All Aboard! Welcome to “Be Italian Station!” Stop III on Papa’s Wonderful, Whimsical Train of Life

All Aboooooooard!

Welcome to “Be Italian!” Station!

Those of you that have been with us throughout the “Papa’s Italy” journey know that this is the blog for the website, “Papa’s Italy”( a continuation of the adventures of Aniello Agostino Oliviero, (aka, “Papa”) and his “grandawta” Danielle!

This entry is our third stop on Papa’s wonderful, whimsical train ride around the history of Italy and what it is like to be Italian-American in the U.S.A. We visited the tribes of ancient Italy, witnessed the immigration of Italians into America, and took a special tour through the challenges and charms of being Italian in modern America.

For this final installation, we want to share with you the different ways you can have more “Italy” in your every day life, and introduce you to some of our Italian-American friends and their favorite memories about growing up in an Italian family in America!

It’s a Great, Big, Italian World Out There

Why are so many aspects of the Italian culture so prevalent in the United States and around the world? You may be surprised to learn that while the majority of Italian citizens can be found in Italy, the majority of people reporting Italian heritage are not living in Italy.

Today, reports that of the 130 million Italians worldwide, 56 million Italian citizens live in Italy– the remaining 74 million people (about 5 million Italian citizens and the rest non-citizens of Italian heritage) are divided between other countries around the globe. The countries with the largest percentage of Italian citizens and national citizens with Italian heritage include:

 Italy        55,818,099[1]
 Brazil 23,047,494[2]
 Argentina 20,500,000[2]
 United States 17,250,211[3]
 Venezuela 1,736,766[4]
 France 1,530,563[2]
 Canada 1,488,425[5]
 Peru 1,400,000[6]
Uruguay 1,055,220[2]
 Australia 916,121[7]
 Germany 830,000[8]
  Switzerland 545,274[9]
 Belgium 451.825[10]
 Chile 184,997[2]
 United Kingdom 130,000[11]
 Mexico 85,000[12]
 South Africa 77,400[2]
 Spain 38,694[2]
 Austria 29.287[13]
 Albania 19,000[14]
 Croatia 17,807[15]
 Czech Republic 3,503[16]
 Romania 3,203[17]


Dat’s alotta Italian influence! And if we look for it, we can see it everywhere. In our past blogs we talked about the presence of Italian culture in movies, music and especially food. But what if its not enough? What if you want more Italy in your life? Here are some ways you can have more of that “La Dolce Vita,” the sweet life, in your life!

Mangia! Mangia!

blogravioli©Copyright 2016 Danielle Landis

The easiest way to have more Italy in your life is to eat, drink, and be merry, Italian style! This one can be as simple as heading out to your favorite local Italian restaurant for anything from a simple plate of linguini to a more elaborate kitchen preparation like a baked lasagna or a porcini risotto. gives us a list of the U.S. neighborhoods with the highest concentration of Italian restaurants (, but even if you don’t live in Boston, Hartford, New York, Chicago, Providence, St. Louis, or Philly, most neighborhoods have a huge selection of Italian restaurants offering a variety of Italian cuisines for all kinds of Italian budgets! (Ever tried Osteria Natalina in Tampa, Florida? T. Maccarones in Walla Walla, Washington? Sarducci’s in Montpelier, Vermont? Bocca Osteria in Cooperstown, New York?) Even in the smallest towns in America you can find a decent pizza somewhere, and if it’s just not decent, then no need to sacrifice, why not make your own Italian dinner at home? You can go from something as simple as Pasta Aglio e Olio (as easy but as delicious as it gets – pasta, olive oil, sauteed garlic, and grated parmesan) or “Lazy Lasagna” (a recipe Papa devised that had the Nonna’s rolling in their graves, but was the best “quick fix” for a last-minute lasagna craving! I’ve included the recipe at the end of this month’s blog, along with Mama’s “Easy Eggplant Parmagiana.” You will not be able to resist trying them!)

If you are feeling more ambitious, you can dig into one of the many traditional Italian cookbooks laying around the house or the internet and try your hand at an old-fashioned, real Italian recipe like those in Ada Buoni’s 1950 “Talisman Cookbook.” blogtalismancookbook

Even if you are not in the mood to conjure up some “Eels Genoa Style,” “Lamb Sweetbreads” (culinary hint: they are neither sweet nor made from bread), or “Ox Tounge in Rustic Sauce,” most of the recipes have less than 10 ingredients and taste just like they came out of Nonna’s 1975 kitchen (Try your hand at the “Tuscan Ministrone!)

While you are at it, if you want more Italian in your life, why stop at “just” cooking and eating? Why not plan an entire festa around your meal? Simply add a great soundtrack, a nice Italian wine, a quintessentially Italian movie, and you’ve got your very own Italian night! Here’s our recipe for one you can try at home:

The Meal: Make it easy on yourself and order in from your favorite, local Italian restaurant! Or,  want to make it yourself but don’t want to spend the entire day in the kitchen? Try Papa or Mama’s “Shhhhhh….Don’t Tell” easy recipes for Italian favorites lasagna and eggplant parmagiana… or, go ahead and get motivated and find the true Italian chef within- make an afternoon of it and try a recipe or two from the Talisman cookbook!

The Soundtrack: We have the perfect playlist! Start it when you start cooking and let it loop through to dessert- see our blog post “Aniello Oliviero’s Infinite Symphony” and scroll down to the end for a playlist of our all-time Italian favorites.

The Wine: Italy produces the largest volume of wine in the world (France is second.) Because of this fact you will probably have a large selection of Italian wines from which to choose.

blogwine©Copyright 2016 Danielle Landis

My advice? Start anywhere. And when I say anywhere, I mean start with a wine from any one of the recognized wine regions in Italy- there are 20, and I have listed them below using Wikipedia’s Italian wine map:blogitalianwine-regions

The regions are, roughly from Northwest to Southeast:

Another helpful Italian wine selection hint? Make sure the wrapper on the bottle neck is labeled, “Vini IGP,” “Vini DOC,” or “Vini DOCG.” These are Italian wine classifications that help ensure the wine you are drinking is actually from Italy, and not just a mix of grapes from somewhere in the European Union (not that an international mix is necessarily a bad thing, but we are going for authentic Italian wine on our Italian night!) (Note: this classification applies to your olive oil as well– there was a scandal a few years back when it was revealed that many olive oils claiming to be Italian were actually mixes of oils made from olives [and also oils from not olives!] from Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco, Spain and Greece. And when we use the word, “scandal,” trust that even though we are Italian, we are not exaggerating. You will be shocked [again, not exaggerating] at how common counterfeit Italian olive oil is, and how prevalent is its presence in the world market [].

If you desire olive oil from other countries of origin, that is great– I personally love trying new types of Spanish and Greek olives and olive oil- but if I believe I am buying olive oil from one country of origin, then I want the oil I buy to actually be from the country that is advertised on the front of the label– and I want it to be entirely made of olives! Pay special attention to the labels that say “Mediterranean Blend,” as these are usually a mix of the oil from several countries, and look for the “Country of Origin” listing on the back label, usually in very, very tiny print.)

Away from deceptive olive oil practices and back to authentic Italian wine, here, from Wikipedia, is a “cheat sheet” of basic Italian wine varietals to look for. First, your “Bianco,” your White Wines:

  • Arneis: A variety from Piedmont, which has been grown there since the 15th century.
  • Catarratto: Common in Sicily—this is the most widely planted white variety in Salaparuta.
  • Fiano: Grown on the southwest coast of Italy.
  • Friulano: A variety also known as Sauvignon Vert or Sauvignonasse, it yields one of the most typical wines of Friuli. The wine was previously known as Tocai but the name was changed by the EC to avoid confusion with the Tokay dessert wine from Hungary.
  • Garganega: The main grape variety for wines labeled Soave, this is a dry white wine from the Veneto wine region of Italy. It is popular in northeast Italy around the city of Verona. Currently, there are over 3,500 distinct producers of Soave.
  • Greco di Tufo: Grown on the southwest coast of Italy.
  • Malvasia bianca: A white variety that occurs throughout Italy with many clones and mutations.
  • Moscato blanc: Grown mainly in Piedmont, it is mainly used in the slightly-sparkling (frizzante), semi-sweet Moscato d’Asti. Not to be confused with Moscato Giallo and Moscato rosa, two Germanic varietals that are grown in Trentino Alto-Adige.
  • Nuragus: An ancient Sardinian variety found in southern Sardegna, producing light and tart wines consumed as an apertifs.
  • Passerina: mainly derives from Passerina grapes (it may even be produced purely with these), plus a minimum percentage of other white grapes and may be still, sparkling or passito. The still version has an acidic profile, which is typical of these grapes.
  • Pecorino: Native to Marche and Abruzzo, it is used in the Falerio dei Colli Ascolani and Offida DOC wines. It is low-yielding, but will ripen early and at high altitudes. Pecorino wines have a rich, aromatic character.
  • Pigato: An acidic variety from Liguria, the wines are vinified to pair with seafood.
  • Pinot grigio: A successful commercial grape (known as Pinot Gris in France), its wines are characterized by crispness and cleanness. The wine can range from mild to full-bodied.
  • Ribolla Gialla: A Greek variety introduced by the Venetians that now makes its home in Friuli.
  • Trebbiano: This is the most widely planted white varietal in Italy. It is grown throughout the country, with a special focus on the wines from Abruzzo and from Lazio, including Frascati. Trebbiano from producers such as Valentini have been known to age for 15+ years. It is known as Ugni blanc in France.
  • Verdicchio: This is grown in the areas of Castelli di Jesi and Matelica in the Marche region and gives its name to the varietal white wine made from it. The name comes from “verde” (green). In the last few year Verdicchio wines are considered to be the best white wines of Italy.[12]
  • Vermentino: This is widely planted in Sardinia and also found in Tuscan and Ligurian coastal districts. The wines are a popular accompaniment to seafood.

Other important whites include Carricante, Coda de Volpe, Cortese, Falanghina, Grechetto, Grillo, Inzolia, Picolit, Traminer, Verduzzo, and Vernaccia.

And here is a list of your “Rosso,” your Reds:

  • Aglianico del Vulture: Based on the Aglianico grape produced in the Vulture area of Basilicata. It was recognized as DOC in 1971 and DOCG in 2011.
  • Aglianico: Considered the “noble varietal of the south”, it is primarily grown in Basilicata and Campania. The name is probably derived from Hellenic, so it is considered a Greek transplant. The fruit is thick skinned and spicy fruit.
  • Barbera: The most widely grown red wine grape of Piedmont and Southern Lombardy, most cultivated around the towns of Asti, Alba, and Pavia. Barbera wines were once considered simply “what you drank while waiting for the Barolo to be ready”, but with a new generation of wine makers this is no longer the case. The wines are now meticulously vinified: in the Asti region Barbera grapes are used to make “Barbera d’Asti Superiore”, which may be aged in French barriques to become Nizza, a quality wine aimed at the international market. The vine has bright cherry-coloured fruit, and its wine is acidic with a dark color.
  • Corvina: Along with the varietals Rondinella and molinara, this is the principal grape which makes the famous wines of the Veneto: Valpolicella and Amarone. Valpolicella wine has dark cherry fruit and spice. After the grapes undergo passito (a drying process), the wine is now called Amarone, and is high in alcohol (16% and up) and characterized by raisin, prune, and syrupy fruits. Some Amarones can age for 40+ years and command spectacular prices. In December 2009, there was celebration when the acclaimed Amarone di Valpolicella was finally awarded its long-sought DOCG status. The same method used for Amarone is used for Recioto, the oldest wine produced in this area, but the difference is that Recioto is a sweet wine.[13]
  • Dolcetto: A grape that grows alongside Barbera and Nebbiolo in Piedmont, its name means “little sweet one”, referring not to the taste of the wine, but the ease in which it grows and makes good wines suitable for everyday drinking. Flavors of concord grape, wild blackberries, and herbs permeate the wine.
  • Malvasia nera: Red Malvasia varietal from Piedmont. A sweet and perfumed wine, sometimes elaborated in the passito style.
  • Montepulciano: Not to be confused with the Tuscan town of Montepulciano; it is most widely planted grape on the opposite coast in Abruzzo. Its wines develop silky plum-like fruit, friendly acidity, and light tannin. More recently, producers have been creating a rich, inky, extracted version of this wine, a sharp contrast to the many inferior bottles produced in the past.[14]
  • Nebbiolo: The most noble of Italy’s varieties. The name (meaning “little fog”) refers to the autumn fog that blankets most of Piedmont where Nebbiolo is chiefly grown, and where it achieves the most successful results. A difficult grape variety to cultivate, it produces the most renowned Barolo and Barbaresco, made in the province of Cuneo, along with the lesser-known Sforzato, Inferno and Sassella made in Valtellina, Ghemme and Gattinara, made in Vercelli’s province. Traditionally produced Barolo can age for fifty years-plus, and is regarded by many wine enthusiasts as the greatest wine of Italy.[15]
  • Negroamaro: The name literally means “black bitter”. A widely planted grape with its concentration in the region of Puglia, it is the backbone of the Salice Salentino.
  • Nero d’Avola: This once-obscure native varietal of Sicily is gaining attention for its fruit and sweet tannins. The quality of Nero d’Avola has surged in recent years.[16]
  • Primitivo: A red grape planted found in southern Italy, most notably in Apulia. Primitivo ripens early and thrives in warm climates, where it can achieve very high alcohol levels. It is known as Zinfandel in California.
  • Sagrantino: A native of Umbria, it is planted on only 250 hectares, but the wines produced from it (either blended with Sangiovese as Rosso di Montefalco or as a pure Sagrantino) are world-renowned. These wines can age for many years.
  • Sangiovese: Italy’s claim to fame, the pride of Tuscany. It produces Chianti (Classico), Rosso di Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montepulciano, Montefalco Rosso, and many others. Sangiovese is also the backbone in many of the acclaimed, modern-styled “Super-Tuscans”, where it is blended with Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc) and typically aged in French oak barrels, resulting in a wine primed for the international market in the style of a typical California cabernet: oaky, high-alcohol, and a ripe, fruit-forward profile.[17]

Other major red varieties are Cannonau, Ciliegolo, Gaglioppo, Lagrein, Lambrusco, Monica, Nerello Mascalese, Pignolo, Refosco, Schiava, Schiopettino, Teroldego, and Uva di Troia.

I try to support vineyards from the Southern region, since that is where Papa and Mama’s families are from, and amazing Southern wines are often overlooked in favor of the more famous Northern and Tuscan wines, like Barolo, Barbaresco, and Brunello di Montalcino (known by American eonophiles as the “Killer B’s” of Italian wine.) I like to drink “Greco di Tufo,” if I drink an Italian white wine, but reds are my favorite, and my favorite Italian reds right now are Aglianico, Aglianico del Vultura, or Negroamaro, all from the Southern regions. I also became a bit addicted to a rosé-style Aglianico, called Lacrimarosa Irpinia Rosato, from the Mastroberardino vineyard from Irpinia ( bloglacrimosa©Copyright 2016 Danielle Landis

The bottle art is lovely and the pink color is beautiful (not that you can see the shade, however, as I drank the bottle before it occurred to me to photograph it.) I was blessed to be able to try the rosato and quite a few “local”  Southern wines this summer during the famous “Sponzfest” ( in Calitri, Italy, a time when all of the wine caves and grottos open up to offer their family’s best labels.

Other than those vine-tastic hints from me and Wikipedia, you are on your own with the Italian night wine purchase! Have fun and make buying and drinking the bottle an experience in and of itself. Try to experiment with the different regions and varietals, and be comfortable deciding what you like and what you don’t. It’s all part of the adventure!

So, back to our “Italian Night”– you’ve got your soundtrack, you’ve got your food, you’ve got your wine. Now, for the evening’s entertainment, your “quintessentially Italian” movie.

The Quintessentially Italian Movie: Obviously this is a matter of taste and preference, and this list reflects my bias in both. Here are my favorites that I think will make for a great Italian theme night! We will begin with some classic Italian directors and films and work our way up to the more modern films that are less Italian and more “Italian themed.”

  1. Cinema Paradiso (1990 ) and Malena (2000; Directed by Giuseppe Tornatorre;
  2. Il Postino (The Postman) (1994 – Directed by Michael Redford;
  3. The Bicycle Thieves (1948 Directed by Vittorio De Sica
  4. Amarcord (1973 and La Dolce Vita (1960; Directed by Federico Fellini
  5. Pane y Tulipane (2000 Directed by Silvio Soldini;
  6. La Vita e bella (1997 Directed by Roberto Benigni;
  7. Pranzo di Ferragosto (2008 Directed by Gianni di Gregorio;
  8. Roman Holiday (1953 Directed by William Wyler
  9. To Rome with Love (2012 – Directed by Woody Allen
  10. The Big Night (1996 ) Directed by Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci

There are a few movies that, although they are not my favorites, if you like Italian-themed film and characters, these are stereotypically Italian and definitely worth a watch!

The Godfather starring Al Pacino and Marlon Brando;

Moonstruck starring Cher and Nicholas Cage;

My Cousin Vinny starring Marissa Tomei and Joe Pesci;

Raging Bull starring Robert DeNiro;

Rocky starring Sylvester Stallone;

Stealing Beauty starring Liv Tyler;

Tea with Mussolini starring Maggie Smith and Judy Dench;

The American starring George Clooney;

The Tourist starring Angelina Jolie and Johhny Depp;

When in Rome starring Kirsten Bell and Josh Duhammel;

Under the Tuscan Sun starring Diane Lane;

Only You starring Marissa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr.;

Eat, Pray, Love starring Julia Roberts;

The Talented Mr. Ripley starring Matt Damon and Jude Law;

Letters to Juliet starring Amanda Seyfried;

Italian for Beginners starring Anders Berthelsen.

While you are watching your classic Italian movie you can enjoy a classic Italian dessert, like Neapolitan ice cream, Cannoli or Tiramisu, followed by the customary after-dinner espresso to make sure you make it through the entire movie (Italian films are renowned for being long!) Be sure to finish it all with a “digestivo” like Fernet Branca, Amaro Lucano, Ramazotti, or Cynar, very important bitter herb liquor concoctions to help all of that wonderful food digest, and make sure you sleep like a bambino.

More, More, More!

So let’s say you’ve had your Italian theme night, or even a few of them, and all it has done is make you hungry, thirsty and craving even more Italian. Non te preoccupe, there are so many things you can do to bring more Italy into your life! Some examples:

Visit Italian-Themed YouTube Channels– Italian-American YouTubers can bring some fun and entertaining Italian culture into your life. Plus, you may learn a thing or three! A few that I like:

This segment from Marco in a Box is called “How to be Italian – 20 Rules Italians Never Break.” See if any of these ring familiar for you!

This one from Buzzfeed Yellow, “Signs you Grew Up Italian American”

And another from Buzzfeed, “Italian Grandmothers Try Olive Garden.” **Brooklyn Nonna Bad Language Warning: One of the Mamas has a bit of a dirty mouth on her, but the video was so cute I was compelled to include it anyway.


Read Italian Books – If you love reading, and you love Italy, be sure to look at this list from, ( that includes authors such as Umberto Eco (The Name of the Rose), Niccolò Machiavelli (The Prince), Dante Alighieri (The Divine Comedy) Giovanni Boccaccio (The Decameron), Paolo Giordano (The Solitude of Prime Numbers), Elena Ferrante (The Days of Abandonment), Mario Puzo (The Godfather) and many others. Oh, and while you are at it, don’t forget to read, “How Do We Love?” The soon-to-be classic non-fiction picture novel about the adventures of Aniello “Papa” Oliviero! (

Go to an Italian Heritage Festival- Annual Italian heritage festivals can be found all over the United States. Many of these events coincide with Italian American Heritage Month, which is in October. provides lists and links to all of the Italian festivals aross the country by state:

As does Order Sons of Italy in America, with over 361 festivals listed across the country!

And Martha Bakerjian from shares with us her favorites: (

Memphis Italian Festival May: Memphis Italian Festival is usually the last weekend of May in Memphis, Tennessee

Summer in Little Italy Festival Summer: New York’s Little Italy holds a festival every weekend during summer with sidewalk cafes and special events.

Venetian Night and Boat Parade July: Chicago’s Venetian Night and boat parade is modeled after boat parades in Venice, Italy.

Feast of the Assumption August: Feast of the Assumption, August 15, is a big holiday in Italy. Cleveland, Ohio.

San Gennaro Festival September: San Gennaro is a 10-day festival in New York City’s Little Italy.

Feast of San Gennaro September: Feast of San Gennaro is celebrated in Los Angeles with a weekend festival in late September.

Italian Heritage Parade October: San Francisco’s Italian Heritage Parade, held in North Beach on Columbus Day, has been going on since 1868 and is nation’s oldest Italian Heritage Parade.

Organize a Family Reunion– what better way to appreciate and reminisce about being an Italian American than with an Italian family reunion? It doesn’t have to be elaborate, just the act of having everyone together in the same place- whether it is Nonno’s living room, a park, the beach or a nice Italian restaurant- is what makes it amazing! And holding it around a special time of the year, like Thanksgiving or Independence Day or Mama’s 96th birthday makes it a no-brainer for every warm-hearted, holiday-loving Italian American. Imagine all the famiglia, the food, the photos, the wine, the music, the laughter, sharing old stories and memories and making new ones!

Join an Italian-American Society– Italian American clubs represent a way to preserve the Italian American culture, traditions, memories, language and relationships between Italian Americans in the United States. Plus, they usually hold all kinds of wonderful Italian-related events, from language classes to group travel to festivals and other social events. provides a list of the Italian American clubs and societies by state:

Go to Italy! Eighteenth century British author Samuel Johnson said, “A man who has not been in Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority, from his not having seen what it is expected a man should see.” The World Tourism Organization ranks Italy as the 5th most internationally visited country in the world, with 50.7 million international visitors in 2015, up from 48.6 million in 2014. And according to, Rome is the #1 family vacation spot in all of Europe. These statistics are not surprising, with all the beauty and diversity Italy has to offer. Who hasn’t wanted to visit the ancient Coliseum in Rome, walk through vast fields of Tuscan sunflowers, or overlook the rugged, jaw-dropping vistas on the Amalfi Coast? Airlines now offer inexpensive direct flights to Rome, Air BnB,, and make local living affordable and possible, and as of this writing the Euro is at an all time low. What are you waiting for? Italy is waiting for you!

Become a dual citizen- Thanks to the Italian government and some helpful non-governmental and for-profit services, it is now easier than ever for Americans with Italian heritage to get their dual Italian citizenship. Having dual citizenship will allow you to live, work and study in Italy and the E.U. without a visa, will allow you to stay in Italy beyond the 90-day visa waiver limit, and will also make buying property easier. You will need to know certain information, such as the birth dates and birthplaces of your Italian-born ancestors, and you will need to secure original birth and death certificates for them, you and everyone in-between (websites like can help with those activities at very reasonable rates.) There are costs associated with applying for dual Italian citizenship, and the status may also have tax implications, but if you are interested in the idea of having dual citizenship, then it is worth a look! Check out for more information.

Move to Italy- This is, of course, a big step, but if you are truly in love with Italy and all things Italian, you may want to consider a life there! If it’s good enough for celebrities like George Clooney, Sting, Hellen Mirram, Woody Allen, Richard Branson, George Lucas, Leonardo Dicaprio and others, maybe it’s worth a try for you? (

Wealthy movie stars and directors aside, more and more “regular, everyday” U.S. citizens are moving to or retiring to Italy in order to make their financial savings go further than it can in the U.S. Take, for example, my neighbors in Calitri, Italy, Barbara and John Highet. They bought and renovated a home in Calitri, Italy, sold everything in their hometown of Evergreen, Colorado, and now live in Italy full time. (See Barbara and John and their new Calitri home in their episode on International House Hunters If you catch the bug and want to learn more about moving to Italy, Emma Basile runs Porta D’Oriente agency in Calitri and has quite a bit of experience helping Americans (and UK’ers and EU’ers) become expats! (

Before you commit to a permanent move, you may want to consider a temporary, trial adventure for a few months- even if you don’t want to or are not able to apply for dual Italian citizenship, you can still apply for a “Permesso de Soggiorno” which will allow you to stay in Italy beyond the 90 day visa waiver limit. ( Once you have applied for the Permisso de Soggiorno for 5 years in a row, you can apply for permanent Italian residence. Don’t think you have the budget to live anywhere else for a few months? If you want to try out living in Italy, you can also try house or pet sitting. and are two well-established sites that offer opportunities for house and pet sitting around the world, including Italy!

Meet Some Paesan!

We hope these ideas have given you some inspiration for a multitude of ways to bring more Italy into your life. But one of the best and most Italian ways to bring more Italy into your life is to make new friends. If you thought you and your family were the only Italian-Americans out there, then meet a few new amici that have graciously shared with us their fondest memories of being Italian.

Meet Leila Martini!

Full Maiden Name:  Leila Martini

My dad’s side is from Northern Italy and immigrated into Canada. My mom’s side is from Sicily and immigrated into Florida.


Leila’s Mimi and Papa (Mimi wearing the fur shawl and Papa to her left)

Mimi and Papa’s parents came from Alessandria della Rocca  (  My mom said BOTH of mimi’s parents and BOTH of papa’s parents came from that town…very interesting!

blogleilasggLeila’s Great Grandparents

Both Mimi and Papa’s families came into Ybor City, Florida. The interesting thing about this is a lot of our traditions are a merged blend of Italian/Cuban because of the Ybor City Cuban influence…for instance…Mimi’s FANTASTIC “Cuban coffee” and the fact that Papa loved GUAVA pastries, which he called “wawa”…lol!

The thing I love most about being Italian is the warmth. There is a certain exuberance that comes along with being Italian…a zest for life!

The most memorable thing for me about being from an Italian family is everyone talking over each other and all at once. I took a communication class once and the professor noted that I start most of my sentences with “Listen…” and it occurred to me that that is because growing up no one did listen and you had to literally yell to be heard!

My favorite Italian comfort food? Oh my gosh! PASTA!!! And Mimi made it so many different ways. One of my favorite ways was this white sauce…made with chicken and peas and mushrooms…it was not creamy…sort of soupy, really and with big, thick, curly noodles…sort of like a lasagna noodle but 1/3 of the width. I think the food is the Italian tradition we carry on in my family. March 16th for instance, my mom has a get together of all the cousins to celebrate the March birthdays and she is making all of Mimi’s pastas…all the main ones…chicken/peas/mushroom white sauce, the red sauce, the clam sauce, the broccoli and pignoli nuts. 

We are definitely Italian and have that Italian vibe but truly it is so mixed in with Cuban that it is funny to me. Mimi spoke Spanish and I was shocked to discover this. She said it was from growing up in Ybor City. Her version of the Italian language was interesting….All her little old lady friends that she played bridge with would say “que beda” and “que duche”…so instead of BELLA it was BEDA. And “DOO CH AY.” So their pronunciations weren’t really formal Italian…maybe that is what Sicilian pronunciation is like. Also, there was a big, big difference between Mimi’s side Italian and Nonno and Nonna’s side (my dad’s side) Italian. Nonno and Nonna were northern Italian, what one would think of when thinking Italian…pasta made from scratch, old ladies mourning and wearing black…like old school… Mimi’s side was more joyful and warm and cohesive and I think that was part of the Cuban influence.

Meet Lisa Marie Farniacci!


Full Maiden Name: Lisamarie Sellitti (Lisa Marie is on the right)

My grandmother on my mother’s side was born in Bari, Italy and my grandfather was born in Tuscany, Italy. My grandmother on my father’s side was born in Naples, Italy and my grandfather was born in Tuscany, Italy. When they first came to the U.S., both grandparents came through Ellis Island, and they settled in Brooklyn, New York.


Top Image – Lisa Marie’s grandparents. Bottom Image, Lisa Marie’s grandmother

The thing I love most about being Italian American is of course the food, but also the stories and Italian rituals. My best memory of being from an Italian family has to be my grandmother cooking for weeks to get ready for the holidays. My favorite Italian comfort food was definitely eggplant parm! My grandmother also used to make homemade pizza, pasta and Easter pie. We just don’t do that anymore!!! 

There are a few Italian traditions from my childhood that I still carry on today. Saying grace before each meal is a big one, and so is making all the fish on Christmas eve, and on Christmas day, lasagna! Also, we still do christening celebrations, big birthday parties for the one-year-olds, and huge weddings where we invite everyone! 

Meet Jill Barone!

Full Maiden Name: Mary Jill Barone (I kept my maiden name when I got married….. that’s the way they do it in Italy too. The name you are born with is the one you die with!) Our family is Italian only on my dad’s side—my dad’s mom was born in a small town called Fossato Ionico in Reggio Calabria. My dad’s dad was born in the U.S., but his older sisters were both born in Modica, Sicily before the family came to the U.S.. Dad’s mom was born in Fossato Ionico, Reggio Calabria, Italy right at the tip of the boot and Dad’s father’s siblings and parents were born in Modica, Ragusa, Sicily.

My dad’s grandfather (Salvatore) and his brothers came to the U.S. several times—at least two trips for my dad’s grandfather in 1907 and 1910. In 1907 the brothers stayed in New York City (presumably for work), but when Salvatore came back with his family in 1910 they went to Ohio—first to Cincinnati (where my grandfather was born) and then to Cleveland where they stayed. Interestingly, one brother (Santo) came to the U.S. and had some kids here but when his wife died he went back to Sicily, remarried, and had some more kids. Later (around the late 1940’s) one of his U.S.-born sons sponsored him to re-immigrate to the U.S.. I got his Alien file from the National Archives and it had a TON of info in it. Also, the youngest brother, Giovanni, returned to Italy for good. I have cousins in Reggio Emilia that I have recently been in touch with who are descendants of that brother. There are a few other brothers that I just don’t have any additional info on. My grandmother’s family came to the U.S. in 1926 when she was 11. Her father (Carmelo) had come years before in 1902 and then again later (not sure the exact year) to become a citizen and begin the time tolling for the residency requirement. By this time it was getting more difficult for immigrants from the south of Europe to enter the U.S. freely so he had to become a citizen first. At that time, minor children were also naturalized at the same time as a parent so my grandmother was actually naturalized along with him. As with my dad’s dad, Carmelo first came to New York and then brought the family to Cleveland when they came in 1926.

What do I love the most about being Italian? What’s NOT to love about being Italian? In addition to the things that everyone loves about Italy (the food, the architecture, the culture, etc., etc.), I think the best part is the warmth and sense of family of the people. When I went to Italy in 2011, I contacted some potential relatives in Modica before I came. They didn’t know me at all, but when I got there, they treated me like a queen. I didn’t drive myself or pay for a meal the entire time I was with them. Just think about that for a minute—if you got a letter from a complete stranger who said “hey, I’m coming to your town” would you drop everything and welcome them like that? It totally blew me away and was so refreshing.

I don’t know that I have one single best memory of growing up Italian—it’s definitely a combination of things. I remember learning to cook with my grandmother, which I really liked since my mom didn’t want me to mess up the kitchen at her house (totally understandable.) We also had dinner with my grandparents every Sunday when they were in town (they were snowbirds.) My grandmother was a really funny lady too and a great storyteller. I probably asked her to tell me about coming to America like 100 times. Learning English wasn’t easy back then—they certainly didn’t have ESOL (English as a Second Language) classes for the kids. I remember her joking that she was the only kindergartener with boobs and would sometimes have to wear the dunce cap (which is pretty ironic, because she was incredibly smart….she just didn’t know English the second she stepped off the boat.)

What is my favorite Italian comfort food?  Oh, there are so many…. My grandmother’s meatballs were pretty awesome. She also made a dessert called ricotta pie that was one of my favorites. Her stuffed artichokes were stellar too. And there was always, always antipasti. I still cook a lot of the things that I learned from my grandmother, but unfortunately there aren’t a lot of other traditions that I’ve kept. I always used to set up my grandmother’s manger at Christmas but we don’t have it anymore which is sad. I’d like to get another one someday….maybe from Italy!

One more memory – the only time my grandparents ever spoke Italian was when they didn’t want the grandkids to know what they were saying. This is something that I’ve only just realized since I started taking Italian lessons. I remember that one of them would start screaming “stai zitto” to the other one and then whatever it was they were talking about. Now I know that “stai zitto” meant “shut up”….lol!

I really have to hand it to my grandparents—they pretty much lived the American dream. My grandfather’s father died in the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic when he was only 4 years old. His mother was left to raise 5 kids by herself (one of whom also later died of the flu). Despite such a rough start, my grandfather graduated from high school and went on to run a successful building supply business with his brother. He owned a home in Cleveland, put two sons through college and dental school, and was able to retire to Florida. I also have to hand it to him for being creative, too. Obviously, when he was a kid, money was tight…especially for leisure activities like the movies. Somehow he got his hands on a roll of movie tickets and was able to use them to go to the movies whenever he wanted! I definitely tip my hat to him whenever I come up with ways to “think outside the box” like that…it’s definitely genetic! Both of my grandparents were incredibly kind and generous people and I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to know them. I think part of why I have spent so much time researching my family history and going through the dual citizenship process is because I really miss this connection to my heritage. My grandparents both died in 2006 (in their 90’s) and I wish that I had done more during their lifetime to preserve all of their memories.

Leila, Lisa Marie, Jill, thank you so much for sharing with us your memories and your families – and the best parts of what it is like to grow up Italian-American! For this last stop on Papa’s train, we will close with a story from Leila Martini– and a memory of her beloved Mimi.

A Story of Mimi

I rang the doorbell, chimes echoing in various octaves, and pressed my face to the cold glass of the kitchen door. I could see the mist from my nose fogging up the door and the sweat from my palms leaving their impression.  The kitchen was bright and I could hear Mimi bustling around.

I stepped back as Mimi unlocked the kitchen door with a “thwack” sound. I will remember the sound of that door unlocking for the rest of my life…a sort of thick, solid, thwacking sound.

I entered the kitchen to a flood of sensations. The bright lights, the sound of crackling oil bubbling on the stove, the smell of garlic, the sound of Mimi’s greeting- a loudness level that was less than an actual yell but much more than a regular talking voice. We tend to talk loudly in my family.

I looked at the stove with its various pots and pans and contraptions all going at once. Mimi was cooking again for some friend or relative who had just come home from the hospital or lost a loved one or been diagnosed with something. Mimi was forever cooking for us and for others.

“Leeeela…” Mimi sort of drew out the “eeee” as she said my name and then snapped the “la” at the end….reminding me of the “ahhhh….ohhhh….ummmm” cadence one hears in yoga class.

“Leeela, you want some Cuban coffee?”

I sat down at the wooden kitchen table as Mimi added another pot to the fray. I could hear the suction of the refrigerator door as she opened it to get the milk from the shelf packed with all sorts of tasty treasures. At one point during my childhood there was a Styrofoam container in the fridge stocked with fresh eyeballs. I am not kidding. My grandfather was an ophthalmologist and would have eyeballs for use in corneal transplants.

Mimi poured the milk into a pan and filled a small pot with water and waited for them to boil. Her process for making Cuban coffee delights me still. The pot of water boiled and she dumped in a bunch of the strongest, richest smelling coffee from a brown paper bag, into the water and stirred. She drained it through this old strainer that looked like a piece of cone-shaped felt in a rickety, old tin container.

After the coffee making ritual she stood by the stove tending her many dishes and telling me about this or that friend or relative, with this or that tragedy, that she was in the process of cooking for.

At this last memory, my mind flashed back to the present moment. Back to the ornate church with stained glass windows all around me, to the hushed ceremonial grieving, to the priest in monotone, to the unbearable hole of sorrow that bored into my guts….a sort of hollow feeling…a wave of the most unfathomable pain at the loss. After the church we went to the graveyard to watch as my dear Mimi- in her purple dress, the one she had selected just for this day, the one that she wore when she was honored as “Tampa’s Best Dressed”- was buried by my dear papa.

Amidst my despair I heard all the stories…they sank in to my heart…the story of a woman who had taken her niece, the one with the poor parents, to lunch and then to buy her a confirmation dress…the story of the other poor family member for whom Mimi bought a Christmas dress every year…the stories of the families for whom she had cared and cooked…Mimi was thought of in the most selfless ways. The stories of the flowers, of the generosity, of the love… And I realized that even though Mimi was gone, she was in fact still alive and well in all of our hearts.

Thank you Leila. And thank you Mimi. It has been an honor to meet you both.

Well, that’s all for this month, dear ones! But before we go, as promised, here are Papa and Mama’s recipes for “Lazy Lasagna” and “Easy Eggplant Parmagiana.” We hope you enjoy them, guilt-free and with some music, laughter, family and friends around the table– Italian style!

The Curse Has Been Lifted!

Ok, so we were all raised with the understanding that it is Italian law that any food made and served at an authentic Italian dinner table can NOT come pre-made in a box or from a jar, right? Right. And that making said pre-made food (ESPECIALLY sauce or gravy) is an affront to Italian heritage and a direct insult to the entire lineage of ancestors, living or deceased, right? Right. Well… I hope to change all that. I figured that if the Cubs can remove the curse of the goat and win the 2016 World Series, then it is about time we also remove the curse of pre-made food and consider there are times when, in a pinch, a few shortcuts may be not only acceptable, but downright yummy! Papa and Mama seemed to think so, because they came up with these two recipes which I have tested on family members and received repeated toasts of approval! I took some serious liberty with the sauce, as Papa and Mama would not use a jar of pre-made sauce, which I have included here, but would instead whip up a “quick” gravy, throwing a can of diced tomatoes, a can of tomato paste, fresh garlic, salt, and olive oil in a sauce pan for about an hour. But they could work Italian magic that I just can’t, and so if I want something quick, then I have found a jar of sauce is just as good as anything I could make from scratch. I think you will like it just as much as your own sauce! (No, I am not suggesting in any way this will be anywhere as good as Nonno’s or Nonna’s.) And…who knows, you may end up having a lot more Italian food– and free time on your hands- as a result of trying it! Enjoy!

“Papa’s Lazy Lasagna”


1 box large, square ricotta cheese filled ravioli (or two boxes for a large rectangular pan)

1 12-ounce bag shredded mozzarella

1 jar pre-made spaghetti sauce like Beroli or Rao’s, although I use 365 Organic Classic


Boil and drain the ravioli per the instructions on the box

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Spread some sauce on the bottom of a square or rectangular baking dish

Place a layer of ravioli on the bottom of the pan

Spoon a thin layer of sauce over the ravioli

Pour a layer of shredded mozzarella over the sauce and ravioli

Place another layer of ravioli over the mozzarella

Spoon another layer of sauce over the ravioli

Spread another layer of mozzarella over the sauce

Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes

Remove foil and broil cheese on top until browned and a little crispy

 “Mama’s Easy Eggplant Parmagiana”


1 box frozen, pre-made breaded eggplant (Domenix makes the kind Mama uses!) or 2 boxes if you are using a large rectangular baking dish

1 12-ounce bag shredded mozzarella

1 jar pre-made spaghetti sauce (see above for my preferences)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Spread some sauce on the bottom of a square or rectangular baking dish

Place a layer of frozen eggplant on the bottom of the pan (try to fill all the spaces with eggplant, even if you have to break some of the rounds apart to do it.)

Spoon a thin layer of sauce over the eggplant

Spread a layer of shredded mozzarella over the sauce and eggplant

Place another layer of eggplant over the mozzarella

Spoon another layer of sauce over the eggplant

Spread another layer of mozzarella over the sauce

Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes

Remove foil and broil cheese on top until browned and a little crispy

There you have it! Shhhhhhh… you don’t have to tell anyone it’s not from scratch!

Grazie mille, my friend, for spending the time with us on today’s adventure. Until the next time we meet, enjoy the food, the wine, the love and life! It’s the Italian way. Ce vediamo prossimo mese! See you next month!


Papa’s Great Granddaughter Sierra carries on the Italian pride!

All Aboard! Part II of “Be Italian,” A Time Travel Adventure on Papa’s Wonderful, Whimsical Train of Life!

All Aboooooooooooooooard!

Welcome back, dear ones! We gave you quite a bit of time on the train with that last intermission- it has been two years since our last post! We apologize for the extended delay, but we hope you enjoyed the glorious panoramica and had some grand adventures of your own as life rolled on between stations.

When last we were together, we shared in an amazing journey in “Be Italian- Part I,” from the ancient beginnings of “Italia” through to some of the more modern experiences our ancestors had as immigrants. If you did not have a chance to make the journey with us, please feel free to go back and take it all in – we promise we’ll wait for you!

If you did join us for the first part of the trip, then, as promised, we are now moving from the Pheonicians and the French Revolution onward to Fellini and Far Niente, and to our next stops on Papa’s wonderful, whimsical train of life.

Please take your seats, because we are about to depart for our next destination – “Sophia Loren Station,” and a trip back in time- to learn how being Italian in America went from challenging to charming!

Loren Station SignSOPHIA FOOD

Whether you are a fan of Italian food, culture, music, cinema, art, epic landscapes, monumental cities, or all of the above, how could anyone possibly resist all that Italy has to offer the world, right? Right! But alas, the love of everything Italian in America was not instantly irresistable. As with the introduction of most foreigners during times of immigration, and our unfamiliar traditions and cultures, it was a very slow evolution. Well, more of a revolution when you consider what everyone’s ancestors had to withstand and endure in order to be acknowledged, accepted and respected. The often skeptical, negative attitude that existed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was not solely the property of American citizens toward Italian immigrants – each immigrant ethnic group also faced discrimination from other ethnic groups, ranging from minor ethnocentrism to rivalries to full-on wars. The rise of gangs was common in New York, and gangs were formed to win political elections, gain power, and better compete for and protect scarce resources, family and freedom. Martin Scorcese’s 2003 movie, “Gangs of New York” offers us a cinematic version of that late 19th century on Manhattan Island. His film primarily focused on the Irish neighborhood of the “Five Points” – but this trailer provides one view into what life was like for people in some of the rougher neighborhoods at the time.

A number of reviewers and fans criticized Scorcese and his team for exaggerating the elements of chaos and violence, but according to National Geographic News, Scorceses’s set designers reportedly took pride in their efforts to capture the “look and feel of that time in New York.”

“Holding camphor-soaked kerchiefs to their noses to ward off the stench, middle-class tourists would go “slumming” in Five Points—escorted by police—to see if the lurid tales given by reporters and missionaries were true.

‘Five Points,’ wrote one Methodist reformer, had become ‘the synonym for ignorance the most entire, for misery the most abject, for crime of the darkest dye, for degradation so deep that human nature cannot sink below it.’”

But consider the possibility that the voyeuristic perception of those “well-to-do” American tourists was just an antiquated reality show that resulted in an inaccurate, biased portrait of the actual reality. The insensitive snoops merely wanted to see firsthand if what Charles Dickens referred to as “a world of vice and misery” was true- and they then spread their biased perception freely and not always with the purest of intentions. According to the National Geographic article:

“‘Much of what was written in newspapers, tracts, and books,’ says archaeologist Rebecca Yamin, ‘was colored by religious zeal, a desire to sell papers, or plain-old fear. Middle-class outsiders then looked at this neighborhood that was teeming with activity and street people selling food, and it was frightening. They just looked from the outside and assumed it was all very bad.’”

There Was Nothin’ Romantic About Bein’ Italian

Papa told a few stories about being witness to neighborhood violence, but more often spoke freely about his experiences of being discriminated against in the Bronx. Even as a child, non-Italians would refer to him as a “dego,” a “guinea,” a “wop,” or even a “greasy Italian.” “Back den, there was nothin’ romantic about bein’ Italian.” He would say with a very serious face. He remembered his classes in grade school being filled with all different kinds of children, and he said that he had friends from different ethnic groups – some of his earliest classrooms were integrated with, in his words, “Italians, Irish, Jews and Hungarians.”

Papas Classroom

(Oliverio Archive Collection – Papa is second from left!)

Some of Papa’s best friends were Irish, Jewish, and “even Sicilians,” who were a completely separate part of the “Italian” section. (Papa went on to marry Catherine who was part Sicilian)

Papa Pyramid

Oliverio Family Archives Original – Ed Schwartz, Abe Pinowitz, Neil Oliviero, Bernie and Harry Solomon, Norman Green, Freddy Zellis

Papa had these classmates and friends, but their relationships were not always accepted by their families. Papa said there were a number of times that they were prohibited from visiting each others’ homes or neighborhoods and either had to meet on school property or on “neutral turf,” which was not so easy to find. Papa told a story of the time he finished building a bicycle he had been working on for about a year – he couldn’t afford to buy an entire a bike, so he had been finding parts, piece by piece, and it was finally complete. He brought it to visit his Irish friends in their neighborhood, and the boys were all standing around the bicycle, admiring it. Papa said an Irish police officer came by and and asked them whose bike it was. When Papa said it belonged to all of them, the officer didn’t ask any more questions. He told the friends to get home, took Papa and his bike back to the Italian neighborhood, and then took the bike! When Papa asked the officer why he had to take away the bicycle, the officer told Papa that there was no way a, “Dego kid could build a bike” and accused him of stealing it. (Apparently the officer had not yet heard of the Italian nack for mechanical engineering, design and construction!) Papa sought his revenge by eventually going on to rebuild bikes, musical instruments, sewing machines, cars, houses, and eventually entire ships at the Brooklyn shipyard.

Papa told another story of discrimination, this one more personal as it related to his first love, Ray. He referred to her with a faraway gaze as a “beautiful, strong, Polish Jewish farmgirl.” He was totally smitten and was planning on asking Ray to marry him when she told him they could no longer see each other. When he asked why they could not be together, she said her father told her it was because Papa was not Jewish. Papa was heartbroken and perplexed, and both emotions remained with him for a lifetime as he retold the story often and kept a photo of the two of them taped casually, but securely, onto his desk.

Papa’s experiences of being discriminated against stayed with him through his entire life, however he was determined not to allow them to shape his future path. He spoke of the experiences and his battles with them in the introduction to one of his poems, “Tuetego:”

“This is an angry poem. I have suffered discrimination, not as an individual, but merely for my ethnicity…I have traveled a difficult road but have overcome. Many times I think it is these very suppressions and exclusions that drove me to achieve success as a vengeance. Had I been accepted into some coveted Camelot, I might not have had the full, and in retrospect, beautifully rich, adventurous life I have had. The more arduous the task the more gratifying the success.”

The poem itself goes on to appeal to people so see the true self in another and not be clouded by prejudgment based on skin color or nation of birth:

“…Try to see what’s deep within
For there is where true souls begin
I could be less than I conceive
And yet much more than you perceive

…With true appraisal let each reflect
We are mortals we bear defect
We can together cohabitate
With love and tolerance, and not with hate

…If you are swayed by external measure
Then your judgment do not treasure
In final test, please try to see
How you would feel if you were me.”

I often reflect on Papa’s immigrant stories, experiences, and his poem as I read today’s headlines about the new waves of immigrants. And every time I do, I can’t help but recall the words that are chiseled into the Statue of Liberty at Ellis Island in New York:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
~ Emma Lazarus

I can only hope that we who receive this new millenium of “huddled masses” stop to consider our own roots- because at some point within the history of time, every single one of us reading these words descended from DNA that had migrated from a different part of the planet (or even from a different part of the infinite universe*) than the one from which we were born.

*(Universal Origins Footnote: Some theoretical physicists, natural scientists and cosmologists subscribe to the theory that life on Earth originated from microscopic organisms deposited on our planet when meteors, asteroids and other carriers from other planets crashed onto Earth billions of years ago.(1) According to believers, over hundreds of millions of years these objects continued to collide with this planet and deposited their tiny inhabitants on the earth, and the organisms grew and thrived in Earth’s climate. The near-invisible creatures eventually evolved from simple, single-celled organisms such as bacteria into the complex array of flora and fauna we see around us today. All dramatically different, on the surface at least, and all descendants of immigrants.)

Moving On

Papa said that over time, many well-defined ethnic New York neighborhoods began to disperse and diversify. Some left the ethnic boroughs because they feared reprisals from the government. They “downplayed” or even hid their heritage, trying to blend into other neighborhoods, making every effort to “Be American” out of a fear of being forced to return to their homeland. Some families relocated because they learned of better or different work opportunities in other cities, states or different parts of the country, and some moved because their financial situation had improved or worsened.

As different ethnic families gained and lost resources and support, entire groups began to move away from New York. Even the Irish enclave of the Five Points eventually gave way to members of the Italian and Chinese ethnic groups, creating the areas known today as Chinatown and Little Italy. The vintage images that follow give an idea of what Little Italy looked like from the end of the late 19th century to the early 20th century: (all images are public access from the U.S. Congress print collection.)

IMAGE Bronx in Little Italy US Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division IMAGE Little Italy IMAGE in Little Italy2 US Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division IMAGE Festa in Little Italy

Chef Boy-Ar-Dee Leads the Way!

Papa and his family, neighbors and friends were subjected to the same discrimination as other immigrants, but they also took a special pride in “being Italian.” Other cultures took pride in their heritage as well, demonstrating and sharing traditions, foods, and holidays. But Italian was somehow different. Somewhere along the way, “being Italian” became contagious– suddenly even non-Italians wanted to do everything Italian style!

It seems like the food came first. From as early as the 1950’s, people outside of the Italian culture began eating and cooking Italian food. What American family doesn’t remember Chef Boy-ar-dee spaghetti dinners?


Here is a great, nostalgic Chef Boy-ar-dee commercial from 1953 that espouses the ease with which one could cook Italian for the whole family at only “15 cents a serving!”

Chef Boyardee

(Italian Food Sidenote: Not many know that Chef Boyardee was a real chef. His name was Hector Boiardi and he was born in Italy in 1897, and came to the United States in 1914. He joined his brother who was already working in the Plaza Hotel in New York City, and Hector quickly worked his way to head chef. He eventually moved to Ohio to open his own restaurant in Cleveland, and his food was so popular that he decided to open a factory in Milton, Pennsylvania in 1928 and sell his creations to the general public across the nation. He called it “Chef Boy-Ar-Dee” so that his non-Italian customers would be sure to pronounce it correctly)

(Chef Boyardee Fan Footnote: here is an interesting video short on how Chef Boyardee Ravioli is made today!)

With that helpful nostalgic prompt you may remember Chef Boy-ar-dee, and you may even eat it now as an adult (it’s ok, you can admit it, even the most Italian of us have resorted to opening a can of cold ravioli or spaghetti-o’s in our hungry past- most likely around the same time we stocked up on Ramen noodles!) But what about Franco American spaghetti? This was one of the first companies to try and convince Americans that they could easily, simply and cheaply cook Italian food right in their own homes:

iMAGE Franco American Sphagetti

Franco American claimed in this 1955 commerical that is was “America’s favorite spaghetti.”

Breaking Down Pasta Barriers

These companies made cooking and eating Italian food accessible, easy, and eventually familiar.

How many people can remember cutting their spaghetti into pieces so as not to slurp and make a mess? Do you remember the hotly-debated spaghetti etiquette dilemma “To spoon or not to spoon?” Forks with handles and spinning, rotating tines anyone? How many people wore a napkin or paper towel bib to dinner to try and prevent the inevitable red sauce splatter when trying to slurp up the strands? And who out there intentionally wore red on spaghetti night to prevent sacrificing yet another good shirt to the pomodoro gods? To Italians, Chef Boy-ar-dee and Franco American were not, of course, real Italian food, but to many Americans, real Italian food was still new, unfamiliar and often messy. As time moved on, however, the rise of the popularity of real Italian food was facilitated by widespread exposure of all kinds of celebrities and beautiful people- not eating American-made canned and boxed Italian dinners, but instead voraciously and enthusiastically slurping up those big, awkward, unwieldy strands of sauce-laden spaghetti.

One of the first to break down the walls of social discomfort and demonstrate the appeal of the “slurp” was Sophia Loren (whose still image alone did more for the Italian reputation than all the best spaghetti and meatballs ever served!):

iMAGE- Sophia Spagheti

And of course once Sophia Loren dug in, every lovely lady wanted to be seen slurping spaghetti!

IMAGEeating-spaghetti3 IMAGEEating Spaghetti image- sPAGHETTI lADIES

The entire country soon followed suit, as we can see from these paparazzi photos from the mid 20th century:

From Sean Connery and T.S. Elliott

iMAGE- San Connery iMAGE- TS Elliott

To The Beatles and Babies

iMAGE- Beatles image- sPAGHETTI baby

Even entire Neighborhoods embraced the pasta mania!


And spaghetti began surfacing in popular culture too – everyone remembers the scene from the movie Lady and the Tramp. When I was a child and saw the movie I didn’t realize how many funny Italian references there were in it!

Before you knew it, it was not enough to just eat Italian, families across America wanted Italian cooking in their homes and Italian cookbooks began to abound. Do you remember any of these laying around the house?


Soon everyone was Italian food crazy. Even beer companies saw it as an opportunity to unite American and Italians:


The epitome of American acceptance of Italian food had to be at the end of this scene from the Gene Roddenberry movie Star Trek- Captain Kirk even gets Spock to declare he loves Italian food!

Now That’s Italian!

As we all know, Italian food ultimately became wildly popular all over the world. According to the National Restaurant Association, Italian food is one is one of the top three ethnic cuisines in the United States. They report that 9 out of 10 Americans can recognize Italian dishes as Italian! For your drooling pleasure, here is a list of just a few of the more popular Italian specialties. Some of these began in Italy, some were adapted when Italians came to America, and some were actually created in America by Italian immigrants. How many of these do you remember? How many of these did your family cook when you were a child? How many of these do you eat now? (Pavlovian Involuntary Drooling Sidenote: Reading this list will, without question, make you hungry. If you are gluten, dairy or sugar-free, fasting, dieting or vegan, or do not have immediate access to some type of food, you may want to skip over this particular part until a later time. Consider yourself warned!)

  • Baked ziti – Ziti pasta, originally from Sicily, tube-shaped pasta similar to penne but longer, mixed with a tomato sauce, covered in cheese, and then baked in the oven.
  • Lasagna– layers of flat, wide lasagna noodles, layered with ricotta, red sauce and mozzarella cheese, and then baked in the oven. Sometimes it was called “Lasagna Bolognese” if there was meat sauce involved. In hindsight, did that dish require any description at all?
  • Polenta – A mash made of Cornmeal, in varying degrees of thicknesses, served with everything from butter to alfredo sauce to red sauce.
  • Spaghetti with meatballs – I will not make the same mistake here that I made with lasagna, especially since we just had a 13 photograph tutorial on spaghetti. I will say the sauce is sometimes prepared with a number of meats like beef bones, Italian sausage or stuffed beef rolls called braciole.
  •  Eggplant parmesan – with layers of baked or fried eggplant, mozzarella cheese and red sauce.
  • Sausage and Peppers – Italian sausage and red and green peppers, often with onions, baked until brown and sizzling in the oven.
  • Chicken (or Veal) Parmesan – fried breaded chicken or veal cutlets covered in sauce and cheese, served with pasta.
  • Alfredo sauce – An extra creamy, parmesan-drenched white sauce (made famous by a Roman chef named Alfredo di Lelio) and poured over Fettuccini.
  • Marinara sauce – a thin, red sauce with only tomatoes, no meat.
  • Bolognese sauce – a tomato-based sauce made with ground meat.
  • “Sauce” or “Gravy” – a red sauce made with tomato paste and many different kinds of meat. Usually made for holiday or other special meals and cooked forever. To this day, families still argue over whether it is called “Sauce” or “Gravy.”
  • Cioppino – a fish stew originating in America, mixed with tomatoes and wine.
  • Wedding soup – A chicken broth base with tiny meatballs and little bits of pasta.
  • Pasta e fagioli – we called this “pasta fazool” – a thick soup with white cannelloni beans and small pieces of pasta in a broth with a little bit of tomato paste.
  • Calzone – I am convinced every country has this in varying shapes and sizes. Spanish call it empanada, Indians call it Samosa, the Cornish call it Pasty, Eastern Europeans call it Knish, Brazilians call it Salgado, the Polish call it Pierogi, but wherever it’s made it’s a circle of dough, stuffed with something or everything, then folded into a half moon shape. In Italy, it’s cheese, red sauce and possibly some type of meat, or greens like rappini or escarole.
  • Stromboli – a round piece of dough, covered in red sauce, provolone or mozzarella cheese, a few slices of optional pepperoni, and then rolled into a “pinwheel.”
  • Pizza – see my explanations for “lasagna” and “spaghetti.” Of note, however, is that there are many kinds of pizza that have evolved, from thin crust to pan pizza, from New York style (based on the original Neapolitan pizza) to Chicago deep dish to Sicilian square, thick crust pizza.
  • Muffuletta – a very large, round sandwich, on a special bread that is flattened and crispy on the outside but very soft on the inside. It is filled with cheeses and deli meats, including, but not limited to, salami, ham and mortadella, and topped with an olive salad made from celery, olives, and carrot (the same mix that is in those jars of “Giardiniera” that seemed to be in the kitchen cabinet for decades) and drowned in olive oil mixed with garlic and oregano. The Italian Market on Decatur Street in New Orleans claims they made the first one in 1906. This is hotly debated. Still.
  • Italian beef sandwich—thinly sliced beef, marinated in spices and cooked so that the juices drip out. The meat is placed on a long grinder or hoagie roll, and the eater can dip the sandwich in the cup of its own juices. Native to Chicago, the sandwich may have been the result of Italian “cucina povera” (poor kitchen) cooking in which the hard-to-find beef was sliced extra thin and covered with juice to make it go further.

And of course what would Italian dinner be without Italian dessert? Here are some of the more popular sweets and treats we have all come to know and love:

  • Tiramisu – A multi-layered cake made with lady fingers and mascarpone cream, drenched in espresso.
  • Cannoli – a sweet ricotta filling in a fried pastry roll shell. Sometimes mixed with chocolate chips, sometimes covered with pistachios, always delicious, never enough.
  • Struffoli– long rolls of dough, cut into small squares, then deep fried and covered with honey, powdered sugar and possibly those teeny, crunchy, round rainbow sprinkles. Usually found at the Christmas dessert table, and impossible to eat without getting sticky honey everywhere!
  • Sfogliatelle – This dessert I described in the book on more than a few occasions: “Hearty, clam-shaped pastries filled with sweet ricotta cheese.” They are made from flaky philo dough and, as with many other Italian pastries, result in pastry flakes everywhere.
  • Biscotti – long cookies, almost as hard as rocks, typically flavored with almond or anisette, and used to dip in coffee or wine.

Now if that list didn’t leave you hungry it is only because you a) have an iron will and a heart of coal; 2) stopped to order pizza delivery midway through the list; or 3) ran out the door while reading, headed to your nearest Italian restaurant, and are now enjoying a nice lasagna while I carry on on your smart phone. Before you take that next bite, did we miss anything my dear? Did we leave anything out? What famous Italian dishes were the most famous around your family’s table?

Wine, Women and Song

One Italian delicacy that almost everyone thinks of when they think of Italian food is not actually the food but the wine! Almost never excluded from the traditional Italian family table, it was usually a jug or large carafe of red table wine, and it was served at both lunch and dinner, but rarely to excess. And by “rarely to excess” I mean only occasionally on holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year. And perhaps Easter. And probably anniversaries and birthdays. Oh, and weddings, yes of course weddings. And now that I think of it, Sundays, as well as some Friday and Saturday nights. Ok, so sometimes wine was overserved and imbibed to excess. But even the bambinos and little ones were accustomed to drinking it, theirs diluted with ample amounts of water, of course. Italian wines have since grown very popular in the United States, with many people having heard of “a nice Chianti” (with Anthony Hopkins, some liver and fava beans, of course,) a San Giovese, a basic red vino da tavola (red table wine) or maybe a “Super Tuscan.” And Italian wines don’t even need to be imports any more, as Italian- American wineries have become very popular in the world market. Vineyards such as Ferrari-Carano, Ernest & Julio Gallo (go EJG!), Louis M. Martini, Robert Mondavi, Corrado Parducci, Rubicon Estate Winery (also known as Francis Ford Coppola,) Sebastiani Vineyards, Trinchero and numerous others have become incredibly popular.

La Dolce Vita!

Once Italian food and wine took hold and captivated the American public’s palette and stomach, then the fun really began. Along with the food and American’s waistlines, over the decades Italy as a country and a culture grew and grew in popularity in American’s minds and hearts. Of course this growth was encouraged by America’s exposure to all things Italian appearing in popular culture. We saw Italy in the early movies and on television, and eagerly listened to Italian music and Italian-American musicians.

Beginning with the movies, everyone immediately fell in love with Sophia Loren, the voluptuous Italian actress. Between 1964 and 1977 she won four Golden Globe awards for “World Film Favorite – Female.” These next two Youtube tribute videos remind us why Sophia is so deserving of our adoration. The first, from Musica Disegno has the perfect soundtrack, “You want to be American” (“Tu vuò fà l’americano” by Renato Carosone.) and features some of the greatest actors of all time. (Check out Marlon Brando, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, John Wayne, Peter Sellers, Paul Newman, Gregory Peck, and others, “back in the day!”)

(Catchy Song Sidenote: The song, “Tu vuo fa l’americano,” originally done by Renato Carosone, was written in the Neapolitan dialect and translates into “You try to act the American.” It’s a satire about an Italian that tries to behave like an American, smoking American cigarettes, playing baseball, dancing to rock and roll, all the while still living off of his Italian Mama and Papa. It has been remade several times and appeared in a number of films, including the “Talented Mr. Ripley” in which a very young Matt Damon joins a just as young Jude Law and Italian actor/ comedian Rosario Fiorello on stage to sing their rendition.)

Another noteworthy Sophia Loren tribute, this one from AstroLab, features the Rosemary Clooney hit “Mambo Italiano,” a must listen at every Italian cooking session and impromptu dance party!

Even the world’s movie sweetheart of the time, Audrey Hepburn, who was born in Belgium, by the way, loved Italy. Well, Rome at the very least, as she starred as a runaway princess in Roman Holiday with the dashing Gregory Peck. If you have not seen it yet, I strongly recommend watching with a bottle of vino and a big plate of Italian formaggio.

Here is the trailer, entertaining in and of its nostalgic, vintage self!

(More Audrey Hepburn Please Sidenote: If you are hungry for more, here is a wonderful Roman Holiday YouTube Tribute from “val,” featuring amazing Italian scenery and set to Dean Martin’s iconic song “On An Evening in Roma.”

Movies didn’t hold the monopoly on Italy mania, though. Italy showed up in early television too. Lucille Ball had an entire “Lucy Goes to Italy” movie, with a very famous and very funny “Lucy grape stomping scene.”

Do you remember seeing it in those “I Love Lucy” reruns? If not, you might remember it from the Julia Roberts movie, Pretty Woman!

It wasn’t long before Italian cinema made it on the American scene as directors like Giuseppe di Santis, Bernardo Bertolucci, Federico Fellini, Roberto Rosselini, Francis Ford Coppola and others captivated audience’s and critic’s eyes and emotions. Here is a clip from Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, one of the most famous scenes in film history – Anita Ekberg as Sylivia, and Marcello Mastroianni as Marcello wade into the Trevi Fountain in Rome:

As you can see from these film and television examples, Italian and Italian-inspired music played a key role in the world’s crush on everything Italian. Musical artists like Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Connie Francis, Tony Bennet and many others wrote, recorded and performed music that we all know, love and still listen to today. For a list of my and Papa’s favorite old time Italian and Italian-American tunes, check out our past blog, “Aniello Agostino Oliviero’s Infinity Symphony in G Major” and scroll to the bottom of the post to the “Musical Recipe of the Month.”

These examples of early popular culture are historical and show how the public embraced Italy back then, but even now Italian references show up in Moden popular movie and music culture – Two of my favorites are the song “Be Italian” by Fergie from the movie 9 (This video is from director Rob Marshall, and features Fergie as the Italian Prostitute, “Saragina:”)

And this modern musical rendition of one of my all-time favorite Italian songs, this version by the Gypsy Kings:

I think that last song sums up this part of our journey beautifully, don’t you my dear? Here is the chorus of “L’Italiano” in both Italian and English:

Lasciatemi cantare
con la chitarra in mano
lasciatemi cantare
una canzone piano piano
lasciatemi cantare
perché ne sono fiero
sono un italiano
un italiano vero

and in English:

Let me sing
with a guitar in hand
Let me sing
a song, slowly, slowly
Let me sing
because I am proud
I am an Italian
A true Italian.

The Italian immigrants, like so many immigrants of past and present, walked a very long road to become accepted in their new country. And in doing so they not only managed to hold onto their pride, traditions, customs and beliefs, they graciously shared them with others as well. Being Italian in America may have initiallly been incredibly challenging, but, as Papa predicted, it wasn’t too long before the whole world became charmed by the culture, people and place. Being Italian in America may not have always seemed romantic on the outside, but those with the romance inside their hearts and minds managed to keep it alive and well for the rest of us.


If this post left you longing for a piece of Italy, don’t worry! Papa’s train is ready to depart Sophia Loren station for our next and final stop on this particular tour, “Be Italian!” station, where we will give you all kinds of ways you can satisfy your Italian cravings, from making a great Italian meal and watching a favorite Italian film, to learning the Italian language, visiting Italy or even moving there! And you will meet three wonderful Italian-Americans, Leila, Lisa Marie and Jill, who will introduce you to their Nonnos and Nonnas and reminisce over their best memories of being part of an Italian-American family in America.

Grazie mille, my friend, for spending the time with us on today’s adventure. Until the next time we meet, enjoy the food, the wine, the love and life! It’s the Italian way. Ce vediamo prossimo mese! See you next month!

Recipe of the Month- A Special Dedication to the Earthquake Victims


As I was writing this post from Calitri, Italy, my neighbors in the central Italian villages of Amatrice, Norcia, Accumuli, Arquata and Pescara del Tronto were being devastated by a series of earthquakes, the first of which occurred on August 24th. The earthquakes took place only a few days before the town of Amatrice was to celebrate its 50th annual food festival, “Sagra degli Spaghetti all’Amatriciana.”

The town of Amatrice is known worldwide for its famous dish, one that is offered on the regular menu in many Italian restaurants. In response to the events, food blogger Paolo Campana made a plea for some of the sales proceeds of those dishes to be donated to the villages. Over 600 restaurants in Italy alone participated. Others suggested that instead of eating out, families and friends might cook at home, and send the money they would have spent to disaster relief funds such as the Red Cross. The website “Divina Cucina” did a great job of respectfully providing information on the events and what we can all do to help, including a recipe for the original Spaghetti all’Amatriciana. Here, in honor of and reverence to those in the region that were impacted by the disaster, we humbly offer our version.

Vegetarian Pasta All’Amatriciana


1 Pound of fresh spaghetti from the refrigerator section of your grocery store (some people like Bucatini, but the authentic recipe calls for spaghetti)

1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil

3 half moon cloves of garlic, chopped (the original recipe does not include garlic or onion, but we will add it here to add flavor since we are not including the “guanciale” pork.)

1 1/2 teaspoons of hot red pepper flakes

3 cups of finely chopped tomatoes

1/2 to 1 cup very small cubes of Pecorino cheese

1 cup grated Pecorino cheese

1 teaspoon of sea salt, extra set aside to taste

In a cooking pan, sautee the olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and salt on low heat. When garlic begins to lightly brown, add tomatoes and stir together. Partially cover with lid or screen lid, allowing moisture/ steam to escape. Cook on medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, then lower to low heat to simmer for 30 minutes. If the heat is too high and the sauce cooks down too much you can add a 1/4 cup of red wine to the sauce. Boil the pasta as directed. Strain to remove all water and quickly rinse with fresh water to prevent further cooking. Place into a large bowl and stir in 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to prevent sticking. Throw the Pecorino cubes in the simmering tomato sauce and stir until thoroughly mixed. Pour sauce onto pasta and mix again. Top with the grated parmesan and additional salt as you wish. Enjoy. Grazie mille, Amatrice. Che Dio sia con Lei.






1. For more details, read the Wikipedia entry for “Panspermia”

“Be Italian!” – All Aboard the Time Travel Train, from Phoenecians and the French Revolution to Fellini and Far Niente! Part I

Papa loved being Italian. Partly because of the Italian culture– the traditions, the food, the music, the people– holy cannoli, what’s not to love? But he also loved being Italian because he considered his heritage an honor. He knew what his family had to go through to get to America. And not just to get to America, but then to survive, and thrive in the new country. He also knew of the many that tried but did not make the journey. Those who courageously sacrificed themselves to make life better for their families and themselves. To Papa, that alone made anyone that risked the trip worthy of at least some of his respect.

But over time, the concept of “Being Italian” has changed, and the meaning of the term “Italian” has come to mean more than just geography of origin. It is more than citizenship, ethnicity, or even culture. Being “Italian” has become a modern passion- and not just for those that have it in their blood. We see it represented in the world’s adoration and celebration of Italian food, choices for travel destinations, movies, music and even in the media. Just take a peek at the series of new Fiat commercials that celebrate that the “Italians are coming!”:

Without saying more than those four words, the ad makes it clear that being Italian brings with it excitement, spontaneity and sex appeal (and also a tiny army of very zippy cars!) And who are we to argue? Apparently the theme worked for Fiat as well– in 2013, after only a few short years on the U.S. market, the Fiat 500 ranked #56 in top US car sales, out of 152 different models sold in the US.1

So, ok, we get it, people love Italy and for very obvious reasons. But was it always this way? And what exactly about Italy and being Italian is so appealing? To help myself better understand the breadth (did someone say bread??) of the Italian phenomenon, I did some time-traveling from the earliest roots of Italy to modern day. I discovered so many things I never knew about my heritage- and about the events and people that made us all fall in love with the country and the culture. And you know me, once I find something great, all I want to do is share! So, dear friend, amico, paesan, whether you are Italian or honorary Italian, I invite you now to take the tour with me- we’ll be traveling first class on Papa’s “wonderful, whimsical train of life.” Those of you that read the book How Do We Love? have already been passengers!

“A tight chain of elegantly-rusted passenger cars approaches the station. Brakes screeching, the ancient machine rolls to a stop in front of me. The music fades calando to silent and everything becomes quiet. The only sound is a susurrus breeze trying to tell me some secret I used to know but now can’t yet understand. The window of the conductor compartment struggles to slide open, and when it does, Papa leans out. Not really Papa, but some vapor version of Papa all misty and sparkly and not-yet, wearing a collapsible top hat and World War II flying goggles. He’s eating a plate of something and it smells like an Italian restaurant and my favorite memories and home.”

Blog1 Train

cool train image from our friends at Free Software for Sharing

Whether you already have a ticket stub is of no concern here, mi amore– everyone is welcome on this train and the ride is free, so please climb aboard! For those of you that like to plan ahead, here is our breathtaking itinerary:

First stop? Italica Kingdom Station– we’ll travel far, far, so very far back in time to the homeland before it was the homeland– a mystical, ancient time of warring tribes and empires and invasions. While we are there, we’ll carefully, secretly, hike around the battlefields to peek in on the antics of Napolean to see just when and how Italy became Italy (it’s much more recent than you think!).

After safely surviving the centuries of incursions, we will climb back aboard for our next stop– Stazione di Difficolta e Speranza (Difficulty and Hope Station) in the time of the World Wars–when most of our beloved, brave ancestors decided that while they loved being Italian, maybe Italy wasn’t the best place to do it (talk about not just sitting around and accepting your fate!). We’ll see why coming to America wasn’t just a simple, giddy, gold-paved decision about wanting a better life– and involved much more than just buying a ticket, taking a boat trip and showing up at the next port.

Those two parts of the journey will leave us hungry for more– and, like every good Italian, just plain hungry! So we will have a brief siesta, to eat, to drink, to visit the family, maybe listen to some music and even take a nap. When we return we’ll be at our next stop- Sophia Loren Station. Here we’ll disembark once again and take a romantic, nostalgic “passegiata” (Italian stroll!) along the path of Italian culture popularity in the United States: Italian language, romance, foods, movies, music, and traditions. You’ll remember all the reasons we adore Italy (as if we could ever forget!)

And finally, our last stop will be a very special station– one in the future where you can have all the Italy you want in your life! We’ll guide you through a colorful, bustling marketplace and pause at quite a few stands- where you will meet a few genuine Italian-Americans and learn how to do everything Italian, on every budget- from having your very own Italian night at home, to learning the language, to living in Italy or even becoming an Italian citizen!

Ok, friends– did you hear that? It’s the station whistle– are ya in? Then all aboard, this car is about to depart. Hop on and I promise that by the time we get you back home, you will remember why the world adores everything Italian!

 Stop 1- Italica Kingdom Station

Blog2 Italica Station

Blog3 Italica Bridge Photo

Photograph by Paolo de Faveri

Ancient Tribal Italy

Stepping down off the train, we see a beautiful, forested landscape. When we think of Italy and the time of great-grandparents, we may think of the small towns and cities they came from. But what about their grandparents? And the grandparents before that? Did you know that many of our ancient ancestors came from tribes? Have you ever considered to which tribe your family belongs?

“Modern” humans, our most ancient ancestors, appeared on the peninsula we now know as Italy about 40,000 years ago. Those were either the Indo-European hunter-gatherer-wanders, called “Italics” (tribes like the Umbrian, Roman, Volsci, Samnites, Celts, or  Ligures) OR what many refer to as the actual indigenous peoples of Italy- tribes such as the Etruscans, Elymians, Sicani or prehistoric Sardinians! Shortly after those tribes came the Greeks, Carthaginians and Phoenicians. Take a look at the map and find your ancestors’ homeland- and then see if you can get a better idea of the tribe from which you may have originated. It looks like Papa’s ancestors, located in the interior land below Naples, may have been the original Italics or possibly Greek!:

Blog4Tribal Map


As time moved on, other tribes moved in- tribes like the Gauls (descended largely from Vikings) and Greeks, but also tribes of German heritage from German occupation near the Black Sea (tribes called Ostrogoths, Goths and Visigoths). Sicily had Ostrogoth, Byzantine, Arab and Berber tribes, and when Sicily was conquered by Normans between the 11th and 12th centuries she had tribes that were a mix of all the cultures!

It wasn’t until 31 BC, when a Roman emperor named Octavian created a formal “administrative region” from all the different pieces of land and called it, “Italia.” But even with the lovely name, government, rules and laws, everything within Italia was still a messy mishmosh of kingdoms, principalities, republics, duchys and marquisates that stretched all the way from Sicily up to to the Alps. Everyone wanted a piece of this rich, fertile, beautiful land and its peoples.

Between 31 BC and 1796, “Italia” continued to be a mixing pot for a dense, dirty soup of powerful leaders and invading armies battling for territory.  The next three maps show just a glimpse into how Italy changed over those centuries, from 1000 AD to 1796 AD:


Source: Map from, Wikimedia Commons Free Use Image


Source: Map from, Wikimedia Commons Free Use Image


Source: Map from, Wikimedia Commons Free Use Image

And then, in 1796, came the one, the only, Napoleon Bonaparte:


This famous painting, “Napoleon Crossing the Alps Into Italia” by Jaque Louis-David, housed at the Musée national du Château de Malmaison Wikimedia Commons, Public domain.

During the French Revolution, Napolean gained support from the people of Italy, and secret, revolutionary clubs formed all over Italia. Rebel factions wanted all these fragmented city states to be joined in a single Republic of Italy. In 1796 Bonaparte and his forces headed through the alps into Italia, and when they were finished, Napoleon had made himself Emperor. Eventually North and Central Italian City States were unified under the name, “Kingdom of Italy,” with Napoleon as King! The rest of the north was annexed to France and under French rule. Only Sicily and Sardinia remained free of French rule. This is what the Kingdom of  Italy looked like in 1810 after Napoleon:


Source: Map from, Wikimedia Commons Free Use Image

(Oliviero Family sidenote! This was a very important time for Papa’s family. It’s ridiculously complicated, but the short version begins with the House of Bourbon taking over Naples, a lot of French infighting,  everyone pissing off the Spaniards, and the Austrian Hapsburgs eventually getting all involved. It ends with Papa’s great-great-grandfather DeMarsilia being employed as personal physician to one of the Bourbon Kings in Naples, saving the King’s life and being given the title of “Don” (Lord) and a bunch of land on the southwestern coast of Italy. If Papa’s father had stayed in Italy, the descendants would have been “Dons” and “Donas” (Lords and Ladies.) Papa said it was a sore point with his cousins when they discovered that they could have been considered royalty had the family stayed in Italy- especially when the girls found out that this would have made them eligible to marry a prince!)

And finally…Italia becomes…Italy!

In March of 1861 (that was only 153 years ago, dear friends- our great Nonnos and Nonnas saw this happen!), Italy was finally united under the rule of King Victor Emmanuel II ( You know, the guy that commissioned Rome’s “beloved” Wedding Cake monument!). Italian troops occupied Rome, and in July 1871, Rome formally became the Capital of the Kingdom. The Roman Pope at the time (Pius IX) was a rival of Italian kings and refused to cooperate, considering himself a “prisoner” of the Vatican. It was not until 1929 (yes! Only 85 years ago!) when the Pope finally accepted unified Italy with Rome as the capital.

After the initial “unification,”  Italian rulers started to expand their “empires” by creating colonies outside of Italy. The first Italian colonies were in Africa, and when Benito Mussolini and his fascists conquered Ethiopia in 1936, the “Italian Empire” was founded (I’m starting to better understand the finer points of Star Wars now…). Italy went on to colonize Eritrea, the Aegean Islands, Somaliland, Tientsin and Libya. But Italian Imperialism and Colonialism was not to last, as World War II destroyed fascist Italy and its colonial power. On June 2, 1946, Italy held its first free, non-fascist election, and Italians chose a republic to replace the monarchy. The king was no longer in power and the Italian constitution was put in place on January 1, 1948. Think about that– in the lifetime of you, your parents or your grandparents, this was all happening in Italy!

And that, my friends, is our brief tour of the area surrounding Italica Station and the ancient Italian past. Now, let’s get back on the train and head to our next stop– to explore what life was like for our more recent Italian ancestors.

Stop 2- Stazione di Difficolta e Speranza (Difficulty and Hope Station)



 Source: Wikipedia Commons, Unknown Artist. United States Public Domain image.

Italian diaspora- time to leave the homeland. Do you know why Nonna and Nonno left Italy?

A “diaspora” is the term for when a population moves away from its original homeland- voluntarily,  forcably or a little of both. It may come all at once, or in waves, over time.

There was an Italian diaspora that occurred right after the unification of Italy in 1861 and continued through the 1920’s, with one last large wave after World War II ended (although most left between 1861 and the start of World War I in 1914).

Right after unification in 1861, many Italians left because they had no land. The “feudal system” of land ownership was removed, and the land once owned by kings, nobility and aristocrats was redistributed to the peoples of Italy. However, many Italians in the South did not receive land- and therefore had nothing to farm. Many left Italy as a result. (Some of those without land did stay, but participated in a practice called “Mezzadria”– renting or leasing land from Italian owners. Tenants would tend the crops and provide a share of money back to the landowners. This was the reason Papa went back to Italy for the first time in 1937. As we just learned, Papa’s family had received land, and as you read in the book, he went to Italy in 1937 to check on their tenant, Ferraro. Ferraro had not been sending any money to the United States, and Papa’s family was concerned that the property had been abandoned or sold illegally.)

In the next wave of emigration, From 1900 through the end of World War I, Southern Italians also left because of problems in the South- there was an environment of post-war lawlessness, a chaos brought about by lack of civil services and enforcement, land issues (see feudal system, above!) and much sickness from poverty and bad living conditions. Sicknesses such as cholera (an intestinal disease caused by fecal bacteria) and pellagra (a dangerous vitamin deficiency) caused many deaths, especially in children and the elderly.

Times were clearly very difficult for Italians in Italy after World War I. The country and its people were weak due to lack of jobs and resources, and groups took advantage of that weakness with struggles for rights and power (which seemed, up to that point, never-ending in Italy!) The struggles and scarcity led to the rise of Fascism in the country. Eventually, around 1922, the Fascists took charge, and, during the first five years of fascism, 1.5 million people left Italy.2

The vast majority of Italians went to South America, ending up in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. (In our own family, Papa’s father came to the United States and his father’s brother went to Brazil. There is an entire group of Olivieros in Brazil!) North America was the second most sought out destination for Italian emigrants, and Australia was the third. Of those that went to the United States, most started their new lives in New York City, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, New Orleans and San Francisco. 3

Emigration away from Italy did not necessarily makes things better for Italians. As if courage to prepare and leave everything behind was not insurmountable enough for Nonno and Nonna, it was extremely challenging to accrue enough funds for the ship ride. Once on board, the ride itself was grueling for many. There were different ticket prices for different types of people, but the most common ticket for immigrants was passage in “steerage.” Everyone remembers the James Cameron movie “Titanic”- and the romance between first-class passenger “Rose” (played by Kate Winslett) and steerage passenger, “Jack” (played by Italian-American actor Leonardo DiCaprio.) Known for his obsession with attention to accurate historical detail, Cameron created a (deleted) scene of what he believed would look like the main section of steerage:

It seems fine enough, but it is important to remember that the people in steerage had to spend days and weeks in those cramped quarters. Also, the luxurious Titanic sailed decades after the earliest immigration waves began, and years after improvements commenced on trans-atlantic steerage conditions.

The excerpt below is from a 1909 Report of the United States Immigration Commission. The report was based on special agents of the Commission that secretly traveled as steerage passengers on 12 different transatlantic steamers. “There had never before been a thorough investigation of steerage conditions by national authority, but superficial investigations…had disclosed such evil and revolting conditions on some ships that the Commission decided to conduct an investigation sufficiently thorough.”4

This is what some of the special agents found in their visits to steerage:

“The old-type steerage is the one whose horrors have been so often described. It is, unfortunately, still found in a majority of the vessels bringing immigrants to the United States. It is still the common steerage in which hundreds of thousands of immigrants form their first conceptions of our country and are prepared to receive their first impressions of it.

The sleeping quarters are large compartments, accommodating as many as 300, or more, persons each…The berths are in two tiers, with an interval of 2 feet and 6 inches of space above each. They consist of an iron framework containing a mattress, a pillow, or more often a life-preserver as a substitute, and a blanket. The mattress, and the pillow if there is one, is filled with straw or seaweed.


Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. 20540. LC-USZ62-11202.

No sick cans are furnished, and not even large receptacles for waste. The vomit of the seasick are often permitted to remain a long ‘tame before being removed. The Boors, when iron, are continually damp and when of wood, they reek with foul odor because they are not washed.

The open deck available to the steerage is limited, and regular separable dining rooms are not included in the construction. The sleeping compartments must therefore be the constant abode of a majority of the passengers. During days of continued storm, when the unprotected open deck can not be used at all, the berths and the passageways between them are the only places where the steerage passenger can spend his time.


Photo Credit: Edwin Levick photo. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. 20540. LC-USZ62-11202.

When to this very limited space and much filth and stench is added inadequate means of ventilation, the result is almost unendurable. Its harmful effects on health and morals scarcely need be indicated. Two 12-inch ventilator shafts are required for every 50 persons in every room ; but the conditions here are abnormal and these provisions do not suffice.



The food may be generally described as fair in quality and sufficient in quantity, and yet it is neither; fairly good materials are usually spoiled by being wretchedly prepared. The preparation, the manner of serving the food…and disregard of the proportions of the several food elements required by the human body, make the food unsatisfying and therefore insufficient. This defect and the monotony are relieved by purchases at the canteen by those whose capital will permit.


Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. 20540. LC-USZ62-11202.

Considering this old-type steerage as a whole, it is a congestion so intense, so injurious to health and morals, that there is nothing on land to equal it. That people live in it only temporarily is no justification of its existence…It is abundant opportunity to weaken the body and implant there germs of disease to develop later. It is more than a physical and moral test; it is a strain. And surely it is not the introduction to American institutions that will tend to make them respected.”4

From reading this description, one can see why Papa’s pregnant mother, Elvira, arrived on the shores of New York sick and weak, and lost the baby shortly thereafter.

Off of the Ship…And Onto the Docks

For people that survived the ship ride, their arrival on Ellis Island could also be extremely challenging. Leslie Allen, author of the American history novel, Ellis Island, gives us a detailed glimpse into the life of an immigrant that has just disembarked from their means of passage onto the immigration docks: (immigrant photos from various sources added for purposes of illustration and not an original element of Allen’s book. Unless otherwise specified, photo source is, Prints and Reading Room of the United States Library of Congress.)

Some had used their life savings to purchase one-way tickets to a destination they had only heard about. Having sold their few worldly possessions, they boarded a steamship with little more than the clothes on their backs and dreams in their heads. An immigrant said, ‘If America didn’t exist, we would have to invent it for the sake of our survival.’

The 1891 law placing immigration under federal control contained a provision that excluded people suffering from dangerous contagious diseases. Trachoma, a communicable eye affliction, was especially feared. Passengers preparing to debark would ask each other if they “looked sick in the eyes.” They also worried about other ailments; whether sea-sickness was a disease, or would a child with a sty be torn from its family and sent back to Europe. Some people thought they had to pay something to the American inspector and doctor. They worried as to whether they had enough money to pay the officials.


Source: National Park Service, as found on

Even the steerage passengers were lined up according to their appearance. The steamship companies were aware of their reputation so they placed prosperous-looking and respectable passengers in front. Behind them were women with handkerchiefs on their heads. They were followed by the more alien-looking in their best: Russians in matted sheepskins, Greeks in white kilts, etc…Tickets and vaccination cards were in the caps, hats or teeth of the immigrants whose hands were full of baggage and babies. Some officials gave them a rough shove, shouting in a dozen languages to hurry. They hurried, and then waited – sometimes for hours – aboard barges.


A barefoot immigrant woman waits for her turn.

The busiest year was 1907 with 866,660 immigrants. The busiest day of that year was May 2, 1907, when 11 ships arrived with 16,209 passengers and four more ships arrived, making the total number of passengers 21,775. At such times, immigrants often had to remain aboard ship for two or three days. There were so many immigrants to process that the staff couldn’t spend more than two minutes with each of them, and they had to work nine hours continuously. There were never enough interpreters. Fiorello LaGuardia, future mayor of New York, was an interpreter – he spoke Croatian, Italian and German. He said they had to work seven days a week for two years.


Immigrants entered the main building in groups of 30, then marched to a wide, steep staircase. It was an inconvenience for the immigrant who had to carry a feather bed, pillow, wicker basket and maybe a small trunk. While the immigrants were struggling up the stairs, medical inspectors stood looking down at them. If anyone gasped or seemed faint of heart, the letter “H” was chalked on his back. Medical examiners eyed them from head to toe. If a child was carried, but looked old enough to walk, examiners suspected infantile paralysis. More chalk marks were added: “B” for back, “L” for lameness, etc. Elaborate hairdos were a suspicious sign of scalp ailments. Lice were commonplace, but didn’t rate a chalk mark. ‘Eye’ men flipped back eyelids with buttonhooks looking for trachoma, whose victims were usually deported. During stringent mental exams doctors looked for symptoms of retardation, such as tremor of tongue, biting nails, unusual decoration on the clothing, etc. The immigrants who were marked by “X” were led away for closer observation. That yielded detailed notes, such as: “heart beats rapidly when talking to strangers.” “He fell in love with a young lady on board ship. She did not reciprocate.”

Blog15Chalk markings

If the doctor cleared them, people then went to the huge Registry Room. Thousands of people lined up in winding rows to the immigration inspector who sat behind a big desk on a high platform, under a portrait of George Washington and an American flag. An intimidating sight to the immigrant.


There were many questions, many fears. What is your name? Where are you from? Where are you going? Do you have any relatives in the United States? How much money did you bring? Do you have any physical or mental health problems? What is your height? Your weight? Are you an anarchist? Are you a polygamist? Some of this information is contained on the one line for each passenger on a ship’s manifest. The manifests with the names and records of our ancestors are the history of the populating of America during this period.

Some immigrants passed into America with their names intact. Many didn’t. Names were often misspelled or altered on the manifests. Immigrants sometimes shortened their names or Americanized them. Sometimes the officials “helped” them. Thus, Portnovsky became Porter, Schmidt became Smith, Goldstein became Gold.

When the immigrants were asked where they were going, it took ingenuity to decipher the replies. “Szekenevno Pillsburs” was Second Avenue, Pittsburg. One newcomer said “Springfield.” “Which Springfield?” “The cheapest one.”

Four out of five immigrants were free to go their way. Some of the rest received a white badge – temporarily detained while awaiting relatives or money. The detainees called Ellis Island the “Isle of Tears.” An inspector stated he had seen many jails, some pretty bad. But none as bad as the dormitories on Ellis Island where detainees had to wait.


Italian children with white badges wait for their family


In 1914 deportations rose to 16,588 people. Several hundred chose suicide to deportation. Echoes of happiness and grief, despair and triumph haunt the halls of Ellis Island’s empty buildings. There was the “kissing post” where families were reunited, and the “stairway of separation.” From it, one passage led to the railroad ferry, another to the boat for Manhattan, and the third to detention and possible deportation. For some people it was a joy; if nothing was wrong with them they went with their families. For those not admitted, there was heartbreak and desolation.”

Welcome to the United States – Now Go Home…

Immigrant families may have been profoundly relieved when their family members arrived safely from the long voyage and joined them in their new home – but not everyone was happy to see the throngs of immigrants pouring into ports like New York, New Orleans, and others. Many existing United States citizens were nervous about the continuing influx of immigrants.

Wikipedia shares an excerpt from a New York Times article of April 17, 1921, titled “Italians Coming in Great Number,” which discussed the vast numbers of people at the Italian ports waiting for ships to take them to the United States and other countries.

“…The stranger walking through a city like Naples can easily realize the problem the government has to deal with. The side streets…are literally swarming with children, who sprawl in the paved roadway and on the sidewalks. They look dirty and happy…Suburbs of Naples…swarm with children who, for number, can only be compared to those in Delhi, Agra and other cities in the East Indies…”

Similar sights began to appear on the streets of immigrant neighborhoods in the U.S.A.- a population size, energy and dynamic that had not existed prior to the waves of immigration:


Mulberry Street – Now Little Italy, Lower East Side NYC, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain circa 1900

The fears of existing U.S. citizens were heightened by the unknown- who were these new neighbors, and exactly what were they bringing to the United States with them? After a ship called the “Italia” came into port, it was determined that some passengers were carriers of smallpox, and the entire manifest of ship’s passengers had to be detained. Word spread that the incoming immigrants were infected and this caused quite a reaction from those on shore, especially those that were not so keen on the influx of new neighbors in the first place.

Newspapers ran stories about the sheer numbers of people coming in off of the ships. One example is a New York Times editorial piece from December 18, 1880, about the Italia, called “Undesirable Immigrants.”  Here are just a few excerpts taken from an editorial piece: (for entire article see: )

Excerpt #1:


Excerpt #2:


Excerpt #3:


Not exactly the welcoming that our friends in the Fiat commercial gave to their immigrating Italians, si?

In addition to having throngs of fearful citizens, The U.S. and other countries were industrializing after the World Wars and saw the immigrants as an excellent source of extremely cheap labor. This demand for workers resulted in many immigrants being hired by companies before they even left Italy, the companies paying their ship fare. Many of these immigrants were then employed under horrendous conditions (such as sweatshops) and found themselves in conditions of indentured servitude or near slavery.

Blog30Plumage Sweatshop

Women working at a plumage factory. Source:

In 1901 the Italian government created an office called the “Commisariat of Emigration” to help assist and protect its citizens leaving Italy for foreign shores. The Commisariat set up hostels at the ports so that people would not have to sleep on the docks waiting for their ships, kept order at the ports, provided health inspections, enforced ticket costs to ensure there was no “price gouging,” scalping, or trading of ship tickets, and worked with receiving countries to ensure emigrants would be received at the destination country. Italy’s Commisariat of Emigration suspended emigration to Brazil for some time when it was found out that many migrants had ended up as slaves on Brazilian coffee plantations.

Eventually, countries started to put quotas on emmigration and immigration. Italy restricted emigration out of Italy between 1920 and 1930, and the United States created the Emergency quota act of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924 in an attempt to curb the flow of new people coming into the US.

We Made it! Now What?

If Nonno and Nonna were released from Ellis Island, they still faced additional challenges. The first, finding suitable places to live and decent work opportunities. In the early phases of immigration, people often stayed wherever they could, which included “tenement” buildings and cramped living quarters.





Papa said that at one point in his childhood in New York, they had 16 adults and children living together in a “moderate sized apartment,” which Papa said was always clean and cared for – each of the occupants contributing to the household regardless of age or skill level. Papa said his bed was in the dining room, and his jobs at 5 years old ranged from cleaning the pans under the “ice box,” to stirring the wine on the fire escape (see Papa’s recipe for “Immigrant Ice Wine” at the end of the blog!), to loading coals into the coal heater in the basement.

In the later phases of immigration, many people had families waiting for them with places to live and possibly even jobs. But even with those “luxuries,” starting a new life in a new country was challenging. Families, even children, often worked together to make enough money to stay in shelter, food and clothing.


An Italian family sews doll garments together.


An Italian family sorts coffee beans for packaging.


Cramped living quarters in an Italian tenement in 1910

Blog25farming together

Italian family farming together in 1890


Italian men work at the dock

From the Etruscan Tribes to Ellis Island Occupants- Gratitude for Their Courage and Fortitude

As you have seen, my friend, life for Italians, from the time of tribal conquests through the time of arrival on the shores of America, has always been challenging. But those of us reading this are living proof that our ancestors not only survived the grueling rigors of life as an Italian, they thrived. (Those experiences may also give us a clue to the root of the famous Italian passion and perseverance for life!) Once our ancestors came to America, they settled in, did what they had to, and worked very hard to create the lives that we-their descendants- would eventually enjoy. I hope the stops at these particular stations have given you have a better idea of what your ancestors- whether Italian or not- went through to establish life in this country.  After all, every single American, with the exception of our Native American brothers and sisters, are either immigrants or are descended from immigrants in some way. As Papa would say, “for that we gotta give em our respect.” I could not agree more. Thank you Great-great Nonna Rosina, Great-Grandma Elvira, Great Aunts Gaetana & Gilda, Great Grandpa Vincenzo and Papa. If not for you, who knows if and where I would be!

Now, dear ones, I know that part of our time-travel tour was intense. Those two stops are the most grueling and you, dear traveler, are most deserving of an intermission! You will need a good siesta, because when we return, we will board the time travel train again for our next stop- Sophia Loren Station. There, we will take you through the fiesta of Italian culture in America – the foods, the music, the cinema, and all the things we have come to love about Italy! You won’t want to leave that leg of the tour, but trust me it will be worth boarding the train one last time for our trip to the future, where you will meet some remarkable Italian-Americans and learn how you too can “Be Italian!”

Until the next time we meet, enjoy the food, the wine, the love and life. It’s the Italian way! Ce vediamo prossimo mese! See you next month!

Papa’s Recipe of the Month: “Immigrant Winter Ice Wine!”

Papa always told a great story about one of his family chores- tending to the batches of wine they used to make out on the metal fire escapes of their apartment in the Bronx, New York.(During prohibition, the wine was made in the apartment building basements which required a descent down many, many flights of stairs.) Once Grandma or one of the Uncles had made a batch of homemade wine from crushed grapes, sugar, extra yeast and water, it was placed in large glass jugs and had to be stirred often to prevent the ingredients from settling at the bottom.

Papa’s job was to take a long handled spoon or stick and stir the mix 20 times. He was to do this every day. In the winter, it was also his job to bring the wine in on very cold days, so that it would not freeze and ruin the brew.

Papa said that one very cold day, an extra large batch of wine was ready to go, having fermented for the proper amount of time. Papa gave it one last mix, but in his haste forgot to bring the batch inside. Early the next morning he remembered and woke up in a panic, rushing to the balcony, expecting to see the wine frozen solid and ruined. Upon inspection he realized that 2/3 of the jug was frozen and 1/3 was a dark, deep, syrupy liquid. He poured the liquid into the glass and tasted it. It was the sweetest, most potent, wonderful wine he had ever had! Only the water had frozen, and what was left was all the color, flavor, sugar… and alcohol.

At first the family was furious – Papa had ruined an entire month’s worth of wine! But then he convinced them to to taste it – and a new family tradition was born. Every cold snap from that point on, they would remind Papa to bring in the drinking jugs. But they always made a small, separate batch and left it on the balcony to freeze.

Even as an adult Papa continued making his own winter ice wine, in the smallest of batches, as a special treat. He wouldn’t start from scratch, but instead would buy a jug of inexpensive wine ( usually Ernest and Julio Gallo Lambrusco), and when it was about 1/2 empty he would set it out on the front stoop to freeze. In the morning, he would break a hole in the center of the ice with a meat skewer or ice pick, and pour the luscious nectar through the hole into a smaller bottle. When he moved to Florida he would pour wine into old yogurt cups and freeze them, achieving the same effect but in smaller quantities. He would pour the liquid into small apertif glasses and enjoy the results – a few sips of nectar and nostalgia, that took him right back to winter in the Bronx and that fire escape wine.

  1. Fiat-
  2. Cohen, Robin (1995). The Cambridge Survey of World Migration. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 143. ISBN 9780521444057.
  3. “15° Censimento generale della popolazione e delle abitazioni” (in Italian). ISTAT. 27 April 2012.
  4. Steerage Conditions – A Report of the Immigration Commission – 1911
  5. Glazier, Ira (February 1993). “Review of: The National Integration of Italian Return Migration: 1870-1929” by Dino Cinel, New York Cambridge U. Press, 1991”. The American Historical Review 98 (1): 198–199. ISSN 0002-8762

Aniello Agostino Oliviero’s Infinity Symphony in G Major

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”

~ Plato

“And if I’m feelin’ good to you

And you’re feelin’ good to me

There ain’t nothin’ we can’t do or say

Feelin’ good, feeling fine

Oh, baby, let the music play”

~ The Doobie Brothers

Did you know you are made of music?

Not just when you listen to music, like when you bliss out to the Beatles, can’t separate yourself from Vivaldi’s violin, become the color in a rainy Raga, or close your eyes and can actually feel the Rasta in the reggae. Not just when the music plays for you and you become it, but when you, dear one, are the music to begin with. When you were the music all along.

Please allow me to explain.

Papa loved music. If I walked through his door, and there was no music on, it meant he was asleep, the power was out, or something was very, very wrong. He loved music so much that one of his rare laments in life was that of never becoming a professional musician or performer.

“I always wanted tah sing on stage in a musical.” He would say wistfully, “But, I nevah could memorize all the woids.”

As proof of his enduring efforts, hundreds of 3×5 index cards covered with penciled song lyrics were strewn around his apartment.

His lack of musical vocation occasionally created a void in his life, yet he made every effort to fill the hollow by pouring in music of any kind, and then constantly immersing himself in the melodic mere.

Throughout the time I knew him he owned almost every type of instrument you could imagine*– a recorder (Do you remember? You know, the plastic kind every parent has to buy their school child, the kind that ends up being used to learn a painful sounding version of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, the one that gets taken away at home because of the incessant, impulsive urge to play the same note over and over again at the top of their lungs…yes, you remember, that recorder.), a round, black metal note tuner, a short flute, several violins, a weathered mandolin, a peeling guitar, a stringless banjo, a piano, multiple keyboards, maracas made from painted gourds featuring a picture of a burro and “Mexico” written on the side, a ukulele, two harmonicas, large castanets, small bongos, a tarnished, dented trumpet, an accordion with worn-down, stained keys, a toy xylophone with colored bars, finger cymbals, hand bells, a tambourine, and a weird little tilted wooden box with a hole in the middle and short, tight strings attached.

*(Instrument Sidenote: I never saw him play one of them. Once in a while he would pull a sample off of the wall to show me, or pluck a string or blow a note, but I had a feeling the best concertos took place only in the presence of Papa and the other instruments. I imagined dark, quiet, late nights, Papa’s apartment glowing with light, muted sounds sneaking out into the atmosphere. Me peeking in the window to catch a glimpse of him gesturing with one of the violin bows, a few horse hairs dangling as he keeps tempo, conducting what appears to be the walls- until I peek further in only to see the instruments jumping off their nails and hooks to play themselves in a circle, a la Fantasia, Papa in the center of it all.)

But Papa was not content to just stare at hanging instruments. He would play music on his record or tape player, he would sing, he would dance, he would do all three at once.  Anywhere, at any time, with or without accompaniment*. I observed him singing “Vesti La Giubba” from Pagliacci to a group of giddy, giggly, white-haired grandmas on a cruise to Cozumel, saw him on the train station platform in Rome, demonstrating to a small boy how to dance around an old light pole like Fred Astaire, listened to his audition practice of “Summertime” for a part in Porgy and Bess at the Gulfport Theatre, and watched him conduct numerous invisible arrangements from “Carmen” in his living room.

*(Accompaniment Sidenote: Participation in these musical interludes was not mandatory, but always encouraged by Papa. Sometimes a brave spirit would accept the invitation and join in for an unexpected duet or dance, but more often than not Papa was a solo act. He was fine with that as well- he knew that not everyone was comfortable with such public displays of rhythm and joy, being all too familiar with the most common reason: worrying about what others would think. Papa told one story about the time he finally declared what he thought about that excuse:

“I was at the aihpawt with Fiona, we were headin’ to the Caribbean togetha. I got this song in my head and started hummin’ out loud. Fiona says tah me, ‘Aw, Neil, I love that song.’  

So I say, ‘Well, then let’s dance!’

I jump up on my feet, and put out my hand. She looks at it, then me, and she’s got this confused, uncomf’table look on her face. She whispas, lookin’ around, ‘Dance?? Here? Oh…no… There isn’t even any music…What would people say? What would people think?’ 

I say, ‘Wha? Whaddya mean what otha people might think? They’ll think ya a nut job! Or they won’t think about ya at all. Or they’ll go home and tell everyone the story about the lady that was so happy she stood up and danced at tha aihpawt. What I’m tryin’ tah say, deayuh, is who the hell cares what anyone else thinks?! If ya wanna dance, ya gotta dance!’

 She just looked around, still shakin’ huh head no. It was a damn shame, I tell ya, her missin’ out on that- ‘cause of otha people that won’t even remembah it?’”

Papa continued the story with part two, which took place some 10 years later:

“…But, I tell ya what. She realized what she did. I saw her a few yeahs ago, when she came to St. Pete tah visit some friends. We met at Mazarros, and we’re havin’ a gelato at the bar, catchin’ up on old times, and she says tah me, ‘Ya know somethin’ I regret, Neil? I regret not dancing with you that time in the airport. Just because of what other people might think. If I had to do it all over again I would say yes.’”

And of course, with that, Papa reports he smiled a great big smile, gently put down his cup and spoon, stepped off of the café bar stool, and grabbed her already outstretched hand.)

Voice, instrumental, or both, Papa’s own or someone else’s, it mattered not. If music was there, he would sing and/ or dance to it. If music was not audibly there, he would sing it and/ or dance to it. Music was always somewhere for him, surrounding him, embracing him, within him, guiding him, serving him, saving him. By ancient Greek definition, music is a muse, and it certainly was Papa’s.

“All my life I have studied the peculiar powers of music. It has a force of its own that few would deny.”

~Katherine Neville, The Eight 

Music, once admitted to the soul, becomes a sort of spirit, and never dies.”

~Edward George Bulwer-Lytton

Papa loved music and he knew the power that music held- to keep a voice and mind strong, to change a mood, to make himself- and hopefully others- feel better. He knew music was around him, he knew it was in him, but more than that, he knew it was him. Remember, dear one, that to Papa, everything was energy, and that included music. He said that matter, our matter, all matter is simply energy vibrating at different levels and in different ways, just as with the energy of music.

“Did yah know that a deaf person can hear sound?” he told me one day while extolling his hypothesis on everything being made of music. “My friend Oynie, he can’t hear a thing, paw guy lost his hearin’ in the war, but he still goes tah the dances. He puts his hand on the speakah and damned if he doesn’t tap his feet to the same tempo as the rest of us!”

Papa reasoned that because music is an energy vibration, and because we are made up of energy vibrations, “then ipso facto, latee dee latee dah,” it made perfect sense that we…are made of music.

“So, if ya think about it, deayah, maybe we like music so much because we are music.  Maybe each of us is a buncha notes, and we live life makin’ all different kinds of music with our lives. Sometimes we’re in tune, sometimes we’re outta tune, sometimes it’s a good song ya wanna keep playing ovah and ovah, sometimes it’s so bad ya just want it tah end.”

Of course Papa’s notion went beyond single notes- to what happens when those vibrations get together. “If each of us is a buncha notes, then maybe a few of us togetha, we’re a sonata- and who knows, maybe all of us are…everythin’ is…some crazy kinda awchestra heyah to see what kinda infinite symphony we can make outta all of it.”

I have to admit, back then I thought the theory was just a wee bit kooky. I mean, I love music more than your average country bear jamboree, but I did not think I was actually made of music. Over time, though, I thought about Papa’s ideas more, in an open-minded kind of way, and actually took the time to learn a little about music and the role it plays in life- from the individual cellular level out to the infinite expanding universe. What I discovered is that music is quintessential– every part of our being, be it emotional, mental, physical, social, spiritual, intellectual, or mystical, embodies music.

And it turns out, dear friends, that Papa was singing the right tune all along.                                

“Music is … A higher revelation than all Wisdom & Philosophy”

~Ludwig van Beethoven

“The only truth is music.”

~Jack Kerouac


“Music is the art which is most nigh to tears and memory.”

-Oscar Wilde

“Great music is that which penetrates the ear with facility and leaves the memory with difficulty. Magical music never leaves the memory.”

-Sir Thomas Beecham

Papa knew the emotional impact music had on his life, and any one of us that enjoys music knows the sway it can have on our hearts and guts and minds.

How many of us remember the songs we danced to at our prom or a wedding? How often have you heard a random tune and it instantly, joyfully transported you back to another place in time? How often do you hear music and think of a certain person and emotion every time you hear it? To this day when I hear certain songs by Badly Drawn Boy, Dave Matthews Band, Rosemary Clooney, Ben Harper, Railroad Earth, and even Carol Channing, I think of people and moments and emotions in my life.  Like scents and sights, music can serve as an “anchor,” pulling us back in time and bringing potent memories* and feelings with it.

*(Anchor Sidenote: One of my favorite stories about musical anchors is one I have about my mom, Paula. I wanted to take her on a trip for her 65th birthday. Someplace really special, someplace she had always dreamed about. I asked her, “Mom, if you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?” Her immediate answer, without hesitation and to my surprise, was, curiously, “Salzburg.”

“Salzburg?” I asked, completely confused by the seemingly random, slightly odd and unexpected response. I thought she would have said Rome, or Paris, or someplace more…obvious on a map, no offense to Austria. “Why Salzburg?”

She smiled and looked up as if she could see the reason in the air.

 “Because I loved the movie The Sound of Music– the music was so happy and the scenery was so beautiful, with the Von Trapp family singing and dancing through the hills at the end, I have wanted to go ever since.”

So there you have it. Those memorable melodies had anchored my mom in Austria and made her feel the hills were alive whenever she heard those songs. And even though I was pretty sure that last scene of the movie took place in Switzerland… Salzburg it was.0)  

“Music… will help dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.”

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Life seems to go on without effort when I am filled with music.”

~George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss

Music’s emotional force does not stop at our association with memories. Nerve fibers in our ears enter the brain and actually activate our emotional centers. Dr. John Beaulieau, of the sound healing center BioSonic Enterprises, says those listening to music experience, “a warming of the skin, a decrease in heart rate, and an overwhelming sense of wellbeing.”1

How many times have you listened to music and it moved you, changed your attitude, your “sense of wellbeing?”– even Bugs Bunny knew that music could “calm the savage beast”2 and Blues music was borne out of emotion itself. Anyone that listens to music to motivate themselves for a workout, calm down after a stressful event, or turn around a bad mood can attest to the emotional powers of music.


“In every man’s heart there is a secret nerve that answers to the vibrations of beauty and music.”
Christopher Morley

Music touches, embraces and permeates physical existence. At the most basic level, the vibration of music creates new vibrations. For example, when we strike a tuning fork, if there is another tuning fork nearby of the same pitch it will spontaneously begin to vibrate with that tone. The same principal applies to the influence music can have on our human bodies- some musicians clench the tuning fork with their teeth, because the vibrations of sound “ring through their bones, allowing the brain to hear the tone through the jaw.”3

 Papa recognized firsthand the connection between the energy vibrations of music and our bodies. The notes vibrated in his ears, then in his brain, hands and feet and he found himself almost involuntarily tapping his toes and fingers, nodding his head, and, ultimately, jumping up and moving his whole self to the beat.

Scientist Hans Jenny created some fascinating and famous experiments, showing that notes, tones and their vibrations really do impact our bodies, and are part of the invisible force that gives physical form to us and to the entire natural universe of “flowers, mountain ranges and even stripes on a zebra.”4

Jenny, replicating and expanding the 1750’s experiments of physicist and musician Ernst Chladni, took different substances like sand, water, and iron shavings, poured them onto big metal cookie trays (well, not actual cookie trays, but “cookie trays” is more fun than saying “Chladni Plates”) and then played different notes and tones under them. When the note, tone or song played, Jenny could actually see it move the substance and create a physical image on the tray! When the tone stopped, the image fell apart, but when the tone was repeated, it would create the same exact image again. Especially amazing was what happened when water was placed on the tray- the water image created by the vibrations “stuck” to the metal plate. The moment the music was turned off, the water ran off the plate onto the floor, but when the sounds were occurring, the water adhered to the metal, showing that the vibrations had some kind of anti-gravitational effect.

Even more mesmerizing was the vast, varied, complex and beautiful images that were created by the tones. Rich, intricate patterns that just happened to mirror those that already existed in nature and science. (For a spectacular color gallery of these images, visit These resemblances caused Jenny to theorize that evolution was the result of vibrations, and that objects in nature may have taken their form from the vibrations and sounds around them. Supporting Hans Jenny’s theories, Catherine Guzetta, Director of Holistic Nursing Consultants and published researcher in the area of Holistic Health and Sound Therapy said, “The forms of snowflakes and faces of flowers may take on their shape because they are responding to some sound in nature. Likewise, it is possible that crystals, plants, and human beings may be, in some way, music that has taken on visible form.”5

Papa’s dancing was surely evidence of the concept– I imagined he and his friends on the dance floor at the Palladium, the music turned on, hundreds of dancers moving to the tones and vibrations like one great big, human, Hans Jenny experiment– even to the point when the music ends and everyone pours from of the floor like water off of an enormous Chladni Plate! I wondered if they too, like the sand or metal shavings Jenny used, had formed some glorious, collective design, some not-so-random pattern when viewed from above.

“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”

Bob Marley

At an even more mysterious physical level, music has the power to heal. Music and musical tones have been used in ancient, indigenous, and eastern healing practices for millennia. And western science has proven that listening to music releases Nitric Oxide in the brain and has the ability to protect us from bacteria, viruses, and high blood pressure.6 Music therapy has become a more widely-accepted western healing modality, and even popular western-culture physicians such as Dr. Mahmet Oz (of Oprah fame) promote the role of music in health and longevity.

From a recent article on his website, Dr. Oz says, “Music has a long history of therapeutic use– from its traditional role in healing rituals around the world to its recent use as an integrative Alzheimer’s disease treatment. Music to your ears can add on years.”7


“For me there is something primitively soothing about music, and it went straight to my nervous system, making me feel ten feet tall.”

~ Eric Clapton     

“I’m wishing he could see that music lives. Forever. That it’s stronger than death. Stronger than time. And that its strength holds you together when nothing else can.”

~Jennifer Donnelly, Revolution

“He took his pain and turned it into something beautiful. Into something that people connect to. And that’s what good music does. It speaks to you. It changes you.”

~Hannah Harrington, Saving June

Anyone that was a teenager with a temporary, exaggerated life crisis, a locking door and an album, tape or CD collection knows the power of music on mental health. Somehow listening to Nirvana, Van Morrison, The Rolling Stones, or The Ramones for hours or days on end could make one’s adolescently fragile mental state improve or deteriorate depending on taste, timing and troubles. This effect is most likely due to a very real chemical reaction that occurs in the brain when we pipe in music. Researchers doing studies of the brain on music found that listening to pleasurable music activated certain brain regions which “reward” us with “euphoric gushes of dopamine- the same effect we get from sex, really good food and addictive drugs.”8  (The verdict is still out on exactly how listening to Harry Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle” or Michael Murphy’s “Wildfire” turns on the waterworks, although I have my own theories, and darn you mom for selling Crayon after he horsepooped on your shoes…)

This direct cause and effect relationship between our brain and music may be hard to believe, but the Center for Greater Good at the University of California at Berkeley confirms that our human brains (and even the brains of animals!) are hard wired for music, from the time we are babies:

“Music appreciation starts at birth. Research has found that lullabies lower heart rates and induce deeper sleep in infants; infants also have shown the ability to identify fundamental properties of music, such as pitch and rhythm, with the same accuracy as musicians. In fact, in a recent study, brain scans of two- and three-day-old babies indicated that they recognized a drumming pattern and were surprised when the drummer missed a beat…And humans aren’t the only animals whose brains seem wired for music…animals ranging from great apes to whales to seals have been found to make music, whether through drumming or singing. In one study, when a researcher tried to teach koi (cousins to goldfish) to associate certain music with a food reward, the results showed that the fish were able to distinguish classical music from the blues! The language of music may indeed be universal.” 9

In her interview on National Public Radio, Elena Mannas, author of The Power of Music discusses the impact of music on the brains of babies and adults; from early development to healing the injured brains of adults to improving the brains of the elderly:

“Scientists have found that music stimulates more parts of the brain than any other human function… ‘A stroke patient who has lost verbal function- those verbal functions may be stimulated by music.’ One technique, known as ‘Melodic Intonation Therapy,’ uses music to coax portions of the brain into taking over for those that are damaged. In some cases, it can help patients regain their ability to speak. And because of how we associate music with memories, Mannes says such techniques can also be helpful for Alzheimers patients.”10

Science continues to expand in its research on the human brain and music– proving repeatedly the mighty and sometimes miraculous ways that music has impacted the brain, as scientists and medical practitioners witness people in lengthy comas awaken upon hearing music, observe patients with Alzheimer’s disease who remember nothing, but sing all of the words to their favorite songs, and watch severe brain-damaged musicians that could not function in society but could peacefully sit and play entire compositions of Chopin at the piano.11


“Music is the great uniter. An incredible force. Something that people who differ on everything and anything else can have in common.”
Sarah Dessen, Just Listen

“He who hears music, feels his solitude peopled at once.”
Robert Browning

“Too bad people can’t always be playing music, maybe then there wouldn’t be any more wars.”

~Margot Benary-Isbert, Rowan Farm

Music has deep social roots. Our ancestors used music to bring the tribe and community together around the fire. Through music they passed tribal stories to future generations, unified the tribe for celebration or war, sent messages to other tribes, and invoked their gods and spirits, or messages from within. Music still brings people together, albeit not as often collectively around the fire (although people still create music together in the occasional drum circle and jam session, hootenanny, sing-along and festival). The music experience today is more likely to be made up of large groups of people congregating around performers or music, such as at concerts, dance clubs, and parties.

Whether people are playing, singing, listening or dancing, when music is involved it has the power to unify. As just one example, music was widely used in the late 1960’s and 1970’s to communicate ideas with and coalesce groups as part of the anti-war, pro-peace movements (please note, fans of Mother Teresa, these two approaches are indeed different!), with artists like John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Woodie Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul & Mary and others being moved to create music that reflected their personal feelings about and philosophies on war, violence and human rights.

Wherever music has the power to coalesce, it also has the power to divide, and has been an influential part of people’s and groups’ efforts to separate from or rebel against unwanted influence.

Stereotypically we have seen this polarization in decades of teenagers and youth that declare they are tired of being told what to do by their mothers, fathers, teachers and society in general. Young men and women of the 1950’s and 60’s defied their parents by flocking to see taboo and even illegal rock and roll artists like The Beatles, Elvis Presley and The Rolling Stones. 1970’s mohawked and pierced, leather-clad fans of Punk music listened to the kind of songs and bands that gave the proverbial, black-nail-polished middle finger to society and conformity. And the controversial Gangsta Rap of the 80’s and 90’s surfaced cursing and spitting from the concrete chasm between life in the urban, inner-city communities and the rest of society- although eventually you were just as likely to hear it coming from a prom queen’s V.W. Beetle in Boca Raton as from a front porch in Overtown.

“We Africans we must do something about this nonsense
We say, we must do something about this nonsense
I repeat, we Africans we must do something about this nonsense.”
~Fela Kuti,
Authority Stealing

“Get up, stand up! Stand up for your rights! Get up, stand up! Don’t give up the fight!”

~ Bob Marley, Get Up, Stand Up

“Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife.”
Kahlil Gibran

African–based music has often been a source and reflection of rebellion. Music called “negro spirituals” was a way for slaves of a divided Colonial America to express their own religion and roots in defiance of violent suppression by white slave owners. Some scholars claim that the lyrics of “coded slave songs,” such as “Wade in the Water,” “Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd,” and “Go Down Moses” were written and sung to secretly give other slaves clues about how to escape or avoid capture. The African slaves of Brazil used traditional Brazilian Berimbau music and accompanying “dance” to disguise their martial arts and defense movements. The resulting Brazilian Capoeira is still avidly practiced today, now as a symbol of the rebellion against oppression for which it was originally created. Jamaican singer and songwriter Bob Marley wrote songs which reflected his views on Africans’ struggles for equality and his opposition to South African Apartheid- songs of rebellion, freedom and redemption; and Fela Kuti, Nigerian Afrobeat musician, was fueled by the 1970’s Black Power movement and rebelled fiercely against the Nigerian government, not only in his lyrics but in his defiant, riot-inciting words and acts at concerts and in his creation of the Kalakuta Republic- a commune and recording studio for the many band affiliates that declared themselves independent from the Nigerian state.

“Music speaks what cannot be expressed, soothes the mind and gives it rest, heals the heart and makes it whole, flows from heaven to the soul.”

~Angela Monet

“Music acts like a magic key, to which the most tightly closed heart opens.”

~Maria von Trapp

In addition to figuratively binding people together for a common cause, music has been shown to actually “bind neurological systems together”12– as demonstrated in a study of chorus singers’ hearts all beating in unison when singing hymns together:

“Using pulse monitors attached to the singers’ ears, researchers measured the changes in the choir members’ heart rates as they navigated the intricate harmonies of a Swedish hymn. When the choir began to sing, their heart rates slowed down.

‘When you sing the phrases, it is a form of guided breathing,’ says musicologist Bjorn Vickhoff of the Sahlgrenska Academy who led the project. ‘You exhale on the phrases and breathe in between the phrases. When you exhale, the heart slows down.’

But what really struck him was that it took almost no time at all for the singers’ heart rates to become synchronized. The readout from the pulse monitors starts as a jumble of jagged lines, but quickly becomes a series of uniform peaks. The heart rates fall into a shared rhythm guided by the song’s tempo.

‘The members of the choir are synchronizing externally with the melody and the rhythm, and now we see it has an internal counterpart,’ Vickhoff says.

This is just one study, and these findings might not apply to other singers. But all religions and cultures have some ritual of song, and it’s tempting to ask what this could mean about shared musical experience and communal spirituality.

‘It’s a beautiful way to feel. You are not alone but with others who feel the same way,’ Vickhoff says.”12


 “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”

~Ephesians 5:19

“Music is my religion.”

~Jimmy Hendrix

“Let us release ourselves into the rhythm of God and thereby become part of the rhythm of this universe.” 

Joel S. Goldsmith, A Parenthesis In Eternity

“If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph: THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD WAS MUSIC.”

~Kurt Vonnegut

Music has long been an integral part of religion and spirituality- in both formal and informal religious and spiritual rituals and practices.

In formal religion, think about the haunting chants of Gregorian monks, Catholic priest’s echoing intonations over swinging, incense-filled thuribles, Hindu and Buddhist call and response to Kirtan, Sufi Dervishes who “whirl” to music as a form of physical meditation and connection to the divine, and the African slaves who created religious music as an expression of their anguish, strength, hope and faith in their god or gods.

Humans have also used music as a tool to connect to their divine and spiritual nature unrelated to a formal, established religion. Music is used in spiritual ceremonies, such as meditation or inducing trace states, as a form of spiritual communion with their spiritual “Source.” “New Age Spirituality” brought about a quartz bucketful of music called New Age music, used by retreat centers, spas and individuals around the world to invoke relaxation and facilitate a peaceful environment for everything from massage to yoga and meditation.

Entire doctorate dissertations could be written on music and spirituality, so I will leave the rest of this topic with a thought by talented musician and writer Frank Fitzpatrick who said, “Any music that helps us reconnect to our essence—to our inner and divine nature—is spiritual…When created from the heart and with truth and pure intention, music is a spiritual expression of the most universal nature and highest order.” Mr. Fitpatrick also included some very meaningful quotes in his May, 2013 blog on the topic of music and spirituality. These famous folk beautifully and eloquently convey music’s influence on the spirit:

“There is nothing in the world so much like prayer as music is.”

~William P. Merril

“Music is the easiest method of meditation. Whoever can let himself dissolve into music has no need to seek anything else to dissolve into.”


“Music should uplift the soul; music should inspire. There is no way of getting closer to God, of rising higher toward the spirit of attaining spiritual perfection than music.”

~ Hazrat Inayat Khan


“Music is the pleasure the human soul experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting.”
~Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, German mathematician and philosopher

“Harmony is divine, it consists of numerical ratios. Whosoever acquires full understanding of this number harmony, he becomes himself divine and immortal.”
~B. L. van der Waerden, 20th century Dutch mathematician, describing the beliefs of the followers of Pythagoras

“Music is true.  An octave is a mathematical reality…It’s a truth.  The laws of physics apply to music, and music follows that. So it really lifts us out of this subjective, opinionated human position and drops us into the cosmic picture just like that.”
~James Taylor 

Math and music may seem disparate, a paradox- however, ancient cultures discovered that there really are patterns, hidden structures and relationships between numbers and musical scales. Pythagoras, an ancient Greek philosopher, mystic, mathematician and the father of geometry, was one of the most famous to recognize such a mathematical pattern in music. The legend goes that he heard the sound of several blacksmiths hammering and decided there must be a mathematical answer to the beautiful sounds. Further curiosity led him to discover the musical scale of tones, called Octaves.14

Since Pythagoras laid a heavy blanket of mathematics over everything, he of course also applied mathematics to explain the stars and planets. He believed that the cosmos moved in very predictable mathematical patterns and equations, that these equations, “corresponded to musical notes, and with each movement of the universe, they collectively produced a symphony.”15 Pythagoras called this cosmic symphony, “The Music of the Spheres.”

Pythagoras also believed that “musical instruments, when tuned to the mathematical Pythagorean harmonics, were capable of tuning the human soul to sing the rhythms of the universe.”16 In short, Pythagoras asserted that if music is math, and the entire universe is math, then, by Pythagorean inference, the entire universe… is music. These beliefs led to his theory that the human soul can be tuned to the music of the universe- a theory that our native ancestors already knew, and that philosophers, scientists and healers have been pursuing ever since.

“‘Ah, music,’ he said, wiping his eyes. ‘A magic beyond all we do here!’”

~J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

 “Constellations of thought hard wired to the universal energies between us resonate as a familiar hum that gently vibrates to caress my soul.”
Truth Devour, Wantin

Johannes Kepler, a theologian and mathematician during the Renaissance, backed up Pythagoras’s vision of sound when he declared the whole universe as the vibrating string of a single string instrument. To Kepler, the vibration was the “universal sound,” the sound from which everything emanates- the sound of God. In John 1:1, the Bible refers to this sound with its very first verse: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God“.” Hans Jenny, the Cymatic scientist whom you met earlier, showed agreement in the concept of sound as Creation when he said, “The more one studies these things, the more one realizes that sound is the creative force. It must be regarded as primordial…We cannot say, in the beginning was number or in the beginning was symmetry, etc…They are not themselves the creative power. The creative power is inherent in sound.”17 These declarations came after but paralleled Hinduism, in which the sound of the universe is “Om”, a Sanskrit sound that “resonates with a great cosmic vibration so massive and subtle and all-encompassing that everything seen and unseen is filled with it.”18  Buddhist and Jain philosophies also use Om in their mantras, and in his New York Times bestselling book, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey Into The Afterlife, Author Eben Alexander said, “Om was the sound I remembered hearing associated with that omniscient, omnipotent, and unconditionally loving God.” In the mystical Dervish tradition, the Dervishes whirl and commune with their God to this “infinite sound of the cosmos.”19

“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.”

Albert Einstein

In an effort to bring scientific principles to these mysterious theories, Albert Einstein called this universal place of infinity, energy and vibrations the “Universal Energy Field.” After discovering that all matter is energy and all energy is matter (e=mc2), Albert Einstein spent the last part of his career trying to prove that the Universal Energy Field existed. Today, physicists in the field of String Theory, including Stephen Hawking, believe that the “Universal Energy Field” is comprised of billions of microscopic strings that “vibrate at different frequencies, which creates harmonics and patterns, thus organizing the entire universe and every particle in it.”20 The biggest guitar in existence, and we, my dear friends, are all part of the jam session! Ah, music!

“Everything in the universe has a rhythm, everything dances. ”

~Maya Angelou

 “If each of us is a buncha notes, then maybe a few of us togetha, we’re a sonata- and who knows, maybe all of us are…everything is…some crazy kind of awchestra heyah to see what kinda infinite symphony we can make outta all of it.”

~ Aniello Agostino Oliviero

Maybe Papa’s theory on music, energy, and everything wasn’t so kooky after all. It does seem like there is quite a bit of science, art, religion, and experience to support the idea that we are all music, all playing our own tunes in a cosmic improvisation…or purposeful composition, depending on your doctrine.

So, if we accept that music is everything and everything is music, what do we do with this belief? Do we:

A) Listen to more music?

B) Pay greater attention to the music we listen to, and how it makes us feel?

C) Build up our playlist collection of, “Music for Self, Global and Universal Harmony”?

D) Take it to the next octave and reflect on the music we make- our personal energy vibrations, the vibrations of those around us and the impact they have on each other?

E) Climb the crescendo- and consider the possibility that our collective orchestra is perpetually generating an entire soundtrack of our existence; a never-ending mix tape that vibrates through infinity?

Hmmm…choices, choices. In my humble opinion, the answer is F) All of the above…But I especially like that last note, “E.”

And you, my dear friend- are you willing to sing that tune, or at least start to hum along? If you are, then we really should complete the scale. We are, my dear, missing a note, a major note that serves as the home key for all of our others. If you’re willing to join in the chorus, then let us add “G.”

A note that, in the Baroque era, was referred to as the “key of benediction,” “G” invokes divine guidance and blesses us as we make the decision, the choice, to create a positive, radiant melodic masterpiece of our lives- slowly, mindfully, intentionally. A life that has the power and possibility of creating the universal “music” that, in the words of spiritual teacher Dr. Wayne Dyer, “makes us all feel good-makes us all feel…God.”

That scale was Papa’s wise canon, one he caught onto in the second half of his 90-year symphony, pondering, practicing and perfecting his art.

And so what sage advice did Papa have for us novices? Us amateur composers and conductors? He had none of the data, none of the studies, none of the formal philosophical education, so his wisdom and experience-based counsel was rather simple:

“Just keep playin’, singin’ and dancin’ deayah. And always watch the tune ya carryin’- ‘cause ya never know when you can make beautiful music togetha…and who might be listenin’.”

Thank you, Papa. Play on.

“When we die, we will turn into songs, and we will hear each other and remember each other.”

~Rob Sheffield, Love is a Mix Tape

Recipe of the Month

In honor of this month’s theme, our recipe will be made of musical ingredients. Some of Papa’s favorites (marked with a *star) and some of mine inspired by the writing and adventures of How Do We Love? Enjoy!

*Nessun dorma (Vincerò)
*There’s No Tomorrow (O Sole Mio)    Dean Martin
*In Napoli                                              Dean Martin
Non dimenticare le mie parole            Carlo Buti
*Return to Me (Ritorna-Me)                  Dean Martin
Chi-Baba, Chi-Baba                            Peggy Lee
*Volare (Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu)            Dean Martin
Papa Loves Mambo                            Perry Como
La Festa Dell’amore                            Louiselle
On an Evening In Roma                     Patrizio Buanne
Carina 3:17                                          Nicola Arigliano
*Grazie, Prego, Scusi                           Dean Martin
La Traiettorie delle Mongolfiere          Gianmaria Testa
Le Cose in Comune                            Daniele Silvestri
Juke Box 2:23                                     Fred Buscaglione
Via con me                                          Paolo Conte
Come Di                                              Paolo Conte
We Open In Venice                             Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin & Sammy Davis Jr.
Botch-A-Me (Ba-Ba-Baciami Piccina) Rosemary Clooney
Azzurro                                                Paolo Conte
Mambo Italiano                                    Rosemary Clooney
Amada mia, amore mio                       The Starlite Orchestra
Gnè Gnè                                              Giorgio Conte
Tu Vuo’ Fa’ l’Americano                        Quadro Nuevo
L’Italiano                                                Patrizio Buanne
Come On-A-My House                          Rosemary Clooney
Che Cossè L’Amor                                Vinicio Capossela
Tu Vuo Fa L’americano                         Renato Carosone
Be Italian                                                Fergie
*Funiculì, funiculà                                    José Carreras, Los Angeles Philharmonic
Armida al campo d’Egitto RV699-A       Vivaldi: Arie per basso (Edition Vivaldi)
*Tarantella                                               Manhattan Pops
Un Bacio a Mezzanotte                          Quartetto Cetra
Cannelloni                                               Giorgio Conte
Petali e Mirto                                           Maria Pierantoni Giua
Dentro al Cinema                                    Gianmaria Testa
*Carmen: Havanaise                                Manhattan Opera Chorus
***Carmen: Overture                                 Leonard Bernstein
*Cavalleria Rusticano: Viva il Vino Spumeggiante          Luciano Pavarotti
*Pagliaci: Vesti La Giubba                                              Placido Domingo
*South Pacific: Happy Talk                                             Original Soundtrack
*Porgy and Bess: Summertime                                       Ella Fitzgerald

And here are the references I made in the post – some are citations, others links to new information. Enjoy!

  1.     The hills are alive! Mom in Salzburg… The hills are alove!
  2.     John Beaulieu, “Human Tuning”, Biosonic Enterprises, 2010
  3.    Clip of Bugs Bunny’s “Soothes the savage beast” scene in “Hurdy Gurdy Hare”
  6.     Guzzetta, Cathie E.: Music Therapy: Nursing the Music of the Soul, in Music: Physician for the Times to Come, Campbell, Don (Editor), Quest Books, 1991, p. 149
  7.     Salamon, et al., Sound Therapy Induced Relaxation, Medical Science Monitor, 2003; 9(5).
  9. Blood, Anne J. & Zatorre, Robert J., “Intensely pleasurable responses to music correlate with activity in brain regions implicated in reward and emotion.” Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences. (2001) Vol 8, No. 20.
  14. Frank Fitzpatrick, “Why Music Part 9: Music and Spirituality”, Huffington Post, May 3, 2013
  16.   Christoph Riedweg, Pythagoras: His Life, Teaching and Influence, Cornell: Cornell University Press, 2005
  17.   John Beaulieu, “Human Tuning”, Biosonic Enterprises, 2010
  19.   John Beaulieu, “Human Tuning”, Biosonic Enterprises, 2010
  20.   During, J., et al. iEncyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition, 2009, Search “Sama.”
  21.   John Beaulieu, “Human Tuning”, Biosonic Enterprises, 2010

 Also: For a thorough bibliography on articles related to the role of music on our brains and lives, click here for Oxford University’s Institute for Music and Brain Science:

And, related to music and its effect on emotions:

NPR recently had an illuminating interview on All Songs Considered, titled “Songs that make you feel good.” and “Songs that make you cry.” Even more interesting was the NPR piece on Oleg Berg, on the science of changing Major and Minor chords to make “sad songs happy and happy songs sad.” Here is the article: but be sure to search “Oleg Berg” on YouTube for more great examples!

Major Switches:

A downright cheery version of REM’s Losing my religion:

A carefree version of “Careless Whisper”:

Minor Switches:

A pretty damn depressing “Be Worry, Don’t Happy” – our favorite, most overplayed feel good song gone wrong by just changing the notes!:

Let It Be –a hopeful song in major that turns hopeless in minor:

For more information on Papa’s Italy and the Book “How Do We Love?” go to

Ci vediamo al prossimo mese! See you next month! In the meantime…Listen to the music!


Listen To The Music- The Doobie Brothers

Don’t you feel it growin’, day by day

People gettin’ ready for the news

Some are happy, some are sad

Oh, we got to let the music play

What the people need

Is a way to make ’em smile

It ain’t so hard to do if you know how

Gotta get a message

Get it on through

Oh, now mama’s go’n’ to after ‘while

Oh, oh, listen to the music

Oh, oh, listen to the music

Oh, oh, listen to the music

All the time

Well I know, you know better

Everything I say

Meet me in the country for a day

We’ll be happy

And we’ll dance

Oh, we’re gonna dance our blues away

And if I’m feelin’ good to you

And you’re feelin’ good to me

There ain’t nothin’ we can’t do or say

Feelin’ good, feeling fine

Oh, baby, let the music play

Oh, oh, listen to the music

Oh, oh, listen to the music

Oh, oh, listen to the music

All the time

Like a lazy flowing river

Surrounding castles in the sky

And the crowd is growing bigger

List’nin’ for the happy sounds

And I got to let them fly

Oh, oh, listen to the music

Oh, oh, listen to the music

Oh, oh, listen to the music

Papa’s Thoughts: On Gratitude, the Merits of Thorny Paths, and “Doity Hands” at the Table of Life

Thanksgiving, the holiday season and the New Year often bring with them reflections on gratitude. Even if not of our own doing, there is usually someone that looks around the room at some point and asks, “And what are you grateful for this year?”

We take for granted that we should hear thanks for “food,” and “family.” We hope to hear appreciation for “health,” “a job,” or “a home.” We may even be so blessed as to hear about a vast array of material possessions and opportunities to explore life and self.

We may have been lucky enough to have heard all of those things. But…have you ever heard someone say they were grateful for something other than those items listed in the traditional “good stuff” columns?  Have you ever heard someone say “I’m grateful I lost my job”? Or “I’m grateful I got sick”? Or, “I’m grateful the storm took away the house and everything in it”? Have you ever heard someone give thanks just for being “at the table,” regardless of what they were served?

Now, to be clear, this isn’t a lecture about counting your blessings or unanswered prayers. Papa wasn’t about seeing things that way. This isn’t a monologue about acknowledging that things could be much worse, children starving in Africa, or crying because I had no shoes until I met a man with no legs. These words are not about sermons, they are about choices. Specifically, about choosing whether to live your life or allow your life to live you.

 “Let go or be dragged.” ~American proverb

“This is your world, create it or someone else will.” ~Gary Lew

In How Do We Love?, in the chapter called, “The Finer Things in Life,” Papa faces one of his lowest points:

 “He admitted he’d had a ‘nervous breakdown,’ and considered for the first and almost the last time in his existence cashing in his chips, voluntarily taking, as he called it, ‘the big doit nap.’”

Papa only occasionally spoke aloud about some of the more negative events in his life, but there were many. His father died when he was 4, then his beloved stepfather. His mother left him and his sisters and he lived in the dining room of some generous relatives for a number of years. He had to work several jobs most of his adult life, lost all of his money at the age of 45, and then learned he had colon cancer not long after that.  He told me of those circumstances not to live in the past, or gain pity. He talked of them to teach me that even though we “may get dealt a doity hand” at some points in life, we still have choices in what we do with it.

Choices in what we do with it. Not necessarily a choice in the actual events, mind you, because at the great blackjack table of life, most of the cards Papa had to contend with were not of his own draw. They were dealer hands that he felt he had no say in, ones he could not control in a physical sense. But control them he eventually did. Ultimately he regained the upper hand at the table, and he even managed to become grateful as those “losing” hands helped him realize his most important lesson of all– that he was not a victim. That he was not at the mercy of the whip end of some ill-tempered universe. That he would not be dragged.  His control, my dear friends, lay not in controlling the actual events, but making the conscious choice to control his attitude and reactions to them. To make the decision to either lean in, collect himself, and “stagger forward, triumphantly”, or lean back and allow the world to stomp all over him.

“The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.” ~Viktor Frankl

One of the greatest practitioners and purveyors of this approach to dealing with life’s biggest challenges was Dr. Viktor Frankl. Dr. Frankl was the astonishing Austrian psychologist that lived during World War I and was taken as a prisoner, along with his entire family, to the Nazi concentration camps. His family was murdered, but Viktor Frankl survived and even thrived after he was released. He went on to remarry, have children, and pursue a prolific career as a psychologist, saving many lives and writing over 30 books, including the book, Man’s Search for Meaning.

Man’s Search for Meaning became one of history’s greatest literary testaments to the power of human will and determination. In it, Frankl told his story of the three years he spent in the camps and defined how his survival was possible– an act he attributed completely to the way he perceived himself and the horrific events around him. He found that the dirt of terrible, terrible things, when sifted through a colander of determination, self-meaning, service to others, and even humor, is mystically cleansed. The cleansing occurs because our perception filters out and even transforms the dirt, at least in our own eyes and hearts.  And the positive, affirming choices we make as we encounter each terrible thing transforms us. The transformation occurs because, at some point, we begin to realize that we do have choice. What was once a feeling of being completely out of control becomes a realization that we now have …control.

This approach does not suggest that the challenge will magically go away. Although it might.

This approach does not suggest that you will never again feel pain or sorrow or difficulty or stress. We all know how our opportunistic internal hobgoblins make efforts to rise up and be heard in the weakest of moments.

This approach does not suggest that the trouble, the trauma, the tears, the anger need to be suppressed. On the contrary, those emotions must be greeted and tended to- like unexpected visitors you would really rather not have but need to be kind to nonetheless, lest they ravage your house and make off with the fine china when you are not looking. Those emotions must be acknowledged and honored. We need to mourn, rage, or rant, and then embrace them, and, ultimately, release them. And keep releasing, for as long as it takes.

 “It made me reflect on the total unpredictability of existence. How the only certainty in life is that it will change. How we have choices to make about dealing with that change. We can persist in mourning the loss, the discomfort, the other-than-expected. Or we can choose to accept the difference, be grateful for all that we have, and then change and flow with it. Let bygones be bygones.” ~excerpt from How Do We Love?, The Only Certainty in Life

 The collective energy of our present times is fast paced, and often chaotic and unpredictable. I hear people using phrases such as, “It seems like every bad thing is hitting me all at once,” Or “Why is this happening to me?” Or “Is it ever going to get better?” If we hear ourselves saying these things, aloud or not, then it is the time when we must take action and make our choice.  It is at this exact point that we can allow ourselves to get flung around on the coattails of life, feeling victimized, refusing to loosen our grip. Or we can let go, pick ourselves up, lean in, and make the conscious decision that we don’t want that thing, that event, that issue, that person, to have that much power over our entire life. Whatever it is, whatever is so terrible, it is not us. It is only one small piece of what happens to be taking place in our huge, beautiful, elaborate lives at any given moment. When we fixate on the portrait of our woes, it may deceptively fill the lens, but if we pull away from behind the camera, the entire landscape and beyond comes into view.

“He said he would not change a thingthere existed much more personal growth on his bumpy, uneven road than on the ‘path less thorny,’ as he called it. He constantly reminded me of the importance of challenging events and decisions in shaping his life and who he had become.”~excerpt from How Do We Love?, The Finer Things in Life

Remember before, when I said this was not going to be a sermon about counting your blessings, unanswered prayers, acknowledging that things could be much worse, children starving in Africa, or crying because I had no shoes? Well, looking back at all of these words, I guess I lied a little. It is, kind of, about all those things. But that was not my intention. My intention was to remind us that, regardless of come what may, we do, indeed, always have a choice.

So what can we do? How can we do our best to go from victim to Viktor? How can we, in the words of Dr. Seuss, not cry because it’s over, but smile because it happened? Papa had realized, after many early wounds, that continuous applications of a salve of self-pity and a mask of suppressive bandages only keeps the skin and spirit frail, weak and on the verge of suffocation. He realized that even the deepest of cuts mend the best when exposed to an air of determination, selflessness, humor, and, eventually, gratitude. He witnessed time and again as he not only healed from this self-prescribed technique, but grew stronger and better as a result. And over time he came up with his own version of the steps he needed to take when he found himself with the cuts and contusions one gets from dancing on a thorny path. Here, I share my version of his version with you:

  • Step 1:  “Figure out what’s making ya unhappy– then figure out why it’s makin’ ya unhappy, and if there’s anything ya can do about it. If it’s somethin’ ya can change, then fah god’s sake, kid, get out there and change it. But If ya can’t change it, then, welp, whaddya gonna do? It is what it is.”
  • Step 2: “Go ahead and feel like hell for a little bit. Think about what its done to ya, to ya life. Let yahself curse it if ya want, cry if ya need to, feel a little bit sorry for yahself, admit that ya wish it nevah happened or could just go away.”
  • Step 3: “Make ya choice. Ya can sit in a puddle o’ ya own pity, or ya can pick ya head up, wipe off ya face, blow yah nose and tell them it’s time to go. That yah not havin’ any of it any more.”
  • Step 4: “Once ya let it go, stop lookin’ at it fah god’s sake. See through it. See past it to what else is theyah. Can I loin somethin’ from it? Did somethin’ good come from it?”
  • Step 5: “Keep choosin’. When it comes to visit, ‘cause it will visit, choose. As many times as ya need to, choose between leanin’ back and getting poked with a stick over and over, or leaning forward and takin’ the stick away.”
  • Step 6: “Say Thanks. Maybe not at foist, maybe not for a long time, but at some point, ya gotta shake its hand.”

Papa’s last step, to me, is the ultimate goal and the most important. Gratitude is the greatest, most powerful tool of transformation. Now, maybe we are not yet at the point where we can be grateful for whatever is going on. Maybe it’s too soon, maybe it’s too big, maybe it’s just more than we think we can bear to try to conjure up now- or ever.  But if we can’t yet be grateful for the things that are going wrong, perhaps we can recognize and be grateful for all that is going right: If we can’t yet be grateful for the looney co-worker that is teaching us much needed lessons in patience and ego, then let us be grateful that we have a job in which to encounter such a co-worker. If we can’t yet be grateful for our family member’s illness that is teaching us about selflessness and unconditional love, then let’s be grateful for that family member and all the beautiful facets that exist beyond and between their episodes of illness.  If we can’t yet be grateful for our disease and the lessons it is teaching us about slowing down, taking care of ourselves, and living life to the fullest, then let us be grateful for the parts of our lives that have nothing to do with symptoms or doctor visits or worry- even if those parts exist only in moments and seem few and far in-between.

If we can’t yet be grateful for the “doity hands we been dealt,” then let’s at least be grateful we are still at the table.


Papa Recipe #2 – Fairy Food

“Papa sometimes talked about that time of scarcity, when they would have a meal with very little food—but they always managed to have something. Sustenance would show up and he knew never to ask where it came from, just to be grateful that it was there.”~excerpt from How Do We Love?, Real Life, Papa Style

In honor of the spirit of being grateful for whatever we have at the table, I’ve chosen a dish that represents “La Cucina Povera”- menu items from the Italian “poor kitchen,” or what some people call “peasant food.” These kinds of meals reflected the Italians’ (and other low income immigrants’) abilities to take whatever minimal ingredients or scraps they had available and turn them into delicious, filling feasts that could serve platoons of family members and friends.

It is important to note here that some people are offended by the use of these terms “La Cucina Povera” and “peasant food.” Many consider these traditional recipes to be merely what their ancestors happened to eat, using ingredients that they had on their land at the time. For our purposes, however, these are dishes that both Papa and Mama explained to me as being “peasant food” – dishes they made when they had little income and did not have many ingredients to work with. We still eat these dishes today, but now with more ingredients- as you will see with the “regular” and “Deluxe” versions of Fairy Food!

Some examples of “La Cucina Povera” meals that were common in Papa’s and Mama’s kitchens included:

  • Pasta y Fagioli: a soup made of water, salt, garlic, a few beans and pasta. In better times onions, greens, carrots, celery, tomato sauce, parmagiano cheese, chicken stock and even pancetta were added.
  • Pasta a olio: a pasta dish with pasta and a little bit of olive oil, garlic and salt. In better times a few more ingredients were added, like broccoli and parmesan cheese, but the original recipe is pretty tasty!
  • Fried Dough- a simple dough of flour, water and baker’s yeast, deep fried in any oil available, usually leftover grease which was stored in a bell jar under the sink. As times and money evolved, Papa and Mama used fresh olive oil and added sugar to the outside for a sweet treat, or cheese, anchovies and other savory ingredients for a filling snack.
  • Pizza- a basic dough with whatever ingredients they were able to scrape up from local markets or leftovers. Usually included over-ripe tomatoes made into sauce, some shredded cheese, and a little oregano. As budgets increased, pizzas got more cheese and even a meat layer – pepperoni was popular in the house, and when they were being really extravagant, spicy Italian pork sausage.
  • Fairy Food – Check out the simple recipe below!

Fairy Food

This recipe is in Papa’s cupboard, but it is originally Mama’s recipe. The first time she made it, the kids wanted nothing to do with the squash and refused to eat it – until she told them that the squash was the food of the fairies that lived around the house and garden. The tale continued that these fairies were always trying to help out, watch and protect the family, and they had generously given of their favorite meal, squash, for the family dinner. Mama advised the kids that the fairies would be very offended if they did not eat the meal made with the fairies’ squash. The kids ate it, loved it, and every time this meal was presented, the kids would say, “Yum! You made Fairy Food!”


  • Sweet Onions
  • Yellow Squash or Zucchini ( The fairies donated yellow squash but this is just as good with zucchini…)
  • Garlic powder
  • Salt
  • Sautee the onions in a large saucepan with a little olive oil until the onions are mushy (not brown!)
  • Slice the squash into rounds or half rounds and throw in with the onions, add a little bit of water so they steam up together
  • Sprinkle garlic powder and salt over the mix and stir!
  • Fairy Food is done when onions and squash are thoroughly steamed and mushy

Fairy Food “Deluxe”

When they had more money, Grandma Rosina used to make a version with eggs and grated parmesan cheese. Mama says this one is more “festive looking.”

  • Scramble a few eggs, and mix in some parmesan cheese
  • Once the squash and onions are finished cooking, leave them in the saucepan and pour the egg/ cheese mixture right over the top of the onions and squash
  • Cover with saucepan lid until eggs are cooked
  • Lightly salt eggs and serve!

Enjoy this Oliviero family tradition! We hope it brings you as much gratitude as it does to all of us!

Ci vediamo la prossima mese! See you next month!

More, more, more!

If you have found yourself here, perhaps it is because you clicked on a baby duck and wanted more! Maybe you wanted more of Papa’s Italy? Maybe you wanted more of infinity? Maybe you wanted more of the gelato or the squash flowers or alchemy or Italian food or double vision dopplegangers, or music, philosophy, photography, family, enlightenment, or love? Well, we promised you more, and every month we will have something new for you to think about, possibly consider, and hopefully even share!

If you have found yourself here, and it was not by way of, and it was not by way of clicking on a baby duck, that’s ok too. You’re now officially part of Papa’s family, so why don’t you pull up a chair, have a glass of wine, maybe some macaroni pie, a cannoli or two and stay awhile? Please, you look like you haven’t eaten in a week, mangia! Mangia!

So. Now that we have offered more, we take it back. For this next post, we want to hear from you! As you know, one of the main themes of the book “How Do We Love?” is the importance of remembering our ancestors, the lives they lived, and how those lives positively impacted us. In short, we love telling other people’s amazing stories, and, if we may be so bold, we think you do too! If you have something wonderful to share, about the history of your parents, grandparents, or any of your ancestors for that matter, send it to: danielle@papsitalycom. If it meets the “say it out loud” criteria of 1) true; 2) kind; & 3) illuminating, and is 500 words or less, we’ll do our best to share it with the rest of your fellow adventurers on the blog. And each month we will randomly select a story whose author will receive a full color, print version of “How Do We Love?” (which is not available anywhere else! )

That’s almost it for this month, dear one. But – we’re Italian, and of course we can’t leave you hungry. So here, for the masses, is Papa’s recipe for his world famous “macaroni pie”  – to be made with family and friends, standing around the kitchen, listening to Rosemary Clooney’s “Mambo Italiano!” Remember, Italians don’t measure ingredients, so use your best judgment, have fun and go with the flow – no matter what happens it will turn out molto delicioso! Buon Appetito!

Papa’s Macaroni Pie

1. Alot of Leftover, NAKED (i.e., no sauce!), cooked spaghetti, maybe whatever you had left after cooking a whole pound ( that’s a whole box- I like to use angel hair because it ends up cheesier…)

2. Olive oil. A lot because you’re going to use a little in the mix and more in the pan. And-it’s REALLY good for you ( the merits of olive oil in a future post!)

3. Some eggs. If you have about a pound of spaghetti I would use about 6 big eggs.  I like eggs.

4. Cream of Celery soup. Here’ s where I diverge from Papa. I don’t like MSG, so I skip the “of celery soup” part and just use some straight up cream. About ¼ cup. You can substitute soy milk, almond milk, hemp milk if you want – and if you want it to be GROSS. This is Italian cooking, it’s supposed to be rich, so please, let’s stick with the real stuff! (And I am vegetarian, so I can say that. For people who can’t have milk or milk products, I’m sorry 😦 , and I am sorry I have not developed a vegan macaroni pie yet. But if you do create one and its yummy, please send the recipe to me! We’ll make it and post the results and recipe!)

5. CHEESE. Papa used an entire 8 ounce container of grated parmesan. I really like cheese, so I use about two containers per pound of pasta. I like pecorino better than parmesan, but whatever you like works! Sometimes I also throw in some grated asiago or piave vecchio or REAL Italian provolone (like the auricchio provolone at Mazarro’s Famous Italian Market in St. Petersburg, Florida. (

6. Garlic powder, salt and dried parsley – to your liking.

That’s it! Preheat the oven to 350. Now, crack the eggs, mix them up and add in the cream, and the cheese. Grab the salt, the garlic powder and parsley and mix them in too. The more you mix, the fluffier the pie is. Throw the naked, cooked noodles in an olive oil greased (bottom and sides) cooking pan made for the oven (whatever size fits it all, deep enough to hold all the ingredients) then pour the mixture all over the pasta until it reaches just a little below the lip of the pan. Maybe you had better put a cookie sheet underneath it, just in case of baking overflow… Place it in the preheated oven (even if you don’t preheat it you can tell when its done because it smells AWESOME.) Check on it every 10 minutes or so, until it is cooked throughout. Poke it or slice it to make sure it’s finished. Once it seems like it’s all cooked throughout, then here’s the secret step in the proces: Turn on the broiler and cook the top until its brown and crispy. Pay close attention so it doesn’t burn ( although Papa would say that makes it taste just like grandma’s) but the crispy part is the best part!

Enjoy it warm, with a little salt on it. After you have made it the first time you can change the recipe to make it exactly the way you like it. Mangia! Enjoy!

Ci vediamo la prossima mese! See you next month!