Italia or bust…

We’re off on the road to Viterbo~

“Pronto.” Nonna answered the phone this morning when I called the house in Viterbo.

Italians do not say “Hello” or “Good Morning” when they answer the phone—they say “Pronto.” It literally translates as “ready.” Hmmm, that doesn’t seem quite right, but that is how the phone is answered. “Pronto” is only used when answering the phone and never as a written greeting or face-to-face encounter.

The rest of my phone call with her went exactly as it always does when I call. Here is an excerpt (**) from my manuscript (“Beyond the Pasta: 28 Days of Recipes, Language, and Life with an Italian Family”) describing how the conversation goes without fail:

**  “Ciao Nonna. Io Marco in America. Come stai?”

“Marco, ciao, ciao, ciao!! Sono bene, grazie. E tu?”

“Io bene. Bene, bene.”

“Alessandra, Marco è al telefono! Marco è al telefono!!”

Instantly, I am right there with Nonna—she is holding the receiver of the green house phone, sitting in the chair next to the telephone table under the shelving filled with liquor bottles, and shouting upstairs for Alessandra to come down. In the distance, Alessandra is repeatedly yelling, “Marco, Marco” as I hear the second story door open and her shoes clicking down the tiled staircase. Tequilla and Brighitta [the family’s dogs] are never far behind her and at some point, while she descends, they start barking. It is a cacophony of sounds—Alessandra and Nonna taking turns yelling “MARCO, MARCO,” while the dogs howl, growl, and bark until Alessandra arrives, breathless and panting, at the phone.

Ciao, ciao… ciao… ciao, ciao, Marco!”

I almost weep every time I call because the love coming back at me through the phone is so tangible. **

I wanted to make sure that they were going to be home when Richard and I are in Viterbo—and they are going to be home. To my great delight, Alessandra has invited us to stay with them, since she does not have a student. Besides seeing the family, I need to go back to Viterbo to take a couple of photos for the book. Also, I am going to take video of us with the family to post on the blog when we return. Now that we are going to be staying with them, I hope I can get some video of Nonna and I cooking together. Let’s hope it turns out.

Viterbo wasn’t the only place I called this morning. I made reservations at two restaurants in Rome we have eaten at before (check out the Roman restaurants listed in the Oct 21 entry) and at one new restaurant ( that was recommended to us by an Italian woman who was working at Richard’s photo shoot as the assistant to the photographer. I went up and crashed the shoot for dinner on Wednesday night, and it was a great opportunity to brush up my Italian before we leave this Friday. She was impressed that I knew as much as I do, considering I have really only had one month of lessons—4 years ago. I really think she was just being kind and supportive, as most Italians are when you attempt to speak their language.

Susan Ferrier was the interior designer of the home and her work was truly inspired and beautiful. (

Christopher Baker was the photographer at the shoot and he also recommended a couple of restaurants in Rome and gave some insightful tips into Venice. I am looking forward to seeing how those pan out—and then I’ll pass them along. Over dinner we discussed my book and he had some great pointers about the process of getting published. He has worked on over 13 books and one of his many projects, in particular, sounded really interesting. He traveled to Holland and spent months photographing and interviewing some of the world’s leading authorities on tulips. His book about that journey sounded incredible and I truly want to check it out.(

It is amazing how Richard and I ran into people in the middle of the Alabama countryside who were passionate about recommending restaurants and travel tips in Italia. We always seem to have people like that drop into our lives—people who have experienced a thing that Richard and I are about to go do. 

While we are in Italy, I am going to try to continue to post on this blog—hopefully, including photos, too. I guess we’ll see how well this blogsite’s formatting works via e-mail and cell phone from Italy.

My next post should be from Italy!

Ciao e a presto~


(**the photo is of the official crest of the city of Viterbo from above the entrance into City Hall—the lion and the palm symbolize Viterbo. )

About the Author

Mark LeslieMark Leslie, seen cooking on NBC’s "The Today Show" and Hallmark Channel's "Home & Family," loves to cook for anyone with an appetite, vacations in Italy every year, and lives to eat his way through every plate of pasta and cone of gelato placed before him. His first book, “Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family,” tells of his life in Italy while cooking with an Italian grandmother. He shares his food experiences on his blog at and has taught cooking classes in California, Georgia, Minnesota, Texas, and across Alabama. While judging for high school culinary events, he was chosen by the US Department of Education to judge for their "National Education Startup Challenge." Mark can be regularly seen cooking on NBC-affiliate, WSFA-TV 12's "Alabama Live! each Friday, bringing easy, locally sourced recipes to central Alabama. His iTunes app “Beyond the Pasta” features helpful videos and more of Nonna’s family-style recipes that she shared with him, plus, upon its release, it was named “New & Noteworthy” by Apple. DaVinci Wines chose Mark as their "2012 Storyteller" in Language Arts—where they sent him to Vinci, Italy, to write about wine, food and life. Mark, his home and book have been featured in such national publications and blogs as House Beautiful, Paula Deen, Food Republic, The Kitchn, Apartment Therapy, Field & Stream, and The Daily Meal. A Chicago-area native and “Yankee” by birth, Mark has lived in Alabama for over 24 years, and celebrates the fact that he started life eating farina, progressed to grits, and finally arrived at polenta. Buonissimo!View all posts by Mark Leslie →

  1. Rafael Luiz ZandoanadiRafael Luiz Zandoanadi06-06-2010

    encotrar algum parente na italia

  2. Mark LeslieMark Leslie06-07-2010

    Maravilhoso! Onde?

"Beyond the Pasta" is owned and operated by Mark Leslie. Unless otherwise specified all content, writing, recipes and photography is original and held in copyright through the Library of Congress. It may not be used without the express written consent of Mark Leslie.