Thursday, October 18, 2007

Don Pasquale Redux

Goshdarnit, dagburnit, it is impossible for me to get blogging these days. I nonni were here, I've still got to finish these dang grad school applications, and one has to keep an eye on La Bimba now that she likes to balance herself on the narrow end of a yoga block in the middle of the room that has no rug, just skull-cracking tile floors. Every time she is out of sight and I hear her rendition of, "uh-oh, spaghetti-o's," which sounds like, "uh-oh, doh dee doh" or "uh-oh, guaglio," I know something has been dropped, shredded or destroyed.

Well, I guess I have to begrudgingly admit that The Husband was right...again: I probably shouldn't have broadcast my Jewishness to Don Pasquale. Here's why...

A few days after his offer of sympathy for the Jewish experience of WWII, Don Pasquale and I got to talking again. The conversation went a little something like this (give me a beat!):

DP: Terrible, what happened to the Jews. But what else could he have done?
Me: Who?
DP: Hitler.
Me: What?
DP: I mean, killing 8 million (sic) was too much, but he had to do something to stop the Jewish takeover of the world.
Me: Um, Don Paquale, now you're being offensive.
DP: Ma quando mai! Don't get me wrong. I have great respect for your people, but you have to admit that they have economic control over the world and that before WWII they were ruining Germany and Hitler had to do something.
Me: Sorry, Don Pasquale, I don't see it that way. Gotta go. Say, "ciao ciao, bimba"

The next day my parents arrived in Naples. One morning during their visit they stepped out with La Bimba and I went to take a dance class. On my return, Ciro the garage attendent stopped me.

Ciro: Don Pasquale told me you were Jewish...
Me: (Hoo boy).
Ciro: ...and I'm afraid I offended your father.
Me: What? Why? (Did you scream Raus Juden in his face?)
Ciro: I saw that he was carrying a Leica and I was a photographer, you know, took pictures for a sports newspaper, and I have a Leica too...from the German invasion. It has a swastika on it. I told your father all about it. I love the camera, not the swastika.
Me: Oh, I'm sure he under...
Ciro: Then I told him about my watch. I have a watch that belonged to an Italian Jew. In 1938 he told a friend that he had to escape from Italy, to hold the watch for him, that he would be back. The friend waited 60 years. When he died, his son sold the watch. Now it's mine.
Me: Senti, Ciro, my father doesn't speak Italian. I'm sure he didn't understand a word you said.
Ciro: But he kept saying, "mia figlia, mia figlia," and I'm sure I offended him!
Me: He probably just wanted you to tell me what you had to say so that I could translate. Don't worry, I'll explain everything.
Ciro: Thank you. And if he wants to come over to see my Leica, I live on the first floor.

Of course, my father didn't understand a thing. When I told him what it had been all about, he said, "I didn't know what he was talking about and Nazis were the last thing I could have imagined."

Now an update on the offended signora from the basso on the steps, whose grandson's picture I refused to look at. I saw her husband. I said hello. He sneered at me and turned away. And he doesn't even know I'm Jewish!

And I found out where J-Dub comes from: it is the letter J and an abbreviation of the letter W from the word Jew. Isn't that bizarre? So the Sephardic term for an Ashkenazi Jew just means Jew. Now I'm confused. I guess all that hurt and feelings of being a pariah were for nothing. I learned about it here.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

La Bimba update

La Bimba has taken to putting the letter T at the end of different words, so now we have babbot (sounds like bah-boat), mammit (mah-meat), baby-t (bay-beet), ballt. This must be an already documented toddler linguistic phenomenon.

La Bimba has also become a terrible two and she's only just shy of her 1.5 birthday. She says NO constantly, sometimes with force, sometimes accompanied by crying and plopping down on her butt and putting her forehead on the floor, sometimes quietly to herself with a quasi imperceptible shake of the head.

She has some advanced dance moves including arabesque and attitude, marching with her legs wide apart, spinning, a version of flamenco stomping and hand clapping. She also sings her ABCs like this, "c c c c c c c."

Okay, back to me. Yesterday, The Husband, La Bimba, two friends, and I were having lunch in a little trattoria in the Vomero (four primi, four secondi, wine, water, salad, fried algae, that's right, fried algae, bread, two potato crochettes, 40 euro), when a woman with jet black hair blow dried straight to the texture of straw, lots of eyeliner and frosted pink lipstick came up to us. The Husband said to her, "Ti presento mia moglie." She said, "Piacere. Cristina" took my extended hand and CRUSHED IT. I mean, I have experienced more than my fair share of firm handshakes, but this one actual made me yelp. I YELPED and sort of keeled over (good thing I was sitting down), and my dining companions all said in unison, "Ma che รจ successo? Ti sei spaventata?" No, I wasn't afraid, I was wounded. Cristina said, "Scusami" and shrugged her shoulders. I just sat there shaking out my contorted fingers.

One of our dining companions, M., slept over at our house the night before. In the middle of the night, I heard some shuffling and some banging around, and suddenly M. was standing at the foot of our bed. I said, "M.! What are you doing?" M. answered, "Scusami, non mi trovo bene. Mi serve solo questo cuscino" (Excuse me, I'm not comfortable. I just need this pillow). Then he pulled our duvet off of me and The Husband and dragged it into the living room. There we were, lying clothed but without our cover! Then we heard more doors slamming and general mayhem, so The Husband went out and settled M. down. The next day M. remembered nothing.

I had a very good friend from Junior High who was a sleepwalker-talker. She would sit up in the middle of the night and talk to imaginary people, usually in a very urgent way. Once I found her sitting up with her eyes closed saying, "We have to get out of here! We can do it! Come on!" When I asked her who she was talking to she said, "Her." When I pressed on, asking, "Who?" She said, "Fuck you" and lay back down. Another time she jumped up and started screaming at me that the asteroids were coming and how could I just lie there and do nothing. When I said, "You're sleeping. Go back to sleep," she said, "Fuck you."

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Don Pasquale

There is an 80-year-old man who lives in our building. Don Pasquale can usually found either leaning on his cane in front of the tabacchaio in Piazzetta San Carlo alle Mortelle or sitting on a chair at the top of the ramp that leads down to our building's underground parking garage. Don Pasquale likes to talk about the good old days, about how there is no morality left in the world. I'm not sure how morality was faring in his youth, but I don't argue. If I did, I would never get to the grocery store. Don Pasquale's monologues go on and on and on.

When Don Pasquale sees La Bimba, he says, "Dai un bacio a nonno, Lucia!" She doesn't comply, but she lets him kiss her pudgy cheek. Recently, Don Pasquale found out I was Jewish. It wasn't a rumor that spent some time swirling around the neighborhood until it reached his fuzzy ear, but rather information that leaks out as it always does:

Don Pasqule or any other napoletano: Are you Italian American?
Me: No.
DP: So you're American American.
Me: No.
DP: quizzical look
Me: My relatives are from Russia, Moldova, Poland, Austria.
DP: knowing look
Me: Yeah, we're Jews.

This exchange sent Don Pasquale into a reverie -- spoken out loud, of course -- about WWII and what the Fascists and the Germans did to the Jews. He must have pointed at me saying, "Your race has suffered so!" about ten times before I extricated myself from the maudlin chat.

The next day, La Bimba and I were beckoned by Don Pasquale from his perch in the garage. Next to him, on a motorcycle, sat a younger man, un napoletano DOC with greasy, curly hair and a tight black t-shirt, smoking a cigarette. Don Pasquale introduced the man as Ciro and proceeded to say, "Her race has suffered so!" La Bimba and I beat a hasty retreat, backing out of the garage, nodding and smiling and saying, "Sorry, we're in such a hurry!"

I told The Husband about the conversations with Don Pasquale and he said, "You shouldn't spread that around."

Me: That I'm Jewish?
Hubby: Yeah. You never know what the landlady will do.

So now we're probably going to get evicted because I let out my dirty little secret. No, dai, sto scherzando.

The only time I ever felt that I was experiencing anti-Semitism was from other Jews. I am an Ashkenazi (a Jew from Eastern Europe, insomma), but grew up around a lot of Sephardic Jews (from the Middle East via the Iberian peninsula). These kids grow up very wealthy and very cloistered in Brooklyn, a subculture within a subculture. Their traditions are not those of the Hasidim, no one is wearing a wig or a yarmulke, no black overcoats or furry hats, but they do go to synagogue regularly and consider themselves orthodox. They marry young, have tons of kids, and most of the girls don't study beyond high school. They live in enormous houses off Ocean Parkway and in Deal, New Jersey, and spend tens of thousands of dollars on wedding dresses. I was coming from a very different Jewdom, one obsessed with study and free-thinking and marrying late and being an only child and being frugal. These kids called me J-Dub. It sounds like a rapper's name and I don't know what it means or where it comes from, but it hurt to be called names and to feel outside and all that. They weren't exactly cruel but they were discriminating. Gives a whole new edge to that prejudice commercial, huh Curry Muncher?

Once in Madison, Wisconsin, a guy from a small town said to me, "You're Jewish? You don't act Jewish." I never figured out what he meant by that. I was 17 and just wanted to party.