An unfair split


In Italy, trusting a partner to do the best by you isn’t always a safe bet.

That’s Queer 

In a gay relationship, 50-50 isn’t an equal proposition and can unexpectedly leave a trusting partner on the brink

My move to Italy in 2001 sharply curtailed my career possibilities and earning power. The best I could do was become an English instructor, a job that would never pay well or give me much chance for advancement. My companion Alberto, on the other hand, was a doctor with a secure position in a local hospital. What’s more, he already owned a modest apartment in Milan and had inherited part of a house on Lago Maggiore.

Many people still hold to the idea that one partner, usually the man in a heterosexual relationship, must be the primary wage earner, the so-called breadwinner. My father told me this in no uncertain terms, calling me a “parasite, living off Alberto’s money.” While it’s true my standard of living is higher than what I could manage on an English teacher’s salary, I still pay my own bills, including half of our second-hand car and our old boat. Though I share living expenses with Alberto, we don’t split things 50-50 and he contributes more.

If anything were to go wrong between us, Alberto could continue living as he does now. I’d have to return to Canada and find a way to reinvent myself in the workplace.

I married Alberto in Canada, but the Italy I moved to in 2001 contained no legal mechanisms to protect me. Same-sex civil unions didn’t exist. Alberto named me as his heir in his will. He added an insurance policy and also drafted a contract stipulating I had rights to a certain percentage of his estate. Unfortunately, as many wives would attest, not all husbands are as careful or considerate.

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Ripples in the pond


 

Jamaica’s LGBT community is still drowned out by colonial-era legislation.
By: Mark Campbell/The American In Italia
Persecution can be long and persistent but change toward better human rights can start like a ripple in a pond. Though their efforts and successes may go largely unnoticed by global media, individuals in smaller countries, in particular former British colonies, are taking bold steps toward improving life for LGBT citizens, who in many places still bear the full brunt of social exclusion and personal risk. Some live in states with colonial-era laws that criminalize homosexuality. England once did, setting the tone for its colonies.

Persecution of LGBT people in England appears to have begun, at least officially, with the 1533 introduction of The Buggery Act during the reign of King Henry VIII. After the separation of the Church of England from Rome, punishment for homosexual, previously under the jurisdiction of church law, became a civil matter. The Act made sex between men, and also men with beasts, punishable by hanging, a penalty not lifted until 1861. During the Victorian period, homosexual relations between men were punishable by imprisonment and hard labor. One illustrious victim was Oscar Wilde, who was jailed for two years in the 1890s for sodomy and gross indecency.

As the British Empire grew, its legal system spread to its colonies along with anti-homosexual legislation. It wasn’t until 1967 that England and Wales decriminalized homosexual acts. South Africa, Canada and New Zealand did the same.

Throughout the British Commonwealth, however, homosexuality remains a criminal act. Archaic anti-sodomy laws, vestiges of colonial rule, still govern the lives of LGBT people. India has actually regressed. In 2013 the Indian Supreme Court overturned a previous Delhi High Court ruling decriminalizing homosexual acts. In 2014, Singapore’s top court upheld a law criminalizing sex between men. In former African colonies, wanton disregard for human sexual rights is commonplace. Nigeria, Uganda and Gambia have all recently passed new and tougher anti-homosexual legislation (Uganda’s was later annulled by that country’s Constitutional Court).

Jamaican lawyer and activist Maurice Tomlinson says the English-speaking Caribbean remains “in the grip of powerful right-wing fundamentalists who [control] all levers of power.”

Anti-sodomy laws in some former British Caribbean colonies still carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. There are also laws prohibiting homosexuals from entering these countries. Trinidad and Tobago is one of nine Caribbean countries with criminal statutes against homosexuality. In 1991, the Bahamian parliament decriminalized homosexual sex. Since then, however, no other English-speaking country in the Caribbean has followed the Bahamian lead.

More onerous perhaps is a general and widespread culture of homophobic violence. In 2006, Jamaica was dubbed, “The Most Homophobic Place on Earth” by Time magazine. The image of love that Bob Marley’s music conveyed to the world has been destroyed by Jamaican “hate rappers” whose blatantly violent lyrics encourage “correcting rape” (to cure lesbians) and murder. It’s not uncommon for police to use “anti-homosexual” laws to entrap and extort money from LGBT people.

Maurice Tomlinson, a lawyer and human rights activist, has filed a claim in Jamaica’s Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of sodomy laws that ban anything interpreted a “gross indecency” between men. The Anglican Church, Catholic Church, and above all evangelical Protestant churches, many based in the United States, vigorously resist any reforms. At least eight religious groups will oppose the Tomlinson challenge, stating that the law is necessary to preserve the population from imminent moral collapse.

An earlier challenge to the law initiated in 2013 by another Jamaican was dropped due to fears for his safety. The English-speaking Caribbean world, says Tomlinson, remains “in the grip of powerful right-wing fundamentalists who [control] all levers of power.”

In 2010, a young man from Belize, Caleb Orozco, and his senior attorney, Lisa Shoman, challenged Belize’s anti-sodomy law. On Aug. 10, 2016, Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin of the Belize Supreme Court ruled that the section of the Criminal Code that criminalized consenting intercourse between adults of the same sex contravened rights granted by the Belize Constitution.

“We won on all grounds,” Orozco said of the verdict, “dignity, right to privacy, right to freedom from discrimination, freedom of expression and the equal protection of the law.” Shoman spoke of “huge ripples in our small Caribbean pond.”

Along with numerous messages of support, Orozco has also been inundated with death threats. Evangelical church leaders have accused Orozco and Shoman of promoting immorality, pedophilia and rape.

Caleb Orozco challenged archaic Belize sexual laws, and won round one.

The trail of persecution is long and the fight for human rights and dignity is slow. Haters, often claiming God’s mandate, will say and do whatever they can to stall the progress towards dignity, protection and full social participation. In the end, the fight often comes down to a few brave individuals willing to risk it all in the hope of creating a collectively better human future.

 

The Leopard’s Spots


Left-wing progressives have stopped well short of fully embracing gay rights.

By: Mark Campbell/The American-In Italia

Valeria has been a close friend of mine since I first came to Italy. She was raised a Catholic by a domineering mother and an irresponsible father. As an adult, she tried rejecting religion in favor of a more secular viewpoint.

Valeria and her husband lean politically to the left, more specifically toward communism. She embraces ideas like solidarity to the point where a simple invitation for a beer in two quickly morphs into a collective event. She’s also a strong supporter of community-based programs and she is always organizing cultural tours to museums and galleries. She is a font of information about community organizations and has been involved with a group that provides support to families of children with disabilities. All the same, I’ve heard friends make little quips about Valeria’s inability to distinguish between the hammer and sickle and the crucifix.

Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of watching Valeria’s daughter Alba go from diapers to university. Even as a little girl it was clear that Alba was a strong and independent person with above average intelligence. I remember Valeria telling me about one of Alba’s grade school projects in which the teacher had asked the children to make a poster-size collage about their ambitions and desires for the future. The morning the assignment was due Valeria and Alba met the other mothers and their children gathered outside the school. Each child carefully held up a poster with images of what they hope for. Not surprisingly, the boys were plastered with pictures of racecars and football players while the girls’ posters were filled with fashion models and designer labels. Alba’s poster, however, was fill with images of scouting and environmentalism.

As Alba grew, she remained dedicated to scouting and rose to the level of Scout leader. Consistent with the values of social justice and collective action that her parents had instilled in her, as a teenager she attended many protests for human rights. Along with one of her best friends, Giorgio, who is gay, they started a gay student association in their high school.

Many times I’ve listened to Valeria’s concerns about typical problems, the kind that all parents face. I’ve heard about Alba’s acne crisis, I’ve listened to the right time to let Alba have her own smart phone/tablet/computer, and at what age should she be allowed to meet friends at night, and what curfew hour is reasonable. I’ve always suggested Valeria take a soft line rather than an authoritarian one.

Valeria and her father Claudio also did their best to ensure Alba received a global education. When Alba turned 16 they spent a summer in New York City. When she turned 18 they vacationed in London. One friend suggested that maybe the time had come for Alba to be more independent. “What 18-year-old wants to spend their summer vacation with their parents?” Eventually, Alba decided to study architecture at university. Alba’s entrance exam scores were very high. She’d grown up to be a very remarkable young woman and a daughter to be proud of.

Last month, Alba told her mother and father that she didn’t really have any interest in boys but she liked girls, even though she had only ever shared one kiss with another girl.

After a lifetime of preaching social equality and justice both Valeria and Giorgio responded very negatively, though I was told that Giorgio was far less severe and argumentative. Valeria reportedly refused to speak to Alba for more than a week. At work, Valeria repeatedly burst into tears and proclaimed how disgusted she was by the idea of two women kissing.

Left-wing progressives have stopped well short of fully embracing gay rights.

 

I didn’t see Valeria as this drama unfolded. I was updated their friends. I soon received an indirect message from Valeria that she didn’t want to talk me about the “issue.” The bearer of the message suggested Valeria believed I couldn’t possibly understand what it feels like to be a mother.

In the meantime, Valeria has talked and cried to anyone willing to listen about how she’s been made into a victim. This has included seeking out the expert advice of the closeted homosexual director of the family with disabilities group.

As time passes, fewer and fewer people are willing to listen. Some friends criticize her outright. She’s apparently seeing a therapist to help her through her self-inflicted pain and suffering. I’m concerned that any intervention on my part would only fuel the fire, though I’m tempted to call her out. “Look at the damage your bigotry and intolerance has caused,” I would tell her. “It didn’t have to be this way.”

And what about Alba? This young woman has just taken one of the bravest steps of her life only to discover that the two people she most trusted have pulled the rug out from under. She has probably been left to question the system of values and beliefs she was taught. I suspect this will have negative ramifications for Alba for the rest of her life. From a distance, I can only hope she finds people to guide and support her during this epic experience.

China: Funny Money


Ghanian Asamoah Gyan moved to Shanghai to, in his words, “get paid.”

By: Dino Quin/The American In Italia

Buying players in the January transfer window is bad, desperate business, or so the adage goes.

If the player’s any good, purchasing clubs must pay a considerable mid-season markup to snare them from the selling club. The bigger the presumed coffers of the purchasing club, the nastier the deal.

The addition of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations to the equation, which means clubs must demonstrably match revenues to costs, had made the big money January move into a dying breed.

Until January 2016, that is.

But instead of the Chelsea’s and Inter Milan’s of the world splashing the cash, it was the likes of Jiangsu Suning and Shanghai Shenhua of the Chinese Super League (CSL) raiding the rosters of Europe’s elite.

Headlining the list of recent transfers was Ramires, a 28-year-old Champions League winner and Brazil international, who moved from Chelsea to Jiangsu Suning for €33 million. The switch from the English champions to China’s ninth place team has left many scratching their heads. Founded in 2004, the CSL is a young league whose biggest names to European ears — until recently — had been managers such as Marcello Lippi and Sven-Goran Eriksson.

 

Sven-Goran Eriksson now manages Shanghai’s SIPG F.C.

Initially troubled by corruption, the league’s development turned the corner when China’s head-of-state Xi Jinping, himself a football fanatic, decided to see it as a potential source of national pride. Government and private investment have poured cash into the clubs.

With China’s unbelievably poor record in international competitions and relative lack of internationally recognized names, at least compared to neighbors Japan and South Korea, it’s easy to forget the magnitude — and commercial potential — of football in the world’s most populous country. The world’s game is also China’s most watched sport.

In autumn 2015, media consortium China Media Capital outbid the state broadcaster to secure global broadcast rights to the CSL for €1.1 billion over the next five years. For the 2016 season, which starts in March, the rights will be worth 20 times what they cost in 2015. Attendance figures haven’t grown as exponentially as TV rights fees, but CSL crowds have more than doubled over the last decade.

Xi Jinping in 2012: when your leader is a soccer fan, things change.

While the rise of the Chinese league suddenly seems irrefutable, Europe’s biggest clubs are sure to benefit short-term from CSL teams flexing their financial muscle.

With tight fists replacing spendthrifts in the Financial Fair Play era and January becoming a time of patience rather than desperation in Europe, China’s drive to promote the sport at all costs is helping to grease the reluctant wheels of the transfer market.

In many cases, the players being bought have failed to perform after a big money transfer but still remain in the prime of their careers. Unwilling to take a pay cut at another European club, they can seem virtually unmovable. Enter a CSL club ready to pay hand over fist for a big name to promote their brand.

Paulinho of Tottenham Hotspur and Fredy Guarin of Inter Milan are two such examples. A Brazilian who played on the 2014 World Cup squad, Paulinho was an unmitigated flop at Tottenham, who were nevertheless able to recoup €13 million when CSL champions Guangzhou Evergrande decided to reunite him with former Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari.

Paulinho’s move happened in summer, while Shanghai Shenhua snapped up Colombian Guarin in January for the same amount. Only after Guarin’s move was finalized was Inter able to turn around and re-invest the funds in Sampdoria striker Eder. In an era where transfers increasingly occur on a one-in. one-out basis, the CSL’s funny money has opened a vital new revenue stream for cash-strapped European sides.

If the transfer fees are high enough to tempt the European giants to sell, then the wages must also be high enough to tempt the players to uproot and move to China. While Ramires had become a second choice in central midfield for Chelsea, his qualities as a player were not in decline and he remained an occasional starter. Chelsea had any number of targets to which it could sell him. But all doubt vanished when Jiangsu offered to pay him some €260,000 per week, more than doubling his salary.

Ivorian forward Gervinho, meanwhile, had been an important cog in Roma’s dynamic attack over the past few seasons. He had seven goals for Roma this campaign before being sold to aptly named Hebei China Fortune for €16 million. New Roma manager Luciano Spalletti, who saw Gervinho as an integral player, remarked unhappily that the Ivorian “wanted to leave at all costs,” but he also understood the eagerness. “Gervinho is going to triple his salary. I told him ‘fine’.”

Ghanaian striker Asamoah Gyan is a poster boy for chasing the money, having left the English Premier League in 2011 at age 26 to play for Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates. In 2015, Gyan moved on to Shanghai Shenhua, where his €300,000 a week salary makes him among the top 10 highest earners in world football. He’s a weathervane for the changing winds in football’s emerging markets.

We’re still far from a scenario in which Chinese clubs compete routinely with the top European leagues for talent, a reality perpetuated by China’s limit of five foreign players per team — intended to promote homegrown development. But American Major League Soccer and UAE’s Arabian Gulf League, both of which have long relied on a trickle of big name imports, must now reckon with a reality: their new rival is the largest country on the planet.

Getting underneath


By Mark Campbell/The American in Itala

Long before I even understood such things, I remember my mother berating my father because her brother always returned from his business trips with a gift of underwear. “See, he knows what makes a woman feel appreciated, ” my mother would say (sexy was not a word in her vocabulary).

Underwear seemed to me at the time a gift that wasn’t really a gift, more like socks. I should also point out that once my mother learned that her brother was also buying lingerie for another women during his “business trips” she never brought up the subject again.

Recently, my friend Laura headed for Montreal for a medical congress (and a shopping spree). Before leaving, she asked us what we wanted. Sexy underwear was my reply, and gave her the address of the “Chez Priape” store in Montreal’s Gay Village.

She returned to Italy the following week bearing gifts. Clearly her concept of what constituted sexy was miles from mine. While I was thinking a black jock by “Nasty Pig,” she presented us with something in sparkling neon colors that should have died during the Disco era.

Oh, the horror!

I later learned (through exhaustive surveys conducted in my gym locker room) that many men don’t actually buy their own underwear. Underwear purchases go straight from mommy to wife.

There’s always the sports option.

Okay, I get it: it’s one of these weird heterosexual things — though the word “infantalization” does come to mind.

What’s still not clear to me is just what constitutes sexy men’s underwear. At least my friend Chicca was honest. “I don’t know,” she told me. “Boxers? Sip? [Italian for jockey shorts]. Men’s underwear isnot sexy!”

But Christmas is looming. That means many men are likely to find underwear under the tree. With that in mind, here’s a list of considerations for anyone who wants to buy their favorite guy a pair of sexy underpants. I’m no expert, of course, but when did that ever stop anyone?

First, some ground rules. What goes around comes around. If your special guy ever gave you a frying pan or a crate of motor oil as a romantic gift I recommend buying him a five-buck three-pack of blue boxers or Jockeys and consider your Christmas shopping done. You can go home now.

Second: size matters. Underwear is usually sized small, medium and large (S/M/L), but waist size isn’t enough. You need to factor in booty and balls. If you’re not sure if he’s a S/M/L up front or out back, it might be time to do some research.

Third: support. Boxers are cool in the summer and great if you’re eager to increase your sperm count. Other than that, they offer little support. As larger women discovered when they burned their bras in the 1960s, gravity can be a cruel master. While stretch boxers offer greater support, jockey style keeps the boys in place and looking young.

Fourth: quality matters. A classic problem with sexy wear in general is low quality and the use of cheap synthetic materials. Generally speaking avoid self-styled sexy shops and polyester specials. Unless of course “tacky” is his turn-on.

Fifth: comfort rules. While women have been known to torture themselves stilettos, thongs and push up bras, most men won’t tolerate uncomfortable underwear. Just because they’re expensive doesn’t mean they’re comfortable. And if they’re not comfortable, he won’t wear them. I recently bought some Armani briefs with a brand tag at the back that feels like sand paper. How could a top designer put a tag there?

Sixth: style. No matter what marketing labels suggest, no underwear will turn him into something he’s not. Take a look at the kind of guy you have. Is he a classic Hugh Hefner silk boxers kind of guy, or a sporty David Beckham jockey shorts type? Jockstraps are generally suit hard-core types. As a rule fishnet usually doesn’t work unless you want him to look like an octopus fisherman hauling in the day’s catch. Thongs and T-bars may be standard issue for professional ballet dancers and strippers but for the rest of the male population they’re usually in the no-go zone. Which brings me back to the comfort rule. I can’t understand the concept of underpants deliberately designed to give you a wedgy.

Finally, you’re unlikely to go wrong with cool solid colors. In Italy, red underwear is a New Year’s Eve good luck tradition. But you can also go for the colors of his favorite team (the blue and black of the Inter soccer team, say) or a super hero motif (Superman, cartoon characters, the Tasmanian Devil or even camouflage). Steer clear of rubberized iron-on designs and embossed sayings such as, “Home of the Big Banana.” They broadcast insecurity and overcompensation.

Though designers work hard to convince us how to dress, underwear is something more intimate. If you know your partner you’ll probably know what works for him.

Incidentally, the Italian word for underpants is mutande, which literally means, “that which needs to be changed.” So consider clean and fresh as sexy — at least most of the time.

 

Italy: Bacon’ me crazy


Good luck finding lean bacon in Italy.

By Elisa Scarton Detti/The American in Italia

Why can’t you find real bacon in Italy? This is the salumi capital of the world. There must be 500 different kinds of prosciutto at my local supermarket. The Italians even mash bunches of offal and fat into what they seductively call soppressata. If that’s not the Italian word for suppressed then, 1. I’ve been using it incorrectly for years, and 2. It should be because that’s how I feel when I eat the stuff.

But I still hallucinate about bacon. Everyone misses something from home. My husband complains about bad coffee in Australia. My American friends miss Hershey’s. But coffee and chocolate can be shipped. I once tried bringing bacon back from Australia in a suitcase. I’m not sure what the criminal penalty is for smuggling a kilo of dead pig across a transatlantic border. But it didn’t work. The bacon went a little bad (I ate it anyway). Making it all worse, I just saw the saddest commercial for a new bacon and chicken burger at MacDonald’s. The bacon was a thin, limp and shiny thing that didn’t deserve the name.

I admit Italy has changed in leaps and bounds in the years I’ve lived here. I’ve come to measure them in how many kilometers I have to travel to buy ginger and soy sauce. It has dropped to three.

Still, the Italian imagination is intriguing, if not perplexing. Overseas, the country is famous for its fashion and furniture. But I can’t think of a local furniture or clothing store that stocks Made in Italy products. Poltrone e Sofa and Oviesse are both hideous and neither has the mass appeal of Zara or Ikea.

Though Ikea recently closed a bunch of Australian stores owing to what I assume were poor sales, the Swedish chain thrives in Italy, with 21 stores. Locals love them. In fact, I’m headed to one next weekend. Watch out hip jean-and-scarf-wearing senior citizens, that €12 LACK lamp is mine.

Every kind of cured meat, but no crispy bacon.

Ironically, it’s the Italian products that can vanish, or never even appear. A couple of years back, I had trouble finding Savoiardi biscuits and fresh chillies in my local supermarket — two ingredients you’d think were quintessentially Italian (certainly far more Italian than lime, which my horse and cartfruttivendolo sells because so many locals are desperate to make mojitos).

Some Italian products you know and love aren’t even on sale here. Like Frangelico, the hazelnut liquor, or Riccadonna, the spumante, or Maximini, the chocolate-dipped sponge cake treats my nonnaserved with a cup of black tea every afternoon of my childhood.

To my utter surprise, these and thousands of other Italian products are made for export only. Italians are far too sophisticated to drink Riccadonna (next time you pick up a bottle to take to Rick and Stacy’s housewarming best not to mention how very European you’re being).

Expats admittedly never get completely comfortable shopping in their adopted countries. Friends imagine me living in a gorgeous country Tuscan villa eating seasonally fresh vegetables on my all Italian-made furniture. I don’t have the heart to tell them I live in a flat the size of their garage or that Italians aren’t any more stylish or sophisticated than your average Australian bogan.

They love processed food as much as we do — unless it’s KFC. If there are any KFC executives reading this, please open a KFC in Italy. Don’t discriminate when it comes to fried chicken. I’m feverish from KFC withdrawal, and smuggling a family bucket into my next suitcase seems no more likely to succeed than my bacon caper. Don’t think I haven’t considered it. (You can keep your chips. No one likes your chips.)

I’m ashamed to list the things I want to buy when I’m back in Australia. It’s not Vegemite or stuffed kangaroos but banalities, like that product that removes sticky labels and mosaic tiles. Things I don’t know where to buy in a country that doesn’t have a Target or any similar department store.

I’m not being materialistic and this isn’t about convenience. It’s about how you assert your individualism. Your style is part of you and part of what makes home, home. Like most Melbournians, I’m eccentric with my fashion. My home is contemporary and minimalist and my culinary taste is decidedly Asian fusion. How do you recreate that in small town Tuscany?

Short answer, you don’t. You either become another pasta-obsessed outsider or you accept that you’ll never completely fit in. You understand you’ll always be considered a little weird and you master DIY, which is why I’m planning to make my own bacon this weekend. God, I hope it works.

Butterscotch candy


Sometimes butterscotch candy is as good as it gets.

By Jennifer Allison/The American-InItalia

I once met a proud man who while describing his grandmother grew teary-eyed. Young and broke and with no one to turn to, he humbly asked his grandmother for money. She gave him what he needed without ever asking that it be returned. In fact, she never again mentioned the “gift.” He went on to become a very successful and wealthy businessman.

He loved his grandmother dearly, and after her death received a box of letters he had written her over the years as well as her ledger. In the ledger, he saw that the money he’d once received was all she had had in the bank. He’d never known.

My own grandmother once gave me a butterscotch candy once while “visiting” my family. She was in between apartments. We kids gave her space. She needed lots of it. She was cold and not fond of being a mother, let alone a grandmother. But our other grandparents had died years before and she was all we knew.

So when she gave me the butterscotch candy I savored its sugary surface until its sharp slivers threatened to slice my tongue like glass. It didn’t matter that I didn’t like the flavor. I felt like I finally had a real grandmother. That lasted until she left and we didn’t see her again for many years, when she arrived for another “visit.” When she died late at an old age there were no letters let alone warm or teary feelings. My mother called me with the news and the only memory I was left with was of the sticky sweet butterscotch candy melting in my mouth. Listening to man speak so fondly of his grandmother elicited a familiar pang of envy. Such envy has gusted through my life. It blew in each time I heard a grandparent story, or when I sat silently during “grandparents day” at school as a child, or when I saw a grandchild and grandparent lovingly interacting. I’d suddenly feel a deep sense of longing. A longing that my own children, who are blessed with remarkably loving grandparents, will fortunately never know.

With my longing came the inevitable daydreams. Over the years, whenever I came across an old man or old woman I adored, I secretly put them on my ever-expanding list of potential grandparents. These daydreams and fantasies kept my longing at bay. They also made me feel warm inside. I borrowed from others to fill an obvious void within.

Jane Goodall, “grandmother in waiting.”

My grandparent candidates have included Jimmy Carter, Jane Goodall and “Grandmama” from the Masterpiece series, “Downton Abbey,” though there are plenty of non-celebrities, too.

Like the very old Japanese man in Honolulu who after we smiled at each other when I entered a grocery store found me minutes later and presented me with a cardboard throwing star that he’d made from a brochure. He bowed his head while giving to me. I thanked him and bowed my head, after which he smiled again, turned, and scurried away. Looking at him I dreamed of being in an old living room sipping rich green tea while attentively listening as he taught me how to make origami and cardboard weapons to play with — my Ojiichan and me.

Then there was also the old and very beautiful Frenchwoman who lived down the road from the house I stayed at while visiting Spain. My host introduced me to her and from that moment on I was captivated. She told how she met her late husband who had died more than 20 years before and with whom she was still deeply in love. She kept his photo above her bed. I saw photos of her grandchildren and great grandchildren. Her eyes sparkled when she spoke of them and she smiled lovingly at all the photos. I dreamed of sharing wine with her in her parlor while listening to many stories about my own ancestors, wondering which one I most resembled — my Mémé and me.

My list goes on and on. I could probably fill a book with their descriptions and their stories. Which is a good thing because it means that they exist. Even Katherine, my own grandmother, left me with warmth and love represented by a single butterscotch candy. I’m still grateful for that little gesture. I’m not so sure her personality would have allowed for anything more. I’d like to think that though the butterscotch candy wasn’t her life savings, it came with the same kind of love and affection as the man got from his grandmother, who literally gave him all she had.

At least that’s my daydream.