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Chapter Seven – The Beginning of the End
Whenever you dream about something, such as a vacation, for a long time, you are bound to disappoint yourself. You create all these fantastic fantasies about how things are going to unfold, who you’ll meet, what you’ll see. And reality is never quite as good as the dream.
When my grandparents and I left for Ischia, a year after my weeklong sojourn on the island paradise, I was roaring with excitement. I was certain I was going to pick up where I left off and further discover the home of my ancestors and myself. In a way, I did learn more about myself and Ischia. But it was anything but paradise.
I had always felt like an insider in Ischia as if I was just one step away from being a full-fledged native. My parents had been taking me to Ischia since I was two years old, and I knew my relatives there fairly well. My Italian language skills were always improving, and I had become a big fan of RAI International television and Italian calcio. I, an American born Italian, knew the ins and outs of modern popular culture. My father had always regaled me with the lovely tales of his childhood – from hunting for mushrooms in Buceto to playing soccer against the Baranesi (kids from the town of Barano) in the piazza when he should have been at school. I knew how to get around the island and where to get the most delicious pizza and the best prosciutto.
By the end of this “vacation,” I would begin to learn that I was less of a native than I thought – and Ischia wasn’t the paradise I thought it was. First, my grandparents and I arrived in Naples, only to be stopped by the customs officers, who proceeded to take away a box of duty free cigarettes and a few packs of gum intended to be gifts for relatives. They said I did not look 25 and therefore could not be considered among the adults eligible to bring in these items. My grandfather is the one who bought them (I would never give out cigarettes to anyone), but there were three of us and we were within our limit. And I had identification, including my passport, proving I was well over 21. Oh well. Such is life in Naples, where some of the people in positions of power take advantage of the tourists to get cigarettes and American chewing gum.
Outside the doors of customs, cousin Roberto was waiting for us, along with his father Gabriele*. With a handle-bar mustache, short stature, portly belly, and balding head, he was the picture of middle-aged Neapolitans. He had a reputation in our family for being the nicest person on the planet and for always helping the other relatives when in need. He was a man of peace when lots of Italians – especially southern ones from small islands – are mixed up in arguments with relatives and neighbors about everything from the tree that touches the property line to the noise their kids make during the 3 p.m. siesta. Everyone was a friend of Gabriele. I personally had a soft spot for him. Whenever I was in Italy without my own parents by my side, I turned to Gabriele and his wife Franca for guidance and affection.
After a delicious reunion with two kisses – one for each cheek – and lots of hugs and “benvenutis,” we headed to the boat that would take us to Ischia. Roberto and I took to a corner of the boat and started catching up. While I explained how I decided to radically change my career and take this trip, he was toying with his cell phone. Up came a picture he was dying to show me. “Questa e’ mia ragazza Lisa,” he told me. “This is my girl, Lisa.” He went on and on about how she chased him and he was unsure at first. For the first few months that she flirted with him, he kept turning her down because he wasn’t sure if he was attracted to her and their families had feuded. Her persistence and the fact that she wooed his mom and sister, too, helped change his mind. Now, he seemed certainly smitten.
On the other hand, I was disappointed that the single guy who showed me around and helped me meet single Italian men last time around was now part of a couple. It meant that I would be the third wheel on this trip. Still, there was always a chance, the couple would introduce me to an eligible and handsome and oh-so-Italian friend.
*Some names and identifying characteristics of the real people involved have been changed.
Tune into this Web site, Two Worlds, every Monday for the latest installment in my blog about my experiences in Ischia, and every other Monday to ItaliansRus.com for the latest Our Paesani column about all things Italian. Di Meglio is also the Guide to Newlyweds for About.com.