Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Way to My Heart is Through my Stomach

Of the many interesting patterns in Italian dating, the most Italian of all is meeting the parents.
Universally, this is a special moment, generally saved for couples who have arrived at a level of certainty in their relationship.
In Italy, meeting the parents is borderline with picking out a china pattern. It is a commitment. Needless to say, both men and women here tend to put it off as long as possible.
In the beginning I took this a little personally, since I had casually brought a handful of Italian boys home to the States. Not to meet my family, but who met my family anyway since we were passing through.
Visiting my family with Italian boys has always been entertaining, since my grandmother speaks what sounds like tongues, but is actually an outdated version of a Calabrian dialect.
Whenever I bring an Italian boyfriend with me, she precedes to chum up to him on the couch, or at the dining table, hook her arm into his (copping a feel of the muscles and giving me a knowing look) and begins to talk shit in Calabrese. "Qua, tut'ti pazzi, tut'ti pazzi."
My family manages to hack even the simplest names. Years ago, I brought home Marco. Simple, as in Marco Polo. Americans have heard and said this at the pool for decades. No, Marco could not be called by his simple name. They all called him Mario instead.
Mind you, my mom's dog is named Baby Girl. Pretty easy to remember that she is female given her name. Instead, my family calls Baby Girl a he. As in "Baby Girl won't stop barking, he's so annoying."
By the way, my mother dresses Baby Girl like the granddaughter she constantly reminds me I have yet to produce, so not only does her name scream "I'm a she, you moron," but she also wears several pink outfits.
Last year, I brought Gionni home with me. His name, though intimidating on paper, is very easy:
Johnny. As in Johnny Carson, Johnny Cash... Guess who could not handle the simplicity of his name? My family. They called him Giovanni, which is much more complicated in my opinion.
After bringing Gionni home for what I like to refer to as the "Live Above your Means Tour" of New York, Chicago and North Carolina, I decided it was time I got to meet his parents. I wanted to know where the hell he came from, since he'd seen my DNA pool in a variety of shapes and sizes.
I met Gionni's parents on an August Sunday for lunch. We ate at Gionni's apartment, as Gionni does not live with his parents (though most single guys in their 30's in Italy still do).
I actually don't recall what we ate, which is odd because usually that's the only detail I remember vividly of any story.
I do remember being sort of shocked. Gionni is tall and has amazing blue eyes. He's been described as a cross between Sean Penn and Patrick Dempsey. I've even heard him compaired to the statues found at the Uffizi. He has a great nose and fabulous lips, and curly hair, making him painfully cute. Fortunately, he's slightly goofy, kind of like Kramer on Seinfeld.
His parents: Fairly short in comparison. Neither is lean like Gionni. Their stature a question of actual build, not metabolism or youth. I immediately asked myself if he'd been switched at birth.
The lunch was not as uncomfortable as anticipated. His mom made small talk and tried to make me feel at ease. I think I caught his dad checking out my legs (I had on a skirt that day)- kind of like my grandmother does when she meets the guys I bring home- so I didn't take offense to it.
All in all, uneventful. I had now seen where Gionni came from, and was content. I didn't expect this to become a habit.
Within a few weeks, I was invited over to lunch at his partents' house. This was a big deal, but I was working a lot at the time and didn't think about the social consequences. I just wanted to eat lunch. Silly me.
His mother is a great cook. I'm not talking about fancy dishes adorned with balsamic vinegar. I'm talking about the stuff that 99% of the population is too lazy to prepare because it is time-consuming, dirty work: wild boar, duck, nameless types of birds that have more bones than meat, deer, rabbit, wild hare. Food that has to be killed, cleaned, skinned, soaked to take out gaminess, and then turned into a meal.
I can no longer eat these things in restaurants, because they doe not compare to hers. Gionni is not a mamma's boy, but I have become a mammone. I don't think anyone can cook with game like la mamma di Gionni.
My enthusiasm for her cooking has won his mom's heart, especially since the three men she's cooked for always have some kind of comment about adding more salt next time or using less tomato. I, on the other hand, am moaning and squealing with delight as I savor every bite on my plate.
I gladly go over there on weekends to eat with them, regardless of the fact that there are neon lights above the table (oh, yet another blog entry: how Italy kills the mood with economy lighting) and despite the fact that his dad and brother are watching one noisy sporting event or another during meals.
Yesterday, I was at a market and walked right by a stand selling underwear, bras, socks and pijamas. The man (yes, the man- this should be a whole entry in itself: why does the underwear suck so much over here, and why is it almost always sold by aging men?- subtopic: infantile pj's for adults with nonsensical English phrases, like "happy sleep time.")
So, the man selling bad underwear, to grab my attention, called out: "Si! Vero! Queste mutande sono anti-suocera. Ottimo affare!" Roughly translated: Yes! It's true! These underwear are anti mother in law. A real bargain!
And how did I reply? "Sorry! Don't need them! I like my mother in law." I imagine you are raising an eyebrow at the use of the term mother in law...? In Italy, as soon as you are seriously dating, they start using these terms. And usually, meeting the parents is the ultimate sign of serious dating. Eating with them seals the deal.
All I wanted to do was meet his parents and eat good food, now I have in-laws!

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