Saturday, March 25, 2017

Firenze: Essere Socievole

I was determined to go. I would go. I had RSVPed yes. This had been planned for weeks. I was definitely going to go.

And yet, by the time Friday afternoon rolled around, as it so often does, I found myself reviewing various plausible reasons for not attending the social dinner of the other moms in Victor's class, Mister Passpartout, la sezione italiana di I Scolopi.

I was tired. What a work week! They probably wouldn't talk to me. What if they were mean? I wouldn't understand their Italian. I didn't want to ride my bike in the dark to Piazza delle Cure, to a place I'd never been to, to eat dinner with people I didn't know. Sure, we had perhaps exchanged buongiorni from time to time on the hallway at dropoff. But these Italian mamme ... madonna. I have blogged about this here before. I felt like I'd struck out enough with the mamme of the nido, why not give a whirl to le mamme della materna.

Yet, I counseled myself, we're here for the long term. Gentle roots are being put down and cultivated. I must be patient. The kids were staying in this school, which we have loved for them. Rome wasn't built in a day, nor a Florentine mamma made a personal friend over dinner. Think of the relative benefit, I told myself. Who knows who will be there. If one mamma is nice, it will be time well spent, because right now, I do not have single Italian mamma friend through the kids' classes, and our two bambini have approximately 100 classmates between them. Many of those classmates are international, and the Spanish, Dutch, and other American families I have met easily and warmly.

Le mamme italiane, on the other hand, are an entirely different game.

They've lived in town forever. They are Florentine. They've known all those other moms since THEY were in nido together. They casually might say something like, oh, our families have been friends for six generations. They just can't even. They don't have the time.

Just one, I told myself. If even just one is nice, it will be worth it.

Jason repeatedly said I did not have to do it. Don't stress yourself out over this, he said. But I wasn't stressed out. I just wanted to rise to the occasion. Friendship favors the bold. Finally, I thought of Victor and Eleanor, and how they might benefit from my ambient comfort level if I had a mamma friend or two in school who was from the area.

I buckled my bike helmet firmly just after 8 pm Friday evening, and set out for Santanera.

At the restaurant a group of five moms were already enjoying aperitivi. They warmly introduced themselves. I knew their children by name. Interestingly, it seemed to skew heavily toward moms of the oldest boys in class, like our Victor, who were also a continuazione al primo anno di elementare next year. Lapo. Jeremy. Francesco. Nikita. I knew these little boys by name and face, and it was nice to meet moms who were friendly and open, and who had clearly self-selected to be in the market for a new friend or two. Or maybe just to spend time with their lifelong friends.

I picked up a glass of prosecco and set about being open. Not a tall order normally for me, but in Italian, with such cultural filters, perhaps a bit more so. But fortunately two of the moms made it much easier. About fifteen minutes in I decided that I had received 100% return on my psychic investment.

We sat down for dinner, eight in all. Two moms had arrived later, and in a more typical fashion, had neither introduced themselves nor talked to anyone else much. That was more what I had feared would happen across the group. Even Florentines do not relish socializing with other Florentines. And yet at the end of the table, in a dining room that grew increasingly louder, I struggled to follow the conversation:

Which One Is My Kid
Traumatic Childbirth Stories
My Nanny's Immigration Status
How We Adopted Internationally
My Career at the Questura

I sat across from the mom who works in the Questura; being from Viterbo, her speech was comprehensible and her manner far more open. I realized a bit through dinner that the bonus here was that some of these moms would still be in the section next year if their child was younger, since the class is ages 3 to 5, and so we would continue to know them after Eleanor moves up to take Victor's place in the class.

We nibbled at antipasti. I was the only one at the table who wanted red wine. Francesca explained she only drinks red wine three months of the year: November, December, and January. They repeatedly drained bottles of white, turning them end up in the ice bucket when empty, and a waiter would wordlessly replace them with new ones.

The red wine, on the other hand.
It's organic, they said. Do you like organic wine? The waiter brought it out, and asked, who's trying. She is, they all gestured.
He poured for me and I tasted it.
It was awful. It was really off. It reeked, as well.
All eyes were on me.
Does the American mom like this biological wine?
How is it?
Yes, how is it?
How is it, they all asked.
It felt like a movie. I wondered if others in the dining room would put down their cutlery to await my pronouncement.

It's ok, I squeaked out in English.
But it was not. It was undrinkable.
It would have been put to good use cutting grease off of old dishes.
The other moms continued to quaff the white.
My sad bottle of red was untended. I finally moved it to the middle of the table. I asked Questura mom if she would please say something to the waiter, who seemed to have viewed me as a bothersome outsider.
She answered instead that she had no sense of smell and was therefore useless in the service of such advocacy.
The mom to my left stepped in and smelled it and agreed it was off.
The waiter rolled his eyes and removed the wine and the glass, returning with a fresh wine glass and a fresh bottle of Chianti, from which he gave me a generous pour.

I had prepared for a two-hour dinner, max. But these moms were serious. 10, 10:30, 11, 11:15.

The waiter came and took end of dinner orders. Orzo was high on the list. I was confused. You all drink orzo? I thought it was only for sick people. They laughed. Seriously, the only person I know who drinks the hot foamy malted barley beverage has colitis. She's a lovely person with a very tender gut. It's good for digestion, they chorused.

I wanted a regular espresso, but this clearly was not done.

The two very friendly mamme quickly joined in with me and ordered three "deca," apologizing for their reluctance to drink caffeine so late at night, which might result in table dancing. Loud guffaws.

I finally folded and started gathering my things. They seemed surprised. I wondered if they planned to go clubbing after dinner. They were very serious about this socializing.

But I'd realized my investment long ago, at 8:30, and so felt fine going home.

Be careful on your bike! they admonished.

The nicer ones embraced me, saying, we'll do it again.

The two latecomers remained a mystery as I did not know their names still.

I was tired as I pedaled home, full of paella, prosciutto, and observations. 

(Foremost, why do Italians remark when they detect a foreign accent on the spoken Italian of someone who is clearly NOT Italian? In the US, we would never. Say something supportive, or complimentary, but don't publicly declare at a social dinner, 'you really have a strong accent!')

But, all in all, a success.

Let this be a lesson to me, again. For what percentage return am I willing to extend effort? In this case, it was perfect.

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