~a column by Colleen O’Brien
I had a great time one recent evening talking Italian food versus American food, with Italians. They liked hamburgers, steaks, French fries. But they preferred their own pasta to baked potatoes; Italian wine to all others—South American, Portuguese, Spanish and French being above California; gelato compared to ice cream, which they think simply isn’t as good. And they didn’t understand our eating “pig food” – corn and oats.
I told them I really liked their fennel, however they fixed it, and their pale green cauliflower shaped like Christmas trees. And their 92 kinds of pasta. But their bread had no salt in it.
They had quite a bit to say about processed food in America, and when I pointed out that Italian grocery stores have just as many already-packaged foodstuffs as any U.S. market, they said it didn’t used to be that way, it was an “invasion Americana” an American invasion.
Then we got down to politics, and within a breath the heat in the room rose.
Italy is going through politics familiar to me: they have a strongman politician running on “Italy First! No more immigrants! No saving of refugees!” (Theirs fall off boats in the Mediterranean, ours try to swim the Rio Grande.)
In the Rome (Emilia-Romagna) regional election, strongman Salvini was resoundingly beaten in the voting booths last week, the long-held power remaining in the left hands.
I brought it up—silly me—and one fellow got red in the face and looked as if he’d really like to pound the table. He talked very fast in loud Italian; I couldn’t tell if he was happy or angry, but he certainly was in that intense political discussion mode I’ve seen a lot of in the last three years, sometimes in the mirror.
Soon, I understood that he was relieved how the vote proved that socialism worked best for the people, and the people had their say, and why would anyone want to return this country to a Mussolini?
I learned then that since the Second World War, Italy has been democratically liberal in at least a couple of ways—universal health care and free firewood for the old couples still living out in the country in houses 200 years old with no insulation and iffy electrification—like some of our Native Americans living in shoddy housing with no money to pay the electric bill and reverting to burning their clothing for heat. The difference is obvious: in Italy, one of the least wealthy of European nations, the very poorest are taken care of both health-wise and heat-wise.
Then one of the American expats told the story she’d read in the news about the American woman whose ambulance trip to the hospital cost “$12,000!” I had read that story, too, and sighed. I don’t remember the source, so I was hoping it was the fake news rather than the true news.
The Italians were horrified, believing it just because it had been uttered (and we worry about Facebook ratcheting up the conversation). One of the Italians had an operation of some kind that cost nothing, and the surgery took four hours. Another said his prescription for his heart cost him nothing.
I said something about the U.S. being the only First World country with a Third World leader, and they laughed. They then compared my leader to the guy who just lost in their Sunday election.
They had resumed their good humor, no more anger because they were able to say “Thank God” about the guy who lost. There was sympathy for me and my country’s coming election.
They left with “Buona Fortuna” resounding down the rocky path to their weekend house, and I came into bed, my political beast now raging in my heart, and I’m trying to tame it with the soothing idea of good fortune in the fall.