Saturday, February 19, 2011

meeting and greeting with bambino

Even more so than when I was pregnant, people are pleasant to me. I know that sounds as if I am surprised, and I am, when I consider how I was treated with circumspection, if not suspicion when I first arrived here. This is not an Italian thing – in Tuscany I was received with open arms. But Sicilians are notorious for their ‘sfiducia’ with regard to ‘forestieri’ or foreigners, but which I mean someone from outside their town, whether or not they are foreign. With good reason, too, considering their history.

Regulars from the bar and restaurant clamour to see our bambino and regale us with complimenti on how cute he is and often bring ‘regali’ too. The blue eyes win them over immediately, the wee charmer. I had him over at the restaurant for the Sunday aperitivo, now a regular and popular event (eat as much as you like, plus cocktail for €6: in Dublin the alcohol would run out, here it’s the food …). Well, bambino had a little fanclub gathered round the buggy. And the DJ (male) looked after him for me while I got something to eat. He even played nice chill out music until we left.

Men in particular are interested in him and in how his birth went. Last Saturday in the cafĂ© down the road, one of our favourite local councillors and head of proposals for resuscitating the moribund castle asked me how I managed since he was such a big baby. Did you not have trouble with stitches? He asked. How funny, imagine an Irishman enquiring about your stitches. No, thanks to hypnobirthing techniques and a water birth, I didn’t need any. They are all fascinated with the idea of the water birth. You look great, he tells me, much better than before, luminous skin. Motherhood agrees with you! Grazie indeed. This is all accompanied by magnanimous hand gestures indicating my face, my hair and the general shape of me. Wonderful. Only Italian men can pull it off. Another male friend tells that he saw me at our wedding, when pregnant and now in the early days of motherhood, and he says, you are at your best now. Sei una donna completa. Will you listen to these Italians. I fear it is all to do with the hormones and once I stop breastfeeding this luminosity will leave me, the hair will fall out and the blackheads will return!

Old ladies have a habit of coming right up to us, right up to bambino’s face, whether he’s in the stroller or the babybjorn carrier, and screeching, yes, screeching into his little face, ‘Beddu!!!!!!!!!!!!’ Sicilian for bello. I feel frightened by these witches, so I don’t know how my poor bambino must feel. Here, it would appear, it does not come naturally to whisper at babies, as you would expect. Men shout, quite aggressively, ‘o giovanotto!’ (young man) and at first poor bambino cried, as you would expect, it sounded like he was being reprimanded. Now he’s a bit more used to the Sicilian rough treatment.

One of the nasty neighbours, the old lady who throws her rubbish into my in-law’s garden (!), stopped us as I was out for a stroll the other day. Pretending to rearrange her washing, hung out on the street in front of her little corner house, I knew she had her beady eye on us from way off. ‘Look at the picciriddu’ (Sicilian for piccolo, little one), she squawked. I winced, anticipating the ‘beddu’ screech, which duly came. I tried to walk on but she followed me down the street. ‘How come I have never seen you before?’ she mused. Yeah right. ‘Ah signora, sure you see me every day pushing the stroller up the hill,’ I reply, ready to give her the benefit of the doubt, but suspecting a ruse. She beams, innocently. ‘Ah, is that you pushing the pram. Sure I didn’t recognise you. Well, where do you live?’ Over the road there, I nod vaguely. ‘Where exactly? Which house?’ I repeat over the road, and amazingly she comes up with the exact house number. As if she didn’t know who I was. ‘So you are married to -?’ Aha. ‘And what do you do here?’ She enquires, all in Sicilian dialect. I am beginning to tire of her little game. ‘I run the restaurant across the road from your house,’ I tell her, looking her in the eye. And walk on. Not good to spend too much time with these nasty neighbours. My mother-in-law tells me not to trust any of them, that they know what’s going on before it has even happened. Watching everything from behind their purposefully half-closed shutters. And commenting among themselves. Never to your face, she warned, they are too sly for that. But they will be discussing everything about you behind your back. So it’s not just my imagination when I go out the door that many eyes on me ...

In fact mia suocera has just told me to make sure mio bambino is wearing something red tomorrow to ward off the mal'occhio at a family dinner tomorrow. But if it's family? All the more reason she says ... Her mother had her sew a little red heart into her children's clothes and so she had her daughter put a red chilli pepper from Naples under her grandchildren's mattress ... the eye is more powerful than anything people can say about you, she assured me. Wow. Reason enough to leave this crazy land...

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