What happened today will not be easily forgotten in our family. I experienced something strange but, at the same time, frighteningly familiar now that I am back in Turin.
So I decided to have my birthday lunch there. I was particularly looking forward to introducing my nine year old and my mom to such a unique restaurant right in the heart of Turin. Our table was the first one to be occupied and a variety of yummy Piemontese dishes I grew up eating appeared on our table almost immediately: insalata russa, peperonata, vitel tonne’, parmigiana, verdure in carpione, albese, tomini elettrici. Everything was so delicious it was hard to say “no” to the offer of an another spoon. There was no music playing in the background but I liked it that way as the sound of the rain outside was very pleasant.
Imagine a romantic dinner by the river with your partner in a cute historical villa by the river, with fresh flowers hanging from wooden windows, decorated interiors and eclectic collections of teapots, vases and lamps in every room. The rooms with the tiny flowers embroidered on the tablecloths, matching the flowers on the nearby drapes and wood beams on the ceilings reminding the visitor of the houses featured in Inspector Morse books or some pretty hotel you may come across in the English countryside.
William was very annoyed at first – he kept saying he hated the restaurant as more antipasti were placed on the table – but was coming around as we moved from the antipasti into the primi. I was feeling happy, as did my mom and hubby. Then the room began to change with more lively atmosphere. New people started entering the room from the doorway next to our table, and went to occupy the beautifully laid out tables next to ours. The newly arriving guests were joyfully greeting the others who were already seated. The greetings quickly spread across the room and continued while a group of seated women was clapping their hands in excitement. The clapping continued. “Wow, they are happy. I wonder what they are celebrating… Mom, don’t be hard on them. They are young, they just want to have fun!” I was telling my mom, who had started to feel annoyed.
I then realized that, actually, those were not young adults as I had first perceived, but strange 35-40 year old adults: a mix of crew cut short dyed hair cuts, worn out jeans, large tattoos on arms and necks, metal chains hanging on their vests, shirts with death stars, plucked eyebrows and piercings on various parts of their bodies. I could put them neither in the punk nor in a recognizable class group. The loud cheering on both tables and across the room was becoming unbearable. A couple of women started hitting the table with their fists. Only now I can picture them as the Italian correspondent of British football hooligans.
I asked the restaurant Manager if he could play some music which could help them calm down but he said he couldn’t as the speakers were right on top of one of them. I felt I had been transported into a badly written horror movie. We could no longer hear a single word coming from our table, only the ecstatic screams of that large group of people while they were moving around the room. Then a woman started clapping endlessly while she was looking at me. The waiter said: “what an earthquake here!”. The Chief Manager decided to go talk with them. In reply, he was offered a bread-stick by one of the women seated at the table!… A loud laugh followed. Then came another waiter, who had previously heard me complain. He thought that the “undisciplined kids” I had previously complained about, were literally children! Once he saw them he left with a resigned look on this face.
So we were no longer there to celebrate my birthday but to fight a war against a group of idiots. Clearly, they were treating all of us, restaurant staff included, with complete lack of respect. And nobody was doing or saying anything to stop it. I was feeling humiliated and violated of both my family privacy and my human rights.
I walked to the nearest group and asked them to please be quieter. ” Sorry, we are the majority here. So we can do what we want!”, followed by other sarcastic remarks about my elderly mother. I tried one more time to get help from the restaurant Manager but she kept repeating with a sad look on her face: “Sorry but they are the majority. We cannot do anything to stop them”.
“But really? Because they are the majority?” A number of painful memories of Italian life came back to stab me: the rich boy successfully forcing other children to look at him play, the boy pushing another boy with the help of his classmates to lift a wooden gate and go play in the animal barn after it had been clearly forbidden, a young girl witnessing a classmate throw bread crumbs on her “best” friend’s head while she was smiling at her, a rich teenager calling the waiter to tip him, only to then throw 50 euros worth of lira on the floor with his classmates laughing in the background as they were leaving the restaurant. And more recently, a mom who was protecting the insulting behaviour of her son at school with the excuse that the child he was treating badly was not joining the “games” played by the majority of the other kids. Yes, I should dedicate a separate posting on each of these.
So I went to them and said: “Listen, I’ve lived in Italy, in England, in America, in Ireland, but in my entire life, nowhere, I came across people as “maleducati” as you are.” A loud laugh and a joke followed. At that point I said with a high pitch: “I just hope that none of the women seated here will ever get pregnant! That would be terrible for our society.”
So at the end they managed to push us out of the room. When I walked past the entryway I found myself inhaling something with a vague resemblance of marijuana but stranger. So my birthday lunch continued, with relief, in the adjacent bar/break room. To feel better, my mother started crying. William went to play with a dog. We slowly got back into eating by talking it through with the restaurant Manager. She said with a resigned facial expression, “It happens all the time. The kids’ First Communions are the worst…” Before she finished the sentence, I heard a couple of them chat behind me, while they were waiting to go to the single bathroom behind us. We then heard a loud crash and saw two men with a skull on their tee-shirt knocking over a glass vase with flowers. They had done it on purpose. After that I even heard a woman recite the Padre Nostro to suggest that we were a bunch of old nuns. Another couple disappeared in the single bathroom but we kept hearing them talk. This wasn’t a single occurrence as more couples of the same group of lunatics were going to lock themselves into the bathroom for long periods of time. I was wondering what they were up to and whether I should try to get William out of there.
We were trying to pay and escape but William needed to go to the bathroom. While I was distracted with paying, I heard a loud noise and a scream. William came out of the bathroom with a shocked expression and he said: “Mom, there were two of them outside the toilet. One of the women crashed through the door. I saw broken pieces falling down in front of me, even the door knob! She laughed, pushed me out and got in.” I couldn’t believe a human being, a woman, had reached the point of violating the privacy of a nine year old boy going to the bathroom. I cannot explain to myself how anyone can support such indignity to go with the crowd.
So welcome back to Italy and happy 47th to me!