booze, boobs, and communist heroes

A new blog reader and recently added Facebook friend suggested, upon realizing that I spent some of my childhood in Italy, that my tales of Italian adventure would make a great blog post.  And he’s right, for the most part.  Already scattered throughout my little piece of the Internet are stories that I’ve shared with you, such as the one about the gypsy who would wander aimlessly through my yard as I waited, frozen with fear until she left.  Or the one about the train to Venice that housed the toilet that bit my ass after the tracks got a bit bumpy and sent me running down the center walkway of the train with my drawers down to my ankles screaming for my mommy. 

What?  I was like five years old.  Give me a break.  And it hurt!

Here are some more adventures from my days as a little American girl living in Italy with no idea that I was American but really thought I was Italian.  Oh, you should’ve seen my face when I figured that one out!  1985 was a sad year for me.

Anyway, let’s get down to business, shall we?

My family lived in a few apartments in the towns of Dardago and Pordenone, but our last home in Aviano is the one I remember most.  Here’s a picture of the town I grew up in. 

And here’s the clocktower.  I remember the tolling bells but I don’t remember them being a nuisance.  Maybe I just became used to them. 

My first camping outing was here, at Bibione Beach:

I’m fairly sure that, until I moved back to the States and our family acquired HBO, Bibione Beach was the place to be if you wanted to look at boobs all day.  Europeans are much more laid back and open when it comes to beachwear and swimming attire.  It was not uncommon for a woman to wear her bottoms but not her top.  Even around her kids.  Only now do I find this somewhat awkward.  (And, no, my own mother never practiced this beach ritual.  Remember, she already knew we were American and prone to keep our clothes on.)

Okay, let’s talk wine.  Italy has a grand reputation as being one of the world’s exceptional makers of fine wine.  Maybe you’ve tasted my foot a time or two?  Well, that was a good 25 years ago so your parents might have tasted my foot a time or two.  What I’m trying to say is that when you see a photograph or a video or even a Bugs Bunny cartoon and there are real honest-to-goodness barefeet stomping away at the grapes, it’s real.  Oh, yeah.  That’s how it’s done.  I went on a field trip once with my 2nd grade class, was instructed to take a wooden barrel, fill it with grapes just pulled from the vines, and to stomp! stomp! stomp! 

It was a ton of fun!  We even got to keep a bunch of grapes to take home with us.  I’m sure our folks were wondering…um, where’s the wine? 

And lastly, Marshal Tito.  Not until I was in my twenties and training a new employee at work (who had escaped life from under the murderous and ruling hand of Milosevic) did I understand the importance of this name, Tito.  As a little girl, my family would sometimes drive across the border to visit a country know then as Yugoslavia.  My favorite part of the trip was watching the hang gliders take off from the top of a cliff.  Beneath this cliff, in white flowers, was the name Tito.  My coworker hugged me when he learned that I had seen this tribute to Tito with my own eyes.  I have scoured the internet for years trying to find an image that someone else might have posted.  Honestly, I don’t even know if the flower memorial is still there.  Yugoslavia isn’t even still there. 

I have a ton of free time coming up in a few days and I’m going to try to pull together a few pictures out of ye olde photo albums.  Till then you can oogle at my cuteness from this picture of me, taken back in 1980-1981, when I attended an Italian preschool.  My parents apparently figured it would be a good idea to thrust me into an environment in which nobody could speak to me in my native tongue. 

I don’t remember a whole lot about this place other than the annoying boy who sat next to me at lunch and ran his plastic fork up and down my tights.  I came home many times with totally jacked up tights.  And when I would tell my teacher what the little boy was doing, she would look at me like I was a freakin’ alien…like she coudn’t understand what the hell I was saying because, well…she couldn’t!  So I cried.  I cried alot. Then the Italian ladies would want to know why I was crying. 

So, no – not all Europeans know English.  Keep that in mind…


About Dena

I'm a suburban Clevelander by way of Oklahoma City, by way of North Florida, by way of Southern Maryland, by way of Upper Michigan, by way of Northern Italy, by way of Lower Michigan, by way of Texas. Because of living in so many places, I have something in common with almost everyone I meet. I love reading, writing, and American history (especially reading or writing about American history). I'm interested in culture of place, historical trauma, and writing about the kinds of histories most people don't know about.
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5 Responses to booze, boobs, and communist heroes

  1. Corey Frye says:

    Your new blog reader and recently added Facebook friend says thank you! I love this idea of being surprised to learn you’re American and being disappointed about it. Love the pic of Aviano too. Did you end up speaking Italian, and when you hear/see it now does it feel familiar at all? Nice post, I enjoyed taking a break from France for a minute!

  2. Dena says:

    Thanks, Corey! I did become fluent in Italian (and sign language, too – strangely enough). As a high schooler in the Washington, DC area, I thought taking Spanish as my foreign language would be helpful as I’d forgotten nearly all of my Italian. It didn’t help. It did the exact opposite.

    Now when Elle needs to practice her Spanish numbers with me, I am constantly correcting her: “No, it’s cinque! and dieci! Who’s teaching you this crap??”

    I can successfully count to ten in Spitalian now.

  3. Chris says:

    Reminds me of the time Trevor had his entire 1st grade class convinced he was Jewish at Christmas time, except yours was unintentional.

    I envy your multicultural upbringing. But I’m glad I didn’t get to see real boobs at such a young age or I probably would never have accomplished anything else in life, I’d just want to sit on the beach all day 🙂

    • Dena says:

      My younger brother once had his elementary school teacher and principal convinced that my father had been shot in the head during Desert Storm. The school sent my mother flowers and wishes for my father’s speedy recovery…when she called them to find out why, they said, “Well, isn’t your husband recovering from a wound at Walter Reed?” to which my mother replied, “No, he’s on a presidential mission in Arkansas. He’s fine!” My brother freakin’ takes the cake with awesome lies that get you out of having to do schoolwork.

  4. Debby Washburn says:

    Very good story! You have had interesting things hapening all your life! I like your attitude that it’s all part of a great adventure!

    Enjoy your blogs! Love, aunt Debby

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