Daily Prompt: Moment of Kindness ~ Describe a moment of kindness, between you and someone else — loved one or complete stranger.
A Fish Tale
The footpath along the coast of Liguria snakes for miles through steep hills terraced with olive groves and vineyards. Around the hairpin bend in the mule track, Jim and I cross the cliff above Riomaggiore, a piece of heaven washed by the Mediterranean Sea. We walk through cobbled alleys and graceful arches down to the palm-lined piazza.
An older couple sits on the rock wall above the sea. The wife and I nod, then smile. I point to this daring husband of mine as he scrambles down the cliff to the pebbled crescent and mouth the word, “Stupido!” She replies, her hand on her heart, “No, no, signora, corraggio!” Her rakish husband smiles, too. They’re a sophisticated pair, these Italians swathed in Armani. I wonder if they are from the north on holiday.
“Signor, dove viva?”
“Milano,” he replies. “E lei”? His eyebrows rise.
We are politely curious about each other. We ask questions, speaking in two languages, passably. Sylvia and Francesco tell me they have come to the Cinqe Terre to walk on the Via Dell’Amore on their anniversary. He is “on the pension” after years of selling silk to New York buyers. I am captivated by the exacting cut of his suit, the graceful drape of Sylvia’s dress, her Dolce e Gabbana belt.
“So,” I say, “you like New York?”
“Si. Mi amo New York! Studio 54. Disco. John Travolta, you know?”
Francesco demonstrates a few smooth dance moves on the ancient stone.
Then I tell him that we, too, are “on the pension”. Un po’ soldi, I say as I rub my thumb and forefinger together to indicate a modest sum.
Jim returns and we talk about our families. Pictures of nepoti appear. I tell them it is our anniversary, too ~ thirty-five years. Francesco looks at Sylvia and says, quaranta quattro,forty-four, leans over and puts his cheek next to hers.
Cin, cin. I raise my hand in a make-believe toast. Francesco says they must go. I thank them for their company. He brings his fingers to his lips and gestures Ciao, bella and we wave goodbye.
Jim and I wander through Riomaggiore. Wizened old men and cats visit on stoops. Erratic Vespas speed by houses heaped up along winding streets. Three-wheeled Apes tote leafy greens and demijohns of wine through the lanes where Hannibal marched in a past century. T-shirts, sporting Lurch and Uncle Fester of The Adams Family, hang from a balcony above a communal oven where Romans laid fires in medieval days.
At the rosticceria, the aroma of chicken filled with herbs tempts us. We shoulder our way through the curtain of plastic beads into the cool stone-flagged kitchen. Giorno, we say to the pasta maker and admire his trofie, regional pasta served with generous amounts of basil pesto, and contorni, grilled vegetables anointed with oil.
Che profumino! The aromas follow us outside and mingle with thyme that sprawls across the terrace. In the mossy courtyard, a scarred olivewood plank serves as a table and salamis hang from hooks overhead, safe from marauding mice. Cradled in a rag hammock, a fleshy summer squash hangs along the fence. Bougainvillea and morning glory spread like weeds across twelfth- century stucco. Behind a concrete Madonna, a lizard darts, its tail curling this way and that.
Back on the mule path, we hike to Manarola. The breeze carries hints of lemon and rosemary. We stop to taste the olives, and the bitterness makes us grimace. A passing miller reminds us that the olives must sit in brine, salamoia, for forty days. He tells us with regional pride that these are Taggiasco olives and make the best oil in Italy. Naturalmente.
We arrive in Manarola, hungry and thirsty. When we stop to study a menu, we see Francesco and Sylvia inside the taverna.
“Vieni, vieni.” Francesco beckons. We are delighted to see our new friends.
Is the food good? I ask, eyeing their empty plates. E buono?
“Si, si… Order il primo, just one course, and then stop.” Francesco repeats this a few times. “E piu economico.” We are, after all, on the pension.
Jim and I find a table. Soon we are deep in conversation and up to our elbows in aciuge and vongole, anchovies and clams. We ignore Francesco’s suggestion ~ pasta arrives, then spicy sausages and beans.
I smell the plate of fried fish before I see it.
“Scusatemi.” Francesco sets a platter of fritto misto on our table. He would like us to enjoy it with his compliments. We are honored. I turn and catch Sylvia’s eye. She smiles, as if on cue. We taste the crisp fish and like its salty crackle.
Francesco and Sylvia can’t stay. The train to Milan is arriving in a few minutes. So we kiss on both cheeks and bits of fish fall on Francesco’s silken lapel. He doesn’t even mind.