Interview with Bartholomew Barker, author of Milkshakes & Chilidogs

Today, we’re talking with Bartholomew Barker, poet & author of Milkshakes & Chilidogs.

What is your background in poetry?

Poetry has always been my avocation but it waxed and waned depending upon my marital status. The last time I got divorced I began writing again and found Living Poetry, the largest poetry group here in the Triangle. It didn’t take much encouragement for me to begin taking my poetry seriously and now, ten years later, I’ve been published dozens of times, I’m leading a monthly workshop, hosting open mics and various other special events. Poetry now consumes most of the hours I’m not working my day job or sleeping.

Milkshakes, chilidogs, chocolate, wine, these are some of the foods you write about–but I was also surprised to see an Ode to Haggis–and it was delicious! How did writing a book of food poems come about?

I’d written a few food poems, including both haggis poems, before I realized I was writing a book of poetry. One evening I was having dinner with my parents and I was wondering what my next book should be about when my mother said, “I always enjoy your food poems.” I laughed but later that night I had a look through my files and found that when I included the wine poems, of which I’d already written plenty, for some reason, and the chocolate poems that I’d written for the annual holiday chocolate open mic that I host at a little chocolatier’s in Hillsborough, that I had almost enough for a chapbook.

Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash

This collection has humor, nostalgia, romance–and even touches on topical issues like climate change. How do you see the role food plays in our lives?

Everybody eats. Food is central to our lives. It’s one of our basic urges. From being fed at our mother’s breast to lunch at the school cafeteria with our friends to first dates at restaurants to wedding cakes to donuts at the office to happy hours to pot lucks to casseroles at a wake, there isn’t much in our lives that doesn’t revolve around food and drink. And I am so extremely fortunate to live in a time and place where food is both plentiful and varied and to have sufficient wealth to enjoy it all, even to excess.

Are you working on a new book?

I’m not sure. I’m still writing but a theme has not yet emerged. I should probably ask my mother.

Where can readers purchase a copy of Milkshakes & Chilidogs?

My book, like most things in life, can be purchased at Amazon.

My Italian Grandmother Wasn’t a “Nonna,” and Yours Probably Wasn’t Either

“Nonna” is the Italian word for grandmother (“nonno” for grandfather). It is used whenever Italians speak of a grandmother figure, the woman sporting a bun, apron, perhaps rolling pin or wooden spoon and always in the kitchen cooking. I am Italian on both sides with grandparents from Italy. However, these words “nonna” and “nonno” are foreign to me.

 

                             Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

 

My grandmother was from a town just outside Naples. My grandfather was from a town about 30 minutes away in the mountains. We called grandma “anonn” and grandpa “unonn” pronounced like “ah-nun” and “oo-nun” in Neapolitan dialect. I imagine the words are similar or the same throughout the South of Italy.

 

Standard Italian is based on the Tuscan dialect. So the word “nonna” is from standard Italian. (I’ve written an article on Italian dialect here.) It is strange that even though the overwhelming majority of Italian immigrants were from Southern Italy, the words from the Northern Italian dialects are accepted without question.

 

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

You will see “nonna” in the media, and indeed, I have reluctantly used it in articles because that is the term used in contemporary media for grandparents. But in my heart and in my home, grandma and grandpa will always be anonn and unonn.

 

I wish my grandparents and great-grandparents were here, but I know they are smiling down on me. I know they are proud that, of all the books I could have written, in my 20-year career with a master’s in creative writing from NYU and a law degree, I chose to write their story, I chose to do the right thing, not the popular thing, not the marketable thing. And so it was, when I was deciding if I wanted to write a cookbook a number of years ago, that I started researching Italian food in more depth. Given my own personal experiences and those of my family along with the research I have done both here and in Italy, I could no longer remain silent to the maligning, so commonplace today that it has become inadvertent in many instances, of millions of people of their generation and their descendants. Since my book was published in March 2018, I see a zeitgeist of exploration of Italian-American history and culture in the popular media.

 

                            Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

 

And I can still see my anonn, even though she’s been dead for years, with her old wooden rolling pin, rolling out dough for struffoli and bows, or sitting at the kitchen table shaking some Brioschi onto a napkin for me to eat while she drank hers in a glass of fizzing water. I see her picking mint in the backyard near the white fence. I see her stirring a pot of tomato gravy on Sunday morning that in my memory’s eye seemed taller than her.

 

I hear her voice, in her optimistic way, saying “you never know.” Meaning, you never know, something good might happen. I miss these Yogi Berra-like idiomatic sayings of hers. From her, I learned to never show up empty-handed to someone’s house, or in her words, “with my hands hanging.” She made me laugh when she told nasty people to “go shit in a hat.” Another she always shared with me is “check your dates.” She meant that, at the grocery store, I should always check the date on the food I buy to make sure it’s the freshest.

 

So as Mother’s Day is around the corner, I impart some of my anonn’s wisdom to you—never go anywhere with your hands hanging, you never know what may happen, the creeps can go shit in a hat, and always check your dates.

 

–Dina Di Maio, author of Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People, available at Amazon.com, published March 2018

 

                                     Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

Image by Markéta Machová from Pixabay

Columbus Day: Italian Americans vs. Native Americans?

I understand that Columbus Day is a controversial holiday to some. Saying that Columbus “discovered” America is denying the Native Americans who were already living on this land. But no one can argue that Columbus’s landing here precipitated events that led to the formation of the United States of America. And that is something to celebrate—the first country in the world founded on principles and ideas.

Columbus Day has been celebrated in the United States since at least the mid-1800s, when immigrants from Italy started arriving in the country, but it had been celebrated by the American people prior to Italian immigration. In later years, it became a source of pride for Italian immigrants and new Italian Americans born in the United States, a group that was historically discriminated against. It’s unfortunate that Columbus Day seems to be Italian Americans versus Native Americans, when these are two groups who historically suffered discrimination (and genocide). I can understand why Native Americans would not want to celebrate a day that led to the eventual taking of their land and the killing of their people. But I think maybe a bit of Italian history might help them understand the Italian side of things.

Many people have heard that Garibaldi united Italy in the 1860s, but what they don’t realize is that Italy didn’t want to be united. Southern Italy was a part of a different kingdom, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. After unification, Southern Italians rebelled. The government labeled these rebels as brigands to make it sound like they were a bunch of thieves, rather than the patriots they were. Even Benjamin Disraeli spoke of them as patriots. At this time, they were not just killing brigands, but any Southern Italian they could. Naples had been the third largest city after Paris and London, and soon it was raped of its resources and the funds reallocated to Northern Italy for economic improvements there. This is a revisionist history that until late, has been largely forgotten—and purposely so. The situation in Southern Italy became more and more devastating that through the years of the 1870s to the 1920s, more and more Italians left, many coming to the United States. Most of these immigrants were from Southern Italy. But, unfortunately, they left one country that didn’t want them for another that didn’t want them. They suffered much discrimination and prejudice in the United States. They were forced to worship in the basement of predominantly Irish Catholic churches. They were lynched in the South. Some Southern states banned them from living in their states in the early 1900s.

But Southern Italians were a hardy people and were fighters, much like Native Americans. They had cities in Southern Italy dating back thousands of years. Matera, in the region of Basilicata, is one such ancient city, where The Passion of the Christ was filmed because of its sassi, or houses carved in stone. Some of the older tribes of Italians were the Lucanians of this area and also the Samnites and Sabines of South-Central Italy. The Samnites were great warriors with a developed civilization alongside the Roman one. They had three wars with the Romans, and eventually lost to them. The Romans knew they had a formidable enemy, so they committed a genocide of the Samnites. Many did survive because they were familiar with the interior mountains of Italy and could hide. Others blended in with Roman society (Pontius Pilate was one of them). There is a famous battle, the battle of the Caudine Forks in 321 BC, where they defeated the Romans. The people from this area are still proud of this battle against the Romans. It is near the village where my grandfather was born, and I am a Samnite. Now, that was in 321 BC—a long time ago and yet I still identify with these people and this battle. It is still a great source of pride for me. Because I know that the Romans didn’t kill us off—because I’m still here. And the Northern Italians didn’t kill us off in the 1800s—because I’m still here. And the prejudice and discrimination we endured—and continue to endure as an “Other”ized group in the United States didn’t and doesn’t dissuade us—we are still here.

And I am sure that is how the Native Americans feel, a sense of loss but a sense of pride for fighting. I can always go back to Italy, even though I am culturally American. The homeland where my family comes from still exists albeit in a different way since millions of its children came from Southern Italy to America. Native Americans don’t have a homeland. Their homeland is here, a completely different place that was historically unkind to them and treated them much like the Roman Empire treated the Samnites, a nuisance standing in the way of Roman domination. But the Native Americans proudly fought, a fact I and many people greatly admire.

As an Italian American, I hate that Columbus Day makes Native Americans feel less than or as an “Other”ized group because my people were made to feel like an “Other”ized group and that is one reason Columbus Day is a source of pride for Italian Americans. I grew up near the Lumbee tribe and I do recognize the Lumbees as an official tribe. I also saw “Other”ization of them firsthand and experienced “Other”ization myself. I am hoping with more insight into this lost Italian history—that is never really told to a wider audience than Italian American academics, maybe Native Americans will see that they have more in common with Italian Americans and that Columbus Day isn’t about the beginning of the end for them. Just like the Samnites and Southern Italians, they fought and they are still here. And we are all Americans in the United States, a country that we love and hate, hate for its painful history but love for its progressive laws.

–Dina Di Maio, Esq., author of Authentic Italian: The Real Story of Italy’s Food and Its People, available at Amazon.com

 

Authentic Italian

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Italian Remedy for Upset Stomach

UPDATE–Brioschi is back. It’s now owned by Neobourne Pharma LLP and you can purchase it online at http://www.brioschi.com/

Don’t forget to enter the GIVEAWAY in celebration of my 1000th post!

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I thought it would be appropriate to post this the day after Thanksgiving when everyone has an upset stomach.  When Italians have an upset stomach, they call it agita.  If one has agita, there is only one remedy for it–Brioschi, pronounced bree-uhsh-ki.  (The bottle says Bree-os-kee, but my family pronounces sch like “shk” not “sk.”) When I was a kid, if my grandmother had agita, she’d take out that familiar fat blue bottle with the large red lettering.  She’d sprinkle some strands of Brioschi onto a napkin for me.  I’d eat it like it was a fizzy lemon candy.  It is an effervescent antacid and you were supposed to add it to water like Alka Seltzer.  But we would just eat it.  Brioschi is over 100 years old, and the company that made it went into real estate and sold the business to an American company, Brioschi Pharmaceuticals, LLC.  Last I saw, it was still being produced.  However, one bottle is being sold online for $44-$199, so I’m thinking maybe the company is not selling it anymore.  And the company website is offline and the Twitter hasn’t been updated in a year.  I really hope they can continue to sell Brioschi because not only is it a product of nostalgia, it is also the most effective antacid my family has ever used.