The zucche are back in season – round squash with bright melon-like flesh and ivory-colored bulletproof rinds. I see heaps of them in a plastic milk crate at the market and think about it for a heartbeat, but then remember the toughness of that rind, my desperate awkwardness with knives and, above all, the fact that whether I carve a squash or not, no one will give a crap except for myself.
I see the ads on Facebook. This nightspot or that nightspot promotes a “Halloween” party that will – as I know by now – be, at most, half-full with people dressed as zombies or black cats, who haven’t the slightest idea what the holiday is about, and if the rains are too heavy, if Paolo suggests seeing a movie instead, if mamma makes a really heavy dinner, those people will bail on that ‘Allo-win party because in the end, the day means nothing, it’s just something stolen from American TV, just another excuse to drink, and no one will give a crap about it except for myself.
It’s different when you are part of a foreigner community. A holiday means nothing unless you have someone to celebrate it with, someone who understands why on Earth you’re dressing up or setting off firecrackers in the first place. Someone who has also traced their hands with a crayon to make a construction paper turkey, someone who was also forced to play a pilgrim in the 4th grade Thanksgiving assembly when they’d rather have been a pumpkin, someone who also remembers when it was okay to call Native Americans “Indians.” As far as I know, I’m the only one of my kind in Terracina. I heard tell of another like me, a year ago, but I’ve never seen him, and I have no idea if he still exists, but Katarina said his Italian was better than mine, so it’s just as well I never met him, because if I’d caught his scent, if I’d seen the flashing lights of his eyes, I’d have clawed out his tongue and pissed on his leg.
My mother asks me, Will you be having a Thanksgiving dinner this year? And I think of the years I hunted turkey and cranberry sauce in Japan, only to come home from Supa Tamade with chicken cutlets and dried berries. I think about how I learned how to make my own chicken broth, my own stuffing, and my own French Fried onions from scratch when I couldn’t find Swanson, Stove Top, or Durkee’s. How hard I worked to create a Thanksgiving dinner in a Japanese kitchen with two burners and no oven. There was Bob then – at least he was American and happy to see stuffing before him. I think about the year in Ireland, too, when I hunted turkey in Dunnes only to be disappointed as I was too early for the Christmas rush and had to make do, again, with a roast chicken. Sean invited his friend Eoin to dinner, and the two of them looked at me cross-eyed when I apologized for having made everything from scratch. Stop apologizing, will ya? said Sean. It’s fine, it’s grand, whatever, I’m hungry, let’s eat.
The first year in Italy, when I begged for a giant turkey from the butcher and threw my back out carrying it to the dinner table. What’s this? I’m not sure if I want to try it. What are we celebrating, anyway? What are we supposed to do now? I’ll try just a little bit of that stuff over there, just to see what it’s like. I’ll be brave. I’ll sacrifice myself.
But my mother is waiting for an answer. My mother wants to know if I’m going to cook for two days only to have my Italian friends show up in staggered shifts between 10 pm and midnight and eat half of what I made.
No, I tell her. It’s not worth it.
That’s too bad, she says. I’m sorry.
Me, too, I say.
Because, of course, no matter what I cook, no matter how passionately I explain the First Thanksgiving, no matter if I politely explain that when one is invited to dinner one must arrive on time, in the end no one will really give a crap about it but myself.
My mother is generally a cheerleader for sticking to things one is passionate about, but she has said so little about my decision that I like to think she understands better than anyone else. I was born five years after my parents emigrated to the United States. We spoke Italian in the home, celebrated La Vigilia and got presents from La Befana. But we never celebrated La Quema del Diablo. We never celebrated Ferragosto or any of the many Italian holidays involving the countless apparitions of the Virgin Mary. My parents had each other and two other Italian immigrants in town to remind them of home; perhaps that’s why La Vigilia and La Befana lasted as long as they did. What about someone who is, in effect, alone in her own national skin? Is five years the standard life span of a cultural tradition in one-celled organisms? Only a year ago, I vowed to celebrate Thanksgiving wherever I was, turkey or no. But after nearly six years of forcing my cultural values on people who literally do not give a crap, I’ve come to realize that it’s not about the turkey, the cranberries, the firecrackers, the watermelon, or the zombie costumes. It’s about being with people who don’t think of the traditional dinner you slaved over as strange ethnic food that has to be “braved,” the decorations you crafted as cute throwaway props, and your time-honored ritual as just another day on the calendar.
It is 23:35 on 31 October and I am watching yet another episode of Toddlers & Tiaras on YouTube when there is a strange crashing noise. The moon is bright enough that I don’t need to turn on my lights as I pad through the apartment, drawn strangely to the balcony in my living room, where the curtains billow upwards like panicky ghosts. I see it soon enough: my tipped-over drying rack. I open the balcony doors and step outside, yanking the plastic rack upright again. It has stopped raining, but the wind is so fierce, the waves crash against the beach so angrily, that from indoors the world would still seem to be wet.
The Halloween moon is a nearly perfect silver orb. I smell the Tyrrhenian Sea, briny and devastating.