Welcome to the first article in the newest Trilogy Life Magazine series, The Sweet Life, Italian Style, through which Sharon Ciarla Olsen, Member of Trilogy at Redmond Ridge and granddaughter of Italian immigrants, will be sharing her love of all things Italian – food, wine, traditions, and so much more. Benvenuto alla dolce vita!


Those of us who have had the privilege of traveling to Italy must agree that the country is unbelievable.

It is as if one travels back in time.

For me it was like “going home.”

Before I set off on my journey to my family’s country of origin, a friend of mine, who is a member of Trilogy at Redmond Ridge’s Italian Interest Group, said to me, “Sharon, when you get to Italy you will feel as if you are now home.” No words could have been truer.

Seattle’s Quilt of Cultures
I never dreamed as a child growing up in Seattle that my heritage would be so important to me.  This city continues to have many immigrants from Asia, Italy, Ukraine, and many other countries; they visit and then decide to stay and set down roots.  These people add to the exquisite quilt of cultures that covers our city.

My family had first journeyed from Italy to Canada, where they visited their families who had come to America before them, then went on to Ellis Island to immigrate to the United States.  They travelled west and didn’t stop until they reached the area of Seattle once known as “Garlic Gulch,” which no longer exists. This was where my family initially planted their roots before homesteading in a small town one hour by boat from the shores of Seattle.

Pike Place Market, often called the “Soul of Seattle,” is known throughout the world as America’s premier farmers’ market.  Today it is a top tourist spot, attracting an average of ten million visitors each year.  In the early 1900’s, when it first opened, it was a place where local farmers and craftspeople – among them many immigrant families – would bring their goods to sell directly to the citizens of Seattle.  My Great Grandmother raised chickens, cows, and other farm animals to make dairy products. Once a week she packed up her cheeses, milk, and butter, boarded a ferry, and delivered her goods to the Market, as many immigrants did at that time.

My trek to the market began when I was seven years old. I would grab the hand of one of my aunts or grandmother, get on the bus, and travel to the market. When one is that young, the world can be a scary place, especially when surrounded by languages you don’t recognize. But, once we went down the stairs and arrived at the Italian store, I felt safe.  The smell of cheeses, salami, and freshly baked breads filled my nose with memories that would last a lifetime.

This is my culture and I’m sticking with it!

Italian Celebrations at Home and Abroad
If you have ever had the opportunity to attend an Italian wedding or celebration, then you understand how magnetic the culture is.  No matter what time of year it is, whether for a family party, or community-wide gathering, or a festive holiday, we always find a reason to celebrate.

In just a few weeks, it will be a joyous time in Italy as Carnevale is celebrated. This celebration is very much like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It takes place 40 days before Easter, as a final party before Ash Wednesday and the restrictions of Lent.  This celebration consists of parties, food, parades, masquerade balls, entertainment, and good-natured pranks.  If you walk the streets of Venice at any time of the year you will spot beautiful masks in stores, as well as some panhandlers wearing costumes and masks depicting Carnevale.

Last year was the first year in which the Italian Interest Group of Trilogy at Redmond Ridge celebrated Carnavale, in combination with Mardi Gras.  We will be honoring both Carnavale and our Charter members in February at our meeting.

Each year in September, there is an Italian celebration that takes place in Seattle called Festa Italiana.  During this two-day event, one can sample Italian food and wine, join the grape stomping, view many of the Italian cars, sing, play Bocce Ball, and observe photos of families who migrated to Seattle in the early 1900’s.  This is a vibrant gathering of those of us who are of Italian descent – and of many others who simply want to celebrate the culture.  If you find yourself in the Seattle area in September, stop by to experience this exciting celebration of our Italian heritage!  (Learn more at www.festaseattle.com.)

This past Christmas season, I was attending a gathering of an Italian Club to which I belong.  From outside the doors of the church at which the party was held, I could hear singing.  As I walked in, I saw my “Pisanos” standing around the piano player singing carols.  Some of the elders were humming to themselves, smiling with their eyes closed – just enjoying the moment.

Pasta, salad, and desserts were served.  The aroma from the kitchen could have knocked the socks off of those walking by.

Next came bingo.  I hadn’t played bingo since I was a kid.  Since when do people talk and talk while playing bingo, I wondered. One has to concentrate on the numbers!  After thinking about it for a moment, I remembered that I was among my Italian friends, and that is what we enjoy doing the most – talking!

Thinking back to my childhood as the granddaughter of Italian immigrants, and reflecting on the Italian traditions that I keep alive today through celebrations with friends and family, I am proud to say that my Italian heritage has always been and always will be an important part of who I am.

“Enjoy the sweet life!”