Sunday, June 19, 2011

Calabria: The Goddess and the Scoundrel

Settling into Cosenza with my little American family that I dragged from Greece to Italy, our little hotel seemed empty, save for a handful of women who seemed to be staying there intermittently. I thought it odd, and asked my wife what she thought was going on. One of her eyebrows lifted and with a twinkle in her eye she said, “I think I know why they are here.” The year is 1977.

Italy has a particular connection with women. In one way, women are revered, so much in the South that the ancient cult of the Goddess, Diana, et. al., has controlled the cultural creep through the millenniae. It only takes a little stroll through a church or coming upon one of the many country shrines to Mary (Athena, Diana,etc) to know the prime energy force of humanity is driven through the female energy.

On the other hand, women are treated like lesser citizens at best, whores at worse. It is only recently that the widespread practice of honor killings has stopped, or ceased being reported.

I was raised in a matriarchal family. The grandmothers were the ones who paid attention, while the men worked, played, dallied, and generally acted like spoiled little boys. I know this, because the women in my family, from grandmothers to mother to aunts, cousins, sisters, all thoroughly spoiled me. That was before the reality of adulthood, and later, single-parenthood, smacked me upside my head a time or two.

I never knew my Calabrese grandfather. Supposedly from Reggio, he fathered five children with my grandmother and then went on to start another family(s?), some say simultaneously, in the New World.

By the time my grandmother came to America in the early 1900’s she arrived in time for my grandfather to steep back in. She had four more  pregnancies and the fifth child, my uncle, still lives in Texas. Somewhere in California there is a half-uncle who is the same age, if he is still alive. But why would we even know? It wasn’t like my grandfather shared the information. Why would he? A serial husband and father? Possibly a bigamist, a caricature of the wandering eye Italian male, spreading his seed from the sea to shiny sea of America, courtesy of the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe.

Once back at the source, I was given another perspective. Perhaps Calabria is like all the rest of the places in Italy, and Arabia, Afghanistan and any number of places where the male factor dominates.

In a place where there is significant seismic activity, such as Calabria, I felt an uncertainty in the way people around me approached the future. Was it fear? Was it that the women (and men) accepted their cultural state of affairs as a natural progression of the life of life and the ways of men and women? I am just questioning these things openly, with no answers and really no agenda.

Oddly we found out about the grandmother’s village while shopping for ladies underwear in the suburbs of Cosenza. I was wandering around a wine shop. The clerks were busy watching two televisions, one with a soccer game and the other with the grape harvest report from Campania to Sicily. I couldn’t determine which one they were more focused on. Meanwhile, my wife went in to a lingerie shop and was determined to ask anyone and everyone if they had ever heard of the town called Bucita. Over a pair of pink panties the clerk was showing her, the subject came up. And sure enough, this clerk knew exactly where Bucita was. And it was so ordained - we were off to see the home village.

It would be a few days before we would arrive to Bucita. The brick ovens were firing up, the ripe figs gathered and wrapped with the fig leaves before they would be delivered to the harvest ovens to make a winter’s worth of preserved figs. Already we could smell the fragrant aromas floating down from the hills surrounding Cosenza, mixing in with the diesel smoke and the seafood market, the wild herbs, the cumin, the hot little peppers. The earth was in full bloom, harvesting her load of scrumptious bounty, mixing in with the bypass of civilization. It was all very exhilarating. Little did we know what awaited us up in the hills.

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