Friday, April 17, 2009

Adopt-a-Nonna Day

A couple of weeks back, after great fanfare (read: persistent nagging), Trofie Wife finally agreed to join her over-eager landlord-neighbor, Mrs. Furley, on a walk around the neighborhood. Unbeknownst to me, it just so happened that the day of our date was concurrent with the Feast of the Annunciation, which, as Wikipedia explained, is the day that God served as Mary's home pregnancy test and told her that Jesus would be arriving in nine months (and don't worry about the messy details). The occasion was marked with a small assemblage of vendors and blue and white streamers (it's a boy!) near yet another church, Madonna della Olivette, one that Trofie Wife and Martello were unaware existed. Some further online digging explains why this is the church to visit if you want, as Martello often says, to "do it up" on March 25. Apparently olives (along with being one of Trofie Wife's favorite delicacies) are linked to fertility (and thus Mary) in Catholic lore. Thus the Annunciation would prove to be an especially important day of celebration for this parish.

The church itself is quite spectacularly situated on a precipice, somehow eked out atop a terrace that was likely home to many olive trees centuries ago. Trofie Wife was amazed at the number of octogenarians easily ascending the steep cobblestone steps, clearly such repeated actions being a key to their longevity. Mrs. Furley also scaled the steps, albeit with a bit of difficulty, grasping hold of Trofie Wife as they went. She had remembered that near Christmastime I had answered "no" to the question of whether or not we were Catholic, so she politely asked if it would be okay for me to enter the church with her. I came along as she (who claims not to be religious but definitely has a deep and unabiding connection to superstitions of all sorts) lit a prayer candle (likely in remembrance of her husband, or wait, am I mixing that up with yahrzeit candles? maybe it was for the Madonna?), showed me the famous statue of the Virgin Mary that is a pilgrimage site in and of itself, and muttered loudly (in English) about a man who she believed was "looking at us in a stupid way" (I thought he looked friendly and maybe was checking her out as she looks pretty good for someone in her ninth decade!).

Mrs. Furley believes that we are twins, due to our shared birthday and ascending signs, yet when she did not react with Trofie Wife-level joy upon spotting an absolutely adorable dog, I was relieved; there is no way we could be twins if she did not squeal with delight at a passing pooch. As we walked, we also passed the building that reportedly served as headquarters for the invading armies (first the Germans, then the Americans) during World War II. Mrs. Furley spoke of using her language skills as a young, frightened teenager for both commands. I'm sure that she has many stories from that era, but it's clearly a traumatic subject and we would never push her for information (though she brings it up on occasion to both me and Martello). As we made our way to a bench by the seaside, Mrs. Furley probed further regarding my own religious inclinations and eventually (with the assistance of a dictionary), I explained that we were ebrei (to which the delighted response was, "oh, you are a Jew!"). She asked me a little bit about what we believed, remarking that the Old Testament was quite "profound," and then related a story (which she repeated to Martello the next day) about a non-Jewish neighbor, prior to the outbreak of World War II, kicking her violinist daughter out of the house for falling in love with a Jew and recalling her own mother (Mrs. Furley's that is) being very upset about this other mother's rash actions. Incidentally, I'm currently reading a book about the Italian Jewish community leading up to and during WWII. I'm only about a quarter of the way through, but I have to say that the book paints a fascinating story about the complexities and divided loyalties during the entire period from the Risorgimento (Italian unification in the 19th century) through the end of WWII. The community depicted within (and perhaps Italian society itself) is perhaps the most multi-faceted, complex, dare I say schizo Jewish community that I have ever encountered (and that's saying a lot!). Trofie Wife will be sure to provide a full update once I have completed the text.

The excursion clearly made Mrs. Furley's day, and I suspect that I will assent to more of these in the future (particularly the ones she proposed involving her beachside cabana), despite my belief that she has already told me (and Martello) all of her stories at least six times.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

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