuing and handed over the bottle of wine along with my thank-you’s. Being told by the guy that I didn’t need to do that cause I’m from Naples, a fellow citizen i.e. a brother, and that I would always be super welcome there, was a priceless reaction. And his well-known accent…

In both these moments, the empathy and the warm hospitality shortened all the long distances and turned those common happenings into a unique space.

London, May 2016. 

No matter where you are, what you do, what language you speak.

That felt like home. That was my homeland.

Jim
The Britalian Post

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