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Chapter Eight – Meeting My Italian Man
A few months before my grandparents and I left for Ischia, I had endured the black out with the rest of New York City and the entire eastern seaboard. While on a six-hour-long line to get the ferry back to New Jersey, I helped a woman who fainted. It turned out she had mono, and a week later I started displaying the symptoms, too. I didn’t even get the kissing disease in the fun way. After that, I fell down the stairs once, and slept for about four months. Indeed, I was having no fun at all. Still, I was feeling much better when we got to Italy, but I was still weak. And the weather was not cooperating.
A year earlier, the sun shone on Ischia so brightly that I burned like a fire. But this time around, there was ice – or at least cold rain. It was a not-so-subtle sign from God of things to come. My grandfather dragged my grandmother and I from one family member’s home to another. Each stop featured the same routine. First, a young, far-removed cousin would answer the door and force feed us espresso (which I hate) and pastiera, a wheat pie that Italians in the south serve at Easter (which I hate). If you turned any of these relatives down or did not praise their pastiera, you insulted them. My grandfather insisted we didn’t offend.
After gagging on pastiera and espresso, we would be ushered into a bedroom, where we’d spend the rest of our time watching an elderly relative squirm in bed and try to remember who my grandfather was. They were senile and sick and most of them never left bed anymore. It was sad, really. Most of the time none of us knew what to say, not even my grandfather who insisted on these visits in the first place. But just when you were on the verge of tears, the ill would do something unwittingly that eased the tension. One of the men, who was lying in bed with his equally senile wife, who tried to communicate something to him in a language that could only be described as gibberish, let out a big fart, and said, “Ahhhhh,” when he finished. And we all roared with laughter.
Every day, we would walk for miles in the rain from one relative to the next, and my grandmother was terrified of getting sick. She kept eating oranges with me to get in as much vitamin C as possible and ward off the evil sick spirits. I was so worried about her. I wanted my grandparents to come with me to Italy, so I could keep an eye on them and they wouldn’t be alone if something happened.
In the evenings, we would gather around Gabriele and Franca’s table and eat and talk and talk and eat. Other cousins would stumble in throughout the night. But I was feeling tired, and I soon developed a rather terrible cough. I went to see my cousin the doctor, and she discovered I had bronchitis. Around the same time, Roberto had a fever. His mom put us both in her bed, and we watched television, took medicine, and tried to sleep off our diseases. This was not the vacation I had planned.
The Italian antibiotics were taking their toll on me, too. I simply felt weak all the time, and I was having a hard time breathing. One of the medications the doctor gave me caused extreme heart palpitations. I thought I was having a heart attack. Still, I survived. Even though I was coughing, the fever broke and I had a little color in my face. Roberto was back to his old self, too. He insisted I go to dinner with Lisa and him. I didn’t want to be the third wheel, so Roberto invited his friend Tony* to join us. Ten minutes into dinner at Pirozzi, a little restaurant near the Castello Aragonese in Ischia Ponte, Tony asked me when we’d get engaged. If I knew then…
*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.