Stranger at home

20140811_113209

Selva Di Val Gardena

I can still remember my first day in London. I was at Piccadilly Circus with a map in my hands trying to figure out where to go. A passer-by offered to help me. He was very gentle and wanted to know where I was from.When I said I was from Rome, he seemed surprised, as he asserted I didn’t look actually Italian( What do Italians look like? Short?Dark?With moustache?). Then he started the following charade: ” Oh, yes, I know Italy well: pasta, pizza, mamma mia, papa, pappa, mandolino, mafia ” he mentioned also some famous Italian football players of the time and started to sing me this song :” Solo un cornetto give it to me, delicious ice-cream of Italy“, it was a tune of a commercial, I guess. I was actually amused by the situation, however, it was only the first day in a foreign country and somebody had already placed in front of me the mirror of what I was supposed to be,only, I didn’t recognize myself in that mirror. Well, at a closer inspection, maybe a little.

20140815_172016

Typical Italians?

The question is, that some of those common places that make the Italian stereotype abroad could be true, maybe, for just a few of us, but where is prototype that you seem to see so clearly from? Where can he be found? You have to know, in fact, that we are very different from one another: 20 regions with at least 20 dialects, which seem more languages as they have produced wonderful literature. Different habits and food from North to South as gift of the long dominations of the past from all over Europe.So, for example , if I go only 200 km far from where I live, I may soon realize that even the codes of behaviour are different, as if I were in another country. Maybe we are a little unreliable, individualist, intolerant to rules, shrewd, I admit, but this common trait is also heritage of those invasions: the dominated never co-operate with their dominator.

20140815_162425

Selva Di Val Gardena

20140811_154808The place I’ve just been on holiday is an extreme example of what I’ve just said. Trentino-South Tyrol (Italy) is a magnificent place with green valleys, the enchanting Dolomites, rich forests, streams that become waterfalls, golden lakes, super tidy and organized villages, houses of marzipan with balconies covered with red, pink,white geraniums and that sweet, intoxicating smell of apfel strudel (apple pie) that surrounds everything. A paradise. The languages spoken are three, German, Ladin and Italian in order of importance. Trentino-South Tyrol,in fact, had been part of the Austrian Empire since 1814 and was annexed to Italy at the end of the first world war and you’ve got to believe me if I tell you that after one hundred years they cannot swallow the tremendous reality that they are Italian. If you placed that mirror if front their faces they would be disgusted and humiliated.

20140812_131436

Brixen

Therefore, it may happen that some of them still feel the need of stressing their not being Italian, particularly in the presence of the Italians, not all of them of course, but still many. For example, they could pretend not to understand a single word of what you say and speak German only, or make you wait a lot at a restaurant, while you see all the non Italians who have come right after you served. You know, the usual warm, welcoming Italians. That’s why we always try to behave well, in order not to be too soon spotted . I also speak a little German and after all I don’t look that Italian as somebody said. But you know, there is always a moment of looseness, as when I gently called my husband , with my slight Roman accent “Amò vieqquà “(” Would you come here, love?”, well, not exactly so gentle .) ) and we soon realized we would have paid the consequences of that weakness.

20140812_131504

Brixen

After having struggled to get a seat at a restaurant in Brixen for more than one hour, a waiter eventually came, handed the menu, looked at us sneering and pronounced the following words in an uncertain Italian:
I warn you, you’ll have to wait long” ( it was 2:00 p.m)
Ok, but, how long? An hour?“, we asked, after all there were not so many people then.
Long“. And he turned his back .
We understood we’d better go away, if we wanted some food and decided to go back to Selva di Val Gardena, where we lodged and get some rolls. We went to a bakery and the young lady, who had to serve us, very likely the sister of that waiter in Brixen for what concerns politeness, barked ..oops I mean, answered, in this way to our request of rolls:
But , you haven’t chosen the bread!!!”
No, we haven’t, in fact. What kind of bread do you have?” We asked.
” Look!” She pointed at the bread .
We looked at the bread, but we couldn’t recognize anything familiar, therefore, we gently asked her to explain what was in front of us. She was clearly annoyed and started to make a very quick list of the types of bread, while I tried to match words to images. We eventually agreed to buy a couple of “coppiette“. I’ll spare you the tiring conversation we had to decide what to fill the rolls with.
We sat on a bench outside the bakery and when we started to bite our rolls, it was about 3:30 . Fresh, crunchy bread, tasty speck and mortadella,uhmmmm, delicious, when , in horror, I realized that we were dropping some crumbs. I was just thinking to pick them up nonchalantly, when a sparrow came in our help, enjoying every single crumb, till the pavement was clean and polished again 🙂

passerotto

Bows, ships and godfathers

bow1

Long long time ago, when sounds had not become words yet and syntax had not organized those words into a developed language, communication was mostly based on signs. This primitive form of non-verbal communication, which is still a distinctive trait of every true-born Italian, may use hands or the whole body to convey a message or an idea. The signs we use every day to reinforce our communication can be easily be considered our oldest “words”.

bow6The act of bowing, for example, can be regarded a gesture of “self abesement” as it seems to stem from either the will to give assurance of his own safety or revere somebody we feel superior to us for rank, breed, beauty, etc.. In Robinson Crusoe, for example, before Robinson teaches Friday to speak his language and have a proper conversation, Defoe marks the submission of the young cannibal to the white man as natural and Friday seems eager to show it with the humblest bow ever:

 

“He (Friday) came running to me (Robinson), laying himself down again upon the ground, with all the possible signs of a humble, thankful disposition,   making a great many antic gestures to show it”,

And as he feared Robinson might not have understood his intentions:

“At last he lays his head flat upon the ground, close to my foot, and sets my other foot upon his head, as he had done before; and after this made all the signs to me of subjection, servitude, and submission imaginable, to let me know how he would serve me so long as he lived”.

Can you guess, which is the first, the “I cannot do without” word Robinson taught Friday? It’s “master”.

An aerial view shows the Costa Concordia as it lies on its side next to Giglio Island taken from an Italian navy helicopterIn time the act of bowing has become more simply a way of greeting showing a certain respect and I have to say that In Italy we are very familiar with this protocol. You may think: ” how polite these Italians must be”, and, well, indeed we are, but lately, when we mention the word “bowing” here, we do mean something else. “Bowing” in Italian is “inchino” and the shipwreck of the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia was caused by an “inchino”.On 13 January 2012, the ship, carrying 4,252 people, deviated from her planned route at the Isola del Giglio, coming closer to that island, and contacted an object on the sea floor. But why should the ship go closer to the island? Well, at those times there was a sort of competition among captains to demonstrate who was the most dexterous to navigate as close as possible to the island, an “inchino” in fact. Captain Schettino did certainly his best to win it, but unfortunately in this game 32 lives were lost without considering the ecological disaster and the incredible loss of money of the company. If you want to meet the man, you may find him in prison you would say, but we are in Italy, the land of the incredible and , actually, I saw some pictures of him while he was gaily partying in Ischia or (would you believe it?) at university, yes, at university as he has recently been invited for a speech on panic management. Schettino??? He was the first to abandon the ship.

bow4Let me take you to the south of Italy now, where the word “inchino” still keeps the trait of a respectful behaviour. At this time of the year a lot of processions are held everywhere: a lot of festive people who follow the statue of a saint, carried by strong worthy men (it’s a high privilege to be chosen among the carriers) singing and praying  through the streets of the town. Well, only few weeks ago a procession in honour of “Our lady of  Mount Carmel” in Palermo unexpectedly stopped in front of the funeral home of  D’Ambrogio family, another “inchino” in fact. Why did they stop? As a tribute to Alessandro D’Ambrosio, the godfather of Porta Nuova, now in jail, who only two years ago was one of those noble carriers.

The land of saints, navigators and politeness, indeed.  🙂