“MARIA, PLEASE, WE NEED MORE than five minutes to get ready in the morning,” I remind her the night before. She complies and gives us seven minutes the following morning.
“It breaks my heart to have to wake you,” she says. I’m about to explain when I see Giorgio put on his coat and get the car keys. He has many things to show us today, and, as always, time is of the essence! Why are retired people always in a hurry?Meeting the local barber is higher on the list of priorities than meeting the local doctor.
We stop at the gas station and put in a quarter tank of gas.
“Sometimes you can even fill it halfway, but never more,” warns Giorgio. “It weighs the car down, and you use more gas.” No wonder he has no time!
The stroke of twelve is approaching, and David’s father speeds home, cursing all interferences. My “Italian” is becoming more prolific by the moment. Like an army sergeant, he orders David, “Quick, call your mother. Tell her we’ll be there soon and to be ready!”
Maria is outside, wearing her mandatory coat despite the unseasonably warm weather, and holding gift bags in her hands. I quickly pull on my sweater, lest I get caught by the fashion police. We barely slow down enough to let her in, and off we go, to another relative’s for lunch. Unless we make up for lost time, we won’t begin eating by one o’clock! I wipe the sweat from my brow and brace myself for the rocky ride down the unpaved mountain road.
I survive more relatives, more superior Italian food, and four people simultaneously speaking to me in a language I can barely understand.
We arrive home, and I assume everyone will automatically run off to their rooms for the pausa. Regrettably, we have missed the pausa cut-off time. Though all of us are dead tired, one simply does not take a pausa after 4 p.m.
The next day Giorgio has more
surprises in store for us. “I’ll be waiting in the car! Hurry!” he exclaims.
We obediently get in the car, assuming there are more relatives we need to visit.
Moments before we arrive, Giorgio briefs David. Being an older Italian man, Giorgio is not in agreement with the concept of our taking a year off and scoffing at retirement charts. He decided to take matters into his own hands and has brought David to a job interview.
“Giorgio! Nice to see you. Is this your son?” the shop owner asks. “Come on in.”
Because we have another five days to endure before his father’s return to Canada, David plays along. He is a good actor and pretends to be an eager and willing employee.
“What would you pay me?” David asks.
“Work for me for three months, and then I will conclude what you’re worth and will pay you accordingly,” the man responds.
“What about a ballpark figure?” David asks.
“No,” he says and repeats the three-month formula.
Fortuitously, Giorgio isn’t pleased with the shop owner’s ambiguity, and we leave—David and I, happily.
“I need to give you some driving lessons before I go,” Giorgio says.
Our twenty years of driving experience are evidently not sufficient. After a few minutes of Giorgio’s barking orders at David, we completely understand why people would rather pay a driving instructor than take lessons from their parents.
We again do the countdown.
Two days prior to her departure, Maria insists we go to the supermarket to pick up some items she urgently needs, such as a year’s worth of pasta; enough meat to fill up the freezer; large quantities of various cheeses; and several boxes of laundry detergent. There is no end to her urgent needs. Giorgio, no fool, pays for everything, and we rush home again, the little engine whining with all of the excess weight heaped on it.
At home, immediately out comes the accordion! David’s father serenades us. We must put away the vast quantities of groceries, and we cannot escape. Only two more days, we can do it. We have newfound respect for David’s older brother living back at home, who has endured Giorgio’s nightly serenades for more than seven years.
With my in-laws departing tomorrow, the armies of well-wishers arrive. They take turns with the plumbers in competing for the attention of David’s parents. For the last few weeks, the plumbers have been installing a heat system that works in conjunction with the fireplace. But, naturally, the plumbers could not always arrive as promised, and now they are frenetically trying to complete the job while the man with their cash is still in the country. Finally, they finish, and off they go.
We test the new system and light the fireplace—foolishly, after the plumbers have left with their pay. Soon the entire kitchen and dining room are filled with thick gray smoke. Undeterred, the well-wishers toast on! People continue to come and go. We are now counting down the hours, unquestionably not being able to keep up pace with David’s parents, who are in their seventies. Exhausted, David and I make our way to bed. We leave the last of the guests standing by the door, a clear indication that within a half hour or so, they, too, will be gone.
It is five o’clock in the morning. We get up to say one final good-bye and to thank Giorgio and Maria. Her parting words are “Remember to eat at least one piece of prosciutto every day.”
Once they leave, we immediately decide to sleep till noon, ever grateful that we were deemed too stupid to be able to find the airport, hence were not asked to drive them.
Life in Italy, amongst her husband's family, inspired Ivanka to write A Zany Slice of Italy which became an Amazon bestseller. Available at Amazon.com
Ivanka and David continue to make Tuscany their home. Family, along with quirky situations in everyday life, continue to provide ample inspiration to write.