Sunday, December 19, 2010

What's wrong with this picture?

Dear Readers,

As many of you may know, Florence was hit with a Michigan-worthy blizzard the other day, and the city is still reeling from both the incomparable beauty of it all and the utter chaos caused by city bureaucrats being woefully--if not adamantly--unprepared. Without getting into the irony of the fact that apparently Tuscans don't believe in salting their roads as well as their bread, I wanted to describe to you a scene I observed on the evening of the snowstorm, after the worst of it was over and an otherworldly hush had settled over the land. It seemed innocent enough.

I returned home to find my nephew Giulio happily making a snowman in the garden. He smiled broadly and shyly and waved hello, his shaggy mop of dark hair framing his impish face, completely simpatico. A short while later when I went out to get some more wood for the fire, I saw he was still there, the darkening, snow-perfumed sky enfolding him and his Tuscan version of Frosty. Then a shadowy figure emerged from behind the snow-dusted hedge, which was partially screening my view--it was my sister-in-law, Giulio's mother, in the craziest get-up I'd yet seen during this bout of freak weather (thick legwarmers pulled up over sweatpants, a man's parka with a few sweaters oozing out of it at odd angles, a fishermen's hat that was three sizes too big, and bright yellow rubber clogs). After surveying her son's handiwork, she admonished, "Don't stay out too much longer, Giulio, you'll catch cold--besides, it's getting dark." "Sì, mamma," came the obedient reply.

Did I mention that Giulio is twenty-five years old?

Anglo-Saxon mothers of a certain smothersome and anxious stripe are sometimes called "helicopter moms." Well, then--comparatively speaking--Italian mothers are Sherman tanks. Nothing bulldozes a testosterone-laced Italian male and tramples his independence quite so effectively and absolutely as the crippling, hyper-concerned treads of la mamma italiana.

Don't get me wrong--naturally there's nothing askew about an adult having a little fun building a snowman (I might have gladly made one myself, but being a Michigan girl, I've probably surpassed the Wolverine State quota of 2,500 snowmen per life span). But the next day, while Giulio spent the afternoon proudly putting the finishing touches on his opera d'arte, enjoying the sun and the crisp, rarefied air, another scene was playing itself out....

My 85-year-old father-in-law was shoveling snow--huffing and heaving like an early steam locomotive--alongside Giulio's dad, Luca (who, quite honestly, was faring little better).

The family compound being situated on a large plot of land, we were practically buried by snow--there were no clear walkways, the driveway was inundated, and all the cars were blocked in. Thus there was a certain urgency over the driveway being cleared because Matteo--Giulio's brother, age 23--needed desperately to get out with the car (apparently he wanted to meet up with friends--perhaps to build snowmen of their own). You see, dear Readers, my nephews don't work and both live at home with their parents, like so very many Italians, and seem content to do so for years and years--and years--to come. And while they're the two sweetest guys you'd ever hope to meet, they remain utterly naive and as if frozen in some kind of perpetual childhood, like Peter Pan or Michael Jackson. Of course, the pathetic*, rather clownish figure of the Italian mammone is known the world over and is, I think, as indigenous to this sunny peninsula as wild boar and corrupt politicians with bad hair plugs. I have never seen my nephews take out the trash, help clear the table after meals (let alone assist--gasp!--with actual meal preparation or washing dishes), do laundry, do yardwork--do anything, really, that might be construed as chores or taking the bull by the horns.

My name is Giorgio.
I'm unemployed and I live with my parents.
So--let us consider for a moment the picture I have drawn for you, dear Readers, and then let us contemplate in whose hands lies the future of this funny, ungovernable, boot-shaped outcrop of civilized Europe. Soft and immutable--spending their parents' hard-earned money with alacrity, revving their motorini with careless abandon, gobbling meals with the heedlessness of lactating babes, buttoning up their Diesel jeans and lacing their Converse shoes--are these hands capable of scrabbling out a place for Italy in the world that clamors and groans with endeavor outside its very doorstep? To me, these butter-fat, enfeebled, mother-fed hands which prefer to dally with ephemeral pleasures--like snow in Florence--seem far more suited to Neverland than the reality the rest of us mere mortals inhabit.

Yours from the front lines,


*An admittedly--an unabashedly--Anglo-Saxon term of judgment for which I offer no apology. To most Italians, of course, there is absolutely nothing conceivably wrong in having your mother either buy or launder your underwear (at age 40 and beyond).


  1. Tee hee hee hee. And you even managed to include "lactating" in your marvelous missive.

  2. You are remarkable. What a fine essay.

  3. Patti, "lactating" is my new favorite word, thanks to you! And Barbara, I appreciate your kind words!

  4. Anonymous5:16 PM

    They're not moving from home because they don't have money and unemployment is sky high. Life is not as easy through the world as in the USA.

    Seriously, how long have you been living there for spewing such first-day tourist idiocies? Please, go and share these thoughts with your italian friends and get schooled about being an ugly american.

  5. Dear Anonymous--I usually don't publish comments wherein the commentator is too cowardly to leave their own name, but I wanted to address some issues you brought up. It's true unemployment is high in Italy (like in the US right now), and young people are unfortunate in that the odds are against them. But they have--as I asserted in my post--parents that coddle them to the point of crippling them. Doing laundry or helping your mother clear the dinner table is something ANYONE can do, regardless of employment status--at least, ON PLANET EARTH. And you are wrong--they DO have money to spend, their parents' money, which they seem quite happy to do. The fact that the entrenched systems of patronage and nepotism in thejob market leave them with little hopes of gainful employment is admittedly sad. Unfortunately, I have yet to meet any Italian youth who are worldy or self-sufficent in even the narrowest sense of that term--and being flagrant, raging mammoni surely doesn't help their cause. But, of course, it isn't their fault. Parents are the ones perpetrating this outrage on their offspring. But if you are all happy with this way of life, then more power to you, I say! However you choose to view me, dear courageous Anonymous--Ugly American or Well-Traveled Interested Observer--I call it the way the I see it. If you don't like it, write your own blog--but first you may want to see a bit of the world (perhaps moving out of your parents' house)outside your quartiere before you go prematurely ejaculating your hopelessly narrow point of view

  6. Brava on the post and bravissima on your retort, Campobello. Anonymous, you are probably a virgin and hopefully will remain that way, for Darwins' sake and ours.

  7. Dear papaya--thanks for your comment and support! And I almost hate to say this, but given the current high percentage of mammoni and the low birth rate in Italy, your Darwinian theory may indeed be playing itself out....

  8. BarbaraR6:28 PM

    I am afraid the biggest responsibility on this behaviour must be awarded to the parents. And I am saying this being an Italian mother...

  9. BarbaraR, thanks for reading and commenting. And I wholeheartedly agree--this vicious cycle of mammoni-hood is perpetuated by parents (not all of course, but it's very very prevalent).


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