Voglio Essere Italiana

This is my favorite cookie ever. I have one of the big tins on my windowsill full of dried lavendar, which looks really cool. Carl gave me a little one last week before I went to Tucson. He said I should use it to keep pens in on my desk at work. “But it’s full of cookies!” I said. “You’ll find a way,” he said. I brought it all into work and I’ve been eating about five amarettini a day. (They’re non-fat!) The lovely red-and-orange box sits very happily on my desk, full of pens. And every time I look at it, I think about being Italian. Italian-American? Of Italian descent?

This is probably part of my tendency to create intricate fantasy worlds, but all week I’ve been thinking about being Italian. I’ve thought about how I used to speak the language fairly well when I was in college, but how I didn’t go abroad there the way I wanted to and how I wish I had learned it at my father’s knee instead. I thought about Under The Tuscan Sun and A Room With A View. I thought about this distant relative of mine by the fantastic name of Carmine Crocco, who wrote his autobiography before he was hanged for treason and about whom I wrote this big entry in the Lost Thanksgiving Entry of 2002. There’s a play about him, isn’t that weird? I thought about ordering at Italian restaurants. I thought about the trip to Italy I took in 1998 with My Friend Marah, and how we did all these great things there but were still tourists, and how I secretly wished we were still in touch with some of the family there.

I thought about what it would have been like to be like My Friend Manya, who went to Germany to visit her family ever summer and who grew up speaking German and all of that, and how I would have liked to do that too. I thought about speaking Italian fluently, and actually knowing what I was talking about when I talk about my family history. I thought about living there for a year. I thought about not ever having to spell my name out. When I was there with Marah (the only time I have ever been there) we were making hostel reservations for the next night, and I gave both our names, and the guy on the other end of the phone said that he was going to keep it under my name because it was “easier.” I have told that story about a thousand times…in fact I am slightly paranoid that I’ve told it, in fact, previously in this journal, but what am I supposed to do, go through the archives and look for it?…and every time I get excited when I think about that.

I’m thinking about this because I usually don’t think about it very much. Usually only when someone asks “What…nationality…is that name?” Sometimes I talk about food, or about how civilized Italians are for taking all of August off every year. Sometimes I’ve thought about the parallels between The Sopranos and my own Italian-American family. Mostly, though, I think about how I am like many white middle class people in that I have this sneaking feeling that I don’t really have a culture. This is a total lie, of course, because everyone has a culture, comes from somewhere, thinks certain things for certain reasons. I just happen to identify most with mainstream dominant culture, and when you’re immersed in it, you can’t see it or recognize it, and so it feels like it’s not there at all. I feel like I’m not from anywhere, I guess.

So, why not Italian? It’s legitimate. My dad is actually from there. I imagine myself in one of those villas everyone is always talking about. I wear big black sunglasses and a scarf around my head when I go down to the market…along the cobblestoned streets!…on my Vespa. I write my book in the sun dappled courtyard, the bees buzzing in the lavender. I have affairs with dark gorgeous men. We go to the beach during August and we go skiing during settimana bianca, literally “white week,” which is when the whole country takes Christmas break. (In this fantasy, I have learned to ski. I have also, apparently, either got contacts or laser surgery, because I never wear sunglasses anymore. In Italy, though, I’d have to, right?) I have one of those deep glamorous Italian laughs…a laugh that says “I am vibrant! I am so full of life! I eat seasonally, liberally using locally-produced monounsaturated-fat olive oil! I am passionate and wild and free! La dolce vita, that’s me!”

Can’t you just see it?

Comments are closed.