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Fourth of July in Italy
This Italian American is sure to bring America's birthday to life, even when she's staying on a small Neapolitan island without hamburgers and hot dogs
When you choose to be Americans, like my relatives did back in the 1950s and 1960s, you tend to be flag wavers. The patriotism of both your birth and chosen countries bubbles over whenever there is a holiday, event, or a Tuesday night. In fact, my parents have an Italian and American flag on either side of their television. And when my father puts up the presepio, or elaborate Italian nativity scene, every Christmas, he includes traditional statues carved in Naples alongside a metallic recreation of the "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign, a gift from an Ischitani American friend. It represents our life in two worlds.
In any event, for the last six years, I've spent Fourth of July in Ischia, an island off the coast of Naples that is home to my husband Antonio and my ancestors, including my father. This year, the ultimate Italian American is back in the United States for the biggest flag-waving holiday of them all. I plan to do it up big. But I will miss Fourth of July in Italy. There, no one knew what I was celebrating, so I had to become part professor and part party planner.
The Ischitani are island dwellers, and they don't get to know many Americans, except for the many relatives who moved to the States after World War II. If you stay on the island and don't talk much with your American relatives, you don't have much of a sense of what America really is. You think that Americans are overworked and overweight, and eat McDonald's while wearing Polo clothes everyday. The Internet is starting to change this, but the Ischitani are slow to use the computer in the way Americans do, mostly because on an island, the Internet itself is often slow.
So, I brought America to the Ischitani. In 2006, Fourth of July landed on the same day that the Italian national soccer team faced Germany to advance to the finals of the World Cup. This was an extra big deal in Ischia, where hundreds of German tourists vacation during summer. The streets were filled with German tourists and Ischitani shouting obscenities at one another. Since I was staying at my husband's house (he was my boyfriend then), we were on the main street in Ischia. We kept the door to the front porch opened, so we could listen to the hullabaloo outside while intently watching the game.
When Italy won, we all hugged and screamed and ran into the street. The Germans retreated. Then, I - wearing red, white, and blue, of course - got to work. Fourth of July can't happen without hamburgers and hot dogs. It was almost 11 o'clock at night, but I still had to fire them up. My husband Antonio, nephew Giuseppe, and cousin Fausto practically swallowed them whole after taking a celebratory dip in the pool. We had an outdoor Fourth of July barbecue at midnight.
One bite of those hamburgers and hot dogs, and I was ready to go to the hospital to have my stomach pumped. The Italians are masters of fine cuisine, but not American hamburgers and hot dogs. Maybe they don't give their cows enough hormones. I don't know what it is, but the burgers leave the worst aftertaste. And the dogs aren't really dogs. They're German wurstels, and they're awful. Plain awful. I've never eaten burgers or dogs again in Italy. Yet, I was glad to have celebrated.
By June 2008, Antonio and I were engaged, and I realized that I would probably be in Italy for Fourth of July every year forever. I was actually a little bummed. I love my husband, and Ischia is gorgeous in the summer, but America is still America, especially for Fourth of July. Where else could I get a good hamburger or hot dog?
My husband noticed my disappointment and took the day off work to make Fourth of July a true holiday for both of us. Again, I put on my red, white, and blue outfit. But this time, we headed to the beach. We had delicious Neapolitan pizza and good ol' American Coca-Cola on the porch of one of the restaurants. On our motorino, we snapped photos of Ischia's pristine shoreline.
After all this, my husband's friend had given him tickets for the two of us to enjoy a boat tour of the island. I had never seen all the magnificent rocks and grottos of Ischia. It was magnificent. On the way home, I admitted to Antonio that this might have been the best Fourth of July ever, and it was certainly the most romantic one.
Last year, in 2009, Antonio and I were newlyweds, but Fourth of July landed on Saturday, which meant he had to work because that's one of the biggest days for tourists at the hotel where he's a doorman. I was on my own in my American flag garb. For the rest of Italy, Fourth of July is just another day, so I was feeling more blue than red and white.
At lunch, I handed out American flags to my little nieces, who proceeded to wave them while marching and singing as if they were in a parade. All that was missing was the fireworks. In the evening, I had dinner at my cousin's house. It was quiet, yet beautiful. Still, I missed America, where much of my family was gathering for Grandpa Rocco's eightieth birthday party. I sent a video of his life, which is still on YouTube for your viewing pleasure. But it wasn't the same.
Although I miss my husband something terrible because he has to be in Italy at the moment, I will be home in the United States for Fourth of July 2010. I am looking forward to more flag waving, old-fashioned fireworks, and edible hot dogs and hamburgers. But I hope some of the Ischitani think of me and march around with those flags from last year in my honor. They can forego the burgers and dogs. I'd understand.
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