MAMMA’S DIARY – DIARIO DI MAMMA
I must preface this by explaining Italian American interior decorating is not for everyone. Anyone who came here thinking that this was going to be about sophisticated European interior design out of Italy is sadly mistaken. The others who came to this story believing they could learn about Jersey Shore-esq decorating can move on now.
This is about real Italian Americans, who are right off the boat right now. This is about my family, who arrived in New Jersey in 1960 and still hasn’t fully emerged from the boat to step onto U.S. soil. One of my guilty pleasures is reading interior design publications while soaking in a hot bath. I know I will never afford such homes – or even most of the accessories, but I still love to look at all the pretty. But I also find myself constantly saying, “Well, that would never work for my Italians.” So, I decided to just write a guide to Italian American interior decorating:
Shades of White
One of the biggest trends for many years now has been a call to infuse color into the home. I’ve seen pictures of walls of magenta, indigo, and even black. Gray has been hugely popular of late. Such dark hues would never go over well with my people. It would be akin to wearing all black before grandpa died; it’s as if you’re summoning the demons to take him sooner. Of course, if it ain’t white, it ain’t bright for these people. They criticize sky blue and powder pink in nurseries. I’m not sure what the reason is here. But I know white seems clean to them, and that’s pretty important. Also, when my cousin was getting married, my mom was putting flowers in the colors of her bridesmaid’s dresses on the wishing well, and my aunt tore them down. She said it indicated her daughter might not be a virgin and therefore could not be used. So, there’s that, too.
A Tale of 2 Kitchens
Real Italians – again, not the Jersey shore variety most of whom are Italian by association with someone who may or may not have had a great great great grandparent born in Italy – will appreciate this. But the fact is that off-the-boat Italians will only buy homes with two kitchens in them. If there aren’t two, they will install a second one. For starters, they need two refrigerators to store all those sauces they make. Many have a large freezer to keep those pre-made lasagne in case company comes over unexpectedly. Most importantly, the two kitchens allow one to be more for show with beautiful accessories and a tidy appearance. And the other one gets to be the workhorse, where Nonna and Mamma whip up biscotti at the holidays and fresh pasta for Sunday funday. Most importantly the workhorse kitchen is the one where everyone gathers to prepare the conserva in late August. That’s when you’re funneling tomatoes and jarring them for off-season pasta sauces.
Accessories of Faith
No authentic Italian American house would be complete without pictures of the latest Pope and Frank Sinatra. Also, the marital bed is required to have a Madonnina – preferably with child – above it. After one of the spouses dies, the crucifix will suffice. This rule of accessorizing goes beyond the home. When my son was born, I was surprised to learn that Italians (in Italy mind you) offer silver medallions with religious figures – usually the Madonna and child – to pin or hang on the baby’s stroller. Of course, hanging Rosary beads on walls or bed posts is another fine touch. This way, Nonna always has a Rosary to clutch and a reminder to pray.
Chicken Coup and Other Livestock
True story. My relatives used to raise rabbits (for our dinner) in the backyard in a suburb of Manhattan. They would feed and care for the rabbits and then kill them pretty much all in the same place. The neighbors – if they ever figured it out – were not fans. We don’t do that anymore. But hardcore Italian Americans still do. They were the original organics. They want to know from where their food has come. So, many a backyard has a chicken coup for all the egg-laying hens. A few raise other animals like we did. I must admit one of our paesani neighbors led us to have Tom the Turkey over to our house unexpectedly.
Gold and Plastic Galore
Finally, no Italian American home would be complete without touches of gold (think Trump’s Taj Mahal) and plastic covering the furniture. That stereotype is true and lives on, baby. I’m fine with it.
Di Meglio has written the Our Paesani column for ItaliansRus.com since 2003. You can follow the Italian Mamma on Facebook or Twitter @ItalianMamma10. For more handmade crafts and party gear, visit the Italian Mamma store on Etsy.