‘You don’t need to be comfortable to watch TV’

My students and I had been talking about classic Italian movies, after seriously discussing Oscar-winner “La Grande Bellezza”, when the incredibly hilarious nineties film ‘Johnny Stecchino” came up.  Well, I decided to see it pictureagain, so I searched on the internet and it popped up on YouTube, in Italian and without subtitles, the way I wanted it.  Allora, I don’t own a laptop, so last night I dressed in layers, sat at my computer in my ‘studio’ (i.e. a corner of enclosed front porch), fortified myself with an adult beverage (a small pile of tangerines nearby), and clicked on the movie.  Fantastic, of course, incredibly funny and yes, Roberto Benigni is a genius.  But.  After two full hours of sitting straight up in my hardly comfortable, ancient swivel chair, my back was acting up like crazy, and I needed to lie down on the couch watching television for a while to re-align whatever needed adjustment (yes, the smooth Portuguese brandy helped, needless to say).  And I remembered.  When I was growing up in Italy, watching TV was not a casual, natural routine in my family.  My parents believed in limiting television viewing to an extreme, so that usually – unless there was something particularly significant – we children needed to be back in our rooms and prepare for bed by nine pm.  Another belief my parents Sala da pranzo, Porticistood by was that you don’t need to lie around comfortably while watching television, but sit straight up on a hard kitchen chair.  Yeah.  Here’s the thing.  Before an approved show was about to begin, we kids would each lug a Formica kitchen chair into the dining room, down the corridor to the right (no open-plan layout in those days, people, each room was completely separate and shut by a solid wood door with a softly polished antique brass knob), carefully place them at an appropriate distance from the black and white TV set (that is, frigging FAR, or ‘you will ruin your eyes’), stay clear of the good furniture (‘Don’t put anything on the marble table, it can stain!’) and stiffly enjoy our movie, variety or game show.  Of course we had elegant, padded dining chairs precisely arranged at a slightly slanted angle around the table, but they could not be touched. We were probably the only family who had placed the television in the formal dining room instead of the salotto, the living room, and who was determined to be painfully uncomfortable while relaxing.  But we were used to this unusual setup – including schlepping the chairs back to the kitchen, after, no matter how sleepy – so all was well.  Now, food in the dining room was absolutely forbidden (and Che? Vuoi mangiare a quest’ora? You want to eat now? What?), so the rare times I was alone in the room, that is, minus parents, I would run into the kitchen at a part of the show that might be slightly dull (remember, there were no commercial breaks in those days on Italian television, all the advertising was done between 8:30 and 8:45 pm in a particular segment called ‘Carosello”), and prepare a favorite snack of my creation.  Now, don’t laugh or make faces, but I loved (and still do) lemons, in all their delicious tartness.  So I would grab a couple of them (sometimes throw in an orange if it was in season), peel and section them at the speed of light, cut them up, place them in a caffellatte cup and (very) generously sprinkle them with sugar.  Then I ran back to the dining room, settle in my hard, stiff-back chair and relaxed with my lovely sour snack, while one of my sibling would fill me in on what I missed (yes, sometimes, I would make a little bowl for my sister also, we’re Italian, my friends, we adore lemons!).  Must say that, then, even after a couple or more hours in that atypical position, I would easily get up and move on with life, as if I’d been luxuriously stretched out on a Dux bed.  Youth, I suppose.  Everything was fine then, the movies were bellissimi, the singers grandi, and watching TV sitting on a stiff
chair in the seldom-accessed sala da pranzo was perfectly all right.  The memories are kind and tender, perhaps softened by the haze of time, and hell, I’m nopicturet gonna cry, ecco.

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