Italian Trouble

By Andrea Scarpino

The only trouble with being in Crotone is that I never really know what’s about to happen–which means, in part, that I never know how much food I may be expected to eat. I don’t speak Italian well enough for complex conversations, and even though I’ve dusted off my French to speak to one cousin, and Zac has gone professional in Google Translate iPad-style, we’re still often fumbling from place to place and person to person, not entirely sure what’s going to happen next.

Case in point: lunch in Sersale, which is the town from which my grandfather moved when he came to the US in the 1920s. We eat lunch with one of my father’s first cousins who, even though she’s in her 80s, has prepared a feast: two kinds of spaghetti, two kinds of eggplant, zucchini parmesan, sautéed wild mushrooms, green salad, fresh ricotta, six other cheeses, bread, olives, bowls of fresh cherries, and two kinds of pastries. We’re also served–at lunch, mind you–white wine and artisanal sparkling red wine, as well as homemade cream limoncello. My stomach becomes physically sore, stretched beyond any normal limit. Not eating, however, is clearly not an option–as soon as I say “no thank you,” my father’s cousin looks devastated and asks, “You don’t like it?” So I pile more on my plate.

Lunch begins at 1pm, and by the time we leave her house with home-dried chili peppers and oregano, three pieces of lace that she has crocheted especially for us, and a homemade soap that I’m pretty sure is made from pig, it’s almost 4pm. We’ve been eating for three hours. But, it turns out, we’re not done. We’re taken to another of my father’s first cousins for a visit, and as we chat about all that we’ve just eaten, his wife disappears from the living room. A few minutes later, she returns with lemon sorbet that she’s just purchased from a grocery on the corner. “This will help with your digestion,” she says.

Again, it’s clear that we can’t refuse, so I spoon the sorbet into my mouth as quickly as I can, hoping she may actually be right. My stomach has reached baby-bump proportions and shows no signs of retracting because of additional food, sorbet or otherwise. At one point, Zac slips into a sugar coma, and from across the room, I try to will him awake. But there’s more to come: thick almond milk at the home of another cousin.

Again, Zac and I try to refuse, but my relatives throw an all-out tantrum. My cousin, a man in his late 70s, actually begins to stomp his feet, while his wife (who can’t be any younger) whines, her voice becoming frantic and high pitched. I finally manage to say something like, “Okay, we drink” so that the tantrum ends, but I’m growing more and more confident that an emergency room visit from a ruptured stomach is in my future.

When we finally head home to Crotone, a dinner of pizza, fried calzones, focaccia, and beer awaits us. By bedtime, we’ve been eating for 9 straight hours. Which I might have thought blissful had I not actually endured it. On the plus side: I’m pretty sure I’ve carb loaded enough for every run I do the rest of the year.

0 thoughts on “Italian Trouble

  1. I’m so glad I’m not the only one who has had this experience! Zac and I have seriously never eaten so much EVER!


  2. Andrea; my mother-in-law, a true European, used to tell her grandchildren, when they protested more food, “Force Yourself”. And that’s what occurs at every meal for visitors.
    And of course you are “skinny” in their view and need fattening. ah so.


  3. I had this EXACT same experience in Cosenza when I visited my Italian family, except that at the age of 21, I was very insecure about life in general and I actually CRIED when they brought out more food!


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