All’Italiana—The Italian Way


Light spilled through the open door onto the cobblestone street outside. Behind the marble counter a 13-year-old boy slapped and pounded a fistful of dough into a flat circle and drizzled it with olive oil.

Funghi o qualcos’altro? (Mushrooms or something else?),” he asked Casimiro.

“Funghi,” replied Casimiro, and Annalisa nodded her head in agreement. While on their way home from Mutual they had not been able to resist the yeasty, spicy aura hanging about the street near the neighborhood pizzeria and had stopped in for pizza.

The boy deftly smeared a ladleful of tomato sauce on the flattened dough and almost as quickly chopped up a fresh curd of mozzarella cheese, still dripping milk from the bowl it was snatched out of. He dashed coarse salt and pepper over the two pizzas and slipped a large wooden paddle under them one at a time. Taking a large straw broom from against the wall, he swept away the embers near the fire in the back of the oven. Without hesitation the wooden paddle soon deposited the pizzas on a fine layer of ash on the floor of the brick oven.

Near the door of the pizzeria, three of Casimiro’s neighbors were discussing in tones growing warmer every minute the merits of their favorite calcio (soccer) teams.

“The fire in the oven isn’t the only thing that’s cooking this evening,” chuckled Casimiro to Annalisa as they watched their pizzas roast and grow bubbly through the pizza oven’s open door.

Soon the mozzarella was running in milky rivers between crusty mountains of browned pizza dough, and the wooden paddle swished them from the fire. Still piping hot, the two pizzas were folded over, wrapped in paper, and held out to Casimiro and Annalisa. Each plunked 250 lira, about 50 cents, on the counter and turned to leave the pizzeria.

Outside the door the conversation had turned from soccer to the irresponsible driving habits of youth because a young girl crossing the street had just narrowly avoided being hit by a small motorbike. Casimiro and Annalisa dodged the discussion just as one of the participants began offering Casimiro the opinion that “in the old days, youth had more respect.”

Waving back at the men and laughing as they hurried down the cobblestones toward their homes, Casimiro and Annalisa finally bit into their steaming pizzas. Mutual had been over for about half an hour, and their parents would begin wondering where they were.

All’Italiana, the Italian way. In Italy it’s more than an adjective; it’s a way of life modifying everything from eating pizzas, to sports, to driving motorbikes. It’s hours spent in preparing spaghetti sauce, a fervid political discussion, and public displays of emotion seldom seen in America. But to those who live there, and to those who know Italy, all’Italiana is a love for life demanding the most out of every moment, whether the moment be an argument or a plate of pasta.

The Italian boot is poised on the underbelly of Europe, kicking out into the Mediterranean Sea. In its mountainous northern region there are four seasons, with cold, snowy winters. The agricultural south basks in a climate of hot humid summers and gray, but not terribly cold, winters. Italy’s population numbers 55,500,000, with 99 percent of the population belonging to the state religion, the Roman Catholic Church. Somewhere in the remaining one percent of the population are found the Italian Saints, i Mormoni.

Stop an Italian on the street and ask him what he knows about the Mormons, and if he’s been to the movies regularly, he’ll usually give the following answer: “I Mormoni? Si, i Mormoni live out in the west of America. They wear big black hats and have very large, dark beards.” And for many Italians that’s the extent of their knowledge of the Church, a knowledge gleaned mostly from old western movies and a few modern “spaghetti westerns” made in Italy for the insatiable western film market.

Occasionally a mystery magazine or a science fiction journal will headline mysterious articles such as “The Saints of the Last Days,” with stories about angels coming to earth bringing plates with ancient records. Invariably these articles whisper at the end, “Could these have been flying saucers?”

Italy was first opened to missionary work in 1849 by Lorenzo Snow. During his five-year mission he proselyted northern Italy and succeeded in converting 20 families from a protestant congregation known as the Waldenses in the Piedmont area of Italy. The hymn “For the Strength of the Hills” was a favorite song of the Waldenses and an early Italian contribution to our hymnal.

Political and religious opposition to early proselyting efforts closed Italy to missionary work until 1965. At that time the Italian government gave permission for a mission to be reopened, and once again the land where Paul taught early Christians was opened to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

There are currently three missions in Italy, and the membership of the Church numbers about 4,270. In each city where missionaries are stationed, there is a branch of the Church and a group of active LDS youth busy living the gospel all’Italiana.

In many cities there are only one or two teens who are members of the Church. In Sassari, a city on the island of Sardinia off the eastern coast of Italy, Casimiro Mastino and Annalisa Usai are the only official members of the Aaronic Priesthood and the Young Women. “But,” said Casimiro, “the whole branch participates on Mutual night even if Annalisa and I are the only teenage members. Not to be a joker, but there was once a famous French king who said, ‘I am France.’ In Sassari, I am the Mutual.”

Mutual in Italy usually consists of a short lesson given by one of the youths or a missionary, followed by an activity.

Italian youth love to dance, so dances are popular events on Mutual nights. Afterward the youth will walk home together, often stopping to enjoy an inexpensive pizza on the way.

As with teenagers everywhere, school occupies much of an Italian youth’s time. And in Italy school is in session six days a week.

Maria Costa, 17, lives in Palermo, a large shipping port on the island of Sicily. (If Italy were the leg of a football player, Sicily would be the football it was kicking.) Six days a week Maria gets up at 6:30 A.M. to get ready for school. Before leaving the apartment she eats a typical Italian breakfast of milk and toast. (Italians aren’t big breakfast eaters. A little juice or warm milk and cookies or toast is all anyone eats for breakfast, if they eat breakfast at all.) She then hurries to the bus stop to catch a bus that will take her downtown to school.

She attends a school of art. Other Italian students may attend ascuola superiore (high school), specializing in sciences, mathematics, languages, etc. School begins in October and generally runs about eight months, finishing for the summer sometime in June. Maria’s school day runs from 9:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M., but the starting times and length of the school day vary from school to school. Maria’s day is rather long—seven hours. Many other schools are only in session five hours a day.

Generally there is no lunch period during a school day, and if there is a 20- or 30-minute break between classes, it is used for visiting and relaxing with other students, not for eating. That is because to an Italian, eating is almost an art and is never to be hurried. An Italian seldom gulps a meal and runs off to other business. If it’s time to eat, it’s time to eat, and other business can wait. And when an Italian eats, other business will have to wait for at least an hour.

Lunch is the big meal of the day. Most members of an Italian family will return home to eat lunch in the early afternoon, and the mother may have spent the best part of the morning getting it ready.

Early in the morning, when the children are off to school, Maria’s mother goes out to do the daily shopping. In Italy food is bought daily so it is at its freshest. Shopping in outdoor markets, Sister Costa buys fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses. Returning home after the daily shopping, she begins cooking. There are no canned foods or one-step convenience dishes on Italian menus, so the cooking takes some time.

The meal may begin with antipasta, a small relish plate of pickled vegetables, meats, and cheeses. Primo piatto (first course) usually consists of some sort of pasta or soup. Pasta is an all-encompassing word meaning any dish made with noodles or wheat paste. To Americans this usually calls up visions of spaghetti, ravioli, or possibly lasagne drenched in tomato sauce. But in Italy there are approximately 300 different kinds of noodles and so many ways to cook them a person could eat pasta three times a day, have a different dish each time, and not see tomato sauce for weeks.

After the first course comes the piatto secondo (second course). This is the meat course, usually served with salads or vegetables. Meat in Italy is expensive, so servings of meat are generally small.

After the second course comes fruit, cheese, and occasionally a sweet such as cake or pudding. Italians aren’t great sweet eaters, and generally pastries and cakes are eaten only on Sundays and holidays.

On special holidays such as Christmas and Easter, and family occasions such as birthdays, the regular dinner will be stretched almost indefinitely. Sometimes two or more pasta courses will be served. Two or more meat courses find their way to holiday tables, and afterwards sweets and special cakes are piled into already over-stuffed stomachs. These bigger dinners may last for the better part of the day.

After lunch a teenage member of the Church generally settles down to study. Italian schools are strict and demand many hours of study. Casimiro said, “I study a lot. I think I will become a lawyer. I have been very impressed by the words of the Doctrine and Covenants that say, ‘Men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause.’” (D&C 58:27.)

Once studies are done, teens have some free time. Sirio Banchi, 16, a member of the Church in Terni, an industrial city north of Rome, spends his free time in several hobbies. He plays the organ and hikes with friends in the surrounding countryside. Sirio also enjoys taking care of the many plants his family keeps on the balcony of their apartment. Since most Italians live in apartments, these potted gardens on balconies are often the only flowers around the house.

In the summer when school is out, Italian youth spend their days at the seashore or in the mountains. Vacations are very important to Italians. During the month of August, virtually every business in the country closes down for a week while all employees take a vacation known as fer agosto. During fer agosto the cities of Italy are almost vacant, but the beaches and mountain resorts are so packed they become more hectic than the cities.

But even during vacation Italian Saints are faithful in their attendance at Church functions. Annalisa, who spends most of her summer months on the seashore, said, “Naturally I return home every weekend to go to meetings, because I know that nothing is more important than the Lord.”

On Sundays, meetings are usually held in rented apartments and even, in some smaller congregations, in the apartments of the missionaries. Sunday evenings there is usually a riunione all’coaminetto, or fireside. These meetings are very popular with teenage members of the Church for they provide an opportunity to meet together with member friends and bring nonmember friends to learn something about the Church.

“Nothing is bigger than the joy we have when we are together,” said Casimiro. “There is no problem that can overshadow our happiness when we share our testimonies with each other.”

Because there is generally only one meeting place in each city, Italian young people may have to travel quite a distance to arrive at church meetings. This is usually done by bus because cars are luxury items seldom, if ever, owned by teenagers. And going to church by bus sometimes takes patience. Many members of the Rome Branch spend an hour on three or four different buses before arriving at the church in Porta Pia.

Besides buses, bicycles and small motorbikes are popular means of transportation in Italy. On a busy day in a large Italian city, regular traffic often comes to a halt on the narrow, winding streets, but bicycles and noisy motorbikes still weave crazily in and out of the unmoving vehicles. Sirio enjoys riding his motorbike to and from school, but he said he does not enjoy putting the bike back together again when it falls apart.

For centuries, when an Italian’s heart or soul has fallen apart, nothing has put it back together as well as beautiful music or art. And when it comes to music or art, each and every Italian is a self-appointed expert. Italian teens can hum arias from famous operas as easily as the number one song currently blaring over the radio. And like Maria, many Italian youth specialize in schools of art before they even graduate from high school. Names like Michelangelo, da Vinci, and Bernini are old friends to Italians who are surrounded by these masters’ works. When Sirio pulls his motorbike into the park for an afternoon of study or relaxation, he takes a drink from a water fountain designed by an old master with the same nonchalance as an American imbibing from cast porcelain.

But not the food, the art, the music, the crowd, or the excitement of daily life is the true soul of Italy, whatever travel brochures say to the contrary. The heart of Italy is the family.

The family in Italy is the center of all activity. A few years ago it was common to see three or four generations living together in the same house, with proper veneration and respect given the older members of the family. Grandmother or grandfather was often the final arbiter of any family dispute. Today three generations are not commonly found under one roof, but families are still large, clannish, and rear their children strictly.

For example, Annalisa does not date, but she goes out with groups of friends. And although many parents are becoming less strict, in the past a young girl was never allowed to be alone with a boy unless they were formally engaged to be married. Until the engagement, mother, father, or the whole family accompanied the couple on their dates.

Today the typical LDS family spends Monday evenings together holding family home evening like LDS families all over the world. During the week each family member has his various tasks, and getting everyone together is as difficult as it is anywhere, but each night and morning the family kneels down together to, as Casimiro said, “thank God for letting us know the truth.”

All’Italiana, the Italian way, does include a love of truth. Roberta Giacomini, 19, of the Ostia Branch near Rome, summed up the feelings of most members of the Church in Italy when she said, “I can tell you an item of front page importance: In conclusion of the whole matter, I am glad to be a Mormon.”

Pizza All’Italiana

Without a brick oven and open wood fire to cook it in, the following pizza recipe won’t taste exactly like the genuine article, but it’s still good enough to make a frozen pizza thaw with envy. It’s easy, fun, and inexpensive to make your own pizza. Have a pizza party all’Italiana for activity night.

Pizza Dough

6 1/4 cups flour

2 cups or more lukewarm water

1 cake yeast

1 tablespoon salt

2 tablespoons shortening, melted

Olive oil

Fill bowl with flour. Make a well and add the water that has the yeast and salt in it; mix thoroughly and add the melted shortening. Then knead until elastic and pliable. Spread a little olive oil over the dough and knead a few minutes; then flatten to thin cakes the size of pan or pans to be used and brush or drizzle with olive oil before adding toppings. Makes enough dough for two large pizzas.

Toppings

For sauce use a small, six-ounce can of tomato sauce or whole tomatoes. (Italians use prepared whole tomatoes on pizza.) If a spicier pizza sauce is desired, add 1/2 to one teaspoon ground oregano to the tomato sauce before spreading it on the dough.

Spread tomatoes on the prepared dough; then add favorite pizza toppings (canned sliced mushrooms, fresh sliced mushrooms, hamburger, sausage, ham, olives, pepperoni, chopped onions, chopped green peppers, etc.) Season with salt and pepper. Top with parmesan and mozzarella cheese. Bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees F.) for 30 minutes or until crust is brown and cheese is melted.

[photos] Photos by Richard G. Wilkins

[photo] This sculptured drinking fountain exhibits the Italian ingenuity of interweaving beauty with practicality

[photo] Small motorbikes are a common form of transportation in Europe

[photo] Sirio and friend share one of Italy’s most common forms of amusement, talking over ideas.

[photo] Balcony gardens are common, and Italian members try to follow the prophet’s advice to grow what they can

[photo] Sirio enjoys chatting with his neighbor

[photo] Renaissance sculptures like this one are common in Sirio’s hometown of Terni

[photo] In a country where eating is considered an art form, housewives may spend hours shopping in markets like this one in Bari just to gather the ingredients for lunch

[photo] The street that runs in front of Sirio’s apartment is wider than many in Europe

[photo] Family togetherness—that’s the real Italian style. Sirio and his family spend part of each Monday in home evening, just like Saints around the world