by Alison Mariel, Greenheart Travel Language Exchange participant in Italy

I had a very authentic Italian experience this morning that I thought I should write about. So Paola and I went running together- it was really nice outside and we were in this beautiful park near the town. But in the middle of the woods in the park there was this “Bottega” which is the word for an old fashioned Italian food shop….kind of in the middle of nowhere, but we go in and there were all these fresh cheeses and meats and breads and jams and whatnot… a really tiny place with like ten workers though haha.

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Six different types of goat cheese at the outdoor market in Gallarate.

One of the employees, who was probably the owner, kept offering us tastes of various items saying, “Here, try this cheese! Here try this meat! Here try this bread!” It was really funny. I think he was excited because Paola told him I was American so he wanted to show off his wicked cool shop, because it wassssss wicked cool. It was a truly majestic Italian experience…….and then of course we resumed our running haha.

Last night I went to see Pepa’s play rehearsal at her aunt’s house (her uncle is the play director), which is “A  Marriage Proposal” originally a Russian play, performed in Italian. It was really funny and, with a basic summary told to me by Paola, I was able to follow along fairly well. Her aunt had prepared a delicious dessert called “salami di cioccolato” meaning chocolate salami…no worries, there was no meat involved- rather a cake-sized log of softened chocolate with pieces of assorted crushed cookies inside which you eat by the slice. Rather amazing, and it only has four ingredients.

Earlier this week I took my placement exam at the school where I will be taking Italian classes in Milan (starting next week). Then I wandered around Milan again and proceeded to get lost, as per usual. It’s such a huge city and I am sooo bad with directions in an unfamiliar places. But either way it was a good way to explore the city and start to learn my way around.

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Inside the Church of Santa Maria Assunta, Gallarate.

But perhaps the best part of this week was meeting my host mom’s parents, who are both ninety and live down the street. They come over on some Wednesdays for dinner. The grandmother speaks only Italian, and the grandfather speaks very little English. However, he tried his best to converse with me in my original language. Though he is hard of hearing and also has memory problems so this was rather difficult! He did manage to tell me multiple times how important it is to know English, and that “if you go anywhere in the world, to any country, you can always hear ENGLISH! You MUST learn it!!”

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Typical dinner party on a Saturday night.

He was amazing. Paola also told me his story of when he was a prisoner of war in Germany during WWII. He was held prisoner there for two years. Once the war was finally over and he was freed, he WALKED back home to Italy. It took him two months. Remarkable.

Paola and her dad enjoying the evening.

Paola and her dad enjoying the evening.