July 1, 1964 [Mafioso]

Sicilian Antonio in Mafioso takes his Northerner wife Marta to meet the family. They sit down and eat and eat and eat. Marta lights a cigarette, and everyone stares--they'd never seen a woman smoke. She explains she always likes to have one after a meal, and they all burst into laughter: that was merely the first course. A pile of squid-inked spaghetti comes out, there under the hot sun, and the meal must continue.

We laughed, too--this is exactly what happened to us soon after we were married, on our first Christmas home with my family. Jean dug into the homemade everything--the work of three cooks (my grandparents and one of my aunts)--with all the Midwestern gusto she could manage--and don't kid yourself: Americans of the Great Plains know how to tuck it in, all those products of field and barnyard so readily available, simple, massive heaps of grains and tubers and meat. But at the groaning Sicilian board she'd had her fill--then out came many intricate meats, braised, skewered, breaded, roasted, simmered.

Jean loves that story--and at his family's table Antonio crows his joy--but for Marta it's just Sicily always giving you more than you really want. (Every once in a while, my mother would sneer, "Siciliano"--making it sound evil: "zah-jeel-ee-ah-nooooo"--and then we knew she too had had enough of her in-laws that day.) But, once Antonio's family knows what they want from Marta, they cozy up and win her over.

Antonio, however, is not excused, and has to take extra helpings, until he himself is dressed and trussed and arranged on the platter for the old men who stare him down by muttering, "honor"--but he has no choice, and thus no honor. Just obedience and dismay, the life he'd prepared like chalk in his throat. You can see it on his face once more at the end, as he takes another walk through the factory, everything still purposefully clamoring, never guessing that a miserable, dead criminal smiles at them, holds a clipboard and disappears into his Milanese disguise.


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