Double-take: Italy, Texas

From the “double-take” department…

Given my chronic case of Italophilia, “my new life Texana,” and my philological (and toponomastic) leanings, it was inevitable that sooner or later I would have to investigate and address the origins of the toponym Italy, Texas (the “two boots” of Italy and Texas, left, reside side-by-side on a shop-window on main street, right next to the Uptown Café in Italy, Texas). Tracie B and I stopped there yesterday on our way back from Dallas (where our dear friend Alfonso hosted us for dinner and opened a few truly unforgettable bottles — but you’ll have to wait for Tracie B’s post for more detail). Italy lies about 40 minutes south of Dallas along I-35 (which leads south from Dallas to Waco, Waco to Austin).

In his lectures and essays on memory, the contemporary Italian philosopher Remo Bodei loves to cite another noted homonymous place name in Texas — Paris, Texas, celebrated in film by the great director Wim Wenders. Why, he asks in his lecture “The Traumas of Memory,” have European emigrants named their settlements in the New World after their place of origin? “To create a transitional object? A soft landing in the flight from the known to the unknown? I believe that something analogous happens even in traumas connected to loss. In effect, monuments and burial rituals are carried out to remember and forget simultaneously. When objectified, pain hurts less.”

Above: The water tower in Italy, Texas.

As it turns out, Italy — locally pronounced IT-lee — was not named after its settlers’s country of origin but rather — at least, according to local legend — by a late-nineteenth-century post master who believed the climate of Texas was similar to Italy’s.

Above: The picturesque main street of Italy, Texas has remained virtually unchanged since the 1930s.

One of the reasons we wanted to stop there was to eat at the Uptown Café, an eatery called one of the “best small town Texas cafés” by Texas Monthly Magazine. But when we got there the proprietor, a very nice lady, told us “Ever’ Tom, Dick, and Harry dun’ came in here and ate everythang.” So we ended up eating at the Texas Best Smokehouse, the flagship restaurant and novelty store of a small, locally owned chain. They smoke their own jerky there (for all of their locations, I was told) and they also make pistachio pudding. The Texas Best Smokehouse is located on Dale Evans Dr., in turn named after one of Italy’s most famous daughters.

Above: I couldn’t resist the pistachio pudding, which is made — I believe — with Cool Whip, Jello mix, and pistachios. Metabolically, it was probably a bad decision, as was the bbq sausage sandwich. But, what the hay? You only live twice, right?

Double-meanings, paronomasia, puns, and — in this case — a homonymous place name, are the source of endless fascination for me. (One of these days, I’ll do a post on the origins of the place name California. I know of at least two towns in Italy named California.)

The other day, Franco sent a wonderful photo, snapped in the Alps, of the Italian and Texan flags flying together. As it turns out, there’s a little bit of Italy in Texas, too.