I am settling into yet another new phase, dear Reader. With my intensive Italian classes behind me, my schedule has become more forgiving and my days have opened up to include a more balanced array of activities. Instead of the daily trudge downtown, I am reveling in morning yoga sessions, private Italian lessons twice a week (close to home!), healthy meal prep, and ample time for reading, writing, and traveling.
Fall finally creeps through our balcony doors, accompanied by its customary air of quiet and introspection – a welcome reprieve from summer’s expansive and social energy. There is something about this time of year that causes me to rejoice in my daily activities, regardless of their simplicity. I water the plants. I go for a run. I read under a blanket. I do these things mindfully, with a sense of purpose that was absent these past few months.
Dinner with the Lazazzeras
Among these daily rituals are my interactions with the characters in the neighborhood. Giorgio and his wife Rosaria live on the first floor of our building, their window is directly next to the main entrance and it serves as Giorgio’s established post, a place from which he can take in all of the comings and goings of the parco. A place, if I’m being honest, dear Reader, where it is impossible to avoid chatting with him.
Giorgio is a small man of about seventy with no hair and a bushy white mustache to match his bushy white eyebrows. His voice is raspy, he moves with an endearing shuffle, and I always get the sense that he’s up to something – he kinda conjures images of the goblin Hoggle from Labyrinth. He catches me in the lobby and insists, yet again, on having Billy and I over for dinner – any day we want!
The truth is, I’ve been skirting Giorgio’s invites for months. He too, rather unfortunately, seems to be in love with me – a declaration he makes when his wife is out of earshot or Billy’s back is turned. Yet again I’m forced to assess whether this attention is truly inappropriate or just sort of silly. On this particular occasion, I extend the benefit of the doubt. We are having dinner with the Lazazzeras.
The Biggest Supper
There are few, if any, cultural exchanges more important than the breaking of bread – especially in Italy. Somehow, sharing in another culture’s culinary delights not only nourishes the body, it also creates time and space for conversation, the exchange of ideas and, more importantly, personal anecdotes. Armed with a torta caprese from the pastry shop around the corner, Billy and I enter Giorgio and Rosaria’s living room.
Our tour of the apartment includes ceramics made by Giorgio himself, photos of their grandchildren in the style of Glamour Shots, and, of course, a shrine to the Virgin Mary. When we get to the kitchen, I offer to help Rosaria with any last-minute food preparation. She proudly opens the oven and reveals that the cooking is already done. My jaw drops at the sheer volume of food being heated for our consumption.
We enjoy crostini followed by several rounds of antipasti. I am surprised to find the conversation flowing freely despite the language barrier. Rosaria speaks no English (“troppo difficile!”) so Billy and I speak Italian while our hosts listen patiently as we formulate, conjugate, and correct our phrases. Giorgio regales us with tales of his days as a poliziotto while Rosaria brings out one course after another. Mentally, I attempt to determine my place in this food marathon: several antipasti, a pasta primi the size of one of my cheat meals, two rounds of contorni… Mamma mia, it has to end soon!
Rosaria disappears into the kitchen (again!) and Billy excuses himself to go to the bathroom, leaving Giorgio and I alone at the table. Immediately, his eyes begin to sparkle and he wiggles his eyebrows mischievously. Oh boy.
“Malia, what is your husband’s name?” he asks.
“Il suo nome è Billy. Giorgio, you know Billy.”
“Yes, yes. Billy is like my son,” he says with a hand over his heart.
“Yes. And I am like your daughter,” I say, seizing the opportunity to clarify our dynamic.
“No! Not you. I love you! So beautiful. You are a very good person.”
Sigh. What can you do? I spot our American neighbor, Brad, walking past the open window. He gives me a quick nod and is gone before I desperately yell, “Brad!! HI!!!”
I turn back to Giorgio, his eyes still a-twinkle. Rosaria returns with a lavish platter of fruit, merely a prequel to the torta we brought for dessert. Billy takes his seat and Giorgio graciously offers to spend every day teaching me Italian. I burst out laughing. L’insegnante Giorgio (The Teacher Giorgio)? Oh, I don’t think so.
Naturally, the conversation turns to our other neighbors. We discuss Pepe (our groundskeeper) and his daughter’s recent wedding. Rosaria and I giggle about a neighbor across the way who frequents his balcony in his undies. Our hosts ask about our wedding and, subsequently, present a leather-bound tome containing photos of their own nuptials some thirty years ago. I flip through slowly, making sure to compliment Rosaria on her dress, her beauty. Giorgio, on the other hand, looks terrified in every photo – we all have a good laugh about that. I flip. And flip. And flip some more. Deftly, I begin to turn more than one page at a time. Alas, it is to no avail, Giorgio and Rosaria kindly redirect me to each page I miss.
Once we have made it through the album, Rosaria asks if we would like to eat the cake or some gelato first. Oh man. Doppio dolce? My wily husband suggests we have them together (in the interest of time, no doubt). Rosaria chuckles and shakes her head. Yes, Americans are always putting gelato on other things! Silly Americans.
We finish dessert and, Christ, caffè as well. Almost five hours and eight or nine courses later, Billy and I begin inching for the door. To the best of my ability, I profusely thank Rosaria for all of her delicious (and positively gut-busting) dishes.
“Una buona serata,” she concludes. A lovely evening.