All Greek To Me
“A. J., come over here and tell me something.”
“What, Mama?” I make my way over to the big picture window in Mama’s new guest villa.
“What is the first thing you notice when you look out this window?”
“A blue villa.”
Mama grabs my arm and escorts me into the bedroom. “And this window?”
“A blue villa.”
She grabs my arm again and pulls me into the bathroom. “And this window?”
“A blue villa.”
“Exactly!” This time, instead of my arm, she grabs the peach
guest towels off the rack and hurls them at the window. Then she
runs into the bedroom and throws the new guest pillows at the bedroom
window. Out on the horizon Uncle Nick’s blue villa is basking
in the sunset over Tuscany.
“How am I supposed to act gracious at Aunt Genevieve’s birthday
party, knowing the opening of my guest villa will be undermined
by that blue monstrosity on the hill?”
“Oh, Mama, I wouldn’t take it personally. Uncle Nick just likes
the color blue.”
Mama looks at me like I have lost my marbles. “Just likes the
color blue? A. J., nobody in his right mind paints his villa blue. That
is the charm of Italy—rustic, natural stone structures on hilltops. You
don’t take a beautiful historic monastery and paint it putrid blue.”
“Maybe your guests won’t notice it.”
“Won’t notice it? How could anyone not notice?”
I turn my gaze back out the window and cock my head in every angle possible. “Maybe they’ll notice the poppies instead.”
Mama gives me the exaggerated eye roll. “Poppies, schmoppies. Sorry, little Miss Pollyanna, but from my perspective, the only thing out there is one big ugly blue villa …”
Daddy walks into the room, looks at Mama, then glances at the pillows and towels lying on the floor. He looks back at Mama with a hopeful smile. “Does this mean we get to stay home?”
I’m sure Daddy would like nothing better than to skip the whole encounter with the relatives. Sometimes Uncle Nick is just too much for him. Unfortunately Uncle Nick is married to Mama’s sister, Genevieve, who is turning forty-five tonight.
“No, it does not mean we get to skip the birthday party,” Mama says. “I haven’t had the chance to play Sofia Loren for the Greek relatives yet. The Italians sure fell for it at Adriana’s photo shoot in Rome last month. Miss Loren was born in Rome, you know.”
Daddy and I look at each other. “We know,” we say in unison. She’s only told us that five hundred times since we moved here.
Mama marches out of her guest villa back to Bel Castello, our rustic, run-down natural stone castle, to get ready for the party. It’s not a good sign that Mama is on her way to a party in her present frame of mind. The good news is Grandma Juliana—who insists we call her Nonna now that we’re in Italy—won’t be joining us tonight. She is still under the illusion that Uncle Nick is Italian, and would not be happy to discover the truth. She has something against marrying
outside of “our rich Italian heritage.” She also has a problem with Greeks. At the moment, she’s not the only one. Mama thought Uncle Nick was joking when he mentioned his plans to paint his villa blue. But … apparently not.
After slipping into my mandated outfit and looking in the mirror, I head straight to Mama’s room to try to talk her into letting me wear my denim overalls instead. As expected, the answer is no.
Mama is making her Miss Loren debut in a poppy red pantsuit and is sporting the latest Sofia Loren signature haircut. There’s usually a movie-star buff in every crowd. We’re all counting on one to notice Mama tonight so she can play her Sofia/Sophia autograph game. That’s all it will take to shake her foul mood.
One thing Mama has going for her—she looks more like Sofia Loren than the real deal. People notice her almost everywhere she goes. And when they don’t, she still looks great. Her sister, Genevieve, looks good most of the time but has these hips that won’t quit. Sometimes they look like they need to quit growing.
“Mama, how is it that you and Aunt Genevieve are sisters, but she’s always gaining and losing weight, and you just stay the same size?” She changes every time I see her.
“A. J., let me put it to you like this; inside every skinny woman, there is a chubby one fighting to come out. There’s one main reason my sister battles weight. She likes to cook. Let that be a lesson to you. The more you can stay out of the kitchen, the better you’ll look.”
“But how do you find a husband who doesn’t want someone who likes to cook?”
Mama smiles. “Watch this.” She calls to Daddy in the bathroom, where he’s getting dressed. “Hey, Sonny?”
“Would you rather have a great big wife who likes to cook for you all the time, or a slender bombshell who can’t cook?”
“A slender bombshell who can cook.”
“That’s not an option. How about a slender bombshell who cooks occasionally?”
“That’s you, baby. I’ll take it.”
Mama looks at me. “See that? He thinks he got a good deal—we both win. A good marriage is about making compromises you can both live with.”
Daddy comes out of the bathroom wearing a Don Ho–style V-necked shirt and black slacks. He wanted to wear his old parkranger pants from his days at Indian Lake State Park, so he could at least be comfortable. But Mama handed him the Don Ho outfit instead.
“So, Mama, where’s the compromise on what Daddy’s wearing tonight?”
Mama looks at the park-ranger outfit lying on the bed. “Some things are nonnegotiable.”