SYLE in Italy: An Ode to its Language and Culinary Tradition (Presentation)

heeseScreen Shot 2018-06-05 at 2.12.16 AMHi! 

Good afternoon everyone! As many of you know, I’m Earlene Cruz, a proud Servas member and youth representative for US Servas to the United Nations. This very month, I had the honor to travel to Italy with Servas, through the Syle program, which encourages youth to travel and learn the local language. For me,

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This began with an email to Tracy, of course, who then connected me to Raffaella, who is the SYLE coordinator in Italy. I was asked for my specific interests — which as some of you may know — involve food and culture, as well as taking my Italian beyond Duolingo and online courses and actually practicing in-person, learning new words, which I am happy to share with you today.

Here I am with Raffaella Rota, whom I finally met in person in Bergamo. Many thanks to her seamless organization of my program!

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It began in Milan, with roommates Andrea and Alberto, who were keen on using their engineering skills for cooking, through “critical paths” that are normally reserved for management processes and assembly lines. Together, we spent a lovely days together hosting a dinner for their friends, which involved grocery shopping and making everything from scratch!

I then traveled to Bergamo, where I met with the Rota family, before going to the Cremaschi-Fornoni family and the Semperboni family, all who were also in Bergamo.

My time ended with the Saba family, whom I know Dennis knows, in Centallo, which is a province of Cuneo, by-way of Torino, which is also a lovely city.

I can’t say anything but incredible things about each and every single human being that I met along this short path, which I don’t have to convince you of, as fellow Servas members.

I will continue sharing a bit more about my experience, through a focus on food, especially that of the North of Italy. Before I do, here’s a little quiz.

Who can tell me how to say Breakfast in Italian? — Colazione
Lunch? Pranzo
Snack? Merenda
Dinner? Cena – (prounounced CHena)

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Italian mealtimes are:
Breakfast (7.00 – 11.00)
Lunch (12.30 – 14.00 in the north, 13.30-14.30 South )
Merenda (16.00) snack for children (bread, fruit, yoghurt, or ice-cream)
Dinner (20.00 – 22.00)

Many people break for work and come to cook, especially for their children, who normally finish school around 1pm, Monday through Saturday.

Great! So, as you can see, these meals are a bit different from ours in the States, not only in terms of timing, but also in terms of content. Breakfast is usually consistent of biscotti or small crackers and cake and most certainly a coffee. It is rare to see protein-heavy dishes at this time, as is the case in the States, where a plate of eggs and bacon are commonplace on the breakfast table.

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I soon entered into the land of prosciutto and prosecco. For the omnivores in the house, I’m sorry, but this will be the las picture of meat, as I am a vegetarian, but I respect all diets and certainly the price tag on these prosciuttos! A single one of these is $100-$120!

I drank lots of wine, of course, but in moderation, as Italians like to enjoy small quantities of good quality wine. A spritz, made from Aperol,like the one on the left is common during the summer months. And, as in many countries, Italians can’t seem to live without coffee. As you may know, their coffee is very different to ours. They prefer to enjoy it in espresso form, and are adamant about their stove-top coffee makers like the one here.

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Cheese everywhere! Grana Padano, Parmigiano, Mozzarella, everywhere and on everything! Well, mostly. The families I spent time with loved fresh-grated cheese, a process which makes the cheese “grattugiato” – grated.

Extra points if you can tell me how to say Cheese in Italian! — Formaggio — Now Spelling bee part of the presentation — how do you spell it? Formaggio — bene!

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Gelato deserves its own slide,
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And so does pizza!

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Now, here are a few slides on what I learned during my time in Italy: It consisted of handmade pizza and foccacia

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And more Pizza — the love for it is real!

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… And my favorite, these handmade Cassoncellis because of the backstory: Nonnas in Bergamo often gather to make this recipe, making 85 kilos worth of this, contributing the proceeds of the sale to charity. For them, it is a bonding experience — and I can personally attest to its soothing qualities!

It is made using the Italian Brevettata – pasta-maker, also known as the “mother duck”, passing the pasta through it, then cutting circular shapes before stuffing it with homemade meat and/or cheeseballs and shaping.

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It can be served with melted butter, pancetta, grated cheese, and even lemon zest!

Another interesting things tied to tis recipe is the fact that the Bergamo region was historically more impoverished than the rest of Italy before so the pasta in this area has less eggs than water, as compared to other parts of Italy. As Serafina, who was teaching us the recipe that day said, “la cucina e la story di un popolo” — the kitchen is the story of a population!

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It certainly wasn’t all about cooking. Most of our time was spent conversing and learning about one another, enjoying nature, hiking up to the Cita Alta and some local monasteries, including a hike organized by Raffaella Rota with local Servas members. Fun fact: if you didn’t already know, Berg means mountain in German, so the Bergamo region, which has Germanic influences is certainly a mountainous region, which made it perfect for enjoying nature.

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We also partook in various cultural activities, like visiting the Frida Kahlo exhibit in Milan, watching people playing Bocce, and attending a local ceremony that focused on honoring indigenous communities around the world — below, we see an indigenous dance by a community in Russia!

City walks throughout Milan, Turin, and Cuneo were also lovely and representative of the many “faces” of Italy.

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Some interesting things I learned or experienced during my time in Italy include:

* On a scale of 1-10, italy is an 8, for ease in terms of eating as a vegetarian: from pasta to pizza and a great abundance of vegetables/vegetarian options.

* Government: While I was there, the new government was formed, which in the meantime caused a lot of confusion and general uncertainty among the Italians I spoke with

* It is generally more difficult to be individualistic and entrepreneurial, as Italy is still somehow very confined to tradition and institutional rules that seem to be omnipresent

* There seems to be a sense of discomfort for difference/ foreigners, a product of the countries’ stress being the “gateway to Europe” during many conflicts around the world

* Italy is a place where food is a great source of pride. As I’ve seen in some parts of Europe, when friends get together, for example, they all cook together before the gathering or bring wine, a bit different to us as the meals are often very elaborate (by US standards) — you will rarely see them ordering in for a gathering

* Slovenian and Italians were at war during World War II. At this point, agricultural production of a specific wine (which was previously produced in the same Lake Izonso area) stopped production and restarted after the war under the same name, even if at that point in different countries. The internal and interpersonal conflicts of war continue after generations, but wine has a way to combat the conflict — figuratively and literally. Men in these areas are separated from their brothers and sisters, as one is now Italian and another Slovakian due to the border changes during the war

* Bella – Buddhism, focus, in cooking! Enjoying meals. Petit dejeuner – much fuller lunch and dinner

* Astronaut Paolo Nespoli tweeted about the smog he saw over Northern Italy from space and was retweeted so much that they shut down traffic in Milan for 2 days – he got lots of hate messages

I’d like to thank you for reading and caring, and of course, everyone who made this possible, from the US Servas Team to Dennis to Raffaella Rota and the wonderful families who opened their hearts and homes to me.

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