On Italy

i joined the navy to travel. i wanted to go to spain so badly that it hurt. after my first tour i called for orders and was offered: iceland, sicily, naples, and greece. i had talked to a few people and they all said sicily was great.

i ended up taking orders to sicily.

i arrived november 1996. i was 23 years old. i soon had a place in motta. i was living in a hotel room waiting to get my place in the barracks when i read an ad to “teach my daughters english in exchange to learn italian.” i called immediately.

second floor, to the right.

i ended up spending time with sicilian twins whom i spoke to in spanish as i absorbed italian. i hung out with them all the time for the first few months i was in country. the best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in it and use it. make mistakes, get corrected A LOT. within 3 months i was using less spanish than italian. i ended up dating one of the twins.

lasted about 6 months, before it fizzled out. but we remained friends.

one summer afternoon i was on my balcony grilling some BBQ chicken. i was living across the street from a restaurant that was basically a take out joint. no tables, minimal decor. it was owned by a man from naples who married an english woman. his name was Mario.

he ran a good joint. the food was great. i learned the difference between “italian” food and “italian-american” food. mario saw me cooking that afternoon and was baffled. i told him i was making BBQ chicken and he looked at me like my head was on fire.

he had never had american BBQ.

i brought him a plate and when he dug in he lit up. “BUONISSIMO!!!!” he proclaimed excitedly. that began a ritual of my bringing a plate down every time i grilled something. beef is kind of a rarity in sicily so he LOVED a good ribeye. he’d never had mac and cheese, jambalaya, gumbo, even fettucini alfredo was foreign to him.

italy is VERY much a communal place. i was “the american” of the neighborhood. i bought fresh goat cheese from my land-lady’s brother. i bought wine from the local maffia don (YES, they do exist, you learn to spot them quickly) who asked me to cook steaks for him more than once. i NEVER had an issue with my car/house being vandalized or burgled.

mario repaid my generosity in spades. when he was slow he’d invite me down and taught me to cook italian food. he taught me a basic red sauce. “with this you can make any ‘rimi pita’you can think of.” it doesn’t take all day, it doesn’t requires hours of slaving, it’s as all good food is- simple and basic. you will need:

1 28oz can crushed tomatos (i use cento’s)
1 28oz can peeled tomatos (again, i use cento. i used peeled because i like a chunky sauce)
1 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, torn
3-4 cloves chopped garlic
2 TBS kosher salt
4 TBS olive oil.

heat olive oil over med high heat. add garlic. cook until slightly brown, lower heat to medium. add basil and cook until wilted (about 3-4 minutes), you should be able to smell the basil. add the tomatos, if you go with whole tomatos, crush them as it simmers. i like a thicker texture sauce. bring to a boil, once boiling drop heat to low and cover. let it sit for one hour, uncover and bring to boil again. once boiling drop heat to low and lit simmer for at LEAST one hour. the longer it simmers, the better. i usually cook mine for 2 hours uncovered over the lowest heat setting.

now you have basic red sauce (sugo).

sugo basilico- just basil and garlic
sugo arriabiatta- add crushed red pepper
sugo puttanesca- add crushed red peppers, black olives, and anchovies.
sugo alla’norma- add ricotta cheese and fried eggplant
sugo salmone- add a piece of fresh salmon
sugo amatriciana- add onion and bacon
sugo a’tonno- add a slab of fresh tuna
sugo al’polpette- add pork/beef meatballs stuffed with prosciouto and mozzarella

then there were the women. i was sitting in piazza collegio having a cappuccino when i saw her walk out a cafe across the street with a friend. i caught her eye and she smiled. her friend was on the phone and stopped walking. she looked back at me again. i waved. she laughed and waved back.

this girl was amazing. dark brown hair, green eyes, body that you couldn’t NOT notice, and a face that you wanted to start at all day. i’d learn later that she was sweet as pie.

i got up, crossed the street and said hello. “ciao, como se chime?” she smiled and replied, “Sonia”.

now i DID NOT look italian. she KNEW i was an american. my manner of dress was completely different from the locals. we made small talk for a few minutes and she complimented my italian. by this time, i was VERY well versed in the language.

her friend got off the phone and was ready to go. i blanked out. i told sonia, “non lo che dico, ma volio parlre conti pui.” (i don’t know what to say, but i still want to talk to you.) she smiled and gave me her home number. she told me she’s usually home after 8pm.

i called 2 days later and we met up at piazza duomo. we met up and i told her i wasn’t as familiar with the area but thought we should grab a bite to eat. she recommended a trattoria and we started walking. we weren’t going anywhere in particular after eating, but as we walked along talking her hand brushed against mine.

i took her hand.

she looked up at me (yes, she was actually shorter) and smiled. she took me to a place where the college kids hang out (she went to uni of catania) and introduced me to a few people she knew. we sat among the locals and i could barely keep up, most of them were talking in sicilian.

a friend of hers made a joke and sonia and i laughed. our eyes met for a second and she gave me “the look”. i leaned in and kissed her. what i need to explain about “dating” in europe is that it really doesn’t exist. if a guy takes a girl out alone, it’s assumed he has an interest in her. if she accepts, it’s assumed she’s interested.

there’s no going out alone as “just friends”.

then there was the sex. there was no “waiting period”. she knew i had an apartment in motta. local guys my age ALWAYS live at home unless they’re mafia. she knew i could cook and was curious as to try some “real american” food. she caught a cab to my place a week later.

i paid for her cab and buzzed her in. she looking fucking amazing. she kissed me when she got in (the typical european kiss each cheek kiss) and mentioned the house smelled amazing. i was making jambalaya. i got her a glass of wine and she watched me cook. we ate and she gushed over how complex it tasted.

after eating she told me she was going to use the bathroom. we were sitting in the living room and the sofa sits with it’s back to the door leading out and to the bathroom. after a few minutes i heard, “Danny.” i looked behind me and there she was.


oh dear God in heaven. Sonia was the second local girl i had been with. and i need to explain, sex is NOT a big deal to the italians. hell, there was a balcony across the street 2 buildings down where one of the 3 daughters would come outside topless to check the weather. they’d see me, smile and wave, “ciao Danny!!!” Sonia’s brother told me, “ourwomen are raised to know that their world revoloves around their mans’s home, stomach, and dick.” yeah. and he knew i was poking his sister by-the-way.

Sonia was a beast. but at the same time feminine, nurturing and completely giving. nothing was off the table sexually. i used to leave lira in drawer in the living room for he to pay cab fare. in all honesty, had i had more time in sicily i might have married Sonia. but 6 months into it, i received orders to new orleans. about 2 moths before i was supposed to leave, she went to germany to visit her sister. i called 2 weeks later and mom said she was going to be living there “for a while.”

my heart sank. but at the same time a good friend of mine back home told me to cherish what i had with her and realize what i want and need in a relationship from a woman. i’m glad i had her in my life for the time i did. once i got back to the states i seas completely disgusted with american woman.

self-centered, self-absorbed, entitled, zero to mini femininity. i went a series of pump and dumps after that. started going to college. soon after i met beth. you all know that story. lol.

Sonia was also the first woman i ever “opened up” to. more on that later.

polpete stuffed with prosciutt, cappicola, and mozzarella with a sugo basilico.

polpette stuffed with prosciutto, cappicola, and mozzarella with a sugo basilico.

stay up.

2 Comments on “On Italy”

  1. peregrinejohn says:

    Beautiful stuff, man. And thanks for the lesson in la cucina italiana! I’ve always wanted to go there for many reasons, not least of which is to learn true Italian food. The idea of living there and exchanging “real” versions of each other’s local cuisine is straight-up paradise.

    Then there’s the benefits of the place itself.

    And Italian women… *sigh*

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