A while back, it was my in-laws' 50th wedding anniversary. As a gift, my mother-in-law Elena's sisters wanted to give her a trip to Lourdes. (They knew, of course, that that would be the ONLY place she would even consider going; her Catholic guilt would never permit something so hedonistic as--gasp!--a holiday. But if it's in service to the Lord, well then...). Elena seemed rather thrilled at the prospect--poor woman, she never goes anywhere, not even out for pizza or gelato--and she told Gaetano, my father-in-law, about the upcoming pilgrimage. The whole family was suddenly abuzz with the excitement of international travel to a glamorous destination. Meanwhile, cynical me was thinking: it'll NEVER happen. These are two people who have NOTHING to say to each other--when they eat meals together they sit in total silence and stare at the TV--how they would share an hours-long train ride was unfathomable to me. Moreover, I could not envision them off their home turf, in a hotel, eating strange food, having to deal with train schedules and stations, having actual conversations with normal people, etc. And foreigners too! It might even mean my father-in-law would have to bathe regularly.
Then, sure enough, the drama started: what would Gaetano eat??? He is used to eating those few things he always eats---his familiar Tuscan kibble. Breakfast, in particular, was discussed at length. For this meal, my father-in-law scarfs a great plateful of stale slices of Tuscan (saltless) bread soaked in olive oil and scattered with slices of raw onion. Depending on the season, he eats cucumbers and tomatoes---again, smothered in oil--or maybe a raw clove of garlic, a good many slices of thick prosciutto (hacked from the haunch with his large pocket-knife), and polishes off a half-bottle of homemade red wine. Surely he would starve to death in France. Their bread isn't Tuscan. Their wine isn't Tuscan. They don't have Italian prosciutto. He couldn't possibly have croissants for breakfast--they would constipate him, and he'd shrivel up from lack of energy and strength. The phone rang constantly for days with relatives weighing in on the problem; my sister-in-law Silvia and hubby Paolo were called in for a consultation on the logistics of taking a whole (mind you, we're talking a PIG'S THIGH) prosciutto on the train, along with a bottle of olive oil and as many bottles of wine as they could carry. Meanwhile, I'm laughing maniacally and shouting across the courtyard at Paolo, in English so they couldn't understand me: "Why take the train? Have them go by caravan because THEY ARE GYPSIES!! Maybe they should take along a GOAT and a couple of LIVE CHICKENS too!!!" And, "Yeah, they need to go to Lourdes all right, so they can pray to the Madonna for a healthy dose of SANITY!"
In the end, of course, Gaetano pounded his fist on the table and shouted, "I'm not going!" My poor mother-in-law seemed rather downcast and resigned. I think she was looking forward to a week spent at the feet of the Holy Virgin (perhaps to pray for a swift kick in the ass to befall her husband from on high). Life returned to normal. Breakfast remained unsullied, sacrosanct. They did attend the anniversary luncheon in their honor--a grim repast if ever there was one--at which, even sitting side-by-side (as rigid as two coat racks) they exchanged nary a word or smile with each other.
My dear Readers, we've all heard the clichés: Romance is dead, etc. etc. In my in-laws' case, Romance was stillborn.
My best regards,