Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Being Italian... And Knowing Where To Pee

In 1969, I began working summers at a day camp called Camp Kiwi, named for the flightless bird of New Zealand. A peculiar name for a camp in the City of New York. And more peculiar still given the fact that the camp served children with disabilities.

Camp Kiwi ran for two months each year. I got paid a whopping $100 for the entire first summer. And I loved it. It also helped that, in addition to my getting a summer job, The Kid Brother had a summer camp. Our second summer at "camp," The Kid Brother's head counselor was Josephine. She was amazing. He — well, we all — adored her.

CAMP KIWI VISITING DAY, SUMMER '72.
JOSEPHINE IS SECOND FROM RIGHT. (I'M THE LONG-HAIRED STICK FIGURE.)

For me, at first, Josephine was exotic. She was from Sicily and arrived in Brooklyn with some of her extended family when she was 12. She was six years my senior and already well-educated, with her first of several degrees in psychology. She remained very Italian... more specifically, very Sicilian. She drove a little white Lancia with rear doors that opened backwards. The car didn't survive another year, but oh how I loved it. Within a year or so, Josephine and I were the best of friends. She opened my eyes to so much more of the world. We remained exceptionally close for years and then our lives went in different directions for a while. We re-connected only to lose touch again. Josephine is always hard to find. Unlisted phone numbers. Moving to new homes — New York to Italy and back and gone again. As you know, I too can be challenging to keep track of. But, she found me online several weeks ago and it's been a joy to be re-connected. She's back in Sicily. So, we're both living on the Southern Mediterranean (unfortunately, too far to swim).

BEING ITALIAN:  ON JOSEPHINE'S TERRACE IN CARRARA, ITALY,
AFTER MY SKINNY BUTT TORE THROUGH THE OLD CANVAS CHAIR AND HIT THE TILE FLOOR.

In addition to being a clinical psychologist, Josephine partnered with her sister, an architect, exporting Italian marble to the United States. Her family had a house not far from our apartment in Brooklyn. I spent a lot of time there. Since she would spend some months each year in Carrara, Italy, tending to the marble business, I would spend time there, too. I loved it and them so much, I tried to transform myself into an Italian.

AT PINOCCHIO PARK IN THE TOWN OF COLLODI, 1976.
WE LOOK LIKE CARTOONS!

Josephine is currently renovating a house in Sicily that was built in 1700. It was used as a jail in the mid-20th-century. She told me she's thinking of leaving the iron bars in place on her sister's door and window. (Don't tell her sister.) San Geraldo and I are hoping to get there for a visit one of these days.

JOSEPHINE'S ACCOUNTANT DROVE US UP TO THE QUARRIES IN A TINY FIAT.
HE DROVE LIKE AN ITALIAN.  SO, WE NEARLY WENT OVER THE EDGE SEVERAL TIMES.
SHE GOT OUT AND CLIMBED/CRAWLED (I PRETENDED TO NOT BE TERRIFIED IN THE CAR).
AS FAR AS THE CAR COULD CLIMB.
AMAZING.  WHERE MICHELANGELO GOT HIS MARBLE.

True Confessions
The first time I ever saw a bidet was in Josephine's apartment in Carrara. I was 19 years old. I went to use the bathroom and there it sat next to the toilet. I had to pee. I thought it was a urinal. I peed. When I couldn't figure out how to flush the thing, I realized it probably wasn't a urinal. I thought maybe it was a foot bath. Then I decided it was a special tub for washing fine underwear. (I have no idea why...) I did my best to clean it.

The next year (a year older, but not a year smarter), I stayed with their neighbor, Bruna (she called me "MEE-chay"). When Bruna first gave me my towels, I dropped them in the "underwear sink." I couldn't figure out why she so quickly moved them. Another time, she asked me to help her hang something in the bathroom. I had just come home from clothes shopping. I dropped my bag in the "underwear sink." She quickly moved it. I thought, well, everyone has their little quirks.

Now, I'm a grown-up living in Europe. We have our own bidet and I know what it's for. It's another place for the cats to sleep.


25 comments:

  1. Mitch, this is just so profound, so enlightening and so funny !

    From summer camps to Michelangelo ~~ what a eclectic life you have nurtured. Josephine, you must visit ~~ it only seems natural the flow of things would be perfect.

    So do I see you wearing platforms with your jeans in Collodi? You are styin' !

    Ron

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ron:
      Those "platforms" were very in-style Italian clogs (called zoccoli). I went shopping without Josephine, looking for normal ones that didn't add 4 inches to my height. I ended up with those. Josephine would have steered me right. She wasn't impressed. I didn't wear them for long. I looked like I was on stilts to begin with.

      I have no idea what I'd be like now had it not been for Josephine's friendship.

      Delete
  2. Sure you're not Italian, Mitch? Can't get over how much hair you had and how skinny you were!! I feel I can say this without insulting you because you were so ME back then!! lol
    Josephine sounds like a wonderful and interesting person to know. You two shared and learned so much from each other. I hope you do have the chance to meet, re-connect and reminisce.
    LOL about the bidet stories!! Too funny!

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Jim:
      Do you believe that hair?!? The Dowager Duchess used to complain about it. However she recently told someone, "Oh, he had such beautiful, thick hair." (It was below my shoulders by the time I cut it off a year later.)

      Delete
  3. I can relate to your confusion over the bidet! The first time I encounted one a more worldly wise friend had to explain what it was for.
    That shirt you wore in the quarry would go well with the socks Gerald was sporting in yesterdays blog

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    1. Tynan:
      Unfortunately, when I was that age, I was too proud (stupid) to admit I didn't know what it was. But I've spoken with so many Americans over the years who also thought it was a foot tub.

      That was a very cool patchwork shirt. And I'm sure you noticed that I wore no competing patterns. Besides, I think San Geraldo's socks would have been ugly on their own!

      Delete
  4. I love the old photos. You could easily pass for Italian when you were younger. I found the bidets in Japan fascinating. Of course I was not so young and knew what they were for. But every bidet we came across was different and each time you had to work out different controls.

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    1. Andrew:
      I did pass for Italian all the time. Now I'd like to pass for Spanish. (And when in Norway, I want to pass for Norwegian... but that will never happen.)

      Now that I know what bidets are for, I don't know why they should be so hard for you to figure out in Japan: The cat gets in. The cat curls up. The cat goes to sleep.

      Delete
  5. Bidets are so versatile; only your imagination limits their usefulness! Of course, if you use them for their intended purpose, that might limit their use a bit more...

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    1. Walt the Fourth:
      Our bidets in Sevilla had lids. I liked that better. Easier to stack towels and shopping bags.

      Delete
  6. If I had seen you way back then..I would have force fed you some pasta....like any concerned Italian mama..... You needed some fud!

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    1. John:
      Everyone wanted to feed me and, trust me, in Italy I was unbelievably well fed. Nothing helped.

      Delete
  7. Oh my, you've reminded me of my first encounter with a bidet, in Paris in the 70s. Completely mystified this unsophisticated Kiwi, though once its purpose was explained to me I was a convert! You were a very slender young 'un, like John I feel I would have been impelled to feed you had I met you back then.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Judith:
      Some of my nicknames: Stilt, Stretch, Giraffe. I weigh about 50 pounds (22 kilos) more than I did back then and people still at times call me skinny.

      Glad to know you too like having a special porcelain place for cats to sleep.

      Delete
    2. Judith... Maybe the summer camp was named for mystified, unsophisticated Kiwis!!!

      Delete
  8. Ahhhh, great memories for you!
    Didn't you show us one of these photos a while ago, with you in that shirt at the quarry?

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    1. Judeet:
      Yep, you've got a great memory. I was talking about mixing patterns in an earlier post. Since I hadn't found Josephine and she hadn't found me yet, I had "disguised" her in the photo. But, now I have permission! I wish I had more photos to share.

      Delete
  9. There are many of us who at one time or another try and become Italian, and when I'm in Italy many people think I am. One of my favorite movies is "Moonstruck." I'm almost Italian when I watch it.

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    1. Stephen:
      My Italian was never very good but, by the time we moved to Spain, it was better than my Spanish. The first week in Sevilla, I used my Spanish to tell a street "hawker" I didn't have any change. He was convinced I was Italian because of my accent. I loved "Moonstruck." Whenever I'm in one of my funks and San Geraldo tells me he loves me, I give him a pretend-slap and in my best Brooklynese I say, "Snap outovit!"

      Delete
  10. I admit - I still don't know what the sam-hell is a bidet. I don't suppose there are instructional videos?

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    1. Spo:
      There ARE instructional videos. Go to YouTube and type "how to use a bidet." Unbelievable...

      Delete
    2. so far the youtube videos are jokes or cryptic messages or 'don't" - I am now on a quest.

      Delete
    3. Spo:
      I typed: "how to use a bidet" ... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCAiJO-83-E

      Delete
  11. In Cuba there was this enormous fountain on the Avenida de Rancho Boyeros which leads from Havana to the airport. The President who built it was Ramón Grau San Martín who was a bachelor and rumors about his sexuality were common. He had his niece Paulina act as first lady. He was so disliked that the frickin' fountain was renamed "Paulina's Bidet" with the obvious inferences to her oversized genitalia.

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    1. Raulito:
      Hilarious! I had to look this up so I could see a photo of the fountain. Poor Paulina. What a way to be remembered. I also found a photo of her... It must have been post-fountain. She doesn't look happy!

      Delete

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