The Italians at the Aquarium by Mary Lou Sanelli

Thursday, August 01, 2019 4:37 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


I’m reminded that I was not born in Seattle by just about every conversation I have with someone who was. Almost immediately I feel “East Coast.” More to the point, East Coast Italian, different in tone and temperament in ways I didn’t fully understand when I was younger.  


After years of trying to clarify this feeling, I still find it difficult to explain why Italians communicate the way we do, especially to people unaccustomed to passionate debate as a way to, oh, I suppose the best word to use is, bond.  


The first time I had dinner at my in-law’s table, I was afraid to open my mouth. I had no idea how to speak so softly about things I read in the newspaper. Used to waves of personal opinion rippling through even deeper waves of expressive reaction, I was shocked to sit with people, intoxicated people, who seemed to be content in the shoals of current events. 


I long for conversations with more heat and hand waving. The dinner table in my childhood home was a competitive place. Everyone talked at once, interrupted each other, said things someone took offense to on purpose.  


What fun! 


The other day I walked to the aquarium because I just finished reading “The Soul of An Octopus.” I tell you this because it wasn’t the octopus I wound up studying. It was a group of Italians.


And yes, I heard them, before I saw them. If that is what you are thinking. 


But if there are intentional coincidences, and most days I trust there are, I believe this one occurred to remind me of a huge part of my personality I neglect now that I (try to) live by a more-Seattle code of ethics. Or what I jokingly call (but only to East Coast friends) BIDAN: Bring it down a notch.

 

If the desire to be in the company of your biological tribe is one of the most overwhelming of human connections, I was reminded of where my qualities originate. Watching the group talk and touch and embrace each other freely, I had never felt more distant from the city in which I reside. I felt an urge to run up to them and say, “I am Italian, too!” 

 

Thankfully I stopped myself. 

 

I followed them into the undersea dome. I wanted to hug them. I wanted to hold on to this family with such a strong intensity that, when I couldn’t, I walked past them feeling deprived, devastated, deflated. 


So I called my friend Vicki who was born in Seattle. She had no idea why I was calling, and I didn’t bother to say, but as soon as I heard her voice, I felt grounded.


And it strikes me that talking, talking—however fast, drawn-out, cool, or impassioned—is still the best way to deal with complicated emotions when basic longings fall flat.



Mary Lou Sanelli


Mary Lou Sanelli has published seven collections of poetry, three works of non-fiction, and her forthcoming novel, “The Star Struck Dance Studio (of Yucca Springs),” is to be published in September, 2019 (Chatwin Books). For more information about her and her work, visit www.marylousanelli.com.


   
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