Yesterday morning, while I was deeply immersed in the fresh daily press review, I said to myself out loud: “That’s weird, at least a couple of days have gone by without any new sexual harassment allegations against the Governor!” I didn’t even finish the sentence, that there it is, the New York Times’ henchman’s pen, perpetually at Cuomo’s heels, lets me know, from Albany, that a woman named Alyssa McGrath, currently employed at the governor’s office, joined the queue of women supposedly harassed by him. So, what’s the score so far? How many of them? Seven? Eight? And most importantly: define harassment.
Alyssa reports that Andrea Cuomo would often greet her with the expression “Ciao bella!” and I quote her: “You don’t need to ask my parents what hello beautiful means. I understand it very well myself”, inferring who knows what dirty crypto-meaning from the most popular Italian greeting. Ok, now, really? Of course, she doesn’t fail to report winks and jokes about her being single and similar frivolousness.
Let’s me say this please: he actually seems like a cool boss to me and these accusations, the latest of which were made by a woman who still works for the office of the “Luv Gov” (as he was crowned during the pandemic, precisely for his lovely manners) and where she certainly isn’t a prisoner, are added to a series that I would now define as not only being not very credible, but also as inconsistent and risible. Please don’t tell me that I don’t listen to women, that I’m not aware of their battles, which are also mine.
Don’t make this accusation against me. I am a woman too and I am pushed by this fire to fight for the just cause, but what I see here is a defamation campaign fomented by the media lynching. I also see the results of the “cancel culture” to which Cuomo himself referred during an audio conference a few days ago: “I will not bow to the cancel culture,” he said. And I won’t either, I refuse to be a victim of this ostracism. I, together with my country, because today – as an Italian – I feel involved.
So, my dear New Yorkers, this is my letter to you. I would like to explain to you what being Italian is; who Italians are.
Not on their inside, not in the thousand nuances and differences that every human being is gifted with and uniquely characterized by in every part of the world, but of that brand, of that shape, that you receive when you are born to Italian parents, especially from the South.
Italians have a second language, which I sometimes wonder if it is not our first: the language of gestures. Ludwig Wittgenstein would have certainly explained it better, in his philosophy of language, but here’s my two cents.
We move our hands a lot, but you know that. With them we draw the space, not the line, between us and the other person, we give rhythm to the sentence, we beat the time to our own music, we direct it, we give through them an intonation and a certain inclination to our words. These hands, very often are a greeting pat, they are a “I am here for you,” “I understand you” in a caress, they often surround you in an embrace. We also kiss often because our mouths also love contact, as they love to talk and talk.
There are low-spoken Italians, so taciturn that they do not even seem Italian. If you find yourself in any bar in the suburbs of Rome, for example, at 6 in the morning, there is a worker there, who will naturally be pissed off having to go to work, but who, having coffee, among total strangers, will pull out at some point a joke that will make everyone crack up. Most of us are people who tend to own the space.
We have a Mediterranean gaze that might intimidate: we inherited it from centuries of patrolling from lighthouses or towers to see if foreign people were coming to take our land. And we have had so many of those. So, if we look at you with a certain deep southern look, don’t be afraid: we are just looking at you. And here I’m specifically referring to Valerie Bauman, the journalist who went out on Twitter (that’s where the trial takes place, right?) writing about the insistent gaze that Cuomo would have given her ten years ago, during a conference, before introducing himself to her politely.
Where do I begin to explain Italians to you? It’s not that Italians aren’t professional, but we are kind of naïve and sort of lazy at the same time when it comes to changing our personality. We are always the same, that is to say: we are the same at home as at work, why should we change? Why should we wear a mask? (obviously I’m not referring to the COVID kind). Wouldn’t you just feel like exploding? What for?
I lived in Germany for a while. I loved and I still love the Germans, like the French and the Americans. I lived in their countries and I loved learning from them all the differences, and laughing together about them. As I was saying, in Germany, at work, everyone would be super serious and super quiet. Sometimes, I would just make jokes by myself, out of loneliness and sadness. As soon as working hours were over, my colleagues rushed to the pub. Once I went with them; as soon as they crossed the door of the club they got completely transformed. “But is that you Dirk? Is it really you, Herr Poggemeier?”
We don’t need to get out of our work place to be who we are. We women greet each other with “ciao bella”, and men greet us this way too. Even our bosses at work, sometimes, and that doesn’t make them pigs. It’s a greeting. Period.
Dear Americans, as a woman and as an Italian, I am genuinely afraid of this attitude of yours that I see escalating in the media. I don’t understand you anymore. Did I get too old at 48? My father, who was Sicilian like me, always jokingly told me, “Irene, when they shake your hand, if they give you a weak handshake, throw their hand back at them!”
The first accuser of Governor Cuomo, Lindsey Boylan, who is running for Manhattan Borough President, (but this is a completely different story–cough cough) and in my opinion, she is shooting herself in the foot and making all the other assumptions hardly credible, published a photo of the Gov, vigorously shaking his hand and commenting that “everything about this monster is creepy, even his handshake”, which she claims is part of the “rape culture”. I’m astonished, my brain shudders, my interpretive grid of reality fails to frame this madness. First of all, in my country, you could be sued for calling him a monster.
To those who will tell me that this is a cultural justification, I say that yours is an attack on our culture and I invite you to get to know us better. Dear Governor Andrew Cuomo, with this letter of mine, I wish you a fair and smooth investigation that leads to the results I expect, that you’re absolved with a clean and clear decision. And therefore, if you wish, you will be running in 2022 and smashing your enemies. Always with love. But I want you to know that whether this happens or not, we would be honored to give you the Italian citizenship and tell you that “Da Boot”, is your home.
Here you can be yourself and even if you would eventually turn out to be kind of a tough boss that would be okay, that we will tell you everything to your face and that we value hard-working people who keep their promises. (And BTW, I couldn’t imagine a shrinking violet being Governor of the State of New York. They would eat him alive every other day.) And that we might have a lot to learn from the best aspect that made you an American. Like your amazing leadership during the pandemic: your briefings were the only source of reliable information, step by step. You never pretended to know something when you really didn’t, and that’s rare.
Yes, we might need some of your help here, because we’ve been hit really hard in Italy. Our Nursing Homes were also hit harder, as in many parts of the world, because that’s the nature of the beast, that’s COVID. If you come here, even for a visit, we will thank you with spaghetti and meatballs and a different concept of time.
Whenever you want, “Andrea”. La Signora Matilda Raffa Cuomo and your daughters Cara, Mariah, Michaela are also welcome.
We are here for you.