Almost Italian

December 6, 2013

I have Italian neighbours who live on the same floor of the apartment where I live, and we have become friends. Pier says Malaysians don’t say hi in the elevator, and he was surprised I did but I guess i’m almost Italian that way.

I think I also almost understand the language. It helps that Italians are very expressive with their bodies and hands, and its visual clues fill in the blanks as well.

I almost went to Italy, a country I have never been.  When I was in school in the states, and summers I would spend in NYC where I would be at a youth hostel in Harlem, where if I chambermaid-ed twice a week I would live for free, I picked up odd jobs and would save enough to go on heavily discounted freelance courier flights somewhere.

It was a courier flight that I almost took to go to Italy, and I remember it clearly – taking the A or C train downtown to a courier broking house called Now Voyager, talking to a girl called Erin, a Columbia student who was part-timing in that office that summer, and asking for a flight to Rome. She said matter-of-factly that I had to wait a couple of days for Rome, though there’s a flight to Caracas the next day, do I want to go there? To which I also nonchalantly replied, “yes”.

(And so began my decade long love affair with Latin America, which is of course another story.)

And there is a topic of conversation I would always initiate about Italian food, that it shared the same principles as Japanese food.  To most people spaghetti and pizzas and sushi and tempura are representative and symbolic of these cuisines, which is of course true but you’d miss the essence if you think there’s all there is to it.   Italian and Japanese cuisine share a demand for the seasonal, the locally available, the very fresh, and a minimalist attitude – that simple, fresh ingredients should make uncomplicated dishes.

Now that I have Italian friends, I’d catch glimpses of the Italian community in KL, through their usual hangouts and their lunches and their coffee invites. They are a gregarious bunch, and whatever their stories are, they would try to live as dolce a vita as they can here.  I try to do that too wherever I am in the world as well, and I guess I’m almost Italian that way.

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