I don’t know why I’m writing now; perhaps because memories always lead me to write. I’m not good at writing the regular daily or weekly article. I write what I feel, live with, and rejoice or grieve at. What motivates me to write, perhaps, are poignant and stressful life situations. I don’t often get excited by fleeting situations or repetitive, routine events.
I am sitting now in a restaurant serving Italian food in a hotel in the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi. The place is lit by candles, and the distant illuminations flock to it from the giant buildings that surround it from all directions. I have unusual smiles on my face, such that maybe the other diners think I am crazy or something; maybe because I’m alone smiling by myself.
I just remembered my Italian friend Elenora on my last visit to Rome in 2019, where she and her family welcomed me very intimately. I remember when she took me on a sleeper train from Turin in northern Italy to the capital, Rome, the city like an open museum that dazzles your eyes with the grandeur of history and architecture. That day, we walked a lot, from the Vatican to the Colosseum, passing through the Trevi Fountain. When our feet were tired and we got hungry, we turned right and left looking for a restaurant. The hunger was killing us. We found a sign for an old Italian restaurant serving traditional Italian food. The restaurant was small and old, brick walls and old brown wooden tables covered with a red and white cloth. The chef came out to us. We later learned that he was the owner of the restaurant as well. A smiling man. His many years drew some lines on his face, but he still radiated youth and vitality. Thousands of tourists passed by him, and by virtue of his profession, he offered delicious Italian cuisine that you would never forget for the rest of your life, no matter what country you visit.
The chef asked us to try pieces of oxtail soaked in hot sauce and a plate of eggplant served with mozzarella cheese along with fresh tomato paste baked in an old wood-burning oven. I will never forget that delicious smell. We ate that day like we’ve never eaten before, and we laughed a lot. My friend tried in vain to explain to me the meaning of oxtail in Italian, but I only understood when I saw the plate in front of me.
Italian cuisine is rich in flavor, and Italians are very talented at cooking. They taste until they eat, and they don’t eat just to eat.
When the waitress in Abu Dhabi served me the famous Italian dessert tiramisu, I remembered my friend’s house in northern Italy in the village of Pinasca, a small village located southwest of Turin.
The house consisted of three floors surrounded by a small garden in which my friend’s grandmother grew cherries, berries and strawberries. Elenora lived on the last floor, and her grandmother on the second floor. My friend surprised me with small cakes that her grandmother made for me with berries from her garden when she found out that I had come to the house. Her grandmother was a 100-year-old woman, but she refused to just sit at home.
The grandmother would go to church every day, shop at the Wednesday market, and take care of every piece of art or old artifact in her home. She consumed vitamin D by sitting in her balcony every day for exposure to the sun with a view of the tall mountains. She loved the art of knitting and weaving threads. She also liked people, and she liked to talk to me a lot in Italian, but I didn’t understand much. She was content with the word “bella,” which means beautiful. She would stand at the door of her house waiting for me and my friend while we were on our way to the city, and she would give us fruit until we ate breakfast.
On one Sunday, she gave Elenora €100 and said to her, “This is from me to you and your friend. Take a walk and enjoy.” Not only that, she made me a white doll out of threads and fabrics, and she said to me, “You will be a beautiful bride like her someday,” which made her think of her son, Paolo. My friend’s father was a modern-style father who loved and pampered his daughter. He wore jeans and went to work riding a motorcycle. I will never forget when Elenora was late for work and he took me to the Egyptian Museum in Turin, and then he bought me ice cream or gelato from a shop near the museum and tried to ease my surgery at that time, saying that “pretty girls always stumble, but stay strong, you deserve the best.”
I was going through difficult times in those days, and I will never forget the beauty of her mother’s face and soul. I always joked with her by saying, “How are you, Monica?” I saw a great similarity between her and the very beautiful Italian actress Monica Bellucci. She would have a calm look and turn to everyone and laugh, because she did not know English well. But she knew love well, which she translated for me when she embraced me in her home for ten days. She came from work every day in the evening to prepare dinner for me, with a wide smile on her face.
Sitting in this restaurant in Abu Dhabi made me remember that family who made me fall in love with Italy, their small village, the Italian language, their culture, their daughter, and everything that belongs to them. May peace be upon all of you, my second family, and I hope to see you again.