08 July 2012

LIFE: 4th of July! Che Bello!

SARONNO, Italy - There’s not a lot going on in Saronno these days, the town’s getting ready to close down for the summer as everyone heads out for their month long summer vacation. Even Milano is quiet. The only excitement in town this week were the 4th of July parties. One party was sponsored by an English language publications, and the other by the American business group. Fourth of July parties have long been a tradition in Milan, but it seems that each year there are fewer and fewer of them, maybe because the number of ex-pats living in and around Milan has shrunk as well.
 Happy 4th of July
Back in the day when there was a sizable community of ex-pats in the city, the American Consulate always sponsored a big, bang up affair for 4th of July. It was usually held at the 13th century Sforza castle in the middle of Milan and hundreds of people would be there, not just Americans but many Italians married to Americans, and Italians who love America and just wanted to be part of an authentic American festa.
The party would start in the late afternoon, after business hours, as the 4th is not a holiday here in Italy. And after everyone stuffed themselves on hamburgers and hot dogs, washed down with a large quantity of American beer, the festivities would begin. As day turned into night, the skies over the castle would light up with a dazzling display of fireworks that surely must have kept everyone within a two mile radius of the castle up until all hours of the night. But that party, along with many other government sponsored events, are now a thing of the past and it is up to the local ex-pat community to hobble together whatever celebrations there are going to be.  
 Milan's Sforza Castle - Great Place for an Outdoor Party
The other side of this coin is that most ex-pats find, myself included, that the longer you live in Italy and out of the United States, the more you become ingrained in the Italian way of life. You eat Italian food, you watch Italian TV, you read Italian papers, and pretty soon American traditions seem to slip farther and farther away as new traditions take center stage.

It’s not that we forget we are American, we will always be Americans, but there is a blending of cultures, a blending of language, a softening of traditions. A good example of that are the group sponsored Thanksgiving dinners in Milan. They always start with a plate of pasta and finish with an espresso coffee. I’m sure those subtle changes happen everywhere there are ex-pats, not just here in Italy.
Pure Joy
Sometimes they happens for a very simple reason: the foods that make a holiday special are just not available. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know how I tried to find a whole turkey for my Thanksgiving dinner last year, and finally had to settle for ‘capone’, which is a castrated rooster and as much like a turkey as a chicken is to a duck. In other words, it was not the same thing, not even close. No sweet potatoes? OK, roasted potatoes will have to do. No cranberries either? OK, I’ll use mostarda. No pumpkin for pie for dessert? How about tiramisu and pears poached in Prosecco? Some battles you just can’t win.

The party Gary and I went to was a little bit like that. No backyard barbeque, no grilled burgers,  no hot dogs with spicy mustard, no kids or fireworks either. This party was at a posh hotel in the center of Milan, a very elegant affair with men in suits, women with their hair freshly coiffed and dressed in their summery best. There were about 50 people there, about half of them Italian or Canadian.  But everyone stood as we sang the Star Spangled Banner, they ate the fried chicken and corn-on-the-cob, and if it hadn’t been for their accents you would have thought them dyed in the wool Americans. The gap between the cultures seems to shrink a little bit more every year.
Hotel de la Ville, Mlan, Italy
It may not have been a USA American's idea of a 4th of July party, but it was nice. I was happy, met some nice people, had some nice conversations. Gary was happy. He got to see some of the folks he knew and socialized with when he lived and worked in Milan. They were delighted to see him, he was delighted to see them, and as you all know, all’s well that ends well and that's really all that counts, no?

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