People are people. Let’s try that again. In every country in the world you’ll find assholes and, if you dig deep enough, you’ll find incredible people who inspire you and who you’ll bond with and get all excited when you see them. Friends, is really what I’m getting at. You’ll find friends.
Recently, we went to dinner in Cassino with a group of friends from the area. Most of them grew up with Francesco and have known him since his two front teeth fell out and were replaced with oversized bunny teeth until his head finally grew into them, through puberty, and his first kiss. We met around 8:00 p.m. at a place in Cassino called Santo Bevitore, a restaurant with an incredible wine list and a sexy, almost musty scent from the thick stone walls and mossy exterior. It’s like many places in Italy, a marriage between the old and the new, the traditional and the modern.
Francesco and I arrived a little late with another friend, P. I ran ahead of Francesco to hug and kiss the other four we were meeting. We took a seat and P sat to the left of me, after pausing to kiss me on the top of the head. Another friend leaned over to rub my arm. But are you warm enough? What do you want to drink? How was your day? They asked all of their usual questions. The intimacy always reminds me of my dad, who is Persian, sits extremely close to you on the couch, and periodically leans over to kiss your face or to randomly say, “love you, baby.” While I read the menu, Francesco talked about our day at his parent’s home, eating. “But you’re staying with your in-laws for TWO WEEKS? One asked, “Ma Che Palle!” Everyone laughed. I read the menu: Cod, Tagliata, Ravioli and a few other standard items. P rubbed my back, and asked what I’m getting. A moment later he’s talking 5 inches from my face, enthusiastically, while gesturing like a maniac. It’s adorable. The warmth was contagious and I wanted to jump into his arms and get carried around all night in one of those little sheets that you use to strap babies to you.
We ordered wine. White wine for the fish eaters, red for everyone else.
The mood was light and jovial and, as it often does, the conversation followed a winding road with many stops. It started with small talk, the weather, eating (always eating) and evolved into teasing. Francesco made fun of me because I’m always late, but mostly on purpose, and I’m a terrible traveler despite how frequently I travel. For example, two weeks ago I went to hop on a flight only to realize my passport was expired and I had to get an emergency one (but that’s a different story). Our other friend jumped in to make fun of his wife for her travel antics, “we always come close to missing our flights!” He laughed. Francesco jumped in, “That’s how she is,” he gestured to me, “she likes to board the plane last! Her PASSPORT was expired and she wasn’t even worried! She had fun staying in NY to fix it!” The other guy laughed. They continued exchanging stories about us, while we teased them for always being too early. Then, the entire table jumped in, everyone laughing so hard they were crying.
Throughout this, every so often, someone leaned forward to check on me. Are you warm enough? Do you like the wine? Do you need more water? Want my jacket? Do you understand what he’s talking about? Let me tell you the backstory here…
The table next to us had children. We asked one of them to take a photo of us. I noted how everyone at our table spoke to the child like he was a person, not dismissively, but with respect. Now that many of us have children, I’m always interested in how Italians treat them as a culture. Kids attend adult things. People bring them to parties, or dinner, or to get an aperitivo. Nobody is like, “Ugh, a kid. Ew.” Instead, everyone is like, “HAND ME THAT BABY!” And everyone passes the baby around like a joint and tries really hard not to accidentally drip Prosecco on it. It’s nice. The baby is happy, the parents are happy, and everyone is jolly af. And that night was the same. The kids at the table next to us, including the one who snapped our photos, engaged with the adults, stole sips of wine and had a wonderful time.
The conversation eventually turned to politics and, of course, Trump. It’s never my goal to start a political debate on this blog, but I can’t avoid all political chat when I’m telling a story. Fact of the matter, Europeans hate Trump and Italians especially. Within five minutes of meeting anyone, they’d ask, “But you didn’t vote for Trump, right?” So far, even our very conservative uncle hates him. But any criticism that anyone dished out about Trump’s decisions or Tweets or speeches, were balanced by “well, we had Berlusconi.”
We talked about immigration. Two of our friends work with immigrants in Italy. One woman who I just met (and adore) explained the “deep pain,” of working with an outcasted people. “I hear the worst stories in the world. People come from war, disease, famine, horrible situations, they risk their lives to escape. Then they come to Italy, and in many parts, are treated horribly. People won’t even speak to them in this area.” She leaned forward while she said this over her glass, her eyes blazing with empathy and I could feel how deeply she cared for these people.
We talked about marriage, family and life. I’m not exactly sure what it is but when big things happen, our friends, and Italians in general, seem to really take things in stride. I’m always impressed with the imparting wisdom, too. A breakup, a divorce, family drama, these things they deal with incredibly well. In fact, they deal better with large things than very small ones. Traffic? They’ll murder someone. A divorce? Well, that’s just what happens in life sometimes although it’s unfortunate. A breakup? “I feel bad but I know it’s temporary as are all strong feelings.”
We finished the night at a bar. I had a Moscow Mule, Francesco a Manhattan, and everyone else a Negroni. We sat under the stars, listening to the distant sounds of scooters and teenage laughter, and enjoyed each other’s company.