Tuesday, December 8, 2009

BUON COMPLEANO NONNA! Some more Sicilian craziness...

Happy 89th Birthday, Nonna! And another one, and another one, and another one...
Last year at this time, Nonna was in bad shape, in the hospital and we weren't sure she was going to make it through the holidays. But she has that Sicilian fight in her, and she is alive and spunky today and we are truly grateful, even though she doesn't exactly share that sentiment.
We took Nonna out to London Lennies, the best seafood restaurant in NYC which happens to be in the Queens hood. Top notch meal and top notch service.
It was a lot of crazy Galatioto Family fun, which culminated in the entire restaurant singing "Happy Birthday" to Nonna over a giant piece of cheese cake. Nonna's wish after she blew out the candles: "Natrannu un vulissi esseri essei 'cca" or "Next year I don't want to be here."
"Don't worry, Mama," Uncle Sal screamed across the table, "next year, we'll take you to Joe Abbraciamento's," (That's an all Italian joint up the block.) He knew full well she wasn't talking about the restaurant.
Claire, my bestest friend and our waitress was concerned.
"Was the service bad?" she asked.
"No, Claire, next year Nonna wants to be dead," I said.
And this is why Sicilians are insane. I rest my case.


Rocco Galatioto said...

This apparent craziness bears a thoughtful response. As you could tell, I was also initially irked at Nonna's reaction as it implied not only a total lack of appreciation for the fact that we were all present, but also it seemed to show a lack of sensitivity to all our efforts in getting together to celebrate her birthday. However, on further thought, I must point out that her reaction was not that out of the ordinary if seen in the larger context of Sicilian culture and if one understands how much she misses Nonno and her belief that he is waiting for her and that they will be together in the afterlife.
Putting the latter aside as a kind of superficial emotional reaction conditioned by a good dose of religious misunderstanding, the former or cultural aspect is the one that bears clarification. It's a fact that we Sicilians are always interested in death and dying. This may be the result of our past with all it's violence due to the many invasions and due to the fact that the mafia inured us to death and made us realize that life is tenuous at best. What does appear macabre, is a peace accord with death; an understanding that it will come and it will when we least expect it. This has led many observers to state that Sicilians are too somber or that they lack a sense of humor. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Any one who can joke about death and make fun of it's inevitability has indeed a great sense of humor. From Verga, Pirandello, Quasimodo, Sciascia, Brancati Buffalino et. al. all great Sicilian writers who elevated modern Italian literature, we get the common thread that Sicilians are insular. We really are islands inside the Island. We are at peace in this cocoon; we are not afraid of death because we believe it to be the ineluctable end of life. We do not necessarily welcome it or try to rush it's coming, a good example of this is Nonna's obsession with doctors and her constant trips to the lab to get blood work done, but we are "cool" with it. We do not fear it as we reluctantly embrace it's inevitability and hope for the best. So what may have appeared to be a callous reaction on Nonna's part, was after all a natural one. It's our reaction, understandable based on our living in a different culture, that needs to be examined further. I feel that we avoid death at all costs in our so called modern culture and this is an example of an unhealthy fear of it.
Just an obsrvation.

The Javelina Bomb said...

I don't think it's insane at all.

Morta Di Fame said...

Thanks Dad for the thoughtful and insightful comment. And sorry that I called you after the dinner and wouldn't let you off the phone until you told me how to say Nonna's quotation in Sicilian. I know you were upset by what she said and that you were watching your football, but anything for the blog, right?

And Javelina Bomb, you are part Sicilian, enough said... :-)

Robin Sue said...

My people are always disappointed when they are not on their death bed too. My Grandma's (also from Sicily) loved to go to funerals to wail. Notice the three letters at the beginning of funeral. Yes I think she must have had some fun in all of the commotion. I love the craziness of my family, it sure does add alot of spice to life (and death!)