Bitter, Green, Spring Radicchio

Today my landlady brought some foil-wrapped Easter chocolates to my door, which I accepted gratefully, immediately planning to bring them to the candy bowl at the school where I teach English. I’d had enough of holiday candies and just wanted to be left alone with my bar of very dark chocolate. However, she then invited me to pick some of the green radicchio from the garden. The gift of food!

Squatting in the afternoon sun, she yanked the little green plants from the soil, shaking the dirt and loose leaves from the bunches. I had actually never seen this kind of radicchio before, with broad leaves that taper to a bunch at the root. She explained to me–in a rapid but understandable Italian–that you have to slice the leaves into very thin strips in order to get the most flavor from them. They are also a typical accoutrement to Easter Sunday lunch, served as a salad topped with chopped boiled eggs. The yellow of the yolk, creamy and sweet, lends itself well to the bitter greens, which at first taste reminded me of arugula or dandelion leaves, though not as peppery as the former or as tough as the latter.

I took my little green gifts into the kitchen, which happens to look out onto the garden, and washed the leaves carefully. I took a few of the small bunches and sliced them up into a green salad, drizzled some good olive oil over them, added a dash of salt and pepper, and took a bite. Yikes! Amaro! (That’s “bitter” in Italian.) So I took a boiled egg from the fridge, chopped that up, threw it on with some slices of avocado along with a small handful of valerianella, which isn’t a common green in the States. In English, we use the French mรขche, though it’s also called “corn salad” or “lamb’s lettuce.” It’s the most popular salad green in Italy and is actually rather soft and lightly sweet. With these additions, the bitterness of the green radicchio was perfectly complemented in my little lunch salad. Before lunch, I had prepared a porcini and red wine risotto, but that’s for another time…

In Italy, Pizza Really Is Everything

The time-old adage is true: Italians eat pizza. A lot of pizza.

Back home in America, Friday night is pizza night. You call up your local Italian-American pizzeria, order a large pie with cheese and pepperoni, and throw in an order of wings to boot. As a matter of fact, most American pizzerias also serve hoagies, subs, cheesesteaks, fries, wings, and iceberg-based salads. But this isn’t Italian.

In Italy, pizza goes like this: If you’re sitting down with friends, everyone orders their own pizza from a menu with five pages of suggested topping combinations with names like “4 Seasons” and “The Roman”. Sometimes the daily special is a whole wheat crust and, if you’re lucky, you might find a decent gluten-free option. The pizza is at least twelve inches in diameter and most of the toppings, including the cheese, are clustered toward the center of the pie, which is some sort of unspoken rule.

If you’re just walking down the street and are feeling a bit peckish, most pizzerias serve it up by the slice and you can have it flat or you can have it Sicilian style. Sometimes the crust is more like focaccia so beware unless you like it bready. In Rome, “pizza al taglio” costs by the gram. In most pizzerias, however, you just pay by the slice. Generally, most pizza served by the slice is plain cheese, which they call margherita, or you might have pepperoni, mushrooms, bell peppers or eggplant.

Yes, real Italians do eat pepperoni pizza. And yes, for whatever reason you want to believe, Italy does do pizza better than even New York City.

Going out for pizza is my favorite social activity. Add red wine to the meal and maybe a friendly pour of some handmade grappa, and you’ve got yourself a genuine Italian evening. So don’t be jealous! Go out right now and get yourself a fresh pizza pie and bask in the universal glory of Italian tradition, minus the ancient, amazing architecture. Sorry.

Indubitably Bidet

So let’s just cut straight to it – The bidet is kind of amazing.

As an American who has recently transplanted to Italy, I was afraid of it at first. I turned up my nose at the strange-looking sink-toilet, confused by the idea of squatting over a faucet, splashing myself with lukewarm water, and buffing my bum with a hand towel. It seemed improper, somehow, or maybe even primitive. I imagined myself as a king who rapidly transformed into a caveman as I shuffled from my porcelain throne to a hover above what could be quite useful as a dog’s bowl. It took a few weeks to drum up the courage… And now I’m obsessed.

I’ll never forget the first time I shifted, pants around my ankles, from the T to the B. I had let the water run for a minute, not wanting to be traumatized by icing my own anus. No no, I double checked the flow before wetting my nether-lips and after a few seconds of streaming action, a beautiful sensation began to spread from my spread cheeks. Like a big warm hug from someone you love and haven’t seen in ages.

As a gay man, I’m already rather comfortable with my bottom business, so really I had already fought half the battle of getting used to splashing and massaging away the discomfort of defecation. After a week, I was whistling as I wet my tooter, and after a month, I was hitting high notes as I sang hallelujah for a happy hole. Never again will I have to nervously wonder if my dirty deed would linger on behind me. Forevermore, I can shine my hiney after the drop-off and go confidently onward with my day.

Who could have invented such a thing? Well, the French of course! Women used to straddle a small, raised basin of water to rinse off their French lilies when the fragrance was ripe. Then, just like Adam to Eve, all the men started joining in, wanting to wash their naughty bits, too. Now the bidet is a standard, nay, required, feature in every domicile. It’s used for douching, rear rinsing, feet washing, and many more wet and wild wonders of private concern.

I don’t think I can ever again live without a bidet. Who doesn’t want to finger their fanny regularly?