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.


Marmite Breath said...

What the hell does it mean to act Jewish? Were you supposed to be going around speaking Yiddish and stuff?

Laurie said...

...been following your blog for some time, really enjoy it, and was moved to comment by this post. I am also a west coaster (S.F.) transplanted via marriage to the boot (and I love the subtitle of your blog by the way!) It certainly is, um....interesting.....being Jewish here, is it not!?? Your post totally resonated with me in so many ways!