Some American relatives invaded the island of Ischia last week, which meant we were eating more than our usual one ton of gelato per week. Usually, Baby Boy has a few licks of mine and is done for the night. But last week he had his own cup and devoured the whole thing, save some that he used for a facial. See photo above. Yes, he opted to eat the stuff with his hands, which attracted a crowd in Ischia Porto. A few folks (besides my relatives and me) actually snapped photos and took video of the little guy. A few of the old school Italian women were griping that I wasn’t cleaning him up fast enough and that there would be pesky stains on those shirts. You know about them and the laundry. Oy. But how could I deny him the joy of that gelato? The mess was part of the fun. And isn’t that what the sweet life is all about?
You gotta love the Italians. They are a bunch of characters. Now that everyone in the Homeland needs to have their android and smart phones surgically removed from their being, they are obsessed with checking on the forecast. It conveniently appears on everyone’s phones without anyone asking. Since we’re knee deep into July, which is the high season for tourism in Ischia, a small island off the coast of Naples, the folks here are desperate for sunny days. See, the tourists come here for the beaches and thermal spas. If it rains, they don’t show up. Since the window of opportunity to make money is small – limited to the warm summer months – this can be a real economic bummer.
So, whenever there are predictions of rain, especially if it calls for torrential downpours or lots of thunder and lightning, the natives start ranting about the weather people. This summer has been particularly rainy, so whenever I walk outside I see shopkeepers and cabana boys with their phones pointed toward the heavens asking God why he supports these “terroristi.” Yes, they are telling the Big Man upstairs that meteorologists are terrorists.
At first, I thought people were just exaggerating and venting their frustration. But then I started talking to some of my friends about this. These guys really believe there’s a conspiracy against Ischia and other tourist destinations. One way to keep the tourists away, they say, is to predict bad weather and put it on people’s phones, so they don’t come. It’s a way, they tell me, to keep Ischia’s economy in the dump. Who’s doing this? I’ve heard everyone from the mafia (that no longer exists or so people say) to the marketers over in nearby Capri to God himself.
Over the weekend, my friends in the street were furious for the forecasts of monsoon-like weather for the start of the week. “Terroristi,” they shouted. The only problem is that these terroristi were right. The last two days have seen rain, lightning, ocean waters meeting the street, and thunder that shook our house. I’m just waiting for the Ischitani to suggest these “terroristi” are hanging out in the sky, dumping down buckets of water and setting off bombs to simulate thunder. Yeah, right.
If I didn’t laugh at my situation as an American living in Italy, I would cry. Often. So, I choose to laugh. My sense of humor is often directed toward those strangers in the strada who like to give me parenting “advice.” Basically, they’re telling me that my Americanness makes me the worst parent in the world. Maybe they’re right. What do I know? In any event, I’ve boiled down Italian parenting to a few distinct rules, and I’ve shared those in the most recent Our Paesani, “The Italian Guide to Parenting,” column for ItaliansRus.
An Italian boy doing housework has to be one of the major signs of the apocalypse. Well, then, it’s the end of the world because my Italian boy is gonna do housework – and not just because he will have to take care of himself and, perhaps, help a wife in the future. He should also do housework – Italian mamma style – because it’s a real workout. These ladies do everything the old-fashioned way, which is a nice way of saying that they do it the hardest way possible.
When I’m here I make like the Romans, which means I wash the floors with a plain, ol’ mop (no Swiffers around here). I scrub and sometimes have to get on my hands and knees with a brush, which is something I always have to do when cleaning the bathroom showers, not to mention those toilets. I also have to lug giant buckets full of dripping wet clothes that have to be hung on the line outside to dry. Ironing, as I’ve mentioned, is a sport here, which means lots of steam, which means sweating and that back-and-forth motion of the arm trying to erase those wrinkles. Sometimes, you find yourself washing stuff by hand, which means more scrubbing. I may as well be bringing it out to a rock by the ocean, which, I understand, my nonna actually used to do in these here parts. Seriously.
Pushing the vacuum or broom is a part of every single day in every single room in your house. Add these chores to stirring the sauce for pasta and lifting babies, and you can see why these women have the arms of Wonder Woman and the legs of peasant stock. And they can still eat all the pasta they want. Heck, they have to eat it to keep up their energy. Yes, that is why I eat so much here in Italy. That’s it.
Italian mammas wake up in the morning thinking about what they’re going to feed their families (not to mention themselves), and they go to bed thinking the same thing. Food is on the brain pretty much all the time. Sometimes, recipes just call to you. When I am in Italy, I find myself constantly making American recipes to share with my Italian family and friends. This morning, I was all about making this here blueberry cobbler. There were blueberries in the fridge, and I noticed them before bed. I had visions of muffins or something that combined them with whipped cream at first. But by morning, I realized cobbler was all that would do. We won’t indulge until tonight. But if it tastes half as good as it looks, I won’t be disappointed. Oh, yeah…and the Italians might like it, too. And it was soooooo… easy to make with this Easy Batter Fruit Cobbler recipe from USA Weekend columnist Pam Anderson, which was posted on allrecipes. In fact, you could feasibly make one of these babies every day of the summer. What sweet dreams!
Who says the sweet life is not without its challenges? This one is for the Italian Book of Boo Boos. Let’s call it Crusty Bread Scratch. My Italian mamma’s boy son, who had been attempting to eat an entire loaf of Italian bread, threw me onto the bed to give me a big hug and my elbow got cut by that crust. There’s something about a bread-related injury that has me quoting bread maker Ronny Cammareri from Moonstruck: ”I looked the wrong way and I lost my hand. He could make you look the wrong way and you could lose your whole head!” Mine is just a simple scratch. But let us not forget Ronny’s warnings of the dangers of bad love and good bread.
That moment when you realize you are more soccer mom than soccer groupie. You’re watching the Italian national soccer team – a.k.a. hot men playing sport – and you realize they are too young for you to even fantasize about and you’re more interested in patting them on the head and giving them some pasta rather than patting them on the behind and giving ‘em your…err, heart. Right. Heart. That’s it.
This is part of a series of brief blogs that will reflect on the pivotal, earth-shattering (and often hilarious) moments that most Italian mammas experience at some point or another.
Communication is everything. I’m not just saying it as someone who was a passionate member of the debate team in high school, studied journalism, and has always loved the written word. I’m saying it as an Italian Mamma, who confused her son with Italian and English and has spent more than a year trying to find ways to communicate with him.
My husband and I – like many modern parents – come from different places – Italy and the United States. We started out speaking both the Italian and English languages to him. He was in Italy, hearing English from me and Italian from my in-laws, at critical times in a child’s verbal development. While most people believe babies will soak it up, he never did. He started babbling in his own language and calling me Nonna (Italian for Grandma) or Zio (Italian for uncle) and my husband Zio Daddy. And he never repeated our other words or said much of anything that made sense. He had tantrums. Lots of tantrums. He was frustrated that we could not understand him. Who could blame him?
When we got back to the United States during our last stint there, the doctors intervened. We had to make some changes. I recently shared some of our experience in the Our Paesani column, “The Myth of Bilingual Babies,” which is on ItaliansRus.
We know that you have to be able to express yourself one way or another if you want any chance at living the sweet life. And our boy has made lots of progress in the last few months. One language we’ve had in common since his birth is that of amore – as you can see in the photo above.
Sorry I wasn’t able to visit with you yesterday, but I was too busy getting my heart ripped out of my chest and torn to bits by a cannibal on the soccer pitch. Other Italian national soccer team fans know what I’m talking about, no? My nearly 3-year-old son was confused as to why Uruguay’s Luis Suárez didn’t have to go sit in time out for biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini. Frankly, I dunno why either. My nonni would have smacked him for such behavior (especially since he’s a grown up who should know better).
But let’s get real, here. Italy wasn’t going to win the World Cup. As much as I love ‘em, the team had no chemistry and little spirit. And there was no Roberto Baggio to make miracles happen. Maybe it was the heat. Or maybe they were allowed to have sex this time. (Past Italian coaches have prohibited it because it makes the players tired and weak, they say.) Or the Brazilian food wasn’t close enough to mamma’s. Whatever the reason, they were playing like chadrools, who were hungover from Zio Luigi’s annual Ferragosto bash. Where was Super Mario? How could Grande Gigi Buffon do all the defensive work by himself?
No matter. Italy has never won a World Cup outside Europe. The more exotic (by Italian standards) the location, in fact, the worse they seem to do. Remember Asia 2002? I can’t imagine what Qatar will be like in 2022.
Regardless, if I was mamma to the team, I would tell them to wake up and smell the espresso. They need to work harder, push forward, and want to score and win. No more of this tying nonsense. Champions don’t want to tie. They want to win. Period. I pretty much warned them of this before the tournament. (See “How Italy Can Win the World Cup.”) Too bad no one listens to mamma until it’s too late.
Now, it’s time to move on and wait another four years for greatness. In the meantime, these Italian boys need to grow up…after some coddling by mamma, of course. As my Zio Tonino would say, get a haircut, shave off those terrorist beards, and “be man.” His wife, on the other hand, would give them a kiss on the forehead, feed them meatballs, and make them strong like bull for next time with a combination of Italian mamma boot camp (oh the chores you’ll do) and lectures on taking responsibility. Hey, maybe she should replace Prandelli as coach.
I’ve taken over this Web site. It’s all mine now. Shh, don’t tell anybody. Figlio mio, it will be our little secret. I’m sure I can do it better, and you’ll like me more than the young lady who used to write it. Since you’re ruining your life (trust me, you are), I’ll also be here to help you turn things around when you quit being a royal stunad. That’s Italian for idiot, by the way.
The transformation is complete. I’m officially an Italian mamma, which means I’ll cook and clean for you, but I also expect your undying love in return. Also, you won’t be shocked or offended when I tell you that your man is a good-for-nothing caffone or that merde you call music has got nothing on those old Neapolitan songs your grandparents still sing after the champagne, vino rosso, and all those shots of Sambuca in their espresso at every family function or that you’re too, too skinny. Nobody wants to go to bed with a toothpick, so you betta’ clean your plate when I make you that lasagna or steak pizzaiola. This means that you must fa la scarpetta (swipe the plate of every last bit with a piece of crusty Italian bread and savor it in all its glory because it is indeed glorious). We understand each other? Good. I think this is the beginning of a bellissimo relationship. A presto!