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Day 354: Getting Choked Up.

 Cupcakes by me. 
How creepy is the blood red and kelly green frosting?


A tradition I try to keep in Paris is having pasta at least once a week. Growing up in an Italian family, Sunday meant gathering around my grandmothers kitchen table and eating...for six hours straight. Mozzrella caprese, roasted red peppers, a chunk of parmigiano the size of a boulder, seasoned olives, handmade orrichette pasta, a secondi of meats soaked in my grandmother's homemade sauce that she begins preparing at six a.m, and wine, lots and lots of wine. Due to another Italian funeral that we all attended last week in Jersey, we missed Sunday pasta and this week's Sunday pasta had to happen on Wednesday. This was my send-off of going back to France, and Josephine and Angelo's belated honeymoon pilgrimage through Puglia, the region of Italy we are from.

My grandmother is famous for her cooking, especially her Sunday meatballs sometimes need a day off. The woman cooks gourmet meals from scratch four to five times a week, as well as cleans a house with a toothbrush (I'm not kidding), gardens, and does freelance consulting for local Italian markets. She's pushing 90. Whenever I think I'm exhausted, I think of my grandmother and tell myself that I have no idea what it feels like to be tired. The woman, albeit tough and sometimes a little scary, is incredible. She inspires me to push myself.

On this rare occasion that we went out for our pasta, we went to one of grandfather's favorite restaurants where my cousins say that always has "hot chicks", and where he has known the owner since 1963 and the two spend the first five to ten minutes greeting each other with Italian insults, and calling each other illegal immigrants as we stand there, patiently waiting to be seated. 

Because they know our family, within ten minutes of sitting, unordered piping hot plates of pasta with all of its accouterment arrive at our table like the dancing dinner scene in Beauty and the Beast. As we all dove into our Sunday pasta on Wednesday (it still has to be called Sunday pasta) we did the obligatory praise, comments or suggestions of the dish, whether it was the plumpness of the tomatoes, or if the pasta was cooked to al dente perfection, or if it could be hotter because Italians always have to make comments. We can't help it. Once all of the commentaries was out, which turned into a unanimous agreement that dinner was "good", there was a commotion across the restaurant and for once the uproar wasn't coming from our table. For once...

As it turned out, there was a man choking at the back table and was on the floor dry heaving. What started off as an intense cough turned into a full-on emergency which sent the entire restaurant into mass hysteria. Forks were being slammed down on to plates from other patrons who were in total shock that this man appeared to be dying in this tiny restaurant that seats no more than forty people, girlfriends standing up, covering their mouth screaming, the choking man's young wife fanning him with her napkin, screaming help as this poor man was turning a deep shade red, matching the chunky tomatoes in my Pomodoro sauce. My grandfather who had left his hearing aid at home didn't hear a thing and had his head down in his bowl, peacefully enjoying his meal in slow motion, completely unaware of the fact that the restaurant had been flipped upside down in complete and total pandemonium. 

My grandfather finally looked up to see the entire restaurant was in disarray and had no idea why. "What's all the commotion about?" he innocently asked my grandmother, "Dolly!" she screeched as she smacked his shoulder, "the man is choking on..." She then put her glasses on to see what was on the table, "sfogliatelle, it looks like, he's choking on a flaky piece of sfogliatelle," she confirmed. This caught his attention. I swear because the mention of food was brought up he was then able to comprehend the severity of the situation. My aunt Mary always said that our family was abnormally obsessed with food. My grandfather who had stopped eating, then noticed the other restaurant-goers who either had their hands waving frantically in the air as if this was going to make him choke less, the screaming girlfriends were still screaming, but now they were standing on chairs to get a better view, and my mother who is a flight attendant and is used to crisis was barking at the general manager and waving her cell phone in his face to call the ambulance. "Hey, when this happens in the air, we don't have the luxury of 911, we're thirty thousand feet in the air, so take advantage!"  The servers were all shouting to each other in Spitalian and I'm not sure if anything was communicated as they were hovering over the busboy who may or may not have his license in CPR or his version of the Heimlich maneuver. At the moment it was left unclear but to my untrained eye, he appeared to be violently pounding the poor man's chest in front of his wife who had streaming tears running down her face. It was awful, just awful.

The Italian pastry that had been lodged in the man's throat had either dissolved or he coughed it up, I'm not exactly sure, I wasn't standing on my chair but he appeared to be breathing again and sat down, took a sip of his wine, and waved to us that he was alright. His wife went back to her seat and the two of them continued dining as if nothing had happened. Scenes from an Italian restaurant...

By this time the ambulance arrived, and the Italian manager insisted that he should be taken to the hospital, even though he was breathing and was now consuming his wine like water. He finally agreed when his dinner was comped and hopped himself up onto the stretcher. As he rolled past our table, sitting with his legs hanging over the sides of the vintage wobbling stretcher (were the ambulance from Italy too?) nonchalantly scrolling up and down the sides of his Blackberry, and his his wife in tow, the woman he was dining with said "You don't have to call his wife, I'll just come along to the hospital."

Wait, that wasn't the wife? Of course, it wasn't. "I knew there was something that not right about him," my grandfather declared with his fork waving in the air, as they rolled by, and he heard what the "wife" had said. "I could sense that he was up to no good," My grandfather who couldn't hear the mayhem that was taking place in the restaurant, but an affair, that my grandfather heard. And then I looked around the room, all guests were couples. Old Italian men and young, attractive "wives". It was a mistress restaurant! This whole time when my grandmother doesn't feel like cooking, we've been going to a mistress restaurant! No wonder there are always very attractive women there, or as my cousins put it, "hot chicks". When we questioned why we have been going to a restaurant where men hide their goombatas, like a true Italian, my grandfather responded, "Hey, you go where the sauce is good." It always comes down to the sauce...

Good Lord.

While I love French culture, my new life, and experiencing the way the French live, I'll never forget where I came from and my real roots; crazy Italians from New York. But saying that, a break from said roots never hurts and it's good to be back in my new home...Paris.

29 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks! And I'm so glad you had a great time here in Paris! Are you thinking of really moving here? : )

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  2. Priceless indeed!:) What a family!:) You have material for a series just with that!:)

    Welcome back!:) We spent the afternoon packing (yup! Packing!). We're almost done. As it turns out, looks like we'll be heading back home with the same amount of stuff we had initially, albeit different one:) We've been good:) I gave away A LOT of books and clothes in the past few months knowning the end was near. Boy, am I happy I did cuz God knows there's another truckload waiting for me on the other side of the pond (and I fully intend to do away with most of it before I leave the country again!)!

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    1. Thanks Duchess! You know I edit out A LOT when I write about my family. I don't want to scare you guys off!!

      That's good that you two didn't accumulate too much. I always find that I quadruple what I started with.

      How exciting for you! A fresh new start! Are you starting to feel nostalgic for your time spent in the Hague? It's always bittersweet starting over, I can imagine it's less sad when you have a partner experiencing with you and you're not doing it all alone.

      Good luck and here's to new beginnings! xo.

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    2. Don't feel you have to edit out too much stuff... I think your followers are sufficiently hard-core for you to unleash "LA FAMILIA" upon them!;)

      Bittersweet, yes and no. I'm exhausted and just want the whole thing to be over, quite frankly. On the one hand, I'm sad to be leaving, but on the other, I feel like I'm in limbo and can't wait to get started on the new projects. One week from now, we'll be sleeping in our bed in Ottawa. I can't quite believe it!

      And it IS less sad when you have a partner bitching left right and centre that he wants to leave...;)

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  3. There's no place like New York and New Yorkers, that's for sure. Although,I'm sure Paris is happy to have you back!

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    1. There's no place like home and whenever I come back, it's as if I never left and I'm back to being 14 years old with braces. My family forgets that I'm a grown woman who has been supporting herself for over ten years. I think it's like that for everyone. Families tend to overlook the fact that their babies turn into functioning, bill-paying adults.

      It's good to be back!! Thank you!

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  4. Me too Ella!!! Never forget....

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    1. I won't! How could I? They're so overbearing! I love it!

      I know you've spent time in Brooklyn (Southside!!), but are you from NY? (I'm not asking in that elitist NY way, I'm just curious).

      I love your etsy shop, btw. : )

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  5. Welcome back to Paris!

    A mistress restaurant eh? Hilarious! I didn't know such a thing existed!

    Just a couple of weeks ago, I was having tea with some friends at the tearooms in the Mosque,5e, when a guy started choking on his patisserie. Everyone went crazy - the waiters were watching women were shrieking and covering their children's eyes. Fortunately the man was OK, he ended up on the floor in the recovery position as his wife/mother (not sure which) stroked his back until the ambulance came. He got his patisserie and tea free (of course).

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    1. It reminded me of the Sex and the City episode where Big takes Carrie to that Chinese restaurant where men take women they don't want to be seen with. I guess this place is sort of like that, except we've been going there since we were kids and never picked up on it.

      Omg! A choking scene at the Mosque tearooms! Oh no! It's actually really scary to see someone choke because a happy ending isn't always guaranteed. A few months ago, I got something caught in my throat when I was in my apartment alone and was terrified. I almost ran across the hall to my neighbors for help.

      I'm glad the man was okay and got his meal comped. : )

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    2. I was thinking of that very same episode when I read your post!:)))

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  6. "Hey you go where the sauce is good"... I freaking love it!
    I love your family! And although mine is very Irish, this post had me nodding along and smiling because endearingly crazy, is obviously the same no matter what culture. bis. x

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    1. It's always about the sauce! Italians are obsessed with sauce...that, and bread.

      I'm glad you were able to relate! I guess all families have a major element of cray and I'm glad that it's not just me. I'm relieved. : )

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  7. AnonymousMay 06, 2012

    Heimlech maneouvre required...

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  8. Welcome back! We went to an Italian restaurant in Butte aux Cailles yesterday - it was fairly tame compared to your experience because I didn't see any mistresses or people choking on Italian pastry.

    And I've said it before but I'll say it again, I LOVE your family.

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    1. Thanks MK! You too! Welcome back!!

      I'm so glad that you all find my family as entertaining as I do! Like I told Duchess, I edit out a lot, if you can believe it.

      MK - Did you receive anything in the mail? : )

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  9. Your family reminds me also of my crazy Chinese one. The obsession with food and talking at very loud volumes is really one of cultural experiences that never manages to amaze bourgeois white people.

    And I noticed that you returned to Paris on Saturday, the day we left! I hope it was a nice weekend for you since it was overcast and rainy the whole week we were there (except for the day we arrived and the day we left). Every time I visit Paris, I've never gotten a whole day of sun :(

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    1. You too!! I'm glad it's not just Italians and that Sara Louise's Irish family and now your Chinese family are just as animated! It makes me feel better...really.

      Aww, you're going to miss your family! How are you enjoying your first few weeks as an expat!! I'm heading over to your blog now to get the deets!

      ..and the weather here, as usual is blah! I definitely didn't move to Paris for the tropical weather, that's for sure.

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  10. Sounds just like my husbands Italian family, so entertaining!

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    1. You married into an Italian family? Poor thing! How are you managing? : )

      Yes, we are entertaining if nothing else!

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  11. so funny. I'm still laughing

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    1. Can't you just picture my grandfather eating in slow motion, not realizing the mayhem! He's so funny.

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  12. ahhhhh! hahahahha! this was a such a great post!! hilarious!!! i can picture the entire scene. well written ella! glad the man was Ok (mistress or not) as the last thing you needed was to see a man choke to death. and now i'm hungry for italian food at 10am...

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    1. Thanks! It was crazy, absolutely crazy! People were screaming at the top of their lungs, it was absolute chaos.

      Yes, I'm glad he didn't die either. It would have been the final installment to the madness that was my few weeks in New York. Aye.

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  13. AnonymousMay 16, 2012

    How did I miss this post? You had me salivating the first 10 seconds of this post and then what an adventure! Your family sounds awesome. I love the Italian traditions as well - I never grew up with many traditions (unless you include being crazy and loud all the time as a tradition). I love that you have your fam in NY that are always there, but also your life in Paris. I just have myself and my bf, not really any of my own fam around anymore. Anyway, not to get all emo .. another fun, well-written post .. How crazy realizing this restaurant is where men take their 'goombatas' LOL. Your grandma sounds like an incredible woman as well.. I guess it keeps going generation to generation in your family! Good genes!

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  14. AnonymousMay 16, 2012

    P.S. nice cupcakes!

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