Tag Archives: Italy

My ancestry

For Christmas a few years ago, Al got me a 23andMe genetic testing kit. I let it languish on the shelf until this past Christmas when I was back in San Francisco, when I finally got up the nerve to spit into a container and send it in to their lab. I had been avoiding it because I had convinced myself that the results would state clearly that I was a genetic ticking timebomb and then I’d never be able to unsee all the weird diseases I was no doubt carrying. (Some say that I have a bit of a tendency toward hypochondria, but let me go check WebMD). Several months later, I finally got the results of my genetic testing, which have been absolutely fascinating.

In case you’re not familiar, 23andMe is a company that does personal DNA mapping. For about $100, you can have all 23 of your chromosomes mapped and receive a wealth of information about your ancestry and your health (traits, risks, and so on). However, recently the FDA passed a totally BS ruling that prevents 23andMe from distributing health reports to its customers, so if you buy a kit now, you won’t receive detailed health reports, only ancestry information. The FDA decision didn’t apply to me since Al had gotten me the kit before the decision came down, so I got both detailed health reports and information about my ancestry.

While the health stuff was interesting for me (and a big relief, since I’m not a carrier for any of the horrifying genetic disorders they test for, despite my fatalistic attitude), the ancestry information was much more surprising. Here are some of the most jaw-dropping things I’ve learned about my genes.

ancestry

1. I’m 5.8% East Asian/Native American. Within that breakdown, 4.1% is Native American, and 1.7% is “nonspecific East Asian and Native American.” The Native American bit is actually Native Mexican, since my grandfather was Mexican-American. However, while I knew intellectually that Pop had Aztec blood, I didn’t realize how much; according to these numbers, a quarter of his genes must have been ethnically indigenous. Wow!

My great-aunt, Mary Rivero, 1915. This photo probably should have been my first clue that I had some Native American ancestry.

My great-aunt, Mary Rivero, 1915. This photo probably should have been my first clue that I had some Native American ancestry.

It’s funny; I feel like every American wants to be part Native American (there was a great Happy Endings episode about this where Dave discovers he’s 1/16 Navajo and starts wearing a fringed jacket out of respect). But personally, I think it’s pretty badass to be part Aztec. My people were ripping still-beating hearts out of chests before it was cool. Also, they built huge temples and invented face knives, so, you know, that’s pretty sweet.

2. I’m .3% Sub-Saharan African, .2% of which is specifically West-African. This is a real head-scratcher. My dad, my husband, and I all came up with theories about where this Sub-Saharan ancestry is coming from, but we actually have NO idea, given what we know about my family history. To my knowledge, there weren’t a lot of Sub-Saharan Africans hanging around in Ireland, Mexico, or Italy, the places where my genes most recently hail from. For a second, we thought maybe it had to do with the Moors conquering Spain and then the Spanish going on to Mexico, but the genetic report is pretty clear that I have no North African or Middle Eastern ancestry, so that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Now, obviously, I want both of my parents to map their genes so we can see whether the African blood is coming from my dad or my mom’s side. Given my parents’ respective melanin content, I’m gonna take a wild stab and guess it’s coming from my mom’s side, but one never knows.

My mom IS super tan.

My mom IS super tan.

3. I’m 87.6% European, 40.7% of which is Northern European, 12.1% is Southern European, and 34.9% of which is “nonspecific European.” The European piece of my ancestry isn’t that surprising (especially considering that I have two European-born grandparents) but the more specific breakdown of the ancestry is kind of interesting, because even though my dad’s mom is from Abruzzo, Italy, only 2.5% of my genes are Italian. I guess this means that my Italian grandmother wasn’t purely ethnically Italian, which makes sense given Italy’s history and demographics. Guess I can stop taking credit for all of those Roman aqueducts now.

4. I’m 2.9% Neanderthal. And yes, that’s on the high end (80th percentile, to be exact). My husband is gleeful about the fact that I am, as he puts it, “2.9% beast,” but I find it a bit unsettling. According to 23andMe, “traces of [Neanderthal] DNA — between 1 percent and 4 percent — are found in all modern humans outside of Africa.” At least I’m not 4% Neanderthal. I told my husband that, given my ethnic background and now this Neanderthal business, I could have fared MUCH worse in the body hair department. And I have no noticeable brow ridge!

So, this has all been very interesting for me. Have you done DNA testing or genetic mapping? Did you find out anything cool?

 

Rome

And now for the final post on our Italy trip.  After the Amalfi coast, the next stop on our adventure was Rome.  The last time I was in Rome, I was in ninth grade and spent most of my time there eating gelato, buying crap, and not appreciating being in Rome.  I mean, I appreciated it as best I could for being fifteen, but I think seeing Rome as an adult is a different, richer experience, mostly because I’m less of an idiot now.  But I still like gelato.

Also making this trip better than my previous trip to Italy was the fact that I wasn’t stuck eating terrible meals at crappy restaurants pre-selected by a tour company.  Hooray!  In fact, my family took eating in Rome very seriously, and we had some truly memorable meals.  Probably the best meal we had was at Taverna Trilussa, where we all shared a fantastic cheese plate and then several sumptuous pasta dishes served in the metal pans they were cooked in, followed by a few lovely (but unnecessary) meat dishes.  We also had great meals at Osteria della Gensola (seafood pasta and a great bottle of Pinot Blanc), Dar Poeta (pizza), and various other little eateries around the city.  We consumed a frightening amount of fresh mozzarella cheese, red wine, and cappuccini (<– I speak Italian now).

The only thing that dampened my enjoyment of our trip to Rome was the fact that I was suffering from a number of ailments, including a sore throat, cough, headache, and stomachaches.  But I powered through and self-medicated with plenty of pasta and red wine.  One week and four pounds later, I’m still kinda sick, so I guess that didn’t totally work, but man, it tasted good.

We weren’t overly ambitious sight-seers in Rome, partly because I was ill, and also because we wanted to make time for our real priorities: food and shopping.  However, we did take half a day and go to the Vatican.

No wrestling singlets or 1920s bathing costumes allowed inside the Vatican.

No wrestling singlets or 1920s bathing costumes allowed inside the Vatican.

We started out in St. Peter’s Basilica, which is just as impressive as one would expect it to be.  The light in there is breathtaking.  Seriously.

Holy light!

Holy light!

There were also some unexpected surprises, like a couple of mummified Popes.  Because why not?

Just a mummified Pope dressed like Santa, NBD

Just a mummified Pope dressed like Santa, NBD

We wandered around the Basilica and observed a fair amount of pushing and shoving in order to get closer to the creche to see the baby Jesus, which struck me as a *tad* ironic.  Then my mom got told off by a priest for stepping on the wooden step of a confessional booth while a procession of singers was passing through.  Well, you know what they say — you haven’t truly been to the Vatican until you’ve been yelled at by a clergy member!

After the Basilica, we wanted to see the Sistine Chapel.  Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that the Sistine Chapel, despite being directly next to the Basilica, is actually part of the Vatican Museums and thus requires something like three hours of standing in line to get in.  So, dumbly, we got into a long line for an attraction that we believed to be the Sistine Chapel, but actually was not.  Turns out, we were waiting in line for the Vatican Cupola, which requires climbing 550 steps to the top of the dome over the Basilica, which admittedly provides some nice views of Rome.   Oops.

View from the top

View from the top

I had read about “climbing the dome” in my guidebook, and I remember thinking, Who the hell would want to do that?  Again, oops.  My dad, who makes a habit of avoiding exercise of all shapes and forms, was not pleased. But he made it!  We also got some cool views of the Basilica from above, and saw some lovely mosaics.

St. Peter's from above

St. Peter’s from above

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Coming out of the Vatican, I got a kick out of the tacky religious articles shops, including this one that was selling a decidedly crazy-eyed baby Jesus.

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After browsing in one of the less tacky religious articles stores, we stopped in its attached cafe for some (terrible) mulled wine for me and Al and coffees for my parents.  At the table behind us, some French people were feeding a chihuahua at the table.  The waiter caught wind of this and was so disgusted that he yelled at them in Italian and then took the plate the dog had been eating off of and threw it dramatically into the trash, while muttering angrily under his breath.  (Hey, no one ever accused the Italians of being passive-aggressive.)  Alas, the French people were undaunted and seemed entirely unfazed by this display.

Another highlight of our trip was Al’s Italian haircut.  His hair was getting really shaggy and he wanted to get it cut, so we wandered down the street from our apartment and found a salon that looked promising.  The girl who cut his hair spoke no English but Al’s Italian is good enough that he managed to convey what he wanted, and he came out looking like a red-headed Italian model, which I approved of.

Before

Before

During

During

After

After – in our apartment building’s tiny elevator

The salon was also home to two tiny, barking chihuahuas, one of whom was named Ercoles.

Hercules (Ercoles)

Hercules (Ercoles)

Pretty cute.

All in all, despite my various illnesses, Rome was a huge success.  And I hope one of these days I get to go back and actually see the Sistine Chapel, rather than climbing a giant dome by mistake.  Anyway, here are a few other photos of the trip, just to end on a high note.

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Piazza Cafour

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(F)atto Vannucci

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Quasi-Romans

 

Sorrento and the Amalfi coast

As I mentioned a few days ago, Al and my parents and I went to Italy for Christmas this year.  It was a big trip for a couple of reasons: first, it was a belated (by one year) celebration of my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary (wowza!), it was the first time I’ve spent Christmas with my parents since 2008 (and the first ever Christmas together for the four of us), and it was a chance for my dad to see the Motherland (literally – his mother was from Italy).  So we were all very excited, and Italy did not disappoint.

We all flew into Rome and met in the Fiumicino airport on Christmas eve day.  Then we rented a teeny-weeny rental car, apparently the only automatic in the entire country, which was so small that my parents had to sit in the back with suitcases and shopping bags on their laps, and we wedged the rest of the luggage in the rearview window.  Not the safest or most comfortable trip we’ve ever taken, but what are you gonna do?  Stuffed into our Ford Fiesta like sardines, we made the three-hour drive to Sorrento, which is a city south of Naples on the Amalfi Coast, and is frickin’ adorable.  To wit:

Sorrento street

Sorrento street

Sorrento waterfront

Sorrento waterfront

Sorrento main piazza

Sorrento main piazza

Sorrento street with Christmas decorations

Sorrento street with Christmas decorations (a bit blurry, sorry)

We loved Sorrento and spent most of our time there consuming delicious food.  Here are some pictures from our Christmas lunch, which we ate at a lovely, garden-like restaurant called O’ Perucchiano:

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My mom and me at lunch

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Dad and Al

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The restaurant

My lunch – amazing

We also sampled pizza, plenty of cappuccinos (cappuccini), Italian cookies, and gelato from a shop that has been frequented by the Pope.  Who knew the Pope even liked gelato?

During our three days in the Sorrento area, we wanted to see a bit of the surrounding environs, so on our second day, we took a drive up the Amalfi coast to Positano, which was stunning.  My dad couldn’t enjoy the sights because he was carsick from the winding roads, so my mom and Al and I trooped down to the waterfront to eat lunch and look at the variety of beautiful cats that live down there, getting fat off pasta donations from tourists.

Positano, viewed from above

Positano, viewed from above

Positano

Positano

Gatto

Gatto

Lunch in Positano

Lunch in Positano

The next day, we took a boat to Capri, a beautiful island that I remember loving when I went there as a ninth-grader on a school trip.  Turns out I wasn’t misremembering – Capri is lovely. We checked out the Roman ruins, Villa Jovis, at the tip of the island, which was a bit of a hike, but worth it.

Capri

Capri

Capri port

Capri port

Villa Jovis, Roman ruins

Villa Jovis, Roman ruins

Skinny tree

Skinny tree

Boat to Capri

Boat to Capri

Capri

Capri hillside

All in all, we loved Sorrento and the Amalfi coast. I think winter is the perfect time to go, because the weather is still nice (50’s-60’s), it’s sunny, everything’s open, and there aren’t the hordes of tourists that you get in the summer.  Highly recommended.

Next post up: Rome!

2013

Happy new year to all my readers, friends, family, and people who clicked on this accidentally!

Well, guys, we made it. Here we are in 2013. The world didn’t end after all. Which means from here on out, I’m definitely going to take everything the ancient Mayans say with a huge grain of salt.   The whole heart-eating thing? I’m really reconsidering that now.

Anyway.  2012 was a big year for me. In chronological order, the following things happened in my life:

  1. I started a manuscript of a novel
  2. I got married
  3. I quit a terrible, no-good-for-me job
  4. I got typhoid fever (but recovered!)
  5. I moved to South Africa
  6. I finished a manuscript of a novel (huzzah!)
  7. I went to Italy with my parents and Al
  8. The world didn’t end

All in all, not bad.  I know 2012 was sort of a stinker of a year globally. Bad things happened to a lot of people: wars, hurricanes, unexpected celebrity divorces (I’m looking at you, Amy Poehler and Will Arnett), fiscal cliffs, and, most disturbingly, a decision by Kim Kardashian and Kanye West to reproduce. With each other.  God help us all.  But for me, overall, 2012 was great.

I got to go to Capri in 2012.

For example: I got to go to Capri in 2012.  Sigh!

The passage into the new year was rather anti-climactic for me this year.  I spent New Year’s Eve on an 11-hour Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Joburg.  At midnight the flight attendants handed out glasses of sparkling wine and the pilot counted down from ten in German. Which was fun!  And it’s the first New Year’s Day in recent memory where I haven’t woke up hungover, so I feel very adult and responsible.  Right now Al is making bread and later we’re going to get New Year’s “sundowners” at some fancy hotel nearby.  Aren’t we grown-up!

Anyway, instead of boring you with my many New Year’s resolutions, I’ll keep this short and wish everyone a happy, healthy, and non-apocalyptic 2013.  Feliz ano novo, amigos!

Buon Natale

We are spending Christmas in Italy this year with my parents and it’s been fantastic. We’ve been in Sorrento since Christmas eve and this is the first time I’ve had internet access, so please excuse the radio silence! Things will probably be quiet until we’re back in civilization (i.e., Africa) again, so for now, please allow me to placate you all with some pretty pictures of Sorrento.

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