It’s tiring to walk in Rome.
After being on our feet all day, we sat down at the highly recommended Al Moro and ordered our proseccos and food.
Fontana Di Trevi… Piazza Navona… The Pantheon… The Colosseum… San Pietro… no… no… no… We didn’t get to these sights that tourists fill but never vacate.
Instead, we toured around Parioli, the neighborhood of the rich and famous in Rome. We now know which buildings were constructed by the people of the Roman Empire and how they lived. We were curious about how people lived in these buildings now and what they ate and drank, so we perused all the streets to see how the eternal city was inhabited, not exhibited. We tried to understand how the Romans lived their daily lives. We toured “the living Rome” until we were ready to drop dead.
Among the cheerful Italians dining in the cute garden of Trattoria Al Moro, our main course arrived between proseccos and red wine. It was a meat dish whose Italian name I forgot… Accompanying the meat was mashed potatoes, which some restaurants sometimes provide on the house.
I cut a piece of meat and devoured it: Wow… Delicious…
“These are Carla’s mashed potatoes”
I sampled some of the mashed potatoes… I stopped… Took another bite… Stopped again… Then I said to my wife, “These are Carla’s mashed potatoes.”
She looked at me as if to say, “What are you talking about?” I explained:
It was the start of the 1950s… We were among the crowds that were waiting for the boat at Galata Pier’s International Lines. My grandfather, grandmother, aunt, my mother and little me! The passengers of the boat also included my uncle and his fiancée. The prospective bride was coming to Turkey from Italy!
During that time, all Istanbul had to offer were mosques such as Hagia Sophia, Sultanahmet and Süleymaniye, the Grand Bazaar, palaces like Topkapı, Dolmabahçe and Beylerbeyi and scenic beauty in the form of the Bosporus. If I tell you that the first big hotel in the city, the Hilton, was opened in 1958, I believe it will be easier to picture the city at that time.
People were conservative and mostly closed to the outside world. The number of people who knew a foreign language was probably less than the number in Tokyo. Our family was also Muslim, but it consisted of members who made an attempt to be less conservative and adhere to a Western way of life that they knew little about. My grandmother used to cover her head when she went out. My aunt and my mother didn’t. They used to brag about being the modern girls of the Turkish Republic.
Our future bride was coming to Turkey after accepting a very different world and a whole different environment.
Because my uncle was exceedingly handsome…
He had graduated from the academy as an architect and went to Rome for post-graduate studies. Carla, the bride-to-be, was the daughter of the owner of the guesthouse he was staying at. They had met, fallen in love and decided to get married.
My grandparents didn’t approve of their handsome and cultured son getting married to a girl who had a different religion, culture and language. During that time, we didn’t have concepts like the “clash of civilizations,” or they weren’t of the type that would rip societies apart. Still, mothers want to choose their future daughters-in-law themselves and wanted the candidate to be amiable (and easily controllable, whether directly or indirectly) and have the ability to look after their sons. Of course, beauty came into play, too. The tradition of a possible daughter-in-law being taken to a Turkish bath and being seen naked by the groom’s female family members is an ancient custom in Anatolia that was concocted to counteract deception.
Yes, my grandparents did not approve of this marriage, but they never openly protested…
That’s why we were all stressed when the boat from Italy docked at Galata Pier. Since we didn’t have Skype, FaceTime or similar communication tools, we had only seen Carla from pictures that arrived via air mail a week after being sent. She was a young, vibrant, cute girl. But what about her character? This was something we could only find out here!
We were nervous! Or rather, the elderly were stressed… There is no room for this kind of concern in the pure world of children!
My mother and aunt constantly advised my grandparents not to give the girl a cold shoulder.
The ship had docked and the passengers had started to disembark. Just then “our bunch” appeared from the parted door of the customs section.
My grandfather straightened his tie… My grandmother loosened her headscarf a little and pushed it back to reveal the top of her hair… My mother and aunt ensured their attire was orderly… I, on the other hand, repeated the two Italian words I had learned to impress our “guest.”
My uncle and Carla started walking toward us. My grandfather picked up his bouquet of flowers, which had started to show signs of wilting because we had been standing there for two hours, from the bench…
We were ready!
All of a sudden, Carla let go of my uncle’s hand, started running toward us and hugged my grandmother tightly:
We all learned that “mamma” meant “mother” in Italian.
My grandmother came undone at that exact moment and said with tears in her eyes “My daughter… My child…” Carla had been promoted from candidate to bride!
My grandfather, with bouquet in hand, was waiting for the love-fest between bride and mother-in-law to end. I don’t know where he got the idea from, but he first kissed Carla’s hand and, as if to say, “We know these things as well as the Italians,” he said, “My dear daughter, welcome to your new home.”
When it was their turn, my mother and aunt said, “Welcome sister,” and embraced the new bride…
I, on the other hand, was baffled by the excitement and the unexpected turn of events. Instead of my previously prepared line of “Ben arrivato signorina,” I could only shout, “Welcome, Auntie.”
The congenial Roman bride quickly got used to Istanbul and her new family… We all adored her… We learned so much from her… But what impressed me the most was the taste of her mashed potatoes which she made calmly when my uncle’s friends showed up unannounced. She made the same tasty mashed potatoes until the day she died!