“Gone with the Wind” is not my favourite novel but it is inextricably linked to Summer. I read it at 15, when whiling the afternoons away was expected of me and absolutely guilt-free. After lunch, in our house in the country, when everything was quiet, I would sit in a shady spot on the patio, feet propped up on the railings and I would travel to the deep South where I could relate to the same intense and humid heat, if not to plantation life and crinolines.
To this day, lying on the couch in my kitchen, book in hand, when the house is empty and the dogs are napping, is still one of my favourite forms of escapism. The birds chirping and Portia’s snoring might lull me into a brief nap, from which I will awake vaguely guilty for squandering time but ready to resume the rest of my day. Or, if it’s an indulging kind of day I am treating myself to, ready to boil the kettle and pour myself a cup of tea.
The English were on to something with their tea obsession, no matter the place or the season. I bless England for teaching me the invaluable lesson that everything can be cured with a cuppa, that slowing down waiting for the kettle to whistle and for the tea to brew helps ferry the mind from one part of the day to the next, that sitting with your hands around a steaming mug has healing properties and that sipping tea while staring into the distance is as soothing as a massage and as comforting as a chat with an old friend. Raised on tiny cups of espresso gulped down on the go, tea has taught me the fine art of slowing down.
But of all the simple pleasures my life is filled with – did I mention lying on the floor with my face buried in Ottie’s neck? – there is a seasonal one which achieves epic proportions when my mother is in town. It can sometimes be replicated when I visit Italy and stay at her tiny apartment, curled up on the couch for long stretches but, usually, I am too busy with a million get togethers to take full advantage of the simple pleasure of watching Italian tv with my mom.
Two things I feel the need to explain: first, I don’t normally watch tv, Italian or otherwise. I am a Netflix and on demand addict with little knowledge of mainstream programming. Secondly, Italian tv is 70% crap. Mind boggling crap, especially the one served up here in the States where only RAI, the state channel, is available.
Variety shows with scantily clad women and dubious comedians abound; music shows filled with singers I thought passed away a long time ago; award shows populated by mummified actresses and aspiring ones that are poster children for Botox and plastic surgery gone wrong. It’s mystifying and strangely addictive, it’s everything I most despise about my country but, like a train wreck, I can’t look away. The mindlessness of it all erases all worries and concerns.
As my mother doesn’t speak English, when she comes to stay for the Summer, I hurry to order Italian tv naively thinking I will park her in front of it when I am busy or have to go out for long stretches, seemingly forgetting it will be I who will be drawn in the vortex. It took less than a week. Last night, ready and dressed to go to my yoga class, car keys and sunglasses in hand, I stepped into the kitchen to say arrivederci when I spotted some lady detective with fiery red hair, mother of three, married to a doctor, busy solving gruesome murders. I dropped everything, climbed on the couch and stayed glued for two hours. Nowhere else but Italy are detectives so pretty, well dressed and live in giant and stylish apartments in the center of Rome.
After lunch, I look forward to the soap opera that takes place in Naples, the characters of which I fully remember from last Summer and where nothing much happens as I was able to pick up the storyline after a full twelve months. And what about the word game show that runs daily and has me brush up on synonyms and free associations?
My mother doesn’t watch those shows back home either but, here, we have established this secret covenant of crap tv watching that takes us back to the days when dinner was already bubbling on the stove, homework done and put away, and we would wait for my father to come home watching the pre-news offerings. Funny thing is, they used to be American sitcoms.
Come September 20, the Italian service will be cancelled, Neapolitan soap opera and game shows mothballed until next Summer. Because watching on my own doesn’t hold the same sweet surrender.
Images found in the public domain. Tv shows images courtesy of RAI