Wednesday, June 15, 2016

From ‘An Italian Education’ by Tim Parks

Perhaps more so in Italy than elsewhere. Children are magnets for women’s attraction. ….Italy, for all its faults, must be one of the most civilized places in the world for a child to grow up.

….Dr Maroni …..mentions French and Russian experts, American research centres. Such references score highly in an insecure country that doesn’t quite believe it could itself be responsible for any major scientific discovery.

Generally, it is not easy to make appointments in Italy, since it is important for the person offering a service to appear to be extremely busy, and hence successful. Any shortcomings in the service, in terms of slowness, will thus seem to be a guarantee of its qualities. I have even had a courier service in Verona tell me that they cannot come to pick up a package for forty-eight hours because they are so busy, and of course they are so busy because they are so fast.

As part of the obsession with security that manifests itself in tall iron fences defending bristling vegetable patches, prescription for every medical test under the sun an instinctive fear of any food that does not form part of the traditional national diet, it has become a generally acknowledged truth in Italy that a couple should not embark upon a family until they own the bricks and mortar they live in. …… In gioia e in lutto la casa e tutto, says the proverb – In joy and in grief, the home is chief.

….in all the years I’ve been in Italy, while the housing market in the UK has gone through the roof and then under the floor, I think I can safely say that property here has always been a seller’s market, so greedily is it desired, so rarely sold once gained…..

bisogna fare sacrifice per i figli – one has to make sacrifices for one’s children.

It is not common to see Italian men pushing kids’ buggies around the streets. If they are doing so, it will be in the company of their wives, usually with a slightly bent and beaten posture, waiting to be free.

The elderly ladies use little dialect words to express their affection. Babies are public property. They tweak his nose and pinch his cheeks…….a girl is kissing him and putting his cap straight and feeling how chubby his knees are. Clearly it is quite wonderful being an infant in Italy, so much so that one fears nothing will ever be quite so good again ….

Within five minutes of its birth the child has already been smothered in diminutives, many invented: sinfolina, ciccolina, ciccina ….It must be one of the areas where Italian most excels: the cooing excited caress over the tiny creature, uccellina, tartarughina ….Little birdie, little turtle…..

The nights were spent, as the Italians say, in bianco – in white - awake

….the glass of wine I’ve drunk is beginning to take a few corners off the world….

… Frate Indovino, a sort of calendar cum almanac, says:
‘Your son. From nought to five he is your master, from five to ten your servant, from ten to fifteen your secret counsellor, and after that, your friend – or your enemy.’

Children, Rita remarked, ….were perhaps healthier in German-speaking countries, but certainly sadder.

…..there is no man in greater trouble than an Italian husband who has been careless enough to let a child catch a cold. It’s far, far worse than mere desertion or problems with alimony

…..a large number of Italian couples have all four grandparents at their beck and call.
The availability of nonne – grandmothers – is then further increased by the fact that women in Italy retire at fifty-five (in the civil service the age of fifty), and in fact have all sorts of incentives for getting out even earlier, thus leaving millions of healthy and frighteningly energetic middle-aged grannies with nothing but time on their hands.

……Italy has the most generous maternity leave regulations and the most enlightened system of pre-school care of any country I know. Everything, it seems, is done to make child rearing easy and attractive. And still the birthrate falls.

Pilotato is a favourite word in the Italian press. It refers to the way some decision-taking process may be secretly manipulated – piloted – by those with personal interests, a sort of sophisticated technical euphemism for the more brutal English ‘fix’.

Just as the Italian household must be perfectly clean before one can relax in it, so the sky must be scrubbed an immaculate blue, every smudge of cloud polished away, before one can feel safe, before one can feel that the universe is behaving as it should, that things are fair…….

The Italian countryside is never just landscape or nature trails, never just a scroll, but full of roadside gods, reminders, little idols, so that you can hardly take your children out of the house here without discussing religion, life, death, and, above all, miracle.

It’s incredible how early schools start giving hours of homework in Italy, how seriously and traditionally they teach grammar and maths. It warms a parent’s heart.

….in England the women often do the gardening. But not here. Here it’s the man’s escape. Monks are famous for their gardening.

It’s hard to spot a man with his child.

…what is it exactly that the Italian mother does to generate this extraordinary bond, this wonderful and wonderfully sick phenomenon that the Italians call mammismo. ….Well, I suppose most of all what Mamma does is be there…….. Mothers may be away at work during the week, but they are there during the weekends when Daddy isn’t. …They don’t want the children to be out in the hot sun, in the cold air, they don’t want the children to be over-tired, to fall off a mountain, fall I nthe river, or, even worse, miss a proper meal. When a father does take the children out, on his return he will have to hear: ‘Oh, but he’s exhausted, he’ll be ill…look at the scratch on his elbow……’……. A father taking his child out on a walk, on a trip, is a man on probation. His wife’s thoughts stalk him everywhere.

All’amore dei figli, non c’e amore che somigli….To the love of children, no other love can compare.

The tradition of feeding stray cats is old and strong all over Italy….

On official occasions Italians come out of a sense of politeness, and to be part of lo spettacolo, but not to listen……The headmistress…pulls out her speech…she proceeds to read, as all public speakers do in Italy, for there is no merit attached here to the ability to think and speak on one’s feet ….I always find it curious that though Italians are wonderful performers in their private lives, in public they actually strive to plod….

How Italians love diplomas, commemorative documents of every kind! Diplomas for having gone to a skating course, for having taken part in a volleyball competition, for being present at the inauguration of some institution or other. It’s rare to do anything in a group in Italy and not end up with a diploma…..

Italians have a lovely expression for getting things both ways, they talk about having ‘your wife drunk and the barrel full’; i.e. she’s off your back and you can drink to your heart’s content. Or, you’ve made your wife happy without even spending anything….

…….I weighed Michele’s school backpack one morning. Five kilos of books…
But however heavy they may be, their backpacks will never smell of sandwiches, because the food is so good no one would ever dream of opting out of school meals. Or rather, the mothers would never dream of letting the authorities let the food get so bad that anyone would want to opt out.
And they’ll never smell of football boots either. For school offers no games, no extracurricular activities. There are no music lessons, no singing lessons, no school choir, no carpentry for the boys and cookery for the girls, no hockey, no cricket…no sports day, no school teams. The school doesn’t, as it does in England, pretend to offer a community that might in any way supplant the family, or rival Mamma……There is no assembly in the morning, no hymn singing, no prayers, no speech day….if children want extracurricular activity of any kind, they have to go outside school; the parents have to look for it, and take them there …..and pay.

On every banknote it says, ‘THE LAW PUNISHES THE MANUFACTURERS AND DISTRIBUTORS OF COUNTERFEIT NOTES’. It’s one of those warnings that, rather than instilling terror, just reminds you how common the crime is, suggests it almost……….

….hundredandtwentythousandlire …..numbers are always written together in this cautious country to prevent anybody adding anything in between…..

….an Italian father can make no greater mistake than not making sure his children have the appropriate footwear for any trip that takes them away from their mothers.

….like many Italians of his age he can’t swim; he never learnt…..

….caring what…people think…seems to me …a peculiarly Italian anxiety. I never used to worry so much in London….

…..further down the Italian boot, where life is wilder,….the newspapers will report on mafia bosses being arrested because they have come home to spend their holidays by the beach they like best, near their mothers ….The Mediterranean epic, from Ulysses on, was ever one of return.

…Pescara, an apparently unprepossessing seaside town ….a town …I believe has more to tell us about Italy today than all the monuments of Florence, Rome and Venice put together…..

…the key to every official discussion about an Italian holiday is pretending that it is undertaken entirely for health purposes, whereas all the images you actually seem, on those posters, on TV, and later on the beach itself, are screaming Fun, Pleasure, Sex….

…..if someone does swim seriously, it is a boy. None of the girls seem to swim. The girls stand at wading depth….

….its a generally acknowledged truth in Italy that a man cant be expected to look after children on his own for more than a couple of hours….

….while it is tru that in summer, and above all on holiday, most Italians like to have a siesta, it is equally true that children the world over do not.

…Stefi …informs me that when her friend Francesca had a little baby sister it was because their parents bought it for her. This is the euphemism parents use in Italy. ‘We’ve decided to buy you un bel bambino

Azzurro is the colour of all Italian national sports teams who are always known as Gli azzurro, the blues.

….it crosses my mind that Italians have as yet made none of those concessions to other cultures the British have: turbans on ticket collectors and chadors in the nursery. Life’s bric-a-brac here is still solidly Catholic. But the sense of inertia is growing. The immigrants are milling at the train stations, and the Italians are mislaying their rosaries amongst the clutter of their economic success.

….the Italian expression for ‘prince charming’ is principe azzurro – a sportsman…

What always surprises me…is how Italians will go off to pet and canoodle in groups, large groups, occasionally breaking off and shouting jokes to each other. They have none of the trepidation and secrecy that seemed such an inevitable part of the package in my adolescence.

The radio will tell you that nearly forty percent of Italian thirty-year-olds still live with their parents.

…..he announces, as if it were the world’s greatest truth, ‘Gli schiaffi dei figli sono carezze per i genitori.’ ….. ‘A child’s blows are caresses for the parents.’ After a silence of about ten seconds we both burst out laughing….

‘No better place to grow up in Italy,’ I tease him… father-in-law is quick to correct me: ‘No better place,’ he says, ‘not to grow up!’

No comments: