Who’s More Roman than Whom?

When my brother, David, and his wife visited Rome last summer, my husband, Gaetano Castelli (he’s worth a Google), and I took them to the Galleria Nazionale dell’Arte Moderna. Furthermore, we decided to lunch there, although the A/C wasn’t working very well (welcome to Rome) and it was VERY hot! Gaetano, a somewhat demanding type (welcome to the Romans) was not pleased with, to make it short, anything — the A/C (or lack thereof), the menu at the bar, the decor, etc. and sort of, MADE IT KNOWN to anyone within earshot (welcome to Rome and the Roman way).

When we finally settled into a table in the coolest spot in the room, a waiter approached, and when my husband asked for a glass of wine, I, jokingly said, “He can’t have any because he’s bad.” His retort was, “No, I’m Roman.

This started some banter between him and the waiter that deserves a blog.

“From where?” the waiter asked, in an almost confrontational way.

 “I’m Roman,” my husband answered, almost annoyed.

“But from where exactly in Rome?”

After several minutes of back and forth questioning, as in —

“but from which quartiere?”

“but which section of that quartiere”

“OK, but which street in that section of that quartiere?”

did they determine that they had grown up around the corner from each other. In different decades, for sure, but that distance didn’t matter much. Neither was more Roman than the other. They both won the who’s more Roman than whom game. And they both understood what they meant.

This exchange couldn’t be compared to our dozens. No self-respecting Italian would joke about, let alone impugn, his or anybody’s mother given the reverence, obsession, and devotion accorded the Madonna and by extension, mothers in general. Yet, there was so much posturing and one-upmanship that it made me think of the bluster of the dozens.

But the piece de resistance came when my brother excused himself from the table and tried, surreptitiously, to pay the bill, something my husband doesn’t allow in ‘his’ town. The waiter looked toward Gaetano and raised his eyebrows, searching for permission. Gaetano gestured an emphatic “No!” and David lost.

Gaetano smiled at the waiter and then said to us, “You see, he and I – we’re brothers.”

Italian Homages to George Floyd

Rome: Members of Rete Restiamo Umani (We Remain Human) renamed a Roman street Via George Floyd e Bilal Ben Messaud during the night of June 18. They chose to retitle Via dell’Amba Aradam near St. Giovanni, a hallowed basilica, because it recalls the battle which took place in Ethiopia in 1936, a “shameful massacre carried out by Italian soldiers.” The covering placed over the marble street marker was soon removed but not before it gained notoriety, covered by much of the mainstream media. Mr. Bilal Ben Messaud, a refugee, was also honored because he died in Porto Empedocie (Sicily) in May while attempting to reach land, having been confined on a ship offshore.

Image via /ReteRestiamoUmani on Facebook

Press links:

https://www.wantedinrome.com/news/black-lives-matter-rome-activists-rename-street-after-george-floyd.html

https://www.huffingtonpost.it/entry/via-amba-aradam-diventa-via-george-floyd-toponomastica-cambiata-a-roma-nella-notte_it_5eec72c5c5b66c7a5e6af464

https://www.ilmessaggero.it/roma/news/roma_george_floyd_strade_cartelli_statue_imbrattate_ultime_notizie_news-5297159.html

https://roma.repubblica.it/cronaca/2020/05/29/foto/_justice_for_george_floyd_il_murale_a_roma-257960973/1/#1

Naples: Italian/Dutch street artist, Jorit, took to a Neapolitan rooftop to paint a mural of the faces of Lenin, Martin Luther King, Jr., George Floyd, Malcolm X, and Angela Davis. All have red tears flowing down their cheeks, in my eyes reminiscent of Native American war paint. At the mural’s feet, Jorit painted: Time to Change the World

Milan: The Simpsons as black Americans and the Statue of Liberty, shrouded in a Ku Klux Klan hood with Bart writing ‘lines’ which read Who is next?, is how one Milanese artist chose to protest the killing of George Floyd. The artist also has Bart having painted a portrait of George Floyd ‘saying’ JUST BECAUSE I’M BLACK. (See here)

Photo via wantedinmilan.com

The Power of One ….. Rose at a Time

A friend from Moldova (first photo) decided to plant a rose for Rome. She’s madly in love with the city and wanted to show her appreciation for all it has given her (warmth, friendship, cappuccino) by beautifying a neglected patch of earth near the famed Piazza del Popolo. So, she cleared the terrain of an obscene amount of trash, bought a small rose bush and, before you know it, had over 100 additional roses sowed by friends and passersby even. I planted two in memory of my parents. My mother nursed a rose garden in our backyard for decades and I know she’d be pleased.

If you’re ever in Rome and want to take a look (please bring a water bottle with you; there’s a fountain nearby), you can find the garden at the start of Via Ferdinando di Savoia.

From the United States to Italy | Only with a Fight | Justice and Rights

On June 5 in Rome’s Piazza Barberini, a modest group of demonstrators (mostly Italians) gathered in support of the protest movement against police brutality taking place in the United States. It was one of many that occurred in these days and was as peaceful as they come. The police were prominent but hardly paid attention and didn’t seem ‘at the ready’ at all. The speeches were to the point and came from the young.

This gathering gained less attention than the one to follow at Piazza del Popolo two days later where thousands stood and kneeled but, I felt, was still noteworthy.

Do They Really Understand What They Are Wishing For?

Last summer while visiting the Agrigento region of Sicily, we spent a day at one of its eye-popping beaches called Scala dei TurchiWhat I saw on the way in burst my sockets almost as much: a poster that announced the title of the beach resort’s weekly Sunday night music festival. It read:

I WOULD LIKE BLACK SKIN

And the first thing that came to my mind was “Be careful what you ask for.”

I’m Not A Salesgirl, Especially Not In Finland

Helsinki, Finland (now) | Photo by bearinthenorth via pixabay
Prefer to listen to a self-narrated version of this post? Simply use the player above

I’m just using this event to illustrate that a black person can also be caught shopping while black outside the United States. Most of my African American brothers and sisters will nod in agreement when I say that we can be anywhere shopping – yes, just minding our own business in a department store, pharmacy, grocer, etc. trying to spend some money we made, usually working for the man – and get mistaken for the help. 

This happened to me a long time ago in Europe, before globalization made international travel, especially for Americans of color, more accessible to the hordes of tourists now seen globetrotting (in more ‘normal’ times at least).

To be precise, it was 1981 during my first overseas posting in Oslo, Norway as a Foreign Service Officer. I took a long weekend in October to visit a colleague assigned to Helsinki, Finland. Early winter had already begun to fall on the Nordic countries, along with brightly colored leaves. Accordingly, I packed a full-length coat.

One of the to-do things in Helsinki (for a woman) is to visit the Marimekko flagship store. The burst of color of its fabrics inside the shop (see below for examples), in a way, mirrored the vibrant tones of the changing and falling leaves outside. Oranges and reds and yellows abounded in the clothing and on the bolts of cloth that lined the walls.

I quickly eyed a blood-red shirtwaist dress printed with leaves in just those shades. I imagined how the abundant skirt would swish and swirl with my every step and decided that I had to have it. As I fingered the starched, heavy-duty cotton, someone interrupted my thoughts of making a show-stopping entrance in this frock and how I would accessorize it.

“Could you help me?”

I turned toward the voice and saw it attached to a white, 30-something, blond American woman. Mind you, I had on my coat with a purse on my shoulder.

“I need some help,” she continued.

I wanted to go rude to her face but opted for the silent treatment, looked her up and down, and then walked to my friend and told her what happened, loudly.

“You see that woman,” I started, pointing at the offender. “She thinks I work here. The Finns are some of the palest, blondest people on the planet and plus, I’ve got on a coat! She sees a black person and automatically thinks – salesgirl. Thousands of miles and common sense still can’t separate them from their prejudice and stereotypical thinking.”

By then, the woman had disappeared into the racks of clothing. I bought the dress and huffed out.

Now, I’ll admit that I have confounded a shopper for a seller in the States. And yes, they’ve all been white and yes, I’ve done it on purpose more than once. I like to see the befuddled look of “How could you possibly take me for someone who works here?” When it happens to me, my look is more one of exasperation and yes, anger and offense, especially when it’s so obvious that I am not a subservient worker bee or as Native Americans would say, ‘a mascot.’ (Think the Washington Redskins, the Kansas City Chiefs, etc.)