Liberté, Egalité, Crème Brûlée
Disclaimer: This is just my perception of yesterday's events. Usually, I prefer not to write about people on this blog - I'd rather stick to places - but this is a rare exception. I'm making the assumption that the people concerned will not be reading this because they don't speak English but if they are, please accept my apologies, your hospitality was unsurpassable and these are just my perceptions made from not understanding enough Italian and therefore having to read between the lines.
"We're going to friends for dinner this evening," announced my friend's mother.
Like a lot of Parisians, the start of July marks the holiday season. Parisians, in their droves, leave the uncomfortably humid city, overrun with tourists, in search of some cool, sea air. Everything, shops, restaurants and companies, from the largest to the very smallest, shuts down for a month or two. Not wanting to snub this tradition, I'm on holiday in Italy at the moment, staying with a friend at his parents' place in a small town not far from Rome. Last night we were invited over to a friend's for dinner.
As befits the Mediterranean climate but not so much my English stomach, we arrived at the house for dinner at gone 9pm. An incredibly short woman - she couldn't be any more than 155cm - and her husband greeted us at the door. We were shown through to the patio on the other side, past the kitchen, which was laden with delicious-smelling antipasti, which reminded me very much of the Russian parties that we used to hold in the forest in Siberia.
Anyway, from the patio, my friend was dispatched to the depths of the garden on a seemingly pointless mission because he returned a minute later with nothing different from when he left. But presently, another young man appeared, topless, brandishing a lit torch and a folding chair. I think he was the son of the couple who'd greeted us at the door. As far as I'm aware, he must live at the end of the garden.
Having all sat down around the table, the mother asked so promptly (in the kind of way that you've been thinking it since I walked through the door but haven't had the opportunity to ask) if I was a air hostess. My face must have been a picture. I looked at my friend quickly to see if I'd understood correctly. He nodded. The mother explained that it was because I was so tall (not hard to be, in comparison!) and "had the figure for it." I'm assuming it was meant as a compliment but I'm a little unsure.
At this point, the son had found a bit of earth moist enough to put the torch and he had assembled his chair and positioned it next to mine. It turned out he was 26 and still living at home with his parents. Typical Italian boy I suppose, with an over-bearing, but well-meaning, mother. However, I found him to be somewhere between a three year old, a horny teenager and a cave man. The cave man because of his arrival with the fire, the horny teenager because he had one eye permanently glued on my cleavage for the duration of the evening and a three year old because he had the same kind of smile that a very easily amused child does when he's been given a new toy to play with. In this case, the amusement was me.
Mid-way through the meal, with great ceremony, I was presented a slice of lemon. I must have looked pretty dumbfounded because I subsequently received the explanation that it was to ward off mosquitoes. Ah, hmm, well I can imagine that mosquitoes don't like lemons much because of the acidity, but what do you DO with it? Eat it - like garlic and vampires? Put it next to you as, err, decoration? I glanced round the table and saw the others rubbing it on their forearms and legs, any exposed skin basically. However, I was wearing a backless dress. What's the protocol for asking the 26-going-on-3 year-old next to you to rub a lemon onto your back?? I decided against it.
Towards the end of the meal, the father disappeared off into the garden, to return a few minutes later with an totally unmarked bottle of something, sealed with a cork for a sparkling wine. At this point, my friend's father pointed at me and excitedly said "sommelier, sommelier!" (Oh dear!) A glass was found, the bottle opened with a satisfying pop, and while the whole table watched intently, it was poured out and handed to me to try. I did feel a little bit like the slave who would have to try a Roman emperor's food before him to see if it was poisoned or not! Fortunately I had had Fragolino before so I was able to successfully guess the mysterious liquid and then be greeted with a round of applause from the table and a smacking kiss on the cheek from the father.
What an evening! The food was delicious and it was a fun evening but as sure as hell, it's not one that I'll forget anytime soon!