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Wish You Were Here: A Taste of Italy in Chicago

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BY SARAH TEREZ-ROSENBLUM

So what if my Significant Other is in Italy? I can have a good time right where I am. Sure S.O. is drinking fantastic cheaper-than-soda wine, wandering through lemon groves, getting yelled at by nose-less beggars and walking the Spanish Steps. But my big-shouldered city can top all that.

Not only are those china-doll-tea-party-bottles of booze on sale at Jewel cheaper than a liter of soda, but this morning when I went to run the dishwasher, I spilled lemon-scented detergent all over the floor. Mmmm. Heavenly. Plus I barely have to leave the house to witness a homeless person urinating, and the steps at the Grand Red Line stop are hella steep.

Still, sometimes stuck in Chicago, I yearn for the true Italian experience, but even then, the Windy City delivers. Sure, I could visit the well-known little Italy neighborhood, but S.O. spent yesterday lost near Pompeii before relaxing on her balcony overlooking the Mediterranean. So in the spirit of competition, I mean adventure, I took myself out of my comfort zone too.

Technically, the Sicilian Bakery, family-owned since the 1950’s has a Chicago address (4632 N. Cumberland). But its practically in the suburbs, and what could be more uncomfortable for a confirmed city-dweller than that? Sandwiched between the Golden Brown Tanning Salon and The Great American Bagel, the storefront establishment grants a tiny patch of Italian culture amidst strip-mall disarray. Bursting with life even during lulls, the bakery is lined with pastry-filled glass cases and peppered with evidence of its Italian customer base.

“Piacere prendete un numero,” instructs a sign near the spinning ice cream cake display case, and stacks of Italian newspapers are available for purchase.

One of the highlights of S.O.’s Italian sojourn has been conversing in Italian, a language S.O. grew up speaking but had nearly forgotten. I grew up speaking English, and a sort of gibberish I invented to communicate with the neighbor’s dog, but I thought I’d try my tongue at Italian. Unfortunately the only phrase I know is “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?” which I’ve discovered is actually French. But I figured, When in the Near-Chicago Suburbs, right, and said it real loud after I ordered my eight-inch tomato, cheese, olive and artichoke Focaccia (available daily).

S.O says many Italians hate Americans because of rude, self-centered requests. With that in mind, even though it was Sunday and I’m 30, I ordered cannoli and tiramisu and asked for the senior discount available only on Wednesdays. My request wasn’t granted, but no one acted particularly hateful either, with the exception of an old woman who kept glaring at me, but that may have been because her husband patted my ass on the way in.

Back at my apartment, I relaxed on the porch eating cannoli and staring at the one-eyed squirrel who lives in the walls, but hangs out in our recycling bin. I’ve named him Mediterranean.

Photo: "View from the author's Chicago balcony" (By Patty Michels)

Sarah Terez Rosenblum (@SarahTerez) is an MFA-holding writer, teacher and Spinning instructor. She's also the Theater Listings Editor for Centerstage Chicago. Look for her posts twice a week.

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This page contains a single entry by Matt Wood published on September 14, 2010 11:10 AM.

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