The Two of Us. (or, how to experience homestay and live to tell the tale)*
Scritto da prof B. il 26 Marzo 2018.
Apart from anything else, after a few months with her I was no longer sure if dogs can’t speak. I don’t remember what ignited the debate, but I went for the classic truth: I maintained (more fool me) that man is the only rational animal, and the only one able to speak. Perhaps allergic to truisms, she demanded that I check on YouTube (“You’re always on your phone!”).
Taken from an unpretentious black and white TV show, there actually was a sketch in which a dog repeated “sausages” whenever the ventriloquist manoeuvred its unfortunate jaw. So, the dog spoke because dogs can speak: the question, if it had ever been pending for a few minutes, was now settled for good. “Did you show your classmates the dog that says ‘sausages’?” - that would have been the refrain for days to come. “Did you show them?”
At the end of the week, I had to say ‘yes’. “Did they laugh their arses off?” “Yes, they did.” “See? You came to Ireland for a reason.”
I had come to Ireland for a reason, but it was a different one. I won’t perpetuate the lie that I just wanted to improve my English: I don’t need to put together a stupid CV, and I do find any small talk simply dreadful, whatever the idiom. What I secretly coveted was simple and beautiful, a tad onanistic at most: by learning some English, I wished to add a barbaric veneer to my Hellenic splendour (I’m Italian, you know), and let both gently shine through my superior silence.
But when the gods want to punish you they answer your prayers, wrote the poet. As soon as I opted for the homestay, my prayers were answered by the Almighty in person, who sent all the Vikings to redo my surface.
I perfectly recall when I first met her, the landlady. I’d just been visiting another house, feeling quite intimidated by an owner who had come across as larger than life. Now, by relying on my impeccable psychological insight, I knew that this would be the one: I mean the house, and the lady. The lady (henceforth P.), in particular, looked demure and reserved if not retiring, the very embodiment of womanly virtues, a panacea for my over-excitable nerves. Little did I know what that hesitant smile of hers truly hid: like a Monna Lisa heavily re-worked by a Warhol on acid, P. was a real man, used to enduring everything without a murmur. Would such a shower of testosterone be beneficial to me also?
Hormones, precisely. Winter in Ireland can be challenging, if you happen to live in a house where the heat isn’t on before 6:30 p.m. Nevertheless, I was the one to blame: though young and strong (?), I wasn’t boiling with the hormones that are obviously more than enough to keep human body warm. P. was. At times, she’d want to touch my hands, cold and stiff as a poker, and give me a look of pity. Pleading for a suitable indoor temperature would have come to no good. She was in charge of everything: the cooking, the cleaning, the washing, the ironing... She stored the firewood and the coal in the shed. What’s more, when we’d had an emergency with a mouse romping about the conservatory, she had first hunted for it, then set down the traps with the poison, and finally swept its poor remains up into the bin. “You don't want to feel cold?”, she’d have gone, had I dared whinge. “Get a life!”
She was so in charge of everything that - it goes without saying - the sceptre of power, the remote control, was exclusively in her (always hot) hands. The picture is still vivid in my mind: flopped into her armchair like a lumberjack knocked out by a stodgy meal, P. would “press around” again and again, brandishing her favourite gizmo like an axe, or a rattling chainsaw.
On those occasions, mostly at night, she sacrificed to her only Lord, not the One she professed to believe in, but a brighter, not less demanding, deity: television. Unlike Our Blessed Lady, enthroned on a small altar put up on the sideboard, unlike Her Begotten Son and His promise of eternal life, this cathode-ray numen would earn you good money from quizzes, and display an ever so visible heaven: the Paradise of Celebrities. Both, possibly, for the here and now.
Celebrities. “If only I could be there with them too!”, P. used to sigh, promising to God she would never dread shoving both hands in between the tarantulas, and never, ever shout ‘I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!’.
Woman of unshakable certainties, some of them, the most cherished ones, had volume and weight, total and specific. “Can you touch the sideboard beside you? It’s hardwood, all mahogany, and it needed eight men to be lifted and placed there. My family were all roofers and carpenters. I bet you wouldn’t be able to make even a shelf from scratch!”
What I was able to do, if anything, was kind of a mystery to her. She’d once tried to figure that out, but wound up mistaking the philosophical notion of reality for that of a reality show. Of course, according to P., it was me who couldn't tell one from another, and my overbearing impertinence had been finally nailed by her cogent questioning. “If you had someone like me in your classes, they would drive you insane!” On that, we had agreed.
Some other time, in order to assure herself of my disposition to uselessness, she’d asked which languages I speak. “None,” I replied. “I just studied dead languages, the ones no-one speaks anymore, such as Latin and Ancient Greek...” I immediately realised that I had lost her on the Greek bit. She didn’t lose heart, though, and uttered a single sentence, pronounced in a deafening barrage of consonants.
“Meaning?” I queried, in a mixture of terror and pity.
“Nothing, it's Egyptian. It means ‘I love you!’”.
*The following story is fictional, and does not depict any actual person or event.