Whooo R U?
My last vanity plates said just that - WHOO R U. Not for The Who song, or the show CSI. I simply liked the existential question.
It's a good question; there are so many ways to self-identify. Race, gender, gender predilection, neighborhood, religion, profession, financial status, political bent and/or my favorite - ethnic heritage. We live in a big, ol' melting pot here in America and it fascinates me.
As it happens, I am an American Of Italian Descent (AOID).
I’m not Italian-American, Italo-American, or American/Italian; I’m simply an American-born gal whose ancestors hailed from that fine country shaped like the boot of a dominatrix.
(In case you are wondering, I am also not a wop, dago, spaghetti-bender, greaseball, guinea, goombah or Eyetie. Unless you enjoy being kicked in the kiwis or whacked in the head with a heavy purse, leave the ethnic slurs back at your cave.)
I identify first as a female American, and given the horrid plight of womanhood in so much of the world, I’m truly grateful to have been born here.
But my “Italian” peeks out now and then, like a lacy, red bra strap.
First, here’s how it doesn’t show: I’ve never worn a gold horn or evil eye on my person, never dated a gavone in one of those white satin “Italian Stallion” jackets. I’ve never danced the tarantella or bought a pasta-making device. I pronounce mozzarella and salami with ending vowels intact, so as not to sound like an extra from Goodfellows. I’ve never dyed my hair platinum nor teased it to Tower-of-Pisa heights. I do not wear gold lamé. I have never stomped a grape. No one in my family is in the Mafia, although I did sit next to Tony Accardo at a wake when I was seven, and I had a ballsy aunt who once insulted Momo Giancana’s suit in a bar and lived to tell the tale.
No, my Italian comes out in other ways. Like love of the arts. I’m so easily brought to tears by feats of grace. I wept before Chagall’s America Windows at the Art Institute. I wept the first (and second and third) time I saw Baryshnikov dance. I cried every time I heard Pavarotti sing a note (the power!) I cried when Sonny Corleone bought it on the causeway in The Godfather. I cried when Don Corleone croaked in his garden in front of his little grandson in The Godfather. I cried when Michael Corleone had (his own brother!) Fredo killed in The Godfather Part II. Pretty much, don’t accompany me to a film, opera or ballet unless you have many handkerchiefs on your person.
I’m also an AOID in my complete inability to speak if I sit on my hands, my zaftig figure, my Roman nose (thanks, Pop!), my love of all things tomato (my ex-husband used to say that in my family, tomato sauce was a beverage), gorgonzola & olive oil and my abiding adoration of Sophia Loren. (That, my friends, is a woman. Even now. I met Sophia at a book signing in the 1980’s - she was on a raised dais, resplendent in a white suit and red satin blouse. Cheekbones for days. Gorgeous beyond comprehension.)
When you're an AOID, a majority of your life revolves around food. Invariably, in the planning of any wedding, parole-granting or funeral, the primary question is, "what about THE FOOD?" The Food in an AOID household is a living, breathing entity and is never taken lightly.
Both of my dear Italian grandmothers had two kitchens - one upstairs where it’s supposed to be, and one in the basement. The kitchen-kitchen was used only for routine weekday cooking. The basement kitchen was really equipped and used for the heavy-duty, industrial preparation required when “company” was coming. My Nonnie had pasta pots the size of satellite dishes. I have no idea how she lifted them to drain the pasta. I mean, she was three feet wide and 4-foot-8! Her serving platters were the size of canoes. The only squid (calamari) larger than the ones Nonnie purchased were those filmed by Jacques Cousteau. (Nonnie was really into calamari. In her dotage, apropos of nothing, she once blurted out, “You know, you can’t get the big squid anymore.” We nearly fell off the plastic-covered couch laughing!)
Speaking of fish, I never saw a turkey or a ham at Christmas until I cooked for my own family. Christmas Eve was Fish-a-Palooza - every kid’s dream - calamari and oysters and baccala (look it up; I’m busy). Of course, there also was pasta, but not with tomato “gravy” (BTW, no AOID calls marinara “sauce” - or marinara, for that matter - it's always gravy); we had spaghetti Alle Noci, with a toasted walnut/garlic breadcrumb topping (which is sublime, actually). Something about having to be meatless for Catholic purposes, although I'm sure the priests at St. Vito's were sneakin' in the meatballs.
Christmas Day, it was lasagna, bragiola (rolled-up flank steak with a tasty filling, such as breadcrumbs, hard-cooked egg, cheeses and parsley), meatballs and Italian sausage in “gravy,” and 14 lbs. of side-dish spaghetti in a canoe-platter. The lone vegetable was, grudgingly, broccoli - cooked to a near-pulp and drowned in olive oil and garlic. Al dente was strictly for pasta, I guess.
Thus, not too many AOID's are super-skinny. We’re generally short and gravity-challenged. Cute as hell (!), but un-tall. My brother, at just under 6’, was the family Amazon. He towered over my Dad and my uncles, which was no big whoop, as they were 5-foot-7, max. At 5’5”, I was the second-tallest girl in the family; one aunt used to tell me I should model. Of course, she was 3-foot-9.
So, my babies - whooo are you? Do you cotton to your ethnic heritage? Leave a comment or e-mail me with tales of your eth-centricities, and I'll run them in an upcoming post.
Until them, Ciao Bellas!
P.S. Some of you may recall that I am also 7% Jewish. A nice combo, like an Italian beef & sawzeech sangwich!
Tank-a U for reading! Cheers, jeers, love letters or advice to: planetMichelle4u@gmail.com
Filed under: humor