Where Sundays are Still Sundays

Dinner DisastersAhh, Sunday.

A day of rest. A day of relaxation.

The day of the traditional pranzo della domenica (Sunday lunch) in Italy.

It used to be that I dreaded Sundays in Italy. Nothing is open, beaches are crowded, church bells over-exercise their right to chime and you can feel the marked change of pace in a place, especially smaller cities and towns. The whole country downshifts into a lower gear for a day, and it was an odd feeling for me, coming from a city in Canada where Sundays feel the same as pretty much every other day of the week. I’d find myself at loose ends, an outsider watching families gather in the piazza and pranzare (have lunch) together. I didn’t have family in Siena, and because many things are closed on Sundays, I didn’t have a lot to do.


When I started working, I drew the lucky straw that had me in the office, without fail, every Sunday morning at 8am. Sunday being Sunday and Italy being Italy, public transportation didn’t run out to the little hamlet where my office was situated, so I’d have to rely on the kindness of my coworkers to get me to work. Bleary-eyed, I’d be up walking through the streets to meet my ride before the rest of the town had begun to stir, getting a glimpse of Siena behind-the-scenes. Slowly, I started to appreciate that little window of time.

Then we’d be in the office, cursing the fact that we had to be there but happy to be getting one of our weekly shifts done on a day less hectic than the other six. Our boss wouldn’t come in until later or not at all, and by the time 2:30 rolled around and it was time to leave, the trains had started running and I could get back home on my own.

As I started making more friends, Sundays weren’t so bad. In fact, some of my happiest, most peaceful memories of Italy are of Sunday lunches that went on for hours, a little table spread out in the piazza, the calcio (soccer) being broadcast on the radio in the background, and friends gathered together enjoying one another’s company. Even this year, on a quick visit to Siena, I had the pleasure of indulging in a beautiful Sunday lunch with a new friend out in the Chianti countryside. If you had seen me then,  eating from a tagliere di salumi (sliced cured meats), enjoying some insalata di farro (spelt salad), and washing it all down with sips of smooth Chianti,  you would have found me the perfect picture of contentment.

I don’t know what it is about Sunday lunch as opposed to Sunday dinner, but somehow, I like it better. Maybe it’s because Sunday lunch affords you more time; If you start at 2pm, you can sit at the table for 3 hours without worrying about anything. If you sit down at 6pm though, by the time 9 rolls around you’re worried about the things you have to prepare for Monday, thinking about how much sleep you’ll get before the alarm goes off and all the dirty dishes that are separating you from your bed.

Call me sentimental, (or maybe I’m just getting old) but I’ve come to love, look forward to, and even crave the feeling of slow Italian Sundays. My experiences in Italy (and recently, in France) have reminded me of what Sundays should feel like: calm, a day of rest, of reconnection with family and friends topped off with some good food for good measure.


It warms my heart to know that there are still places in the Western world that cling to the idea that Sundays are and should be different from the other days of the week. I experience an often-missed feeling of contentment when I’m in a place where Sundays are still Sundays.

Buona domenica & happy Sunday!


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.