Tonight may be trick or treat candy but in Italy there are “bones of the dead,” ossi dei morti cookies traditionally served to coincide with All Soul’s Day, or the Day of the Dead (Nov 2nd). The cookies are called “bones of the dead” not only because of the day on which they are eaten but because their shape resembles that of bones!
Italians traditionally celebrate All Soul’s Day and All Saint’s Day (Nov 1st) in bitter-sweet remembrance of their loved ones who have passed away and honor their memory with family gatherings and fairs and cakes and sweets left by visiting spirits.
I found these ossi dei morti last week when I was in Milan but there are many variations of this intriguing confection. Most are crunchy and hard, crackling with pine nuts, darkened with cocoa and cinnamon, dusted with powdered sugar – resembling bones of the dead. Toast the memory of your ancestors during this two day festival with ossi dei morti dipped in a glass of vin santo. It certainly is better that eating leftover candy corn.
Move over Sam Adams Harvest Pumpkin, Blue Moon Pumpkin Ale and Shipyard Pumpkin Head there’s another definitive beer of Autumn and it happens to come from Italy. Mondo vino has suddenly become mondo birra and craft brewed beers are becoming very popular throughout Italy. In a country where the culinary and cultural traditions of food are at the heart of everything they do it’s no surprise that in the fall of the year Italian birrifici are turning to one of Italy’s best loved ingredients – castagne (chestnuts).
Birrifici like, Birra del Borgo are part of Italy’s craft beer revolution making birra artigianale italiana from chestnuts that are dried on chestnut wood smoke for a few days then used in the production of barley malt. Described as “soft and cozy” with a pale amber color and notes of smoked chestnut & honey it sounds like a beer you can cuddle up to on a brisk fall afternoon.
More Italians are celebrating Halloween but not in the same way as we do in the States. Trick or treating from house to house is not a part of their holiday tradition but Italians do like to play dress up and frequently have parties at a friend’s home or meet in bars and restuarants to celebrate.
In the shops, windows are decorated with pumpkins and in the piazze “living statues” are part of the street theater tradition of Europe that is especially suited to the fantasy and atmosphere of Halloween.
Planning an Italian inspired Halloween? Take inspiration from the statues and monuments of Italy and become a marble column or create your own living statute. Costuming skills are needed if you’re going to do this from scratch but there are several web sites with ready-made costumes and helpful hints on how to make your statue come alive. Italians have a creative immagination so channel your inner Italian for Halloween.
(Warning – this blog entry by necessity is more than 30 seconds)
Once when I was lamenting about the time and effort it took for me to learn the Italian language, my Milanese cousin Ornella reminded me that I must learn to approach it like an Italian. She compared my studies to the building of Milan’s great Gothic cathedral, the Duomo.
The Duomo of Milan is monumental, second only to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It is 515 feet long, 302 feet wide and 148 feet in height. There are 5 naves divided by 40 pillars with a capacity of 40,000. Inspiring and impressive, the art and altars, statues (3,400 inside and out), stained glass and reliquary of Milan’s domus Dei make it one of the greatest churches in the world. Ornella’s point was that the builders of the Duomo didn’t complete their project in a year or two. It took time. In the case of the Dumo it took more than 500 years and for most of the artists and craftsmen it was a lifetime’s work. I’m sure like me they were experiencing Information Fatigue Syndrome. The science and technologies of the time introduced new ideas and innovations that must have overwhelmed the builders of the Duomo. Managing all that information could not have been easy but they obviously found a formula for success.
The Italian language is my Duomo. It may take me a while to achieve the level of proficiency I hope for but in the meantime I’ve found 4 reasons and simple strategies for learning that motivate me both as a student and teacher.
- Knowledge brings value to your life – learning is a process that enhances the quality of your life; advocates for lifelong learning believe there are real benefits to continuous study and learning a language in particular compounds those benefits and gives you an opportunity to travel like a local
- Find a reason and interest – pursue your studies of the Italian language based on an interest. Art, architecture, history, travel, fashion, design; use your interest as a starting point with related vocabulary and grammar that will keep you engaged then branch out from there
- Collect, prioritize and process your learning – organize the information you’ve learned in a way that makes sense to you and in a way you can use it
- Practice active recall – your brain learns in many ways but needs to be stimulated; repetition with flash cards and audionyms (sound alike words) with related visual images that are familiar to the learner create a memory link. Here is an example from the Dean Vaughn Total Retention System I have used in teaching medical terminology to learn the meaning of the word root for stomach (gastr-). It sounds crazy but it works.
“Gastr-” sounds a lot like “gas truck,” which cues the learner to create the image of a gas truck in their “mind’s eye.” This image is then changed to a “gas truck with a stomach for a tank. The learner connects the illogical image of a “gas truck with a stomach for a tank” by the acoustical cue or sound-alike name for the Greek element “gastr-.”
Countries from all over the world have adopted the cuisine and lifestyle of Italy and made it their own. In Australia/ New Zealand the Italian cappuccino has morphed into an espresso based drink called a “flat white“.
If not as romantic in name it is similar in intent made by pouring microfoam (steamed milk from the bottom of a pitcher) over a single or double shot of espresso resulting in a coffee made from steamed milk without the froth.
Described as an antipodean* style of coffee by down under baristas it is smaller (5.5 ounces) than a cappuccino and served in a tulip shaped cup rather than a cappuccino sized “bowl”. As their Italian counterparts, aficionados of the “flat white ” are particular about the preparation of this coffee saying that the drink “is to be supported rather than be drowned by milk” resulting in a “rich and velvety texture making for an exceptionally pleasing drink in the mouth”.
*Pertaining to the antipodes, or the opposite side of the world; antipodal.