Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Cultural Studies

It always amazes me how people's perception of their own culture (or lack thereof) can be so out of line with how others view them. Case in point is my parents.

My father was one of eight children born in southern Italy. His family immigrated to Canada in the 1950s and 1960s. My mother hails from a small town in Ontario, Canada, with lineage that originates in the British islands. My father's family is an outgoing, rambunctious group that laughs loudly, drinks lots of Sambuca, and proudly declares that good food and a good soccer match are all that one needs in life. In contrast, my mother's family is the more subdued and unassuming neighborly type that you say hello to while walking down the street.

This past weekend, while driving to Monterey for a sightseeing excursion, my father quipped that he and his family had so much more culture than my mother and hers. It had to be so because she knew very little about classical music. My mom's response ?

"Well, you grew up in a cave."

In actual fact, he did.

My father's family is from a small town in the south-eastern region of Italy, near the heel of the boot. It is named Matera, and is characterized by a towering mountain in which ancient caves were created by the earliest of human settlers. Those caves became thriving habitations, adorned with brick facades, metamorphosizing into apartments and churches where modern people lived, worked and played.

It was in this rock, this complex architectural maze, that my father and his family lived until their relocation to Canada several decades ago. It was also in this city that the Mel Gibson movie "The Passion of the Christ" was filmed.

This may look like a painting of an ancient habitation in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, but in actual fact, it is a photograph of how the mountain looks to this day. An obvious choice for the location of the Hollywood movie. Read a short history and see some more pictures here.

Those stories that your parents used to tell you about living in caves, and walking 14 miles to school, barefoot and uphill both ways ? For my father, this was true.

As we continued on our drive along the coast of the Pacific Ocean, my father, the caveman, remained steadfast in his playful assertation that he had much more culture than his wife. Her retort:

"Yeah. In your feet."

I think that was the first time I'd ever high-fived my mother.


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