We are out to lunch today and are joining 12 others at an Italian friends house around the corner. He has 4 guys helping him build a dry stone wall in his garden and luckily I am excluded from this as I clearly have no skill whatsoever in that department. Indeed one thing that amuses them is to compare hand sizes at lunch . They have shovel-size hands and my little office wallah hands cause much amusement. So I offered to bring a good slug of wine to the lunch instead. My local bar goes into summer mode around April 10th with the arrival of the ice-cream display freezer. The beauty with this event is for the rest of the summer one can phone the bar and have them put a 5 litre plastic container of rosatto (€5 ) in the freezer at 7 a.m. and pick it up on the way to lunch nicely chilled. This I did this morning.
Table seating at Southern Italian meals is easy. The men sit at one end of the table and the women at the other end of the table. The wine is at the male end and the water and soft drinks at the other. Occasionally a glass will come up from the other end and be filled with wine but the bottles stay firmly set at one end. This is true in restaurants as well. The Italians eat out in packs it is rare to see a table of just two Italians unless they are young and ” in luv” . The rest decide on a meal out and then phone everyone they know and ask them to come along too. We say going dutch to mean sharing the bill they say going roman. A couple of unfortunate teenagers are normally given the task of getting to the restaurant on time and sitting at the huge table. Gradually over the next hour or so guests will arrive in dribs and drabs until the table is full. Only then is wine ordered, food ordered and the talking begins. But all the men will be at one end and all the women at the other. The only time that seems to change is when the priest gets invited too. He poor fellow ( or maybe not) gets dumped in the middle of the women. However the waiter looking for some reassurance about the afterlife makes sure his wine glass is always full to the top.
Just in case this might happen
This is not our first experience of this type of sex segregation. My first job after school was as Purser Cadet on P&O Orient Lines taking migrants to OZ. On my first overnight in Melbourne in 1966 I was taken by a friend of my father’s to his local pub . This was an all male affair as were all pubs then but at the side of the bar was a hatch that occasionally one could hear a tap tap on. The barman opening it revealed a sitting area full of women. He would listen to the woman at the hatch and then announce to the male only bar. “Bruce your Sheila wants a beer”. Bruce would decide if he was going to pay and if not the hatch was closed . It was deemed by the authorities that the sight of alcohol was just too much for the fragile and sensitive female brain. They clearly hadn’t met my wife nor most of the “Sheilas” I met on P&O sailing back to the UK. In Sydney a few days later I found a pub near the dockyard with a urinal that ran along the front of the bar so the male only patrons need not leave the place to pee. This was a left over from the 50’s and early 60’s when pubs only opened for an hour a day 5-6 in the evening and was affectionately know as the five o’clock swill. Things have changed down under now.
In Porto Portugal a few days after starting my job there in 1979 we were invited to the home of the head of Taylors Port. Some 8 couples from the various port growing families gathered for dinner and at the end of the desert course the lady of the house announced that ladies could ‘ powder their noses” a euphemism for leave the men to their port. Up they got as a group bar one. My wife, who sat chatting to the guy next to her. I got her attention with a kick under the table and signaled with my eyes get out. It’s okay she said I don’t need the loo. With my serviette in front of my mouth I coughed scarper but clearly her Durham upbringing and room party nightstops as a BA stewardess had not conditioned her for such things. The guy nest to her said the ladies leave but she sat tight. Port is coming she said and I love the stuff which she did plus she said I don’t want to go and sit with a load of women. The lady of the house came back and said there were two bottles of vintage port outside and saved the day. Mervaglioso ( another one of those easy almost English words and this is one of their most famous songs.
Sunday work here is very much quid pro quo a group come and work from 7 a.m. till 1p.m. and ask only in return a good lunch afterwards with their wives present at your house and that you do the same for them at a later date. It is understood that no work is expected after lunch which is in the main for most working Italians here their only time off.
So to finish today and it being Sunday let’s have The Prayer with Bocelli, so turn up the volume.