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The title roughly translates into my Italian Families…that’s right – plural…I have many of them! I have to admit it – I have always been fascinated with all things Italian – the food, the wine, the mafia, and the family lifestyle. It is no surprise then that the Godfather movies top my favorite movie list. The opening scenes that have these huge weddings and confirmation celebrations are my favorite. I love to see the big celebrations centered around food, family, and normally religion juxtaposed with the morally corrupt mafia.
In general, I’ve always felt that America doesn’t really possess that family bond that other countries do – therefore I’ve always been fascinated with it in other cultures. After living in Sorrento for a month, I have had the fortunate experience of being welcomed into not only one Italian Family’s home…but multiple families’ homes. I am living with a local family, I am taking cooking classes at a large Italian family home, and finally, I have befriended a few locals here and have been welcomed into their kitchens and lives as if I were a part of the family. All of these families make up my Italian family experience here, but each is unique.
My Sorrento host family
I arrived in Sorrento to live with the Signor and Signorina Bandi. They live in a home in Sorrento that has been in their family for over a hundred years. They have two children that are now grown and living in France – therefore they have opened up their home to students from the language school. It’s rather unusual that their kids live abroad, as many Italian families stay in the same areas, and often the kids live in the family home until they are married. The Bandi family has some very progressive Italian children – which makes them the perfect couple to host students! They are social, warm, curious about the world, and welcoming – and more than a little patient with my crappy Italian.
I am staying in their daughter’s room and I feel as if I have been transported back to my high school years as it seems as if they have simply left the room the same as it used to be when she left – a little twin bed with dalmatian sheets, stuffed animals everywhere, and pictures of her friends all over the room – and even a picture of Kurt Cobain. It reminds me of my own wood-paneled room with pictures of Sean Cassidy and Tom Cruise covering the walls. Signorina Bandi speaks a bit of English (thank god!), but Signor Bandi does not – however, he makes up for it by baking fresh bread and biscotti
Every morning I have breakfast with them and we try to muddle our way through a conversation…sometimes successfully – and sometimes I just give up and speak English. I always feel so guilty though when I give up (which is quite often) However – every week I get a little better so that I now simply intermix the two languages constantly within the same sentence. I figure that it’s better than nothing! When I come home late from cooking school they are often still awake and we sit down and Signor Bandi pours me some of his homemade limoncello, or a glass of wine and then puts out some cheese and ham to snack on.
Of course, I have just finished a 4-course meal at the cooking school – so I am really not hungry – but I eat regardless because I like to spend this time with them! Signorina Bandi has made the observation that I’m always doing something – I never slow down. Even in a different country, experiencing a different culture, she has figured me out…I don’t relax…always go, go, go…some things never change! They keep a guest list of all of their students and pictures – I am already busily trying to figure out what I will write in Italian in the guest book…oh…the anxiety!
Then there’s my cooking family – at Mami Camilla’s. I love this place…just love it. I honestly don’t know what I would have done in Sorrento without Mami Camilla’s. It was my family for a month…the family that I laughed with, cooked with, drank with. (See the Pooch post for more info). There was something so comforting about coming to the house every day and having someone say, Ciao Sherry! – people who knew me. It’s strange that after being a vagabond for 8 months how comforting a familiar face can be. I had a place…a place where they knew me, and a place where they expected me every night.
It wasn’t just the Mami Camilla family – it was the people that I met there at cooking classes as well as the new people arriving every night at the bed and breakfast. Every night there would be new people to meet – mainly American tourists – but new people all the same! I made so many wonderful connections through this venue – I can’t even begin to try to keep track of them all! I met New Yorkers, students studying abroad, Californians, Brits, Australians, and many other people. It was invigorating to talk to Americans again. It had honestly been quite a while since I had seen so many Americans. Topics revolved around travel, politics, cooking, wine, and family.
The constant coming and going of people from Mama Camillas created this strange dynamic – a feeling of excitement about what new people you would meet that night, as well as an equal feeling of sadness as people left. It was a revolving door of friendships. It was a lot of emotions to deal with in just one month – I can’t imagine how the staff deals with it – just when you make a connection with someone – they are gone. However, I wouldn’t change a thing about it – it was this unique, different experience that probably was the highlight of my time in Italy!
Then there were the families and friendships that I formed outside of classes – at a local wine bar called Bollicine. The first night I arrived in Sorrento, I settled into the Bandi household and then went out exploring the town on my own. As it got later in the evening, I started looking for a place to eat dinner. I really didn’t want to go to a touristy place…just a nice place where I could feel at home. I wandered along the back streets and found a wine bar with a small menu. I went in for dinner that night and the relationship was formed. I met Mossimo and Luigi that night.
Mossimo was the bartender and Luigi was the cook and manager of sorts. I told them that I was going to be taking courses at the language school for a month. We chatted over an amazing glass of red wine. Later that weekend, I was out with some girlfriends at a little lounge in Sorrento in the wee hours of the morning and all of a sudden someone walked by me and said – “Ciao Sherry!” – I turned around and it was Mossimo – I was so impressed that he recognized me and remembered my name. I beamed with the joy of feeling that I actually knew people in town.
Find out how to eat pizza like an Italian
That was the beginning of my relationship with Max and Gigi. Since I was eating every night at Mami Camillas, I utilized Bollicine as my ‘local’ bar. I took friends there from class and introduced them to the guys. Gigi and Max were wonderful…they sat through my excruciating Italian speaking attempts, they entertained us with stories, they poured wonderful glasses of wine, they had an Italian/English dictionary at our disposal, and they played great music…it was my hangout.
There were a number of times that my friends and I closed the place down…literally they locked us inside and we just hung out and drank more wine until we felt like going home. I would run into Max or Gigi on the streets of Sorrento during the day and they would say hi – I felt like a local during those moments.
One night Gigi suggested that since I was taking a cooking class I should cook dinner in his kitchen at the bar. I honestly thought he was joking. However, the next night when I stopped there for a drink, he came out and started writing down a menu of what I could make and what I would need to go and buy. I was thrilled at the chance to cook for my friends in the kitchen! It was as if I had my own apartment again
Plus – there was an added excitement about the fact that I would have to go shopping for my ingredients at the local markets. Gigi gave me a list and told me where to go. The night before I looked up all of the words in the dictionary and wrote down some key phrases in case I got stuck and off I went to the fish market, the butcher, and the vegetable market.
That night I skipped Mami Camillas and invited my girlfriends from class to dinner at Bollicine’s…otherwise known as Osteria di Sherry that night. Gigi taught me how to prepare local food such as Octopus and potato salad, Penne Arrabbiata, and Veal Marsala. I had so much fun cooking with him and preparing the table in the restaurant for our dinner. The girls loved it and we stuffed ourselves silly. That night we all hung out well past close hours drinking wine with the guys laughing into the wee hours of the night.
My final family member is Natasha. Natasha was my saving grace here – she’s someone I can call a great friend. She’s a fellow language student from Australia a year younger than me, taking about 9 weeks off from work and traveling through Italy. She also enrolled in the school with no previous experience in speaking the language like myself. Natasha and I formed an initial friendship out of frustration with trying to learn a new language – however, that quickly turned into a friendship based on mutual interests and similar backgrounds. Sure – I’ve met a ton of people here in Sorrento – but the one person that I can safely say that I formed a friendship for life with was Natasha. It absolutely amazed me how much two women from different parts of the world can have in common – we just clicked.
By week two I was going over to her apartment for lunch and happy hours, we would plan travel outings on the weekend, we laughed, we cried – we laughed so hard we cried. We knew each other’s families and friends by name – we shared stories and experiences – there was never a dull moment! We had special lunches for ‘ladies that lunch’ which would consist of molto wine and lots of girl talk. Natasha always came up with great words of wisdom when I was feeling particularly stupid in class. She kept things light and funny. Sure – we both had our breakdowns in the middle of class…the moments where you feel so stupid that you just want to walk out…but luckily we would have them at different times – so that we could encourage each other to stick with it. Plus – we both had to be reminded that learning Italian was not worth crying over. After all…we chose this path…and many people would love to be in our shoes.
We explored the area together during our free time – Pompeii, lunched in Positano, climbed Vesuvio, frequented the beaches, and visited Capri. (See picture links at the top for the excursion photos!) I always believe that things just seem to work out…and meeting Natasha is just another example. I was nervous about living in Sorrento for a month and going to classes, but having Natasha around made it possible to really enjoy that time. I’m ready to move on from Sorrento this week – however, I know that I will miss her…it was fun to have a girlfriend around again…one that I felt so close with.
Thanks to my multiple Italian family friendships that I formed – it made my time here everything I was hoping for. Sure – I was also hoping that I could write this whole post in Italian after 4 weeks – but that was probably my overachievement quality emerging. Instead – I can say – Il mio tempo a Sorrento sono stata buona. Io ho fatto molto amici , ho mangiato molto pasta, e mi piace tutto momento.