So I left off on in Part 4 on my second full day in Italy. If I keep going at this rate, there will be roughly 5,000 parts to this series, so in Part 5, I will focus on some of the events of the next 8 days, then I will move on to the rest of the trip in Part 6. If you are just jumping in here, please start from the beginning with Part 1. It will make all the difference in the world!
The Daily Grind
What I have written so far is pretty much the daily grind during my trip in Gioiosa Ionica. Wake up in the morning, grab my bucket, fill it, go to the bathroom.
Proceed to have coffee, trying to avoid that disgusting UHT milk, move Mr. Goat out of my way, a tip of the hat to Mrs. Chicken, get my bucket for my shower, hit the beach, build deeper friendships, have a ridiculously huge lunch prepared by Nonna, make her cry yet again, rest, hit the beach, fear for my life when dinner time came, more Nonna tears… rinse and repeat. But then there were all sorts of in-between moments that have burned into my memory my entire life. I’ll try to fit them into this post!
About the UHT Milk
Remember when I described how awful it was? I mean, it was utterly dog vomit bad, ok? There should be laws against murdering coffee with that crap! But I was in Italy, and I really, really wanted a real Cappuccino.
So Rocco and I would stop off at coffee bars when we would go into town, and each time, I would order a cappuccino. But every time I did, I got the UHT crap. Everywhere we went, there it was. Don’t they have cows here? I even tried to go to the grocery stores to get some real milk to bring home. Heaven forbid! Racks full of UHT Milk in a box, but no actual milk.
I may never know why this was the case at the time, but I promise when I write “The Takeaway” in this post, there will be no alternate perspective that makes the UHT look good in a different light. Simply put, the stuff just sucked. Maybe they had some powerful UHT Lobbyists in the area, or a Milk Mafia, but… argh!
“Hey Mike, you know, I’ve been noticing you’ve been having a lot of problems lately, you know?Lyrics tothe tune of “Institutionalized” by Suicidal Tendencies adapted in my head at the time
Rocco, just get me a Cappuccino, please? All I want’s a Cappuccino”
And he wouldn’t give it to me
All I wanted was a Cappuccino
Just one Cappuccino
And he wouldn’t give it to me
Just a Cappuccino!
If you are going Huh? Don’t worry. I used to be into Hardcore Punk. If you get it, well… you can totally hear that playing in my head! If not, nevermind and read on. Just know I really wanted a cappuccino!
Up to now, it seems like we are doing the same old thing every day. But Gioiosa Ionica was a beach town, and it was full of Italian tourists. So it was very common that after dinner, we would all go out for the night to various places. One of these was called “La Flora.”
This was one of several “Discoteche.” Yes, even in 1983, I am thinking “Disco?” But this was just the coolest place! I don’t think I have ever been to another club before or since that was this amazing. Fully outdoors, right on the beach, and a very in scene.
The music. Well, Italian club music wasn’t quite what we were used to in L.A. A few songs completely stuck in my head, and I am not going to allow you to continue reading this post without suffering along with me:
You may have heard Vamos a la Playa, but Sandy Marton, well… he was from Croatia, and his career never made it outside of Italy. Nonetheless, I can’t think of La Flora without Camel by Camel playing in my head! And now I have infected you, as well.
Can I give you one more? No? Tough, you are getting it anyway. Because this stuck so much in my head that I had Rocco take me to a store so I could buy a tape of it. Yes, a cassette tape. I learned all of the words, although I had no idea what he was singing (except for the parts in which he is trying to form sentences in English). I strongly urge you to watch the video below. It’s a blast, especially when he tries to form lyrics in English!
Once upon a time, you dressed so fine. Mary. Like just a woman. Like a rolling stock!
The song Cuccuruccuccù became something of an anthem of the trip when I finally got back home to the States. Not only did I play it over and over and over, but all of my L.A. friends learned to sing it, too! And just this year I got to sing it during a Karaoke party on one of our cooking tours in Bologna. Why did nobody take a video of THAT???
Update: On May 18, 2021, Franco Battiato passed away in Sicily following a neurodegenerative disease. I didn’t know back in the 80’s, but he was called “The Master,” as one of the most iconic and innovative musicians in Italy. I would consider him like Italy’s David Bowie. I listened to his music for years, and news of his death greatly saddened me! If you would like to hear more of his music, check him out on Spotify here.
We really spent a lot of time at the beach, and that bar where I had my first granita became our stomping grounds. But it was really the place to be. If we were at the beach and wanted a drink, we ran over there. We wanted a break, that was the place. The same went for much of Rocco’s family and friends. This was a “friendly” establishment. A place in which my folded-up protection letter was not needed.
But there was this one day. Rocco and I head to the bar from the beach. Dripping wet and tired, we walk over to get a granita. The bar has a very large outdoor terrace area, and we see Big Rocco.
There he is, wearing shorts and his pre-requisite wife-beater. He is sitting in a chair that formed part of a circle. Most of the people in the circle were very well-dressed. People I hadn’t seen or met. And Big Rocco was essentially at the center of this group. Big Rocco and Little Rocco exchanged some words in Italian, and we went over to get our granita.
Let me be clear. These people surrounding Big Rocco were all well-dressed and appeared quite distinguished. It was an odd scene, given Big Rocco’s dirty wife-beater and shorts… and him being at the center… head of the table style. And if Big Rocco wanted a drink, he kinda snapped his fingers, and one of these people ran and got it for him.
Huh. I’ll not forget this scene, and I’m not going to ask any questions. Better not to know some things, Michael. Best to just move on. Yeah, Michael… move on. After all, that is the guy that wrote my protection letter, right?
If feathers are floating, It’s chicken for dinner
Here we are. The moment of truth. One evening we had gone back to Nonna’s for dinner. I get to the gate and start walking to the building, and suddenly everything started in slow motion.
Michael: “Hello Mr. Goat”
A feather floats into my face, and I look around.
There are lots of feathers. Some floating in the air.
Michael: “Hey Rock, what’s for dinner?”
I look around the garden. “Mrs. Chicken?”
I know what is going on, but I couldn’t help look for Mrs. Chicken.
Oh. My. God. Mrs. Chicken is dinner! But the chicken we eat comes from the supermarket in a neatly wrapped package that is cleverly designed to assure we are not reminded that chicken is an actual chicken. How am I to eat a chicken that I know. That I knew. How will I fight my gag reflex as I take a bite out of Mrs. Chicken? And if I fail, I have the threat of Nonna’s tears.
I am in an impossible position. One from which there is no escape.
So it turns out that fresh chicken is really good! That’s right, I ate Mrs. Chicken. And I’d do it again! Can I do it again? Please? On the downside, supermarket chicken never tasted the same.
I’ll be honest, in the days that followed, I missed Mrs. Chicken’s little clucking sounds and her pecking around here and there. She was good company. But the flavor was enough to satisfy me that I rationalized that she had met an honorable death.
Can we all have a moment of silence to honor Mrs. Chicken?
The Wedding Invitation
On yet another day, Big Rocco comes home and tells us we are going to a wedding. We?.
Michael: “Who is getting married?”
Big Rocco: “I don’t know… what a shit?”
Michael: “So someone you don’t know has invited you and me to their wedding?:
Big Rocco: “Yeah, that’s how it is. Someone’s gettin married, everyone goes. What a shit!”
I wish I could tell a wonderful story about the wedding. But my wardrobe was more about the beach, and I had no way of suiting up. Neither did Little Rocco. And if you are 17, and you are presented with an option to hang out at the beach with friends, or go to a wedding with 300+ people, well… you cannot help but make the wrong choice. So Little Rocco convinced his Big Rocco that we shouldn’t go. Big Rocco’s reaction was surely something to the effect of “What a shit?” Nonetheless, I am certain that I missed out on what would have been another of the most amazing experiences of my life.
In Part 3, I talked about the witch, and how I needed to scratch my balls 13 times and never make eye contact with her. If I didn’t follow these rules, she would give me the Malocchio (Evil Eye). Sadly, at some point during my trip, it was presumed by Nonna I may have fallen victim to the Malocchio.
One day after lunch, she suddenly suspected that I had it cast on me. I have no idea why she believed this, but thank heavens, there is both a test and a cure for Malocchio, and she had the procedure handed down to her for generations.
As I sat in her kitchen she got out a bowl. She is going to get proof positive of my Malocchio status. She pours a little water in the bowl. Then some herbs around the side, and finally pours just a tad of oil in it.
Trust me, I am thinking what you are thinking. But I have to just roll with this, right?
Michael: “Rocco, can you fill me in here?”
Rocco: “Well Mikey, if the oil forms a circle, you have the Malocchio, and she needs to cure you. If it breaks apart, you have been spared, and all is good.”
Michael: ” ‘K “
The oil formed a circle. At some point, I had received the Evil Eye! We need to deal with this, so Nonna proceeded to dip her thumb into the oil in the bowl while incanting a prayer in Calabrese dialect (so I was told), and then did the sign of the cross on my forehead with the oily thumb. I was cured.
But how did I get the Malocchio? I mean, I have been scratching those balls raw! But apparently, that was not enough. It was explained to me that anyone may have given it to me, and I may have even had it for years. It was presumed that since my brother, father, and several aunts and uncles had died within a very short period over the past couple years, it might just be that someone in L.A. gave it to me! Furthermore, the Malocchio was most commonly cast on people out of envy or jealousy. In L.A. I was a rich kid with a Porsche. In Calabria, I was American, and therefore rich by association. I was bound to get the Malocchio, after all.
But now I was cured, and all would be good. Now, in hindsight, I would think we would perform the test again to make sure the cure worked, but I suppose this was an infallible cure since it was just known that the Malocchio had been removed from me.
(The Takeaway) All Good Things Must Come to an End
My time in Gioiosa was limited, but I could have stayed there all summer. I felt at home and could write stories about that trip to fill hundreds of blog posts, but I have so much more beyond Gioiosa Ionica to talk about. I mean, I m only on my first 10 days here, and I have 37 years to write about!
My mother and her boyfriend had been doing whatever they had been doing in Italy while I was there, but they finally showed up in Gioiosa for a couple of days. It was now time to leave.
I know I promised I would have something good to say about that UHT milk in the takeaway, and here we are. Sorry, I’ve got nothing. That stuff was just pure nasty!
A week and a half earlier, I was visiting a friend before my trip to Italy would truly begin, and I couldn’t wait to visit all of Italy’s bucket list destinations! That has now completely changed. Now I have a family and friends right here! I have Mr. Goat, and I haven’t had enough time to mourn the loss of Mrs. Chicken. Nonna had become my Nonna. Uncle Peppe, quiet as can be, had become that warm an friendly face I had looked forward to. Big Rocco was now so much more than Little Rocco’s Dad. He was someone that had accepted me into his family. All of my new friends. Enzo… Dom… How do I leave this? I am no longer looking forward to the bucket-list sights of Italy. I wanna stay here, where I am Michael Jackson!
Still, the rest of Italy awaits, and there are two more weeks left in my trip. We are headed for the Amalfi Coast, and Little Rocco is gonna come with us. He had never been. That’ll be fun. More beach, I guess.
Hugs and tears went all around as we were saying our goodbyes. My mom was especially perplexed! “This is not the Michael I know.” Oh what little you knew, mom! As we left Gioiosa, there was a weight on my heart. Somehow this place felt more like home to me than home did. I didn’t know what the feeling was yet, but in hindsight, I had become addicted to Italian life.
Ready for Part 6? Head on over to “Amalfi, Rome & A Two Horse Town Called Soriano.”