A Love Letter To Italy

Not Just Another "Dolce Vita"Dear Italy,

Today marks 10 years to the day since we first met.

I was a reluctant and grumpy teenager then, and although I had heard a lot about you and was curious to meet you, you didn’t make a very good first impression.

I was already unhappy due to having been taken away from my friends for a good portion of the summer, but the burnt and lifeless scene you presented me with on the tarmac of Fiumicino Airport in 2003 didn’t win you any favour in my eyes. Neither did the subsequent hours-long quarantine in a back room in the airport terminal because our plane had come from SARS-infected Toronto, or the heat sickness I suffered on my first trip to Pompei.

Slowly but surely though, Italy, you revealed some of your charms to me. First, through a young, sweet waiter who paid me some attention one evening in an oh-so-Italian way, then with the experience of unearthing some of my familial roots in my Dad’s hometown, then through the discovery of what remains to this day one of my favourite dishes: eggplant parmigiana. Further exploration of your different regions revealed the types of landscapes I had always dreamed of seeing, and it was in Florence with the purchase of a stylish red leather jacket with a turned up collar and cuffs, that you sealed the deal and won me over.

By the end of our first 3-week meeting I was now reluctant to leave you, and you had me curious to know you better. I decided that the best way to do this would be to learn the language of your culture and your citizens, so I vowed to work at learning la bella lingua and then return to immerse myself in your culture and customs.

We had to wait another 7 years to meet again, but during our time apart I learned a lot about you.  Armed with a better knowledge of your language, I returned to meet you again, this time for a longer stay. I wanted to know what it felt like to live as Italians do, to speak your language and meet your people.

It was then that my feelings towards you, bella Italia, changed.

Many people claim that they “fell in love” with Italy.

I didn’t fall in love with you.

I simply found a place in you, where I felt as though I belonged. Please don’t think that I had come to you feeling like a displaced person, because Canada is my home and I have always felt as if I belong there. But it was just simply so beautiful to discover another place where I fit so seamlessly into the culture and the rhythms of life.

And while I spent a bit of time marvelling at some of the eccentricities of your rich culture and your vivacious people, I didn’t stumble over the cultural roadblocks my compatriots (even the Italian-Canadian ones) would have. I had no problem eating later, talking louder, forgetting my idea of personal space, and keeping my patience as even the simplest of things became difficult.

When our time was up, I knew I had to return again. I had originally come to you hoping to satisfy my curiosity in 3 months and be done with you, but it wasn’t meant to be. Back I came the next year, for 4 and a half months of getting to know you better. And do you know how much you affected me in that time? You influenced the way I dressed, the way I ate, the way I thought, the way I spoke. My Italian, although already good, became coloured with the accent of the Senese territory, and my taste buds learned to crave things previously unknown to them.

Since then, Italia, although I haven’t spent as much time with you as I would have liked, you’ve influenced my life in innumerable ways. You’ve provided me with mountains of material to write about, countless memories to replay in my mind’s eye, and enough fodder to supply me a lifetime of daydreams. Your landscapes, your language, your culture, and your people have helped me expand my knowledge of the world – of life, of love, of passion, of both the dolce and the amaro that this world has to offer.

So here’s to you Italia, my second home, my wonderland.

To a lifetime of loveliness between us.  

Con affetto,


Venezia 2-53

Italian Compliments

La Maestra Maldestra

La Maestra Maldestra

The beauty of blogging with WordPress is that it lets you see the words that people have searched to get to your blog. Do you know how many times someone has searched “how to compliment a girl in Italian” and has ended up here? Many.  Tante. Many.

Today I figured I may as well give them what they’re asking for, right? Here’s a list of Italian compliments, praises and terms of endearment complete with when and how to use them.

Although it’s fallen out of usage a bit in English, just saying the word “complimenti” in Italian is expressing your compliments to someone on something nice they have or sometimes for a job well done. Show around a picture of your good-looking boyfriend and people might offer you their “complimenti!” However, Italians like to heap on the well done praise saying things like “brava” and “bravissima” to a girl or “bravo” and “bravissimo” to a guy. Although the “brava” is the way an Italian might show their approval of something you’ve done, it also relates to the person you are. “Alessandra? È una brava ragazza.” Alessandra? She’s a good girl.

When it comes to birthdays or general well-wishing, Italians pull out the “auguri“, which I talked about a bit in my birthday post here. People will also say “auguri” (congratulations) for things like your onomastico (your saint’s name day), your graduation or any other congratulation-worthy event, including birthdays. “Congratulazioni“, although a tongue twister for some English speakers, is a common congratulatory term as well. The correct response to all this is “grazie” “grazie mille” or “grazie tante“.

Tesoro” (treasure), “caro” and “cara” are all very common ways to call someone dear. It’s not uncommon even for men to even say to one another, “Ciao, caro!” and for friends to call eachother “tesoro“.  “Amore“, meaning simply love can be what you call your significant other or someone you care about (e.g. child), and is often used with “mio” to make “amore mio” or my love.  “Bella” and “bello” are other famous ones. Yes, in Italy “Ciao bella!” really does still ring out in the streets. “Sei bella” or “sei bellissima” are great ways to tell a girl that she’s beautiful. Another good one is “sei unica“, which means you’re unique, one-in-a-million.  If you just change the a to an o, you’ve got the same compliment for a guy.

Mamma's love, there's only you!

Mamma’s love, there’s only you!

Ciccia“, although it means fat or meat in Tuscany, can also be a term of endearment for a girl. Don’t ask me why. I was quite taken aback the first time someone greeted me with a hearty “Ciao, ciccia!”  (Disclaimer: I don’t know how widely used this is outside of Tuscany). A guy might call a girl little or his little one, as in, “Ciao, piccola”, but it has nothing to do with size or stature. It’s simply a term of endearment.

If someone is “in gamba” it means they’re on the ball, and if they’re “ingambatissimo” it means they’re really on the ball. They’re cute and/or nice if they’re “carino/a” and they’re “gentile” if they’re kind. Someone who is “simpatico/a” is kind or friendly, and someone who is “sexy” is, well, sexy. “Sincero/a” is also a compliment, as Italians seem to prize sincerity, and this can also be shown by calling someone “semplice” or simple. (For a little anecdote about the first time I encountered that one, click here).

Someone who is “affascinante” is attractive, and someone who is “intelligente” is smart. Hopefully this is the same someone. Add “molto” to the front of just about anything and you’ve amplified your compliment right there.

Another descriptor or compliment that had me puzzled when I first heard it was “acqua e sapone” or water and soap. As in, “sei una ragazza aqua e sapone“. You’re a water and soap kind of girl. Not quite what you’d expect an enamoured suitor to say, eh? In my experience it refers to a girl who is (pleasingly) natural, who doesn’t wear a lot of makeup. The girl-next door.

So, next time you’re looking to compliment an Italian or just to show off your Italian skills by complimenting someone who doesn’t speak Italian in Italian, look no further than this little post here.

We Found Love…

Graffiti love in Venezia

 Representing all the things I love about Italy in the place I love the most.  

“Cicci, rethink it! I love you!” Pleading graffiti in Sorrento.

Bacio chocolates, a worldwide favourite with a little pearl of saggezza (wisdom) inside every wrapper.  

The “Via dell’Amore”. The first pathway, running from Riomaggiore to Manarola, to ever connect any of the towns in the Cinque Terre. It allowed young lovers to meet, court and keep up their relationships in an area that had previously been extremely isolated.

“Mamma’s love, you’re the only one!”  Nothing displays a mother’s love for her child like graffiti in Sorrento.

Lucchetti d’amore, in what some would call the world’s most romantic city, Verona.  The practice of using padlock as a sign of one person’s neverending love for another probably came from the Italian movie “Ho Voglia di Te”. While romantic at heart, the practice annoys city officials everywhere!

Love in a cappuccio from Bar Cacio e Pere in Siena.

Love from the ground up. The mosaic floor of Liberamente Osteria, Siena. 

Happy Valentine’s Day! Buon San Valentino!