Sunday, December 31, 2006

Bond, James Bond

The year 007 is around the corner and I am supposed to be making cannelloni al forno, ribs and potatoes al forno, and lentils. Italians eat lentils on New Year's Eve. They are supposed to bring good look, portafortuna. Italians, or at least Neapolitans (I'm never sure how far up or down the boot superstitions lace) also believe it's bad luck to put a loaf of bread upside down on the table. I bet you never thought of your bread having a top and a bottom, but you will now and forever. My husband rarely has an explanation for the myriad napoletano/italiano superstitions, but he was able to explain why you should never put a hat on the bed. You see, when a person is on their deathbed, the priest who comes to give the last rites (is the definite article used there?) takes off his hat and puts it on the bed. So putting a hat on the bed, your bed above all, is like inviting your own death. Harsh, huh? Being a Jewess, I have been freely tossing hats on beds for the last 35 years. Rabbis don't take off their hats. Which leads me to a question: do orthodox Jewish men sleep with their yarmulkes on? Having grown up surrounded by orthodox Jews, I should know the answer to this question.

When I was a wee gal, I used to babysit for my orthodox Jewish neighbors. I called one of the babies Rocky, short for Yitzrach, of course. He had a red tuft of hair like Woody Woodpecker. Once two families left me with their offspring, all nine of them, aged one to nine, plus a senile grandfather. I was around 14 years old. There was nothing I could do to stop the older kids from chasing each other around in circles, nearly knocking over various candelabras and silver plated pentateuchs, while the littlest one just spun around wailing like a Jewy Sufi dervish. When I called, "Ice cream!" from the kitchen, they all raced inside only to come to a screeching halt at the sight of me scooping out heaping portions of kosher rocky road with a spoon reserved for meat. "Fleishich!" they yelled in unison. I had forgotten that kosher kitchens have two sets of plates and silverware, one for meat and the other for dairy products. "But it's pareve," I lied. They didn't buy it. This was in the days before Tofutti became ubiquitious.

There is a synagogue in Naples. The rabbi is young, orthodox, has a wife, and a baby. I accidentally bumped into him the day I went searching for the synagogue, which is inside a palazzo guarded by two Neapolitan heavies with machine guns. The rabbi was suspicious of me until I pleaded Jew, and then invited me to seder. He explained that there were no Neapolitan Jews, that the entire congregation was made up entirely of expats and NATO families. I have never been back.

The nice thing about being Jewish in Naples is that no one really knows what it means. Occasionally someone will find out I'm Jewish and say, "Oh! You must be smart. And rich!" But for the most part they usually just say, "Oh." I have had to explain on more than one occasion that, no, Jews don't believe Jesus is the son of God, no, we don't have saints, no, we don't baptize, it's a blood thing, matrilineal, no, I'm not observant but I'm still Jewish, culturally, and so on. The part about Jesus not being the son of God they simply don't understand. At least no one has secretly whisked my daughter away for a secret baptism...yet. We did celebrate her saint's day. We also lit the menorah my mom brought in from Brooklyn. It was made in China, but it looks the part. And don't get me started on the Chinese/Jewish connection. Hopefully, you will hear all about my thoughts on that subject when my screenplay Chicken Feet gets produced. I know, I know, I should write it first. I'm working on it.

So, Happy New Year, Buon Anno, Merry Epiphany, see you next year.

No comments: