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Folks From Far Away...Who Weren't Foreign At All

http://ozarkspub.vo.llnwd.net/o37/KSMU/audio/mp3/folksfromf_7867.mp3

In this segment, Marideth hopped across the pond to Italy, where she discovered that the people of the countryside were not really that "foreign" at all.

This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills.

Well, I went to Italy with this movie I'm in, and am now back safely on home ground. But I learned a lot on this trip. For instance, on one of our many long walks down Italian streets, my friend Jonathan Scheuer and I got to talking about the feeling that eventually grabs you by the throat while traveling in far away places. You know the one, when you look around you and everything feels absolutely alien, and you realize you are very, very far from home. It sneaks up without warning, when you're doing something ordinary -- like looking for soap. Where does one go in Italy for soap?

Now I admit, I wanted something specific. I wanted Olive Oil soap, because they make it there. It took most of the week to find it. At the mall. Now, nobody told us about a mall, and in a city built entirely before 1800, you really don't expect one. I'd been trying the little street-corner markets, when I could find one, and when it was open. That's when I learned that stores, and virtually the whole country, closes for lunch. They like their lunch. Restaurants who serve it, on the other hand, close after lunch and stay closed until dinner. So what do you do in between? Well, in between. you're left with tiny cafes serving coffee and pastries, or odd combinations like Italian and Japanese. I have a vivid memory of one bleak afternoon in such a place where I washed down some dreadful version of lasagna with bad beer, sitting at a narrow counter, staring at a countertop display of odd little joints of, I think, squid. That turned out to be the trip's low point for me.

Jonathan got his jolt somewhere else on the street. But jolted we were. And it set me to thinking about how comfortable I get in familiar surroundings. Heck, theoretically, all I had to do to find something familiar here was to go to another screening of Winter's Bone. You wanta talk "These Ozarks Hills," this film is full of them.

But I persevered, and finally found my soap, at this wonderfully recycled former Fiat factory, with stores built around a giant spiral like in some parking garage, where once test drivers would drive the brand new little machines round and round, up to the roof, where they had a track where they could test the cars at high speeds.

Really. I would guess that whoever made up the joke where, In Hell, the engineers are Italian, never saw this place.Oddly enough, after having knocked around for about a week and running into all manner of things foreign, I got another jolt of realization when returning to a restaurant where I had eaten a couple times before, but this time with a translator who could tell me what I'd been eating. Further, once we had access to an Italian-speaking intermediary, we discovered that the family who owned the restaurant wanted to know about us, as well.

They'd seen our festival passes dangling from our necks, and wanted to know what movie we were in, and what we did. When we mentioned Winter's Bone, they were thrilled, because it had been written up in the local papers that (Sunday) morning after our big win the night before, when we took four prizes.

But with these folks, it wasn't the celebrity thing. they knew we weren't international stars. But we had come to their town from very far away, and they wanted to take this opportunity, now that we could talk to one another, to make us feel at home. I was already headed that way, having taken the train down to the town of Alba the day before, and finally gotten out of the overwhelmingly stone city and into the countryside. It had snowed just a little, and the countryside was very stark and cold. But behind every villa, every shack and every suburban apartment complex, there was not only a garden, but a little homemade hoop house for a greenhouse, just like mine. It made me understand that language barriers aside, we're all just folks. We have our Ozarks Hills; they have their Alps.!?! Anyway, I was tickled that the very next day at this little Trattoria (which means country-style cafe) I got to find out what our far away neighbors have for Sunday dinner.

They brought out the wine from their own little vineyard, served with homemade ravioli filled with roast beef and with the juices from the roast as a dressing, a lovely antipasto of grilled eggplant and tomatoes and artichokes, and finished with a pear and chocolate tart. A far cry from chicken and dumplings, but just as homey. I gave them a CD of the movie soundtrack, and they sent us off with a bottle of homemade sparkling wine. Sometimes I worry about this old world of ours, and the sorry state of human affairs, some of them in far away places, some very close to home.

But now, and for the rest of my years, I will have this sweet picture of people in far away places who are not foreign at all, but who have the same love of their Italian hills as we have of our own. It's a good way to start another year.

This is Marideth Sisco wishing you a wonderful start to your brand new year in These Ozarks Hills.