Sitting in a backyard surrounded by 40 or so Italian women. It happens to me about once a month when the group of Italian ladies who live in LA meet for an evening of merriment, food – a lot of it – and alcohol. Oh, and good company. Not one to join groups easily, actually I do have an aversion to any gathering of more than six people, what started as a lark to practice my mother’s tongue on a regular basis, has now become an event I sort of look forward to. The gamut of participants runs from women in their 70’s to hipper 30 year olds, with pretty much everything in between: it’s somewhat of an insular crowd, with ties to the Consulate and strong roots “back home”.
Many of them seem to commute on a regular basis and at first it was hard for me to relate to most of them, what with my nomadic instincts, my cultural full immersion and the rejection of everything Italian I wasn’t too fond of – yes, there are facets to the bel paese anyone would be willing and happy to reject. Someone asked me at our latest gathering if I knew of a good Catholic Church on the Westside and I had to swallow hard not spatter my margarita over her dress – after 15 years in LA I am not aware of a single Catholic Church, west or east side, and I just demurred, skipping over my churchgoing days ending over three decades ago. Another woman expressed such a bigoted opinion I had to remove myself from the table for fear of starting a not so pleasant debate. After all, we were celebrating one of the ladies going back to Italy for good, her stint at the Consulate over. And assholes are to be found in any culture.But as I was sitting around surveying the beautiful garden enveloped by the June gloom, I started to do a mental inventory of the traits common to most Italian women and, taking into account the two margaritas already in my belly which might have clouded my judgement somewhat, here is what I came up with:
1. Italian women might drink alcohol but do not get drunk. It would be unseemly and in poor taste and god forbid we might look foolish.
2. Italian women eat. A lot. Unlike their Los Angeleno counterparts who lunch on salads with dressing on the side and sip strictly unsweetened iced tea, we pile our plates, we go back for seconds and we never skip dessert. Somehow, there were no fat people in the room which brings me to number
3. Italian women do not drink sodas. It’s not served at parties because it would clash with the food anyway. And it makes you burp, another activity frowned upon.
4. Speaking of which, Italian women are absolutely convinced there is no better food than Italian. They will proclaim it to anyone who would listen, they will politely venture for ethnic on occasion and then pronounce their sentence: Italian food is just better.
5. Unlike French women, who need to be chic no matter the occasion, Italian women dress well, but they have to be comfortable and they skew towards the classics rather than the adventurous. When I went through my pirate phase I put a lot of friendships on the line but I mercifully got over it before it was too late.
6. Hair and make-up. Little makeup – too much is “clownesque” in their view and hair should be neat but not overcoiffed that’s toooo American. During my brief survey, I found that to be true of everyone present.
7. Italian women like to talk. Preferably loudly. Sometimes inappropriately.
8. Italian women cherish motherhood, even those who are not mothers themselves. I stood out as the proverbial sore thumb. But they do make good and caring mothers, I will have to admit to that. To a fault.
9. Italian women would never wish to be anything else other than Italian – but that goes for their male counterparts too.
10. Italian women make good friends – maybe it’s true of every culture but because they are so warm, accustomed to large families and they love to talk and eat, they tend to find ways to coexist with rivalries, gossip, stubbornness and, sometimes, even hypocrisy.
This was by no means a survey with a scientific approach but I had fun conducting it. Feel free to chime in.