Friday, March 15, 2024

Domenico, the Italian Basement Dweller

Domenico the Italian lives in our basement.

Or I should say used to live in our basement as our strapping Italian exchange student moved out last weekend. Since early December Dom has been our adopted child and it's been a delight having him live with us for this short but memorable time. Especially since Magnus moved to Toronto in January, freeing a family slot.

Dom is from a town called Torre del Greco, located in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, close to the large city of Naples. How can I describe Dom? For a 17-year-old Italian Mamma's Boy (all Italian males are mamma's boys, no matter their age), he is mature beyond his years with an overwhelming sense of confidence and an incredible sense of humour. He has thick, black hair which he fluffs religiously every morning to precise specifications and an inventory of cologne that would make Hugo Boss envious. When we first applied for the honor of hosting a Rotary International student, we expected English instruction to be one of our core responsibilities. Uh uh, not so. Dom's English was excellent when he arrived and even better by the time he left. His vocabulary was impressive, and not just limited to stuff he'd picked up from Marvel movies. He knew the word "narc". He knew the word "vociferous". He even knew the word "menopause" and its worst symptoms, which he saw on display in our household daily and nightly.

We gave Dom our basement and within hours he had exploded all over it, making it his own. He had a pretty sweet setup down there - his own bathroom and shower, the nicest in the house. A full sized fridge full of premium beer and non-premium soft drinks. A washer and dryer (but banned from use, like everybody else in the house not named Ana). My kick ass 1980's stereo and a five channel surround sound home theatre system. My two guitars and small, but impressive collection of Bolivian charangos. A cold room full of my father-in-law's home made Portuguese jungle juice wine, guaranteed to paralyze your brain cells and activate your bowels. Yeah, he was rocking in the free world down there. The first thing he did was to hang this giant Italian flag over the glass door. I thought it was to provide himself with privacy, but I soon learned it was not that at all. It was a daily reminder to us that he is from the greatest country in the world, from whence comes the greatest (insert any word here) in the world. And who were we to doubt it? Especially as he was living with us through the worst season of the Canadian year when the imported Mexican vegetables are completely tasteless and we are left eating white-limbed potatoes six times a week.

I expected we'd quickly tag him with a good nickname. The Dom-inator, The Italian Stallion, Rom Com Dom, Dom the Bomb - these were the obvious ones, but none of them stuck to his olive oil aura. So it was just Dom. Or "Domenico", when I had to 
occasionally yell it into the basement as he was running late in the morning.

The three months went by quickly. We were not able to do a winter fly and flop this year, but he won the consolation prize - a trip to the Ottawa region to my brother's place for New Year's. And for the first time in collective memory, the place was not buried in dozens of feet of snow. In fact, there was hardly any. But we had a great time and he loved the city and my brother's fairy tale gingerbread mansion over on the "dark side" (Quebec). He didn't see much for snow until January when had a snowstorm in Brantford under mild temperatures producing ideal conditions for snow packing, so Stella and I treated him to an old fashioned snowball fight. He had no snow skills whatsoever so we totally destroyed him. I connected with at least two shots in the groin and one on the forehead and Stella treated him to a snowy face wash. He seemed to enjoy it.

Dom was easy to have around. One thing did perplex me, though. We do a lot of cooking during the winter, and I'm not afraid to say that our kitchen produces some ass-popping good meals. Rib-eye steaks, beef stew, pork tenderloin, grilled salmon, slow-smoked ribs, roasted chicken, chicken biryani, Chinese stir frys, custom chili dogs, homemade bread, vegetables of all varieties. He was always satisfied, but never seemed overly impressed. Until, that is, Ana brought home a bag of Food Basic's cheapest frozen garlic bread as filler food one Wednesday night. Eight of them were placed on a sheet then after five minutes per side under the broiler they were  tossed unceremoniously on the table beside the chicken tenders and microwaved brown beans. Dom's lovely blue eyes began to sparkle as he had his first bite. He was in heaven. The two slice quota per family member was obliterated as he tore into them like an Italian Cookie Monster. He told us with a straight face that this was the greatest food he'd eaten in Canada. Our cheeks burned red with the backhander compliment. And it didn't stop there. Ana brought home raisin bread one day. The expression on his face after taking a bite of extra-buttered raisin bread toast was one of great joy and unbelievable pleasure. Then, the ultimate discovery. And I'll say, I shouldn't have been too surprised, but I thought maybe it would be different with an Italian. Every international person we've ever introduced this dish to has fallen in love with it. What is this magical dish, you ask?

Kraft Dinner. And in Dom's case, Kraft Dinner with Chopped Up Hot Dogs.

Yes, all pasta he'd eaten in Canada up until his moment had been bunk. Dog food. Rat bait. But Kraft Dinner? Life changing. Awe inspiring.

There was only one thing he would not eat no matter how hard I lobbied. And this one food was Hawaiian Pizza. That Canadian-created gourmet pie with the ham niblets and fresh canned pineapple that is oh, so delicious. He would not touch it. My brother made his trademarked, gourmet pizzas one night during our stay there for New Year's. He cranked out a couple of Hawaiians and offered a slice to Dom. He just shook his head and winced, as if struck by a poison dart.

"What's wrong with him?" Marty asked me.

"Something serious," I said. "He thinks pineapple shouldn't go on pizza."

"Well what the fuck else are you going to put it on?" Marty asked.

"Yeah," I said. "You're right. There's nothing else it can go on. Dom, just eat the pizza. You'll love it."

"If it eat pineapple pizza, they won't let me back into Italy," he said, stone-faced.

"Why not?" Marty asked.

"You can't put pineapple on pizza. It's wrong. It's barbaric."

"Says who?"

"Everybody. And my mom. She won't let me back in the house if I eat pineapple pizza. And my dad, he would disown me."

"That's bullshit," I said. "Call them right now and we'll find out."

Dom called them up on Facetime. We all got to meet his mom and dad. They were lovely. Until Dom brought up the pizza question. Then they turned sour.

Despite not knowing a word of English, his mom mustered, " can't....come...home."

We knew when we were beat. Marty gave him a few slices of the Meat Lovers Special and the whole conversation ended right there and we never spoke of it again.

For one of our last weekends together, we took Dom to Cleveland, along with our friends Dave and Kira who would be Dom's final host family, and Magnus and Stella, packing the van to capacity.

We had an amazing time. We drove through snow squalls on the way to Detroit then had our van ripped apart at the border, where the guards even opened a bag of sealed popcorn to look for concealed drugs or Mexicans then spilled innocent kernels all over the seats while we waited patiently inside for the stone-faced agents of law to issue Dom a visitor visa. We saw an incredible Battle of the Bands competition at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We visited two amazing art galleries. We had a rollicking foosball tournament. We played blackjack. Magnus got his ear pierced at a grisly tattoo joint. We ate out in restaurants. We went for a morning polar dip in the chilly waters of Lake Erie. And we ate fresh Krispy Kreme doughnuts. It was a magical weekend.

But now, it's back to just Ana, Stella, and I as Dom has moved on. The garlic breads have been piling up in the freezer because nobody's eating them. The raisin bread has gone stale. The Kraft Dinner...well, the Kraft Dinner's fine and we're still eating that.

Fortunately, we'll still be seeing Dom as we visit Dave and Kira often, and we're finally heading into spring and summer which opens up plenty of opportunities for boating adventures and we hope he will join us.

It has been a pleasure hosting this fine young man and we look forward to see where his future takes him. We know it will be somewhere great.

I could not contain my excitement when this popped up in the news. I have been using it to torment Dom, sometimes daily. This pizza joint will be our first stop in Naples when we someday soon visit Dom and his family in Italy!

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