Accident of Birth… by Juliet Ashton
I’ve just returned from a week in Italy, and I have a bone to pick with my mother. Why oh why didn’t she marry an Italian?
No doubt there’ll be some piffling reason like I fell in love with your father, but that won’t get her off the hook. Thanks to my parents, I’m as Irish as Irish can be. I love being a celt, right down to the freckles, the addiction to tea, and the tendency to break into sentimental song, but, all in all, I’d rather be Italian.
Why, you ask. (Or maybe you don’t, but lets assume that you’re cooperating.) Well, for starters, going ‘home’ for holidays would mean sun-drenched days by the bougainvillea, rather than visiting a dozen aunts in a dozen damp Dublin suburbs. I’d have glossy black hair, flashing eyes, and a tendency to wear eighteen pieces of jewellery all at once. I’d have a brilliant name; I’d be Carlotta or Fabia or Valentina. I’d tan; I’d actually go brown instead of eighteen different reds (my back currently looks like a Farrow and Ball chart, ranging from ‘Ouch Scarlet’ to ‘Peeling Pink’). I’d eat pasta, and pluck peaches from the trees as I whizzed past on my Vespa.
Plus, I’d have an Italian boyfriend or husband. Sure, he’d muscle me out of the way at the mirror, and he’d wiggle his bum like a chorus girl, but he’d also be dashing and sexy and, well, Italian.
There are similarities, as well as differences, between we Irish and those dark-eyed Italians. Both nationalities have a love of argument. My relatives have been known to shout at themselves if there’s nobody else around. The most trivial incident can be worked up into a national disaster. Blame will be doled out. Personal insults recited. Old hurts exhumed. Then, as suddenly as it began, it will blow over. There are giggles. There is cake. Just like the Italian road rage I witnessed in Sorrento, which ended up with the drivers embracing.
Swearing, usually Jesus-based, is another common factor. Even the demure old ladies in Dublin use language that blows back your fringe. The Italians curse loudly, extravagantly, with flair.
But they never swear at their mothers – Italy, like Ireland, is a matriarchal society. The beady eyed mama has her counterpart in the all-powerful mammy. Both of them have a devotion to making sure you finish what’s on your plate, and tend to clean your face with a spitty tissue before you leave the house.
I find I don’t really want to swap my stew for minestrone. I rather like having a husband who doesn’t use moisturiser. I’m content being me. (Until a fortnight’s time when I spend three days in Seville, and I rage about not being Spanish.)