I grew up watching my grandmother stare out the window, commenting on the neighborhood kids passing by. “I don’t trust that one.” After several hours she gave up her post and sat in her trademarked chair. This is usually when I would join her. Together we would watch a few minutes of a game show with scantily clad ladies on Rai. As soon as the first commercial break hit she would turn to more important things: the discussion of family current events and history. My kinsfolk had familial dynamics with more drama than a Dynasty episode.
I listened hard.
The discussion always centered around three main topics:
how someone died,
how a lucky one found (or almost found) fortune
how horrible of a human being a particular family member (of the day) turned out to be.
Someone was always doing something to someone else. You had to pay attention to keep up with the details.
I was taught early on that someones actions speak louder than words — one slip up signified that your true nature was selfish and rotten. My grandmother (and more so her evil-hearted sister) calibrated every action a family member took to determine their rating on the “good kid” scale. Although this is not to say anything negative about that blessed soul. In my view my grandmother’s shit talking was more of a product of her sass than a character defect. May she rest in peace, that saucy minx.
Because my grandmother was so forthright she didn’t leave anything unsaid. I learned from her lectures how if you turn out “all right” and something unfortunate happens to you, it was obviously the result of a depraved moment in your past, which is also a signifier of your corrupt character. My grandmother’s comment in such circumstances: “I knew he was always like that, remember that time when he was mean to his mother?” The universe was always counting and my grandmother had a job as its accountant.
Rosa Mariella Dipaoli and Carmella Ravoli are two characters that were born from the ashes of my upbringing. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was trying to understand the ways in which my elders were destructive to each other and to the family as a whole. Comedy is the best medium for such an exploration because you can turn those sad moments, as Carrie Fisher puts it, into “funny gold.” In this video Rosa is accuses Carmella of stealing her “Richard and Lady Bird Nixon Commemorative Plates.” The tension shows the underlying dynamics which speak for themselves.