Sunday, May 20, 2007

Terms of endearment... and saying goodbye to Jenny

My husband nearly always calls me cara. If he’s talking about me in third person, he’ll call me Jennifer, which I adore, because the better part of the Italians that know me here call me Jenny, which I loathe. It’s purely my fault. When I arrived in Italy years ago, unfortunately for me Jennifer Lopez hadn’t made it big yet and that mysterious hanging R on the end of my name really got the best of Italians’ mouths, especially those of my in-laws. So I somehow became Jenny- that’s right, Jenny! No offense to any Jenny’s out there, but to me Jenny sounds like a cheerleader, a playmate of the month, a (oh my God, my worst fear) DUMB BLOND! I’ve grown used to my mother-in-law’s shrill “Jenneeee”, but inside the four walls of my own home I am a beloved cara, or a bedraggled mamma, but never a Jenny.

Jenny is the alter-ego I will be leaving behind soon when I return to the United States, and someone I will only have to put up with when we return to visit. I’m wondering if I’ll miss her, but I think not. When you live in a foreign country, even those who are closest to you never really have any idea who on earth you are. Many Italians’ ideas about America come from television and pop culture, so you wind either being the punching bag for George Bush’s foreign policy or the idol of your kids’ friends. It doesn’t matter that I grew up in Florida, as opposed to California… the kids are convinced that I come from the same places they’ve seen on O.C., or even worse, Baywatch! There is also a portion of Italians, usually hidden away high in the mountains, that don’t quite know where America is anyway. Sure, they’ve heard of it, but the geography isn’t all that clear. I’ve had more than one person ask me if we travel to America by train.

You are eternally the foreigner, and for someone like me that has always thrived on being alone, as I wrote here, for a while it was more than OK to be Jenny, and to be a cartoon caricature for whatever American meant to the person standing in front of me. But now that I’m finally preparing to leave, I realize the joy I feel at returning to a place where I feel like I have some roots, and where everyone knows me as Jennifer, or even better, as Jenn, my favorite term of endearment...

One of the things that I brought with me here and that I will be bringing with me when I return home are my grandmother’s handmade quilts. I was reminded of these when I read this post in bleeding espresso. My grandmother, whose own term of endearment was Mema, grew up in a small Texas town, and adored handmade quilts.

This quilt is made of swatches of clothing that belonged to my mother and her two sisters as they were growing up in the forties:

My mother can remember the feeling of some of her favorite dresses as a little girl in this quilt.

This quilt, which my grandmother gave me when I left home at 17 to go to college, is made of the dresses I wore as a little girl:

I especially loved the light blue and white check, which comes from my favorite jumper.

This is my oldest quilt, worn around the edges and in need of restoring:

I'm not sure where the fabric comes from, but it is full of satin, velvet and silk. I like to think of these as my grandmother's dresses, which is probably true, as she was such a feminine creature.

I've started to think of the piles of stuff I have to pack or get rid of as the Jenny pile and the Jennifer pile. I'm leaving the Jenny pile here. The Jennifer pile, where these quilts are folded up, is coming with me.


sognatrice said...

They are gorgeous! It is rather interesting how we have different personas--literal and figurative--on different continents. My post today touched on that a little bit too...must be in the air ;)

byjane said...

Your description of what it is like to live in a foreign land is dead on. I lived in England for 6 years, and I too was either a whipping boy for the political party in charge or adored because my accent was the same as some movie star's. I have been where you are right now, in terms of looking forward to belonging again. It's wonderful, but also know that you will learn how inherently Italian you have become.

jennifer said...

So true, Jane. Once a foreigner, always a foreigner

Jenn in Holland said...

Jennifer, Jennifer, Jennifer,
Tripped onto your site via a comment you left at Brillig's. Oh, my am I glad I found you.
What lovely writing, and what incredible experiences. I am reading as fast as I can and soaking it in....

From another foreigner in a foreign land (whose name sounds nothing like itself when pronounced in Dutch)I wanted to just say thanks for the gut-level, honest sharing.

Can't wait to read more.