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the great pretender

My husband and I have been busy planning a trip to Italy, trying to figure out which museum is where and which statue or painting is in which church and which places are closed on which days. My head is swimming with the details. Most of the guidebooks tell you what to do and see.Some of them prepare you by advising to set aside your preconceived notions of Italy and to be ready for a great deal of noise and confusion and waiting. Some of them focus on the Art. Some of them on how to pack and what to wear. Apparently the worst sin that a tourist can make is to look like an American! I can leave the fanny pack and white tennis shoes at home. I can dress to the nines in Italian leather, and I can even learn to twirl my spaghetti with a fork and a spoon. But don’t the writers of the guidebooks realize that as soon as I open my mouth, it will be perfectly obvious that indeed I am an American?  All of the books tell you that the Italian people are friendly and wonderfully helpful. I haven’t read a book about any country yet that advises any differently on that point. They all tell you not to try to drive in Rome. And everyone one of them advises you to buy a Venetian mask as a souvenir.

What do I need with another mask? I already have the Mask of Indifference – the one I put on when I want to pretend that I don’t care about what others think or say about me. I often wear the Mask of Fashion – the one that hides behind the clothes and the makeup and the fabulous shoes. I put on the Mask of Busyness so that I appear to be useful and necessary and needed. In my arsenal you’ll also find the masks of Religion, Hostess and Homemaker, and Volunteer Extraordinaire.

My favorite is the Mask of Competence. When I was a kid my parents said that they didn’t care what we grew up to do, (yeah, right!) but whatever we chose, we should be the best damned whatever that was. So, I go through life appearing to have it all under control. I take on new projects with a smile, all the while telling myself that it’s just easier to do it myself. I organize events and people and closets with abandon. I print up the tickets, and set the tables and cook the food. I sell the tickets and design the table decorations and do the shopping. I put on my work clothes and put my hair back in a bandanna and wield my hammer or drill or cooking ladle, whatever it takes to get the job done.

And then I go home and take off the mask. And I complain to my family and my friends who know the ugly truth – that I am needy and messy and tired. That I’m ungrateful and ungraceful and not at all patient.That I am whinny and self-centered and that I really am quite unattractive without the makeup and the clothes. God how I want to change!

So, when I go to Italy, I’m going to try to enjoy the sculpture and the history and the food. I’m going to appreciate the paintings and the people and the language. I’ll pack my comfortably flat black suede shoes and my camera and my patience. And when I get to Venice, if I absolutely have to bring back a mask, it will be the one I don’t already have –  that of Authenticity.

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