But first, I thought I'd include some totally unrelated images of things growing in my neighbors' gardens today.... except for the lettuce. That's mine.
Have I mentioned that I am always the first to arrive to everything in this country? Every. Single. Time. I'm not really bothered by it, but in an effort to adapt to the culture, I aimed to be late for this date. Besides, no way was I going to be the first there to "greet" the others as they arrived. Nah, ah. Ain't happening. Since I live near the meeting place, I waited until after the meeting time to leave home. Guess what... it worked! I even liked the feeling of being late.
When I arrived my trusty friend in the group was already there, and I was freed of much of the anxiety that I felt. She also reserved a place next to her at the table for me. The truth is that it would likely be better for me to be shoved out of my comfort zone, leave my security blanket Angelica a time or two, and make more of an effort to get to know the others better. I don't wanna. They might bite.
Okay, so, no, they don't bite...but they sometimes look like they do. My imagination goes to strange places at times. I imagine that they are all friends whose children have grown up together (all six years), who vacation together in exotic places (okay, Asiago), who definitely shop together at the same places (they all look the same), who will some day marry their children off to each other -- a perfect group of "Vicenza Bene" that is not open for membership, certainly not to a woman who wears a winter coat that is much like that of the nuns. (Giving it to the thrift shop at the end of the season, FYI.) Truthfully, I'm not exactly coveting the membership card just yet.
As always happens when I attend an evening with 20 people seated at one long table, I only engaged in conversations with those seated in my vicinity, most of whom are working mothers, like me. What a relief!
Of course the myth that they are all friends was busted the minute we sat and questions like, "Now, who is your child? Is he your only one?" were directed to others besides me. I always get the same questions: Where are you from in the States? Do you like it here? Are you leaving soon? (Most do leave much sooner than we will.) Why is Young One in this school? Where do you live in Vicenza? .... and the always-dreaded: How long have you been here?
And therein lies my problem, friends. It's not the carnivorous, beautiful, kings of snobbery "Vicenza Bene." Nope. I can handle those types of people.
It's the fricking language. "Oh, yes, I've lived here nearly ten years." I hate to have to say it. Sometimes I circumvent the question by changing the subject before it arrives, but I'm thinking: "Yes, I've been here ten years and I still manage to butcher your language. So far I managed to handle first grade Italian, but I'm concerned about what second grade might bring. I can understand much of what you say to me, but please don't expect me to be able to engage in a meaningful discussion with you. I can't. I'm a highly educated professional, and I can't. I'm a blooming idiot. But, can we still be friends? I'm a great listener! Don't judge me by my shoes, either. They are worse than my language skills."
Blahh....I have issues. Clearly.
So, like usual, I spent much of the night listening. The fifth grade teacher talked a lot about the issues she faces with immigrants in her classroom -- four children from four different countries with four different languages in her class of twenty, with little support. Is Italy becoming the melting pot? Or is it just Vicenza?
Another mother told the story of the recent adoption of her son from India. I like her, a lot. Still another, who has a couple much older girls who are already at the university, dished the gossip on the nuns at the school -- not at all juicy. Young One's teacher is much younger than I previously thought. I learned that this mother has the most knowledge about the school scene.
Another tried to get the group to agree to a trip to Disneyland Paris. Another is Polish. Who knew? Well I kinda suspected it when I received the list of students and her last name ended in "wiec." The names give it away in this country every time. She didn't speak much either, but when she did her grammar was impeccable. I later learned that her daughter shared a locker with my good friend's son at asilo last year. Small world: Vicenza, Italy.
They talked about middle schools and about the parking problem that we face during drop off and pick up times. I can also usually expect at least one person to retell a love story involving a friend and soldier. It's difficult for them to understand that I don't know many soldiers, socially speaking: "But don't you work at Caserma?"
By the end of the evening, one of the mothers felt comfortable enough to bring up the name of the class bully. I did take the opportunity to retell stories Young One has shared about this wild child. His mom, of course, was not present. All the Mamma's agreed that the teacher is much too dismissive of the problems he presents.
Unless someone offers a direct question, I usually just listen. They usually don't. But guess what? This time someone did...repeatedly. I think she was being kind, trying to include me. I appreciate that. She, nonetheless, reminds me of a wolf -- svelte, strong, quick, and ready to eat her young, at least anyone who might dare mess with her young. She could handle that bully, for sure.
The questions revealed the fact that Richard is not Catholic, that we were not married in the church but rather the commune in Pozzuoli, and that we did not make a big party of the event, didn't even take a honeymoon. AND, that Young One was present at the ceremony as the civil servant
Then a couple quizzed me about what it means to be Protestant. Like I know. I don't know if Richard really knows. He wasn't one of those types of Protestants, the kind that went to service and studied the bible. He was a Protestant because, well, because he wasn't a Catholic and certainly not Jewish. He grew up on military bases the son of a senior enlisted; during that time, they had to be something. Everyone has to be something, right? Don't answer that. I told them that Protestants don't recognize the Saints, and they bought it, mostly.
Richard, the Protestant, is the one who refuses to allow Young One to miss the local weekly cathecism class in the paese. He insisted that we attend mass last week. He wants that to be clear, says I should have shared that little tidbit with the Mamma's. I didn't.
So. It was a success, I suppose...though maybe not for Richard. We were out until past midnight. Closed the restuarant. Practiced my Italian. Made (mostly) a good impression. I even felt compelled to invite one of the women and her family over to dinner. Haven't exactly done it yet, though. I'm glad I made myself attend.
BTW, Pizza Mamma was at a chicken place.