sophiaAt the age of 66, I saw my first 3-D movie – “Monsters vs. Aliens” – and it was a hoot. The occasion was that our granddaughters are spending a couple of days with us, and on a rainy day a movie seemed like a good way to get out of the house. Um, to go sit in the dark at the Regal Cinema, but that’s still not sitting at home. That may be the first time I took the girls to a movie, though Pat may have taken them before. I don’t have a  lot of experience with that; my grandparents weren’t movie goers. Well, it didn’t seem that way, but one Saturday when I was about 12 or 13 years old, my grandfather was very animated about a movie he had seen the night before – the film version of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Aida.” This film featured Sophia Loren as the Ethiopian princess, which was ironic considering the historic relationship between Italy and Ethiopia.  My grandfather was on the phone all day calling his friends, urging them to go to Paterson to see this film. I wasn’t used to Grandpa going to movies or listening to opera, so this attracted my attention. I overheard him tell Tony Pombo, the vegetable peddler, that he was going to see “Aida” again, so I asked him if I could go along. I wound up taking two of my friends, and we were all impressed by something that before that night was completely foreign to our experience. (No, I don’t mean Loren.) That movie launched me into a lifelong love affair with opera. That was the only time my grandfather and I did anything like that together. Our relationship was a little remote for that. But I always give him credit for the fact that I have seen and listened to so much of Verdi and Puccini and Rossini and Bizet over the last 50 years.

gonewiththewind1 Grandma, incidentally, didn’t see “Aida,” because she swore off movies after she saw “Gone With the Wind.” This was the stuff of family legend: She was scandalized by the language with which Clark Gable addressed Viven Leigh in the famous finale. Apparently Grandma didn’t see why she should pay good money to listen to such talk when she was perfectly capable of staying home and swearing like a drunken sailor anytime she pleased. She also had a parakeet that she taught to utter profanities with an Italian accent, so she could hear the blue talk without contributing anything on her own, and without buying a ticket. People were so much more self-sufficient in her generation.

“… and unto dust …”

February 25, 2009

pizza1I always feel a little guilty right about now in the rolling year. No, not because we’re supposed to feel guilty during Lent. Not exactly, anyway. I get a little self conscious about all those Lents in my childhood, the Lents everyone in my house and people of our acquaintance couldn’t wait for. In those days, the emphasis in Lent was on the “giving up,” at least in popular culture. For me, that meant a hiatus in the constant gorging on candy and ice cream and Yoo Hoo as I worked, if you can call it that, in my family’s grocery store. Naturally, I looked forward to resuming that self-destructive behavior, but I wouldn’t have traded all the candy and Yoo Hoo in the world for what was unleashed in my grandmother’s kitchen when this day came.

Like many women of her generation and background, Grandma had a repertoire of Italian meals that she cooked only during Lent. Besides being restricted to the season, they were parsed out on certain days during the five weeks of “penance.” My favorite was the hand-made pizza with wild mushrooms Grandpa had picked up in Ramapo. I even loved the spaghetti with anchovy sauce, though I don’t think I could stomach it now. Of course, whenever she was cooking – and when wasn’t she cooking? – Grandma would call me into her kitchen and slip me whatever preliminary scraps were available – a clear violation of the fast. While some people, including me, still practice some material sacrifices during Lent, the season has a much more positive spin now than it did in the 1940s and ’50s. Presumably, those who endured the trials of those days piled up treasures in heaven, as we used to say. I piled up IOUs.