Italians seem to have a penchant for things that go on and on: Mass, Sunday lunch, red tape, opera, the shelf life of politicians. So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when I discovered that the average children's birthday party here in the Boot lasts a good 4 to 5 hours. Seriously. I have two kids in elementary school, a boy in fifth grade and a girl in third, and between them they've racked up enough hours at feste di compleanni to qualify for two master's degrees, a Ph.D, and a diploma from bartending school.
On quizzing my American friends, I found out that Stateside kiddie parties last 2 hours max. My ever-practical compatriots, you see, know that overlong exposure to gargantuan amounts of sugary snacks and drinks combined with the metabolism, energy level and excitement threshold of 7-year-olds is like putting a hand grenade in a Hot Pocket. You don't wanna be there to pick up the grisly pieces.
Indeed. This past Saturday, my daughter Gemma attended a classmate's birthday party that degenerated into the kind of chaos normally associated with nineteenth-century wilderness explorers who haven't seen civilization for months, have eaten too much whale blubber, and have too many firearms at hand. The first three hours went smoothly enough, with the kids indulging in gastronomic excesses worthy of ancient Rome and gamboling gleefully around the garden--as if in Charlie's Chocolate Factory--devouring an avalanche of panini, potato chips, candy, chocolates, muffins and cake, washed down with rivers of Fanta and Coke.
Well, cut to Lord of the Flies. The happy gathering went all Darwin and a massive brawl broke out--kids pummeled one another, pushed and shoved, got knocked backwards over chairs, pulled hair, attempted to strangle one another with sticky hands. It was Caligula meets the Three Stooges. The fiasco ended with a hearty "vaffanculo!!!!!" shouted over the roiling, sneaker-clad melee by a 7 year-old Napoleon hopped up on fructose, and much of the group in tears. The host father--it was his first party--was found hiding in a corner of the kitchen, ashen and babbling, "I did all I could, I did all I could, I did all I could, oh god."
|My daughter, pre-holocaust|
Gemma--in that strange, amnesiacal way children have--looks back on the event and says it was fun. She refuses to even look at anything sugary, however, and if you need an indication of the unprecedented nature of this phenomenon, let me say that if the dinosaurs possessed some sort of jurassic sweet tooth, my daughter would be among the T-Rexes. I expect it won't last long, though. Unlike that party.
|Caligula, the partier supremus.|
Take that Chuck E. Cheese.
We Americans like things short and sweet: the average sitcom is 22 minutes long, excluding commercials, for example. You could say we like our fun in manageable doses. On the other hand, modern-day Italians, like their Roman predecessors, can't seem to get enough of a good thing. Even, apparently, when it turns into a bad thing. Just think, in the time it took for this rather Wonka vs. Kurtz kiddie melodrama to play itself out, La Traviata could have been staged twice.
They say nothing's over til the fat lady sings. Here in Italy, the fat lady sings--and sings, and sings (or even shouts vaffanculo! to 7 year-olds)--but that don't mean it's over.
Yours from the Tuscan trenches,