One in an occasional series of conversations with those who try to “live Italian” wherever they are.
Linda Dini Jenkins is a freelance travel writer and photographer and the author of Up at the Villa: Travels with my Husband (more later on how to win a free copy!). She also blogs regularly about travel and travel writing at Travel the Write Way and teaches creative writing and journaling. She enjoys taking small groups of friends, to explore what Italy has to offer beyond the Florence-Venice-Rome triumvirate, and she can pack her suitcase in 15 minutes.
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Q: Living “Italian”. . . Is it a great way to live or the greatest way to live?
A: Well, I think it’s the greatest way to live. When you take into account the slower pace of life (outside the big cities!), the immersion in history and art, the fantastic cuisine, the love of design and music, the respect for taking time out to enjoy the simple things . . . whether it’s Italian or Mediterranean or European, it’s how I want to live.
A: Are you kidding? Start with the food, the design sensibilities, the language, the arts, the vino, the pausa, the passeggiata . . . need I go on?
Q: When did you discover your Inner Italian? What is your Inner Italian named?
A: I always knew about my Inner Italian but, like other children of first-generation Italian-Americans who desperately wanted to assimilate, “being Italian” was something that just happened and was never really encouraged. In fact, I’d heard stories growing up of how hard it was for my father to be Italian in a New York suburb in the 1930s and ‘40s; even being Italian in my first job in New York in the 1970s was something of a liability. And I was always a little ashamed after that of being part Italian (my mother’s side of the family was English/Irish/German) until I met my husband and he took me to Italy in 2000. Since then, I have been a proud and vocal Italian-American. If my Inner Italian has a name and it needs to be something other than Linda, I suppose it’s Principessa . . .
Q: What does “living Italian” mean to you?
A: My grandparents came over from Italy in the late 1890s and they were anything but rich. So for me, living Italian has to do with cooking and eating together, always having crusty bread and wrinkled olives and green olive oil on the flowered oilcloth-covered table. It means not being afraid to be emotional—even if that involves fists and things flying when you’re angry. It means loving music and feeling the arts very deeply. It means trying to have a sense of style—of la bella figura—even if the clothes or table settings come from Target. And it means being a storyteller and a traveler and something of an adventurer.
Q: What nurtures your Inner Italian?
A: Memories of my father’s family in Brooklyn, New York. Reading Italian travel books and books about/set in Italy; I’ve recently discovered the Donna Leon Inspector Brunetti books and love them! Trying to learn the language! And today, there are so many amazing blogs and ways to stay in touch with all things Italian through Twitter and Facebook—we’re very lucky. Of course, the day-to-day things are critical, too: the food, the wine, the design, the family . . . Being on Italian ground is the best, though. My friends tell me that I “turn Italian” in the airport!
Q: What Italian movie, or movie set in Italy, do you most like? Why?
A: I think I’d have to say Il Postino. As a poet, the story of Mario and his growing friendship with Neruda resonates with me. And as a romantic Italophile, the love story, the incredible music and the scenery are all captivating. The sad note is that Massimo Troisi, who so beautifully plays the postman, was sick the whole time the film was being made, and he died the day after shooting was finished. He was only 41.
Q: When and where was your first visit to Italy?
A: I first went to Italy in 2000 with my husband, Tim, and a rag-tag bunch of friends from my old church in Boston. We rented a villa about 18 miles northeast of Florence in a little place called Cistio, not too far from Fiesole. There were eight of us in two Fiat Multiplas, nobody spoke more than a few words of Italian and we never stopped laughing.
Q: When and where was your most recent trip to Italy?
A: My last trip to Italy was in May 2011. Tim and I took a group of 10 friends for a week, several of whom had never been to Italy—and two of whom had never been to Europe! I wanted to go “off the beaten track” a bit, so we went to Abruzzo, spending four nights in Sulmona and three nights (with a cooking class) in Civitella del Tronto. Then four of us continued on for another week, staying in La Tavola Marche near Piobbico in Le Marche (more cooking classes), Ravenna and finally, onto Verona where we met up with some friends from the UK. It was a dream trip, covering a whole lot of miles. Good thing Tim loves to drive in Italy.
Q: If you could live in one place in Italy for the rest of your life, where would it be and why?
A: This is so hard. I love so many cities in Italy, among them Lucca, Sorrento, Ravello, Padova and Bologna. But if I had to pick just one to live in, I think I’d have to say Verona. It’s teeming with history, has great food, is very cosmopolitan (so there might be work) and provides easy access to other must-see places like Milan, Vicenza , the lakes and Venice.
Q: Last Italian meal. . .what would it be?
A: For wine: Prosecco, Trebbiano, Sagrantino and an earthy digestivo. For food: a little ribolitta, a little pasta alla Norma, maybe an assortment of cheeses and salumi and frutta with un inslata mista and, of course, panna cotta. And lots of pane e olio. Who cares about calories and cholesterol at this point?!?
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