Education Matters: Italians, Americans and plumbing problems

Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.

At the approach of our 40th wedding anniversary, my wife and I decided a few years back to celebrate our time together by traveling to Italy, which is where we have been for the past 20 days.

A hundred years ago, her grandparents uprooted themselves from a small village in northern Italy and made their long journey to a foreign land that offered a better life than the one they had in the old country.

One of our hopes in the last few weeks was to make contact with a distant relative — a Maga or a Buscaglia — in that small village, but we were unsuccessful. But we did return to Florence, where 41 years ago I proposed to Nadine in a certain little café overlooking the Arno river. She had been touring with an art history group and I was doing the youth hostel thing with my buddy Sam. We (Nadine and I) managed to rendezvous in this magnificent city and I whisked her away for an afternoon.

Still very much in love with each other and still captivated with the beauty of this country, we retraced some old steps and added a trove of new memories. It was a fabulous vacation, but we’re also glad to be home.

I jotted down a few impressions of our visit, all of course cursory for this relatively short time we spent, but interesting nevertheless from the perspective of one who is alternately fascinated and perplexed by differences that exist in this human family of ours.

Italians, for instance, take food far more seriously than we Americans do — or, should I say, than this American does. Their dinners begin much later in the evening (anywhere from 7 to 9 p.m.), they often involve three or four courses and families that linger longer after they have eaten, whether at home or in a restaurant.

That’s something that we here in this country can learn from, many of us eating on the run or going off into our household sanctums to eat while we sit at our computers. Italians do not consider a quick drive-through at McDonald’s or Burger King to be a meal. Our fast-food franchises have made inroads into their country, but are far from being a mainstay of eating habits as they have become in our country.

On a related note, I did not see one piece of Styrofoam in Italy. Meals come mostly from frying pans and boiling pots straight to bowls and dishes, with less need, or should I say convenience, than we find to wrap them in disposable (and ultimately toxic) material.

Italians walk more than we Americans do, which I think may be true for most other countries on the planet, and consequently obesity is not the problem over there that it is over here. In the big cities, the small towns and tiny villages we visited, we saw people out and about at all hours of the day, walking in public squares and along avenues with families, friends and lovers all together strolling in the places where they work and where they live.

Quite a contrast to oversized Americans in their oversized vehicles cuing up to drive-up windows serving up fatty foods that make our national waistline, on average, the largest in the world.

I meant to finish this off with a brief discussion of driving in Italy, but a deadline looms and I’ve suddenly been hit with a major plumbing emergency in my old house. Roots from very large trees have invaded very old pipes and a leak in the main line greeted me upon our return home from vacation.

I’ll end this now by wishing my favorite traveling companion, my beautiful wife, a happy anniversary and wishing us both many more journeys together in the years ahead.

And now if I can just find a good plumber.

DAN KIMBER taught in the Glendale Unified School District for more than 30 years. He may be reached at

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