Published in TRU Omega April, 2011
International Days are upon us again. The celebrations on campus are the perfect distraction from studying and writing papers, a time to take in the cultural events and rejuvenate.
With International Days in full swing, I’ve been reminiscing about my own Italian roots. My Nonna lives in the small town of Crotone, in Southern Italy. In many cultures, families gather together around the dinner table, to eat and celebrate. In Italy, the afternoon meal is the largest of the day. When most people think of Italy, they typically think of large platters of pasta and trays of lasagna doused in tomato sauce, but surprisingly those foods are not the ones I normally think of. Usually, when I think of meals at Nonna’s house, I think of all the appetizers that she serves: Plates of hot cappicollo, mortadella, roasted red peppers, provolone, mozzarella and asiago cheeses; sweet, buttery, finely-sliced pickles that jiggle like jello, with ridges resembling lines drawn on a sandy beach; Cheeses with strong aromas; Stoned-wheat crackers, piled high with pieces of tomato, tuna, and olives in half-moon shapes. I remember the many tastes and textures and vibrant colors.
One of my favorite dishes is Nonna’s meatballs - large and tender, a mixture of spiced beef, fine bread crumbs and diced onions, lovingly prepared in the early morning hours by Nonna and Auntie slaving together in the kitchen.
Nonna, a short woman with dark, tightly-set curls, always wears black linen dresses. She’s been wearing them for as long as I can remember, as my Nonno passed away when I was ten and she’s been in a permanent state of dramatic mourning ever since.
I can picture Nonna hastily but unapologetically wiping rouge-red sauce stains from her lips with the corner of an embroidered cotton-white table cloth.
“Mangia! Mangia! You’re TOO SKINNY!!!” Nonna would insist.
When I protest, Nonna traipses over, leans into me and affectionately pinches my cheeks between her long, wrinkled fingers. She squeezes so hard my head nods vigorously up and down.
After our afternoon meals, we usually go for a walk to burn off the extra calories consumed. While we stroll down the cobblestone streets, we pass a local pizzeria. I can smell the aroma of fresh pizza bubbling in the oven, light-brown and crisp with tomato sauce dripping over the sides.
During International Days, I hope you will all take some time away from your busy schedules to explore the various cultures and sample some of the many authentic dishes that will be prepared.
For more information on the various foods and activities, pick up one of the many guides available around campus, or visit www.tru.ca/internationaldays/schedule.
I hope you enjoyed travelling to my Nonna’s house in Italy with me and that it brought back memories of your own families. If you don’t know a lot about your own heritage and culture, I hope this week’s festivities will spark your curiosity. Or perhaps my Nonna could adopt you. She always needs more mouths to feed!