Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Mezzogiorno Tour

We completed our “spring sprint” of travel, taking advantage of school breaks (even May Day is a holiday here) for a 2,000km tour that included the Mezzogiorno – the southern Italian regions . (The Italian term for “midday” or “noon” is mezzogiorno, which describes the intensity of sunshine in these regions at midday.) The girls are likely to share their own perspectives from this culinary and cultural expedition, but here are a few lessons from the parental perspective:

Touring a Parmigiano-Reggiano factory (not in the Mezzogiorno, for the geographers among you;-) is an amazing experience, especially when your host is the Willy Wonka of cheese!  But beware: he’ll impart his passion for cheese by offering chunks of belly-busting warm curd from the still-churning vats, handing you cups of the bitter enzyme brew, and turning you into a mouse-magnet by infusing all of your clothing with the heady scent of Parmesan

Video clip here.

Touring a goat farm is equally amazing, although here the brew offered is a homemade concoction of fermented root mash.  (Note that we tried to stall drinking the obligatory - and huge - straight shot by taking a second photo…but the gregarious farmer was already planning refills!)

Unfortunately, refills of aged balsamic vinegar were not offered by our guide and 3rd generation expert in the time consuming practice of slowly passing the vinegar through seven different barrels over a 25-year period. But we can offer this sweet tip: try a drizzle of balsamic over ice cream.

Visiting ancestral villages provides thrills when reuniting with distant cousins, chills for the family genealogist (when being handed a monk’s 16th century book of local records), and of course, more opportunities for drinking Peroni beer with the locals!

You can reward your kids' patience with "boring villages" by stopping at a theme park, like Italia in Miniatura. In addition to miniature versions of Italy’s major sites, there's a miniature driver's ed course (complete with a simulator) that allows them to drive Italian-style - thankfully, not at Italian speed!

Video clip here.

During real, multi-hour car trips, be sure to enjoy the moments when the backseat bickering stops. That typically means it’s nap time…or that boredom has lead them to discover new uses for a discarded nylon net!

Roman roads and elevated crosswalk systems were put to the test during a spring rainstorm in Pompeii (which we visited with Uncle D). The whole “mezzogiorno” sunshine notion was noticeably absent for much of this trip, but we saw that Roman construction functioned perfectly after over 2,000 years - frozen in time like much of the city.

In contrast, the modern laundromat was far less functional. Okay, so maybe it was an issue of not understanding which one was the soap dispenser. Fortunately, a young translator came to the rescue!

And a final lesson from this trip: even if you can’t resist the lure of a basket of "Cuccioli Gratis!" (free puppies), it will take all of your powers of resistance to fend off the “puppy, per favore!” pleas that follow!  

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