Wednesday, December 24

Away from the Manger-Christmas Eve in Italy

Christmas Eve is the night Italians often celebrate the birth of the little baby Jesus. This event is quite significant, especially if you are to judge by their crèche or manger scenes; something we Americans can only remember with nostalgia of days of yore.
But you see, Italians are nothing if not highly literal people; especially given their long history of language, discourse and oratory, starting with Latin and Lord knows what languages even before. And so it is with their manger scenes.
When I first came to Italy, I thought all those presepe showing an old Giuseppe and his young wife looking fondly down on a heap of hay, standard issue donkey, sheep and even the Three Kings in the distance, was simply yet another indication of Italians' poor planning: Someone clearly had forgotten the Baby Jesus!!!
Who stole Baby Jesus?picture from
After seeing this a few more times, I thought: 'Okay, who stole the Baby Jesus?!!'
But then, I finally figured it out: This is a country in which article after article, conversation after conversation, they feel the need to warn you prior to making a joke or a cynical statement, just in case the meaning is lost on you - so you don't take it literally.  [I always envision this practice much like the Robot in Lost in Space: “Danger! Guglielmo Robinson! Giovanni said, with a note of irony…”] In Italy, unless forewarned, and if no hidden meaning is implied, they take the sentence for what it is fully worth.
And so, little Baby Jesus never shows up on the manger scene until the stroke of midnight. Although, in their search for authenticity, something is always a bit amiss. You will always find him looking more like an 18 month old, than a cone-headed red-faced newborn; bright-eyed and chubby on Christmas morn.
Incredibly, to add to the veracity of the scene, I have only recently discovered that those three kings, though smaller in size, to represent distance, actually creep up day by day, until January 6th (the Epiphany, for you pagans out there) when they bestow their gifts on the Baby Jesus.
What I don’t get in all of this figurative placement is why, then, they don’t swap a very pregnant Mary for a less pregnant mamma (and perhaps decidedly exhausted one due to labor pains whilst riding a donkey) the next day, too. I guess they don't take it that literally, after all.

Buon Natale a Tutti!

F. Maggi @IrreverentItaly
(decidedly not Magi, like those three wise men!)

Saturday, December 6

Italian Fashion: Dressed to the Nines

Lately, I've been giving a lot of thought to what's changed in Italy - for better or for worse - since I first landed over twenty years ago. Sometimes, it's hard to say if anything truly is worse (although Italians & economists from all corners say it is).  Perhaps I simply hadn't noticed issues when I was younger and too busy traveling for both business or pleasure.  
With these thoughts constantly ferreting through my mind, I got a chuckle from a certain Dory on Twitter - when she posted @DFindingDory:
some bitch: omg you wore that shirt the other day me: yeah well in my house we have this amazing thing called a washing machine

It reminded me growing up in the U.S., you could never be caught dead wearing the same clothes two days in a row.  I swear in U.S. corporations it is still cause for dismissal.  So when I first arrived in Italy, I would be stunned to see those impressive men and women impeccably dressed, right down to magnetic blue high heels to match their acquamarine tailleur. I am still in awe whenever I see that mix. They were memorable.
So much so, that I believe large part of the rage against FIAT head Sergio is less about moving his profits to Holland and closing factories than his insistence on wearing sweaters instead of the mandatory stunning Armani business attire of his fellow countrymen.
Coming from the country that invented "leisure suits" - "sweat suits" and "casual Fridays, you'd face your coworkers, duly impressed.  But then, waltzing into the office the next day, you'd be struck by some bizarre déjà vu episode.  You could swear that that classy woman in the fabulous hot pink ensemble would be wearing the same thing again, going about her business as if nothing was amiss.  I would wonder if it was some sort of code of honour, basically spelling it out lest we glaze over its rich symbolism: "Wow--Did I have a whopper of an evening last nite! What day is it, again?"  When in reality, it was probably nothing quite so tantalizing. They just slaved over their outfit with a handy iron - something that I believe Italians are trained to use as soon as they are out of diapers.  And that's so they can iron their underwear.
Find the Canadian.
Over time, I, too, would adopt the practice of repeat dressing -- sadly, with or without the wild nights prior (okay, okay, mostly without).  And now I find it's a regular part of the repertoir.   But try as I might, it just comes off appearing more like homelessness than anything else.  That's because my outfit -- would be tossed mindlessly over a chair the night before.  As for Italians, much to my chagrin, they will look classy no matter how many times they put on the ritz - wearing the same thing as before.  Maybe it's that their clothes -- are wrinkle-free.