Don’t have a cappuccino after 11 a.m., don’t eat while you walk, and whatever you do, do not eat the pizza crust first. Katherine Wilson ’96 learned these unspoken rules of Italian dining after shipping off to Italy in the summer of 1996 for an internship at the U.S. Consulate in Naples. “Naples is like New York City: You either love it or you hate it,” she writes in Only In Naples: Lessons In Food and Famiglia From My Italian Mother-In-Law. Wilson loved it: Twenty years later, she’s still living in Italy with her Neapolitan husband, Salvatore, and their two children.
“Every time I come back to the United States, my body tells me that I belong in Italy,” she tells PAW. “My craving for it includes all of the senses: My eyes crave the beauty of the churches, my ears the loud cacophony of the conversations, and my stomach ... well, you can imagine.”
In Only In Naples, published in April, Wilson describes the importance in Italian culture of food and “celebrating one’s appetite” — and how this differs from what she had learned about food in the United States, where her mother put her on a diet at age 5. By her mid-teens, Wilson had an eating disorder. “The definition of beautiful for my mother, a naturally curvy Italian-looking woman, did not leave any room at the seams. Beautiful meant skinny,” she writes.
Salvatore’s mother, Raffaella, felt differently. A born-and-raised Neapolitan who welcomed Wilson with open arms to her small kitchen, Raffaella helped Wilson navigate life in Naples, where families value preparing and eating food together and enjoying it at their own pace. “We’re hard-wired to live in tribes and to share nourishment — I think a lot of Americans have forgotten about that,” Wilson says.
In her book, Wilson elaborates on the importance of tradition and ritual and how they are crucial to forming one’s identity, such as her annual Easter Monday lunch trip out of Naples with Salvatore’s family. She plans to bring her family to Princeton for her 25th reunion in five years. “My 11-year-old son seemed enthusiastic when I told him [about Reunions], but he had one question,” Wilson says. “Italian to the core, he said, ‘Sounds great, Mommy. What are the typical dishes that they serve?’”