Wednesday, July 23, 2008

La Dolce Vita: Mind the Roman Aunts

Our arrival to Rome is really a blur to me now. We reached my Zia Elma's apartment, with my cousin, her husband, and Maurizio in tow. Zia Elma lives in an area that the natives call "Via Marconi". She actually lives on a small street call off of Via Marconi but I don't argue these details. As I've always known, and hubby was soon to learn, Italians are not keen on details--just estimations, generalizations, and approximations. If you ask for directions to the Colosseum, no matter where you are, you'll always get sempre dirit (pronounced DEE-REET-eh), which roughly means to keep going straight. If you want to know how to get to the hip and happenin' Trastevere are, you'll get a bunch of points to move towards but no specific street names, rights or lefts. I'll get to the numerous navigational adventures we experienced in due time. Now, it was time to mangia!

I love my Zia Elma for her strength, sense of humor, and kindness--her cooking, on the other hand, leaves much to be desired. Yes, how tragic? My poor hubby, in Italy for the first time with his new famiglia and where was the little old Italian lady making the pasta at 5 a.m.? Well, I hated to burst his bubble but it had to be done--my zia ain't that lil' ole lady. She's more like a forward thinking older gal who looks like my dad in drag. She doesn't wear black while sitting outside crocheting doilies all day. She wears Guess and watches American Idol-esc Italian television. Regardless, she had dinner all ready for us when we arrived: pasta (not home-made), salad (meaning only arugula), cold-cuts, chicken cutlets, and "pizza"--which is really more like a loaf of focaccia than actual pizza in the American sense. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't what you'd expect from a real Roman either. The pizza, though, was bellissima.

While we feasted, Zia Elma starred at me lovingly and kept commenting on how similar I am to my cousin--who really does look like me 15 years from now. We shared stories of old times, updated each other on family gossip, and stuffed our faces. "I got you mortadella and pizza because I know you love them so much," my zia said. My hubby laughed at this comment given that he is fully aware of my love for pizza and the strange cold-cut known as mortadella. My reputation precedes me. He also likes to make fun of mortadella, referring to it as Italian bologna. Granted, it's a weird lunch meat, with white spots of fat floating around in the lovely pink, uh, stuff. But I love it. He's also not the first to tease me about this. Growing up, I was the kid with the mortadella caprese sandwiches with Stella D'Oro cookies, while my contemporaries were consuming sad PB&Js and oreos. But for some reason, I was the weird one. Anyway, I'm digressing...

Zia Elma's apartment looks like the set to a 1970s Italian sitcom. The high ceilings, gilded with intricate molding, meet the wallpapered walls creating a yellowish tint to the light--kind of like the way old pictures look. The furniture is all great quality and old, too. Heavy wood that you know can stand the test of time. Pictures line most of the wall space--her daughter, her son, my uncle, my nuclear family, and, not surprisingly, Maurizio. Sadly, my cousin, Mario and my uncle, Crescenzio, are no longer with us. Mario was killed in a motor accident in 2001 and my uncle passed on August15, 2003. I remember this because it was the day after the massive blackout that affected virtually the entire Northeast are of North America. Mario, dark and mysterious, was a great guy and possibly one of the funniest people I'll ever know. My uncle was a wonderful man, too, a renaissance man. I was quite close with him and admired his numerous talents: writer, philosopher, musician, composer, poet, scientist, and crossword junkie. He's published several books of poetry and a couple of novels. He also could play any instrument he got his skilled hands on. It's always difficult for me when I first come back to Italy because of the flood of emotion that I experience when taking in all the photos. Zia Elma sensed this and put her arm around me when I got particularly nostalgic. She's been through a lot but she's always grateful for what she still has around: her family. Especially, Maurizio, who, as you can imagine, is the golden child, the second coming, and the light of the family. He's pretty cute, too.

Well, after eating and reminiscing, we fell asleep nestled in the hot, humid Roman night air. Zia Elma, like many Italians, does not have air conditioning. Our exhaustion from the 1 1/2 days of travel left us comatose through the night, not anywhere cognizant of how our bodies were literally in a slow roast.

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