As many of you may know, Florence was hit with a Michigan-worthy blizzard the other day, and the city is still reeling from both the incomparable beauty of it all and the utter chaos caused by city bureaucrats being woefully--if not adamantly--unprepared. Without getting into the irony of the fact that apparently Tuscans don't believe in salting their roads as well as their bread, I wanted to describe to you a scene I observed on the evening of the snowstorm, after the worst of it was over and an otherworldly hush had settled over the land. It seemed innocent enough.
I returned home to find my nephew Giulio happily making a snowman in the garden. He smiled broadly and shyly and waved hello, his shaggy mop of dark hair framing his impish face, completely simpatico. A short while later when I went out to get some more wood for the fire, I saw he was still there, the darkening, snow-perfumed sky enfolding him and his Tuscan version of Frosty. Then a shadowy figure emerged from behind the snow-dusted hedge, which was partially screening my view--it was my sister-in-law, Giulio's mother, in the craziest get-up I'd yet seen during this bout of freak weather (thick legwarmers pulled up over sweatpants, a man's parka with a few sweaters oozing out of it at odd angles, a fishermen's hat that was three sizes too big, and bright yellow rubber clogs). After surveying her son's handiwork, she admonished, "Don't stay out too much longer, Giulio, you'll catch cold--besides, it's getting dark." "Sì, mamma," came the obedient reply.
Did I mention that Giulio is twenty-five years old?
Anglo-Saxon mothers of a certain smothersome and anxious stripe are sometimes called "helicopter moms." Well, then--comparatively speaking--Italian mothers are Sherman tanks. Nothing bulldozes a testosterone-laced Italian male and tramples his independence quite so effectively and absolutely as the crippling, hyper-concerned treads of la mamma italiana.
Don't get me wrong--naturally there's nothing askew about an adult having a little fun building a snowman (I might have gladly made one myself, but being a Michigan girl, I've probably surpassed the Wolverine State quota of 2,500 snowmen per life span). But the next day, while Giulio spent the afternoon proudly putting the finishing touches on his opera d'arte, enjoying the sun and the crisp, rarefied air, another scene was playing itself out....
My 85-year-old father-in-law was shoveling snow--huffing and heaving like an early steam locomotive--alongside Giulio's dad, Luca (who, quite honestly, was faring little better).
The family compound being situated on a large plot of land, we were practically buried by snow--there were no clear walkways, the driveway was inundated, and all the cars were blocked in. Thus there was a certain urgency over the driveway being cleared because Matteo--Giulio's brother, age 23--needed desperately to get out with the car (apparently he wanted to meet up with friends--perhaps to build snowmen of their own). You see, dear Readers, my nephews don't work and both live at home with their parents, like so very many Italians, and seem content to do so for years and years--and years--to come. And while they're the two sweetest guys you'd ever hope to meet, they remain utterly naive and as if frozen in some kind of perpetual childhood, like Peter Pan or Michael Jackson. Of course, the pathetic*, rather clownish figure of the Italian mammone is known the world over and is, I think, as indigenous to this sunny peninsula as wild boar and corrupt politicians with bad hair plugs. I have never seen my nephews take out the trash, help clear the table after meals (let alone assist--gasp!--with actual meal preparation or washing dishes), do laundry, do yardwork--do anything, really, that might be construed as chores or taking the bull by the horns.
|My name is Giorgio.|
I'm unemployed and I live with my parents.
Yours from the front lines,
*An admittedly--an unabashedly--Anglo-Saxon term of judgment for which I offer no apology. To most Italians, of course, there is absolutely nothing conceivably wrong in having your mother either buy or launder your underwear (at age 40 and beyond).