Friday, October 21, 2011

Charity Event Italian style

The Stoic One said, "I don't know how you are even going to begin to describe what happened last night."  Here is my best shot:

In our town, there are 2 bars, Bar Mary and Bar Centrale. (Mani told me there have to be 2 bars otherwise it isn't a piazza!)  At the Bar Centrale, there is a very nice woman who welcomed us from the very first day.  She has long blond hair and, as far as I can tell, speaks no English.  She has been very good at speaking Italian with me and pretending that I make sense.  One day, she came up to me with an envelope with my name on it (how she knew my name I have no idea) and invited me to an event that would take place at the Teatro dei Riuniti on October 20th.  She said that the tickets were free, but it was very important to tell her if we could not make it as the seating was limited, and if we couldn't make it, she would invite other people.  We told her we would be delighted to attend, and we marked Thursday, Oct. 20th at 9:00 on the calendar.  That was last night.

A link to the theater

We walked down our 65 steps and went out into the lamp lit piazza and down one of the side streets. It was raining slightly and the pavers were wet and slippery.  I had on good solid boots, which I had just bought, and I wondered what the Italian women would wear.  The event was supposed to start at 9:00 so we got there at 8:45 not knowing exactly what we were supposed to do.  As we approached the open doors, there was a man in a suit who greeted us, but didn't ask us for anything so we said "buona sera" and entered.  Naturally, there was food just inside the entryway. The food was on cookie trays and was different types of cookies, and pastries. There was another couple there who were also waiting and some other people milling around in the back.

Clementine, (I found out that is her name) greeted us in a floor length red satin dress. She had a hairdo that the Stoic One said was a Betty Rubble/Wilma Flintstone, bone in the hair type of do.  I thought she looked lovely.  She told us we were "bravi" or good for showing up.  She gave me the cheek kiss and moved on. We later found out that she was the organizer of the event and plays a large role and the amateur theater.

At 9:00 I said to the Stoic One, let's go inside.  So we walked into the little theater.  There were private boxes on both sides two levels up and "orchestra seating" of about 12 rows.  The first 5 rows had extra padded seating, so we decided those were probably for "special guests."  Clementine said the theater sat 100 and that looked just about right. We sat in the first row of normal padded seats and looked around.

It was a good mixture of young adults and older people.  Thankfully, no children were in the audience. Most of the men had on jeans and fancy sweat shirts.  What does that mean?  OK, picture a zipped white sweat shirt, not a hoodie, with fancy English writing that makes no sense. The older men had on jackets, most of the men had on scarves artfully arranged around their necks.  The women did have on stilettos, but in boot form...mama mia how they walk in these is beyond me. All of the women seemed to have some kind of sparkles on, either in the form of jewelry, woven into the fabric of their clothes or in their hair.  They had on pants or jeans.  I had on my black sweater and slacks.  Next time I have to bring over my sweater with sparkles.

So we sat, and sat and sat.  The Stoic One remembered that when we attended an opera here they were still working on the set as we arrived.  The audience was calm, chatting, not expecting a 9:00 start to a 9:00 event.  I have talked to you before about the Italian sense of time and my sense of time.  As a consultant, I live in the space that "time is money".  I am sure this does not translate into Italian. I asked Mani about this and he said, "Yes we have this. It is called time and money." "No, I said, "the expression is time is equal to money."  "no, susannnn" he responded,  like I'm making it up.

To me time is something that is managed, controlled, predictable, then parceled off for planning purposes.  I don't know that I am that different from other Americans, maybe a little more compulsive, but not that much.  :)  Anyway, Italians and time.  They don't have any idea about controlling it, so they are very patient about it. (The Stoic One wants to point out that none of this is true when they are driving.)  Most Italians have no expectations of things being on time, so there are no frustrations. They stand in line, because they know that is what you do in the post office or grocery store or wherever.  They don't start clapping at an event to get something started because they don't expect it will start on time.  It is interesting to think about how culture has acclimated us to time.  60 minutes, one hour....what does it really mean, in Italy, not much.

I later told Mani that we went to an event that was supposed to start at 9:00 and we got there at 8:45.  He put his head down on the desk as if to say, why haven't you learned anything yet.  He asked me what time it actually started.  I said 9:35.  He put on a big smile and said this was excellent.  He would expect an 11:00 start for a 9:00 event.  He then launched into a long explanation as to why this was true.  To sum it up, according to him, it is all the fault of the women who take 2 hours to get dressed while it takes a man 20 minutes.  Add to this the fact that no woman wants to arrive first because that will look like she didn't take much time to get ready and if she arrives last, all eyes will be on her....could be.....

Back to the event. There were two older Italian men sitting behind me in the theater.  I started eavesdropping, to practice my Italian, right, and they were talking about food.  One told the other what he had eaten as a primi, first dish, the other one discussed the pork loin that his wife had fixed.  I asked the Stoic One if when American men were alone they discussed what they ate for dinner the night before, and he just looked at me.

At 9:30 we were hopeful because we heard some piano playing behind the crimson and gold curtain. People, including Clementine, were walking up front and back stage, passing nervously.  At 9:35 the curtain finally came up.  The back drop was black, the colors for the evening seemed to be black, white and red, except for the men on stage who wore whatever they wanted.  There was someone at the piano, who was later introduced as Beppe Carletti.  (He is a musician from the 60's and had a band called "Nomadi"; never heard of him.)  Anyway, Beppe was at the piano and a very beautiful blond was beside him.  She had on an overly tight black dress, a small red necklace, and red platform shoes. The shoes were a little weird with the black stockings and dress, but she probably couldn't manage stilettos on stage. Her dress in the back looked like it belonged in the front with an open v-shaped white collar and a zipper. Her platinum hair was up on one side and falling down in curls on the other. We waited expectantly, and then she started to sing.

To be kind, I remember Simon Cowel on American Idol saying that people sang "sharp" when they were nervous.  She was very nervous.  Beppe was extraordinary on the piano and as her pitch got higher, his playing got louder.  There was no program, so I can't tell you what she sang as it was one of the few songs in Italian.  They finished and then the announcer interviewed Beppe who seemed irritable, what with the blond singing off key and all.  They talked about how important the charity was, "Bringing smiles to children...a charity for dentistry".  He left, the curtain went down, and then the blond was back.  This time with a band.  There were 2 back up singers, percussionist, xylophone, guitar player and piano.  They were good and the blond was oh, so much better.  She got better and better as the night went on.

It turns out that the main star of the event wasn't the blond.  It was Fabrizio Vendramin, the winner of the program "Italy's Got Talent 2011." What hair Fabrizio had was graying and pulled back into a pony tail.  He was wearing a yellow painter jump suit and a matching yellow sweat band.  Having no idea who he was, I also did not know what he did.  After his introduction, he left the stage.

The blond came out again, this time accompanied only by an acoustical guitar player who was very good. Then Fabrizio came out.  First they put down a paint cloth across the stage.  Then they brought out a huge canvas about 6'x4' that was mounted on wood so it could be flipped over.  Suddenly the song "Angie" by the Rolling Stones comes blaring out of the speakers.  The Italians are all happy now moving to the beat of the music.  In the meantime Fabrizio is up front with large paint strokes painting something that looks like nothing...we are all squinting, listening to the music, trying to decide what the heck he is painting.  Suddenly I realize the painting is upside down.  I think the whole audience realizes it at the same time, except those who had watched the show and knew what he did.  He steps back, flips the painting over, and it was a caricature of Mick Jagger.  We all oohed and ahhed over this.  It was actually really amazing to see it. The painting was slowwwwwly auctioned off.

After the auction, the blond sang some more this time accompanied by young dancers from the town.  They dancers were around 12-14 and danced in a languid, modern style to the music of the blond and the guitar player.  Then the painter came back.  This time the music was "Imagine" by John Lennon and the painting was of him.  Painting auctioned off.  More singing, more dancing.  Bob Marley "Jamming for the Lord".   Painting of him auctioned off.  Then someone from the audience gets up and does an impersonation of Louis Armstrong singing "It's a Wonderful World".  This was my dad's favorite song.  I sat there thinking about my dad, and I started to laugh.  I thought if he could only see me in this small town in Umbria watching an overweight blond Italian do am imitation of Louis Armstrong, he wouldn't believe it. I barely could control myself.  Anyway the guy was actually pretty good, face contortions and seizure like gestures aside. Then the painter comes back and Ray Charles' "Georgia" came over the speakers. Painting of Ray Charles was auctioned off, and then you would think it would be over, but wait.....

OK, one of the things I have noticed about Italians is that they take forever to say good by.  They stand, you stand, they say good by, you say good by, they talk about how much fun they had, you say how much fun you had, they say....this goes on forever...Little did I know they would close a performance in the same way.  We clap, think they are done, no...they don't do encores, they keep talking, thanking people, lots of thank yous go on.  At midnight, as if by magic, it is over and we walk home, through the rain, up the 65 stairs.  Our apartment lights are on, we walk back into our little world and watch the ending of an episode of "Prime Suspect" the latest BBC series we have brought over.  It is with Helen Mirren and it is excellent.

Hope you enjoyed your night at the theater as much as I did.  Here are photos that we took of the paintings that were done. Apparently he won the contest with the Bob Marley painting. (Mani told me this and was most annoyed he wasn't invited to the show.) You can see how large they are.  You need to remember he did each painting in one song's worth of time, and upside down.  I can see why he won.

Me and my new best bud Clementine


  1. WOW!! What a fantastic evening!!!! I have seen several men do this type of painting on TV. It amazes me every time. Oh, to be that talented!!!! Which painting did you purchase??? Thanks for posting the pictures. What a gift!!!Tell the Stoic One that you did an excellent job of describing the evening!!

  2. LOL! I wold have bought Lennon but it was a little big for this apartment. Thanks for the feedback!!