February 29, 2008


Goose and a Grave

My mother had superstitions. Because of that, so do I. She would knock on wood to ward off bad karma, even at that time in the 1970s when everything was made of plastic or pressboard and she would literally have to walk around to find some real wood.

To this day, if somebody sneezes, I say god bless you, or gesundheit if I am channeling my German side. I mean, I say this to complete strangers, who always look at me nervously at first, then decide I am somehow addled and smile at me like I'm a wee injured tot who just fell on my head from the crib.

Something I never knew until this week is that Italian men have a superstition of their own. When a funeral procession goes by, they grab their crotch. They do the same if the conversation they are having mentions disease or catastrophe. Because a man's first thought, apparently, goes here. Not a prayer for their family, or a wish for the injured, or a moment of silence for the deceased. No, it's all about the gonads.

Well, it used to be. An Italian high court has ruled they can't anymore, because it's "an act contrary to public decency, a concept including that nexus of socio-ethical behavioural rules requiring everyone to abstain from conduct potentially offensive to collectively-held feelings of decorum". Or, the short version: It's gross.

I'll admit to not paying a great deal of attention to this in a concerted way. Until I had sons. Then I noticed boys have a grand fascination for the Centre of Their Universe, but I figured it was my motherly duty to remind them to play pat the bunny when they got home, not in No Frills.

The grown up version of little boys don't do this in polite company, until they reach the farting and burping stage of a relationship, by which point the woman is scarcely looking at them anymore anyway. That selective vision kicks in, which is holding hands with selective hearing. But I can't imagine being in a bar or restaurant or sporting event, and watching a bunch of men grab themselves if someone mentions a death or an earthquake.

The guy that tipped the whole ruling forward was a workman who was busted for touching himself 'ostentatiously', which I figure is a euphamism for 'rigorously' on a jobsite.

Maybe he thought he was just knocking on wood.

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