Equal Partners
by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners

By Roland Ezri

"Women are the backbone of all societies. They do a substantial part of the work, and play a major role in raising the future generation yet they are largely powerless. The decisions that count are made by men and foisted upon women."

Writings by Roland Ezri

The Second Exodus – Italy – CXCVIII. Our Daily Life (7 of 19)

While the official business consumed a lot of our time, and while we were understandably anxious about the future, we still managed to enjoy ourselves.

We took endless walks, got to know Genoa and the Genovese, and quickly learned to genuinely love this sunny people. Public transportation was used to see places recommended by the inn’s owners, staff, and patrons.

After lunch, the Palachi, Ben, ourselves, and other Egyptians, sat in the dining room and talked with the endless stream of diners. This dining room was an international crossroad! It would be taxing for me to recite names of countries; there were just too many; sufficient to say that Americans, British and Germans dominated.

Of course, we talked with Italians and asked about their lives. If I have to summarize their responses in one short sentence it would be: “Very difficult.”

Two people in a family had to work to keep their head above water. Their salaries barely covered the basic necessities of life. Finding suitable accommodations was difficult and very expensive. Many young people still lived with their parents. Clothing? Only what was absolutely necessary to be presentable. Yet, they seemed to be well dressed. But we learned that whatever they had was well taken care of.

I’ll never forget the young woman who told us that she only had a few pieces of apparel that she mixed and matched. “How can a woman go to work, and, day in and day out, wear the same dress, skirt, or top,” she said. She then pointed at the beautiful outfit she wore on that day and said that it was the only one she had. At this point, she had tears in her eyes. I was still young and didn’t know much about the feminine mind; today, with the benefit of maturity, I can understand her pain.

There came a day when Paolo asked us nicely to vacate the dining room during lunch. Many regulars, and occasional diners, came to us to talk, or even asked us to join them. Other insisted that we share their wine (Italians, back then, mostly drank wine at lunch). Still other lingered after they had finished their lunch and paid; if they had the time, they simply sat with us and talked.

The point was well taken; this could hurt their business. And so we made ourselves scarce. What happened next took all of us by surprise.

Repeat customers came with unexpected questions. “Where are the nice people that used to sit here and talk with us? We understood that they lived in the Albergo and would be here for a while. Have they already left?”

Paolo was taken aback. From what he was told, he understood that Egyptians have an easy manner; a wonderful sense of humor; embrace life with a passion; are empathetic to other people’s troubles; and can somehow manage to communicate with strangers because of their knack in overcoming language barriers.

These perfect strangers have managed to succinctly describe the Egyptians that had come to Genoa and would fan from here to many places across the globe. And with some exceptions, they were embraced wherever they went. (If you’ve actually met the Egyptians I have referred to throughout this Memoirs, you will surely know that this is not an empty boast).

And so the original order was countermanded! A new order was issued: “Please try to be in the dining room at lunch time!”

Some tourists came more than once despite the large choice of eating establishments in Genoa. If we were not there, they were actually disappointed. As for the Genovese, they came again and again, and they sometimes even came in the evening to share with us una caraffa di vino (a carafe of wine). But here we had a problem which was applicable to all Italians; to us they all looked the same!

Often, we had no idea who they were, and what we had last talked about. It was terribly embarrassing, and, of course, we could not tell them “that all of you guys look the same to us!”

Remember that these were the fifties, and many things were still not still not understood the way we understand them today.

Advances in neurobiology can now explain this phenomenon. And I will next share with you my (as a layman) understanding of this situation.

The visual cortex in the brain has an area dedicated to recognizing human faces and relating them to specific individuals.

Now, a human face is a human face! Two eyes, a nose, … We all look the same really, well almost. There are subtle differences that allow us to differentiate between the various people. Without such an area, you wouldn’t recognize even your own spouse from one day to another! And that is what happened to individuals who had this part of the brain injured. Every day, if you’re the daughter of such a person, you have to reintroduce yourself! And for the short term your dad will remember you. Unfortunately, it is through such accidents that we learn about the human brain.

The brain is amazing, and the function described above makes it really an extraordinary organ. But there are limits as to how much we can ask from our brains. Change the basic features slightly, and the brain is stumped; all the faces now look the same to it!

What happened here was that Italians share a basic genetic package regarding their facial features. (It goes beyond the face, of course, but I am interested in faces only). When we (as strangers) met them, we couldn’t remember them from day to day for the visual cortex was struggling to build the “software” necessary to solve this new problem.

We didn’t know any of that at the time; but even if we did, we couldn’t have told people who have come to know us and like us: “You Italians all look the same; please give my visual cortex time to adjust to your features!” We would have offended these new friends, and our popularity would have gone down the drain!

When I went to Canada many years later, I had the same problem; all Canadians looked the same!

On the other hand, in Israel, I didn’t have that problem. There is an incredible number of nations sharing this small land; they bring very different facial genes, thus facilitating their identification.

Back to Italy. How did we solve that particular issue? But looking at mannerisms, what they liked to wear, and even through the sound of their voices! Of course, if you failed the test, you’re allowed to forget a person you’ve casually met.

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