As I was at the festa yesterday, I tried to imagine the day in the United States. It is impossible to imagine this in the Bay Area where I currently reside. I can, however, imagine this type of festivity in a small town, like Chester, California, where we used to have a cabin. June 2nd is somewhat comparable to our 4th of July, and Chester always had a big 4th of July celebration.
So what are the differences between a small town in Umbria and a small town in California? First, we would never have gotten free food, water and champagne in Chester. Perhaps there would have been a potluck or food fixed by a club, like the Lions, but we would have had to pay. I have never seen Italians do a potluck. I'll have to ask if this happens. In Chester each family would bring their own food to a public gathering. For me, there seems something not quite right about eating food that is publically offered without paying. This could be a result of having a mother who was germ phobic, I don't know. (I did not eat or drink the free offerings yesterday. Not from an ethical or cultural viewpoint but because there were too many people waiting in line. At least I think that's why.)
Another noticeable difference is it would have been much louder in Chester. Even though I have complained about the men playing cards, Italians in a huge group are remarkably quiet. I think because they have lived closely together for so long, there are rules of crowd behavior that Americans don't have. We are a noisy lot. We talk louder and we play louder. At public events it is as if we are all at a game of cards.
Another major difference is Americans are much more demonstrative in their enthusiasm. This is odd because Italians readily access their emotions, in some ways, much more so than Americans, but enthusiasm, is something that they seem to reign in, except at card games and sporting events! At a festival such as the one we had yesterday, people in Chester would have been laughing, and carrying on. There is a studied indifference that Italians wear even when they are celebrating. They have this same attitude about their food. Americans eating out, including yours truly, ooh and awww, and show outward enthusiasm about the food. The Italians say "buono" or shrug. Perhaps this is one of the reasons the Italians love the Stoic One, he is much like them in this regard. I think Italians think most Americans are funny the way we carry on, we remind them of children, and they enjoy us as they would their children.
Finally a huge difference is the dressing up. I was trying to imagine people in Chester wearing stilletos and tight, short dresses to a 4th of July event, and my mind boggled. Italians change their dress for the occassion. Americans used to do this, but now most of us wear casual clothes all the time, whether we are going to the market, a picnic, an outdoor concert, we all look the same. Even though young Italians and young Americans tend to dress the same, I have not seen young people wear flip-flops here like in the U.S. The Stoic One wants to do a photo essay on Italian shoes, we have seen some doozies in town.
As many differences as there are there are also similarities. The pride of people in a small town about their specific places of interest is the same. People in Chester could make deprecating remarks about life at the A&W, but they are proud of the little town high up in the Cascades. It is the same in Umbertide. There is a deep pride for all of us who live in this little city by the river.
The sense of community that one feels is the same in both towns. The bringing of the family, children in strollers, older ones being looked after. Families stay with family members and then go out from the family group to greet others and come back. Young people in both countries look like they wish they could escape, and they usually do. There is a sense that this is our town, our event.
A final major difference is the piazza in Umbertide. Life around this square is stabilizing, predictable and ongoing. Every day I recognize the 2 little white dogs with red harnesses, one on a leash and the other off that wander by around 7:00.. I wonder about them. In large cities the anonymity protects our privacy and affords a wide array of entertainment, education and cultural events, but there is a lack of personal connection. The tradition of the piazza in Italy guarantees a connection to a base. The market happens here. Coffee is taken here. Major events are celebrated here. The passeggiata, evening strolls, occur here. In the large Italian cities, this is not so. My Italian teacher has told me that older people in Rome, Milan and other modern cities suffer the same type of isolation and feeling of uselessness that many of our older people feel in the U.S. For the young, small town life can feel stifling. For the older people small town life centered around the piazza can feel safe and welcoming.