Remember Remember the 8th of December

Yesterday was the 8th of December: the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, one of the many Italian national day to be spent at home with your family and closest friends. It is the day in which one should decorate the Christmas tree: the day which officially sanctions the beginning of the most beautiful time of the year in which overindulging oneself with food is kind of allowed.  This year the 8th of December was a Sunday, so on Saturday I went and bought a big Christmas tree for my grandma’s house and on the 8th, after lunch, me and my cousins decorated it; well I decorated the tree, Marta broke 3 glass ornaments, Anna damaged one lights wire by stepping on it, Rocco scattered every single ornament on the sofa and Luca simply fell off the ladder for trying to place a colorful angel on the top of the tree.  But that is normal, that is how should be when you have 6 kids between 3 and 16 years old running around.

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Anyway the Christmas-tree-decoration-moment was just the beginning of the celebration of the Immaculate Conception day. Me and some of my friends decided to meet up in the evening to have some food and play board and card games. However this time, before stuffing our stomachs with delicious deli meats and cheeses, we lit the fire or as we say we made LO FOCARO’ DE LA MADONNA – THE BONFIRE FOR THE VIRGIN MARY a regional and very cool tradition of which I will now talk you about. Local lore recounts that in 1291 the house in which the Holy Family lived was miraculously flown from Palestine to Le Marche by four angels just before the final expulsion of the Crusaders from the Holy Land. According to the story the House was first placed in Croatia by the city of Rijeka, the old Fiume, and then transferred on the 10th of December across the Adriatic Sea to near Ancona in Le Marche on an hill shielded by bushes of bay trees; on that place nowadays appears the sanctuary of Loreto whose name in fact stems from the Latin word lauretum meaning bay tree. To commemorate this paradisiac light that the people saw flying in the sky before the angels deposited it and to illuminate the journey of pilgrimages on the night between the 8th and 9th of December every family used to make a big bonfire.  As an old saying tells: tutta la campagna se ‘ncennea de focarò in focarò e se ‘ncennea li cori d’un calore che non era solo quello de li fochi. Era lu calore  de senti che non ce stai solo tu a pena su ‘sta terra, che soffre e che crede (the countryside was a big bonfire, from fire to fire every heart warms up. It was the warmth of the people that suffer and believe like you).

Blah Blah Blah Blah…anyway after having payed homage to the tradition by lighting up an indoor fire, which was also very helpful in warming up the freezing countryside lodge living room, we attacked the food; you really thought we made fire, waved at Lady Mary flying in the sky and went home? Oh don’t be silly there had to be some form of food related activities we are Italian at the end of  the day! In fact…on the charcoal fire we cooked MARRONI, a particular type of large chestnuts, then we had CIAUSCOLO, a very soft pork salami typical of our region which by accident I bought flavoured with truffle- what a disaster-, then we had a wheel of PECORINO DI COLFIORITO, a fresh cheese with hard and cooked texture obtained from sheep’s milk and finally we ate CIAMMELLOTTO or ciambellone, a giant soft ring cake.

I personally did not know much about the whole thing but as the good story-telling mama I want to become when my friends told me about this feast that puts together family and friends, traditions, food and a pinch of magic I immediately went and investigated on it. From now on I will definitely REMEMBER REMEMBER THE 8th OF DECEMBER.

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MamAxhaustion

As much as mamas can look different they will always have an element in common: a glimpse of blessed exhaustion in their eyes, typical to whom thinks that their hard work has never been and will never be appreciated enough. To disclose this physical and emotional distress mamas often embrace a FrazzledDomesticLook, which can be easily replicated. Let’s see how analysing three examples of MAMA-OUTFITS, well at least two as I am still a mama in progress.

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(I apologise for the low quality of the picture but aside from my selfi the other two pictures were taken in secret; if they know I uploaded such pictures they will disown me)

 Me and my mother show off a very sporty I-DONT-GIVE-A-SHIT-ABOUT-HOW-I-LOOK-LIKE outfit: leggings and  hoodie for myself and a baggy sweatshirt for my  mother, who in this picture looks pretty banging compared to when she wears her wintery ridicolous stripy dungarees. On the contrary my grandmother chose a less random outfit. Since I have got memory I remember her wearing these church-length camel or black skirts and animal print jerseys; however to protect her expensive wardrobe from the pasta sauce splashes she always wears aprons,whose colours change according to the time of the year. Even though they show very different styles of mamaness the element that indicates that they are well beyond the point of caring about their appearence is the lack of any breast support resulting in saggy boobs hanging around the house all day long.  If you scroll your eyes down to the bottom of the pictures, you can appreciate my favourite piece of mama garment: shoes. Somewhere between running around toddlers and getting tired of hearing husbands complain that “your feet probably hurt because you are wearing ridicolous shoes to go food shooping” most mamas decide to buy a super comfortable pair of shoes to be worn with everything; what this really means is that at some point most of their life mamas decide to sacrifice their  attractiveness for comfort.

Moving on, hairstyle and make up are two words that have been erased from mamas’ dictionaries the day they got pregnant. Hairstyle-wise mamas often choose a “let’s see what happens if I tide up my hair with this string I found in the kitchen”; however, again, they are not interested in what they look like but in not to wear loose hair that mamas would have to justify if they end up in someone’s plate. Regarding that expensive make up women used to own to attract the usual saturday night scumbag this hasn’t gone missing; in fact it can still be found in most houses seemingly to serve only as a distraction for kids. And last but not least, something I don’t feel like showing you: a MAMA NIGHTDRES. Forget the sex appeal when a mama lays in bed she only wants to get the most out of those hours rather than being a sexy beast; trust me I have seen many mama’s pijamas and I am fullly sympathetic with marriage crisis, man’s cheating over their wives or men starting using strong marijuana at the age of 40. Mamas I am not encouraging you to embrace one of those embarrassing teenager look, I also totally understand you are tired and your husbands should love you for what you are and not the way you look, but for fuck’s sake do please think about the Darwinian “survival of the fittest” theory when you look at yourself in the mirror sometimes.

mama or not mama this is the matter

The word “mama”, which is a spelling variant of mamma, means mother; however it does not refer to any female figure bearing progeny and capable of cooking but it depicts the strongest ruling matriarch of Italian families. These legendary female creatures with one fist rule the Family, and with capital F-family I mean that kind of extended-intruding family you have seen in The Sopranos, and with the other feeds her sons, grandchildren, family friends’ kids, kids from the neighborhood or anyone else under the age of 16 happens to be in the house.  Image

There are numerous samples of mamas immortalised by media: from the hot-blodded and provocative MILF, a mix between Sophia Loren and “Stacey’s mum” lookalike, the kind of mama that comes with hordes of schoolmates that finds her house the best place ever to study; to the short, old, bitter and superstitious kind of mama, the one that lights a candle for you when she goes to church and thinks that all men are created equals but she always prays that her daughters may not pop out a mixed race kid. Then there is the most stereotypical image of mama: the sweet, blessed, gentle and voluptuous nonna that wears  24/7 sensible thick black oxford and homey aprons which partially pictures my family’s model of mama: my grandmother. She is a robust blonde-and-blue eye lady dressed with expensive clothes always shielded by colourful aprons with pouchy bottomless pocket filled with dirty napkins, not with candies as you might have imagined, as she suffers from chronic cold. She is a mix between the gentle, elegant mama of the American 50’s adverts and the wicked stepmother of Walt Disney that always complains because she never has time for her.

While being a mama is always a choice sometimes being a mother is not an option, well at least until 1920 when the Soviet Union first legalised abortion. A mama knows that  she will always be the last step of the family ladder, that she would never cook  her favourite dish if someone in the family dislikes it, she knows that she will be the one that has to find compromises in an argument, that most of the time her opinion won’t be even heard and that it does not matter if she hasn’t bought a new coat since 1987 as long as the kids can buy the schoolbag of the latest TV little idol. Being a mama is a choice of social and personal annihilation and as any other choice can be regretted: there will be days in which she will cry on her own while waiting for the laundry to be ready, days in which she wished she did not delete the numbers of her pre-marriagge drug dealers and other in which she will give thank for all of that. Some time ago I was talking with my grandma about tattoos as I am planning to expand my selection of body scarification, and she told me that she wanted to get one as well; when I asked what she replied:

“Grazie”

“Thanks to what grandma?”

“Thanks to life for all of this, my darling”

Maybe it only happens after years of self-mama-domestication, or it only occurred in the past when being a mama seemed to be the only acceptable career girls could have taken or maybe is a matter of personality I don’t know, but according to me the happiness of living for someone else and be the guardian of the family traditions is what really distinguish mothers from mamas.

What is to be an Italian mama

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Among maternal figures the Italian mama often ranks high. In February 2012  the Wall Street Journal columnist Joe Queenan writes that in the recent hubbub over weather the strict Chinese mothers are better than the Mongolian single mothers or the relaxed matriarchs from the Fiji Islands, Italian mothers do not even need to enter this competition as they are rightfully entitled to get on the podium for their excellent culinary skills. However this stereotypisation of the Italian woman as a cook-waitress, caring mama and inferior figure at the service of the alpha man of the house was considered in Laura Borini’s last week talk an important element to understand the many recent episodes of femecide in Italy…

Whatever, I am done with trying to be clever; I think that Mr Queenan had a point but omitted many other reasons why Italian moms are great, feminism is not reactionary and our President of the Chamber of Deputies Laura Boldrini is trying too hard to prove she is an emancipate woman. I know I know I know that the Italian-mamaness can be considered an old anthropological model, a further generalisation of the Italian women, an anachronistic and fascist way which imposes women to stay at home baking kids and cakes. But you know what? I DO NOT GIVE A GLITTERING FUCK. This is the kind of mama I had, this is the kind of mama I want to talk about and this is the kind of mama I want to be. Oh yes, I want to force-feed my kids with love, bath them in olive oil and wrap their baby bums in mortadella and prosciutto slices. Cause food at mine is not about physical sustenance, it is a proper unspoken language with which mama have transmitted me her love, anger and rules. For example today after 2 hours at the gym I went home where I found for lunch boiled rice with olive oil: I knew while I was devouring that delicious flavourless dish that mom was mad at me. After lunch I went into my room, or what remained of  it, and discovered that numerous pieces of garments including bags had been literally thrown on my bed forming a pile of tangible rage. So I fixed the problem: I tidied up my room, made myself and my mum an espresso and engaged in a random conversation about X-Factor and you know what? At around 4.00pm she had already made bread, at 5.00pm she asked me what I’d preferred for dinner and at 6.00pm she baked cookies.

By saying that Italian mums are great ONLY because they cook amazeball food don’t do them justice. An Italian mom prepares a meal not to feed her family but in order to spend time with it, she takes care of the health of her kids by buying seasonal fruit and veggie, she teaches them lessons by making (or not) an effort in preparing meals and she hands down traditions by creating family events around food. I do not have a particularly great relationship with my mother but I know that she is happy to see me if she cooks me my favourite food, she is fuming at me if she cooks me rice, she feels good if she makes pizza for all the members of the family and she feels lonely when she eats cheese on bread as there is none to cook for. Of course Italian mamas have many many many flaws: their sense of protection brings up forever-teenager-adults, their effort in creating a reassuring environment around kids encourages them to stay at home till they are decrepit and  their compassionate lack of strictness brings them up with no idea that in the real world it is important to respect rules, times and people. Nevertheless, there is nothing that can’t be solved over mum’s lasagne or grandmum’ wild boar pasta sauce!

Domestic Training

This is my post number one; if you are here you probably know me in person if not read what follows, mum taught me that it is polite to introduce myself to strangers.

I am Roberta but everyone calls me Bobbi, A’bobbi, Bobs, Robs, Roby, Robby, Gypsy, N, and many many many others; pick the one you like or give me a whistle I generally turn around anyway. My breed originates from central Italy where I was raised in the bucolic setting of my hometown under the strict untold rules of my family traditions. Suffocated by this provincial environment, I decided to emigrate to the UK. In 2008 I moved to London where I accomplished my academic studies (BA and MA, I am not ready for a PhD yet). Ca va sans dire that London was a life changing experience: from a 15.000 inhabitants town I moved to Camden, I mean CAMDEEEEN TOWN motherfuckeeer. Over the last 6 years I changed colour of hair every other week, from blonde to bleached, from bleached to blue, from half shaved to a mohican, then black and shaved then again bleached, orange, red, purple, very bright purple, burgundy red, chocolate brown and now blondish again; I slept with more than 23 nationalities,  I blocked my credit card 4 times and I got given, asked or pretended 8 different clubs or bars membership cards.  Eventually, 10 days ago, I returned to my small rustic hometown for the first time without possessing a return ticket to London.

While I am “stuck” here, in this beautiful tiny medieval village built among the gentle hills of Le Marche with loads of free time and not many pubs, clubs, events, galleries, talks or gigs to go to I realised that there is one thing I could do, something I always wanted to learn and could improve my CV of current unemployed-seeking-for-a-rich-man-who-likes-kids perspective: how to be an “Italian Mama”. I do not know how long this culinary and domestic training will last but till the day I could cook some tagliatelle in person for you, I decided to create this page to keep my friends from all over the world informed about this weird experiment I am carrying under the supervision of my grandmother Antonietta and my mother Barbara.