Italian for Beginners

The Great Italian Adventure started early on Thursday morning. As we stopped to buy a toll pass at the border, the man asked us “Do you want a ticket for all of Europe or just Austria?” Austria? Imagine discovering you’re in Austria without knowing it. Our drive through the Swiss Alps was nothing short of breathtaking. All was going smoothly until Tom Tom took us on a suspicious detour from the highway. We raised our eyebrows, but followed obediently. The road became narrower and narrower, and then petered out completely. Suddenly, a man skied past us. We looked around to realise Tom Tom had lead us into the heart of a Swiss ski resort, and now wanted us to drive straight onto the slope. Am I the only one who wonders whether Tom Tom is actually controlled by an unseen evil genius?

I arrived in Italy hoping to experience something of quintessential Italian life. The tiny town of Varenna could not have more perfectly met my expectations. Tiny cobbled streets, beautiful stone buildings with colourful shutters, steep hillsides with olive and citrus trees, and a sensational view over the lake and Alps. By the end of four days, we were on first name terms with Pietro, the shopkeeper (he makes his own bresaola and a very intersting donkey salami) and had tried three of his wine recommendations.  Rose was a huge hit with the locals (I think it was the blonde hair) and received countless exclamations of “bellisima!” and “mia bella bambina!” By the way, she heard her first real ducks quacking. Incredible how close hers was to the real thing.

But the stand out experience came courtesy of my beloved.  In a moment of sheer magnificence, Tony had organised for Lesley and I to take an Italian cooking lesson with a local restauranteur. We were picked up from the ferry dock by Mareno’s daughter Francesca, and driven high into the hillside. As the hairpin bends got sharper, Francesca tooted her horn around each hair-raising corner to warn anyone else crazy enough to be on the road. Moreno’s only other pupil for the day had cancelled, so Lesley and I were treated to a six-hour, one-on-two lesson in fresh pasta, creamy gnocchi and Milanese risotto. Heavenly. Its hard to imagine how Moreno makes a living, given the daring location and the fact that Gittana has just 150 residents (his family have lived there for 1000 years). But his humour and hospitality make it easy to see. Asking anxiously whether my pasta was rolled thinly enough, he declared (heavy Italian accent necessary) “Ally, if it was any thinner it would be a newspaper!”

Just in case I’ve started to gush, I feel bound to tell you that the view was shrouded by fog for almost our whole stay, and that the day trip we made to Milan was an unmitigated disaster culminating in the revelation that reservations must be made months in advance to view The Last Supper. Lessons learned:

1. Flea markets are just as seedy in Europe as they are in Dapto

2. Italian ticket machines don’t give change for notes

3. Seeing Italy does not make you Italian and therefore more interesting/glamorous

I’ll leave you with this piece of encouragement given by Moreno on the subject of language learning:

“English is for singing a song, French is for talking about love, Italian is for praying to God, and German is for talking to a dog.”



9 Responses to “Italian for Beginners”

  1. 1 Jo March 23, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    I’ve been transported to another world that I have only dreamed of throughout your blog. But today, such delights and dreams fulfilled through you…all the way to Moreno and his cooking lesson. This has come at a perfect time for me. Thank you for your blog and the joy it brings and the glimpse into another world I have yet to experience…but don’t need to quite as much because of you. Oh and by the way…definitely more interesting and glamorous!!!

  2. 2 Arthur March 24, 2010 at 3:24 am

    So glad to hear that you had a wonderful few days in Italy – Milan not quite so wonderful from the sounds of it. Tony sure comes up with some wonderful surprises!! I can just picture you and Lesley slaving away in the kitchen of an Italian master cook. Make sure you pass on his tips and recipes won’t you.

    You photography is wonderful too. Loved the alpine scenery and that shot of a laughing Rose in the back seat.



  3. 3 kerentravels March 24, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    Briliant. Sounds like you had a wonderful time, and that you’ll be cooking some beautiful italian pasta for me sometime soon

  4. 4 Gerri and Torb March 25, 2010 at 4:39 am

    Ally, I had just to reply to this blog!!!!!!!
    Bella Italia!!
    This is the area that Torbs and I will be visiting in September, this year.
    We will be staying on Lake Como in a little town called Lezzenno, just for four nights, but hope to take in a lot of the sights in this magnificent area.
    How wonderful that you were able to experience some cooking lessons too!
    Do you sometimes have to pinch yourself to know that it is all real?
    Ally, I have to say too that your photographs are incredible. They really capture the moment. You are a very talented photographer.
    Love Gerri..xx

    • 5 mavisandfrank March 25, 2010 at 10:56 am

      Thanks Gerri! I thought of you the whole time we were there. And yes, I did pinch myself several times. It was such a beautiful area, I’d love to go back. Especially in summer when you could swim. The lake was so clean! When will you be there?

      • 6 Gerri and Torb March 26, 2010 at 3:32 am

        Ally, we will be there from 17.9.10 to 21.9.10.
        Hoping the weather will still be warm enough for a little paddling and splashing in the splendid waters of Lake Como!
        Prior to this, we will be in Venice for a couple of days and before that the Marche and Abruzzo regions where family wedding will take place! We finish up in Rome via Tuscany.
        Oh how I love the sound of those words!
        Love Gerri..xx

  5. 7 Stephanie Riemer March 25, 2010 at 4:58 am

    Ally darling- I was so thrilled to read about your Italian adventures. A whole day of cooking school! I have no doubt you enjoyed that. Keeping having adventures because I love hearing about them.
    the 2 (and a half) Canadians

  6. 8 Annaleise March 26, 2010 at 3:12 am

    Hi Ally,

    Thanks for keeping your blog up to date. I would have been disappointed if I couldn’t have read about how your trip to Italy went pronto (and I was interested to hear about Sal’s shop and crafting evenings). I thought Rose’s classy coat looked particularly fabulous with the cobblestones 🙂 And good on Tony with the cooking lesson. It sounds fabulous/incredible. Though the tooting round each corner sounds a bit too death defying for my liking 🙂 I hope you’re all going well.

    Love Lil

  7. 9 Jill April 17, 2010 at 4:01 am

    Hi Ally,

    Like Annaleise, LOVE the blue coat. Suits the wearer, a credit to the maker and adds punch to the photos. So glad you got to taste the delights, literal and metaphorical, of that part of Italy. I tasted, but didn’t get to make, so will await a lesson in the future. There is an Italian girl from the Lake Como area coming here in January for a year’s exchange. Wonder what she’ll make of the reverse ‘new’ experience? Love, as ever, Jill

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A girl with a camera, a toddler and a sewing machine. Making sense of Germany... and life in general.

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