Note to Blog Readers: A perceptive reader pointed out that in my last post A Spectacular Show for Niccolo’ I nonchalantly declared that 5 months pregnant I joined my dinner companions “champagne glasses in hand,” as we made our way up to the roof-top to view New Year’s Eve fireworks. The reader noted that this comment will not go over well in the United States where drinking while pregnant is frowned upon. She noted that I might expect a “riot of arrows” coming in my direction. To be honest, the thought did not even occur to me, but now that I am aware, I will post the following tidbit from my manuscript on being pregnant in Italy. I hope it helps to clarify Italian views on the topic and my behavior.
Italians love to see pregnant women. I am not sure if it is because they are relieved that someone is raising their population rate, or if it is some deep-seated Catholic ideal of the Madonna. Whatever it was, the effect of my growing belly on Italians was stunning. People would take one look at me and say “Auguri!” (Congratulations!). Complete strangers would reach out and touch my belly in elevators and ask, “Maschio o femmina?” (Boy or girl?).
When I would reply that I did not know, they would invariably tell me what they thought. There are two theories in Italy. The first is if the pregnant woman has a small round belly and has not become very fat, and is looking fit, then the baby is a boy. The second theory is if the mother is looking large all over, flabby, out of shape and unattractive, it is a girl. The idea is that a baby girl steals the beauty of her mother.
Could it be possible that these theories set Italians up for a lifetime of stereotypical relationships? On the one hand sons that see their mothers as perfect, and mothers that cook, iron and buy underwear for their sons until they are in their 40s, and on the other hand, girls raised to compete with other women to be more beautiful.
Italians also do not hesitate to offer a pregnant woman advice on everything from her shoes (too high), her briefcase (too heavy), her presence at a news conference (too stressful), and on and on. I had an American friend who found the intrusiveness unbearable, while I thrived on the Italian interaction, eagerly plopping into the offered seat on the bus, engaging in the which-sex debate, and reminding them that even the Madonna herself rode a donkey into Bethlehem during the final days of her pregnancy, and Jesus came out just fine.
The one area where Italians don’t interfere is food and drink. Nobody will bark at a pregnant woman drinking a cappuccino or having a glass of red wine with dinner, or a cigarette afterward — that’s considered her business.
When I was eight months pregnant with my third child, I took a vacation with my children and parents in Tuscany. One day we visited the Banfi wine producers. At the end of the tour, my parents and I were taken to the wine-tasting bar and our guide brought out three bottles of wine — a Rosso di Montalcino, a Brunello di Montalcino, and a Pinot Grigio. She poured each of the adults three glasses. I took a sip of each and then said to my guide, “I really should not.” She responded smiling, “But you must! Then your baby will be born appreciating and understanding wine.”
How very Tuscan of her. The appreciation and understanding of wine must start young.
During this vacation we were staying in an old Tuscan farmhouse. One afternoon I started chatting with the farmer from the next house. He invited me into his basement cantina — his wine and grappa cellar. Grappa is a clear, highly-alcoholic drink made from discarded grape seeds and stems that are left over after wine-making. Italians usually drink it after a meal. In this farmer’s grappa cellar, there were three enormous vats at one end for making the wine and grappa. Two walls had wooden racks filled with bottles and the fourth wall was filled with jars of homemade tomato sauce.
“What can I offer you?” he asked, waving his arm in front of the racks. I gestured at my pregnant belly and said, “Oh, I can’t, I’m pregnant.” “That’s exactly why you need something,” he answered, smiling but serious.
I am not so sure I needed something back then, but now that I have two teenagers and one pre-teen I may need to go back and visit that grappa cellar.
Post in: Italiano