Down the YouTube rabbit hole: Italians eating Domino’s Pizza, fast European trains, and a chatty Roman chef on the roof

We’ve been in New York for a couple of months, and the Omicron Covid-19 variant (plus crappy weather) is keeping us indoors most of the time. So to amuse myself I grab my iPad or the big flatscreen when it’s free and plunge into that upside down world known as YouTube.

Unlike most normal people I know, I don’t have a day job. I’m old, for one thing, and the pandemic killed most of the freelance gigs I had. And I should confess that I didn’t go crazy finding another one because I have lots of personal business to take care of. Today, in fact, is the fifth anniversary of the last day I was gainfully employed. I stayed home that day because of a cold, and my dull, kind of idiotic market-speaking “boss” (sorry, no one’s the boss of me….) called to tell me that my dull, kind of idiotic job had been eliminated, along with those of more than 20 of my colleagues.

So, YouTube. Let me tell you, living in a New York outer borough during an infection spike is pretty dull. This is not the New York of Breakfast at Tiffany’s or Sex and the City or any other fantasy you might have about the place. So I bang around looking for fun videos in the absence of real life. One of my favorite genres lately is that of Italians dissing something in the United States. They often go after an easy target: American food, or at least American interpretations of Italian food. Sometimes they offer to show viewers how to do it properly. Often, they don’t and choose mainly to make faces or utter curses that don’t show up in the subtitles.

A terrific example of the former is a married couple that call their channel Pasta Grammar. Harper and Eva have gone from decently shot home videos to more professional stuff (Harper is a videographer, so he knows what he’s doing.) Harper, as you might guess, is an American guy who’s partial to chicken and fitness drinks. Eva (who pronounces her husband’s name as “Are-pair”) is a former Italian language teacher who hails from the southern Italian region of Calabria. Harper’s clean cut; Eva has a mass of black curls and an impish smile.

The two do a good comedy act, taking turns as comic and straight guy. Early videos show Harper pranking poor Eva by getting her to eat a Domino’s pizza, or taste jarred tomato sauces and similar horrors. There is nothing like an Italian person’s look of sheer revulsion at the dog food he or she is being made to taste, and Eva acquits herself nicely. She’s also a good cook, and interspersed with the jokey videos are those showing her cooking delicious stuff.

They’ve gotten family into the act, too. Harper’s dad is Max Alexander and he lives in Rome, where he’s been on the Italian TV series MasterChef Italia. They took Max down to Calabria to cook with a local character, who put an apron on the jacket and tie-wearing Max and showed him how to prepare beans in a fireplace. It doesn’t help that the fish out of water Max barely understood the woman, who speaks in a mixture of Calabrese dialect and Italian.

I like what Eva and Harper do. They’ve managed to parlay their relationship into what looks like a growing business. They do food tours of Calabria and Sicily now, as Covid restrictions eased (last year, anyway, before this damn surge.) And they’ve got actual sponsors for their videos. Go binge watch them; their rapport is fun to see.

Another, more recently married couple occupies some of the same space. Carlo and Sarah are both very videogenic (is that a real word, Judy?), and Sarah’s pranking of Carlo can be pretty funny. He’s got a variety of puzzled faces, and occasionally he gives it back. In one video, he teaches Sarah curses but backpedals the English translations. There’s a bit less of an emphasis on cooking, although Carlo of late has been stepping up to the stove teach Italian dishes like spaghetti carbonara and the like.

Sarah never can resist pranking Carlo, whose reactions are usually funny to watch.

Did I mention a querulous Roman? Meet Max Mariola, chef and culinary consultant. He’s got a thriving YouTube channel, and most of his videos are done on the roof of his building in Rome. His setup is pretty serious and probably rivals the kitchen in your house. Plus, you know, Rome. There’s no pranking here, just good recipes for everything from spaghetti with clams to hummus. He doeos the classics, but even better, he’s inventive, putting dishes together like fettuccine with salmon, avocados, and lime (in 10 minutes, he boasts). Unfortunately, some if not most of his videos are not subtitled in English, and if your Italian is basic or nonexistent you’ll probably have trouble following his rapid-fire Roman-accented banter. Even if you’re fluent you might find it a bit much, but he’s a serious cook and I’m learning a lot by watching him.

I did promise fast European trains in the headline. Italy may be romantically thought of as the country of golden sunsets, Chianti, and fashion. But it’s also a modern country linked by fast trains, with one of the best networks in Europe. YouTubers are fond of both the public Trenitalia Frecciarossa and the private Italo trains, with the former recently having started a Paris-Milan run. Here’s the rundown, below. I can’t wait until I feel comfortable enough to be zipping around on these again. Happy New Year!

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