Culture /

How We Used to Be

My grandmother has always been one of those Italian women who seem to live in a De Sica screenplay (dialect included).

Wearing jewels to go grocery shopping and having her hair done with big rollers, as though we were still living in the 50s.

When life tests her, she paints.

Never leaves the house without her purse and silk napkin.

Always in her long nightgown and rosary before going to bed. Singing me to sleep and waking me up in the morning with bread and honey.

Whenever she came to pick me up at school I could recognise her from miles, folded and manicured hands, eyes hidden behind tortoiseshell glasses. 

Straight back home to have my delicious snack: pappa al pomodoro (bread with tomatoes) of course.

If she ever invites you for lunch and you won’t finish your portion of orecchiette, she will probably get offended but will keep smiling offering you stuffed aubergines.

Always able to share her knowledge and to be updated about the future.

I have never seen her wearing a pair of trousers, a daughter of a rigorous past that could never imagine one day every woman in the world would wear them.

Linen flower robe and straw bag for the summer.

Mink fur coat from head to toe.

Golden little pins on tailleur’s jacket.

Velvet worn for Christmas Eve, showing gratitude for having us close to her.

She saw decades passing before her eyes and captured them through her camera’s film rolls, I found them kept in a white satin album and, between negatives and photographs, Italy’s history seems to run simultaneously to my family’s.

An Italian tale similar to others during the 70s.

Traditions and customs of those years captured my attention.

Big bottle-bottom glasses, white tights and mini purses. L’abito buono (a dress for a good occasion) and first photos in color.

The composure of the times perfectly mixed with the tradition of carrying pasta al forno (baked dough) to the sea, grandmothers covering their heads wearing maccaturo (tissue in Southern dialect).

Parents severity, rules and faith to be respected. 

The curfew, class photos with long-haired rebels and waiting for your turn to come to use the family’s phone at home. Striped t-shirts and big bows on smocks to go to school. 

Black worn to exhibit grief, with dignity and strength, no exceptions.

Children dressed up as adults with their toothless smiles, imitating dad’s poses. Handmade knit sweaters worn to go for a walk in Villa Borghese.

Family reunions and everyone in bed after Carosello.

Chicken broth to handle fever, let me tell you that whenever I am sick she still prepares one to cheer me up.

Secret diary and secret first kisses.

Laundry hanging on a string from one window to another.

Meatballs and sauce, silver cutlery and embroidered napkins were clear signals that Sunday’s lunch was coming.

White socks, terry cloth of course, and the first timid steps into the 80’s with spray and hair combed back.

Bangs plus headbands and grandmother dressed up in polka dot dress with a watchful eye on the wildest between her nephews.

The solemn moment when its your turn to perform the poem in front of all the family and the thrill that makes you forget a couple of verses.

My grandfather’s flat cap and his pipe, avoiding the camera.

Her narrative voice seems to go with every single snapshot, not missing any detail.