Tuesday, August 21, 2012
“We’re from Livorno.”
When the waiter was gone I asked if he had just made some names up.
“No! That’s where your great-grandmother is from. A lot of the streets are named after the family- Romero.”
It took him 25 years to tell me that.
“At most the family lived in Egypt for a few generations, but it might have been less than that.”
I looked around the small elegant restaurant, the twilight of the night seeping in through the plate glass windows. We were four stories up, the small tea light glittered over the white tablecloths.
I always felt like there was so much they kept from me- why 25 years to mention that the family was from Italy?
"Your grandfather’s people came from Israel- before it was even called Israel. They lived there before it was even Palestine.”
“What did they call it?”
He was silent.
My mom sat there quietly. She flipped through some of the free tourist magazines she got from the concierge at her hotel. She always seemed bored when it came to family history- for years she had deflected questions about immigration and national origin- I wondered if her past was too painful- the father that abandoned her, the other side of the family she rejected after her mother died when she was so young.
She abruptly put the papers down. They crinkled and we looked at her.
“Do you use your Costco card much?”
I nodded, stunned momentarily by the banality of the question.
My dad ignored her.
“I want to buy a book called The Jews of Egypt. It’s rare, someone is selling it for 150.00 on Amazon.”
“You should get it, it’s not too much for a rare book.”
“Your grandfather was a Zionist. The dream of the Zionists was to go to Israel and work on the land. Through history the Jews had never been allowed to own property- that’s why they went into certain professions, like bankers and doctors and merchants. But the Zionists wanted to be farmers and work the land and be in Israel.”
“Why did it have to be there? If they wanted to farm, why did it have to be on that particular piece of the planet?”
He looked at me in disbelief.
“Because it's where the Jewish religion started. If they didn’t go there, they might as well go to the moon! It was only place they could go. There was no Jewish population in Egypt until commerce and management brought them back.”
Later we stopped by their hotel room so my mom could get an extra sweater. My mom asked me if I had talked to any of the old girlfriends from high school.
“Not since I missed Aryn’s wedding.”
I saw a look of sadness go over her face and I realized I had said it only to hurt her.
I could have gone to the wedding if I had really wanted to, but when they withdrew their initial offer to help pay for the trip, I decided against it.
She lashed back.
“I don’t know what’s important to you anymore, going to a wedding, being in a relationship, starting a career…”
She trailed off. She had never known what was important to me, not in high school, certainly not now.
They were about to drive me home. My mom turned around and looked back at the room.
“You know, if there’s an emergency, we can ask the hotel to bring in a cot for you to sleep on.”
I nodded, my mind filling with visions of fires and floods as we walked down the carpeted hallway towards the shiny elevator.
“Tomorrow we are going to see Les, my old friend from college,” she said.
“You mean More.”
My mom looked at my dad with a smile.
“You’ve been saying that for years, his name is not ‘more.’”