Mamma Mia, So Many Simple-minded Italian Mothers!

During the closing years of the 1980s, I was summoned to teach English to four seven-year-old Italian boys and girls in a small community adjacent to my own. Each of the kids had not one brother or sister, and as a result, they were somewhat more selfabsorbed and featherbeded than those small fries who had a sister or brother to share life with and sometimes fight like cats and dogs. These boys and girls also possessed a better than average Italian linguistic aptitude because instead of being surrounded so often by other boys and girls, they were constantly listening to adults— whether they were parents, grandparents, or aunts and uncles. I remained with these little educatees until they reaped the ripe age of ten, and I am happy to say that they still today remember me and the English classes we shared together once a week for one hour and a half, for three years. Every Thursday, like clockwork, three of the mothers dropped off their offspring at the apartment of the student where our classes were held. Then, all four mothers “escaped” to go to the hairdresser, shop, or fulfill other tasks which an hour and a half had liberated them to perform. I always was left alone with the four youngsters. It is not that I was concerned about some emergency occurring. Rather, I would have preferred that at least one female parent remain just in case it was necessary to referee a disciplinary rough going. I try to make friends with my students—especially juveniles—because by attaining their confidence, things roll along more pleasantly for all of us. If I come down hard on pupils, all might be lost. Teaching one-on-one or in small groups is more rewarding for both pupils and teachers. I have never had to teach English to large classes or groups, and I never will. Educators in Italy inform me that they spend more time calling to order their often rambunctious, and even rowdy, students than they do instructing them. (I remember when I served [1966-68] in the US Army where I once was assigned to a missile/rocket training battalion in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, if a student recruit did not give enough attention to his—not his or her!—lessons, he—not he or she!—was invited by a sergeant to meet him—not him or her!—at the mess hall at six in the morning where the reluctant one would be ordered to peel potatoes until ten o'clock that evening—at which

time the sergeant would return and ask him—not him or her!—if he —not he or she!—wished to come back again tomorrow or study his —not his or her!—assignments! But this was an army, and there grooming for battle is not to be taken lightly.) Over the years, I have accumulated a repertoire of “tricks of the trade” which I employ when instructing, and without these I would be lost most times. There is no use in attempting not to be entertaining these days—especially with children. Kids whose parents can afford private language lessons for their young are frequently spoiled to the core; these juveniles are used to getting what they want. They can rant and rave if they so desire. If the teacher is not to their liking, indulgent mothers will satisfy them by hiring another teacher until finally the small fries get what they want. So, teaching games are of utmost importance. Kids love dictation. I use a stopwatch to time their alphabets, numbers, days of the week, months of the year, et cetera. I sneak in some time with a textbook when the right moment strikes. I can be popular with my students. Sometimes, when I arrive, they are anxious to know if there will be a dictation today or some other fast one I have found to be ingratiating to them. Nevertheless, when all things are considered, I believe that entertaining children has become more important than teaching them, and especially in Italy, this bodes not well for the future of Italian society—or, for that matter, any other society where amusement has scratched off the seriousness of preparation. One day when I was with my four Tuscan scholarly ones of seven years, I encountered a predicament with Alessia. She was a sensitive child and found it difficult to compete with the other children when I used my timer to gauge their response rapidity. She always was listed at the bottom of our categorization which, each week, on a rotating basis, was written down by one of the students. One day Alessia burst into tears when she scored still another bottom of the pile rating. I truly regretted this reaction, and if the other kids had not been so enraptured being timed by a chronometer, I would have stopped using this ploy and would have substituted it with another. I had to come up with some other idea. I made Alessia my “assistant to the teacher,” had her sit next to me, and told her that if she so desired, she could sit out participation in the timer games—whenever she wished. She cried with thanks. I put my arm around her to comfort her and told her that little by little she would eventually come to play again with the others without having any fear of doing so. And finally, after a month or so, she joined in and even finished higher up in our time

rankings. Naturally, I would never had been able to create such a solution had I had had twenty or thirty children before me in a classroom. There exists an ulterior motive for telling the Alessia story—and it is this: Nowadays in Italy it would be impossible for me to put my arm around a seven year old child, boy or girl, to comfort him or her during some distressful moments. In fact, I must barricade myself by arranging the seating of my classes putting a table or coffee table between me and my students. Further, I must make sure the door in the kitchen or in the living room is open at all times. I am never left alone anymore—even when I am teaching adolescents I am supervised by maybe a mother or grandmother or mother-in-law or aunt sitting in the next room and attentive to what is transpiring during my classes. One Florentine mother, after we had concluded making arrangements for her two children to be taught by me, point-blanked me with this: “You're not a pedophile, are you?” We cannot blame the Italians for being suspicious of foreigners—it is in their deoxyribonucleic acid. Italian history is glutted with reasons for making Italians xenophobic, and racism is also quite rooted in Italian society. The last world war witnessed an Italy overrun and ransacked galore. Invading allied forces left their mark so vehemently, Italians, to this day, are furious especially with the English and Germans and even the Americans who often were not as kind with their maneuvers as Italians would have wanted them to be. The fact that Italians consorted with the Third Reich in World War II is less significant to most Italians than the destruction that was leveled against their cultural patrimony. Whoever bombed Italy in that war is considered the real enemy of the Italian sore losers. There are still today DisUnited States' (NATO's!) military bases speckled all over Italy to remind the Italians that they are more fascist-bent than democratic at heart. The Italian psychiatrist, Piero Rocchini, known for his psychoanalytical interpretation of Italian mothers as being individuals who produce castrated men lacking any sense of responsibility, has diagnosed this disposition the Syndrome of the Mediterranean Mother. He explains: “The Mediterranean mother satisfies all the son's desires and deprives him of any responsibility with the aim of tying the son to her forever and a day. The mother represents unconditional love and unfortunately, in Italian society, the father figure is absent. The father ought to represent reality, society, rules and regulations and severity. The Italian mother says to her child: 'Nothing is too much for you.' This creates persons

who possess a childish optimism—persons who feel that they are Superman, untouchable.” (It is common today to find communities in Italy where as much as 70% of men between the ages of thirty and forty live with their mothers both because they cannot find a job, or because if they have a job, that work does not pay them enough to buy a house or even rent an apartment—much to the delight of the Italian mothers!) The Italian mother, for at least four decades, has clutched to herself her children with the idea of protecting them from hostile invaders from foreign countries. Then she commenced to clench them to her to defend them from pedophilic priests, Boy Scout leaders and the locker rooms of sports facilities. Now she is exceptionally paranoid even concerning her own relatives! And more and more young Italian adults are sinking into the black hole of alienation and frustration and passive-aggressiveness succored to their mothers who brainwash them with an enormous false hope in themselves. After having made weaklings and megalomaniacs of their sons, Italian mothers boast about—to their daughters and friends—how “stupid” men are! Generations of Mammas' Boys slop around Italy with their delusions of grandeur attempting to make their mark in business, the professions or politics. They talk and talk and talk accomplishing almost nothing. There are abundant neo-fascists. There are millions of women who are treated by them as inferiors. Violence against Italian women is pestilent.. The machos, with their hands at their crotches testing to see if their testicles are still there, must drive a big expensive car, and that vehicle is more important to them than a university degree. Their violence is also often offloaded in the football/soccer stadium or on the highway. The twentieth-century British philosopher Bertrand Russell maintained that hope is rational. But oodles of rationality would be needed to rescue Italy from the dilemma that is now getting the better of it. It will never be the Italians who redeem themselves. Italy needs to be taken under the wing of some political administrative body which can rationally right its destiny and halt its perverse advance towards anarchy—or worse. Italians have hope. That is all they have! They hope the Americans will offer them another Marshall Plan to bail them out of the economic mess they have concocted. They hope banks will write off their debts so that they may embark on another orgy of corruption beneficial to banks, financial institutions and the ruling classes. After all, someone owes them something for all the destruction that was aimed against The Problem Child of Europe's

“priceless” medieval museums, churches and bridges. No? (Zero sense of responsibility!) Does there exist a psychoanalytic couch big enough to accommodate 60,000,000 Italians who might be aided to return some 150 years to their Past, exam it, reflect on it, and then regain some semblance of sobriety, courage and dignity with which they— after all is said and done—might learn again how to regenerate their race? Or not?

Authored by Anthony St. John 12 November MMXII Calenzano, Italy




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