Nothing is like the Italian family. You know them, don’t you? That’s one of those families where ‘mummy’ is the centre of attention. She cooks, she strokes the children’s hair (and irons sometimes a shirt), she gives advice and there is always a smile on her face as if we were still in the fifties.
While mummy cooks, daddy helps their child with the homework and grandpa and grandma look on happily -as far as they have come through the corona crisis. On the television, which is always switched on in Italian households, we see a family horror show or a political discussion programme, which, given the drama that is going on there, is actually the same thing.
The Italian family is like a warm bath, even if you are from the cold side (=by marriage). I often immerse myself in it. At the door you are greeted warmly, you get one or two kisses, sometimes a pinch in the cheek, they ask you how it goes, you get the best chair and the best crodino, wine, water, biscuits and you name it. By the way, those biscuits come from a biscuit tin from which you can take one. Or was that somewhere else? My wife read in a book about Dutch culture that at family parties in the Netherlands a mysterious drum is opened and the guest is allowed to take a biscuit from it. When she read that, she no longer wanted to go to the Netherlands…
Italian happy families are not stingy with a biscuit tin. Cakes, sfogliatelle, tiramisu, cannoli, you name the whole nine yards. At the Italian table the seven fat years always reign. When I cook at home I aim just the right amount of risotto rice or pasta in the pan. I find that efficient and it avoids waste.
My wife does not agree. She always cooks for an orphanage (even though I don’t know why because orphanages don’t exist anymore in Italy since 2006). There should never be too little on the Italian table. The idea of abundance reassures and provides security.
Of course, the Italian happy family is not always the home of undisturbed living. Something goes wrong too. For example, more than a hundred women are killed every year by their husband, friend or lover. Children are also sometimes victims. Even men die as a result of family life. I read, for example, that every year, some 200 Italian men step out of life because their ex-partner has taken the children away.
But apart from such unpleasant excesses, the family is the only pillar that has endured the corona crisis. The economy has collapsed, politicians have become even more irrelevant, the churches have been closed for 70 days and the president has been silenced (he is permanently wearing a face mask). So the only institution left is the family. It is not for nothing that mulino bianco’s TV commercials continued without interruption in recent months. Mulino bianco means ‘white mill’, reminiscent of a 500-gram pack of cheap wheat or a litre of unbranded gin.
But none of that. Mulino Bianco is the best-known biscuit brand in Italy. In their advertisements stands the happy family and biscuit life central. Synonymous with seemingly happy families are also called white mill families in Italy.
Nowadays, families do not only consist of the traditional Italian trias familia: mother, father, child. There are many other family forms, such as gay couples and patchwork families. In order not to bump into them, the government introduced the term ‘relatives’ last spring. At the first step in the lifting of quarantine after the corona crisis, relatives were allowed to visit each other, according to a government decree.
The country was in trouble. What in Dio’s name was meant by relatives? A day later, a clarification was made: relatives are relatives up to the sixth degree. The sixth degree! The chance of me embracing the child of my distant cousin is as great as a meeting with Xi Jinping. It is well known that everyone is no more than six steps away from any other person in the world.
Later on, the concept of ‘relatives’ was extended to the persons with whom you have a stable affective connection. Fortunately. At least that way I could finally take my mistress in my arms again.