Portrait of an Ideal Woman (Botticelli 1487)
Send a special message to the women in your life today. March 8th is International Women’s Day.
In Italy they celebrate Festa della donna (Festival of the Woman) with banners and yellow mimosa. This time of the year, traveling in Italy, I noticed hundreds of bouquets of mimosa and banners everywhere. The Italians have always valued women and their role in society. Italy is like a great caldron of sensuality and emotion. History and art are sprinkled in for good measure and the outcome allows creativity to flourish and for women it allows their special talents to emerge.
If the number of yellow-flowered mimosa I have seen in Italy during March is any indication of the esteem Italy has for its women than I think they are greatly appreciated.
The Italian language is very fond of suffix endings. A few letters added to the end of a word can expand the meaning of the word by degrees of smallness, largeness or extremes. Of course there are Italian words themselves that convey the same meaning as the modifying suffix but the economy of word usage by just slightly altering the ending of an Italian word is a fun way to express degrees or extremes. Some people use these nomi alterati frequently and others tend to use adjectives instead*. Sometimes these suffix endings are not acceptable substitutes for a descriptive adjective but when they are Italian “word changelings, the offspring of a noun or adjective with a modifying suffix, make the original word all the more melodious and sound so much better than their English counterpart. Italian word changelings intensify the meaning and when pronounced with the right inflection and tone make the Italian language that much more colorful and fun to speak.
For example the following suffix ending – ino (a) used to indicate a diminutive form or smallness.
a car – una macchina – (a small car) una macchinina
a piece – un pezzo – ( a small piece) un pezzino
a white cup – una tazza bianca – (a small white cup ) una tazzina bianca
*you can also use the word piccolo (a) to mean small or tiny.
Another common suffix ending in Italian used to indicate a superlative quality such as “extremely” or “very” is –issimo (a) and of course you can also use molto
bella (beautiful) – bellissima (very beautiful)
cara (dear) – carissima (very dear – dearest)
buono (good) – buonissimo (very good)
alto (tall) – altissimo (very tall)
*you can also use word molto to mean very much, a lot
The word ending – one is used to indicate largeness.
baci (kiss) – bacione (big kiss) ragazzo (boy) – ragazzone (big boy)
la porta (door) – la portone (the big/main door)
There are many ways to say “Thank You” in Italian. Italians by nature are a thankful people. Warm and hospitable and pleasing to be of help. They are thankful for their food, wine, art and design and the beautiful landscape of their country. They are thankful for surviving two World Wars, the Black Death, natural disasters, barbarians and at least six civil wars, unstable rulers and countless city-state skirmishes. So having multiple ways to express their gratefulness and thanks doesn’t seem a bit overdone but honest and true.
“Grazie” has become part of a international vocabulary of thanks and along with the corresponding reply “prego” is one of the first words students of Italian learn but there are other ways Italians say “thank you” including
- Molte grazie – “many thanks”
- Mille grazie or grazie mille – “thank you very much” literally translated to mean “thanks a thousand times” or “a thousand thanks”
- Ringraziare – a verb used to mean “to thank” or “to give thanks” conjugated with various pronouns*
And in response there is the ubiquitous, widespread and multi-contextual Italian word “Prego” the most commonly used way of replying to “Grazie“. However my favorite response is the use of the phrase “non c’è di che.” This response is used to say no need for thanks it was my pleasure to do it. Translated to “do not mention it”, the favor you are being thanked for was my pleasure to do.
||I thank you (singular informal)
||I thank you (singular formal)
||I thank you (plural)
We don’t know for certain if Renaissance legend Leonardo da Vinci, made New Year’s resolutions but if he did, based on Michael Gelb’s bestseller How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day, they might have included the following
- Develop a curious approach to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning.
- Practice persistence and worry less about getting things done. Remember that everything leads to a greater understanding even the things that are begun and unfinished.
- Develop a positive attitude. Learn from mistakes and aim for progress but letting go of perfection.
- Simplify and remember that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”.
- Stay active physically and mentally spending time in nature for that is what stimulates neural connections that activate healthy behaviors and actions.
- Avoid anger and grievous moods and keep your mind cheerful. Practice poise and grace.
- Do not worry about pleasing other people if it becomes more important than our own health and self-care goal.
- Make dining a pleasurable and sensual experience and stop eating just before you feel full.
- Find your purpose by looking at your life vision, values and goals from a holistic perspective so that you can integrate them into your whole self.
- Temper logic with imagination; work with play; problem solving with creativity.
- Cultivate your senses and reflect on their enjoyment.
- Make an action plan with visuals and text for continuous improvement and measure your progress.
Time to pick our favorite Italian wines for Christmastime entertaining. Experts agree there is no better wine for the holidays
than Cabernet Sauvignon, that spicy, dark-fruited lingering red we all love to pair with meat. After all grand cuts of meat are what the holiday table is all about. We want that intense garnet color and incensual aroma in our glass reflecting the glistening lights and complementing the sugar and spice that are symbolic of our holiday meals. I could find a formidable match with an Amarone, Barolo, Barbaresco or Brunello from Montalcino. A Vino Nobile or Rosso from Montepulciano, a Chianti Classico, or a complex Sicilian but sometimes a robust red can weigh you down so we’re looking for a lighter version of a traditional Italian red.
I’m choosing a Lagrein (pronounced la-GRINE) from Italy’s Alto Adige (Sudtirol) just because I happen to love the region and well it’s the most Christmasy part of Italy. Surrounded by the Alps and the Dolomites there is a fairytale-like atmosphere that makes the days of Advent very special. Lagrein wine is dense and dark purple/ruby in color with aromas of black raspberries and plums, cinnamon and nutmeg with flavors of cranberries and some leathery notes. Sounds like Christmas to me. It’s a relative of Trentino’s Teroldego (which I like) so I think I’ll invite it to join us at the holiday table. Who would you like to invite?
Depending on your generation, Veteran’s Day in the US often focuses on a wall with a mirror-like surface that winds its way through Constitution Gardens in Washington DC. It honors US soldiers who served, fought, died or were missing in action during the Vietnam War. Having lived through those times I always experience a sobering nostalgia on Veteran’s Day about the casualties of war and the diverse reasons why wars are fought.
There is a similar wall known as the Monumento alla Resistenza in Sesto San Giovanni, a suburb of Milan, designed by Piero Bottoni and Polish artist Anna Praxmayer. Scratched on its surface are scenes that trace in 13 stages the anti-Fascist struggle of the Italians during World War II. Located in the Piazza della Resistenza, the wall gradually rises higher toward the sky with the sculptured form of Victory freeing a flight of bronze doves.
We visited this monument several years ago with our Milanese cousin Lidia who lived in Sesto. She like many other Italians of her generation have memories of bombings and hidings as children and families that lived through war, resistance and liberation. Although active memories fade as people pass away, generational memories linger as families and friends remember those who served while the collective memory of our country honors all veterans here and aboard.
Italian cookbook authors like Hazan, Bastianich and Batali have given us great insight into the ingredients and techniques that make Italian cooking one of the world’s most favorite cuisines. So when I see a post about a recipe that uses one of Italy’s most iconic ingredients, pasta, and labels it “just about the most revolting dish ever devised” I’m compelled to take a second look. According to an article published in The Guardian, the revered and infamous English food writer Elizabeth David who strongly influenced post WWII British cooking through a series of articles and a subsequent book on pleasures of Mediterranean food, found a recipe for an Italian salad in the book Ulster Fare, published in 1945 by the Belfast Women’s Institute Club that made her cringe.
Known for her candid comments (the mid-century equivalent of Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Bourdain) David labeled the recipe “just about the most revolting dish ever devised”. Also known as the “world’s worst pasta salad” it is a hodgepodge of misplaced ingredients and missteps (did they mean peas instead of pears?) that make it a culinary malfunction. The Guardian writes about it under the title “Do not try this at home”. Some might disagree as to the labeling of the dish as the worst ever blaming the proofreader for the ingredient error. But if Italian sensibility and taste were taken into account it still is a painful misuse of pasta.
1 pint cold cooked macaroni
½ pint cooked or tinned pears
½ pint grated raw carrot
French dressing to moisten
2 heaped tablespoons minced onion
½ pint cooked or minced string beans
Mix the chopped macaroni and vegetables; moisten with French dressing, ﬂavouring with garlic if liked. Serve on a dish lined with lettuce leaves. Decorate with mayonnaise and minced pimento or chives.