Giorgio Moro was admittedly very relieved to be walking me home. The night had been a terrible bore, he said. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really deny it. I had spent our entire dinner picking his brain for an Italian expression that might please me. Deadline was just two days away. ‘Too much to say’ or ‘not enough to say’ were my blanket objections to every phase he had mentioned over the course of the evening. Luckily, Giorgio has been my friend since birth and is absolutely undaunted by my lifelong unwillingness to cooperate.
‘Hey,why don’t you write something about Italiani mammoni.
That’s a good saying’, he said.
‘Giorgio, I know you’re trying to be helpful. But frankly, the Italian man’s reluctance to sever the umbilical cord is an exhausting topic, even on a day when I’m not this cranky.’
‘Because if I write about Italiani mammoni, I’ll end up whining that the whole country is populated with inept men still live at home until their late 30s or have their mothers come over weekly to dust their flats and fill their ref1igerators.’
‘Twice a week, actually.’
‘Giorgio! Do you really want to be known as the man who takes laundry to his mother’s on Friday and expects it pressed before
roast duck dinner on Sunday?’
‘And if you don’t come up with an article this week, I will still love you.’
‘Really? Okay then, you’re redeemed.’
Giorgio Moro smiled, glad to have at least one point in his favor. Then he kissed me goodnight on the top of my head like my father used to do and told me not to think about Italian mothers or their sons until morning.
It was, of course, very sound advice. And as often happens with great advice, I made no effort whatsoever to follow it. Unfortunately for me, I find night the best time to think about things that make no sense when the sun’s up. There was no way I could sleep with so many mysteries to solve. Why are Italian men such incurable ‘mom-ers?’ Why is this country so plagued with nationwide filial co-dependence? And how could I possibly write an article on something so excruciatingly difficult to justify?
Especially if I was allowed only 750 words.
I would need at least 10 times that to even touch the iceberg of Italian oedipal tendencies. Honestly, what good were 750 measly words to explain the brand of love that binds mothers and sons in Italy? ‘Giorgio Moro and his bright ideas’, I grumbled, ‘Lucky for him he loves me. Otherwise he’d be in real trouble for having suggested something so difficult.’
And that’s when it came. The answer, I mean. Thinking about mothers and sons and love and Giorgio all in one breath brought me the answer-or at least the beginning of one. Find out how a country loves and you’ll find the solution to all its pathologies. In Italy, you see, there are two main ways to love someone, and surprisingly these categories are quite clear cut. Lovers own the phrase ti amo, while family and friends use the phrase ti voglio bene. It still means ‘I love you’ but translate as ‘I want you well.’
In other words, ti voglio bene is love made manifest. ‘I want you well and that is all. I want yow-life to be painless and your stomach to be full. I want your road to be paved, your house to be clean and your dreams to be safe. Your happiness will become my reward. So let me be your ‘Giving Tree’. Sit in my shade and eat my apples. Cut me down and burn my branches.I want you warm. I want you well.’
Could this view of family-love be behind the italiani mammoni phenomenon? It was just a thought, but I was suddenly willing to bet on it.Or a least sleep on it. ‘Maybe tomorrow I will run the idea by Giorgio Moro’, I told myself. ‘Hell, maybe tomorrow I’ll run the idea by everyone.’
With that, I switched off the light and lay there in the darkness with an unexpected feeling of hope surging out of nowhere. Maybe it was simply the first time I’d ever realized the beauty of ti voglio bene. Or maybe I had really cracked the code. Either way, it’s kind of nice to fall asleep thinking that love is the answer.

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