February 25, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Awesome ravioli

By |2018-03-21T18:37:39+01:00July 1st, 2009|"Notebook"|
Ciao Mamma, talk to you next week...

ack in 2005, Steven Johnson’s book “Everything Bad is Good for You” challenged the idea that ingredients of popular culture such as video games and television dulled our minds and corrupted our youth. For Johnson, games that require rapid decision-making and TV shows with complex storylines and lots of characters helped sharpen intelligence in the way sophisticted novels have failed to do.

That’s not all. A recent report in The Economist suggested that video games with “virtuous aims” helped stimulate positive behavior. In Latin America, particularly Brazil, I’ve read that telenovelas are used as social engineering tools, to promote smaller families, encourage contraception and raise AIDS prevention awareness.

I began wondering about some Italy-specific social engineering. Maybe there could be a video game that rewarded players who picked up the most litter and correctly filled recycling bins — with penalty points for tossing dirty diapers in with cans and bottles or putting steel cans with aluminum ones…

I’ll leave video game development to more expert gamer/readers. I’m probably more suited to scriptwriting.

So here is a first draft of a family TV show. The setting is a normal condominium in a small Italian city.

La mamma, Maria Rossi is ironing. The phone rings:

Mamma: Pronto. Mamma! How nice to hear from you! …. Of course I don’t mind that you don’t call twice a day now that your backache is better and you go out a lot. Anti-depressants are great, aren’t they? Me? You actually want to know how I am? Well, I’m fine. And my nice husband Mario you ask? He’s fine too. This morning he picked up his dirty socks and even turned on the washer. You’re right, he’s not a good-for-nothing. Ciao Mamma, talk to you next week.

(Maria starts to iron some men’s boxer shorts but stops. With a shrug, she folds the half-ironed shorts and places them in the pile of ironed shirts. She repeats the action with pajamas and socks.)

Mamma: Ma chi se ne frega!

Later, Maria sits down to dinner with husband Mario, and children Luca and Giulia.

Luca: I’m so glad we quit watching TV during dinner. I was sick of seeing half-naked girls exploited like objects.

Mario: Me too. They were such negative role models for young girls.

Giulia: Since I stopped watching TV and started studying, I’ve seen that being a ‘secchiona‘ is actually a real turn on for the guys. My friend Elena says her boyfriend got so excited when he heard she wants to become an aerospace engineer!

Luca: Yeah, it’s true. My ‘compagno di banco‘ thinks it’s really cool that my sister just got a 9 in math… without cheating!

Mario: I wish I’d known that studying is no harder than cheating. Plus getting a good grade on your own effort makes you feel good about yourself!. Speaking of feeling good about yourself, can anyone guess what I did today?

Mamma: Don’t tell me; you paid our taxes!

Mario: Yup, every last cent, and I declared my real income too. Boy, do I feel great. (Mamma kisses him.)

Mario: Some may call me fesso… but I say we can’t expect good services from our government if we don’t all do our share.

Mamma gets up and walks towards the kitchen. Luca jumps up.

Luca: No, Mamma, I’ll go. You women shouldn’t feel that your only purpose in life is waiting on men.

Giulia: Mamma, these ravioli are awesome.

Mario: Thanks Giulia. We must never forget how lucky we are that your mother is not only a great cook but also a great housekeeper, too.

Mamma: Well, a loving family makes it worth it. Plus, I love bragging when friends ask for my advice. What is your secret for a happy home? At our house, it’s all shouting, all the time. I tell them to stop whining; and resist playing the martyr! You get amazing results! (She and Mario take each others’ hand and giggle).

Luca and Giulia: Well it looks like you two could do with some quality time. Luca and I will clean up so you can go out for a movie.

Mamma: That’s sweet. But since your father helped with the laundry today and you are doing the dishes, I don’t have a headache tonight. What about just staying home Mario?

(She and Mario head towards the bedroom.)

Madeleine Johnson has written her "Notebook" column for more than a decade. She lived in Italy for almost 30 years, mostly in Milan, before returning to the U.S. in 2017. Her work has been published in the "Financial Times" and "New York Post."