Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Nurture vs. Nature

La Bimba crawled today. Three steps forward and about five back, but still! But the big news is she slept ELEVEN AND A HALF HOURS IN A ROW last night. Could it be that the night-weaning has worked after only six nights? If The Husband knew I just typed that sentence he would order me to delete it since I just jinxed the whole situation and now La Bimba will probably be up every two hours tonight. Vediamo.

Last night, our friends Salvatore and Nicola came over to dinner by accident. They confused this Monday with next Monday when we are having our seder. I sent an SMS out to people last week, inviting them to seder and requesting RSVPs because we don't have a table suitable for more than 8 people and I didn't want to buy too much matzoh (pane azzimo in Italian if you were itching to know). Sal and Nic RSVPed. They brought wine. They are so good! The reason they confused the date is because they didn't bother to read past the word Monday on the SMS, and they didn't bother to read past the word Monday is because no one, I mean nobody, plans anything that far in advance. Most outtings are spontaneous or maybe planned a day in advance, if you can call, "Andiamo a Procida domani? Va bene. Ci sentiamo domani. Vediamo," a plan. We Neapolitans don't like to feel trapped, you see.

Sal and Nic are a gay couple. Sal is 40, Nic is 31, and they are polar opposites. Sal is a hairdresser, loves to gossip, tends to speak dialect, and has a total mind-meld with The Husband. Nic is soft-spoken, reads a ton, is quasi Buddhist, speaks careful Italian, and looks at me with genuine compassion when The Husband is off on one of his anti-Naples rants. They are the sweetest couple. Sal is always trying to get Nic to eat more, while Nic laments the 10 kilos he put on during his father's illness and subsequent death ("Nutella was my comfort," he said).

When we all get together we nearly always talk about Naples, its beauty, its hideousness, its charm, its brutality. Last night Sal and Nic were in fierce albeit loving disagreement over the root cause of Naples' troubles. Sal insists that the Italian government wants Naples and the rest of southern Italy to remain poor, criminalized (as if the rest of Italy isn't full of criminals...did you see the photo of Berlusconi in today's paper? Che vergogna), chaotic. He says it serves them. Of course it does! Is there a nation on this earth that doesn't keep all or part of its population down to keep a tiny fraction up up up and away with all the capital?

But Nic doesn't agree. He has read nearly everything written on Neapolitan history and he is convinced that it is inherent to the Neapolitan character to be sneaky, conniving, anarchic; that without a dictatorship the Neapolitan people will never follow the rules. Only the Normans managed to exert some control over the populace, but as soon as they were gone, this unruly bunch went right back to their old ways. The Neapolitan people are like curly hair, where a permanent wave is anything but permanent (hair simile in honor of Sal!).

I would say both are right. How's that for diplomatic? The Neapolitans do seem to resist with every fiber of their fiber-free-diet beings anything that the powers that be suggest even if it is in their best interest to submit. "Che me ne frega," why should I give a damn, is their typical response to suggestions that edge toward civic responsibility. They wag their heads at the garbage, the motorinos that nearly take out grandmas and babies, the cheating, the murders, the wet laundry dripping on their heads, the lit cigarette butts flying out of windows, but then they litter, ride their motorinos like maniacs, cheat, wring out their laundry on your head, flick their ciggies out their windows. Note that I did not include "murder" there: very few Neapolitans actual kill anyone. For all the news of camorra slayings, the city is still way less violent than many American cities, it's just more colorful about it, more drama for the press.

And the government is always caught up in some shady dealings with the mafia. I am woefully incapable of writing about that, however, since I don't do that kind of research unless someone pays me to (any takers?).

My friend J., the American journalist in Rome, has two articles coming out on Naples, featuring yours truly and The Husband, one in Time magazine and one Il Foglio, byline Jeff Israely. Let me know if you want your name off the blog, Jeff! J is for Jeff! If you're interested in reading about different goings-on in Italy, particularly about the Pope, in English, just google Jeff. He is a great writer and has lots of groovy angles on il bel paese.

New subject: I was on the phone with my friend A., who lost her husband this past December, and she was telling me all about the memorial they had for him. A. is a dancer, so people performed and people boogied. She told me that one friend stood up and said, "Let's give a round of applause to M," and everyone stood up and gave a five-minute standing ovation. A. was amazed by that, but I explained to her that it should not have struck her as odd since she has Italian roots, and the Italians applaud the dead. When the casket comes out of the church (or goes in? or both?), the crowd claps and claps. The first time I saw that I thought, "That's weird," and then, "That's so cool!" So, here's to you M. I hope you can see me clapping from wherever you are.

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