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Ethnic Cuisine: Italy
Italy overpowered me the moment I stepped off the plane. The ancient architecture juxtaposed with modern Italian life, the endless vistas that entice artists and traveler alike, the foreigners of Italian life, the scents that wafted through the streets from the earth, the homes and the restaurants, the devastating beauty of this artistically and culturally rich and colorful country captured my heart forever in Italy's enduring embrace. My mind reached out to all the sensations, devouring them as quickly as they came. To this day I can be swiftly transported to the banks of the River Arno in Pisa if my senses are triggered by a familiar scent.
When I first set eyes on Italy, I was a nineteen year old college student ready (or so I thought) to pursue Italian art history and language at L'Universita de Pisa. I had studied Italy: its art and architecture, its history, language and culture in the States during my first years of undergraduate school. I soon realized my academic studies hadn't quite prepared me for the real thing. From the blur of the Italian customs officials and the shouts of Italian endearments and welcome, I was catapulted into the gregarious, intimidating and, sometimes, oppressive life of Italy. I learned to love her with an undying passion and I could see many more holidays to Italy in my future.
It is surprising for many to learn that Italy ranks seventh as a world industrial power. Well known enterprises such as Fiat, Olivetti and Baretta are located in Italy. Annual industrial trade shows are held each year in Milan and in Bari. Unfortunately, economic development has taken its toll on urban areas in the form of over building and pollution, particularly in the north.
There are approximately 210,000 square kilometers/130,000 square miles of Italy excluding the islands surrounding the country. This is about the size of Great Britain or the state of California. Roughly 55 million people live between its shores, with most concentrations found in urban areas. Its terrain is a combination of several mountainous regions, which comprise 70% of the country, coastal plains and an abundance of rural open spaces. Yet, despite this seemingly inhospitable terrain, almost 70% of the land is agricultural. The Dolomites and the Great Alps border northern Italy. The Maritime Alps are situated in the northwest. The Appenines are the largest range and run down most of the length of Italy, hence they are known as the backbone of the country. The Italian Alps boast towering peaks such as the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc, whereas the tallest mountain situated completely within Italy's borders is located in the Appenines. It is called Il Gran Sasso d'Italia (Big Rock of Italy). To this day it still remains a challenge to cross the Appenines between the Tyrrhenian and Adriatic Seas using the present roadway system.
The largest islands of Italy are Sicily and Sardinia with smaller islands of Elba (Napoleon's isle of exile), Ischia, Capri and the cluster north of Sicily called Lipari, all located off the western coast. Italy is surrounded by seas on both sides: the Ligurian, Tyrrhenian, and Mediterranean on its western shores and the Adriatic on the east.
Because of it's vast length, with a coastline covering almost 1600 kilometers/992 miles, Italy has a variety of climates: from the cooler, wetter northern areas to the beautiful Mediterranean weather of the Mezzogiorno, the bright, sunbathed region of southern Italy.
A Bit of History
With its colorful history, Italy has had many forms of government. According to my grandfather, who was born and raised in Calabria and lived to the robust age of 103, one could live a lifetime and experience more than a few dozen regimes of governmental rule. Maybe in his lifetime. It is a well known fact that Italy has experienced many political upheavals throughout its history, especially in the post-war years of the twentieth century. During this period, each of Italy's governments lasted, on the average, under twelve months.
Italy is divided into twenty regions, each being autonomous yet connected to the central government of Rome. This autonomy can be seen in the differences of local policies and taxes, and cultural and historical diversities. The early colonization of Italy by Greeks and Etruscans, then invasions by countries surrounding Italy helped to incorporate pieces of each culture into a rich tapestry of provincial centers and regional pride.