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Thanksgiving In Italy

November 25, 2022

This week’s post is a true tale from Italy.

Living in Italy, let’s start with the obvious: The Thanksgiving holiday is not celebrated here. Only a very few of the local populace is even aware of the American holiday and they know very little of it.

For years, we insisted on celebrating Thanksgiving American style in our tiny village of Tret, located high in the Italian Alps. The first super big challenge was to obtain a whole turkey. Upon trying to consummate such a purchase, I was often asked, “Why not just buy turkey slices?” I demurred and insisted on the whole beast. That is quite a feat hereabouts but I was persistent. Fette weren’t going to do the trick!

First we tried purchasing a turkey at a local U.S. Army PX. That didn’t go well. It seems that the friend of a friend’s girlfriend could shop at the PX because she was dating a U.S. soldier. I thought that I, an American citizen, could certainly do the same. I called the base in Vincenza just to be sure. The answer to my turkey query was abrupt: “No sir, sir.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I asked again and received the same answer followed by, “Sorry, sir.”

We opted for getting the friend of a friend’s girlfriend to buy a Butterball on base and smuggle it to us some 100 miles away. We really wanted the damned bird! All went well and we celebrated Thanksgiving with an American friend, a Canadian friend and a Tirolean couple who had heard of the turkey rumor but had not yet experienced it.

When the next Thanksgiving rolled around, I tried in vain to repeat the previous year’s process. It seems the gal had broken up with her soldier boyfriend so we were screwed. I used my American ingenuity to no avail and finally made my way to our local butcher, who is also my cousin. I explained our predicament. He asked the familiar question: Why not slices of turkey?” I explained that we must have a “tachino entero.” He agreed and said he would order one as I requested, between 5 and 7 kilos. After explaining the whole turkey thing in detail, I left his shop pleased and we waited.

The day before Thanksgiving, I went to pick-up my turkey. My cousin plopped down on the counter a bird the size of an ostrich. Jesus, it weighed 39 pounds and was much too big for our tiny Tirolean oven. Apparently my cousin thought I said quindici a diciassette chili.  After complaining, he said it would not be a problem for him to return the bird and secure a smaller one but that it would take three days. This became a major dilemma as we were not going to do Thanksgiving on the weekend. Then he repeated the familiar question, “Why not turkey slices?” I chocked the scream down.

I thought a bit and calmly explained that a three-day wait would put us beyond our humble holiday. I scratched my head. “You have a band saw here don’t you?” I queried. I then instructed my cousin to cut the damned bird in half. I would take the part with the drumsticks but what to do about that gaping cavity?  I asked for a bit of extra skin and I sewed it in place like a bass drum after the bird was stuffed. Mission accomplished? No, not really.

It seemed that even half the bird was a bit too large for our small oven. My wife and her Canadian friend jockeyed the bird around a bit and finally got it to fit somewhat diagonally. Whew! The whole dinner came off without a hitch, well except for the Pilgrim story.

Ah yes, the Pilgrim story was mine as host to deliver to our Tirolean and Italian friends. They needed a rationale for the whole turkey that sat awkwardly before them. I launched into the tale with vigor, much like Chaucer might have with his Miller’s Tale (No, I did not wear a green coat for the occasion). I covered every detail of the first Thanksgiving and I was quite pleased with myself after I delivered my 20 minute tome in Italian and German.  There was a long awkward silence. Then came the inevitable question: “Why don’t you just use turkey slices?” My scream could be heard all the way to Austria.

PS – We now reside in the U.S. during Thanksgiving and I have relegated the Pilgrim story to a dear friend. Good luck with that David!

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