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Tomatoes and ljutenitsa

22 years

For weeks on end, I’ve dreamt depressing or strange dreams about me travelling or moving out of places, and no matter how much I racked my brain I couldn’t connect these images to any experience or need.

Beware, the first dream is very dismal, I’ve warned you: my brother and I are travelling on a frosty night, in a foreign land, on a neon-lit bus without seats. Our clothes are ugly and coarse, we keep our eyes turned down like refugees, and we are laboriously dragging a great number of heavy suitcases and bundles. We’re changing buses as the night goes on and dawn draws near, but then exhaustion kicks in and we start forgetting stuff. A suitcase here, a bag there, the number of pieces of luggage gets slowly reduced until during the last portion of travel my brother dismounts completely empty-handed. I run after him trying to tell him that he has to help me out with all the bags when the bus suddenly leaves and I’ve left absolutely everything I have on board.

In another dream, in a beautiful Spring afternoon I’m visiting the depot of a clinic or nursing home which is incidentally full of aquariums. One of the aquariums explodes and the giant red fish it hosts starts jumping around the depot so riotously that for some time I struggle to catch it, but at the end I manage to snatch it and put it in a temporary barrel full of clean water, making a mental note to myself to find a more suitable arrangement as soon as possible.

And many others of the same sort, often with my brother, sometimes with suitcases and bags and clothes. I’ve finally identified the reason for these recurring dreams only the other day. I’ve applied for Italian citizenship, a few weeks ago. (I’ve taken advantage of the fact that the town of Isernia, which is nearby, is still administrative centre. They’re consistently pulling prefectures out from under our feet these days.)

Let me tell you that while I was applying for Italian citizenship I didn’t grow sharp Sophia-Loren tits overnight. I didn’t buy any of those form-fitting robes that cram the foreign mind’s imagination when they try to visualise the average Italian woman (remember Fergie singing Be Italian and seducing kids in Nine?). I wasn’t asked to take part in Italianness quizzes like “Describe the phases of coffee brewing with a home macchinetta“, “Match the following specialities to the relevant region” or “Do you put garlic in carbonara?”. Gosh, they may have saved them for a later stage, when they’ve finished checking if I’ve actually attended a couple of schools and if I’ve been stupid enough to get caught doing something illegal. If it all turns out favourably in a few years and I haven’t disputed the procedure for expiration of the legal terms, they may still trick me, while pledging allegiance to the Constitution, saying something like “and now, to seal this agreement with your new country, you must devour this piece of maggot cheese” (and they produce a dish with stuff moving on top of it).

Ljutenitsa and tomatoes

Italians – the romantics – only accept the ius sanguinis principle when it comes to acquiring citizenship. Put simply, this means that the grand kids of banished people who’ve never set a lovely foot on their august ancestors’ motherland and don’t even speak its language have higher odds at obtaining it, if compared to people who are born and bred in Italy, like my own brother or the girl of the owners of Casa Amica, a Chinese restaurant in Via Casilina, who speaks the local dialect as if taught by Alberto Sordi in person.

The procedure which will be applied to my case is naturalisation, a term they’ve borrowed from biology and which is used for plants and animals that thrive and reproduce spontaneously in places which are far from their country. No, I won’t be asked to mate until I conceive on Italic soil as proof of familiarization with my surroundings: remember, the word “spontaneously” is key, here.

Applying for Italian citizenship has had a bigger impact on my psyche than emigrating, way back in 1991. As always, I stumble on symbols and matters of form rather than on things themselves. So it’s only now, 22 years later, that I start twitching and I dream that I lose my papers and my things, or that I feel like a fish out of water.

To lighten my Italian readers’ minds, I don’t mind passing off as certain that naturalisations are an asymmetric and unidirectional process which won’t affect the amazing uniformity that exudes from the word “Italy” and the one and only people it represents at all. I’ll go and tear the yoghurt recipe I dictated to my neighbour from the balcony the other day.

I’ve had a hard time asking myself what I am embracing and what I am renouncing to, but I’m struggling to find a common denominator. Except these, which I’m announcing as an intention:

  • – I solemnly promise I’ll learn all gestures and apply them to the most appropriate situations;
  • – To let go of that uncertain /l/ once and for all;
  • – To rise my level of intolerance towards any climate figure below 78 and above 85 degrees F;
  • – To immediately start expressing a hearty contempt for my newly acquired compatriots;
  • – To cook pasta always al dente.

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