Monday, July 4, 2016

Kicking at Marco Polo's Door

Checking out Paris
Several nights ago we had  Francesco, who works in the same place as my wife, over for dinner.  He is an amazing young man and an inspiration to me.  While I, living an old person’s life as exciting as watching a bocci ball game, ponder shaky fingers, sagging skin and loss of memory,  Francesco had the  determination to lose a pile of weight through exercise  with personal trainer.  His effort now allows him to compete in local marathons, and the amount he lost causes one to pause and ask, “is that you?”

No Pain  No Gain

Besides that fact, Francesco would make a good choice for an Italian ambassador, his innate quality of curiosity, and his overwhelming passion to know more about the world is contagious.  Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus have nothing on him.  He has a desire to find the heart of who people are, and, in particular, what Americans feel, think and do. I knew we would have a good conversation based on travel, and I had also given a thought to the Mexican food I wanted him to try.

In his hands, he  was holding his itinerary to his trip in August to the American southwest, and we very quickly sat down while he told us the plans.  His face was colored with pleasure and excitement as we went through each stopping place on his trip.  I grew up in the southwest, and knew well all of the places where he would be visiting, the tour group was very thorough in their plans.  

This was not to be the normal tourist experience, as he would be in a van with 13 other Europeans, and they would be sleeping in a tent in National Parks.  We had lots to discuss as camping in Europe is quite a bit different that in the US  While in the US there is a lot of space between tent sites, in Europe it is quite crowded.  In the US campgrounds, you usually need a bag of coins to take to the shower, and there is not camp store or restaurant like in Europe.  I warned him to stock up on all the things he would need every night before the drive into the camping area.  

USS Pampanito of WWII
The conversation moved to San Francisco, Fisherman’s Wharf and the WWII submarine, the cable cars, and Alcatraz.  I made a big push for him to go to a baseball game and see the Giants play.  He asked me if I had been in the Los Angeles subway,  and that he was eager to use it so that he could compare it to Milano's.  I was no help on that one.  We moved on to Santa Barbara and its beaches and then the desert of Utah, Bryce and Zion Park, Arches National Monument, and the famous straight highway in Monument Valley.  My wife made a big push for him to carry two liters of water at the Grand Canyon when he hiked all the trails along the rim. 
We got around to discussing Las Vegas, and I suggested a stop at Margaritaville on the strip, and taking a cab to the pinball museum and a shooting gallery.  (Italians don’t have guns and are very curious.)  When I related about Margaritaville, I mentioned the famous Jimmy Buffet song, but Francesco didn’t have a clue.
It is always a bit of a shock to me to be talking to people who do not know about Janis Joplin, the song called Sailing, the famous Richy Valens, Otis Redding, John Candy, and John Belushi, the Vietnam war, Nixon, Johnson and the Kennedy assassinations.  (My age is showing.)  My response was to Spotify the song and make him a margarita!  It was his first.  Margaritas are not popular here, for one reason limes are difficult to find.  Mojitos are more popular.

Tamale on bottom right
I wanted Francesco to have an ready to taste approach of Mexican food, so I had spent the afternoon making tamales.  He learned how people in the southwest make tamales during holidays, especially Christmas.  I related my  first tamale that was brought to our home on Christmas Day by Mr. Lucero, my father’s friend.  There was  that never forgetful  smell of roasted corn, masa e roasted chili emitting from a silver lard pail. 

I need Cisco and Pancho to
Sneak a bag of Masa over the
border.  They were 1950's
television heroes of mine
I explained how I managed to get a bag of masa in Italy, and how one uses lard, chicken broth while soaking the corn husks.   We talked about how tasting the food from a country is part of the adventure, while I showed him how tamales are made.  I made a special point that he MUST try enchiladas, chili rellenos and tamales in August and to find them in a mom and pop place, rather than from a corporate chain.  This led us into a discussion of food from a box, rather than fresh ingredients.  

Bloody Mary foto by Jaimie Oliver

We got onto the topic of Italians and Americans and how Americans expect a pile of food, all of the courses at the same time, while Italians eat slowly and seem to enjoy letting the ingredients shine.   Here nothing is over-complicated by too many additions to the recipe.  
 I encouraged him to consider the difference.  Then because he had never had one, I made him a bloody mary, another unknown drink to Italians.  (You cannot find tomato juice in Italy, you must make your own.)  

Just dropped his metal detector in the surf
Over gelato, Francesco discussed his first trip to America, and we heard his quilt of stories, insights into the real America.    With eyes of warm contentment, what he related was like an autumn breeze.   Expecting a bit of fast paced America or some big event, he told us of his slow-paced experience walking through a neighborhood in San Clemente.   ( I mentioned that Nixon had a home in San Clemente, but Francesco is too young and too European.)   He described the houses, the trees, and the people.  We began to see in a new way, through his eyes how he enjoyed seeing basketball boards over the garage, the people enjoying a day laying on the grass in a park, and watching the white surf north of San Diego in the early morning.  He planted his explorer’s flag right in our living room!  

My intention for the evening was to help Francesco be prepared for his vacation.  The outcome  for me was that he helped me see new possibilities that I sometimes take for granted.  I enjoyed relaxing and listening to his experiences, his questions, and his explorer spirit.  I think that  he came away with a renewed interest in his vacation plans.  He left with some new ideas to think about.  I also had given him 20 euros with which I asked him to purchase and bring back some corn tortillas.  I can only hope that someday they will be available here in the Veneto.
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