l’alfabeto/alphabet

L’alfabeto
A aperitivo
B balsamico
C ciao
D donna
E espresso
F figura
G gelato
H hotel
I italiano
L limone
M mamma
N nociola
O opera
P prosciutto, parmigiano, pizza
Q questo o quello
R Roma
S scarpe
T tu
U uva
V vino
Z zabaione

Aperitivo-How to stimulate your appetite
Italians often like to meet in a bar, fare un brindisi (make a toast) by clinking their glasses with friends and/or family, and imbibe un aperitivo. It is a civilized way to start the evening meal. These before dinner drinks are typically somewhat bitter in order to awaken the appetite and are typically brightly colored, think Campari and Aperol. The root of the word aperitivo comes from aprire, to open, so you should think of yourself as opening up your appetite when drinking un aperitivo. It is a tradition that dates back to ancient Rome and was later adopted by monks who dreamed up elixirs from herbs, roots, flowers, and citrus fruit, all infused with alcohol, of course. It your appetite should become over-stimulated, never worry, there is always a digestivo, yet another type of drink, to calm it down after dinner.

(Aceto) Balsamico-Balsamic Vinegar
The city of Modena is world renowned for its aceto balsamico, a type of vinegar that is the nectar of the gods. It comes from the mosto, or grape must made from seeds, pulp, and juice of local grapes which have been greatly reduced by being cooked over a simmering fire. The liquid is then aged in various wooden casks which all impart a distinct flavor. Fathers from Modena will age their own aceto balsamico and offer their daughters a tiny vial of this elixir as a marriage gift. Aging conveys quality, and the tangy syrup is used to enhance the flavor of figs, strawberries, or a salad.

Ciao-I say hello, you say goodbye
The universal word for both hi and goodbye, which comes from the Venetian dialect expression for s-chiavo, “I am your slave,” an expression that was used to ensure good will. Next to pizza, it is probably the most used Italian word throughout the world. Ciao is an easy way to greet someone; however, many years ago I was taught in beginning Italian that it is only proper to use with people you know, young children, or small animals. Today it seems that you may use it with anyone at any level of society.

Donna-woman
As a popular song in Italy in the early 1970’s put it, “Donna, Donna, dimmi, cosa vuol dir son una donna ormai?” “Woman, woman, tell me, what does it mean that I am already a woman?” A woman just feels more like a woman in Italy no matter what her age, as she is clearly being observed by Italian males. Certainly the two most common females, who are invoked in times of need, whether due to fear, anger, or joy, are: “Mamma mia” and “Madonna.”

Espresso-coffee
This word for a type of coffee is not used in Italy. What Americans call an espresso is un caffè to an Italian. It is the type of coffee that they drink most often. It is meant to be drunk quite quickly while standing up at a bar or caffè. An Italian would never, never ever drink a cappuccino after lunch or dinner, since it would impede digestion and it will certainly label you as a tourist.

Fare Una Bella Figura-to look good
Fare una bella figura is an important concept if you are to understand the Italian mentality. It is important “to cut a good figure,” because, as your mother told you, appearances matter. Since 1558. when Giovanni Della Casa’s book, Il Galateo, was published, Italians have taken this topic and expression seriously.

Gelato-ice cream
“If you ask me, I could write a book” …about Italian gelato. It is everything that American ice cream is not. In the best Italian gelato, there is less air, less butterfat, less sugar, and lots more flavor. A serious gelataio (ice cream maker) uses frutta di stagione (fruit in season) and only the freshest of ingredients. Look for artisanal shops with stainless steel tubs that feature heaping mounds of colorful gelato.

Hotel- h is only a placeholder in Italian
OK, this one is a stretch, but there are some incredible hotels in Italy: the Cipriani and the Danieli in Venice, the Villa D’Este in Cernobbio, and the Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio all come to mind. I have walked through the lobbies of these four hotels, but I have never felt flush enough to stay overnight. I will one day and hopefully live to write about the experience. In the meantime, take my advice and have an alcoholic drink or tea in one of these architectural gems and just soak up the atmosphere.

Italiano, an Italian
This is what I will be reborn as because I have spent so much time studying the language, culture, literature, food, art and architecture of this Mediterranean peninsula.

Limone-lemon
The citrus fruit that makes one think of the Amalfi coast was known to the ancient Romans. The present day fruit owes its origins more to the Amalfi Republic’s trade with the Middle East. Lemons are used in spremuta di limone, a fresh squeezed lemon drink with sugar and fizzy water, a variety of desserts, to accompany fish, and as the basic ingredient for limoncello, a favorite after-dinner drink.

Mammone-Momma’s boy
What an Italian male may be called because of his attachment to his mother. Although I am happy to report that the wolf-whistling, thigh-pinching young males who used to be so ubiquitous in Rome in the 1970’s are long gone, the Italian male who is firmly attached to his mother (and still living with his adoring mother well into his thirties) is still a reality.

Nocciola-hazelnut
Nocciola is the main ingredient in many liquors and Nutella, the closest equivalent that Italians have to peanut butter. You either love or hate this hazelnut spread that also contains cocoa, palm oil and sugar. It has become a passion among more and more Americans and has lined the shelves of Europeans for over fifty years.

Opera lirica-lyric opera
Full of love, jealousy, hate, greed, deception, lust, and courage, the Italian opera is an over-the-top experience. The plots are often unbelievable, downright absurd, but the work of masters like Verdi, Donizetti, and Puccini continues to enthrall listeners.

Pizza
The one food item that has made Italian cuisine known throughout the world. It is affordable, tasty, fast to make, and oh so easy to love. The very best pizza comes from Naples, where the fresh mozzarella, the San Marzano tomatoes, fresh basil, accompanied by the perfect crust, (not too chewy, not too thin, not too thick), is cooked in a wood fired oven, resulting in perfection.

Questa o Quella-this or that
“This one or that one”? The title and first line of a famous aria in Verdi’s opera, “Rigoletto,” sung by the Duke of Mantua to indicate that it does not really matter to him which woman he chooses since they are all the same. It is a phrase that is used by shopkeepers in Italy when they are trying to figure out which item a non native speaker wants, this one or that one?

Scarpe-shoes
What many women take home as their booty when they return from Italy. In a country that is shaped like a boot, shoes are an obsession. Since the days when Venetian women clomped about on wooden stilt-like chopines in order to stay out of nasty muck and water and Cenerentola (Cinderella) found her prince through fitting into the tiny glass slipper, Italians have known how to craft the most beautiful shoes.

Tu-you
One of the first idioms that I learned in Italian 101 was dare del tu, or to ask permission to use the familiar form of address when talking to someone close to you age. Whereas English has only one form for you, Italian has four: tu, Lei, voi, and the antiquated Loro form. Now it is commonplace to use the tu form with almost everyone, although probably not with your professor, the police, the king or queen or the pope.

Uva-grapes
In Italy grapes are way too important to squander on jelly since they are needed to make vino and aceto balsamico. There are hundreds of red grape varieties grown in Italy but the big eight: Sangiovese, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Agliancio, Primitivo, Valpolicella, Nero d’Avola, and Dolcetto dominate red wine production.

Vendemmia-grape harvest
The grape harvest comes when the fruit has reached perfection on the vine. It all depends on the weather. The harvest begins first with white grapes which ripen before red. Perfect autumn weather along with the chance to participate in a communal event that leads to a great meal once the grapes have been harvested makes for a perfect outing.

Zabaione-egg custard
An egg custard dessert that is made from egg yolks, sugar, and Marsala wine. It may be served cold or warm and has been popular in Italy since the times of the Medici. It is also found in a popular drink called Vov. The origins of Zabaione are tied to its being put into ale.

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