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A wannabe Italian, now more than ever

Bob Brody with adored granddaughter, Lucia Antonia, 10

Bob Brody with adored granddaughter, Lucia Antonia, 10 months old, in Guardia Sanframondi, Italy in July, 2019. Credit: Bob Brody

Ever since boyhood, I’ve had a soft spot for almost everything Italian. Pizza. Ferraris. Sophia Loren.

Today Italy happens to be where my wife, Elvira, daughter Caroline and grand-daughter Lucia live. And later this year, pandemic permitting, I plan to move to Italy and live there year-round. In doing so, I'll be relocating from one former epicenter to another.

My infatuation with everything Italian started in junior high school, in the mid-1960s. I saw certain Italian American classmates, those known as hoods or boppers, as the epitome of cool. Nothing would have pleased me more back then than to be like those guys and hold hands with those girls.

I kept gravitating to everything Italian after I graduated from college and moved to New York City.  I went out on a blind date with Elvira, an Italian-American born and raised in an Italian American enclave in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, her grandfather an émigré from Naples.

Long Island has no shortage of Italian Americans, by the way. An estimated 700,000 Long Islanders, evidently more than anyplace in the world outside of Italy, are Italian American. And Italy, for the record, has plenty of Americans in residence — 170,000, according to the World Atlas, more than three times the nearly 50,000 Americans who lived there as of 2003.

Elvira and I dined at an Italian restaurant in Little Italy named Puglia, after a region in Southern Italy. Eleven months later, we moved in together. Within seven months, we were engaged, and eight more, married. For years, I celebrated every Christmas with her family, either in Brooklyn or in Bethpage, feasting on lasagna and beef braciole.

Soon our children Michael and Caroline came along. Little did I ever suspect Caroline would eventually reconnect our family with everything Italian. At age 16, she began training as an opera singer. She also came to identify herself as Italian American — even though my ancestry is Russian-Austrian — so much so that she adopted her maternal grandmother’s maiden name, Chirichella.

Caroline was serious enough about her career as a soprano that she visited Italy in search of opportunities with opera companies. She loved Italy so much that she decided to buy a house, live there and start a cooking business. Elvira likewise set up house there to establish a post-American life for us. 

Caroline then met Vito, a native of Puglia — yes, the name of the restaurant where Elvira and I first dated. They became engaged, married and produced a daughter, Lucia Antonia.

I’ve visited my family in Italy six times over the last four years. And soon I’ll live there – in Puglia, as it happens. We’ll all be together, pandemic be damned.

I’ll also be granted, as an American born and raised, dual citizenship. I’ll learn to speak more Italian than I’ve managed to pick up so far. I intend to introduce myself to the locals not as Bob, but, rather, as “Roberto.” In so rebranding myself, I’ll seal forever my lifelong romance with everything Italian. At last, I’ll have earned the right to call myself an honorary Italian.

In the end, so many flukes forged a pattern that will take my life where I never expected it to go. I married an Italian American girl, only for our daughter to study opera, reclaim her Italian heritage and marry a native Italian. As it turned out, at least for me, Italy was always destiny.

Bob Brody, a consultant and essayist in Forest Hills, is author of "Playing Catch with Strangers: A Family Guy (Reluctantly) Comes of Age."