Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Spectacles

Our stretch of beach was strewn with “important people”. Glitterati. Who knew that beyond the gawdy swimsuits, make-up, and leathery tans lurked some of Rome’s movers and shakers? A famous architect, a school superintendent, a “Renaissance man” married to the Director of a university. Ophalmologist. Psychologist. Banker. A veritable “who’s who” lounging on the lettini in the prima fila at Lido di Cincinnato. They have come every year, for many years like clockwork, and resume their friendships and routines every summer, sunbathing while gossiping, and dining or playing cards. All summer.

Some of these individuals reside seasonally in our street, and one throws a party that is An Annual Event. By virtue of our friendship with Francesca and Giorgio we were invited to this year’s gala.

The grand event has often been held as a costume party. Thankfully, this year it was a more low-key affair and we needed only to dress up in something “un po elegante”. The hostess worked tirelessly in the kitchen bringing out huge platters of food while also welcoming everyone. The enormous garden was lit by candles, with a life raft containing a tray of candles burning as it skimmed the surface of the swimming pool. There were three levels to their garden with tables scattered about, and the food spread out under a portico. The architect husband had thought of every detail for this home, and he flit from group to group pouring wine before any glass dared to be emptied.

We were welcomed warmly by several. One group stood off to the side staring and talking openly about us, we frequently heard “gli americani” sprinkled in their speech, so we knew immediately that we’d be The Spectacles for the evening. One man, Luigi, was kindly and told us how he had been befriended by American soldiers when he was a child in Sicily during World War II. He had become a bank president but his real love was history and he had written several articles for publication.

All went smoothly until about 2:00 a.m. when I just couldn’t possibly stay any longer and we begged leave. We were the first to depart, but several took the opportunity to exit as well. It seems no one wanted to make the first move toward the door, but since gli americani had been so forward, well... Francesca stayed on for political discussions as we dragged our tired hineys home.

A few weeks later we invited to another, more casual gathering, this one held in honor of a marriage. Lilly and Franco had a son who married in Spain, so they wanted a chance to throw a party upon their return. The couple sat quietly off to the side, rather ignored once the initial compliments had been proffered, so I sat and talked with them for a while. Coming from Spain, she understands my difficulties in learning the language and feeling a little displaced sometimes.
Luigi from The Gala made a bee-line to me when he entered, smiling and making the usual greetings. Then he said, “I have a question. I heard a phrase when I was a boy, and always wondered what it meant. When the soldiers would say, “take it easy”, what does that mean?" I explained the phrase and its meanings, and he smiled broadly, having that long-held mystery cleared up.

The Wedding Couple danced obligingly when the parents insisted, more an excuse to start the dancing portion of the party, which is Lilly’s main objective at any party.

Thus commenced what we call Italian Line Dancing. Many songs here have prearranged dance moves that closely resemble a line dance with the shuffling of feet, moving forward, turn, start again types of moves. We don’t dance to begin with, we really don’t do line dances, so they were all sorely disappointed when we sat it out, muttering about gli americani and such things. On the occasion I did dance a waltz with Franco one woman screamed, “Look everyone! The American is dancing!” Yeah, thanks. Draw a little more attention to us, why don’t you? Fortunately, the didn't have YMCA on CD; at every beach party we heard YMCA played at least three times during the course of the evening. And we thought disco was dead.

But really, they are warm-hearted and curious about us. They wonder why we’re here, why Anzio, aren’t we going to live in Rome, the center of the world? How can we be here a year without working? And, why would Americans want to come to Italy when so many Italians still view America as the Dreamland? We’ve heard that question many times and try to explain, but they still don’t really understand.

But this little circle of long acquaintances have allowed us into their circle anyway, plying us with wine and food and laughing at us. We’re glad we can provide them such entertainment. They made our summer more enjoyable, made us feel welcome, and we miss them now that they’ve all returned to Rome, leaving the beaches deserted.
copyright 2006 Valerie Schneider

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