125. Elders

Having reached an age where I am among the first to receive a coronavirus vaccine, and often find myself getting a senior discount without even asking, I am sensitive to how older people are treated and portrayed. (Hearing older people being called “cute,” although meant as a compliment, is like fingernails on a blackboard to me.)

I ragazzi (the boys) having their daily confab in Gravina in Puglia

So it was with great interest that I recently watched two Italian films that had older people and their concerns front and center. Both were written, directed and starred in by Gianni Di Gregorio, a sad-sack septuagenarian, an unlikely leading man in appearance or affect.

Citizens of the World is the story of three retirees who are not satisfied with their standard of living, and decide to move to a country where the cost-of-living is cheaper and they can live like kings on their pensions. The movie follows their attempt to choose just the right country — Cuba? Bulgaria? — and then try to raise the money they’ll need to make the move. Sweet and gentle are the words that come to mind to describe this feel-good movie with older people at its center. Yes, the plot may be a bit far-fetched and the ending predictable, but the characters never stop being relatable. Of particular note is their relationship with a young migrant from Mali, which flies in the face of all we hear about the Five Star Movement and other anti-immigrant rhetoric from the right.

Making plans

In Mid-August Lunch, our hero plays a sad-sack (again) bachelor, who lives with his very elderly mother in an apartment in Rome. They are about to be evicted, but their accountant agrees to cover what they owe on one condition: they must take in his elderly mother so he can leave town for Ferragosto, the big mid-August holiday where everyone heads to the beach for a few days, not unlike our 4th of July. He has no choice but to agree, but when Mama shows up, she has Zia Maria in tow, who also needs a place to stay. For complicated reasons, yet another signora joins the crowd, and poor Gianni finds himself sleeping in a lawn chair and cooking and catering to his four very aged guests. Yes, they repeat themselves, wander off on their own, and one even abandons her restricted diet and sleepwalks her way to eat a whole baked maccheroni casserole in the middle of the night. But the joy they feel in each other’s presence, and the Ferragosto feast that Gianni cooks for them, is a delight to behold. The movie ends with them all dancing. What a holiday they’ve had! They all agree: the best ever.

The mid-August lunch

By way of comparison, my friend Nanette and I watched Food Club, a Danish chick flick about three women of late middle age, former childhood friends, who are facing various life challenges and disappointments, and on a whim, go to Puglia for a week-long cooking course. The movie could barely hide its contempt: one was too pathetic, another too sexed-up, the third not sexed-up enough. These women were the object of ridicule, not respect.

I asked my daughter Maria, who has probably spent a year all told in Italy over the past two decades, how she would describe the lives of old people in Italy. She said, “They have it made.” I’m sure that’s not technically true, yet I know what she means. Older people are deeply embedded in the daily lives of their families and their communities, in a way that’s far different than in the US. You see it in the town squares, with the groups of older men who probably inhabit the same spot with the same crowd, every day.

Hanging out in Gravina, wondering why their photo is being taken

You see the women closer to home, sitting on lawn chairs South Philly style outside what has probably been their home for decades, if not generations, chatting with their neighbors. You see it in the ladies doing their daily shopping, toting their heavy bags up hilly lanes, to begin preparing the pranzo for their extended families. When I told my Italian cousin that my 92-year-old mother lived alone in her own house 300 miles away, she just couldn’t take it in. She thought there must be a problem with her comprehension of my English. Maybe the problem really is how we do things here.

Signora Creanza and her daughter-in-law preparing dinner for the volunteer olive-pickers at her family’s groves. She rose at 4 AM every day to begin her work.

4 thoughts on “125. Elders

  1. Hi Gigi,

    I just read your article and it’s painfully beautiful.

    This country needs to adopt a little bit more tradition on including elderly in everyday life, like Italy does or a lot of eastern cultures do.

    The elderly in Italy, as you know, and in my former country too, are usually generous toward family, consulted for advice, and always respected.

    My daughters sometimes jokingly say how they will find me a nice nursing home. I’m not sure if I like that joke.

    I think you are doing the best thing that elderly can learn from you (myself included) as: staying physically active, staying healthy and not relying much on anyone’s help.

    The article is great. I have to “learn” how to leave a comment.



    1. I am afraid, though, that rapidly advancing technology will leave older people – like me – even further out of it. I can barely work the tv or the computer or the phone as it is, and I suspect it will only get worse as they become more complicated.


  2. I saw mid-August lunch about a year ago and it was totally delightful; glad to see your thoughts on it. Yes, i wholeheartedly agree that many here in the States are clueless on how to maintain a great family bond. I grew up in New Jersey after we left New York in the late 40’s with Sunday dinners after my dad closed the grocery store from about 3-7pm and it was a beautiful family day with grandparents etc.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s