Living and Working

There is a saying that goes, “Americans live to work and Italians work to live”. As I’ve said elsewhere, there is a danger in making generalizations, but there is probably some truth to them as well. Marco has lived in both cultures and he would agree with the sentiment behind that quote. Americans devote more of their energy, psyche, and time to their work lives. A simple example is found in the statistic that Americans work 50% more time than Europeans.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Italians and many Europeans, are known for their “bella vita“, joie de vivre, long luxurious lunches. . . and ample vacation time!  Tourists love visiting Italy for the wonderful relaxed lifestyle, warmth of people, and the food!

When Marco first moved to the States, he noticed that one of the first questions asked upon meeting someone new is “what do you do?” This doesn’t happen upon meeting someone in Italy. He noticed that Americans often define themselves by their careers. And, he noticed the reality that we all know. . . Americans have much less vacation time than Italians.

There are economic and cultural explanations for this that are left for other articles. My interest, for the purposes of this blog, is to share what we have learned as we have blended the two cultures. As you know, we almost moved to Italy but decided that we would stay here and try to bring the two cultures together. We made that decision based on this discussion of work life.

Marco and I each have a strong work ethic and can sometimes be called “driven”. I obtained my Doctorate while working full time and am known for producing results at work. Marco, likewise, is an “overachiever” and has recently decided to pursue his Doctorate. We love a project and love the challenge and rewards of a job well done.

The idea of moving to Italy when it grew closer to reality was a depressing one from the perspective of career. Marco, instead of having a Doctorate in nursing, would be confined to entry-level status with few, if any, possibilities of advancement in his field. My career situation was a bureaucratic challenge of credential transfer.

We have many friends in Italy and it is very rare to hear positive stories about work and career. The entrepreneurial spirit that Americans are famous for is sorely lacking in Italy. The current economic situation in Italy with 12.6% unemployment and 43.7% rate for youth is a crisis that needs major attention.

Corporate America is now talking about “work/life balance”. It is in vogue to talk about ways to succeed at work while also caring for ourselves, our families, and our social selves. I mentioned in an earlier blog the issue of “busy”-ness and living in a multi-tasking stressful time. How do we choose balance in our lives?

Over the years, Marco and I have learned much from our Italian culture. We also appreciate America as the “land of opportunity”. Our goal is life balance. We attempt this day-to-day and week to week. Some of the things we try are in past blog posts. Here are a few: eating a sit-down scratch-cooked dinner every evening as a family, choosing jobs that are a challenge but not consuming, low-key weekends, vacation time, moving and exercise throughout the week, electronic free zones, and time with each other and others.

What are some of your tips for this life balance?

 

 

Spaghetti Liberty

Marco and I saw the film “The Hundred-foot Journey” this past weekend, by the same director who made “Chocolat”. He does for food in this film what he did for chocolate in that one; he makes food the star of the film. He creates a visual feast for the eyes, a passionate portrayal of cooking, an homage to those who love to cook food and eat it.

The film is beautiful in many other ways as well. It has a wonderful cast, an engaging soundtrack, and is a wonderful tale about the intertwining of cultures. An Indian family opens a restaurant right across the street from a Michelin star French restaurant in a quaint village in Southern France. What ensues is a battle of sorts culminating in a cultural eye-opening for both the French and the Indian.

Two leads in the film making an omelette together

THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY

For Marco and I, any visit to France or Italy means that food will be the “star of the film”. Our recent trip to Italy was no exception. Immediately upon arriving to Cremona a few weeks ago, we headed over to Trattoria Liberty (www.trattorialiberty.it) for a “bel piatto di pasta”! We both ordered Spaghetti alla Carbonara, a perfect welcome to Italy/ comfort food/ travel weary delight!

Trattoria Liberty

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Marco was a waiter at Trattoria Liberty for a few years under the previous ownership. He enjoyed many fun years of hard work and friendship. Along the way, as waiters are wont to do, he learned a few cooking tips. One recipe we make at home, now, is a simple pasta dish that he recalls from his days at Liberty. It is a nice dish when you don’t know what else to make. We always have the ingredients for this at home. And, it’s a nice comfort food, tasty dish. . . Spaghetti Liberty.

We spoke about the importance of salting the water several weeks ago.  Begin heating the water to a boil while preparing the sauce.

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Slice your garlic and sauté in olive oil.

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Beat the eggs.  Add salt, pepper, and some freshly grated parmesan cheese and set aside until the pasta is al dente.

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Once the Spaghetti is al dente, drain or scoop out of the water and add the Spaghetti to the garlic and olive.  Then, pour the egg mixture over the pasta, keeping the heat on low.  Mix the spaghetti and egg mixture until creamy.  Keep in mind that the salt water can be used to affect the consistency of the pasta (so if you used the colander instead of a scoop, you’ll have to set aside some of the salt water).

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Finished product. . . We served it with some roasted asparagus. Enjoy!!

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Ingredients to make for 3:

  1. Spaghetti (we use about 70 g per person – as an only course, less if it’s a primo)
  2. Coarse Sea Salt to salt the water
  3. 3 eggs (you can play around with quantities)
  4. 3 garlic cloves, sliced
  5. Olive Oil
  6. salt and pepper to taste
  7. About 1/3 cup of fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan) or Grana Padano

Hara Hachi Bu

There is always a bit of a culture shock when we return from our time in Italy. There are things we love about the return and there are some things that we lament. We love returning to a more efficient running of the day-to-day processes of life. We miss the “imposed” slow-down in the early afternoon lunch break. We enjoy returning to our home, friends, and family. We miss the friends and family of Cremona. We love our strolls through Salem while missing those in Italy.

On our last evening stroll through Cremona, we walked past a new yogurteria. Yes, just like in the U.S., frozen yogurt places are the new thing! It was a warm summer evening and the pedestrian walkway cafe tables were filled with customers. Our first night back from Italy, on our Salem evening stroll, we went with friends to the favorite yogurt shop down the street from our house. Likewise, it was a busy place on a warm summer night.

Yogurteria in Cremona

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Marco and I noticed one major difference between the two yogurterias. In Italy, the portions were much smaller. We saw three tall narrow glass containers in the Cremona yogurteria. At the Salem store, there are two large containers from which to choose. The smallest container in the Salem location is about 3-4 inch diameter and 3 inches deep. Without having measured the containers in both stores, I would guess that the largest container in the Cremona store could probably fit 4 times or more in the Salem one! Suffice it to say. . . portions in Italy are much smaller than the U.S.

Several blog entries ago, I wrote about one of my favorite books on healthy aging, “The Blue Zones”. As you recall, Dan Buettner and his team interviewed centenarians from communities where significant numbers of people are living healthy lives into their nineties and hundreds. One of the principles that was found in each of the blue zones is about food portions. While the food types, culture, and methods varied, the people in the blue zones moderated their eating to the point that the daily caloric intake was in the 1900 – 2000 range.

In Okinawa, the elders repeat a Confucian-inspired proverb before every meal, “hara hachi bu” – a phrase which reminds them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full. In Italy, in addition to smaller portions, we notice that snacking between meals is generally not a part of the culture. Marco’s parents frown upon my snacking behavior. . . and, I have to admit, that after a couple days eating there, I lose my desire to snack between meals.

Buettner found that none of his subjects ever went on a diet. Rather, like the Okinawans, they knew instinctively that the circumstances and context around their eating is the important dynamic. In his book he notes the health benefits of eating less and then points out strategies to help in our own cultural contexts. He suggests ideas like the following:  focussing on purchasing habits (so we influence what is around us in our kitchens), changing the size of plates and glasses (e.g. our yogurt example from above), and learning from “hara hachi bu“. He states that most Americans stop eating when they “feel full” while an Okinawan says, “I’m no longer hungry”.

My yoga class today reinforced the Okinawan adage, “hara hachi bu” by emphasizing the importance of being aware of our bodies. The simple, yet difficult, task of bringing awareness to ones body while eating may be the first profound step towards portions of food that truly allow us to feel 80% full. Learning a bit from Italian culture, and from the elders who are living longer and healthier, we discover that healthy aging is a lifestyle.

Local Wine

Part of our pact is to buy from our local downtown stores as much as possible. We love living in the center and we love strolling the streets where there are vibrant, beautiful, and practical shops. This is easy regarding our wine ever since Eric opened Salem Wine Imports in downtown Salem. He has since sold the store to Kathy but the store continues to be the place where we buy all of our wine. It helps that purchasing by the case gives us a nice discount!

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As I write this, I am drinking a Barolo from Ascheri vineyards in the Piemonte region of Italy. Eric introduced Marco and me to Ascheri by selling several wines from that vineyard. The Barolo is a special vacation treat that we purchased during our visit to the cantina. Our favorites grapes from that region are Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo, and recently a rare grape known only to a small part of that region called Grignolino.

One day at the store, Eric mentioned that he had visited Ascheri. I went home found their site on the internet, and last year Marco, Matteo and I visited for the first time. The cantina is in the town of Bra (no jokes) in the Piemonte region. It also boasts a renovated boutique hotel and a fine osteria.

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This week we visited for the second year in a row. We were treated once again to a tour of the cantina by Matteo Ascheri. He is the sixth generation of his family producing the Ascheri wines. We met his mother Cristina (Salem Wine Imports sells a white in her name). Our son Matteo loved hearing the science of how the wine is made and seeing all of the tanks, barrels, and equipment that goes into the making, bottling, and packaging of the wine. Marco and I loved hearing the art of making the wine and seeing the beautiful space that Matteo Ascheri and his family have created in renovating an antique cantina into an architectural showpiece, melding of the old and the new.

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Local is unique in Italy. One day, years ago, Marco and I said that we were going to Piacenza to eat with some friends. This began an argument with his parents on why we would do such a thing when we could stay in Cremona to eat the local food. Mind you, we were going 5 kilometers away, across the river Po, to a restaurant. I couldn’t understand the passion and force behind their feelings.

Over the years I’ve learned more about the history of Italy. It was only united as a country in 1848 and only a republic since 1946! In addition, about every 30 kilometers there is a different dialect that is spoken. The further you go away from your home town, the least likely you will understand the dialect of the new town. Going a little further back in history we know that Italy was a land of city-states. Just look at the medieval town and city walls and it is a visible reminder of how small communities of people lived in walled, protected, local areas.

These realities affect the food and wine. For centuries Italians have been cooking, eating, and drinking based on local factors. The unique dishes grew around the local production of food from each region and the wine follows suit. The Piemonte region, for example, is know for the abundance of tartufi (truffles) that grow there. So, there are many wonderful pasta and risotto dishes that use the tartufi. In addition, the wines in the region are a perfect compliment to the earthy flavors of the truffle.

As we travel Italy it’s easy to ensure that the wine will be a nice match with the food.  We simply order food from the region and  ask the waiter for a nice bottle of the local wine.  At home, we try to pair the wine based on the food we are cooking. Sometimes we just know what will go the best based on past experience. Sometimes we know based on the regional dish we are making and the wines that are produced there. Sometimes we rely on a good internet search to learn from others with more expertise in pairing wine with food.