The Italian host for the business dinner parked on the hillside by the restaurant outside of Catolica. The small, Velveeta-box-on-wheels diesel powered Fiat van he’d arrived in right along with at least five million dollars-worth of high end European sports cars and sedans. There had been nine people in that little van and he’d hauled ass back from Venice. The guest sitting cramped up next to the driver’s side window in the third “row” looked through the hair and shoulders all the way to the dash, asked the guy next to him how fast 165 kilometers an hour was. The answer of “around one-oh-five” turned him whiter. There wasn’t an American mini-minivan made he’d drive a hundred and five, much less with nine people in it on a potholed pick-your-state interstate highway. Italy, though? Smooth as glass and the driver/host, along with the front seat passenger whose wife was in his lap, had some big conversation going that involved the driver frequently taking both hands off the wheel to make emphatic gestures, scaring the rear seat passenger into translucence. Since they’d arrived late in spite of the thrill ride, the host crammed forty minutes of pre-dinner wine drinking into ten and had shaken most of the tension of all-day Venetian tour guide with an early morning “business” related side trip.
He had also spent a lot of time in America. Los Angeles to be exact, where he upped his skill as an English speaker, graduated from college, partied, ate expensive sushi, partied, rode motorcycles with rock stars and partied until his father knocked on the door. Dad said something about time to get married and take care of business. Dad had hooked up with someone equally rich and powerful in Italy that was kind enough to put a nice, attractive, educated twenty-four-year old ready-made wife in his forty-year old son’s sights for him. So son went home to make babies, work and do post graduate party hosting disguised as business dinners.
There are more women at the business dinner table in the posh hillside restaurant than men. One of them the host’s wife. A younger by a good deal, modern Italian girl trapped and trying to make the best of it in the old school, patriarchal Italian man world. The wine is good in Italy, the service is slow. Prodded by an elder statesman sexist who was traveling “on business” with his second or third or fourth wife to “tell us a joke,” the host went where most wine primed male jokers and jokes go. Women.
“Okay, okay, I tell you this one. Listen. My friend, Reynaldo? He looks like hell, I mean this. His face, his eyes. Everyone is telling him ‘Reynaldo, you look terrible, my friend. Go to a doctor. See what is wrong with you.’ Reynaldo says to everyone, ‘But I feel fantastico. I have no need for the doctor.’ After some weeks of this he goes home to eat with his mamà. Mamà says to him, ‘My son, you look like the death of three men. Go to the doctor.’ He tells her, as all of us, ‘Mamà, I feel fabulous.’ As it goes with your Mamà and mine, the next morning Reynaldo is in the doctor’s office. The doctor asks to him ‘Reynaldo, how did you become this way? You look terrible. But you say to me you feel wonderful and I believe you because you have no fever, no other problems. You will please wait while I research.’”
Wine glasses are re-filled, clinked, the host continued. “The doctor consults his books, no? To see what is wrong with my friend Reynaldo. Book after book he opens and reads. After one hour has passed he sees it. ‘Aha! Here it is, Reynaldo. Here, in this book. There is even the picture.’ Reynaldo looks at the doctor’s book, my friend cannot believe his eyes!” The host opens his eyes wide for Reynaldo. “‘Yes, it is true,’ the doctor says to him. ‘You look terrible but you feel fantastic. You, my friend, are a vagina!’”
Everyone laughs politely, a couple of guys with a load going guffaw, “Va-gina! Hyuk yuk, yuk!” The female contingent checks each other, ha ha, they roll their eyes, let it go.
The Italian host’s young wife, who speaks a lot less English than her husband, asked him what he’d said that was so funny. He runs double speed through the joke, in Italian, while she maintains an appropriately rapt attentiveness. He finishes with, “…vaheena!”
She quickly checked the women at the table, her eyes huge, almost on fire. “No, no, no.” She stuck her index finger in the center of her husband’s chest, pushed. “I theenk eeze the deek!”
Not far away from this restaurant, in nearby Bologna almost eight-hundred years ago, a woman named Bettisia Gozzadini dressed like a man so that she could study law and graduate from a university when women weren’t supposed to do that sort of thing. After graduation she taught law from her home until she was asked to lecture at the university, and is considered to be the first (known) female professor. Legend has it that she was beautiful, and not to distract from her lectures she spoke in a veil or from behind a curtain. The idea is also tossed around that the sight of a woman lecturing at a university in 1242 might have been enough of a distraction in itself. Attorney, professor and lecturer Ms. Gozzadini was so popular they had to move her lectures into the town square. Her skill as an orator was such that she was asked to put it to use at the Bishop of Bologna’s funeral. In a time when women knowing anything, or talking like they knew something, was considered by the church to be heretical. And dangerous. Because the inquisition into that sort of thing was in full swing. Nevertheless, there she was. Out loud, in public. How did she get away with it? That right there is the wrong question. Why should she have had to “get away with it” at all?
It’s 2016. Eight hundred years is a long time to wear pants and sit through ugly vagina jokes being a pretend good ol’ boy before a girl at a dinner table down the road finally pointed out that the real problem for women might even be uglier than the jokes made about them.
You can bypass Wikipedia and read Umberto Eco’s piece on Bettisia Gozzadini and Novella D’Andrea here: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=it&u=http://www.enciclopediadelledonne.it/biografie/bettisia-gozzadini-e-novella-dandrea/&prev=search