Italy’s Passion for Food

A passion for food merits a precise word in Italian: golosità (from gola, for throat), which goes beyond appetite, craving, gluttony, or hunger. Friends proudly declare themselves “golosi,” often for a dish made only in their hometowns, only with local ingredients, only with a recipe handed down from a great-grandmother to a grandmother to a mother.

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Are We Like the Ancient Romans?

“Sniff!” our guide commands as she thrusts a leaf snipped from a bush in the Roman Forum under my nose. “What do you smell?”

I inhale deeply. The aroma is tantalizingly familiar—fresh, spicy, woodsy, a scent I immediately link to a certain type of alpha male—but I can’t identify its name.

“Glory!” she exclaims.

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The Passions That Created Rome

Deep in mythological time, Venus (Aphrodite in the Greek pantheon), goddess of love and beauty, spied a handsome prince in the vicinity of Troy. Dressed as an earthly princess, she seduced him and then slipped away. Nine months later, Venus presented the Trojan prince with the son they had conceived.

Revealing her true identity, Venus made her lover pledge to keep their secret. (He didn’t, and as punishment, her father hobbled him with the strike of a lightning bolt.) She also predicted that their love child, whom she named Aeneas, would sire a race that would someday rule the world.

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Worshipping the Goddess in Sicily

Once upon a myth, Cronus, son of the god of the sky, castrated his despotic father. Uranus’s testicles fell into the sea, which gave birth to a fully formed woman who floated upon a wave that swept a magic mountain to the northwest tip of Sicily. In a temple atop this cliff, perched between sky and sea, the earliest tribes worshipped the Mediterranean Mother; the Greeks, Aphrodite; the Romans, Venus.

Here in the village of Erice, named for a son of Venus, beautiful maidens served as her priestesses. Night and day, winter and summer, they lit torches in a high tower visible to ships from every direction. Landing in the port of Trapani, sailors clamored almost 2,500 feet up the steep mountainside to worship at the shrine—although more for passion than piety. In a ritual delicately referred to as “embracing the goddess,” the men lay with Venus’s lissome handmaidens, who granted their lovers protection from the perils of the sea. The sailors left as their parting gifts the children who would populate the land.

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A Passion for Sicily

“Stai attenta!” (Be careful!), Captain Tonino shouts as I dive into the Tyrrhenian Sea off Sicily’s northeastern tip. I ignore his warning. The Aeolian islands, ancient playground of the gods, shimmer as irresistibly now as in times long past. Above me Stromboli, the black-coned volcano locals call Iddu, or “Him,” puffs smoke into the sky. With each exhalation, pebbles skitter down its sides. Aeolus, god of wind, ripples the water’s surface with the gentlest of breezes.

I swim into a grotto carved in the volcano’s side and enter a deep poo. Droplets of moisture splash gently from the craggy ceiling. Sailors call them le lacrime delle sirene, the tears of the mermaids who once tried to lure Ulysses’s men toward these perilous rocks. I follow their trail farther into the cavern.

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Italy’s Celebration of Summer:

I celebrated my first  Italian Ferragosto in Capri, which turns out to be a most fitting (though crowded) place to be on August 15. This summer celebration—as festive as America’s Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day rolled into one—dates back thousands of years.

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