The toddler was crying. He had been for a while, a niggly, grisly, grating protest at his fatigue. The bespectacled woman, nondescript except for her piercing, nails-on-the-blackboard voice, was articulating a point with some passion. This involved projecting her strongest weapon at full volume, which for her was some decibels above anyone else. No mean feat.
Not to be outdone, the bespectacled man – anything but nondescript with his impish smile and artistic bent – was articulating a counterpoint. Simultaneously. They were talking to each other. Others were listening, although I’m not sure to whom, perhaps exercising an innate Italian skill, listening with one ear to each of two vocal combatants, much in the manner that a chameleon moves its eyes independently.
I couldn’t understand a thing.
The toddler cried, despite the attention of its mother. Others expressed concern (or at least appeared to, given my reliance on facial expression and body language for translation and interpretation). I thought I must be missing something – surely he would be taken to another (quieter) room, away from the cacophony of deafening competing opinions? Apparently not. It was like the frustrating experience of watching a poor spider falling continuously each time he tried to scale a (for him) precipitous slope, when a gradual slope invited his ascent just an inch or two away.
It was on Saturday, and just another friendly get-together in a regular Italian home in Colmurano.
Julius and I had arrived at what I thought was fashionably late, 15 minutes beyond the appointed hour – 9:15 pm – only to find that we were the first to get there. By half an hour. I should be used to this now, I suppose – arriving within half an hour after the agreed time is considered early. Perhaps I’m just confused by the one clear anomaly to this rule – school pick-up time, when a tardiness of just 5 minutes will greet you with a ghostly, deserted school, and possibly even a mild reprimand.
Back to the night out – 5 families, including the host and us, with 7 kids in total. Games for the kids, and discussion for the adults. And food, of course, a table-full of snacks (this being an after-dinner gathering), which kept getting refreshed with roasted chestnuts, along with a wide selection of sugar and starch. Perfect late-night fodder to sink like a lead weight into fitful sleep.
The mother of the toddler eventually left to take him home to sleep – perhaps a rather extreme and overdue solution – leaving his bespectacled father to continue his verbal bout with the bespectacled woman. At around , we rounded up the kids, who were zinging through the passageways riding on their sugar- and starch-horses, and dispersed.
I feel lucky that we were invited to such a gathering. Stranieri (foreigners) in a local scene. And frustrated that I could barely understand a thing. It prompted me to look more earnestly into Italian lessons. After all, why shouldn't I be able to don my spectacles, express my opinion, and make my contribution to a toddler's sleeping habits ...