Have you ever done an Airbnb Experience? Not in the hotel sense but in the doing-something sense? A classmate of mine from Hong Kong had purchased a food & drink experience in Milano but then had a scheduling conflict, so she generously offered that I go in her place. Of course, I brought Alberto along so that he could really learn while I drank wine and eyed the bruschetta.
We prepared two types of homemade pasta, complete with the steps of mixing, rolling, cutting and shaping the dough. Gianfranco gave us a booklet at the end with the recipes, but on the front it says “The Secret Recipes,” and he’s Sicilian (#Omertà), so I’m just going to list the ingredients and maybe you book him next time you’re in Milano.
- Pesto alla Siciliana: cherry tomatoes, basil, extra virgin olive oil, ricotta salata or pecorino cheese, almonds or pistachios
- Pasta con Peperoni, Olive e Capperi: onion, red pepper, basil, extra virgin olive oil, olives, capers, salt
For dessert, some panna cotta (Gianfranco made it ahead of time) and Passito di Pantelleria wine.
A journalist by trade, Gianfranco indicated that he’s been hit by the publishing crisis in Italy, but his at-home dining experiences, at least, seem to be popular and a source of joy for him. In his words, “I’m a creative, traveler and cook for passion. Passion that I inherited from my grandmother and my parents.” His home was full of souvenirs from around the world, and now every weekend, his home is filled with people from around the world.
Anna* and Rachelle of the Netherlands, teachers, tourists, early-to-mid-30s
- These two were unabashedly in love with Alberto’s voice, so I had to keep an eye out. But then one of them mentioned he sounds like Iago, the parrot from Aladdin, and I’m like, “Is that a compliment?”
- We were talking about infidelity rates in Italy (high, according to my language teacher), and Rachelle, that free-spirited Dutch woman, mused, “If I called my boyfriend right now and said that I met someone I really wanted to kiss and it came from a pure place, and I asked his permission…” And then I scooted a little closer to the man with The Voice.
- Anna, regarding a long distance relationship with a guy from Nashville: “Well, he has his right hand.” *sips Chardonnay*
- As we ate, we gave them tips on what to do in Milano. “See, it’s good we didn’t plan anything for our travels in Milan, because now we met you guys!”
Lisa of “I’m from Haiti”/USA, IT professional, tourist, 50s-to-60s
Lisa had attended a friend’s wedding in France and afterward was bopping around Europe for a bit.
“Are you based in Haiti now?” I ask. “No, no,” she quickly responds. “I live in Atlanta; I left Haiti when I was three but whenever people ask, ‘Where are you from?’ I know what they really want to know, especially after noticing my accent.”
This reminds me of something my Italian teacher brought up in class recently: It’s generally considered rude in Milan (these days — it used to be commonplace) to ask a fluent Italian speaker (who doesn’t look like your stereotypical Maria/Luigi) where they’re from (or even worse, “Where are you really from?”), because often it has the connotation of “What are you? You don’t really belong here. You’re not really Italian.”
For example, you see a woman who has Asian features but speaks perfect Italian (because she was born and raised in Milan, her grandparents emigrating from China 70 years ago — contrary to popular belief, not all Italians look like Monica Bellucci). If you’re curious, my teacher advises you ask, “What are your family origins?” But even then, it’s probably not the first thing we should ask a stranger. Maybe get to know them first (in whichever country you are) before popping the “Why does your face look like it does?” question. Obviously, it’s not always an offensive inquiry; context is key.
I’m going to step aside with hopes that people of color or those who have been “othered” might chime in on their experience with this question (comments below), because as a white woman born and raised in the U.S., I don’t have to worry about this. And as a white woman living in Italy, they just hear my American accent and wonder what the heck I’m doing here: “But why did you leave? Isn’t it better there?” my hairstylist objected as I struggled to find the word for split ends (doppie punte).
Speaking of “born and raised,” children who are born in Italy to foreign parents are not considered citizens of Italy. They can apply for Italian citizenship when they turn 18, after continuous legal residence. Yet, if you’re a famous soccer player born in Argentina but your great-grandfather was Italian, you can apply for citizenship and go play for Italy if your home team sucks or doesn’t pay as much. Blood (and soccer) is thicker than water, eh? Uffdah.
Anyway, I hope you, too, will have dinner with strangers one evening soon. It’s invigorating, if they don’t steal your husband.
*Guest names changed