Two Cultures – One Experience

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I sit in the piazza after my lunch, dopo il pranzo, and ask myself one question. Is there any food on earth as sensual as a cone of gelato? I have just sat on the low brick wall in the piazza, feeling the daily warmer sun of this spring on my back, and savored a cone of half coffee, half chocolate chip gellato. An old man in a cooper colored suede jacket and faded blue trousers makes his bent-over way beside me. He must have heard my moan of sheer pleasure as I ran my tongue around my ice cream cone for he caught my eye and smiled-that ageless smile that acknowledged between his time and mine, his culture and mine, that sometimes the purely physical is simply exquisite.

During this lunchtime closing in the piazza, I also think about the beauty of simply courtesies. Today at the pizzeria, as I went to pay for my lunch, the owner, Danielli, insisted on giving me a glass of lemoncello, the very thick, sweet/sour lemony digestive so popular in Italy. Last night, at the same restaurant, I went to pay only to have the cashier tell me “basta senora”. It appears that Lucianna and her husband had paid for my meal, probably as a thank you for the chocolate chip cookies I had delivered to her earlier in the week. Neither the offer of the lemoncello nor the payment for my dinner was of great monetary worth. Each, however, filled me with a sense of acceptance and belonging that is beyond price.

The piazza is quite busy this day in contrast to other days during which I have wiled away the post lunch hours. It must be the beautiful warm sunshine that is causing this. I can think of no other factor. Four teenage boys walk past me-each dressed in black tee shirts and jeans; each with his coal black hair pomanaded into some tortious Mohawk strip; each licking on cones of gellato-one of which was brilliant orange. As they passed in front of me, the bright orange gellato perched above the one cone, fell with a squishy, splattering sound onto the grass. Cries of “Dio mio” split the air as the owner of that particular cone raced back to the gellateria to replace his lost, dolce delight.

I am mesmerized by both the seductive warmth of today’s sun and by village life. Usually it is the very old and the very young who attract my attention. Just now, however, a very handsome, late thirty something, man has caught my eye He is dressed in a black sweater, jeans, brown Italian lace-up casual shoes and designer sunglasses. Truly, una figura bella.

The activity in the piazza begins to die down. I see Irene’s son, who works as a waiter at her restaurant, drive through the piazza, exchanging greetings with the young man whose orange gellato had earlier crashed at my feet. On the wall beside me sits an older woman with unnaturally red hair in conversation with an elderly gentleman dressed in black slacks, white shirt, navy blue pullover and black wingtips, complete with cane. She speaks at least ten words to his one. Leaned against the wall behind me, beside the incredibly handsome thirty something observed earlier who is now eating a strawberry gelato, are three elderly Italian men, all in dress slacks, sport coats and hats-two in fedoras, one in the flat brimmed hat favored by European farmers. Their running conversation, conducted at low volume, provides a comfortable background noise. I cannot discern a single word, yet I enjoy the ongoing chorus they are providing to the other activity in the piazza.

There is one thing that is commented on most often by my guests. It is this glimpse they can get into a beautiful, charming and completely foreign way of life.

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