Language. Culture. Fashion. Tradition. Other landmines. There are so many ways to blow it here. It’s a small community and Italians love to talk, so the straniera with the odd clothes and even odder ways must make for good gossip. Some people know I give gifts to cats and wear rain boots that look like frogs, complete with buggy eyes. But there is a freedom in knowing I’ll never blend in. I don’t even have to try. Still, I don’t want to be offensive, even in my ignorance. The clarity of intent matters. Most people will give the benefit of the doubt if one appears to be trying. So I smile a lot, more than anyone else on the street. I say “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry.” Maybe it’s enough to keep me innocuous, but if we’re going to be here for years, it is no way to go through life. It leaves me outside and unknown. To know any other and be known, I must reach out.
But do these people who have lived in this town for generations and known their cohort since they were pushed about in prams even want to bother with a new friend who tortures their language, has no children, and has never said a rosary? Can’t know until I’ve tried. The lady one floor down on the other side of the stairwell ~our balconies are within range of conversation~ seems nice, as does her husband. They also have pets: Titi the cat, Nina the ancient dog who is deaf as the proverbial post and will flop and roll for a belly-rub just as soon as she sees a likely subject, and a small furry rodent I cannot identify (looks like a tribble with beady eyes, hello CuteOverload.com). Carla has also taken in someone else’s cat who needs medication and special care. She and I may have some sensibilities in common. I saw them on the balcony, Carla wiping off Duca’s face, Duca minding only a little. The scene was so tender and moving to me that I couldn’t let it go. I sketched and doodled for a week. But then Duca hadn’t appeared for days on the balcony for sunbeams, fresh air, and intensely interesting birdsong. I feared the worst as he hadn’t been looking too good the last time he had been out. Just the same, I finished the charcoal and framed it for Carla.
Would she like it? Would she get it? Would she think I was intruding, either to make it or to give it? And what if he had crossed the Rainbow Bridge? I could be calling bad luck to give a picture of the dead or just being cruel to remind her. With a gut full of insecurity and a tentative smile on my face, I rang her bell. Good afternoon, how are you, well thank you and you… how is Duca?
He was so-so, sleeping. Still with us! I gave her the frame. For you for helping Duca. She was pleased to have it, that I made it for her, impressed with the likeness. I could breathe a sigh of relief. Then Nina saw me, hauled herself up from her bed, and shambled over to plead into my eyes while she leaned ~some dogs are just leaners~ down my calf so I couldn’t miss her entirely free belly. Carla popped into the kitchen to show the drawing to her daughter. I bid them all Buona giornata, Carla, Federica, Nina, and Titi observing down the hall.
It’s no big deal, but it might make up for inadvertently running my washing machine during siesta or putting my garbage where other tenants do (that earned me a nasty-gram taped to the door, lesson learned). And just maybe it can be the little unexpected good deeds that build a friendship here.