Q & A


“They live near the airport,” the aunt tells me. She has been to N’s sister’s house before and considers herself an authority on it.

“Yes, I know. Linate,” I say.

“No, the other one,” says the aunt, derisively.

“Malpensa?” asks N, surprised.

“No,” the aunt says, “the other one.”

“Fiumicino?” he suggests, laughing.

“No, it isn’t that one either,” she says, refusing to acknowledge the joke.

A while later, she indicates a field of poppies and asks, “What are those flowers?”

Still annoyed, I hesitate to answer.

“They look like poppies,” N tells her.

“Yes, they are,” I say.

But the aunt is not convinced. “No. Those are not poppies,” she says. “They are too small and too dark, and their petals look doubled.”

“Maybe that’s because they aren’t completely open yet,” I suggest.

The aunt, ignoring me, wonders aloud what they can possibly be.

I begin to doubt myself and spend the next few minutes squinting at distant red flowers. They are poppies.

Some time later, when we exit the highway, we come to a stop alongside a field of red flowers.

“Look,” I say, glad to see them up close. “They’re poppies.”

“Yes, those are poppies,” says the aunt, “but they aren’t the same flowers.”

In the evening, the aunt calls to me across the dinner table. “I know what airport it is,” she says with a self-satisfied grin. “Linate.”

All eyes on me, I cannot help myself. “Yes, that’s what I told you,” I say with a fake smile.

The next day she stops me as I pass her in the hallway. “I know what those flowers were,” she tells me proudly.

“Oh, really?”

“They were poppies.”

“Yes, that’s we thought they were.” I remind her.

I spend the rest of the day avoiding any conversation that begins with a question asked by the aunt.

Later we have dinner in a grand restaurant to celebrate our nephew’s First Communion. The aunt wonders aloud whether there is too much cheese in the risotto.

It is perhaps the lightest risotto I have ever eaten. I tell her so. “It doesn’t have very much cheese at all,” I add.

“I don’t eat much cheese and I know when something has a lot of cheese in it.” she insists.

“But this doesn’t,” I tell her, despite the voice in my head singing, la la la la la la. I’ve had a long day of holding my tongue.

N turns to me and says, “She is saying that she is sensitive to the presence of cheese because she doesn’t eat it.”

“Does it seem like it has a lot of cheese to you?” I ask him. “Aunt,” I tell her, “if you’re that sensitive, a little will seem like a lot.”

She will not hear of it. “This rice is creamy,” she protests. “You can see the cheese!”

I have been waiting for this moment. This is a game I cannot help but play. I explain risotto to her. Her eyes are glassy by the time I get to the word amilopectina. (Let me say in my defense that I become a pedant only when someone refuses to acknowledge that I know a thing.)

N decides to take another tack. “Aunt,” he tells her, “Karen often adds a lot of cheese to her risotto. She knows when there’s a lot of cheese.”

“Well, I wonder if they put too much cheese in this rice,” she says, starting from the top.

My head hurts. I realize that that I’m allowing an excellent dinner to be ruined. “La la la,” sings the voice in my head. I listen to it.

After dinner, one of the waiters brings a plate of cookies to Pata. Among them are five tiny meringues. The aunt picks one up and asks, “What is this?”

“La la la la la la,” says the voice. I give a meringue to Pata, and then another.

“Mommy, these are good good,” she says. She takes one from the plate and gives it to me.

Out of the corner of my eye I see the aunt staring quizzically at the meringue. She catches my sidelong glance. “Chissà che cos’è,” she says. (“I wonder what it is.”)

I’ve never been much for listening to voices. “I don’t know what it’s called in Italian, but in English it’s a meringue,” I tell her.

She looks at me as though I am an idiot.

Sigh. What was that song again? My mother-in-law, who was fascinated by my discourse on risotto, asks me how meringues are made.

“With egg whites-”

“We have that too,” the aunt interrupts, “It’s meringa. But this isn’t a meringa,” she says, shaking the meringue at me.

“Believe me, it is. I just ate one.”

“No, this is something else,” she tells my mother-in-law.

“It’s a meringue,” I say, just for the sake of it.

A few seconds later, the aunt pronounces the final verdict. Speaking with a mouth full of meringue, she announces, “This is a meringa.”

I shrug my shoulders. “Se lo dici tu,” I tell her, (“If you say so.”)

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30 responses to “Q & A

  1. Oh my goodness, my blood was boiling just reading that!! Props to you for keeping your cool, I don't think I would've been able to handle a situation like that.

  2. You are such a good neice, so restrained in your responses to her. Just saying . . . la, la, la, la, la.Dana

  3. Lakeviewer, I'm glad to know it happens in other families too.

    Laura, I'm thinking it would have been less painful if that voice had been singing a catchier tune.

    Romerican, I've had lots of practice.

    Dana, that's what I thought but my husband said I was being disrespectful. His family's way of dealing with her has always been to let her have her way and kiss her ass.

    Gil, you guessed it! She's had lots of time to perfect her technique.

    Just in case anyone is wondering, "la la la la la la" is sung to the tune of the Pippi Longstocking theme song.

  4. Mary, I didn't have the la la la voice in my head before I met her, so I'm not entirely sure that I haven't already gone crazy. :D

  5. Hmmm. If I believed in heaven and all that, I'd say you're on your way to sainthood.

  6. Sue, believe me, it's hard work! I don't know if there's a song out there that's catchy enough.

    Thanks Reb, but I don't think annoyed tolerance equals love, and really, I despise her (though I try not to.) But I do feel that tolerating her does something for my character.

  7. Sadly, no. She's N's aunt, not mine. If she were, those conversations would have gone much differently!

  8. Well, I'm kind of used to her by now. When I first met her, I was much less patient with her. She has a way of wearing you down!

  9. You are a very restrained woman – I bow to your patience.The poppy thing was excruciating!!

  10. Welcome, Anna! Yes, the poppy incident on its own was maddening enough. Just think, that was a seven-hour car ride.

  11. She may have the beginnings of senile dementia or alzheimer's. Best to ignore her completely or risk a bit of dementia yourself! ;-)

  12. Saretta, I know it's best to ignore her, but her stronzate just cry out to be refuted. ;)

  13. Is that"pi pi pi pi pii pi,il nome fa 'n po ridere,ma non ri-der-ete alle cose che faro"…Very amusing Giana

  14. You got it, Giana! :D Sometimes I think of the aunt as an overgrown Pippi. Many of her behaviors would be funny or even charming if she were a child but are not really appropriate for an 80 year old.

  15. Wow, I feel so bad for you. I'm happy I've never had to deal with this. The only thing I had to deal with were ignorant comments from my ex's friends. When they met me, one of the girls said, "how do you spell your name?" and "what kind of name is THAT?" Or since I don't speak their dialect (though they do speak Italian), they would not ask any questions but would ask my ex, as if I wasn't there.You seem to have more patience though then I do.

  16. That's so rude! I don't speak the dialect here either and I have to admit it bothers me when people won't make the effort to speak Italian to me. My take on it is, can it really be harder for them to speak Italian than it is for me? That said, I've found dialect very useful in the past- the aunt used to speak it exclusively to me so I was able to just ignore her!

  17. I know! It was rude. A father of one of my ex's friends asked me if I could speak dialect. (This was at a wedding I went to 2 years ago, and everyone was sitting in a circle speaking dialect.) I said that I didn't. The man asked if I spoke Italian. I said that I did. The rude girl, the one who asked about my name, responded, "meno male" in an irritated tone. The whole time I had to spend time being around her I was annoyed.Next time I should just ignore people like that, but then I might be perceived as the 'dumb American'.

  18. Wow so rude. When I was extremely sick in hospital after my surgery one of the cardiologists came by my bed, picked up one of my hands and said to the other cardiologist "wow – look how long her fingers are! ha ha!" I couldn't believe it. I just ignored the comment (not directed at me anyway) and asked her some questions about my heart.I'm not sure if she did that because I am a foreigner or because I was sick or because she was the big doctor and I was just a little patient but she knew that I spoke Italian so obviously I understood…

  19. It's as though some people have never learned that there are things you say out loud, and things you keep to yourself. I can understand when people are surprised by things that are unusual or different for them, because maybe they've had such limited experiences, but rudely saying them out loud like that…isn't that something children are taught not to do?

  20. mi fai ricordare mia mamma…. e tante altre donne italiane… ma poi ho sentito che le donne della grecia, israele, afganistan, germania….. le possiamo diventare tutte… non ti sembra?? but the EXASPERATION – you captured that so so well… thank you for your REAL musings… great site!!!

  21. Expatsa, oh yes, I'm sure there are women like the aunt in every country of the world!

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